The Trinity and Knowability

The Trinity is a mystery that is dogma and must be believed for one to call themselves a Christian.  This is a leap of faith, because though we know it is true, we are not able to understand everything about it.  Do we need to understand everything about it in order to believe?  Some would say that to believe we must have absolute knowledge of the subject.  To not have this knowability is a contradiction in eyes of many.

There are many things that we have knowledge of, but we do not know absolutely.  The medical field is constantly changing and filled with new advances, but just a few decades ago the damage of cigarettes on the human body was not well known.  Is this a contradiction in the medical field?  Do we not adhere to the advice of our doctor because we do not have an absolute knowledge of his field?  To have that line of thinking borders on insanity.

There is no tension between the trinity and its knowability.  The Trinity was revealed very slowly in scripture because to reveal it right away would lead Israel into Tritheism.  They simply would not have understood it.  The members of the Trinity were together at one time at the baptism of Christ, and Christ mentioned all three.  For those who have issues believing the Trinity, St. Augustine asks a very interesting question.  Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead though you have never seen anyone else do the same (Augustine 7.5)?  We love the Lord Jesus though we have never seen him, and we love the other members of the Trinity as well.  We see the handiwork of the Trinity all around us.  The Trinity is one God with three persons, and we love them because they are God.  It does take an element of faith like most things in life.  That illumination that faith provides assists in understanding it a bit more.  If we fully understand everything there is to know about God, then he ceases being God.

 

Works Cited

Augustine of Hippo. Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130101.htm&gt;, accessed November 11, 2018.

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The Need for Formal Formulation of Trinitarian Dogma

In the early church many were attempting to understand the divinity of Christ, and in extension the Holy Trinity.  Today, we have the benefit of the Church correcting false ideas.  However, when these ideas were formulated there was not a dogmatic decree regarding the Trinity though the dogma had been taught in the earliest days of the church.  The heresies of Monarchianism, Sabellianism, Subordinationism, and Arianism required that the church formally formulate the Trinitarian doctrine.

Dynamic Monarchianism taught that the Father was true God, and that Christ was a man who was indwelled with a divine spirit (Preuss 126).  Patripassian Monarchianism takes it a step further by acknowledging Christ as divine but does not go far enough as the two are not of the same substance.  Sabellianism, or Modalism as it is also called, taught that God manifested himself in different modes and that there was only one person of the Godhead.  In short, God was made up of one person (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch.5).  Arianism denied the divinity of Christ and taught that He was a creation of the Father (Lecture Notes), and this was also the Arian view of the Holy Spirit.  In that regard, he was subordinate to the Father.  The heresies mentioned all have elements of subordinationism, because in various respects the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is lowered.

With these heresies being taught the souls of the faithful were at risk.  The church rightly saw that an attack on the persons of the Trinity was a salvific issue.  Afterall, if Christ was not fully divine then his sacrifice on the cross meant little or nothing.  The church responded to the heresies, and formally defined the Trinity at the Council of Nicea in 325.

 

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#05, accessed November 13, 2018.

Preuss, Arthur. The Divine Trinity.  https://archive.org/details/divinetrinityad00pohlgoog, accessed November 12, 2018.

Patristic Testimony and the Trinity

If the Trinity is of such vital important to the faith and to the Christian life, what did the testimony of the patristic fathers have to say about it?  This question is asked because it is a question asked by some skeptics of the Trinity dogma.  While the Faith is explained in a plain and direct manner in the first centuries, the substance of the mystery is rightly shown in the following centuries.  The patristic testimony regarding the Trinity, has a definite influence on the doctrinal and liturgical life of the church now as it did then.

The work of the early church fathers can be divided in what is called Anti-Nicene and Post-Nicene.  The reason for these distinctions is because the Council of Nicea was a sort of dividing line because after Nicea the dogma of the Trinity was formally defined (Preuss 142).  At any rate, the first four centuries were crucial as dogma was not only defined, but even before then we see development and manifestation of the dogma in the liturgy (Garrigou-Lagrange Introduction).

At mass there are two creeds that can be said after the homily.  One is the Nicean creed, and the other is the Apostle creed.  The Apostles creed is only slightly older than its Nicean counterpart, but in it we profess the Trinity.  Though it is made up of a few lines it declared the divinity of all three persons of the Godhead, and it is a creed that we still profess today (Preuss 144).  Regarding this Garrigou-Lagrange states, “according to the arrangement of the Apostles’ Creed is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and those things attributed to them in the order of salvation” (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. 1).

