The Monotones, Dorothy Sayers and the Doctrine of the Trinity — Chris Bowhay

Preached June 4, 2012 by the Rev Chris Bowhay

“…And they rest not day and night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come'” (Revelation 4:8).

“I wonder, wonder who be-do-u-hoo: Who wrote the Book of Love?” So sang the Monotones in December of 1957 in their smash hit “The Book of Love,” in which they describe the different chapters of romantic love. In that same month of December 1957, the great Anglican author Dorothy Sayers died. Today I want to talk about how these two events are linked by our understanding of God the Holy Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, but one God—whose doctrine we focus on today, Trinity Sunday.

Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy Sayers wrote over 50 novels, collections of poetry, plays, and works of non-fiction. You may have heard of her famous detective stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, but you may not have heard of her theological essays. The Church of England, which is the mother church from which our Episcopal Church comes, has a strong tradition of first-class theologians among its laity. In the 20th century alone we think of C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, and we must also include Dorothy Sayers in their ranks. Among her theological writings, in addition to her translations of and commentary on Dante’s Divine Comedy, Sayers wrote an important work entitled The Mind of the Maker. In it, Sayers describes the creative process of making art in general, and in the writing of books in particular, as a way to explore the doctrine of God the Holy Trinity. Here is what she says:

Every work of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly. First, there is the Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning: and this is the image of the Father. Second, there is the Creative Energy begotten of that idea, working in time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Son. Third, there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul: and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit. And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without the other: and this is the image of the Trinity (Mind of the Maker, 1941).

In other words, in order to write a book you need three things: you need an idea about what you want to write about, you need to work to put that idea into words on a page, and you need an audience to read the book you have written. God the Father is like the original idea for a book. He is the foundation and the source for everything. God the Son is the work through which the idea of God the Father is expressed. Everything that comes from God the Father is worked out through the efforts of God the Son, especially in His Incarnation as the person of Jesus. God the Holy Ghost is the way that we receive, understand, and are transformed by the idea of God the Father and the work of God the Son. At our baptism, God the Holy Spirit enters into us, abides in us, and constantly communicates the love of God to us. In the same way that the creation of a book requires an idea, its implementation, and its interaction with its audience, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit each operate together to share with us who God is, how much God loves us, and how we are to love each other the way He loves us.

The Monotones

So who wrote the Book of Love? God did, because He is Love, and the history of God’s involvement with us is a love story. Even before you were born, God knew you and loved you. Even before you heard about Him, even before you realized that you wanted to love Him, even when you might have resisted Him, God loved you. Even now, as we struggle with our secret burdens, as we quietly weep over our hidden wounds, as we flounder with our chronic tendency towards self-centeredness, God still loves you: right now, just as you are. He will never love you more than He loves you right now. According to Dorothy Sayers, part of the meaning behind God the Holy Trinity is that God not only wants us to be a receptive audience of His book of love, but also works to make us characters in the love story called life. Through His grace, which He constantly showers upon us, He works to make us the kind of people through whom others discover not only that they are loved, but also that they are lovable. They, like us, have been invited by God to know His love and to experience it on every level of our being. When we listen to God, and when we share God’s message of love with others—sometimes with words, but more often with deeds of mercy and forgiveness—we become a part of God’s book of love that is meant to be read, understood, and experienced by every single person who has ever come into the world. God loves you and everyone around you so much that in the Person of Jesus He died for us all, rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sent us His Holy Spirit to share His eternal life with everyone who believes in Him. If, through the Idea of God the Father, if through the work of God the Son, if through the power of God the Holy Spirit, if the love of God is the only message we hear for ourselves and share with others, then it is enough.