The Trinity for Agnostics Part 4

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Trinity is very personal. Person was the term used to distinguish the Trinity in the early Church. Three persons of one substance. The substance is the communion of persons. Persons was a Latinization of the Greek Hypostatis. Hypostasis means the grounding of being. Each Hypostasis had a grounding distinguishing integrity, in much the same way that each of us do.

But even this entire philosophical processing can feel cumbersome that it is not even talked about in our Church.

Contrasting to many the pop-culture eastern mysticism, has at its heart, that the individual and personal integrity of the individual is meant to diminish until the person becomes non-existent. That is Buddhism. Self-Annihilation. Many of the self-asserting individualists who turn Buddhism into their consumer product don’t actually realize the hypocrisy in their spiritual quest. People who want the Dalai Lamas new book like it’s a trendy pair of jeans miss the point entirely.

Yet, in contrast, the Christian is to believe that we become most fully ourselves in God. We have all our personal integrity intact. We are not meant to lose it. We are, however, meant to diminish in the sense that we deny and die to our petty ego-centricism. This is not self-annihilation, neither is it self-assertion.

So we are most our own person in God’s person.

Conversely, we are most our own person in God’s communion, and in relationship to God’s communion in the Trinity. There is a relational dimension we are invited to. This is our salvation. We are redeemed from the wretched suicide of sin.

It is hard for me to describe God in his own existence. But even that is important to consider, because we are so obsessed with our own well-being. Having made it clear that God is more concerned with care for each of us then anything, we also have to shift our concern.

God existed as a communion of persons eternally, preceding any history or creation of the world. Preceding our own existence God was a communion of love. Some of the Church Fathers referred to this as a mutual indwelling of the three persons in a Pericoresis. Pericoresis was a dynamic Greek term that connoted a rotating. The strange thing for present theologians to consider is that the term implied dance.

The Triune God has engaged in a mutual indwelling dance from all eternity.

Augustine also referred to the Holy Spirit as the Unity of Charity between the Father and Son. Therefore we can say that God is Love. Therefore we can say that the Spirit unites Christians and peoples. Therefore we can say the Spirit is always moving in love in all the world.

Some of these images form a basis for reflection in prayer and theology, and they have helped me at all times. The God who is so magnificent and glorious to be conceived by my petty human mind, is the same God who discloses himself in the events in history, and particularly fully reveals himself in the man  Jesus of Nazareth, and the fire and life of the Church the Holy Spirit. God is already active before I was born, in a loving dance of unity. The Incomprehensible Transcendent Triune God existent before all ages, is the same God who cares and saves us.

The posture of the Trinity is always one of love, unity, integrity, and mercy. What then is our posture. It is always easier for us to be agnostic, because embodying compassion, charity and justice in the same way as God is always more difficult then in hiding behind the fact that we are a spiritual seeker, who is more apt at aimless drifting. When we encounter a person it demands the greatest reverence, it changes us. Therefore we must be ready to meet the aimless drifters and genuine spiritual seekers of truth with a personal encounter. God afterall, is very personal.

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The Trinity for Agnostics Part 3

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Augustine refers to having valued Jesus because of what his mother Monica taught him. He probably admired the person Jesus of Nazareth for being another remarkable teacher or philosopher. I think it would bear resemblance to your average agnostic today.

If you were to take your average lapsed Catholic agnostic, and ask them about Jesus, they would probably be in agreement on many things that perhaps do not agree with the Catholic Tradition. Beyond blaming the sorry catechesis, I think it would be interesting to see the generic and harmless Jesus that can only be the product of an overly materialistic consumer society. Jesus is another self-help guru. I am sure that is how they imagine him. He had some non-religious spiritual wisdom teaching, and he was a healer just like self-help gurus are or whatever. At the same time, there is nothing compelling or urging about this caricature, who can as easily be disregarded with each new pop fad. But by and large, Jesus remains a positive person that even the agnostic has a hard time overtly disrespecting him.

The apostles were vividly struck by this man Jesus of Nazareth. He was like the prophets before him. But he was not like them. He was like the lawgiver before, but Jesus was totally something beyond that. Jesus was, and Jesus was not quite in the way they understood. The Gospel themselves clearly testify to a certain Apophatic reflection on the person of Jesus as they grappled to categorize and bracket him into what their experience knew. Another lawgiver. Another prophet. Another teacher. Another preacher. Another wonder-worker. But Jesus was not any of these things.

Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Yeshua bar Yosef, he would have been referred to. Christ was not his last name (or Joseph and Mary’s). But what was with this guy? He was nothing like his family. There was nothing that could prepare anybody for the authoritative teaching, the inspiring proclamation, and the wonders he worked among the people.

All of this turned them on their head absolutely when they saw him in glory after having been publically executed. Their lives were turned on their head. They all went to the ends of the earth to endure brutal torturous death on account of the proclamation of this wonderful event.

Jesus said that his Spirit would come upon his followers, and there was a concrete and tangible difference. Whereas the Apostles locked themselves away in terror when Jesus was captured, suddenly they had no fear in the face of similarly gruesome torturous assassinations and executions.

They baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each of these titles corresponded to something, or someone they experienced. It was clear that Jesus was not the Father that he prayed to, but Jesus was the one with the Father. That Jesus was not the Spirit who came upon the disciples, but there was a unity.

The whole movement of the Church exploded amidst bloody persecutions. There was something alive and flamboyant at work behind the scenes. It took them a while to let their intellectual reflections catch up with their own experience and the tradition. It was clear from the beginning that there were three divine persons, each with their own solid ground and integrity. Yet, It was clear, as has always been that there is still one God.

As the Church Fathers were quite comfortable with articulations about God, balanced with an incomprehensible Divine Mystery, the idea that there God is Triune was not altogether difficult to accept. It is, unfortunately far removed from our experiences. I do believe that the magnitude of the incomprehensibility of Divine Mystery has been so incredibly undervalued publically, that many people do become agnostics. But God has acted in history. God has acted in our lives. It is quite concrete, so much so that it does not make sense to remain an exclusive agnostic for very long. Jesus, the Son of God, had flesh and blood like us. He hungered and feasted as us. And he spoke to us. He speaks to us in the Scriptures. Perhaps the Father is caring, nurturing, and providing for us. Perhaps the Spirit is moving and vivifying us likewise. It does not make sense to remain agnostic, because God is acting in our lives in a concrete manner, demanding a concrete response.

People who remain hard hearted agnostics, often will find themselves deliberated trapped, to protect themselves from hypocritical Christians. They want to see results. They want to see that following God leads to happiness, that the moral life is possible, and that they are all connected. Most of all they are craving communion, not more abstract moral theories, not more abstract moral doctrines. It is not that these have no value.

But the story of God is very personal. The story of Trinity is very personal. The Son of God is Incarnate. The Son of God has eyeballs, ears, a nose, and a tongue. The Son of God has a story, the story is our redemption, the story becomes our story, our story becomes part of his story, our story becomes the Church’s story, the Church’s story becomes our story, the Son of God’s story becomes our story. The Story of God follows with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we can receive that gift through the Sacraments. We begin our Trinitarian Life at Baptism, in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. So it becomes very important for us to be well versed in this story. It becomes important for us to reflect on our personal part in this story in the Life of the Trinity. We see our past with new perspective, and God transforms our pain into something beautiful.

Augustine looked deeply into the story of Jesus, and the story of the Church, and the story of the Communion of the Saints. He saw something too remarkable to deny, and followed his heart into the story.

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The Trinity for Agnostics Part 2

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Many of the Church Fathers termed a process “Apophatic” Theology. Apophatic is a negated speech of God. It was seen in the process of coming to a deeper understanding of God, principally by denying all of your comfortable certitudes about God.

As children, we have very concrete images of God. We let go of them with age. That is normal. If we are serious in our endeavor to understand God in faith, we have to let go of our childhood faith in order to have an adult faith. We can move past the milk to the solid food as Saint Paul says.

It appears to be a dangerous endeavor, and I think many people would rather not have instant answers. Some people want to have the comfort of not having to struggle in the darkness to find God.

Moses encountered the Lord in the wilderness, after having singularly fled Egypt. It was in this darkness that God manifest. Elijah as well, imagining that he pinpointed God in the storms, whirlwinds and thunders, and God manifest in the quiet. The entire Hebrew tradition is wrought with this wonder at divine majesty, that even today, out of reverence, Jews dare not utter the sacred name G-d.

Christians had inherited this. Christians had appropriated it. In many of the instances the Bishops articulated something concise in order to draw a boundary when somebody preached a heresy that took the tradition out of balance, or out of the inherited tradition entirely.

It is not as if most of the heretics woke up one day and decided to wreak havoc on the doctrine of the Church. They probably believed that they had God down in a laboratory. What made it so problematic was that many heretics persisted in their heresy.

But so it is when we encounter someone agnostic whose wandered off with only their speculations. We presume that they have some kind of mal-intent to ruin the tradition. Maybe they are doing apophatic theology and don’t know it. Maybe that is the pilgrimage that God is guiding them on. Maybe you were there too, and God had to take you through it to get you there.

