Blessed John Henry Newman: A Charter for Liberalism

Liberalism in religion was, according to Blessed John Henry Newman, the thing that he consistently fought against throughout his life. By Liberalism he meant the preference of our own private judgements over the mind of the Church, and the alteration of revealed truth to suit our own desires and/or the spirit of the age. His opposition to Liberalism is often misunderstood or simply ignored given that he was, in the classical sense of the word, a true liberal – he believed in taking a generous approach to the opinions of others, in the open discussion of ideas, and in charitable engagement with contemporary culture. And yet, he was also (again in the classical sense) a true conservative, believing in the importance of tradition, in the rightness of appeal to authority in settling disputes, and that the jettisoning of tried and tested truths in favour of new ideas based solely on their novelty was both imprudent and destructive.

It was this careful balance between his generosity of spirit and openness to debate on the one side, and his insistence on the need to adhere to and learn from tradition (especially revealed truth) and authority on the other, that gave Newman so many problems after his conversion – at a time when the kind of Liberalism abhorred by Newman (i.e.; the germ of what would later become known as Modernism) was being fortified against by retreat into an overly protective dogmatism zealous to increase papal powers beyond what Sacred Tradition could actually support, Newman was rejected by both parties. He was too ‘liberal’ for the Ultramontane party, and too ‘conservative’ for the Liberalist party. Nevertheless, out of his personal trials good would come, as the party spirit that was condemned by Saint Paul was exposed more clearly, and a more nuanced position would grow out of it – amongst other things, the idea of doctrinal development was given a surer and more robust definition.

Nevertheless, such things took time, and for Blessed John Henry, it was often a struggle (in remembering this, his testimony to the fact that he never once regretted his conversion and, despite his trials, always felt that he had found his home in the Church, have even more force). At any rate, when he wrote his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, he added an extensive note explaining exactly what it was that he meant by Liberalism in order to further settle some of the ferment surrounding it and his position on such matters, and in this note, which is in great part a reflection on his personal experience of theological Liberalism in action (the concrete always being of supreme importance to Newman), he provides a succinct and potent description of what the term does and doesn’t mean:

Whenever men are able to act at all, there is the chance of extreme and intemperate action; and therefore, when there is exercise of mind, there is the chance of wayward or mistaken exercise. Liberty of thought is in itself a good; but it gives an opening to false liberty. Now by Liberalism I mean false liberty of thought, or the exercise of thought upon matters, in which, from the constitution of the human mind, thought cannot be brought to any successful issue, and therefore is out of place. Among such matters are first principles of whatever kind; and of these the most sacred and momentous are especially to be reckoned the truths of Revelation. Liberalism then is the mistake of subjecting to human judgement those revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of it, and of claiming to determine on intrinsic grounds the truth and value of propositions which rest for their reception simply on the external authority of the Divine Word.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua (2004), p.254, Penguin Classics.

                Newman clearly draws a line in the sand here – liberty of thought and the free discussion of ideas are not only acceptable but goods in and of themselves; however, there are certain basic principles that cannot be subjected to critique or question, because they are the things which form the base from which we do all our other questioning. This latter thing, which Newman refers to as ‘false liberty of thought’ (presumably because whilst giving the illusion of freedom it actually, by removing the base from which thought is conducted, undermines the whole process of genuinely creative and critical reflection) is what he calls Liberalism. In matters of religion, the basic principles which thus cannot be questioned are the truths of Revelation – for once we start to question these, immediately we lose our identity with respect to the religion in question.

For any system of thought to maintain coherence and identity, the fundamentals must be set apart and not subjected to critique – otherwise we become caught adrift, and are no longer genuinely enjoying freedom of thought, but are rather beholden to a conceptual chaos. Saint John Paul II, in the opening sections of his encyclical Fides et Ratio, makes a similar point to Newman, but broadens its application to all philosophy – i.e.; to all critical thinking:

Although times change and knowledge increases, it is possible to discern a core of philosophical insight within the history of thought as a whole. Consider, for example, the principles of non-contradiction, finality and causality, as well as the concept of the person as a free and intelligent subject, with the capacity to know God, truth and goodness. Consider as well certain fundamental moral norms which are shared by all. These are among the indications that, beyond different schools of thought, there exists a body of knowledge which may be judged a kind of spiritual heritage of humanity. It is as if we had come upon an implicit philosophy, as a result of which all feel that they possess these principles, albeit in a general and unreflective way. Precisely because it is shared in some measure by all, this knowledge should serve as a kind of reference point for the different philosophical schools. Once reason successfully intuits and formulates the first universal principles of being and correctly draws from them conclusions which are coherent both logically and ethically, then it may be called right reason or, as the ancients called it, orthos logo, recta ratio.

Fides et Ratio, 4.

                This is of course exactly the sort of position that is now so often deliberately undermined (not usually by argument but rather according to the claim that it is ‘outdated’ to appeal to certain foundational, objective principles) and is at least partly why philosophy today has become to a large extent a matter of toying with words – something cut off from lived human experience and thus largely unable to engage with real life problems. Utilitarianism and relativism are, quite frankly, not fit for purpose – they do not aid or enrich people’s lives at a level which can effect long-term, meaningful change because they are cut off from that core body of insight that Saint John Paul speaks of. Just as there is Liberalism in religion, philosophical relativism represents a Liberalism in thought more generally, and it is this (with its destructive consequences for culture) that Pope Benedict XVI worked so hard to counter during his career.

Blessed John Henry Newman though was principally concerned with theological Liberalism, and at the end of his appendix to the Apologia he presents a list of propositions which he had drawn up during his days at Oxford as an Anglican – propositions which could be said to represent a kind of charter for Liberalism, and which he summarily rejected. He lists eighteen in total, but I shall only share the first ten, as the remaining eight are concerned more with the rights of civil powers and the relationship between Church and State:

1. No religious tenet is important, unless reason shows it to be so.

                Therefore, e.g. the doctrine of the Athanasian Creed is not to be insisted on, unless it tends to convert the soul; and the doctrine of the Atonement is to be insisted on, if it does convert the soul.

