Most Holy Trinity, Year C (11 & 12/6/22)

posted 13 Jun 2022, 02:50 by Parish Office

Most Holy Trinity, Year C (11 & 12/6/22)

A few years ago, I met up with a few school friends, and the one was talking about the confusion that can be caused by different English accents. He had gone up north to Hull to stay with a friend, and his friend’s parents asked him what he wanted to drink. He told them that he wanted a “kowke”, which they didn’t understand. You see, up in Hull, they call it a “ceerke”. Then in conversation, they were talking about having a new “feern”. He thought they meant a big green plant. What they actually meant was a new phone.

And of course, if there are different ways of pronouncing words in England which causes confusion, what about America? It’s sometimes said that the English and the Americans are two nations divided by a common language. Just think about the parts of a car. Is is a hood, or a bonnet? Is it called a trunk or a boot?

So in some ways, it’s quite understandable that division and confusion have taken place over two thousand years with regard to the Most Holy Trinity. Jesus said to the apostles, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now”. Our faith is rich and deep. And when it comes to God, God is infinite, whilst we are only finite. Heaven is eternal, and we can spend all eternity discovering more and more about God. So if we think we know all there is to know, then we are very, very wrong.

When it comes to the Most Holy Trinity, we believe that there is only one God, who is also three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that each of the three persons is equal. It is not a case of a greater, a lesser and a least. All three are equal. The longer, Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that we say at Mass spells out our faith. The fact that the Father is God is stated rather simply and plainly – all of the heretics who denied and got wrong other aspects of the godhead at least acknowledged that the Father is God. But other parts were challenged, and the Creed was a response to heresy, setting down what we actually believe. Sometimes, the easiest thing is just to say it and say in your heart, I believe what this means, even if I don’t fully understand some of the language. But for those of you that do want to understand things a bit more, here we go.

You may know that Christianity was united, by and large, until the Great Schism of 1054, when Christianity became divided between East and West, and the division concerns a few words in the Creed, the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It’s the “and the Son” bit which was controversial, which in Latin is “filioque”.

God is so big and amazing that our language struggles to fully describe Him, so you could say that it is only natural that there might be misunderstandings and disagreements. But this is how it goes, in a simple manner:

If you were to open a Mass book to Eucharistic Prayer III, you would see that it begins by saying that everything has its origin in the Father, “through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit”. So it’s a case of from the Father, through the Son, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit. So far, so good. So we can say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. But in the scriptures, Christ also speaks about sending the Holy Spirit (see, for example, Jn 15:26 and Jn 16:7). How does that work? If we think in terms of from the Father, through the Son, then we can say that the Son is a bit like a drainpipe, receiving the Holy Spirit from the Father and then sending Him upon the earth. With this, everyone is happy, both Eastern and Western Christians. But part of the way language in the West works is that when Christ talks about sending the Holy Spirit, we can also describe it in another way, which doesn’t work quite so well in the East. Think of the Father and the Son as two hands. A bit like two hands can hold table tennis racquets and bounce a ball between each other on the table tennis table, so the Father and the Son exchange the Holy Spirit between themselves. If you like, the Father begins by serving, but the Holy Spirit is exchanged between the Father and the Son. It’s not the best of analogies, but it sort of works. Then, with this set-up, both are able, together, to send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has ultimately had His origin from the Father, before time began (think of the Father starting off the match by serving), but both together are now able to send the Holy Spirit. The Eastern Christians weren’t happy with this idea of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son together, and it led to the Great Schism, and them also saying that they were “orthodox” by not holding this alternative description. Someone who is a great historian and theologian, understanding both sides, might pull all sorts of holes in what I have just said, but, in simple terms, that is something of what’s going on behind the filioque issue.

There were attempts to solve this issue and reunite Christendom, but they were only partially successful. When we think of the Orthodox Churches today, we often think of Russia, Greece and so on, but modern-day Turkey was previously Constantinople (hence the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed), and with the invasion and expansion of the Ottoman Empire, Christianity in and around Constantinople was largely reduced to a minority faith, making discussions of reunion more difficult.

As Catholics, we desire the reunion of Christianity, that the two lungs, as they are sometimes called, of east and west, may breathe together again in unison. We pray that the Father, through the Son, may send the Holy Spirit to work powerfully among us, that all may be one, as He is one.