Athanasius and the Holy Trinity

Great-CommissionThe Solemnity of the Holy Trinity is a celebration of the revelation of God as three-persons-in-One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The origins of the celebration of Trinity Sunday can be traced the time of the Arian heresy of the early fourth century. Arius believed that Christ was a created being, and in denying the full divinity of Jesus, he denied that there are three Persons in God – essentially arguing that Jesus was as though a “lesser god.” Arius’ chief opponent, St. Athanasius, upheld the orthodox doctrine that there are three Persons in one God, and the orthodox view prevailed at the Council of Nicaea, from which we get the Nicene Creed, recited in most Christian churches every Sunday.

For many centuries, the Athanasian Creed, traditionally ascribed to St. Athanasius, was recited at Mass on Trinity Sunday. While seldom read today it is a testimony to the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

The Athanasian Creed

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood by God. One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved. Amen

To further stress the doctrine of the Trinity, other Fathers of the Church, such as St. Ephrem the Syrian, composed prayers and hymns that were recited in the Church’s liturgies and on Sundays as part of the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church. A special (votive) Mass text in honor of the Holy Trinity was introduced and incorporated in the Roman liturgical books. This Mass was not assigned for a definite day but could be used on certain Sundays according to the private devotion of each priest. During the first thousand years of Christianity there was no special feast day celebrated in honor of this mystery, but, as Pope Alexander II (1073) declared, every day of the liturgical year was devoted to the honor and adoration of the Sacred Trinity.

It was however in the ninth century on, various bishops of the Frankish kingdoms promoted in their own dioceses a special feast of the Holy Trinity, usually celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost. Eventually, a special version of this office began to be celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost, and the Church in the England isles, at the request of St. Thomas à Becket (1118-1170), was granted permission to celebrate Trinity Sunday. The celebration of Trinity Sunday was made universal by Pope John XXII in 1334.

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) was born John de Yepes, the youngest child of a poor family from Toledo, Spain in 1542. He entered the Carmelite monastery in 1563, went on to study theology at the famous University of Salamanca in 1564, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1567. Dissatisfied with the laxity of his order, he considered becoming a hermit but was persuaded by St. Teresa of Avila to remain a Carmelite and work for the reform of the order. Not all Carmelites were pleased with his reforming activities, and he was actually imprisoned on order of a superior and subjected to great hardship for 9 months before escaping. His efforts led to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites, a reformed branch of the Carmelite order. The writings of St. John of the Cross on the spiritual life combine the depth of a Thomist theologian with the sensitivity of a poet. His Spiritual Canticle was composed in prison in 1578. The Ascent of Mount Carmel was written soon afterword as well as the Living Flame of Love. Perhaps his best known work is The Dark Night of the Soul. St. John of the Cross died after a severe illness in 1591. He was canonized in 1726 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926. His feast (liturgical memorial) in the Roman calendar occurs on December 14.

Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe.Today it is common to find villages, towns, cities, and even districts in Mexico, Central and South America named “Guadalupe.”  But in the year 1531 there was no such place in Mexico. So, I have always wondered why the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary is referred to as “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Guadalupe is the name of an area, a city, a river, and a Marian shrine in Spain. The word itself comes from a mixture of  Arabic and Latin roots. Remember that Spain was occupied in part and whole by an Islamic regime from 720 CE until 1492 CE, hence many words have Arabic origin. The Arabic wadi (seasonal river bed) became the Spanish “quadi” having the same meaning. “Quadi” seems to have been combined with the Latin lupus (wolf) to come up with Guadalupe. Continue reading

Our Lady of Sorrows

Mother-of-SorrowsOur Lady of Sorrows is celebrated on September 15th in the western Catholic Church. It is a devotion on Mary’s experience of the way in which the prophecy of Simeon came to be:

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord… Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:  “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel. The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:25-35)

In Catholic religious imagery, the Blessed Virgin Mary is portrayed in a sorrowful affect, with seven daggers piercing her heart. These represent the seven traditional sorrows:

  1. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
  2. The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13)
  3. The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:34-45)
  4. Mary meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary (John 19:26-27)
  5. Jesus dying on the cross (John 19:30)
  6. The piercing of the side of Jesus and Mary’s receiving the body of Jesus in her arms (Matthew 27:57-59)
  7. The body of Jesus placed in the tomb (John 19:40-42)

Blindness: faith or disbelief

man-born-blindBeing Lead to Decision: Faith or Disbelief.  Where the authorities drive the man away (v.34), here Jesus finds the man (cf. 6:37) and asks: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Just as the Samaritan woman was confronted by Jesus with the possibility of the anticipated Messiah’s being already present (4:25-26), so also the healed man is confronted by Jesus with the possibility that the future judge is already present. To this point in John 9, the theme of the judgment evoked by the light of the world (9:5; cf. 3:17-21; 12:31-36) has largely been implicit. Jesus’ question makes this theme explicit as he asks the man whether he recognizes in his healer the one who brings of salvation. As v.36 indicates, the man is ready. Continue reading

Blindness: more questions

man-born-blindA second interrogation of the man by the Jews (9:24-34). In the third and final interrogation scene, the authorities are identified only with the pronoun “they.” They are clearly the same group identified as the Pharisees who interrogated the man in vv. 13-17, but the motivation for the second interrogation is also clearly linked to the parents’ testimony and their rebuttal: “…he is of age.”  The man is recalled before the elders.

Twice in this interrogation scene the authorities hold their knowledge up to the man and expect him to accept their positions (vv24, 29). Each time, however, the man counters with his own experience (vv.25, 30-33). Continue reading