 

  1. No one can believe what he does not understand.

                Therefore, e.g. there are no mysteries in religion.

 

  1. No theological doctrine is anything more than an opinion which happens to be held by bodies of men.

                Therefore, e.g. no creed, as such, is necessary for salvation.

 

  1. It is dishonest in a man to make an act of faith in what he has not had brought home to him by actual proof.

                Therefore, e.g. the mass of men ought not absolutely to believe in the divine authority of the Bible.

 

  1. It is immoral in a man to believe more than he can spontaneously receive as being congenial to his moral and mental nature.

                Therefore, e.g. a given individual is not bound to believe in eternal punishment.

 

  1. No revealed doctrines or precepts may reasonably stand in the way of scientific conclusions.

                Therefore, e.g. Political Economy may reverse our Lord’s declarations about poverty and riches, or a system of Ethics may teach that the highest condition of body is ordinarily essential to the highest state of mind.

 

  1. Christianity is necessarily modified by the growth of civilisation, and the exigencies of the times.

Therefore, e.g. the Catholic priesthood, though necessary in the Middle Ages, may be superseded now.

 

  1. There is a system of religion more simply true than Christianity as it has ever been received.

                Therefore, e.g. we may advance that Christianity is the “corn of wheat” which has been dead for 1800 years, but at length will bear fruit; and that Mahometanism is the manly religion, and existing Christianity the womanish.

 

  1. There is a right of Private Judgement: that is, there is no existing authority on earth competent to interfere with the liberty of individuals in reasoning and judging for themselves about the Bible and its contents, as they severally please.

                Therefore, e.g. religious establishments requiring subscription are Anti-christian.

 

  1. There are rights of conscience such, that every one may lawfully advance a claim to profess and teach what is false and wrong in matters, religious, social, and moral, provided that to his private conscience it seems absolutely true and right.

                Therefore, e.g. individuals have a right to preach and practise fornication and polygamy.

Apologia Pro Vita Sua, pp.259-260.

                Again, it is important to remember the depth of Newman’s commitment to conscience, and to the open engagement with culture, so that when he mentions scientific conclusions in no. 6, he is not being ‘anti-science’ and when he discusses freedom of conscience in nos. 9 and 10, he is not suggesting we stop thinking for ourselves. What he is concerned with is that we recognise the proper priority of the fundamentals of Revelation, so that we order our conclusions regarding scientific discovery (which is always to some extent provisional and subject to further evaluation) to what is already known via Revelation and allow our consciences to be formed by that teaching in a way that recognises its prior authority and does not place the self above it.

Making a couple of adjustments here and there to allow for examples more relevant to our age though, it seems to me that the points laid out here by Newman are, in essence, consistent with what we see in the theological Liberalism of today. Whilst typing out the propositions, I was struck by how many of their assumptions are still operative in the thought of many influential clergy and laity, across denominational boundaries. Thus Newman’s ‘charter’ for Liberalism is still something we would do well to pay attention to, summarising as it does some of the main expressions of the spirit of Liberalism within Christianity. The ‘mistake of subjecting to human judgement those revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of it’ and the ‘false liberty of thought’ which both precedes and succeeds this mistake are still very much in evidence, and the spirit that so concerned Blessed John Henry Newman is one we must continue to fight against.

C. S. Lewis: Christianity, Historicism and the Enlightenment Narrative

In an essay from October 1950 entitled Historicism, C. S. Lewis critiques the various schools of thought that would confidently proclaim a defined ‘inner meaning’ to history. In the essay, which first appeared in Volume IV of The Month, Lewis begins by distinguishing between actual historians, who may indeed infer a certain meaning related to a series of events based on known facts (and may even go on to infer the correct sense of future or past events in relation to the known data), from the historicist, who claims to be able to infer from the same historical premises conclusions that have a much wider import – conclusions that are metaphysical, existential, theological or (as Lewis makes sure to add) a-theological. The historian speaks in terms of cause and effect or grounds and consequences; the historicist talks in terms of ultimate necessity, based on a prior theory of the way history is going (according to his particular theory of history).

Examples of such would be Hegel, Marx or Novalis, and Lewis also cites Keat’s Hyperion, as an example of historicism (in this instance evolutionism – the idea that things inevitably march or lurch towards a more perfect future) embodied in verse. After noting some of these examples, Lewis also goes on to rescue Christianity from the range of historicist schools – he notes that even though the Old Testament contains some passages which suggest calamities have befallen Israel because of a divine judgement, we have in these cases a guarantee only that judgement was afforded because of sin in these cases; we do not have the authority to attribute the same meaning to all calamities we see in life. Lewis also notes that, although the Old Testament has this feature in common with the contemporary pagan cultures, it is also contains many correctives to it that the pagans do not – the Book of Job and the Suffering Servant in Isaiah for instance.

Furthermore, for the Christian, we have dominical authority that not every disaster is the result of divine judgement in Luke 13:4 and John 9:13, so surely this kind of historicism is not allowed us. It is also often said that Christianity is unique in having a sense of linear history, in contradistinction to the pagans, but whilst this may be true of the Greeks, Lewis points out that both the Norse culture and the Romans had a keen sense of history, expressed vividly in the story of Ragnarok and the Aeneid respectively. When Saint Augustine wrote his De Civitate Dei, he was indeed engaging in historicism, but he was doing it to refute a pagan historicism that attributed the fall of Rome to the anger of the rejected pagan gods. What then should the Christian view of history be; and how legitimate is it for us to indulge in historicism? Lewis answers thus:

What appears, on Christian premises, to be true in the Historicist’s position is this. Since all things happen either by the divine will or at least by the divine permission, it follows that the total content of time must in its own nature be a revelation of God’s wisdom, justice, and mercy. In this direction we can go as far as Carlyle or Novalis or anyone else. History is, in that sense, a perpetual Evangel, a story written by the finger of God. If, by one miracle, the total content of time were spread out before me, and if, by another, I were able to hold all that infinity of events in my mind and if, by a third, God were pleased to comment on it so that I could understand it, then, to be sure, I could do what the Historicist says he is doing. I could read the meaning, discern the pattern. The question is not what could be done under conditions never vouchsafed us in via, nor even (as far as I can remember) promised us in patria, but what can be done now under the real conditions. I do not dispute that History is a story written by the finger of God. But have we the text?

taken from Christian Reflections (1981), p.136, Fount Paperbacks.

Thus we see the problem clearly – it is one thing to recognise the fact that all that has ever happened and ever will stems from God (from whom else could it come?) and that therefore the whole historical process must be revelatory; but for us to get the sense of what that whole process is revealing, we would have to not only know it all, but be advised by God Himself as to its proper interpretation. This is a situation that we will never be in – thus historicism, in its truest sense, is off limits for the Christian, precisely because of our prior recognition that God is God and we are not. Having established this, Lewis then goes on to examine how it is that various men of distinction have come to believe that they are able to divine an ‘inner meaning’ to history without having anywhere near the full realm of knowledge that would be required to do so.

He lists six ‘senses’ of history, before concluding that historicists speak of it in what he lists as number six of the senses – ‘that vague, composite picture of the past which floats, rather hazily, in the mind of the ordinary educated man’ (ibid, p.137). To try and give their case as much room to prove itself as possible though, he credits that they may, in theory, and not knowing the future, be working with the second sense of history – the ‘total content of past time as it really was in all its richness’ but goes on to observe that this does not really help the historicist’s case much either:

It would surely be one of the luckiest things in the world if the content of time up to the moment at which the Historicist is writing happened to contain all that he required for reading the significance of total history. We ride with our backs to the engine. We have no notion what stage in the journey we have reached. Are we in Act I or Act V? Are our present diseases those of childhood or senility? If, indeed, we knew that history was cyclic we might perhaps hazard a guess at its meaning from the fragment we have seen. But then we have been told that the Historicists are just the people who do not think that history is merely cyclic. For them it is a real story with a beginning, middle, and an end. But a story is precisely the sort of thing that cannot be understood till you have heard the whole of it…

…But even if it were possible, which I deny, to see the significance of the whole from a truncated text, it remains to ask whether we have that truncated text. Do we possess even up to the present date the content of time as it really was in all its richness? Clearly not. The past, by definition, is not present. The point I am trying to make is so often slurred over by the unconcerned admission “Of course we don’t know everything” that I have sometimes despaired of bringing it home to other people’s minds. It is not a question of failing to know everything: it is a question (at least as regards quantity) of knowing next door to nothing.

ibid, pp.138-139.

Lewis expands on this by remarking that in each individual life every second is filled to bursting with data (sensations, emotions, thoughts), and that we cannot possibly grasp all of it; that ‘a single second of lived time contains more than can be recorded. And every second of past time has been like that for every man that has ever lived’ (ibid). Not only is it nigh on impossible to access the preserved history of each and every peoples that have ever lived, but those recorded histories do not contain anything like the full range of experiences that have actually occurred to all human beings – thus only a tiny fraction of lived human experience (i.e.; of history) is available to us. Again, this is not to denigrate the role of the historian, as pattern and meaning can be perceived within that fraction of experience we have available to us; all Lewis is insisting on here is that we cannot possibly uncover some grand narrative or inner meaning to all history – we simply do not have the data.

Lewis then pre-empts a possible reply from the historicist, namely that they know enough – they may not have access to every single piece of lived experience that has ever occurred, but they know the important parts. This, for the historian, would be a perfectly reasonable thing to say – for example, the military historian, specialising in the Napoleonic Wars, could legitimately say that he has access to enough of the relevant facts pertaining to that period to form a consensus about the meaning of certain events within that period, or even the period over all; moreover, the undertaking of a study of that particular period presupposes that such relevant facts exist, otherwise it would never have been studied. The historicist however, is making the claim that he knows the ‘important facts’ which reveal the inner meaning of all history – aside from the issue of the heterogeneity of the data that actually does survive, how would the historicist be able to judge which are the significant facts and which are merely historical detritus?

Clearly, the facts selected as being of significance are chosen based on the prior conviction that they fit in with the historicist’s philosophy of history – it will always result in being a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, and the historicist will always be making a somewhat prejudiced selection from amongst the data of recorded human experience in order to fit his prior theory. This can be simply an act of self-glorification, but as Lewis goes on to point out, it can also be used for more nefarious means:

On such a small and chance selection from the total past as we have, it seems to me a waste of time to play the Historicist. The philosophy of history is a discipline for which we mortal men lack the necessary data. Nor is the attempt always a mere waste of time: it may be positively mischievous. It encourages a Mussolini to say that “History too him by the throat” when what really took him by the throat was desire. Drivel about superior races or immanent dialectic may be used to strengthen the hand and ease the conscience of cruelty and greed. And what quack or traitor will not now woo adherents or intimidate resistance with the assurance that his scheme is inevitable, “bound to come”, and in the direction which the world is taking?

ibid, p.143.

Herein lies the real danger of historicism – it is not only bad history (in truth, it has little to do with the real task of the historian at all), but it gives support to those who wish to subvert either small groups under their influence or culture as a whole to their own ends. In the former case, there have been a number of groups, spawned by the emergence of Protestant fundamentalism in the mid-to-late 19th Century, who have claimed to be able to apply passages from Scripture to history and predict the immanence of the end-times; in most cases this has only led to a narrow grasp of both Christianity and Western culture, but in some cases (those involving a personality cult of some kind) it has led to great psychological harm and sometimes tragedy. It is the latter case though – that of wedding a certain view of history to one’s own political ends, and of subverting the surrounding culture to those ends – that is most damaging.

Lewis cites the example of Mussolini (and alludes to Hitler); to this we could also add Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong and many other statesmen beholden to the Marxist view of history. In their fervent belief that history was tending towards an earthly utopia, one free of both want and of risky liberty, rid of the interference of religious faith and objective morality, and of which they would be the primary agents in implementing, they committed acts of violence still unrivalled in both quantity and kind. Lenin’s famous saying that ‘if you want to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs’, whilst doing a great disservice to the intense suffering caused by these regimes, pretty much sums up their ethos – history was on their side, so they were justified in doing whatever it took to bring its ends about.