The creed itself is an extension of the sacrament of Baptism.  In Baptism, one is immersed, or water is poured on the head, three times in the name of each person of the Trinity (Lecture Notes).  The Trinitarian formula of baptism has biblical roots in such places as Matthew 28, but it was carried on into the liturgy and the writings of the Fathers.  Tertullian, a second century Christian writer, stated that the Trinity itself is the substance of the New Testament (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch.1).

There is also evidence of Patristic testimony in the doxologies in the early church and those in use today.  As was the case with Baptism, origins of these doxologies have their roots in the Pauline epistles where St. Paul writes the earliest doxologies.  The prayer that we sometimes call the “Glory Be” (Gloria Patra) today, has very ancient Christian roots (Lecture Notes).  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  World without end, amen.  This prayer reflected the publicly professed faith of the early Christians, and early Christian writers (Preuss 146).  It is one of the basic prayers taught to children at an early age to teach them the dogma of the Trinity.  It is one that links us today with great saints such as St. Justin Martyr, wo also was familiar with this doxology (Preuss 146).

The doctrine of the Trinity is echoed in the confessions of the early martyrs.  Patristic testimony celebrated these martyrs as heroes of the faith, and in some cases the patristics were among these martyrs.  These martyrs are celebrated in the liturgy on various feast days throughout the liturgical calendar.  St. Polycarp was martyred in 166 A.D., and before his martyrdom he gave glory all here persons of the Trinity (Preuss 145).  There were many others with St. Epipodeus and St, Euplus of Cantonia just to name a couple more.  These holy martyrs died for the Trinity because it was true.  Just because the dogma had not been formally defined does not mean that it had not always been taught.

 

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#05, accessed November 13, 2018.

Preuss, Arthur. The Divine Trinity.  https://archive.org/details/divinetrinityad00pohlgoog, accessed November 12, 2018.

Why Are There 27 Books In The New Testament?

There are many things that may come to an individual’s mind when it comes to sacred scripture.  Some may ask why there are so many translations.  Some may wonder if the Bible as we know it fell from the sky at Pentecost.  However many have questions on how we have the books we have.  For sure it was long and arduous process, but it was one guided by the Holy Spirit and the church.

One rule that was used to determine inclusion of the twenty seven books was linkage to an Apostle, or apostolic origin.  In the first three centuries after the church started there were many books bearing the name of various Apostles.  As an example there was the Gospel of Thomas, Luke, Peter, and the proto gospel of James.  In addition to these there were several hundred Acts and Apocalypses.  Some of these writings were spurious and contradicted the Gospel being preached by the church.

Apostolic origin does not mean that it has to be written by an apostle, but that an Apostle “stands behind writing in such a way that the essential teaching is preserved within it (Nichols, page 104).”  This would explain why the Gospel of Luke was included in the canon.  Great care was made to ensure that writings had apostolic backing, and if they did not they were denied canonical status.

Another rule that was used in determining if a book was worthy of the canon was its conformity to the faith of the church.  Would a collection of Holy writings from any religion be deemed authoritative if they contradicted each other?  The answer to the question is obvious.  The church used great care in determining that the twenty seven books in the canon were in compliance with what the church taught.

The church was able to do this by utilizing the oral tradition that was handed down from the Apostles.  As a Nichols documents “around 190 a bishop in Antioch stopped people from using the Gospel of Peter on the grounds that its author did not regard the human body of Jesus as real (Nichols, page 104).”  The church teaches that Christ was a real person, divine, and bled on the cross.  This writing taught that Christ was a spirit that entered into a man that was being crucified.  There were many writings like this floating around, and since they did not pass the test of orthodoxy they were not included in the canon.

Thirdly the writing had to be valued by the church that was respected for its own Apostolic origin (Nichols, page 104).  Perfect examples of this are the Epistles of Saint Paul.  There is little doubt that these writings are his for he states at the end of letters that he wrote them with his own hand.  Also he wrote them to churches that he started and they knew him very well.  These churches preserved these letters and read them in their liturgies.

Using these three criteria, the fathers of the church started to develop the New Testament.  The letters of Paul were among the first to be recognized in 90 ad and were being assembled in small collections.  The four Gospels were decided on around the year 200.  There were various canons proposed, but the Pauline letters and the four gospels seemed to have staying power.  Other books such as Revelation and Hebrews were battled over.  Some areas of the church accepted them and others did not.  There were also books with no apostolic link that were considered such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Clements letter to the Corinthians.  However they did not meet the criteria previously discussed and were denied canonical status. Through many debates and hefty quarrels we know that the canon was final by the end of the fourth century (Nichols, Page 105).

