It makes a difference

We have all kinds of solemnities, feast days, and other special days in the church year. We commemorate happenings in the life of Christ: Mary’s visit from Gabriel, the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the maji, the Baptism of our Lord, the Transfiguration when the glory of Christ is revealed, Palm Sunday, the empty tomb and Resurrection of Easter, the glorious Ascension, the explosive coming of God’s spirit to the church at Pentecost … and then we have Holy Trinity Sunday.  And suddenly it is like we have moved from these great events in the life of Christ, and now…. tadah!!  We are celebrating… well… what are you celebrating this Sunday? Take a moment and make a list of the possibilities. Continue reading

Moving towards Wisdom

This coming Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday. The selection of the first reading from the Book of Proverbs can be seen as a celebration of Wisdom even in the primordial moment of creation. It is as though the scribes are saying, “Look, we are celebrating in our day, what the Lord has provided for us since the dawn of creation.” The dawn when the Spirit hovered over the chaos. Continue reading

Wisdom from the Beginning

This coming Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday. In the previous two posts we considered the larger tradition of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament, as well as the Book of Wisdom specifically. Today we will endeavor to focus on the first reading for the upcoming Sunday liturgy.

Many commentaries refer to Proverbs 8:22-31 as a celebration of Wisdom even in the primordial. It is as though the scribes are saying, “Look, we are celebrating in our day, what the Lord has provided for us since the dawn of creation.” This shift of focus is marked by the change from “I” (vv.12, 17) to the Lord (vv. 22–31). The section begins with “the Lord” and ends with benê ʾādām (“I found delight in the sons of men”), the climax and aim of God’s creative works.

This section, unified thematically by wisdom’s connection with God’s creative works, falls into two equal stanzas. The first pertains to her origin before creation (vv. 22–26); the second, to her presence and celebration during the creation (vv. 27–31). These two halves are linked by a thematic chiasm:

A, wisdom’s origins (vv. 22–23);
B, the negative state of the creation (vv. 24–26);
B′, positive presentation of the creation (vv. 27–29);
A′, wisdom’s celebration of humanity’s origins (vv. 30–31).

22 “The LORD begot me, the first-born of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago; 23 From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water;  25 Before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth; 26 While as yet the earth and the fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world. 

The first stanza establishes that wisdom’s has precedence in rank and dignity over the rest of the creation. Wisdom’s precedence is both qualitative (i.e., begotten, not created) and temporal (i.e., existing “before” any other creature). As a result she is competent to counsel and authoritative when she speaks. The stanza’s first strophe represents Wisdom’s begetting in the primordial past (vv. 22–23), and its second strophe represents her begetting before the sea (v. 24), land (vv. 25–26), and implicitly sky (v. 27).

Begotten, Not Created. The language of “begetting,” “created,” and the like has, historically, been the source of great controversies. Beginning at least as early as the apologist Justin Martyr (A.D. 125), Christians, almost without exception, identified Sophia/Wisdom in Proverbs 8 with Jesus Christ. This almost universal interpretation of the passage embroiled the church in controversy about the precise nature of the relationship between God and Christ. From the time of Origen (ca. A.D. 180) patristic exegesis interpreted Wisdom’s birth in Proverbs 8:25 as Christ’s continual coming into existence. Not all agreed with such understanding. Led by the Alexandrian deacon Arius, a group called the Arians held that there was a time when the Son “was not” and thus the Son was created as God’s most exalted creature. They concluded this using Prov. 8:22, “the LORD begot/created me,” as their primary text. In contrast, orthodox Christians held that Christ was of the same substance as the Father, the true Son of God, and not a creature. Orthodoxy interpreted Prov. 8:22 by explaining that the ever-existing Son was “created” when he became incarnate. According to his second strategy, the “creation of Wisdom was actually the creation of Wisdom’s image in creatures as they were brought into being.”

Before all else. The expression “the first born”(rēʾšît) can also be translated as “in the beginning” which has appeal to the Christian ear given the Prologue of the Gospel of John. Verses 22-25 point to Wisdom (Sophia) as perhaps the agent or creative force of all creation. The creation is first described a “what there was not” – depths, fountains, mountains, hills, and fields

Many have noted the movement from the subterranean depth (v. 24a) to the springs leading to the surface (v. 24b) to the visible mountains rooted in the depths (v. 25a) to the hills (v. 25b) to the land and its fields (v. 26) to the sky and its horizon (v. 27)..Sea, land, and sky depict the entire universe of the living. All of this is described with reference to human habitation: from the oceans, which is most remote (v. 24), to mountains, which is less remote (v. 25), and climatically to land, where human beings dwell (v. 26). The latter is progressively intensified from “land” to “open fields” to “arable soil.”

Wisdom Books

This coming Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday. In yesterday’ post we touched upon the “theology and economy” of God’s innermost life which is a fundamental part of the Christian creed. In many forms, the Trinity and all that it implies in terms of person and nature, is at the heart of a whole range of heresies during the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries. But there was no Sunday that was universally dedicated to this most fundamental of beliefs – not until the 14th century. As noted yesterday, this week I plan to consider the first reading from Proverbs in which the focus is on the oikonomia of the Wisdom of God. Let me provide some context with an overview of the Book of Proverbs (adapted from a word by Rev. Donald Senior). Continue reading

Hesitation

Great-CommissionDoubt/hesitation. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted (Mt 28:17 – part of the gospel for Holy Trinity Sunday). Many English translations offer “but some doubted.” Unfortunately the word “some” does not appear in the Greek text. The only two valid translations are “they worshiped, but they doubted (hesitated)” or “they worshiped and they doubted (hesitated).” It is hard to avoid the simple statement of the text: those who worship are also those who doubt.

Mark Allan Powell writes about this verse in his book, Loving Jesus [121]. Continue reading

Holy Trinity: theology and economy

Great-CommissionAs some critics rightly point out, nowhere in Scripture does the word “Trinity” appear. Their argument is then that the idea of a Holy Trinity is a human doctrine. Yet, Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: not in their names, for there is only one God, the almighty Father, his only Son and the Holy Spirit: the Most Holy Trinity. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men ‘and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin.” (CCC§234). Continue reading

Liturgy, Heresy and Creed

Great-Commission16 The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. 18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:16-20) This coming Sunday the Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Continue reading

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.

Holy Trinity: mission

Great-CommissionAll power…all nations… all that I have commanded you…with you always. One should be struck by the repetition of the word “all” in this passage:

  1. Jesus has been given all power (v.18).
  2. Disciples are to be made of all nations (v.19).
  3. Disciples are to obey all that Jesus commanded (v.20).
  4. Jesus will be with the disciples always (literally “all the days”; v.20).

The universality of Jesus’ power and his continuing presence provide the dynamic for the universal discipleship mandate. The disciples will be able to make disciples of all the nations only as they recognize that Jesus has been given all authority and that he will be with them all the days until the end. The universal task is daunting, but it can be done because of the continuing power and presence of Jesus. Continue reading