Not unrelated to this view of history is the narrative which has its roots in the Reformation period (where solid groundwork was done to tar the name of both the Catholic Church and anything that the prior medieval period may have achieved) but is most commonly associated with what came afterwards – the Enlightenment. In the 17th and 18th centuries particularly, we read more and more of the idea that reason (unchained from faith of course) and science will set us free, that all we need to be happy is to cast off the religious and cultural shackles of old, embrace naked liberty and decontextualised empiricism and let ‘history’ take its course. Because of course history is on our side, and thus anything new, anything ‘progressive’ is a step in the right direction – be that in the realm of experimental science or in faith and morals.

Improvements in science and technology have of course been made, but the ideas that a.) we had to implement a divorce between faith and reason to achieve this, and b.) that we can see morals and philosophical categories in the same way have no foundation other than in the narrative forged during and after the Reformation and fully unleashed during the Enlightenment period – it is based not on history (which, as this thorough review outlines, actually undermines such a view; see also here) but on historicism. And, as we see more and more ethics being cast aside in the name of ‘progress’ (e.g.; easy-access abortion, legalisation of euthanasia, the eagerness that the UK government has to approve methods of genetic engineering that could have any number of disastrous short and long term consequences, and which raise significant ethical questions) as well as the speed with which Western culture seems to be gutting its own sense of identity from within, it is justifiable to wonder whether the Enlightenment narrative is not actually quite a damaging one as well.

For the Christian though, what does Lewis’ negative assessment of historicism mean for how we view history – clearly we must believe that everything is in some sense providential, so how do we reconcile this with not being able to actually assess the ultimate significance of past events in our life? Well, it is important to remember that rejecting historicism does not mean rejecting history, let alone God’s revelation of Himself within it – we can still have great confidence, based on both faith and the careful work of real historians, that the great events embodied in the Creeds are sound, and that we can appeal to a correct interpretation of sacred history via the voice of the Church.

For other events though, we are in the same position as anyone else, and it is only really to the present moment that we can reliably look for signs of divine import. What task is put before us now, in this moment, is something to which we can always apply the call to love both God and neighbour, and thereby discern its significance. It is also the only place where, in this life, we can touch Eternity. Furthermore, knowing that we do not, indeed cannot, have access to the inner meaning or big picture of God’s intentions in history means that even the smallest acts of charity we perform may well have a significance far beyond anything we can imagine – in preventing us from the belief that the way of things is ‘on our side’, humility before history also ensures that we recognise the worth of every contribution to it, no matter how small.

A Crisis of Trust

The reasons that people today cannot bring themselves to have faith in any god (let alone the God pre-eminently revealed in Jesus Christ) are many – we live in a highly sceptical age that is soaked in materialism and positivism, and thus unable to accept that we can know anything beyond what is discernible through our senses (and often even – in theory at least – only that which is provable under laboratory conditions); we also live in an age that is geared towards the satisfaction of short-term, material goals, to getting as much stuff or doing as many things that will make us feel good as quickly as possible – such an attitude, which is reinforced by every means possible in our culture, does not lead to an atmosphere conducive to the honest self-scrutiny that is necessary for breaking out of the narrow confines of the self and encountering God.

On top of this we are the heirs of a political culture that has and continues to do everything it can to undermine the Christian heritage of the West and mitigate against any embracing of the values rooted in that heritage or the Faith that formed it, preferring instead to advance a wholly secular project that combines a particularly subtle but no less intrusive or controlling brand of socialism with a radically libertarian view of ethics, particularly sexual ethics. This has in turn had a devastating effect on the family, which is of course an intended consequence, given that the family has always been the cultivator and protector of traditional morality and religious devotion. It is unsurprising that the only kinds of spirituality which tend to thrive in such a world are deeply individualistic and lack any resources to challenge the one who practices them.

There is however another cause for the lack of faith in our age which cannot be so easily attributed to the philosophical legacy we have inherited, nor to the designs of the cultural vandals that form the bulk of our political classes. That cause is the lack in our ability to trust – not just to trust God, but anyone at all. For many, despite the manifest obstacles our culture puts in our way, believing God exists is not really that much of a problem (as has no doubt been the case in all ages – c.f.; James 2:19; Romans 1:18-23); but to actually trust in Him, to really have faith that He is Goodness itself and will never abandon us? This is a different proposition altogether, and much harder to accept.

Many people today have been failed by people and institutions that they had been led to believe were trustworthy – they placed their absolute trust in somebody or thing, and were severely let down. Unfortunately, one of the places in which this has occurred that comes to mind is within the Church itself, where the terrible stories of sex abuse that have been brought to light over recent years highlight just how possible it is for those in positions of trust to misuse their power, and in doing so, not only wreck the lives of the individuals involved, but cause long-term damage to the credibility of the Church itself. It is indeed true that statistically speaking, there have been far fewer instances of abuse in the Church than in other areas of society, and that more has been done to ensure this doesn’t happen again than anywhere else; but the damage is done, and many people will find it a lot harder to trust the Church again.

There have also been schoolteachers, social workers, youth-group leaders, etc. being found guilty of such crimes, and similar breaches of trust instanced in the abuse uncovered in care homes for the elderly and infirm. Then there are the banks who have lost so much of our trust after their cavalier and negligent use of money invested by customers who sincerely believed their investments were in safe and responsible hands, and the politicians who have shown themselves to be not only prone to corruption and careerism (this is nothing new after all) but who also seem to hold the electorate in contempt, ignoring their genuine and justifiable pleas to put the brakes on the kinds of social reform outlined above whilst throwing them the occasional superficial policy change to keep things quiet.

But the saddest area in which this severance of the bonds of trust has taken place is in the family itself. Increased opportunity for travel has led to a disbanding of the localised extended family; the need to have two parents working has often left children and elderly relatives with nobody to care for them (and in the latter case, the call to honour one’s father and mother, having gone out the window with other ‘traditional’ values, has decreased our felt obligation to do so); marriage itself has been consistently undermined and has found decreasing support from both government and society, so that commitment to family by both spouses has become rarer, leaving children in a less stable environment, sometimes having a succession of spousal changes to contend with.

All the above has led to an environment which should be the safest and most stable place for a child to be, changing into a highly unstable, sometimes volatile environment where that lack of stability (particularly the repeated introduction of new ‘partners’ into the family home) provides little in the way of the security and constancy children need to develop, affords much more opportunity for abuse to occur, and above all, completely undermines any sense of trust in people at the very time when the capacity to do so is in its formative stages. Thus we have not only been failed by the people and institutions of our own age, but are creating a system in which future generations will have little sense of the value of trust in the first place.

The cynic may say ‘So what? All the better then – the world is a dangerous place and the sooner we find out that we can’t trust anyone the better.’ But how many of us would really recognise such a world – where noone can be trusted at all, each lives unto themselves and we all fight it out to survive? Whilst we may have had the experience of being let down in our lives (and some much more than others), there are not many of us that can say our life has been totally devoid of kindness, or that it didn’t make a huge amount of difference when we found it. Furthermore, behind the cynic’s argument seems to be the assumption that if there are bad things in life, we should be collaborators with that badness, either by contributing to it or by only seeing to ourselves, ignoring others.

Putting aside the fact that for any Christian this position is completely untenable, it seems to me that if such an outlook were ever taken seriously the world would have collapsed in on itself long ago. It is because we have an inbuilt sense of hope that we have not given up on the world, and it is because some continue to strive to be the one who offers the hand of kindness to a stranger that we never completely give up on the idea that we can trust people. This indeed is part of the way in which we can make trust a quality that people can believe in again – by being trustworthy ourselves, by living lives of integrity and virtue, and most importantly of all, by showing the world that it is God who gives us the strength to do so.

By seeing that we have been shaped into people can be trusted because of our prior trust in God, we can not only show that in the short-term this person here and now can be trusted, but that there is a way of seeing the world that makes such a life possible – a way of being that is open to others, that rejects cynicism and that chooses the path of love over the way of self-interest. This means that speaking about our faith and living it can never be separate things – if we believe God to be trustworthy, we must say so, and attend to that verbal witness by living it out as well. However, if and when someone we meet asks us why we trust God, why we place our faith in Him, what do we say – why should anyone trust in someone who they have not seen, and especially when the world sometimes seems so full of cruelty and uncertainty?

The answer we give will of course first require that we find out where the one who questions us is in terms of knowledge, experience and background. Once we have ascertained what they mean by the word ‘God’ etc. though, the only place we can point them to is the Gospels – to the life of Our Lord – and say that here, in the life of this man, is the very nature and character of God lived out; if you can trust this man Jesus, you can trust God. We can also make sure to say that this is not always easy – that trusting in God does not mean deliverance from all earthly troubles (c.f.; Romans 8:28 vs. 8:35-39), but that God never stops being who He is, never stops being that loving, truthful, faithful Person we see revealed in Christ; it is for good reason that He is so often referred to in the Psalms as ‘rock’ and ‘fortress’, for He is the one thing that never changes.

We can also reflect with people upon the act of creation. If we have gone through with the person asking about our faith the question of what it means for God to be God, then we can also say that as the absolute source of all that is, there is nothing alongside God that compelled Him to create, and nothing within Him that needed to do so. From this we can surmise that God created the world not for any selfish reasons, but because He wanted to share Himself with other beings, beings that are not Him – He is Love, and so gives Himself away to us in the very act of creation.

So both in the act of creation itself, and in the revelation of His character (to Moses and others in the Old Covenant, but pre-eminently in Our Lord) in and through history, we can have good reason for seeing God as someone we really can trust – One who is utterly committed to what He has made, who is not just loving and patient but the very source of love and the very model of what it is to be steadfast. While the people and institutions of the world, and even our own families, may let us down, we can have real confidence that at bottom, the very ground of our being and Lord of our life is unfailing – a source of strength and compassion that never changes and never ends. It only remains for us who believe this to make it real to others – to be signs of His love and faithfulness to the world that He has made.

Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, the Holy Trinity and the Mother of God

Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus (whose sobriquet means ‘wonderworker’ or ‘miracle-worker’) lived from 213 to c.270, and was born in Neocaesarea, Asia Minor, in the area of Pontus, where he returned to after some time studying under Origen in Palestine, and was made bishop there (he is also known therefore as Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea) despite having originally intended to practise law; he acted as bishop there for another thirteen years after. Today is his feast day, and after a brief summary of some of the details of his life, I would like to take a look at a vision that he was given just before his episcopal consecration, during a time of solitude and prayer – it is a vision that is significant for a couple of reasons.

Saint Gregory was originally given the name of Theodore (a common name at the time, meaning ‘gift of God’) and was introduced to Christianity at the age of fourteen. His introduction and subsequent conversion were occasioned by a journey he had taken with his brother, shortly after the death of their father, to study law in Beirut. As part of this journey, they escorted their sister to Caesarea in Palestine, where her husband was legal counsel to the Roman governor there – upon arriving in Caesarea, Gregory and his brother encountered the teaching of Origen, and they gave up the study of law to study the mysteries of the Faith under him. Gregory wrote warmly later on of the way in which Origen used persuasive, personalist methods to win them over, not just reason alone.

Saint Gregory studied under Origen for five years, and continued the moral and spiritual disciplines he learned for seven in total, before returning to Pontus in 238, originally to take up the practise of law again, but later acting as a missionary there, converting great numbers to the Faith (reckoned in fact to be virtually the whole populace of the area). Not much is known about his apostolate during this time (which was carried out  over the period of roughly thirty years) except that he won the people over during a period of wars, plague and persecution, and that many great miracles (later detailed by Saint Gregory of Nyssa) were attributed to him, which is why he was known as Gregory Thaumaturgus.

