Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Trinity: Letters to Eric (Part 1)

Recently on Facebook, I'd had the "pleasure" of engaging a few anti-Catholic Protestants on a particular Christian group. One of them, after a while, decided to post a thread about what all Christians must believe in order to be Christian. He produced a list of four points:

1) God became incarnate (flesh) in the man Jesus.
2) Christ atoned (paid for) man's sin through His death on the cross.
3) Christ rose in bodily form from the grave, conquering death and proving He is God.
4) The Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God.
I responded by saying that I agree quite readily with this list (which, of course, means that contrary to his and other people's assertions, the Catholic Church must be Christian!), but I mentioned that there seemed to be a few essential points missing--namely, for starters, the Doctrine of the Trinity. The person who posted this discussion, Eric, who claims to be a pastor, disagreed that the Trinity was a necessary doctrine, and furthermore exhibited a rather poor understanding of the Doctrine, espousing a rather Modalistic view of God (that God represented Himself variously as Father, Son, or Spirit). I directed him to my recent article on the Trinity, and we began a private conversation via Facebook about it. I asked whether I could republish the conversation here, since I had put a good deal of work into replying to him, and because it was directly related to the aforementioned article, but he declined letting me use his words directly. Hence, I will post my side of the conversation in a similar format to the series, "Catholicism: Letters to Daniel".

This series is especially timely since Pentecost has just passed, and Trinity Sunday is next Sunday. After this series, I plan to start a series on the Eucharist, beginning on the Feast of Corpus Christi. God bless.

EDIT: Eric took some offense to my characterising him as a Modalist. Apparently, it turns out, he does believe in the Trinity as espoused by traditional, orthodox Christianity. According to him:
I believe in the Trinity as has been taught to me. There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, undivided in essence and co-equal, in power and glory.
Apparently, our entire discussion was his attempt to model a "Christian" who didn't believe in the Trinity, and thereby prove his point that one doesn't have to believe in the Trinity to be a Christian. He seems here, nevertheless, to be a bit confused. A Christian is one who adheres to Christianity, which fundamental tenet is the Trinity. A religious tradition which denies the Trinity is not Christian, and adherents to such a tradition themselves are therefore not Christians. This, of course, is a different question than whether a person who does not believe in the Trinity (without wilfully rejecting It) can be saved. Unfortunately, due to the foundational misunderstanding in our dialogue, I've come to feel that it's been rather a waste of time. Hopefully that time can be redeemed by posting the exchange here, and that someone might thereby benefit from it.

Dear Eric,
Thank you for taking the time to dialogue with me about this difficult yet important topic, and for visiting my blog and reading my article, On the Holy Trinity. I appreciate most the fact that we can conduct this conversation without the inflammatory rhetoric that has accompanied our discussions in the past, and hope we can maintain a charitable and academic tone throughout.

I quite agree with you that the Trinity is a difficult and mysterious concept, which is why the Muslims with whom you have talked were obviously put off by it. However, the mathematical formulation you propose, "1+1+1=1", is not an accurate formulation of the Trinity, which of course is why it breaks down. I'm not sure mathematics quite covers the Infinite God. As to whether the different ancient heresies all said the same thing as orthodox Christianity, but with different emphases, I would contend that you haven't looked at them nearly closely enough, if you arrive at that simplistic conclusion. The fact is, the heresies said similar-sounding things, but with radically different concepts behind their statements, that were recognised as leading to radically different and contradictory conclusions. As for your particular questions, I confess that they would never have occurred to me, so allow me to muddle through them as I answer you.

You ask what the purpose of the Son and the Spirit will be in Heaven--claiming that the Son's purpose was to reveal the Father and to save us, and that the Spirit's function is to sanctify and empower us. What then will they do in Heaven, when we are saved and sanctified?

I think the difficulty with your questions arise from an utterly utilitarian concept of the Three Persons of the Trinity. The Son and the Spirit do not exist only to fulfil a particular function, such as redemption and sanctification. This is why I reject outright such reformulations of the Trinity that I've heard, like "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier" instead of Father, Son, and Spirit.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have existed together as the One God from all eternity, before there was a world with fallen people in need of redemption and sanctification. As such, they will continue to exist together as the One God after the world ends and we are united with Him in Heaven.

God does not change, as St. James tells us (Jas 1:17). There was never a time when the Father was not the Father, the Son, not the Son, and the Holy Spirit not the perfect expression of their love for each other.

The "purpose" of Jesus--that is, of the Son of God becoming incarnate, was to save us and restore us to proper relationship with the Father, but God the Son did not begin to exist at the conception of Jesus.

The point of my article was that God, who does not change, is Love. Yet, if that's the case, the love requires a beloved. If God is solitary, then there is no one to love, and thus, God cannot be love. Either, then, God created us to fill His eternal need for love (which makes God dependent on us, which is impossible), or God did not become love until He created us (which means He changed, which is impossible).

Thus, the "purpose" of the Son and the Spirit is that they make God a community of Love entire within Himself. Thus, God is Love without change, without dependence on us. This will continue after the world ends, when we are caught up into His great, infinite overflow of love. But the Trinity is essential to Who God Is. It will not cease to be Who God Is simply because the Son and the Spirit are not "needed".

I hope that helps. If not, please let me know, and we can continue this very pleasant discussion.

God bless

(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)

No comments: