Trinitarian Reflection

Many say that the Trinity is complex and is some regard they are right. The concept is one that baffles the mind, and some find it unbelievable. The fact that our finite minds are not able to fully grasp it is intriguing. It makes sense really because if we can fully understand the nature of God then there is a problem. Perhaps we have made a god in our own image at that point. One we can fully understand, but in the end is false and has zero ability to save. St. Augustine said that if we understand him then he is not God. St. Thomas Aquinas says that the Trinity is one and that the Father is so because of relation to the Son.

They are still one essence though they are two persons. The same can be said about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is spirated from the Father and proceeds from the Father and the Son. Spiration is to have a relation to the principle. The Father is the first principle of all creation, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit proceeds and is spirated. Spirated is a term of temporality and eternality. Thus, the Holy Spirit is eternal with no beginning or end. This is the same principle when looking at Christ as the only begotten son of God.

Christ was begotten in the temporal sense at the incarnation. In an eternal sense he is begotten because he is the love of God. He is the Word and has always existed. The Greek term for begotten is monogenes and denotes his divinity and eternality. He is the Son of God in a very different sense than a man is a father to a son. Understanding these, not only explains the Trinity in a deeper way, but shows us divine simplicity.

The work of the Trinity is ultimately a work of love. Look around at creation and you can see the beauty and majesty of the Father’s work. Something as simple as a beautiful sunset can make a lasting impression on us. In the Son we see the person of our redemption. It is awe inspiring and hard to fathom. The second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, became man. He not only became man, but was born into humble beginnings, was tempted just like us, felt the same emotions as we do, did nothing wrong, and died on the cross for our sins. In his resurrection we see the ultimate representation of hi divinity, because without the resurrection the cross meant nothing. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father ad Son for our help and sanctification. The three work together for one cause. That is the salvation of mankind. This entity that we cannot fully fathom love us so much.

If the Trinity is not able to be fully known is it worth trying to understand? We would not be doing our duty as Christians if we did not try to do so. We do not need minds like Augustine or Aquinas to do this. Some of us may be called to do such things, but there are many things we can do. We can read scripture, pray, and read the work of the great minds in the history of the church. We can also fully surrender ourselves to the Trinity and allow the Trinity to work through us.

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Life in a State of Grace

When speaking of grace, it is important to remember that we are all sinners. There will be times when we reflect the love of God and live the Christian life well, and there will be times when we err and show our human imperfections. When we are in a state of grace, we are living the deiform life on earth imperfectly but truly. For one to do this sanctifying grace must be received because it provides the theological edifice that supersedes our human nature (Hardon Ch.4)

This deiform life, as John Hardon describes it, starts with the sacrament of Baptism. This sacrament infuses us with sanctifying grace and elevates us to partake in the divine life. In Baptism, we are born again in the way the scriptures speak. We are “born again in a new childhood of true innocence” (Hardon Ch.4). With original sin, and all sin, washed away we now partake in the deiform life imperfectly but truly. How can this be? We still have concupiscence, and though we may not fall into mortal sin we will commit venial sin. This is one of the reasons why Jesus established the sacramental system. Our physical bodies require exercise, sleep, and proper nourishment to grow into healthy adults. It is very similar in our spiritual lives as we need prayer and nourishment through the sacraments to continue in the practice of virtue (Hardon, Ch.4).

There are many saints throughout history that can be used to illustrate the example of the deiform life that living in a state of grace can bring about, but I feel the need to use a personal example. The Director of Religious education of St. Francis De Sales in Tucson, Arizona fits this mold. I am a member of the parish, and Maureen and her husband Deacon Russ, have been mentors. Maureen has suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for many years and is often in great pain. However, she never complains and offers up her sufferings for the parish and the children that she is responsible for educating in the faith. Her life is an example of how living the Christian life can inspire someone else to do the same. She is involved in many other ministries, but no matter what is going on has the time to give an encouraging word, pray for someone, and answer questions about the faith. Her zeal to share the Gospel drives her and you can see grace at work in her life. Her life is a great example for those of us under her tutelage.

Works Cited

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

Varying Views of Grace

As a convert from Protestantism, one of the challenges was the concept of grace. It was taught, and still is, that justification and sanctification were an instantaneous barrage of grace that instantly transformed. Granted, this is more of a Baptist, view and can change based on denomination. This differs widely from the Catholic view that grace more of a renovation for the soul.

Protestant theology looks at grace as a forensic, or declarative, justification. The reformers saw the concept of concupiscence and took it a step further and said that man is totally depraved. This total depravity prevents man from doing anything good, and all good things done are done by God. Therefore, man is unable to do good even with the help of sanctifying grace. The work of Christ on the cross is therefore imputed to the sinners account when a faith in Christ is declared. Fr. John Hardon writes that in the Protestant view a sinner is “righteous by reason of the imputed merits of Christ and a sinner because his inherited guilt remains” (Hardon Ch.4). Justification is now a matter of declaration whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner making the Father see the sinner as righteous.