The incident which took place before his episcopal consecration though, has a significance beyond the undoubtedly great things that Gregory achieved in Pontus. The vision that he received is the first recorded instance of the Blessed Virgin Mary having appeared to someone in such a way, and is also an early testimony to Trinitarian doctrine. The vision is recounted in a biography of Saint Gregory of Nyssa (335 – 395), who based his writings on information handed down to him by his grandmother, Saint Macrina the Elder (c.270 – 340), who was a native of Neocaesarea and knew of Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus as a child, handing his teaching down to her children and grandchildren. The vision Saint Gregory of Nyssa recounts in the biography is as follows:

Once again [Gregory] was terrified and turned his face away, unable to bear its sight. The vision was especially amazing since the night was gloomy, for it resembled something like a light illuminated by another light. Since he could not look upon this spectacle, he heard from those who appeared to him speaking in detail about what he was seeking. Not only was he revered with regard to true knowledge of faith but recognized the names of each man who appeared when they called each other by their respective names. It is claimed that this vision of a female form told [Gregory] that the evangelist John was exhorted to manifest the mystery of truth to a young man, saying that she was chosen to be the mother of the Lord whom she cherished. He also said that this fitting vision had vanished again from his sight. He was immediately ordered to write down this divine revelation and later proclaim it in the church. In this way it became for others a divinely given legacy through which the people might repulse any evil of heresy.

Source

            The words of the Trinitarian revelation are then given, but the translation that is given in the passage from which I have quoted above is a little clunky and lacks the sense of grandeur which I think is requisite for such an important confession of faith, which is so clearly consonant with the early creeds and other more refined doctrinal statements later on. Here are the words revealed to Saint Gregory by Saint John the Evangelist, from another source and in another, more dignified translation:

There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is His subsistent Wisdom and Power and Eternal Image: perfect Begetter of the perfect Begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son.

There is one Lord, Only of the Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of Deity, Efficient Word, Wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and Power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal and Eternal of Eternal.

And there is One Holy Spirit, having His subsistence from God, and being made manifest by the Son, to wit to men: Image of the Son, Perfect Image of the Perfect; Life, the Cause of the living; Holy Fount; Sanctity, the Supplier, or Leader, of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all.

There is a perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty, neither divided nor estranged. Wherefore there is nothing either created or in servitude in the Trinity; nor anything superinduced, as if at some former period it was non-existent, and at some later period it was introduced. And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abideth ever.

The Creed of Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus

            Whether the revelation given to Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus was exactly as described by Saint Gregory of Nyssa is a question for academics, but the latter at least seemed sure that what had been passed down to him by his grandmother was, in terms of its essential content, sure and trustworthy. We have here then a very early, as well as very robust and comprehensive, articulation of Trinitarian doctrine that precedes the official formulations of such at the Ecumenical Councils; moreover, in the case of Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus, this revelation was transmitted by the Beloved Disciple and vouchsafed by the Blessed Mother of God, giving us at the very least sound testimony to the extent to which these figures were associated with orthodox Catholic Faith.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and Saint John the Evangelist, have been long associated, symbolically, with the Church. They were and are seen as icons of the Mystical Body insofar as John, representative of the true believer, is commended to be the spiritual son of the Mother of Our Lord (c.f.; John 19:25-27), thus likening Mary’s motherhood to the motherhood of the Church – as we all accept Christ as Our Lord, we, like Saint John, also accept Mary as our Mother; similarly, also following Saint John, we accept the Church as our Mother. Thus the appearance of the Blessed Virgin and Saint John to Gregory, with reference to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – the very heart of orthodoxy – cannot be accidental. The Faith and the Church are one, just as Our Blessed Lady is symbol of the Church and also the paradigm of perfect faith.

No god but God

There are many commonalities between the various world religions, born from a wide range of shared human experiences and reflection on those experiences, which have to some extent overlapped. There are also great differences, and these are, despite what some might say, significant – it matters as to whether or not God is to be identified with the world or that He is separate from it, for if the former, He is bound to the laws He has created, and thus cannot effect any change in it; it matters as to whether God loves some because they are righteous, or is Love, for the latter is not only more morally excellent, but gives us greater hope, and greater foundation for loving those we might see as unloveable.

However, despite the great wealth of shared experience of the divine, and those subtle but important differences that separate the great religious traditions, there is only one religion that claims God has actually stooped down and revealed His true nature to us, instead of leaving us to discern it for ourselves – Christianity. Yes, God revealed Himself to His people, Israel, and spoke to His prophets, but even then there we do not have the fullness and immediacy of revelation that we see in Christ*. In the Incarnation, God comes down to meet us, speaks to us not from afar but in our own situation, our own environment of materiality and change.

It is all well and good to be able to talk of God’s existence, and to be confident of it, in terms of the inferences we can make from the world around us, and our shared experience, as well as from particular instances of encounters with the numinous. But if God does not speak to us, can we ever be truly sure that these are not just rumours from a far off land, and from Someone who, if they are real, does not actually take an interest in us, or care about us? The revelation we see in Christ gives us a real assurance that these intimations of ours – of God’s existence, that He is good, that He cares for us – are valid, and that furthermore, He is not just loving, but Love itself; that the ground of all our existence is Love. Without Christ, we would not know this for sure.

At this point, it could be pointed out that there are claims to people having been visited by God in other world religions, and that Christianity is not unique in this regard. This is true, but in very few of these cases are these visitations articulated in anything other than mythical or metaphorical terms; and when genuine claims to historical entries of the divine into our world are made, the evidence is sorely lacking. Christianity on the other hand makes the bold claim that God really did take human nature upon Himself, and became united with it in Jesus of Nazareth, a man whose life can be dated and whose existence is fully open to historical enquiry. The evidence surrounding these claims is also widespread, very well attested, and stands up to examination.

This being the case then, what is it that is new in Christ – what does God show us that we didn’t, or couldn’t know before? He shows us two things – the true nature of God, and the true nature (and so the true goal) of Man. Both these things He shows us in Jesus Christ, who being fully human and fully divine, is able to express clearly the essence of both natures. In Christ we see that God is not just Good, but Love; not just steadfast in His goodness, but compassionate – willing to suffer alongside us; and that He is not just the source of all Truth, but ultimately that the heart of Truth is Love. We also see that Man is to, in summary, ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and…love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-39).

