Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of Captives

Trinitarian Spirituality

A Trinitarian spirituality

God Trinity, the building block of all Christian experience and also of all religious experience.



1. To speak of the ‘proper character of our Order’s spirituality’ rightly assumes that ‘God the Trinity’ is the building block of all Christian experience and also of all religious experience. The question, then, is how is God perceived and experienced in the Christian spirituality of the sons of St. John de Matha, and how do the other elements of the Order’s experience around this God fit in and shape each other?

2. By ‘spirituality of order’ we simply mean “the peculiar way that belongs to Trinitarian brothers and sisters to embody, live and develop their baptism, guided by the Spirit.”

3. We already encounter the constituent elements of such an “experience of the Order” in the experience of the first fraternity at Cerfroid in 1198, led by the holy founder under the animation of the Spirit. The years 1194-1198 can be characterized as the ‘constituent period’ of the essential experience of the Trinitarian fraternity, a stage that lasted until 1213, the date of the founder’s death.
We encounter the constitutive dimensions of this ‘original experience’ ‘codified’, to the extent possible, in the Rule approved by Innocent III in 1198.

4. Like any human experience, that ‘original experience’ is ‘situated’ in a historical context (theological, ecclesial, social, religious) and holds great ‘subversive’ power in a prophetic sense. Today this same experience we must read and interpret it from our historical context in order to “relive” it in it. Experience, in fact, is life and gives flavor only in contact with the living history of the moment. Historicity is its indelible note. That ‘original experience’ we need to read it today, therefore, historically, dynamically, situating ourselves within today’s challenges and interpellations.

5. When we speak of the “proper character” of our spirituality we are not referring to the essential elements of our spirituality as being “absent” in other Christian spiritualities as such. God, Jesus Christ and his gospel, Holy Spirit, church, theological and moral life, man, history, world



1. An experience not “theoretically formulated
The original experience of Trinitarians does not appear theoretically formulated, much less doctrinally systematized. On the style of Jesus, the holy founder and other members of that constituent fraternity have not handed down to us any theological, doctrinal explanation of their experience. They left us a very rich “praxis,” a life, an embodied Gospel ideal and, therefore, in the Rule as “directional arrows,” so that, with the grace of the Spirit, all Trinitarians could “reproduce” in history this same experience. See the Trinitarian Rule, in it theology was transformed into life, theory into praxis, into embodied experience( Believe the works”).

2. An experience that arose as an evangelical-social response to certain challenges.
Evidently mind the experience of the original Trinitarian fraternity possesses its own historical “humus”; it was born in determined context as a response to certain challenges. This fact is important: the “response-challenge” pair is what legitimizes in every age the Trinitarian charism in the Church.



1. Man: abused, captive, poor (Const. 5,c.v.)
The specific experience of the sons of John of Matha begins with the encounter with the man submerged in the ‘anti-kingdom.’ The two captives in the ‘mosaic’ around the Redeemer are constituent component of this experience. Including the experience of John of Matha and his sons is conditioned by this experience of the “man in chains.” It is the group of the oppressed (slaves, the poor) and their cruel fate that, appealing to the spirit of the Trinitarian brothers, led them to invoke a Liberator God.

Two opposing “visions” of man converge among the Trinitarian brothers: on the one hand, the Christian Trinitarian view of man, in agreement with their anthropolo-gical theology. There appears the dignity of man , his vocation, his destiny

2. The “Trinitas Redemptrix”
In ontological order this would be, of course, the first element. However, the Trinitarian does indeed come to God, under the impulse of the Spirit, postponed from an experience of chains(physical, social, moral, religious) in search of salvation and liberation. The “theological” encounter with the Liberator God who “saw the oppression of his people in Egypt” then takes place.
Evidently, this Trinitarian experience of God of the Order’s first fraternity has its historical roots in the profound Trinitarian “sensibility” of sec. XII, at a time of great Trinitarian ferment in liturgy, theology, symbolism, art

3. Jesus Christ in the spirituality of the Order
There is a strong “Christocentrism in the experience of the Or-dine. Jesus of Nazareth is presented to us as Mediation, both for the experience of God (he reveals the Father and gives us the Spirit) and for the full knowledge of man in order to attain his freedom. In the Mosaic of Mount Caelian, Jesus Christ occupies the center with this dual function. Jesus reveals to us the transcendent mystery of God, “narrates” it to us in his life, works, and words. In Jesus, God manifested himself as the “Redeemer,” the God of slaves. In the aforementioned “mosaic,” the Trinity, represented sim-bolically in the “sphere,” is accessed through Christ, Way. In such Trinitarian symbolism, Jesus is presented as the “sacrament” of the Father’s liberating mercy, as man’s redeemer. At Christ’s side in this mosaic are neither angels nor saints, but two captives in the process of redemption. The two captives are essential in the picture. Therefore, the Trinitarian Rule, in its first article, situates the Trinitarian brothers and sisters in the radical following of Jesus, of this mosaic, eucharistic and paschal “being-for-others” Christ Redeemer.
It is a sequela-configurative, “experience of the Spirit” in permanent process. The Eucharist, in Trinitarian spirituality, is not contemplated in a detached way from the Trinity, but as its revelation, as the “Eucharistic Trinity,” the Redeeming Trinity.
The tradition of the Order, and especially the holy Reformer, will take it upon itself to emphasize this “Christ-centeredness” of our spirituality.

4. The Holy Spirit in the origin and development of the Christian experience of the Trinitarian brethren
The Trinitarian charism is, at its origin and in its permanent development, an “experience of the Spirit” (M.R.11). Thus it began to be in St. John of Matha a “foundational charism” and then, in his children united with the father, a Trinitarian “charism of fraternity.” The expression “divinitus inflammatus,” alludes primarily to this.
The Holy Spirit, in the first place, reveals Christ to us, focuses him “charismatically” (his person, his gospel). At the same time it configures us ” as Trinitarians, that is, Christians in the specificity of our vocation in the Church. Through the special “anointing” of the Spirit, Trinitarian brothers and sisters participate “peculiarly” in Christ’s consecration and mission in the Church, thus becoming “sons” and “brothers,” “persons for others” with their own mission, as we shall see.

5. The experience of the church
The experience of the Trinitarian fraternity springs up and develops in the bosom of the ecclesial experience, of the “Church of the Trinity,” born totally in the Trinity and bearing the seal of the Trinity. The Trinitarian charism was not created by the Church, however, she certainly “recognized” it as her gift in the service of the Kingdom, as a singular richness in the consecration and mission of the People of God.

This “ecclesial consciousness,” which is an echo of an objective reality, is important in the spirituality of Trinitarians. It implies the conviction of embodying a proper charism in communion with all other ecclesial charisms and complemen-tarity with them.

The relationship of mutual complementarity is a constitutive dimension of every Christian charism. Without it, charisma dies. This entails great consequences in our “presence and insertion in the local church,” in the global project of the particular church starting from our characteristic gift, without isolation that kills and without giving up “our own identity.”

The Church, it has been said, is a score that must be interpreted well. In the orchestra there are many voices, variety of charisms. The director in the local church is the bishop, he carries the line, however, the polyphony is in the choir. There are mutual responsibilities. We conclude by saying that the experience of the Church in our spirituality is first of all “theological” and theological and, consequently, legal.

6. The Virgin Mary in our experience
The Marian dimension is an essential component in the whole Christian experience. We find it clearly expressed in the Order’s original experience, despite coming to formulate it later. At the beginning of the Trinitarian experience what we find is an intense Marian life, fostered by the Marian climate of the time, liturgical praxis and an accentuated devotion to the Virgin. Later, to the extent that the Order’s Trinitarian, merciful and redemptive experience is formulated, and in “synchrony” with the Marian evolution in the universal Church, the image and place of Mary in the experience of the sons of St. John of Matha also looms larger. Particularly appearing in this period are the theological-spiritual links between the Trinity, Redemption and the Mother of the Redeemer. The Virgin Mary, in her invocation, above all, “of the Remedy,” acted as the shaping impulse of the redeeming Trinitarian fraternity.


