Smoky Mountains Sunrise

Sunday, June 19, 2011

From the Pastor - The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity

A weekly column by Father George Rutler.

T he Feast of the Holy Trinity is an exclamation punctuating the joyous days following Christ’s Resurrection. Throughout His earthly ministry, the Second Person of the Trinity kept hinting at this deepest of all mysteries, as when He said that those who saw Him saw the Father, and that the Father and He are one, and again when He breathed the Holy Spirit on the apostles so that they might forgive sins. It was only as He ascended in glory, that He explicitly announced the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It is a paradox of our age’s pedantic arrogance that it tends to think of earlier cultures as rough and clumsy, while affecting exasperation at the subtlety of their language. As the Church prepares to use, later this year, a more precise translation of the Creed, there are those who say that the terminology will confuse ordinary people. The Fathers of the Council of Nicaea, and later Constantinople, did not think that their formulas were only for philosophers. Some were gifted thinkers, but it is said that Bishop Nicholas of Myra was so unsubtle that he punched the heretic Arius in lieu of debate.

We understand easily only what we have made. When it comes to what someone else has invented (for me, the computer is an annoying example) it is harder. When it comes to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who was not created at all, it is impossible to understand Him without His help. So Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to “teach you everything” (John 14:26).

The new English translation of the Creed will speak precisely as the Holy Spirit did when He led the early bishops to speak in their own Greek, using words like “only begotten” and “consubstantial.” The sub-apostolic Fathers were free of the bias infecting second-rate intellectuals, who suppose that deep thoughts are too obscure for anyone other than their extraordinary selves. St. Paul was an evangelical failure once when he tried to be a rhetorical success, endeavoring to persuade the professors in the Areopagus university by quoting their own authorities. He certainly had done his research, but he might have been more successful had he quoted Jesus of Nazareth instead of Epimenides of Knossos and Aratus of Soli.

Yesterday was not atypical in our parish. Within about eight hours, I offered the Sacrifice of the Mass twice, heard confessions, baptized a baby, married a young couple, and buried a man. Each of these actions was done in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Though some of the Greek poets had used similar words, the Word of God made them real. That is why St. Paul died in Rome, not for a syllogist but for a Saviour.

Father George W. Rutler is the pastor of the Church of our Saviour in New York City. His latest book, Cloud of Witnesses: Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, is available from Crossroads Publishing.

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