This week we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. This solemnity is mentioned in a treatise by St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers (315-367). During his life, St. Hilary struggled against the Arian heresy. It might seem strange to discuss a controversy about Jesus Christ that occurred about 1,700 years ago. It is significant today. I would like to propose three questions about this trinitarian controversy. First, let’s look at St. Hilary’s words:
“Everything that the Father has is mine. (Jonn 16:15)”
According to the apostle, Lord, your Holy Spirit fully understands and penetrates your inmost depths. The Holy Spirit also intercedes on my behalf, saying to you things that I would like to say, for which I cannot find the words.
I have received the faith, but I am still ignorant. I show dullness and stupidity in my understanding of these spiritual matters. And yet I have a firm hold on something which I do not understand.
Your only Son has said: “Do not be surprised! I have said to you: You must be born again.” I am born again, capable of rebirth (with gaining some kind of understanding of God and his ways) but without a conscious perception of it.
I beg you, therefore, Father, that I may:
- Be preserved in faith,
- Testify to my conviction.
- Hold fast to what I publicly profess in the Creed,
- Worship you, the Father of us all, and your Son together with you
- And be counted worthy to receive your Holy Spirit who through your only Son proceeds from you,
Trinitarianism posits a dynamic God. His ultimate nature is beyond human conception. Yet God voluntarily operates within the created world. God dives into your life and makes a difference. Trinitarianism also shows a loving God that is willing to become as we are – so that we may become like He is.
Question #1: How do we know this? Living Christ and an empty grave.
There was once this guy… named Jesus Christ …who walked around, said he was God, did miracles… He was publicly killed. They stuck him in a hole in the ground. But then he pulled off this neat trick. He was later seen walking around a few days later at a clambake (well, it was actually a fish fry but… you know) People checked out the grade and – lo and behold – nobody there.
Arius could not accept that God would put on this flawed, filthy human nature. Arius’ God was grand and glorious and majestic and perfect – totally distinct from the messiness of this world and humanity.
Trinitarianism also shows a loving God that is willing to become as we are – so that we may become like He is.
Question #2: Why is this important?
St. Athanasius was fond of saying, “That which has not been assumed has not been redeemed.” This means that unless God truly became completely human, you cannot be assured of getting into heaven. In Arius’ view, no imperfect, ugly, dirty human being can ever reside in the same place as a perfect, flawless, glorious God. But the only way it works is if that God also, simultaneously, has a human nature. Thus, the Trinity is not about Greek philosophy or pointless metaphysical speculation. It goes to the heart of our salvation.
Arius’ Jesus Christ was a nice guy, worker of tremendous miracles, a social justice warrior. But God? No way! So we don’t have to worship Jesus Christ. These people who worshiped Jesus Christ as God…. they’re delusional. People who believed Arius’ God were influential. They had power and authority. They were bishops and priests – politicians and business leaders. They included people in the military and in the police. People who fought the followers of Arius were arrested. Some lost all their property. Some were exiled (like St. Hilary). Some were imprisoned. Some were killed. Being a “trinitarian” was dangerous. It came at a high cost.
What do modern Arians look like? It looks like the various religions that don’t believe in the Holy Trinity or that Christ is divine. They believe that Jesus had a vital and unique role to play in their faith. They explain that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus is “High honored in this and the next world.” They call him “The Messiah—someone blessed by God.” He was a miracle worker. He was accepted as a servant, teacher, and lover of God’s Word,
They do not believe that he was divine or the Son of God. Some do not believe in the crucifixion. They do not believe in original sin. They certainly do not believe in the Trinity.
Question #3: Why does this matter?
The Romans executed believers of the Trinity because death was the end. You were destroyed and gone forever. Christians didn’t believe that. They weren’t afraid to die.
Today our Christian brothers and sisters are getting killed because of their belief in the Trinity which is inexorably tied in with the belief of the resurrection.
Locally, important aspects of the Catholic Church and our faith are also under siege. The California Senate recently passed “Bill 360.” This is a proposed state law that would force priests to report confessions of suspected cases of child abuse to the police. Naturally this is violating the Seal of Confession. Bishops and priests have said, “Get the jails ready. If we believe in a trinitarian God and the resurrection, do you really think that we’re afraid to go to jail for not breaking the “seal” of one of the sacraments?
The Catholic church is absolutely suffering persecution. We’re not suffering martyrdom – yet. Nevertheless, But there is not a single person in any church pew who is not experiencing some kind of suffering. So, here are some ”Trinity” homework questions to consider this week:
- First Reading – Proverbs 8:22-31. “I found delight in the human race.” Do you take delight in the human race? Who takes delight in you? Does God? Does Christ?
- Second Reading – Romans 5:1-5, “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Consider your personal history – how have you felt God’s love for you in your heart?
- Why would God include you intimately in the divine love of the Trinity?
- If divine love is flowing through you – especially while you are suffering – how can you think your condition can help those around the world?