I am reading John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which is to say, as intellectually stimulating as it is and as he is, this Anglican turned Catholic turned recently canonized Saint, is very demanding (thanks Tony)!!!
Anyway, I came across a poem he had read after following up on another thing, and came across a poem he wrote whilst sick and away from home. In the current Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the globe, we can easily feel overwhelmed and disorientated. But the language of the poem, though old fashioned does convey a truth about God’s providential care that we will do well to remember; namely that while we can never know the fullness of the How’s and the Why’s, we are nevertheless called to trust God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if not for the first time, then for the umpteenth time and in deeper, personal ways, daily.
Notice the lines in the first stanza: Keep Thou my feet; I do not see, The distant scene; one step enough for me!
1. The Trinity is not an optional doctrine, it is essential. God’s unity is not behind God’s threeness, God’s unity is in God’s threeness. This is not speculative mathematics, it is a descriptive theology of revelation.
2. The Trinity is not an academic doctrine thought up by clever scholars, rather it grew out of the Christian experience of worship, i.e. it expressed the early church’s pattern of prayer tothe Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.
3. The driving force of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity was Christological and soteriological, i.e. it served to articulate the Christian experience of salvation in Christ. The first Christians already knew God; through Jesus they came to know God as Jesus’ Father and Jesus as God’s Son; while in the Spirit Jesus continued to be present to them, forming a family of prayer to the Father and building a community of witness to Christ.
I. HOW TO AVOID TRINITARIAN HERESY
#1. Start by abolishing Trinity Sunday, that fateful day on which preachers think they have to explain the Trinity
#2. Teach children to make the sign of the cross when they say the words “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”
#3. When someone offers to tell you the practical implications of the doctrine, just smile and move along
#4. Have you come up with a really helpful analogy of the trinity? Well done! Now please don’t tell anyone about it, ever
#5. The doctrine is not a mystery. It is simple & precise. The reality it points to is the mystery
#6. Don’t try to get rid of the biblical words. Don’t try to stick to them exclusively either
#7. In this doctrine every word is used in a very limited way. Even the numbers 1 and 3 can’t be taken literally
#8. Don’t partake in meaningless debates about whether “oneness” or “threeness” is more important (see #7)
II. TRINITARIAN THEOLOGY, EAST AND WEST
#9. Don’t worry about whether you prefer Augustine or the Greeks. You don’t have to pick a favourite, it’s not Masterchef.
Is there a God? asks world famous theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author, Stephen Hawking in his posthumously published book Brief Answers to the Big Questions. He begins answering it with these words:
“Science is increasingly answering questions that used to be the province of religion. Religion was an early attempt to answer the questions that we all ask, but nowadays, science provides better and more consistent answers, but people will always cling to religion because it gives them comfort, and they do not trust or understand science.”
This session covered aspects of Julian’s positive and pastoral theology.
“I saw Everlasting certainty powerfully sustained without any fear… at peace and rest… then my mind turned and I was disgusted with myself. I could go on in faith, hope and charity, but feel them so little.”
“God keeps us safe in sorrow and joy. . . and sin is not always the cause . . . but both came from one love.”
It was suggested that where Julian is positive about curiosity, Thomas Aquinas wasn’t (I think this thought does not ring true and needs a lot more work on it to justify it). If one can’t see the Summa as an exercise in curiosity from one of the greatest minds ever to exist in the universe, then I don’t know what to say!
Julian: “Fullness of joy is to see God in everything.”
Marjorie Kempe was a contemporary of Julian and visited her and wrote to her.
In one letter Marjorie laments at the end of a thought about sin: “Alas that I ever did sin. It is full merry in heaven.”
This is insightful because of the way this perspective compares with Julian.
Julian said there are Three Knowledges:
- To know God
- To know ourselves (that we are through Him in nature and grace).
- To know our sin and weakness
Julian of Norwich (1342-1430) ‘Love was His meaning’
The metaphors flood the imagination as Julian describes the blood flowing/pouring from Christ’s head as He hung on the Cross.
Beads; Herring scales; Rain drops.
What are we to make of this?
Does Julian revel or even enjoy seeing/describing this event?
Julian asks a question after reflection, that is meant to take one by surprise: ‘What is sin?’
Does your mind leap from one thing to another?
Has your mind made yet another leap since you started reading?
Have you often found yourself restless in prayer?
Not quite like going cold-turkey from a busy life, but not far off either!
Is it a triumph when concentration exceeds 20 seconds?
Do the thoughts of what needs doing cruise through your mind like an F1 racing car?
Or do they meandre like a cow slowly chewing the cud?
Julian of Norwich (1342-1430) ‘Love was His meaning’
Julian of Norwich has a shorter and a longer text, written 20 years apart.
These texts cover both the cognitive (ideas) and the visual (pictorial), showing she doesn’t just “paint” a picture, she develops its meaning.
She prayed for three graces:
- To relive the Passion of Christ
- For bodily graces
- To receive three wounds (not necessarily bodily, but spiritual).
She gets sick aged 30 and genuinely believes that she will die… When her priest comes in, she sees “the light of the crucifix for all mankind.”