by Fr. Rene Laurentin (Roman Catholic)
Why I am talking to you today about the Trinity?
This brings us closer to Vassula who is living a close, direct and personal contact with the three persons of the Trinity and makes us love them. I find it daunting to speak about them in her presence, because she knows them better than I, intuitively, personally, but mystics like true theology, that on which the coherence of the mysteries is founded. Madame R, who passed away last January 14, and to whom I had introduced Vassula, was also living in the Trinity. She had read my book on the Trinity and was happy to find, in the language of the Scripture, what she was feeling and living directly.
The Trinity is the Pope's program for the year 2000, and it is worth while. This program comes from a long way back: the year of the three Popes, Paul VI, then John Paul I having passed away one after the other during the summer of 1978. John Paul I had been elected, not without some difficulty, on September 3. He was crushed by the by the weight of the task after 33 days, on September 28. That morning, I was in Rome. As I was coming out of my room a cleaning woman told me: "the Pope is dead"… I thought she was late with the news. No, Paul VI died August 6, but his successor had just been elected. She insisted: "No, il papa θ morto! - the Pope is dead".
The cardinals returned to Rome; Cardinal Keonig approached Cardinal Wyszynski, the primate of Poland who had peacefully resisted communism, rebuild the faith of his country and led it to victory. He told him:- among the Italian Cardinals I do not see any papabile. Wouldn't there be anyone elsewhere? In your country?
Startled, the primate replies:
- It's out of the question! If I leave Warsaw communism will have a free rein!
Cardinal Koenig smiles:
- I was not thinking of you. Isn't there another Cardinal called Wojtyla here?
- He is too young, he has no experience, he is unknown.
The conclave was arduous. No side could carry the vote, neither Benelli's who had made enemies in executing faithfully the harsh decisions of Paul VI and who died the following year, nor Cardinal Siri's: at 72 he was six years older than the late Luciano. Then the votes went to Carol Wojtyla. Seeing him jogging every morning around the Court of Saint Damasus, more than one must have thought:
- That one is not going to die.
At the seventh vote he had obtained 73 votes. He needed 75 to be elected. On the eighth turn it was a triumph: 97 on 111. The "jogging cardinal" had been elected. Cardinal Wyszynski joined him as soon as possible. Twenty years earlier he had interrupted his descent of a Polish river by kayak to inform him that he had named him bishop of Cracow. And now, it was the primate who was kneeling at the feet of the young successor of Peter. A photograph has left us a deeply moving image of that moment. What it does not say are the primate's words:
- It is you who will introduce the Church into the third millennium.
That prophetic word oriented the Pope's program: first, an Advent with Mary (Totus tuus), then the Son, the Holy Spirit and the Father, during the last three years of the millennium 1997-1999. I have dedicated the last three years of my life as a theologian to found and illustrate that program. I thought I was finished with it in 1999 and I was surprised that there was still need to speak about the Trinity in the year 2000.
I had studied in depth the contact with each one of the three persons and it had brought me much. Each one of the three persons is attractive, but the Trinity poses a problem.
- It's polytheism, is the objection raised by Jews and Muslims.
- It's an absurdity, say the rationalists, as for a mathematical introduction: 1=3.
Three times I was tempted to drop this impossible project... But light came suddenly after fifty years of myopic and sectorial studies. Everything was brighter, theology, spirituality, philosophy and even science, especially man, family, society... and our future. The whole Bible appeared to me in the unity of a single line joining the very first Revelation of God's Name to the last one in the New Testament:
1. At the start, the revelation to Moses at Mount Sinai
- I am who I Am (Ex 3.14)
Then, more laconically
- I Am - one word only (EHYEH)
God revealed himself, close to a millennium before he was discovered by the Greek philosophers, through the verb to be, pushed beyond its limits, as the absolute Being, source of every being, but also as a personal God, an "I" in dialogue with humankind; something the Greeks will not be able to perceive through human reason only. God for them will remain an abstraction.
At the other end of the Bible, in the last text of the New Testament, around the close of the lst century, the Evangelist John delivered the last word: "God is love" (I Jn 4:8,16)... The personal God which was revealed to Moses does not stand by himself, he stands by us. He is not narcissistic but social. He is not supreme egoism, but supreme altruism. He gives birth eternally to the Son as true God, with him and in him, sharing the same life, the same being. The Son, eternally, gives thanks to the Father for everything he receives from him. And this intimate exchange which unites them is a third person: their bond, their very love, the Holy Spirit.
