Thoughts on the Readings for Trinity Sunday

Ever-living, Informing, Loving

“God so loved the world that he sent his Son” John 3:16

So across the expanse of planet earth there are this day many millions who live in civilizations in which in ways often obscure, sometimes evident, love is valued, reason is honored, and power exercised through form not violence; and all this because the Church whom God called was obedient to the revelation that He is Trinity: omnipotent creative love, the source of an intelligible world. The truth of that revelation is not established by its effects but by its Author, but its effects, the consequences of faith in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God, are on this Trinity Sunday occasions for rejoicing and gratitude.

Long ago, in obedience to the words of the Savior and the witness of the prophets, the Church sought to say what cannot, but must, be said: God is Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God in three persons. There would later be technical exposition, but in the beginning the Church was confronted with what were in the light of faith the facts: God was Father, for He had a Son, whom He had begotten eternally; Jesus of Nazareth was that Son, consubstantial with His Father, in whom the divine paternity was realized perfectly; the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus was the very spirit of God, who spoke by the prophets and who lit the fire of Pentecost, and who is the love through whom the Father eternally begets the Son.

Over time the inspired attempt to say who God is was called the doctrine of the Trinity, a word first used by Theophilus of Antioch in 168 to name a reality that had lain in the experience of the Church. Establishing such facts as the begotten equality of the Son in the face of the predisposition to believe that what is dependent is, to however small a degree, lesser; its companion truth that ‘there was no time when the Son was not;’ and with these the fact that the persons were not functions or aspects but realities; and the cardinal insight that the Son is mystically not only Son but the Word through whom all things were made, the source of form and intelligibility; this work was the work of four councils and five centuries, culminating is the triumphant statement of the Church’s third creed, a masterpiece of thought and fidelity now largely unknown, which bears the name of the great Athanasius.

The Athanasian Creed, written in the happy days when ‘catholic’ was not a word in controversy and clarity not an offense, begins with triumphant assertion:

Whosoever would be saved, it is before all things necessary that he holds the Catholic faith, which unless one keeps it inviolate he will without doubt perish eternally.

Now this is the Catholic faith, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance. For the Father’s person is one, the Son’s another, the Holy Spirit’s another; but the divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one; their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.

Hard words, judgmental, a scandal of precision to post-modern ears, but also true. But to refer again to the evidence as we have it in history, true. Look out into the great world. That God is love is a truism we teach our children, but a truth that is mere sentimentality unless the Athanasian Creed is true. It is easy to forget that the very foundation of science is the intelligibility of the world, which can be observed and honored but which cannot be ‘proved;’ as it is easy to forget that the existence of a gentled world, in which the weak are protected, in which greatness of heart is measured in discipline and self-surrender, is a consequence of presuppositions that can be summoned to the surface of experience only with difficulty but which presuppose the truth that the Son is Word through whom all things bear the stamp of intelligibility.

Even our great errors are born of truth, anchored in the Trinitarian being of God, misused. An allegiance to the omnipotence of God without the notes of form and self-giving will always lead to vulgarity of power, or an indomitable will unmoderated by reason. Neglect of the truth that reason is rooted in the mystery of love will father in us a rationalism that destroys what it seeks to know.

The Athanasian Creed expresses an inspired, centuries-long effort to say what can be said of God. But, as the Creed also tells us, salvation consists not only in the knowledge that allows our confession of the truth but in the actual formation of our very selves: worship. The word in the Athanasian Creed is a form of veneror, which means respect, honor, worship. It is all very well, indeed essential, that mankind can, given the light of intellect, know what can be known of the mystery, seeing even now in a glass, darkly, but seeing still; but to know what is and not to acknowledge it is the warrant of inauthenticity. Thus from the time when Jesus took bread and broke it, God the Blessed Trinity had been known and worshipped in the breaking of bread. Even this Sunday, even when love must make its way through the ruins, the act most common in this world will be the offering of bread and wine so that these may become the Body and Blood of Jesus for us. And that offering will begin with thanks given “to the Father most holy, through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, your word through whom you made all things, whom you sent as our Savior and Redeemer incarnate by the Holy Spirit.

There are simpler religions. There is the religion of all powerful will. There is the religion of reason. There is the religion of experience. What the Athanasian Creed calls the Catholic faith is blessedly complicated, finally a mystery. It is power informed, reason informing, love giving Himself. The doctrine or dogma of the Blessed Trinity comprehends all of these and more, ideas and more than ideas rightly held as evidence of the Mystery, reality itself.