 

References

Nichols, Aiden. The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

The Need For Grace

In the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans he lays out a case about the desire for people to know God.  He says that by nature they can know things about God and God has shown them.  The verse in question is from Romans 1:19 which states, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (NRSV).  We see that there is something else higher than ourselves, and we long to know what it is.  In contrast with this desire to know something higher than ourselves, there is a desire to sin.

The “something higher” that I am referencing is God.  Many of us have heard of God from an early age, and in different Christian assemblies.  Though many have heard of God they fall into the error of thinking that Heaven is within reach simply by doing good.  This is part of the equation.  There is a synergy between us and God.  Our natures are wounded from the fall, not totally destroyed as the Protestant reformers taught (Lubac 122).  We realize in ourselves that we do things that we do not want to do.  This is also echoed by St. Paul in Romans 7:15 where he writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (NRSV).  We know that we are unable to do it on our own and that eventually brings us to the knowledge that we need God.  We need his grace, his mercy, and his forgiveness.  Without his supernatural grace it is impossible to enter the beatific vision.  This grace is a gift that we need from God to enter into eternal life (STII, Q114, A2).

In a way the position I hold follows along with Henri De Lubac.  This position was arrived at through my journey through a few Christian denominations and reinforced through study of church teaching.  Man is not capable of heaven strictly on his own merit.  Man is wounded, not depraved, and able to see that he needs the help of God.  He uses his will to accept the grace needed to get to Heaven and live the Christian life.

 

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981.  Accessed September 28, 2018.

Lubac, Henri De.  A Brief Catechesis on Nature & Grace.  San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 1984.

Guest Post: Typology in the Bible

Today’s post is a guest article written by Catholic Apologist Eric Shearer.  Eric has a blog titled On This Rock Apologetics.  He is doing great work for the church and you will be richly blessed by his writing.  So go on over and give him a follow.  Enjoy the article!

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I’m often told that I’m the spitting image of my dad, less about 30 years. And not just because I’m his lookalike. The similarities continue through our interests, tastes, and even career. By all accounts, I’d imagine any fair observer might look at the two of us and think, “Yup. That makes sense.”

Many people approach the Old and New Testaments of the Bible looking for a similar resemblance. The Old Testament tells us of God creating the universe, calling Israel to be His people, and leading them into the days of Christ. The New Testament tells us about Jesus and His ministry, provides us with instruction on how to live a Christian life, and even gives us a glimpse of heavenly worship. Yet sometimes people struggle to see how the two connect.

There are many different ways in which we can relate the two testaments, but I would like to focus on just one right now. As St. Augustine put it eloquently: “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”1 The study of this relationship between the Old and New Testaments is called Typology.

What is Typology?

Typology is the study of how various things in the Old Testament prefigured what was later fulfilled in the New Testament. And these “things” we call types (from the Greek typos). Scripture Scholar Scott Hahn describes a type as a, “real person, place, thing, or event in the Old Testament that foreshadows something greater in the New Testament.”2

In this light, we see in the Old Testament not only the progress of salvation history, but many divine analogies to greater New Testament realities.

The New Adam
We see this in St. Paul’s description of Adam as a type of Jesus. He explained that “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5:14, emphasis added). Paul viewed Jesus as a new Adam. Among many other similarities, they were both born in a state of original innocence, they both faced off with Satan, and they both impacted the whole of humanity.

Though with this comparison we can see just how superior the new Adam is when compared to the old. The first Adam failed where Jesus succeeded. “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man [Adam], how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” (Rom 5:15).

Other Types of Types
Not all types refer to Jesus. As I plan to demonstrate in future articles, typology can be applied to other things in the New Testament.

We can see an example of this when the author of Hebrews describes the Old Testament tabernacle as a, “shadow of the heavenly sanctuary” (Heb 8:5). (Or click here to see an example of Eve as a type of Mary).

It’s important to note, as Hahn said earlier, that a type is always inferior to its fulfillment in the New Testament. What was once a shadow is revealed in all its glory in the New Testament.

Learning from the Master

Some might be interested to hear that this method of reading scripture isn’t new. Christians have seen the typological relationship between the Old and New Testaments for centuries. And for good reason too. Jesus himself read the Old Testament in this way.

Take the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Two of Jesus’ followers were walking on the road to Emmaus shortly after reports of Jesus’ resurrection began to spread. The two encounter Jesus on the road, but they didn’t recognize him. The three talked for a while, and we’re told that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). How great of a Bible study would that have been!

Now remember, at this time there was no New Testament. They were still living it. The “scriptures” referred to the Old Testament. And from the Old Testament, Jesus showed “the things concerning himself.”