God's pedagogy is marked with genius and simplicity. He had said everything to Moses in just one Hebrew word (the subject being included in the Verb): "EHYEH". I AM. At the end of the Revelation, he tells his life, ignored by philosophers, in three words: God is love. God is truly the supreme Being, the absolute Being; but the apex of being, its transcendent and supreme form, is not so much intelligence, or power, or density as love. The supreme being is nothing but love. It is the Being's ultimate secret, God's secret; intimate, coherent and luminous, because the relations between the three persons do not multiply God's being, but constitute the supreme unity, that of supreme love. By analogy, the mother of one, five or ten children is only one mother. She lives in unity those multiple relationships.
Theologians synthesise each problem into an abstract and theoretical principle. God himself summarise all in the simplest, most concrete sentence there is, because there is nothing more concrete than love, nor anything more enlightening. We understand this in so far as we love. This light is the source of all others.
2. A light on the whole theology
This Biblical Revelation illuminates by degrees every theology. God is nothing but love. It is his very life. He creates by love and for love. He invites to share in his love eternally.
When I was a seminarian, at a time when theology was terribly abstract, my colleagues from the French seminary in Rome had understood very well that, in order to be truly priests, they had to rethink their whole theology anew, beginning with the love that is all in God and for us: "We ourselves have known and put our faith in God's love" says John (I Jn 4,16). In the last resort, theology speaks only of love.
Incarnation, that is God's love, which flowed and communicated itself.
Redemption, that is God's love made man in order to save humankind. He assumes our humanity in order to give us His divinity. Admirable exchange say the Church Fathers.
Redemption is much more, "A man can have no greater love", says Jesus: than to lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). He goes to the very end of the admirable exchange. He takes upon himself our sin and misery to give us his holiness and happiness. The Apostle Paul goes as far as to say "For our sake God made the sinless one into sin" (II Co 5:21) to repair our sin with the fullness of his love.
The Church is the unity of humankind in his "mystical Body", "the true Vine", Jesus says more radically: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn 15:1,5). He doesn't say: "I am the trunk," but he says: "I am the whole Vine"... And he explains as much as can be explained: "you in Me and Me in you" is what he repeats all through John's Gospel (10.38 to 17.21).
Sacraments are acts of his Saving Love: infallible when priests accomplish in his name the perceptible signs which he founded to fulfil his promise: - I am with you always to the end of times.
More than that the Eucharist, the sacrament of sacraments, is the total gift of himself: body, soul, divinity, in the inseparable unity of the three persons, in the unity of his mystical body, inseparable also in the communion of all the saint. It's the anticipation of when God will be "all in all" (I Co 15:28).
3. A light on spirituality
If one reflects on and contemplates the whole theology in that manner, founded on love, it is ipso-facto, spirituality. It's no longer necessary to complete laboriously with "the corollaries of piety" as old textbooks used to say. The theology of love is spirituality.
4. A light on philosophy
The Trinity has also enlightened me about philosophy. I had begun my university studies with two licences in philosophy, at the Sorbonne and at the Institut catholique, where I was taught Thomist philosophy by Jacques Maritain, in personal contact with Henri Bergson, whose entire life of research, beginning with a rather materialistic education, led him to finally discover God through the testimony of Christian mystics.
I greatly admire the discovery of the Greek philosophers who have reached God through reason. It all started with Parmenides (+ ca.450). He had such a deep intuition of the being that, through the contingent beings he perceived the supreme being:
"Nothing is nothing, there is no nothing: being is necessary, it is one. It is perfect" he said. Our perception of being many and moving is nothing but an illusion, he concluded, and Zeno of Elea, his disciple and a remarkable dialectician, made a brilliant demonstration:
- The arrow which seems to be moving toward the target is immobile, he said. It cannot be in many places at the same time. It would be contrary to the fundamental principle of identity.
Their successors went beyond those sophisms. Starting with those paradoxical but profound problematics, Plato, and later Aristotle have progressively grasped the cleavage between the contingent, multiple and mobile, which our experience shows us, and the necessary, unique, immutable being: principle, final cause and point of abstraction of everything else. He is one, perfect, pure act.
