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Showing posts with label Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Show all posts

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Father Rutler: The Holy Trinity

Father George W. Rutler
An MRI scan gives more details about someone than a portrait, but it is the portrait that conveys personality. Dating agencies ask for photographs, not X-rays. So it is with using diagrams and natural analogies to explain the Blessed Trinity. They are inadequate for conveying the oneness of threeness.
For instance, to compare the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to water, which can be liquid, ice and steam, would mean that the Father morphs into the Son and the Son into the Holy Spirit. As a formal heresy, this is called Modalism, condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381. A similar mistake is to portray the Father as Creator, the Son as Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier, as if they were divided in their actions. The beguiling image of the Trinity as sun, light and heat is the heresy of Arianism, depicting the Son and Holy Spirit as creatures of the Father.
The legend of Saint Patrick using a shamrock to explain the Trinity to the Druids on Tara makes the mistake of Partialism, depicting the Three Persons of the Godhead as different parts of one God, as though each were one-third of the whole. God is one Being who is three Persons, and not one Being who is three parts. The shamrock story was first mentioned more than a thousand years after Patrick died. That great saint was imbued with Trinitarian theology and referred to the Three in One in his Confessio with a mystical rapture capturing the mystical essence of God as a lover singing a song, and not as a technician performing a biopsy.
The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity follows Pentecost, because only God can explain himself: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Limited human intelligence complicates the simplicity of the Three in One. In Islam, the Trinity is considered a blasphemous denial of the One God (Koran 4:171; 5:73; 5:116) and no wonder, since Mohammed thought Christians worshipped the Virgin Mary as the Third Person. Modern heresies are even cruder: Mormonism multiplies the Trinity into polytheism, by which any man can become a god. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, like the Arians, Christ is a creature and therefore not divine.
Saint Paul travelled more than ten thousand miles, mostly on foot, and painfully so, since tradition says his legs were misshapen. He declared the Trinity, not with formulas, but often in triple cadences like a hymn. This was the great secret that the Son of God finally made public at his Ascension (Matthew 28:19). Had humans invented the Three in One as a concept, it would be perfectly lucid. Instead, it is not a puzzle, but it is a mystery, which is why the saints can say in awe: “I am not making this up.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Father George Rutler: Three in One and One in Three

The Feast of the Holy Trinity follows Pentecost because it is only by the inspiration of the Third Person of the Trinity, who leads into all truth, that the mystery of the Trinity can be known. Human intelligence needs God’s help to apprehend the inner reality of God. Certainly, human reason can employ natural analysis to some extent to describe God in terms of causality and motion and goodness. Saint Anselm, who models the universality of Christendom by being both an Italian and an Archbishop of Canterbury, said that “God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
A house is a house because it houses. But what is in the house is known only by entering it. Since creatures cannot enter the Creator, he makes himself known by coming into his creation. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him” (John 1:18).
Had we invented the Trinitarian formula, it would be only a notion instead of a fact. There are just three choices: to acknowledge what God himself has declared, to deny it completely, or to change it to what makes sense without God’s help. That is why most heresies are rooted in mistakes about the Three in One and One in Three.
Unitarianism, for example, is based on a Socinian heresy. Mormonism is an exotic version of the Arian heresy. Islam has its roots in the Nestorian heresy. All three reject the Incarnation and the Trinity but selectively adopt other elements of Christianity. Like Hilaire Belloc in modern times, Dante portrayed Mohammed not as a founder of a religion but simply as a hugely persuasive heretic, albeit persuading most of the time with a sword rather than dialectic. These religions, however, are not categorically Christian heresies since “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith . . .” (Catechism, 2089).  Only someone who has been baptized can be an actual heretic.
Cultures are shaped by cult: that is, the way people live depends on what they worship or refuse to worship. A culture that is hostile to the Holy Trinity spins out of control. In 1919, William Butler Yeats looked on the mess of his world after the Great War:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . .
That is the chaotic decay of human creatures ignorant of their Triune God. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” But to worship the “Holy, Holy, Holy” God as the center and source of reality is to confound anarchy: “For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . .  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). 


Father Rutler’s book, The Stories of Hymns – The History Behind 100 of Christianity’s Greatest Hymns, is available through Sophia Institute Press (Paperback or eBook) and Amazon (Paperback or Kindle). 

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.