Preface to Part 3: This part of my talk was actually entirely new this time around. The catechist/presenter from the previous week noted that Church Councils could fall under either his presentation (on the apostles and the early Church) or mine. He also said that while he would mention the council at Jerusalem, he wasn't going to cover councils in any real depth, unfortunately. Both RCIA and the adult Confirmation class follow Fr Oscar Luefahr's book, "We Believe": A Survey of the Catholic Faith, and as it turns out the section on Church councils is in the Chapter about the Trinity, which makes sense given that many of the early councils dealt with questions pertaining to the doctrine of the Trinity. In my talk itself, this section came at the end (because of time constraints and not being sure that I would necessarily cover this), but I am switching sections 3 and 4 in the written order, for what it's worth. In the 3rd section of this talk, but the fourth as written, I stress the importance of not taking any analogy too far lest it lead to heresy.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives this definition for heresy: “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt of the same” (CCC 2089). Simply defined, heresy is error brought about by rejecting a de fide doctrine, that is, by rejecting one of the settled dogmas of the Church. All of these de fide dogmas are true and have been definitively taught as true by the infallible authority of the Church. Often heresy takes the form of exaggerating one (or more) true doctrine such that another true doctrine is distorted or discarded.
Preface to Part 2: In the first part of this series, I discussed the specifically Trinitarian aspects of the Trinity: that God Is three Persons in one Nature. Now I turn to the dogmas (conclusions), the relationships, and the mystery.
Part 2: Mystery, Dogma, and Relationship
The Trinity is Ultimately a Mystery
We can say that in God, there are three Persons, each Distinct from the Others, and yet there is only one God. If this is somewhat (or very) confusing, it is because the doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately a mystery. “We cannot fully understand how the three Divine Persons are one and the same God [and yet really distinct as Persons] because this is a mystery. A mystery is a truth which we cannot fully understand” (BC Q196-197). Or, as the United Stated Catholic Catechism for Adults puts it,
“The mystery of the Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and life. God reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity includes three truths of faith.
First, The Trinity is One. We do not speak of three gods but of one God. Each of the Persons is fully God. They are a unity of Persons in one divine nature.
Second, the Divine Persons are distinct from each other. Father, Son, and Spirit are not three appearances of God, but three identifiable persons, each fully God in a way distinct from the others.
Third, the Divine Persons are in relation to each other. The distinction of each is understood only in reference to the Others. The Father cannot be the Father without the Son, nor can the Son be the Son without the Father. The Holy,Spirit is related to the Father and the Son who both send him forth...
The mystery of God is not a puzzle to be solved. It is a truth to be reverenced. It is a reality too rich to be fully grasped by our minds, so that while it continues to unfold, it always remains mostly beyond our comprehension. The mystery of God is present in our lives and yet remains hidden, beyond the full grasp of our minds” (USCCA p 52-53, 51).
Preface: At some point a few years ago, I was asked to give a presentation to my parish' adult confirmation class concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. I've been giving this presentation, with slight modifications, ever since, to both RCIA and to the adult confirmation class. In the most recent version, I made some major revisions to the section on analogies, and some minor revisions elsewhere. Therefore, I thought I would (re-) post the talk transcript with the revisions.
Introduction: What is the Trinity?
What is the central doctrine of the Catholic Faith? Some might say that it is the doctrine of the Eucharist, or of the sacraments in general; others might answer that it is the doctrine of Original Sin, or more broadly of Creation-Fall-Salvation-Sanctification. It might be argued that our central doctrine is the revelation of Christ as true God and true man, or that He established a Church through which God would continue to teach us and speak to us until the world's end. These are all very important doctrines, but none of them is ultimately the central doctrine of the Catholic Faith. Rather, the core doctrine of our faith—the central tenet in which all other doctrines are rooted—is the doctrine of the Trinity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that
“From the beginning, the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church's living faith, principally by means of Baptism. It finds its expression in the rule of baptismal faith, formulated in the preaching, catechesis, and prayer of the Church” (CCC 249).
"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." Sir Winston Churchill's comment is a pretty apt description of the media's "reporting" of news in general, and news about the pope in particular. Witness the latest incident, from The Independent's article with the headline "Pope Francis assures Atheists: 'You don't have to believe in God to get to heaven.'"
This has, of course, been picked up and repeated elsewhere, always under some variation of the title that the pope is saying that belief in God (and by strong implication, that God Himself) is unnecessary for salvation, that faith and hope are unnecessary. Worse, a number of people actually believe that this is what the pope said (and meant), including some people who ought to know better. Indeed, the whole affair would have probably passed by me for now (it's been a busy week) had not one of my Protestant friends posted the article to facebook with the comment “Wrong. Flat out wrong.” This is a friend who is usually wary of at least the mainstream media's reporting in general, and I had hoped that his comment was about the article's title being wrong—rather, it was about the pope's being wrong for holding this position.