However for want of being able to penetrate God's life, this admirable philosophy stumbled on a scandal. The one and perfect Being could only be in love with Himself: he would then have been supreme egoism, supreme narcissism. Aristotle, who wrote a treaty on friendship, perceived love as a supreme value. He didn't dare say that God was a person. So he stuck to the rigour of his abstract conclusions. But after him, philosophy, exposed to this same latent scandal and this cold has always oscillated between pantheism, where everything is God, and atheism, where nothing is God.
Pantheism is confusion between the transcendent God and Creation. But the Stoics had recourse to it in order to find in God the moral warmth of a solidarity which unites everything. The Apostle Paul praises this intuition in his speech at the Areopagus in Athens, quoting the best of them, Aratus: "It is in him that we live, and move, and exist, as indeed some of your own writers have said" (Acts 17:28), but not without adding as a correction: "God made the world and everything in it." As for atheists, they counted on man alone.
5. A light on humankind
The Trinity is a light on man. The Bible affirms it from the very first page when it says:
Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves. God created man in the image of himself. In the image of God he created HIM male and female he created THEM. When creating man, God says US.
He creates man in the singular: "HE created HIM," because man is one: thus the story of the creation excludes all kinds of racism. But he also creates him multiple: "male and female HE created THEM," multiple and differentiated. He creates them incomplete and complementary, destined by nature to the love that makes them one and called to create with God and other human beings: their children. "Multiply," God tells them (Gn 1:28).
Man is first of all family, the natural society, intimate masterpiece of Creation. Man is social at every level; and men are becoming more and more conscious of the unity and solidarity of, thanks to the communications explosion. "That they may be one as we are one," says Jesus in Jn 17:22.
The unity of the three persons in the Trinity fascinated Feuerbach and Marx, the founders of atheistic communism. They talked about it. I quote them in my book (p 321 s). They wanted to free man from his individualism and egoism, radically, by eliminating private property, which makes the possessive man withdraw into himself, in order to realize unity in this way; they sang: "The Internationale unites the human race." Unfortunately, Feuerbach's conversion to materialism, in opposition to Hegel's idealism, makes him substitute class struggle for love and collectivism for communion. And as a result the dictatorship of proletariat and the gulag.
Yet Feuerbach and Marx had taken the very formulas of their ideal from Holy Scripture. It wanted to achieve progressively the socialist society which would give to everyone according to his work, then the communist society which would give to everyone according to his needs: a formula copied literally from the Acts of the Apostles (Ac 2.45 et 4.35) in describing the social model of the primitive Christian community. Moreover, "communism" is yet another word in "ism" that indicates excess. "Communism" distorts the Latin word communion (Latin: communio, Greek, koinonia), which defines the primitive Christian society according to the Acts of the Apostles: "the whole group of believers was united, heart and soul" (Ac 4.32).
6. A light on sources and the Cosmos
The Trinity illuminates also the knowledge of the world. Sciences decipher admirably the how, the mechanics of the cosmos, about which Revelation says nothing. The Trinity sheds a light as to the why.
The great philosophical problem since the ancient Greeks is: "Why does the world seem at the same time one and multiple," since it seems contradictory.
Parmenides eliminated the multiple which was, for himself, nothing but an illusion. The being is one. No multiples. Everything was necessary, immutable. For Heraclitus, on the contrary, all things were multiple and there was no unity: "All things are flowing," he said (Greek, panta rei, et "One cannot step twice into the same river".
- Well, no, it's not a dilemma. It's not a question of eliminating the one or the multiple. The world is both one and multiple, God is One to the supreme degree, absolutely one, because nothing is more One than love; but he is also multiple, because, in order to love, we need to be many. In God-Love, the three persons are not individuals, the three persons are nothing but Relations, as Thomas Aquinas says brilliantly. Thus is eternally constituted the supreme Unity, by correlation, reciprocity, reciprocal interiority: "the Father is in me and I am in the Father" (Jn 10.38) ; "You in me and I in you" (passim in Jn 10.38 to 17.20-21). It is this multiple unity that the world reflects at all levels.
In the infinitely small, the atom is a nucleus around which gravitate one or many electrons, and the nucleus itself consists in a multitude of particles which scientists are progressively identifying: more than ten protons, neutrons, neutrinos, mesons, bozons, leptons, muons, etc...
