THE TRINITY : A HISTORY
|CARDINAL GEORGE PELL|
WHEN ARCHBISHOP OF SYDNEY
HEROIC CATHOLIC LEADER
Of course the idea of a history of the Trinity is absurd. But the history of the human knowledge of the Trinity is another thing altogether.
This is Cardinal George Pell's Homily for Trinity Sunday 2013 in which he quotes at length his good friend Bishop Peter Elliott Auxiliary of Melbourne. Here is the Homily :
Prov -31; Rom 5:1-5; Jn -15
By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
26 May 2013
Today is Trinity, when we celebrate and adore the mystery of our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God is beyond space and time. God is spiritual as only His Son, the Second Person of the Trinity became man. As the Transcendent Being, the only Creator God, He is beyond our imagining and intellect.
I called God "He" because Jesus told us to call God Father, but God has no sex, being neither male nor female.
Muslims do not believe in the Trinity. Neither do the Jews but their figure of the eternal Wisdom of God, in today's reading from Proverbs, prefigures the Holy Spirit and they were also waiting for a human Messiah.
We believe in the Trinity because of the references to Father, Son and Holy Spirit from Jesus and the New Testament writers. This was worked out in gatherings of bishops called ecumenical councils after Christians obtained religious freedom in the Roman Empire in 313 AD.
The Emperor Constantine had hoped the Christian religion would unite his Empire (and it did this eventually), but the Christians immediately fell into ferocious disputes, where successive emperors often exiled Church leaders who disagreed with them about Jesus. Was Jesus divine, or a semi-God or another good man? The creed we recite eachreflects these struggles.
Bishop Peter Elliott has written helpfully on this topic and it is worth quoting him at length:
"In the Nicene Creed that we profess atMass we now come across a new word which is rather challenging: consubstantial. This is an indirect translation of the most controversial word in the history of Christianity - the Greek term homoousios.
"At the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, after intense debates, the bishops chose to use the word homoousios in their profession of faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Orthodox theologians had proposed that the Son is homoousion toi Patri - 'of the same Being' as God the Father. The word homoousios therefore affirms the full divinity of Jesus Christ, his unity and equality with God the Father, as the true and only Son. At the Council of Constantinople (381 AD) the text of the creed was completed with an expanded section I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . The Creed affirms the unity and equality of the Three Persons who are One God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
"When the creed was translated from Greek into Latin, consubstantialis was found to be the closest word to homoousios. Consubstantial with the Father is a translation of the Latin phrase, consubstantialem Patri.
"It is not easy to translate words that reflect Greek or Roman philosophy. There have been various attempts to get across the unity of being between the Divine Persons particularly between the Son and the Father. Consubstantialem Patri in the old ICEL translation was 'of one being with the Father'. That was a good attempt, because it harked back to the Greek, which could also be rendered as 'one in being as the Father' or 'one in essence with the Father'.
"The Anglican Prayer Book translated the Latin literally: 'Being of one substance with the Father'. Here we bump into problems with 'substance', which today means material stuff. It might be argued that 'being sounds ethereal and 'substance' suggests more solidity - as long as we never imagine that God is a material Being. Yet 'made of the same stuff' is what the original Greek implies. There is no simple way to translate this phrase, but it does raise a crucial question.
"Why was the original word homoousios so important? The identity of the true God revealed in Jesus Christ depends on that word homoousios. If you insert a little letter 'i' in the middle of the word, a destructive heresy takes over. The changed word homoiousios means that Jesus Christ was 'of the like being with the Father' or 'of a similar being as the Father'. That makes the Father the real God and Jesus Christ becomes just a lesser Son, like some kind of grand angel. Logically the Holy Spirit becomes another semi-divine being. There is no longer a Trinity. This was the heresy of the Egyptian priest Arius.
"The Council of Nicaea dealt with the threat of the popular heresy of Arianism, which lingered for some centuries. Today a crude Arianism is found among Jehovah's Witnesses and takes more subtle forms among some liberal Christians who 'nuance', 'demythologise' or 'deconstruct' the divinity of Our Lord.
"When we say 'consubstantial with the Father' we affirm our Catholic belief, not only in the divinity of Christ but in God the Holy Trinity. This should remind us that orthodoxy is not getting some sums right, but an adventure of faith, accepting and entering the richness and wonder of God who is revealed in Jesus Christ."
To revert to my own reflections from Bishop Elliott's insightful thoughts; and as I had a bit to do with the new translation of the Roman Missal quite a few people wrote to me about it. One fellow was hostile, because he did not know the meaning of consubstantial.
We shall soon be completely used to the new translation, but for the moment it is good that we are stimulated to think and ask what this word or that means. In good children's literature a new word is often present every page or so to expand the knowledge or deepen the understanding of the reader. So with us and the liturgy, most of us, including those from ethnic communities who are more used to sacral language, are happy to pray using the new Missal.
One final point. Immense consequences follow from the fact that Jesus is divine, or is something less, merely or largely human.
If Jesus is divine and we meet God through Him, Jesus has brought us the Maker's instructions; these teachings have a unique authority. If Jesus is just like us, we are free to improve his teachings in the light of modern understandings - or to reject them. This is not an option, because we stand under the Word of God.
Let us give thanks that this infinite Mystery of Trinitarian love and intelligence loves us too and let us conclude with the beautiful words of St. Patrick's Breastplate:
I bind unto myself the name,
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.