1. Trinitarian experience is experience in fraternity
The first experience of the Order was born when the original fraternity, animated by the Spirit and led by the holy founder John of Matha, was established in Cerfroid.

All its members have been personally called, all have, when they come together, an “experience of the Spirit,” an Easter experience. Such experience they continue it in common, as all have been summoned for a common Project, the redeeming Trinitarian Project.

The fraternal, communal dimension is, therefore, another constituent element of the Trinitarian experience in the Church. It is, moreover, a fraternity with its own style and mission. What is its nature?

2. Fraternity consecrated, with new title, to the Redeeming Trinity

We have already seen what the God of Trinitarian experience is like: the God of Exodus (3:7-8), sensitive to the cry of the slaves, “with passion” for human dignity and freedom. At once the source, model and goal of human life. The “Trinitas Redemptrix”.

God the Father called John Di Matha and his sons to make them participants in the consecration and mission of his Son, “glory of the Father and redemption of the world.” That is why he anointed them with a “special anointing” of the Spirit (Lk. 4:18) so that in them the baptismal consecration would mature into concrete attitudes and choices, into redemptive Trinitarian commitments.

In this way they, the Trinitarian brethren, “re-present,” Christ, in a singular way, in the Church and society. That is, they have been constituted as heralds “of the name of the true God,” as “special worshipers” of this God and as “redeemers” of enslaved man, so that they devote themselves “with all their strength, by works and in truth, to the glory of the Trinity and the redemption of the brethren (CC.GG. 2).Therefore they shall be called Trinitarians” and “redeemers,” their houses being “Houses of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives,” and the whole Order, “Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives.”

His worship of the Trinity, however, is not reduced to a few practices, devotions or festivals, but their whole life is marked by this purpose of worship and to the glory of the Trinity: the practice of the evangelical counsels, in following Jesus as a “council of love,” community and liturgical life, redemptive mission, work

3. Sent fraternity: redeeming the captives and liberating the oppressed
It is a community challenged by history on certain challenges: the slaves of the moment, the persecuted, the oppressed. Today this interpellation comes from the “excluded and oppressed in our society, especially, from those persecuted or discriminated against because of their religious faith, fidelity to their conscience or Gospel values.” “The glory of God is the living man” (St. Irenaeus) and that he is free. Therefore, the Father sent his own Son into the world to redeem mankind from bondage; that is why he is calling the Trinitarian brothers and sisters today to continue his redemptive work through specific service. Therefore, he constituted them “redeemers” by anointing them with a special consecration of his Spirit (CC.GG. 64).

4. A prophetic fraternity
The Trinitarian fraternity is born from the encounter of a dual experience: from the poor-captive and from God the Trinity. It presents society and the Church in a new, “alternative” proposal with a prophetic message. In it, the “lord-servant,” “powerful-weak,” “rich-poor” bipolarity disappears. “Subversive” terms appear instead: “brother,” “minister”

All this is “subversive,” not only in feudal society, but also in the Church itself and in religious life, tempted by the anxiety of power and domination. “Among you it will not be so,” Jesus had proclaimed. Therefore, the Trinitarian fraternity is presented with another “uniform,” with an evangelical style, with categories of brotherhood and service.

