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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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.

Book Review: Early Jewish Literature

Wright, Archie T., Brad Embry and Ronald Herms. Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology. 2 Volumes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. Click Here To View

This book is an anthology that is made up of two separate volumes.  Each volume is well over 500 pages long and includes early Jewish works from the second Temple period.  For those unfamiliar with this period, it extends from 516 BC to 70 AD with the destruction of the temple by the Roman empire.  It is a crucial period, not only in Jewish history, but in the development and early years of Christianity.

Volume one details scriptural texts and traditions, this includes additions to Daniel, danielic texts recovered in Qumran, and the Maccabean books.  Each book has a detailed introduction detailing how it relates to the second temple period, who the likely authors are, and the theology behind it.  It is very fascinating a  must read for scholars of the Old and New Testament.  This volume also details the romanticized texts such as Tobit, and lastly delves into the Dead Sea scrolls and their importance during this period.

Volume two begins right away with ancient wisdom texts like Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon.  Next it describes ancient apocalyptic literature such as the books of Enoch.  Lastly delving into Testamentary literature.  Volume two is laid out the same at volume one with detailed introductions, theologies, and excerpts that the reader can enjoy.

Works like this are important because it gives us an idea of what shaped Jewish thought during these pivotal years of the Second Temple period.  Students and scholars will benefit from the brief, but detailed introductions that this anthology provides.  If you like big books, then this one is for you.  It is well worth it.

{Note:  This book was provided free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]

Brief Overview of James and Jude

The Epistle of James is a work that is written the diaspora and possibly Christians that are conservative in their appreciation for Judaism (Brown, 726).  James is best known for its description of faith in relation to works in chapter two.  James 2:17 states “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  Also James 2:24 states “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  James basically says that if you say you are a Christian there better be something to substantiate your claim.  Anyone can say they are a follower, but the proof needs to be made manifest in how we treat others, and how we help alleviate the suffering of other members of the Christian body.  Brown states “In any period outsiders judge Christians by the commonsense standard of 2:26 that faith without works is dead; for them it would be a case of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is (Brown, page 731).

Another Catholic epistle is short but deals with those who stray from the faith, and that is the Epistle of Jude.  Most scholars think that it was written to Christians in Palestine due to the “brothers of Jesus” reference.  Jude is harsh and to the point when it comes to contending for the faith.  Jude’s approach to teaching the faith is to be harsh and condemning of those who stray. The advice is good, but it is necessary to be aware of how Jude delivers it.  According to the text it seems that intruders, or false teachers, have infiltrated the priesthood and corrupting the Eucharistic meal.  Brown states “The most interesting image is that of corrupting the love feasts, since it reminds us of the early Christian agape meals, linked to the Eucharist (Brown, page 752).”  The epistle calls us to stand fast and stand up for what we believe in.  Jude 3 states “Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

Works Cited

Brown, Raymond, An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997

Procession of Trinitarian Persons

The Trinity is a complex subject, and at times is very misunderstood. Some try to rationalize and fall into error by declaring a type Tritheism, or even Modalism. However, the persons of the Trinity are three persons of one essence. The Trinitarian Godhead is made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and all within the Trinity are two processions.
To understand this further it is helpful to define what a procession is. Within God there is a two-fold procession as was mentioned earlier. A procession is a general origin of one thing from another. There are two types of procession by which something can come. The first type of procession is known as Ad Extra. This type of procession speaks of something final springing from another. A good example of this would be a human father producing a son. From a theological perspective this is when something springs from God because God is the cause. The second procession type is Ad Intra, and this procession happens when something remains within its principal.
As previously stated, there are two typed of procession within the Trinity. It is also important to note that though different processions are present does not mean that there are different natures. Regarding this Garrigou-Lagrange state, “In the divine processions, for example, there is no diversity of nature (the nature remains numerically the same) but only a diversity of persons according to the opposition of relation” (Garrigou-Lagrange Introduction).
The Father proceeds from no one, and simply is because he has always been. The Father was never created nor begotten, but he does have the operations to know and to will (Lecture Notes). From these operations the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed respectively. To some this may seem that the Son and the Holy Spirit were somehow created? If that is the case then Church History needs to make amends with those who were condemned for heresy, but this is not the case. All are God, and it is from the Father that the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed in God (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. VII).
The Son proceeds from the Father for all eternity through generation. This type of procession we can see in several places in sacred scripture and also tradition. One such passage is John 1:18 which states, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (NRSV). Here we see the generation procession that indicates the special relationship and all-knowing nature of the Son. It is through him that we can have a knowledge of the Father. It is the Father’s principle that is being imitated, and this is because they are one essence (Garrigou-LaGrange Ch. VIII). In the tradition of the church, that is through the councils and writings of the early fathers, there is a constant teaching about the nature of Christ in relation to the Father. That teaching is that the Son is consubstantial and of the same substance of the Father, even though he is begotten. One cannot be begotten and consubstantial at the same time. The Son is the Son because he proceeds from generation.
The procession of the Holy Spirit varies from that of the Son. That is because the third person of the Trinity proceeds from the Father and the Son through spiration and as one principle (Lecture Notes). This is also seen in sacred scripture and tradition. One such verse is John 15:26 which states, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf” (NRSV). This passage shows that the Spirit proceeds from the first two, and this is supported in early church writings from St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and the Councils of Florence and Lyons.