In the infinitely great, our world is made up of a multitude of planets that gravitate around the sun, not without some analogy with the atom. In our galaxy, there are billions of similar stars around which gravitate other planets; and, beyond our galaxy, there are billions of galaxies, projected explosively into the universe by the original explosion of the big-bang: an inconceivable concentration of energy and constant heat which spreads through and dilutes itself in the expanding universe at the speed of light. It is energy that unifies and constitutes the unity of this multiple world, although originally concentrated within a minuscule particle, billions times smaller than the head of a pin. The energy which unifies the world at every level is a distant image of the Holy Spirit whom Tradition designates as the Bond and the Love that produces the unity of the Father and Son.
We find other images of God at all levels of life... First, there is the cell with its nucleus and its protoplasm, then the living being, organic, vegetal or animal: autonomous unity of life within an organic multiplicity of cells, similar to the spirit, source of all life. In turn, superior animals assemble in societies, organised and communicating, like beehives and anthills. And at the top we find human society where God put his best image. It is not a replica. If the family is one, father, mother, child, it is not the order of the Trinity where the Son comes second and the Spirit (feminine in Hebrew) comes third. But love is the same.
Studying the Trinity has also made me understand the deep convergence between theology, well understood, and science. They are quite different. Science decipher the how; theology, the why. But their evolution brings them together culturally.
The Greeks, the founders of modern science, were thinking about substance. For Aristotle, relation was only a propriety of substance (the fourth category). Modern science thinks of nothing else but relation; and if we understand well the last word of Revelation : God is love, we understand that everything is relation: God is relation, since he is love. And Creation exists only through its relation to God. In short, Revelation helps us understand
- on the one hand that God is nothing but Relation
- on the other hand that the world is pure transcendental relation to God, beyond Aristotle's categorisation of relation, since the whole created being comes on his relation with the Creator. In the same manner, grace is pure relation to God who recreates us in his image and Saint Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort said very well that Mary is all related to Christ, that she is "relation to God" (Relation toward God, had said Bιrulle before him).
A prestigious contemporary scientist, Olivier Costa de Beauregard used to say to me: "Everything is relation, and that only is absolute". He based himself on Henri Poincarι (1913) who formulated before Einstein the equations of relativity (without generalising). But in Poincarι, the formula is not so well coined: it is about the invariants of relativity. I was fascinated with this formula.
- It's the best philosophical definition of the Trinity, I replied. God is love, he is nothing but love, he is nothing but relation. The creation is relation to God. It comes from God. It tends towards God, its final cause as Aristotle had already discovered. It gravitates, in a way, around God. Is it yet another sign that the historical struggle between science and faith is becoming harmony and convergence?
What is love?
I'm almost through...
- But, you'll say, you have not explained the main point: since God is love and calls us to eternal love, what is love?
There is nothing more difficult to define because we feel love. We live it. We perceive it intuitively but we cannot define it distinctly, just as we cannot define the being. We can say: "It is a sentiment, an attraction which unites persons"; or "it is communion, sharing, the happiness of being together, it is gratuitous, beyond interest, it is what is left when we have lost everything."
The word "love" is ambiguous; it can express opposite things. When a lover says "I love you," it can signify things that are quite different if not opposite.- Either simple desire, the eros: "I want to have you, to use you, to dominate you, to feed on you". This selfish love makes unhappy lovers, victims who conclude bitterly: "I've been had". In extreme cases, the pervert rapes then kills his victim, wife or children (attacked by pedophiles), as we can read periodically in newspapers.
But, "I love you" can also mean (which is normal) - I want what's good for you, your happiness and I will give my life for you. True love is a gift, a gift of self until death, beyond death. - "There is more happiness in giving than in receiving" said Jesus according to Acts 20:35.
Freud canonised desire. I'm not saying that desire is bad, it's a dimension of our being: the dynamism of our wild nature; but it's only the porch, the first movement of love. Here, the Trinity enlightens us. In God there is no desire because he has everything. He is everything. He is beyond desire. He is only gift.
He calls us to convert desire into gift. He has programmed this conversion in nature itself. The baby is greedy. - It's still only a digestive tube, said a doctor friend of mine, not without some exaggeration.
The young often remain selfish. They awaken to altruism when discovering the man or woman of their life. They want the other person's happiness which will be their common happiness.