But not only this, as we know Our Lord is quoting the Pentateuch here, and what He says, though something that we all need reminding of frequently, would not have been wholly unfamiliar to the Jews of His time. We also learn that we are to be ‘perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48) – we are not called, as I have argued before, to do the bare minimum, but to a higher way, the way of true, sacrificial love. Our true end is perfect harmony with God’s law, to be completely pure in heart, that me way see God (c.f.; Matthew 5:8); our standard is not majority rule or received opinion, but the very life of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As well as God showing us the true standard by which we are to judge our actions, and thus giving us a proper sense of how far we have fallen short of that standard (i.e.; of how much we have sinned) we are also shown that God has borne the weight of those sins upon Himself – that the just Judge is also infinitely merciful, and in Christ’s perfect Sacrifice on the Cross, has effected a transcendent act of reconciliation which heals the divide between God and man caused by our sins, frees us of their consequences, and enables us to live, in the Spirit, so that we are no longer enslaved to our sinful ways in the future. Most world religions know of the problem of sin, also of the need for reparation for them and reconciliation with God, but only in Christ are God and man brought together in such a way that true atonement could be made.

And yet, this is not all. For it could be argued that the above knowledge is still but a confirmation and perfection of what can already be known by our own lights – that, although we may not all live as we should, deep down we know these things we see revealed in Christ, especially those about our own nature. To some extent this is true also (except for the case of the dogma of the Holy Trinity, which tells us that God is an eternal community of love), although I still see God’s showing us these things in Jesus as a necessary part of His special revelation, especially as what we know in part always needs bringing out to its full potential, that we always need a more polished mirror in which to see our failings, and most importantly of all, that we know we need an act of salvation which we cannot effect by our own lights.

The thing that, taken in tandem with the above, really makes the Christian revelation unique though, is the fact that not only did God tell us these things, He showed them to us, in His very self. It is that humbling of the divine that we see in Christ, and which Saint Paul writes about in Philippians – that God took ‘the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (2:7-8). Not only this, but it is precisely in and through this act of humility that God shows us His true nature. As Paul continues in Philippians, it is because of this that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth’ (v.10).

God, in Christ, comes down into the innermost depths of our experience, uniting the historical and the spiritual, and in doing so shows us what it is to be truly God (to love completely, without qualification) and to be truly human (to love completely, even unto death). The humble descent is the revelation, and this is what makes Christianity different – we don’t just know about God, we know Him, because He comes to meet us. There are many gods, many versions of what the divine might be like, and many valid insights into the divine nature that have been reached by different cultures. All that is good and true in these is confirmed in Jesus Christ, who alone gives them their true fulfilment, and it is only in Him that God speaks clearly to us. There are many ‘gods’, but only one God, and it is only in Christ that He meets us face to face.

*This is by no means to devalue the revelations of God’s nature in the Old Covenant, which are utterly genuine and which Christian revelation presupposes for its own claims about God, but simply to affirm that even these were but partial revelations of God’s character, and that it is only in Christ that they receive their true fulfilment (c.f.; Galatians 4:4-5; Hebrews 1:1-4).

Mysteries Unveiled

In his letter to the Colossians, Saint Paul writes about a ‘mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints’ (1:26), and then goes on to clarify the nature of this mystery by writing ‘to them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (v.27). Clearly, the mystery that has been revealed is Christ Himself, and the work of reconciliation that He had effected in mankind, universalising the redemptive presence and power of God in His Church. This is given greater explication by Saint Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, where he writes:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth’ (1:7-10)

Again, it is clear that something that was at the heart of God before all ages, the key to understanding ‘the mystery of his will’, has been revealed to us in Christ, and the core of that will is to redeem and to reconcile all things. However, this clarification does itself raise some questions, particularly about the nature of revelation. What has been revealed to us now in Christ is something that was decided ‘before the foundations of the world’ (v.4), and so was something that until now was kept from the world – the way Saint Paul speaks, it is as if a great divine secret has been disclosed.

This is made explicit in Romans 16, where we read ‘the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all ages’ (vv.25-26). We can say that there was a need for God to hold back what was revealed in Christ for when the time was right, for when the world was ready to receive it, but is there in general something about revelation that implies hiddenness, so that what is revealed is always that which was already concealed? Some passages in the gospels give this impression:

And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, or under a stand? For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.”’ (Mark 4:21-23)

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.”’ (Matthew 10:26-27)

In the first passage, Jesus is explaining to the disciples why it is that he speaks in parables, and in the second, explaining the rejection they will experience from many in the world because of His teaching. In both cases though, one gets the impression that everything He is revealing to them is something that in a sense has to come to light – they are truths that already exist, and once the lid has been lifted, the truth, as the saying goes, will out. Jesus even gives the impression that all will be revealed, which, if we take this in tandem with the writings of Saint Paul already cited, confirms that all there is that is worth knowing, the real essence of God’s will, is right there in Christ, and what He has ‘made manifest to his saints’.

So we see here that revelation is something that has, in a certain sense, always been there, at least implicitly, but has been hidden from our eyes. The unveiling of the mysteries of the New Covenant are just that – the removal of a veil, so that we can know what has always been the case, but which we previously could not see. But even more than that, the unveiling also creates further blindness to what has been revealed, as Jesus when He says ‘he who has ears to hear, let him hear’ echoing the passage in Isaiah 6 – ‘hear and hear but do not understand; see and see but do not perceive’ (v.9). Saint John provides further insight into this strange and disconcerting truth, when he says ‘this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil’ (3:19).

Yet, the mystery goes deeper still, for in what is perhaps the most significant moment of revelation in the gospels – the confession of Saint Peter – Jesus says to Peter that ‘flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’ (Matthew 16:17). So, in this paramount moment of divine disclosure, it is not so much that reception of the revelation was due to the deeds of the one who received it, but was a pure gift of God. However, we could also reasonably suppose that Saint Peter was chosen to receive this great revelation precisely because his was the sort of character which would be able to. Similarly, in the case of Our Blessed Mother, the honour of being Mother of God was a pure gift, but it is also true that God chose Mary in particular because she was pure of heart and faithful enough to receive the gift.