Of course, the Church Fathers do not believe that  Agnosticism is the finality or the climax. While we say that God is love, soon we get confused. We hear the word love thrown around like an old dirty tennisball. We wonder if God really loves us in all our messiness. We wonder if God really even cares, like he hasn’t sent a birthday card in a while. So we can definitely and accurately say that God is not love. The way love is defined, understood, and practiced in our day and age, tainted by lust and jealousy and greed, its really hard to understand what love is, or what we mean by God is love.

Our pilgrimage takes us to something even more spectacular, when we have some kind of solid faith that God is love in such an excellent and magnificent way that words fail. It is like an ascent. We make a positive statement of God, then a negative statement about God, then another positive statement enriched by our awe-inspired reverence for God’s glory, because our love moves us to at least say something.

Of course, some agnostics I have met are just more comfortable not committing to anything, floating along from one experience to another, afraid that should they delve too deeply and sincerely into one thing, their discovery will radically overturn their comfort, and compel them into a dangerous and lovely adventure. It could be that many agnostics are on a sincere pilgrimage, and haven’t gotten to the point where they can again confidently make assertions on God.

Obviously, as faith is a gift from God, so this leap from Apophatic or negative theology requires some sort of divine intervention. God indeed would have to speak. I believe that God did speak quite precisely and definitively in the Word, who is God, who is Incarnate in flesh, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the fullness of God’s revelation to humankind. Jesus invites us on a dangerous and lovely adventure.

It always evokes in me, a sense that sometimes I need to be hushed in reverent silence before the Glorious Majesty of the Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth.

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The Trinity for Agnostics Part 1

“God is more thought than can be uttered, God exists more than can be thought.” -Augustine

For Saint Augustine, and For Saint Gregory Nazianzus, they spoke much of God. Yet, scattered throughout all their theological musings and quandaries was a reverent hesitation evoked by a heart in wonder hushed by the divine mystery.

Since the age of Enlightenment, or rationalism, or modernism, we have viewed activities of knowledge with rigor. We mixed in the idea of positivism: what can be known must be demonstrated or verified with concrete data and facts. Only what can be measured in the most pure of scientific settings can be held to be true. What cannot be measured and demonstrated in strictly empirical or scientific matters must be ignored. This seems to be at the root of much atheism today.

But most people are not atheists. Some people think that they have become atheist merely to liberate themselves from the shackles of religion. I believe it is the opposite, that many atheists have come to atheism because only positivism, or rationalism, or enlightenment, or whatever gives them confidence.

Instead of atheism, people get caught between religion and agnosticism. I was an agnostic for a long time. Some of my agnosticism was not a reaction to religion. It was a reaction to positivism and rationalism, which had become enshrined our secular society, and even our modern theology.

It was not because I had the certitude of a verifiable alternative that I became agnostic at the age of 15. I think that it was because positivism in the west, and particularly America was tying things so tightly and comfortably together. Unlike the stereotypes of Catholics somehow clinging deeply to irrational biblical fairy tales or whatever, we have actually always had a healthy management of reason amidst faith. But this is not really a defense of that. In some ways reacting to hyper-rationalistic secularism, we were actually hyper-rationalistic to the point of articulating our theological constructions of God that became positivistic or rationalistic. The problem was that it reduced God in so many ways to be grasped and articulated with scientific precision and clarity. God was reduced to a piece of empirical data.

Augustine struggled with this all throughout his work the Trinity. He always wavered between developing an affirmative speech about God, and then denying whatever he attempted to articulate. Even Thomas Aquinas wanted to throw away all his theological investigations after some sort of encounter with the Divine Mystery.

Even the most brilliant theologian saints themselves appear in some ways to be agnostic. Some apologists might be apt at quoting Aquinas against any objection or objector, which is great to a point, as if faith is not a gift from the Holy Spirit, but can be intellectually demonstrated in a positivistic rationalistic laboratory. God is not a lab rat. We cannot make God run the maze and say that is God.

On the other hand, we have plenty of gods in our films, whose power is demonstrated with spectacular special effects. I think many people walk away from the Church, because they are walking away from sloppy or inaccurate depictions of God that is so small as to fit into our theological demonstrations, or that Hollywood special effects God does not behave like the movies or whatever.

But the story of Augustine goes like this. As he walked along the coast of North Africa overlooking the vast Mediterranean struggling to put two words this theology of the Trinity, he was distracted by what some child appearing to play games. The child dug a little hole in the sand, and repeatedly went to the water transferring from the Mediterranean to his little hole in the sand with a little shell. Augustine inquired of the child what this game was. With innocent enthusiasm, and outstretched arms, the child said “I am going to put the WHOOOOOOOOOLE OCEAN in this little hole…” Augustine thought what folly! But the child, who was some sort of angel, “Don’t you know it is folly to attempt to put the Glorious Divine Mystery of the Trinity into your tiny little head?”

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