Sometimes this step has been missed. That makes for unhappy couples and divorces. But, at the next step, when they have children, the stage is mostly successful. The selfish are ready to make every sacrifice for their children. They watch over them and nurse them day and night when they are sick. My grandfather used to say:
- What we give our children they will never be able to give it back to us, but they will give it back to their children.
So, what is the essence, the specificity, and the paradox of love? The secret of true Love is the passage from the love that is desire to the love that is gift: from eros (from which eroticism derives) to Agapκ. The New Testament never uses the eros (so common in Greek). And it has found the word Agapκ to designate true Love: that which is in God.
Because God is beyond desire; he has everything, he is everything. He is nothing but gift, gratuitousness, superabundance. He invites us to purify and transfigure desire into gift, which is what happens at the natural level as we said before. It is the meaning of the mysterious adage which is so often repeated in the four Gospels.
- Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it, because we find ourselves in the other (and finally in God) in communion. And Jesus tells this secret more clearly, saying:- There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.
Love puts those who love each other on the same footing. An English lord defined friendship in this way:- It is what makes sometimes a lord prefer his gardeners over his peers. We should say more: lover is that which puts the greater at the service of the littlest... The king of fairy tales at the feet of the young shepherdess; the parents at the service of their children, better than the most devoted servant.
Such is Christ's love for us. He, who is equal to the Father, "assumed the condition of a slave for us" says St. Paul (Philippians 2:7). He symbolised it by washing the feet of his disciples, embarrassed and intimidated, before the Last Supper (Jn 13). In a parable he promises that, at the heavenly banquet, it is he who will put on the apron to wait upon the servants who were ready to wait on him (Luke 12:37). And it is an eschatological sign (Luke 22.18 ; 1 Co 11.27) which he gave before the Last Supper.
The Apostle Paul says that Christ assumed the condition of a slave for us (Philippians 2.7). "A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends," said Jesus. He says it modestly, unpretentious without saying "I", but he did it to the horrible end. My book details and justifies all this through Scripture and Christian Tradition.
But it's time to conclude. I will do it simply in the biblical terms of Jesus himself. It all holds in two or three short sentences, without theory, without abstraction, but they make language and our finitude explode:
-first: the Father and I, we are one (Jn 10:38) - then, and it's almost the same thing et: that they may be one as we are one.
He explains this identity in terms (complementary) of interiority and intimacy: "You in me and I in you, as I am in the Father, He in Me and I in Him" (Jn, passim, 10:38 to 17:21-22).
Love is beyond words. Jesus defines it in terms of inhabitation, union, immunity and, finally, identity: "I am the vine, you are the branches." We cannot repeat too often those staggering words. He doesn't say: "I am the trunk ," but, "I am the vine." We are in Him. He divinizes us as a part of Himself: "Anyone who loses his life (for the sake of God and that of others) will find it,", Jesus adds.
God is calling us to a love without limits in duration, perfection, quality. It is baffling, upsetting. It is the adventure of our life, destined not for death but for happiness in God. Love is reciprocity. Perfect Love is perfect reciprocity. God is being shaped and defined through the love of others. Anyone who says: "I love God, and hates his brother, is a liar," says the Apostle John (1 Jn 4.20). That's what the judgement will be: "I was hungry and you gave me food" (Mt 25). And we'll be surprised at this, says Jesus.
- But when Lord?
So great is the unity between Him and us. And the Apostle Paul seems to forget about theocentrism when he even says, without alluding to God's Love: "he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law" (Rm. 12: 8-9 ; cf. 1 Jn 4:8; 19-20).
Thank you, o God, for being Everything; for yourself and also for us, at the same level; for being thus fullness for yourself and for us, in the fullness of God who is all in all.
Love is not an object, it is gift, union, oneness. It is more than knowledge; it is a praxis, a union beyond any knowledge, because knowledge itself ends and is absorbed, in a way, into union. When we are embracing someone we no longer see each other, we are too close, too one. The child closes his eyes when he seeks comfort in his mother's caresses. One loses himself in love but finds himself again beyond himself, in the other and, finally, in God who is all in all. Each one of the three persons of the Trinity loves the other two personally, but the three constitute one and the same love. The Father is the sole source of love. The Holy Spirit is the achievement and the source of its diffusion, he who inspires, unifies and fills the face of the earth and inhabits each one of us.