This is the great mystery of Providence, and I will venture no further into it. But, we can perhaps still say something about what it is about the revelation in Christ that makes it so hard for us to accept, that requires a prior concealment and causes such division upon its unveiling. In Ephesians 3, Saint Paul gives us a wondrous description of what it is that is so astounding about this new revelation:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’ (vv.14-19)

It is one of those passages that, when it has not become over familiar and is returned to after a long period, has the power to take one’s breath away. In Christ, we are told, nothing less than ‘all the fullness of God’ will come to dwell in our hearts, so that we may be ‘rooted and grounded in love’ – as a plant drinks its nutrients and takes its life from the soil that it is rooted and grounded in, we will gain our strength directly from God Himself, who is Love. This is a phenomenal privilege, and one which, if embraced fully, will turn lives upside down – no wonder then that many shy away from it, or that its light had to be hidden from us for so long!

An interesting point may also be drawn from Saint Paul’s use of dimensions in this passage, where he speaks of ‘the breadth and length and height and depth’ of Christ’s love. Length and breadth are two separate dimensions of space, but height and depth are both part of the same dimension – why has Paul used both? One possible reason could to emphasise just how firmly we are ‘in’ the love of Christ. By citing just length, breadth and height, we would be standing in God’s love as we do in the midst of ordinary space, observing and being observed, but ‘depth’ indicates a further dimension, that of interiority, or ‘within-ness’, stressing that in Christ we are taken right into the life of God. We are no longer objective observers and observed, but we are part of the very rhythm of existence – Love.

This is all very much supposition of course, and I would not want to claim that this is definitely what Saint Paul meant (although it does make some sense of his use of two terms for the same spatial dimension – something he would have known about). But, regardless of its exegetical validity, this interpretation does serve to emphasise just how radical and overwhelming is what we have been given to know in Jesus Christ. The mystery of who receives this life-changing knowledge remains just that, a mystery, but it does seem that these are mysteries that are written into the very fabric of reality, and are only concealed from us for a time because their light is so very, very bright.

The Holy Trinity: Mystery, Knowledge, Love

Today, Trinity Sunday, is the first Solemnity of the second portion of Ordinary Time (I think so anyway – I am never sure whether Pentecost is included, or instead seen as the end of Eastertide, or both!), and one that recalls us to the very essence of God Himself. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in the epilogue to his book Values in a Time of Upheaval, it is unique amongst the great feasts of the Church for this very reason:

The feast of the Most Holy Trinity is unlike the other great feasts of the Church’s year, such as Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, or Pentecost. On those days, we celebrate God’s mighty deeds in history: his Incarnation, his Resurrection, the sending of the Spirit and, with that, the birth of the Church. On the feast of the Trinity, we are not celebrating one of the events by which something of God becomes visible to us. We are quite simply celebrating God himself. We rejoice that God exists, and we give thanks that he is as he is and that we are permitted to know him and love him because he knows us, loves us, and has shown himself to us.

from Values in a Time of Upheaval (2006), p.161, Ignatius Press.

            Whilst our knowledge of God as triune comes from His acts within history, today’s feast is a celebration of the fact that what was revealed to us through the Incarnation and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church is something that is true eternally of God – God did not become a Trinity when the Son assumed human nature; He always was thus, and always will be. In the dogma of the Holy Trinity, the essential mystery of God is revealed to us, yet His being is not contained by the dogma – it is the perfect example of how the defined contours of dogma and doctrine act to both ensure us of the validity of the revelation, and also to preserve the mystery of what is revealed.

The Trinity is thus a symbol of the knowable and unknowable – the One who reveals Himself to us is the same One who can never be fully understood. The knowledge we receive from God about Himself is sure knowledge, by which we cannot be deceived, but it only serves to deepen our appreciation for how far God exceeds our expectations, and is infinitely more than we can or could ever have imagined. This is evident in the first Old Testament reading for today, from Exodus (34:4b-6, 8-9), where we read that:

…he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hands two tables of stone. And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.’ (vv.4-5)

This passage speaks of God coming near to man (Moses in this case) and revealing Himself to us. He ‘stood with him there’ and proclaimed His name – that is, His character, ‘a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (v.6), so that His people would know it for sure. God desires to come close to us and show us who He is – something shown to an even greater extent in today’s Gospel reading (John 3:16-18):

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

The Father sent the Son into the world, into our midst, so that we might know Him even more fully, know Him as He truly is, and therefore embrace His offer of salvation. To be saved by God we must first know who He is, and in Jesus, and through the meditations of His Church guided by the Spirit, we receive the revelation that within God there is a community of persons – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – who exist in an eternal pattern of mutual, self-giving love. At the heart of ultimate reality, God in Himself is love and community, personhood and gift. As Pope Benedict continues in his book, to know that this – not matter, or energy, or impersonal forces – is the basis for all that exists, the final word as it were, is a very heartening thing to know:

The face of Jesus is the face of God. That is what God looks like. Jesus, who suffered for us and forgave his enemies while dying on the cross, shows us how God is. This eye does not threaten us: it rescues us…

…God is three, and God is one: he is not eternal solitude but the eternal love that is the basis of the relationships between the three Persons and the foundation of all being and life. The unity that this love creates – the Trinitarian unity – is a higher unity than the unity of the building blocks of matter that are indivisible on their lowest level.

Values in a Time of Upheaval, pp.163, 165-166.

Jesus comes to us as the only Son of the Father (Matthew 11:27), whom He claims equality with (John 10:30), and He sends us the Holy Spirit, who is also part of the same life and same mode of being as both Father and Son (John 16:12-15). Over the years, the Church, guided by that same Spirit, came to appreciate the implications of this revelation, and were led to understand that God is, as Pope Benedict writes, ‘not eternal solitude but the eternal love that is the…foundation of all being and life’. In a world often full of powers that seek to degrade man’s image, and that is rife with uncertainty, it is the greatest comfort to know that not only are we never alone, but behind everything is an eternal fountain of life and love, to which we can always turn.

As (one version of) the Minor Doxology says: 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.