Give thanks that we are the children of the Blessed Trinity. Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and forever.

Pentecost

Two Promises
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Romans 8:16

I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. John 14:25–26

The background of the Gospel is a time of crisis.   The nation built upon God’s promise by David, after infidelity, exile, and defeat had come to an end with the occupation of Jerusalem by the surrogates of Rome, the Herodians and Pontius Pilate.  The Temple priesthood is corrupt.  There are accomodationists such as the Sadducees who believe that Jews must accept Roman Rule as the price of keeping their city and the Temple.   There are zealots, revolutionaries who want to end the Roman occupation violently.  There is the Sanhedrin, the great council, seeking always a way between these factions.  And there is expectation that the Messiah will come, perhaps to restore Israel to its Davidic greatness, perhaps as herald of the Day of God.

And then there appears from the desert one who procaims that the kingdom of this world is to be superseded by the kingdom of the new, repentant heart which the Messiah will bring.  God’s purpose will not be establishing His people secure in Jerusalem, but something greater.  Continue reading “Pentecost”

Thoughts on the Second Reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Good Works

Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense. To repay each for what he has done. Revelation 22:12

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. I Corinthians 13:3

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:9

Christians are saved by grace through faith; justified by faith not by our works, but the great Prophet John tells us as Word from God that when Christ returns He will repay us for what we have done. John offers a list of those who will be lost: the cowardly and faithless, but also murderers, adulterers, and all liars. These are partly actions in the world, partly the failure of virtuous dispositions, partly actions that represent a rebellion against justice or acquiescence in the lure of evil. Those whom the prophet condemned for doing such things are condemned for the injustice of such acts, but more so because each represents a failure of love. “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (I John 5:3). “Whoever keeps His word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him” (I John 2:5). Continue reading “Thoughts on the Second Reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter”

Thoughts on the First Reading for the Sixth Sunday in Easter

Some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings…. We have with one accord decided to choose representatives and send them to you. Acts 15:24, 27

The wall of the city had twelve courses of stone as its foundations, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Revelation 21:14

The fifteenth chapter of Acts describes the apostolic college, the apostles at Jerusalem, at work guiding the Church and keeping it safe from error. Paul and Barnabas had found the Church in Antioch much troubled by those who taught, “Unless you are circumcised, you cannot be saved.” Paul did not decide the matter for himself but went to Jerusalem to obtain the judgment of the apostles at what would be known as the Council of Jerusalem. There Paul and his companion Barnabas found Peter and perhaps also James and John (Acts 15:7, Galatians 2:9).<br.> Just who is and who is not an apostle in the account of Acts can be confusing. The word apostle is a Greek word describing one who is sent out, in the sense of Matthew 28:19: Go, baptize, and teach. In the first instance the apostles are the Eleven, or the Eleven plus Mathias, who was elected by the Holy Spirit under the criteria that he had been with the apostolic mission from the beginning so that he was a first-hand witness (Acts 1:21–26). Surrounding the eleven, and commissioned by them, was a larger group also called apostles, among whom Paul is chief example. When Paul enumerates those to whom Jesus had appeared after his resurrection the Twelve are a category different from “all the apostles” (Acts 15:5). Continue reading “Thoughts on the First Reading for the Sixth Sunday in Easter”

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

All Nations Shall Serve Him

I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth Acts 13:47

I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, Which no one could count, From every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb. Revelation 7:9

How Paul and Barnabas fulfilled the mission that brought every race and nation before the throne of God is the mystery of grace that works in the world to the glory of God fulfilling John’s vision of the conversion of the vast multitude of the elect, citizens of the Kingdom of God. It is a kingdom spread not by violence but by loyalty to its convictions and love in its witness to the world. Daniel prophesies of Christ: “To Him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, races, and tongues should serve Him” (7:13–14). Continue reading “The Fourth Sunday of Easter”

Palm Sunday

The Day Jesus Was King

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, If these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19:38-40

Isaiah had promised: “Behold a king shall rein in justice” (32:1), and when Gabriel was sent from God to foretell His birth, the angel told His mother: He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, And He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; And of His kingdom there will be no end. Luke 1:32–34