The is in stark contrast to the Catholic view that sees sanctifying grace as a transformative force that changes the sinner into a saint. The journey takes a lifetime and is fills with highs and lows. Through the sacrament of baptism all sin is washed away, and we have a clean slate. Through the voluntary of grace on a daily basis and is ours. Regarding this John Hardon states, “what we obtain is truly ours and no mere judicial attribution” (Hardon Ch.4). It is given to us to transform us, not merely to make a once time declaration and not change our nature. In the Protestant system we are not changed, and in the Catholic system Christ transforms us.

Works Cited

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

Divine Providence

When we speak of divine providence it can be hard to understand how free will, efficacious grace, and perseverative grace can exist can fully exist within its context. If God knows how everything will turn out, then how can we truly exercise free will? These topics can be confusing to those who are just beginning their journey in faith, but they do have an explanation.

We must remember that God is not limited to time. In fact, he is outside time. Imagine that you had the ability to travel back in time to your childhood. You have the strange opportunity of observing how you interact with others. Though you know the outcome as an adult, you are observing your childhood self-using the gift of free will to make decisions. You know how those decisions will turn out, but you as a child still used your gift of reason to decide. This analogy is, of course, a hypothetical one.   Within the context of divine providence, we use our free will to cooperate with efficacious grace. Efficacious grace is grace given when we consent to it and always leads to good actions (Journet 2.10).

So, what of perseverative grace? Does God not grant us the power to persevere in grace? Regarding perseverance St. Thomas Aquinas writes that man “needs the Divine assistance guiding and guarding him against the attacks of the passions” (ST II, Q 109, A 10). This relates to free will and efficacious grace because, though it is freely given, it is still something that must be asked for. God will not deny this special help or deny his grace because of his divine providence (Hardon Ch. 3). Free will, efficacious grace, and perseverative grace can exist really and truly within the mystery of Divine Providence because they require an accent of the will and must be asked for.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981. Accessed August 10, 2018.

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

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

Instruments of Grace

Within the theology of grace, we see a connection between the sacraments as instruments of grace, and Christ who is the instrument of grace. Opponents of the church argue that Christ is the sole mediator and cite 1 Timothy 2:5 as a prooftext. Regarding Christ being the only mediator between God and man the church agrees and has also taught it to be so. However, Christ can mediate in any way he desires since he is the second person of the blessed Trinity. Christ chose to mediate through the sacraments. Charles Journet describes this as, “Christ was to come as Mediator, to teach, to give his grace through the sacraments” (Journet 6.6).

It is important to make the distinction instruments of grace, and the instrument of grace. The two are quite different and the distinction is vital. The sacraments are instruments of grace because they were established by Christ to convey grace. He is the instrument through which the sacraments convey grace. St. Thomas Aquinas sums it up quite nicely when he writes, “The principal cause works by the power of its form, to which form the effect is likened; just as fire by its own heat makes something hot. In this way none but God can cause grace” (STIII, Q62, A1).

This is seen in all sacraments and in a profound way in the sacrament of reconciliation. In John 20:23 Jesus tells the disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (NRSV). We go to the priest to confess our sins. We are not confessing our sins to a man, but a man who is acting in the person of Christ. It is not a man that is forgiving our sin, but Jesus is working through the priest to do so.

Reconciliation is a part of repentance, and the sinner shows his intention by word and deed. The absolving of sin done by the priest is the work of God who forgives sin (STIII, Q84, A1). This shows that the sacraments are instruments of grace, and that Christ is the cause. Christ is the instrument as he instituted the sacraments.

 

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981. Accessed September 15, 2018.

Stevens, P.G. The Life of Grace. New York: Prentice Hall, 1963.

A Blessed Lent

It is that time of year again.  A time where millions of Christians the world over observe the season of Lent.  Lent is a time of reflection and abstinence and teaches us that there are things more important than our carnal desires.  Lent has been observed since the beginnings of the church and looks to the time that our Lord spend fasting in the desert before the start of his public ministry.  St. Ignatius of Antioch in 110 AD said “Despise not the fast period of forty days, for it comprises an imitation of the conduct of the Lord”.

It is during this time of year that we hear of people giving up things.  Some give up chocolate, social media, and coffee.  Others give up something totally different.  We give up these things to offer it up to God in prayer.  Fasting without prayer is just dieting.  If we are not praying and reading scripture then what are we doing?  Chances are we are missing the point of what Lent is all about.  A time of reflection, realigning priorities so God is in the forefront, and growing in love for Christ an our neighbor.

I urge you to not look at it as giving something up, but as taking something up.  Use this forty day period to make a habit of a spiritual practice.  If you are not currently praying on a daily basis you can give up 15 minutes of sleep or 15 minutes of your lunch break to pray.   The same if you are not reading scripture.  Adding these two practices to your day to day life will help you grow in your walk with Christ and remind you of what is important on a daily basis.  Have a blessed Lent my friends.

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