5. There is more: the “subversion” continues
The Trinitarian brothers also inaugurate a “new relationship” model in society. Upon its arrival, Western society and the Church are fighting Islam in a centuries-old battle: the Crusades. This clash generates death and enslavement on both sides. It is also taught that killing the infidel is equivalent to honoring God, since it is not murder but “malecide.” The Trinitarian brothers live in a new attitude 20 years before Francis of Assisi. They present themselves as “witnesses” of God the Trinity, of the loving God who justifies no violence. God “life for all.” Muslims hate the triune God because they identify him with the God of the Crusaders, a “disfigured” God. Trinitarian brothers publicly announce the true “name and face” of Jesus’ God. Their name and tricolor dress reveal the presence and merciful action of this Triune God in the liberating work of the “redeemers.” It is this Triune God who, through the Trinitarians, pushes toward these new “relationships,” humanitarian, unarmed, of dialogue and tolerance, of interchange, of new coexistence. Their only weapon is that of “charity,” for their only model is God Love. The interests of the Trinitarian brothers are the same as those of Christ, namely, the slaves and the poor.

The two-tone Cross of the Trinitarians is an open denunciation of those who use the Cross of Christ, not to save and liberate, but to kill, to use violence. So the Trinitarian project is not anti-Muslim, but anti-Crusader. Pope Innocent III presented it, on behalf of Christendom, to the King of Morocco as a Christian organization “with a new spirit.” Through it Innocent III will have permanent and new contact with Islam. Therefore, he saw fit for John of Matha, to propagate the new Project in a very public place, a stone’s throw from his papal palace, by means of the well-known mosaic( “signum”) on Mount Caelian.

6. They pay the ransom price themselves
In the Trinitarian fraternity, modeled on the confluence of God Love and the enslaved and poor, a proper way of life presided over by redemptive charity has arisen. In it, a new “Christian experience,” a new “re-presentation” of Christ in history, a new path of holiness flourished: the “Trinitarian Way” in the Church. In it we encounter much of the Easter journey.

They identify themselves as “redeemers” and as such are called to “give their lives” for the lives and freedom of many. From this consciousness comes the lifestyle of the Trinitarian fraternity, animated by redemptive charity. This charity urges the brothers to a lifestyle, personal and communal, of simplicity, sobriety, austerity and savings (Rule, passim). The list of slaves and the poor is immense. The greatest proof of their love is to share their lives, their persons, their possessions and even their homes with such needy brothers and sisters. From this need, Article 2 was born.

7. The Trinitarian Redemptive Project initiated by John of Matha in the Church and society, “divinitus inflammatus,” contains an enormous historical projection. Therefore, from the very beginning, the Holy Spirit opens to multiple callings and summons religious men, women religious of active and contemplative life the laity, without discarding ordained ministry. In this way liberation can come more fully, by different streams, to wider social spaces and from multiple charismatic experiences. All this is the work of the Spirit. Trinitarian charism and spirituality are thus forged in the Church with a “family character”: different people and Christian groups participate in the same call, share the same redeeming Trinitarian spirit and are engaged in a “Common Project” in the Church. The project was born with “family seal,” as a Trinitarian family. Today, in the current theological-ecclesial context, this “family” vocation urgently demands unprecedented forms of living and acting that have barely been sketched out among us.



1. Questions? All the reflection I offer is a constant solicitation, questions in living flesh. Every community and every brother must ask themselves: to what extent are we “Trinitarian,” conforming to the image we have attempted to recall? What potential of our charism should we activate today? What are the aspects to be corrected? What instead are to be enhanced by looking at sec. XXI?

2. Bibliography: Today, thank God, there is a lot of it. I report some works:
-CIPOLLONE, G., Studies in torno a Cerfroid; Christianity-Islam;
-LLONA, G., Fundador y Redentor, Juan de Mata;
-BORREGO, Juan, la Regla Trinitaria;
-AA.VV. In Trinitarium (Various Numbers) and Trinitarian Studies;
-The Lectures of the Trinitarian Rule Congress, Rome, 1998, published under the title “Liberation of Captives between Christianity and Islam.”

Ignacio Vizcargüénaga

A spirituality imprinted with history

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