Sunday, June 11, 2017

O altitudo divitiarum...

O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments, and how unsearchable his ways! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and recompense shall be made him? For of him, and by him, and in him, are all things: to him be glory for ever. Amen.-Romans 12:32-26 


In a Derridian fashion, I find it hard to talk about the Trinity for more than about thirty seconds or so without falling into a heresy of one kind of another. Pseudo-Dionysius expresses this problem well, as he writes about the journey into the darkness. Christ is the Light that enlightens every man who comes into the world, but the more we seek to be enlightened, the more is mystery not only unknowable without grace but limited to the comprehension in our human nature. Theology for Pseudo-Dionysius is especially negative. We must state what is not the case and then we by God's grace can state what is in fact what God has revealed. 


The Epistle for this Sunday, which is a celebration of the mystery of the godhead, the Holy Trinity, is taken from the epistle of the apostle Paul to the Romans. It succinctly addresses the mystery of God. It can be summarized n simple terms: We know that we are not God in our own nature, we know that we do not understand God's nature, and we understand that we do not know what exactly God's nature is like. Nevertheless, God has revealed what is necessary for salvation regarding his inner nature, that of charity in a communion of persons, and that we are called to participate in it, first via the sacramental life, and then in the heavenly life which is to come. 

Hare window, Holy Trinity, Long Melford
 We know far more about God than we did in the Old Testament, seeing that God has graciously revealed his Son, and now the Son has made it possible for the Spirit to be revealed in the life of the church, which is celebrated at Pentecost. We know from today's Gospel, the Ascension of the Lord according to St. Matthew, that the apostles are to teach the nations and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In some versions of 1 John, chapter 5 includes a reference to the persons of the Trinity, included in the traditional epistle of the 1st Sunday after Easter: "And there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one. This is quite limited. There are perhaps two references to the Trinity as we usually refer to it in the entire Bible.

 For the Catholic, this is no loss, since we know that Sacred Tradition is a source of divine revelation, as binding as the Scriptures, but still, one ought to reflect. God has given us what is necessary for salvation. The Athanasian Creed is prayed at Prime today, and it is prayed on all of the green Sundays which are to come, in the rubrics before 1960, that is. This exposes the relationship between Scripture and Tradition and the revelation necessary for our salvation in a meaningful way, for the Creed is not that of an ecumenical council yet is included alongside the psalms of David in the liturgy of the church. The creed is not even the work of its namesake; it probably dates to the century following the life of the great St. Athanasius of Alexandria. In fact, the text cuts straight to the heart of the matter of divine revelation, for "whosoever willeth to be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith." 

It explains the first teaching of the faith, which has come from what is heard, as St. Paul teaches, continuing "Now the Catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance." Thus God has revealed something of the "how" in how God is God. The Nicene-Constantipolitan Creed, familiar to most Christians from the liturgy, teaches how Christ is equal to the Father and how the Spirit is also equal. It teaches something of the work of salvation, but it does not clearly articulate that there is no aspect in which each person does not act. 

 It is true that the Father is especially known as creator, as the unbegotten one, and there is some sense in which he directs the creation of the world. Michelangelo's Creation of Man depicts the Father, not the entire Trinity. It is true that the title "redeemer" particularly applies to the Incarnate Christ. It is true that the Holy Spirit in a particular way comes to dwell in our souls at our baptism and whenever we receive the sacraments and are free from mortal sin. St. Gregory Nanzianzen is not unique in holding that the Father is especially revealed in the Old Testament, the Son in the New Testament, and the Holy Spirit in the church (in the "Fifth Theological Oration"). 


Setting aside the Incarnation, which is only of the Son, though all three persons would be in his soul full of grace, and the eucharist, which is also only of the Son, the three persons mutually indwell together, a doctrine known in Greek as perichoresis


There are two answers to the question which follows: How do they indwell? Something of this is taught in the Creed of the first two ecumenical councils, and the Athanasian Creed expands upon it. As the graphic above shows, the only thing which distinguishes the persons are the relationships, which are explained in the Nicene Creed and elaborated upon in the Athanasian Creed. The further elaboration is necessary to explain what the church believes and what is necessary for salvation and thus to avoid error in expressing those truths.

The second answer also comes from Sacred Scripture. They dwell in love, as a communion of persons. Something of this is seen in how we love, a truth most fully understood by grace and certainly hinted at by nature, though is not all truth found by grace through Jesus Christ? In the Angelus address of Trinity Sunday in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI taught, "
Today, the liturgy celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity almost to underline that in the light of the Pascal Mystery is fully revealed the center of the universe and of history: God himself, eternal and infinite Love. The word that summarizes all revelation is this: "God is love" (I Jn 4: 8, 16); and love is always a mystery, a reality that surpasses reason without contradicting it, and more than that, exalts its possibilities."

The conclusion of the Roman collects, "through our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who lives
The economy of grace. Ca. 1300. By Postdlf
and reigns with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end" drives this point home. All is done through the Son to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit for their mutual glory for all eternity so that "
they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us," as the Lord prayed to the Father in the high priestly prayer before his Passion. 

It is all about love. The opaque reference to love in nature is in fact a reference to the explanation of the communion of love among man and God expressed so fervently by Pope St. John Paul II in the "Theology of the Body."  Love imitates the Holy Trinity, and family love does so in a concrete way.


One can drive the point of unity home further. The Spirit does speak through the prophets, and clearly in union with the Son, who beautifully quotes the prophet Isaiah as he reads the Scriptures in the synagogue. The Father seems to principally drive the action in the Old Testament, yet if one puts on interpretative lenses, the Son is present. In my view, there is something to the view that the Son is especially present at the burning bush and is the Angel of the Lord who slays the Egyptian first-born sons. At the very least, we must hold that each person is present and is present with the other two in eternity. 


Finally, one must recall how this applies to our own lives. St. Paul writes about the nature of charity to the Corinthians. He is especially writing about the inner life of love in the Trinity, to which we are called, by which we can participate via baptism as we cry out, "Abba, Father!" Thus, we return to the words "before all things" of the Athanasian Creed. For God has demanded works of charity, but no good comes without grace. This is true whether one is baptized or not. Further, a person who does evil but does an act of goodness towards his neighbor cannot merit from it, because he lacks the Trinitarian life in his soul. Even more so, one who lacks love gains nothing from what is otherwise commanded by the Lord towards one's neighbor. And the one who does good without faith might merit, but not nearly as much as the one who loves because of his confession in the Triune God. 


Analogies ultimately fail. The useful catechetical tool of the shamrock fails once the students are old enough to understand that it has unity but not true distinction. There is nothing in nature that adequately explains the Trinity. It is what is is, but we can never understand it. 


What does not fail is love. 

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