Wednesday, March 09, 2005

on the Trinity

here's a portion of the response I gave in a different blog concerning the Trinity:

we have to acknowledge that when we humans speak of God, we are using human language, which can never adequately, fully, and precisely describe and even approach the reality of the transcendent God. our human language, including our human concepts and categories, can never fully describe divinity. the best we can do is to “hint ” at who God is and to draw similarities and images based on our human experience that will help us understand. this is a fundamental principle in theology.

and so, when Christians use the terms “Father” and “Son,” we are not really attributing a gender to the Godhead; we believers know that God is spirit and is infinitely beyond the limitations of gender.

rather, when we say “Father” and “Son,” we are expressing a relationship between the two Beings. The First Person of the Trinity is called “Father” because he is the source of all beings, the original originator, the One who engendered and begat the Second Person of the Trinity who is first called the Word, who then became flesh and was born as Jesus, the “Son” of God. and the Word has always existed and shares fully the divinity of God. the terms “Father” and “Son” describe a relationship, and not gender. but we have used these gender-laden words to point to the intimacy and the love existing in the Godhead.

to use an image, think of a candle. the flame of that candle is the source of the light being emitted. there can be no light without that flame and conversely a flame is not a flame if it doesn’t emit light. flame and light exist simultaneously. however, we can say that the flame generates the light and “precedes” it. this is one way that theologians have described the relationship within the Trinity: the flame being the First Person and the light emitted as the Second. the other images have been parent/child, instrument/notes, speaker/word. these are not perfect images, but we, being humans with limited intelligence compared to God, have to use pictures and images to help ourselves describe something of the Eternal, the Majestic, the Divine, and the Mysterious.

now, related to this is the comment you made that you “find the Holy Trinity rather impotent in terms of creative, creation and transforming powers.” my fellow believers, including our theologians, will roundly disagree. to explain why, let me tell you briefly the story of the Trinity.

first we have the eternal God (the First Person) who didn’t keep divine life all to himself–selfishly hording all of it–but who rather generated the Second Person and allowed his divinity to be subject to the will, the acceptance, and the love of the Second Person (the Word, before being incarnated as Jesus). God made himself vulnerable to the Word to whom God gave the freedom either to reject God or to lovingly and joyfully accept God’s love. therefore, there exists in the Godhead One being yielding to the Other–a mutual giving and surrender: God, with great love and affection, “generating” the Word–making his divinity vulnerable to the Word’s acceptance. and the Word with total freedom and love accepts God’s will and paternity. it’s like (to use another image) a mother who showers her baby with all the love and the affection she can give, all the while waiting and hoping for a response, a gesture, a smile. and what joy that mother feels when she sees her baby smiling back at her. there is a great deal of joy in the Trinity.

and that connection, joy, and love between God and the Word is such a big, powerful, and majestic happening that it became a Person, the Third Member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. that’s why Christians have always believed that the Spirit “proceeds” from the first two Persons: we say this every Sunday at Mass. this is also why we say that God is One and complete: because within the Godhead, love is being given and received–there is perfect self-giving and generation. and you know, the exchange of affection and love between the Three is constantly moving, always vibrant, and full of energy that theologians have used the image of “dance” to describe it. the greek christians for instance have used the word perichoresis (dance) to describe what is going on in the Trinity.

so where do humans fit in? God didn’t have to create humanity or the cosmos. God is so complete in God’s self in this love dance that Christian theologians can confidently say, “God doesn’t need humanity.” BUT, God desires to share this dance with other creatures and to have them bask in this love unconditionally. and so, completely out of love, God created the first humans, giving them a kiss to bring them to life, wishing that they be caught up in the divine life, the Trinitarian dance.

and so, the same freedom and yielding that God offered the Word, that same posture of waiting and longing, is also being offered to us humans by the Trinity. the same primordial principle is at work: God creates the cosmos and waits for a response from his creatures to the lavish love and gifts that God has showered on them. God is making his love vulnerable and “powerless,” subject to our (humanity’s) acceptance or rejection. like that mother who waits for her baby’s smile, God too waits for our acknowledgement.

and you know, to say that the Trinity is “impotent” is incomplete. God is “powerful in his powerlessness” (a phrase used by the Christian theologian hans urs von balthasar, check him out). and this is because–how can we humans, upon gazing at the incomprehensible love given to us, the love that doesn’t force us to love back, but rather one that waits and watches (as a mother would watch her child), would not respond in return? the real life force in the cosmos is not merely the union between male and female and the urge to “split.” the real life force is the one that is contained in the Trinity–the force that generates, gives, yields, loves, and waits–powerfully waits.

the life-force we see in the higher forms of life on earth as well as in the tiniest cells are trying to move in rhythm to the love dance that generated and created the whole of creation. we are trying to move in sync to the primordial generation that occurred when the Word was generated by God. and we are trying to dance in the same beat that was created by the union that first existed between the Father and the Son and the Spirit.

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