Why Study Typology?

Some may think of typology as a highfalutin method of biblical study reserved for academics in halls of higher education. And no doubt it could be. But the value of typology is more than that. It’s how the first Christians approached the scriptures. It’s how Jesus himself approached the scriptures.

By reading the New Testament in light of Old Testament types, a whole new dimension of the Bible opens up to us. We can see the brilliance of the divine analogies that were made so long ago. So much of Biblical history spells out the heavenly realities that we now know in the Christian era. And we can use these Old Testament types to shape our understanding of Christian doctrine.

Last, but certainly not least, typology allows us to approach the Bible with a new appreciation as we see the handy-work of a master storyteller unfold.

 

Sources

  1. St. Augustine, Questions on the Heptateuch 2.73; and Catechism of the Catholic Church 129.
  2. Hahn, Scott W. Hail, Holy Queen: the Mother of God in the Word of God. Image Books, 2006, pp. 23.

 

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Grace, Free Will, and the Beatific Vision

Grace is a free gift that is given by God.  What does one do with the grace received?  When a gift is given to someone it requires upkeep or it will deteriorate and decay.  In the gift of grace, we must cooperate through our own free will, or we can destroy this divine gift (Journet 2.1).  Grace cleanses us from original sin, we cooperate with this grace through free will, and as a result we get oriented toward our divine destiny in the beatific vision (Hardon).  The three work together in such a way that their relationship is integral to each other.

The Catholic tradition is not a type of semi-pelagian motif, but views grace as of first importance.  One cannot earn their way into Heaven because without grace there is no salvation (Hardon).  One cannot get to Heaven, no matter how many good works, without grace.  If one is estranged from God, then grace is needed to be disposed to justification (Hardon).  Once received there is the possibly, through free will, to reject this grace.

St. Augustine observed this struggle with free will and grace quite brilliantly.  Regarding this Dr. Ireland writes, “When he places side by side the consequences of his sin and the effects of God’s grace in his life, he detects two wills in conflict with each other:  the corrupt will turn away from God, the pristine will turn toward God” (Ireland 24).  In one scenario the grace of God is rejected, and we go our own way.  In another we embrace this gift, it is free, but some action was taken on our part (i.e. accepting).  Charles Journet uses an analogy of two men stuck in a well.  God reaches out his hand to save and one takes his hand while the other does not (Journet 2.3).  In this scenario each used their free will to accept the gift or deny it.  By accepting the gift of grace through free will daily we reach a higher stage in sanctifying grace.  God calls us to be like him and we must be willing to take that extra step, take his hand, and be obedient to his call.  Through his mercy we can accept this grace and embrace the beatific vision.

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Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Ireland, Patricia.  Guardian of a Pure Heart: St. Augustine on the Path to Heaven.  Staten Island:  St. Pauls/Alba House, 2009.

Journet, Charles.  The Meaning of Grace.   Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.

Grace and Liberation

In the New Testament there are many passages that speak of grace as liberation.  Sin is a plague that has overtaken the world, and it enslaves us (Stevens 9).  We are born in original sin, and though that is washed away through the sacrament of Baptism, concupiscence remains.  Concupiscence is the tendency to still drift toward sin.  This concept of liberation is seen in Romans 5:17 where St. Paul writes, “because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (NRSV).  St. Paul states this again in Romans 7:6 where he says we are no longer slaves and held captive.

In bestowing grace, the Blessed Trinity looks to the bounty, or freedom of the one who receives (Hardon).  In the grace of God, we discover our true freedom.  When we have a new life in Christ the destructive power that evil had over us is no more (Stevens 10).  Some may call this being born again, and it is a concept that is discussed frequently throughout the New Testament.  When we have this new birth the bonds that held us captive to sin are now shattered.  Just as God gave life to Adam in the garden of Eden, we are given new life through grace (Stevens 11).  Adam sinned, and through his sin death came into the world.  Through Christ we are free from that and we can live.  Regarding this Charles Journet writes, “Since the soul of Christ is so close to the person of the Word, grace finds there its true home, and there unfolds itself in perfect freedom” (Journet 2.12).

This liberation is also much more than being free from the bonds of sin.  Liberation in the New Testament grace established a union between the Christian and Christ (Stevens 17).  This is open to all men who are seeking the light of Christ and not seeking the attachment to sin (Stevens 17).  Grace is thus liberation because it breaks the bonds of death and united us fully to the source of life.

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Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Journet, Charles.  The Meaning of Grace.   Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.

Stevens, G. The Life of Grace. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1963. 1-65. Print.

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