Today is the feast of Saint Dominic, of whose order I am a lay member:
Shades of gray, shadows of doubt!
Things men ought to know in their hearts--
Explained away by trickery, subtlety:
Subterfuge by turmoil's dark master woven.
Pious works and deeds of mortification--
Yet the heart is proud rather than contrite,
Those silent prayers are too boastful:
Good works can be completed by hypocrites too.
Facts and knowledge invented or discovered,
Become just a mask to hide the lies,
Making them credible to learned or simple,
So that the truth itself may be obscured.
Who can set these evil things right:
A charitable man and his discerning companions,
Pure souls of black-and-white sensibilities--
Sharing that Truth sought in contemplation.
Chesterton observed that certain saints are more popular in this age, others in that age. That there are also other saints which are unpopular in this or that age. The saints which are popular in this age are often the ones which symbolize whatever virtue may be visible (or seemingly visible) in this age, but the ones which are unpopular are the ones which opposed whichever vices this age clings to. There is some truth to this observation, though it may be said and not unfairly that every saint has something to offer every age.
Still, St Dominic is not very well-loved in this age, at least not by non-Catholics: he is certainly less widely popular than his friend St Francis. Saint Dominic is, after all, associated with the inquisition, which is itself associated with Spain, his birthplace--though of course St Dominic had nothing to do with the Spanish Inquisition, having died long before the King of Spain launched that mess upon his country.
In my previous post, I discussed marriage, Holy Matrimony, catechesis, and the call of Catholic couples to live their marriage as a sacrament and a sign of contradiction. A part of that witness is in taking up our own crosses daily by making the small and sometimes even the big sacrifices for our spouses (and our children as well), for which and in which the sacramental graces of Holy Matrimony help prepare us and sustain us.
All of which brings me to the comments by Fr Longenecker and Monsignor Pope about separating marriage from Holy Matrimony. I hope that the foregoing discussion shows that the two are not identical, in that marriage the institution is not the same thing as Holy Matrimony the sacrament. But neither do I think they should (or can) be separated into two separate substances. The two are in fact joined in manner which ought not be separated, lest it do harm to one or the other or both.
In England, "gay marriage" is now officially legal though still not ontologically possible--which precipitates another round of posts about marriage and Holy Matrimony. Monsignor Charles pope wrote one on this following the US Supreme Court's decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8--really, he was revisiting an old post. And of course, a few responses were written to the good Monsignor.
Now on the heels of the England decision, Fr Dwight Longenecker has a post of his own calling for this distinction to be made, and for the Church to get away from civil marriage when she starts making this distinction:
It is now time for the Catholic Church to distance itself from civil marriage. The best thing we can do is withdraw from every aspect of civil marriage. I would be in favor of the situation which exists in France and other countries–where two people who want to be married go to the local registrar to be married civilly and then go on to the church for the Christian ceremony. This will give us a clarity. It will also allow us as pastors, to restrict church weddings to those who really intend to enter into a Catholic marriage. To do this we need to clarify what Holy Matrimony is. Here is a discussion.
The Baltimore Catechism tells us that "We receive the gift of the Fear of the Lord to fill us with a dread of sin" (Baltimore Catechism 2 Q178). Upon reading this passage of the Monsignor's post, I was immediately reminded of the first good essay I'd read on about the Fear of the Lord. In his essay "On the Rarity of a God Fearing Man" , Dr Russell Kirk writes:
"For [those of my academic colleague who were churchgoers looking to the Church as nothing more than a means to social reform] the word of Scriptures was no warrant, their Anglo-Catholicism notwithstanding. With Henry Ward Beecher, they were eager to declare that God is Love—though hardly a love which passes all understanding. Theirs was a thoroughly permissive God the Father, properly instructed by Freud. Looking upon their mild and diffident faces, I wondered how much trust I might put in such love as they knew. Their meekness was not that of Moses. Meek before Jehovah, Moses had no fear of Pharaoh; but these doctors of the schools, much at ease in Zion, were timid in the presence of a traffic policeman. Although convinced that God is too indulgent to punish much of anything, they were given to trembling before Caesar. Christian love is the willingness to sacrifice oneself; yet I would not have counted upon these gentlemen to adventure anything of consequence for my sake, nor even for those with greater claims upon them. I doubted whether the Lord would adventure much on their behalf....