When Jesus called Nathanael, he replied: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel” (John 1:49). Throughout the days of His teaching and miracle-working his disciples were admonished to tell no man that he was the anointed one, but there came a day, ever remembered among Christians as Palm Sunday, when Jesus was acclaimed as king. The dramatic climax of Jesus’ work one earth is especially evident in the Gospel of John. There is the great miracle at Bethany of the mastery of the last enemy in the raising of Lazarus (Luke 11:1–45), and again the visit to Mary and Martha, where Jesus allowed Himself to be anointed with pure nard so that the house was filled with its fragrance (12:1–9). At that time Jesus established the recognition of His glory as the source of all charity: “The poor you have always with you, but you do not always have me” Continue reading “Palm Sunday”

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.

II Corinthians 5:17

At the heart of Paul’s genius is one grand, all-encompassing idea that is simultaneously a theology of nature, a theology of salvation history, and a theology of everyman’s soul’s pilgrimage. It is the image of a fallen cosmos, now groaning and travailing as it looks forward to redemption, of creation itself being made new in Christ in whom all things consist; of a chosen people reaching home in the Church, the company of Christ, in the New Jerusalem; and at its crown the image of man who grown old in sin set is at last set free and made new in the image of Christ. Sacred Scripture opens with the image of the Holy Spirit of God hovering over a world that has fallen into chaos, darkness, and emptiness, remaking it into the light-filled order and fullness of being that reflects the glory and perfection of its Creator. Continue reading “The Fourth Sunday in Lent”

The Third Sunday in Lent

His Name Shall Be Called Jesus

If they ask me, “What is His Name?” What am I to tell them? God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I am sent me to you”

Exodus 3:13–14

Revelation is knowledge, knowledge, given by God when in the fullness of time He wills to reveal Himself. It is addressed to the obedient intellect. God may make Himself known by His deeds: “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:3). He may make Himself known to the prophets in visions. God may teach us through His providential government of our lives as we walk along the path He has given. But on a day in the desert, when Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, God commanded Moses’ attention by showing Him a burning bush that “though on fire was not consumed.” There is no description of what Moses saw at Mount Horeb, but Moses knew that God was present. As he approached the burning bush God warned Moses not to come nearer and commanded that he remove his sandals: “For the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moses, full of awe, asked the question one who encounters mystery is likely to ask. “Who are you; what is your name? Continue reading “The Third Sunday in Lent”

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Apostleship: What Paul Received

Apostleship: What Paul Received I handed on to you what I received as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

Last of all, as to one born outs of due time he appeared to me

Paul would write again of his place as an apostle teaching what he had received, for when he undertook to correct the Corinthian Church regarding their tendency to celebrate the Eucharist as part of a rowdy love feast, he appealed to the tradition he had received from the Lord: that on the night when He was betrayed he took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, This is my body… (I Corinthians 11:23–26). We cannot be sure that Paul ever saw Jesus or ever heard is voice before Jesus spoke to him as he rode to Damascus to persecute the Church in that city. What Paul knew in the ordinary way of knowing he had learned in part from his study of what he then considered a damaging deviation from Pharisaic orthodoxy. He then heard the testimony of Stephen, for Paul, an agent of the Sanhedrin, guarded the coats of those who were stoning the deacon who has always been considered the first martyr. Continue reading “The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time”

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joy in the Law

Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, Interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe And the Levites who were instructing the people Said to all the people: Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad and do not weep— For all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further, “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks. Do not be saddened this day.

The book of Nehemiah continues the account of Israel’s history begun in Chronicles, telling the story of the rebuilding of the city and the religious reformation of the people after their return from captivity in Babylon. The story is told in part in the voice of Nehemiah, a much favored Jew who had become cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, and who, when he had heard of the desolation of the city of his fathers, its gates destroyed by fire, had been permitted by the king to visit Jerusalem in order restore it. The text has its difficulties. Ezra, the priest-scribe who effected religious reform, and the royal emissary Nehemiah may not have been contemporaries. The return from Babylon had been accomplished haphazardly, over more than a century. It is difficult to identify precisely the book from which Ezra read, which may have been Deuteronomy or Leviticus or some other part of the Pentateuch. What we have is surely the best information available to an author who may have written a century after the event described in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, and who was himself the beneficiary of the reform he describes, a reform that gave Judah the Sabbath-observing, law-loving, ethnically- exclusionary character that would mark its existence as long as the city would endure. Continue reading “The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time”