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#00, accessed November 27, 2018.

No Gift Too Small

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

 

I was on social media a couple months ago and came across a post that shocked me.  It shocked me because you can sense by the tone that she was hurting.  Her tweet basically said that she has nothing to offer to the church.  This post was heartbreaking, and it had me wondering how many other people within the church may feel like this.  A priest responded with reassurance that she has a gift that nobody else in her church may have.  The next response was from a Southern Baptist pastor who said that there is no gift or deed to small, and that God can use anything for his glory.  It was encouraging to see over two hundred comments encouraging this individual.

What is the point of all of this?  In today’s passage we read that the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different people.  No organization can function if everyone was doing the same thing, and the church is no different.  We all can’t be pastors or teachers.  Yes, sometimes those gifts get all the attention but if you ask any pastor, they would say that there is so much more going on behind the scenes than people may realize.  This was the point of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church.  Charles Spurgeon once said that the greatest gift that one could give him was to pray for him.  We can certainly do that a little more, thee are things in the church that can always be cleaned, Sunday School to be taught, ushers, greeters, and people to put together the bulletin.  There is no gift that is too small, and every gift is needed.

So what gift do you possess that could be used for the benefit of the church?  At the church I grew up in there was a woman named Delores who greeted everyone with a smiling face.  She made everyone feel welcomed, and when she passed to her eternal reward over 500 people attended her funeral.  Her story is a perfect example of something that seemed small, but had a huge impact for the kingdom.  Perhaps your gift is the same.  Let it shine and let God turn it into something that helps bear fruit for his kingdom.  You have a gift that we all need and the Lord will utilize it in a way that you can’t even begin to fathom.

 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus I humbly asked that you take the gift I have and use them for your glory.  Help me to understand what my gift is and submit it to your service.

Reason and the Development of the Will

In the very beginnings of sacred scripture we read of the Lord creating.  Each step of creation ended a similar way with the words by describing their goodness.  In Genesis 1:31 God had just finished creating man and commanded them to procreate and exercise dominion over the Earth.  Genesis 1:31 states, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (NRSV).

Humanity was created uniquely different than the rest of creation.  God created humans with the ability to reason, with five senses to help us learn, and free will.  The combination of these work together to help us live in harmony with each other, in harmony with our creator, and assist us finding true happiness.  The intellect we were blessed with helps us rationalize.  Our intellectual knowledge originates in the five senses and internal sensory powers of common sense, estimation, memory, and imagination.

This intellectual knowledge that develops helps us form our will.  The purpose of the will is to direct action and direct the concupiscible and irascible appetites.  The concupiscible appetites are things like love, joy, desire, and sadness.  They work together to help us seek what is good and reject evil.  The irascible are attributes such as hope, courage, despair, and fear.  These attributes assist us in avoiding evils in which we may find compelling.  Together the concupiscible and irascible appetites are known as the sense appetites, and work to help us understand what is good and what is evil.  They help us establish the parameters in which we exercise the freedom which God has given us.  Regarding this freedom Servais Pinckaers writes, “It is the power to engage in excellent actions, actions that are true and good, even though the agent may in fact fail and do evil” (Pinckaers 68).

Looking back on my life I can see how these senses led me in the right direction.  How they allowed me to see what was right, what was the right path, and how I ignored it.  I think of an incident from my childhood in which I wanted a piece of candy at a store and was told no.  I wanted the candy and ate it in the middle of the store without paying.  I knew it was wrong and the senses mentioned above were telling me it was wrong.  However, I ignored them and partook in larceny to have that which I longed for.

This ignoring of what was supposed to be done made matters worse.  This is the effect of sin on the individual.  Every sin wounds the communion that we have with our creator.  Mortal sin goes a step further in that it ruptures the relationship completely.  For something to be a mortal sin it must meet the following three criteria:  It must involve grave matter, the individual must have full knowledge that it is sin, and there must be a deliberate consent to the act.  This is obviously not God’s will, and it is by doing God’s will that we find the happiness that we long for.  This is what James Keenan means when he writes, “Not only does love look for union, it also moves us toward freedom and truth.  Love then makes possible our search for a freedom for greater love and a truth to love rightly” (Ostrowski 27).

 

Works Cited

Ostrowski, Thaddeus ed.  Primary Source Readings in Christian Morality.  Saint Mary’s Press.  Winona, MN:  2008.  Print

Pinckaers, Servais.  Morality:  The Catholic View.  St. Augustine’s Press.  South Bend, IN:  201.  Print.

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