The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Trinity and the Church

I was speaking last Friday to a good friend of mine who is an Orthodox priest. Again, as he likes to do, we spoke much on theology, and his great catch phrase is the "trinitarian consciousness of the Church". Without getting too abstract, we can define this simply by going back to the Council of Nicea and adressing the problem of the one and the many. Of course, the ancient Greeks were monistic; one simply need to look at Plotinus to see that for them "all must return to the One." The many was deemed to be the cause of all evil; the reason that there is imperfection in the cosmos. As my priest friend pointed out, a pre-Nicene Father like Origen had a great temptation to reduce all things to the monad even in his trinitarian thought. The problem is that the understanding of the Church when it came to the Trinity would not allow for an absolute monad; the "Hebrew" aspect of respect for revelation quarelled with the Greek aspect of logical explanation. The resolution of course is the orthodox undestanding of the Trinity: God is many and one at the same time (One God in Three Persons).

So how does this apply to the Church? I can never really pin down my dear "batiushka" to define concretely how, but I will try and take a stab at it. For him, of course, it is the Orthodox Church that has best preserved the "trinitarian consciousness" in that it has best preserved tradition and has a more balanced concept of communion and Church governance. To an extent, I agree with him: from an abstract point of view, the Orthodox Church "looks" the best. The judgement of history, with the rule of Muslim sultans, power hungry czars, and Communist apartachiks, however, has not been so kind.

With the Protestant communities, the problem has been too much plurality. The problem of communion here is that it is too disperse and amorphous. Protestants, in order to be joined more to Jesus as their "personal Lord and Savior", almost cut themselves off completely from their fellow Christians. Their Trinity, to use an analogy, does not have three hypostases, but as many as there are individual believers. To a certain extent, this is the problem of liberal Catholicism today as well.

In classic Catholicism, the problem is then monistic. The "many" is always seen as a threat. This can be attributed to some extent to the rise of subjectivist paradigms of thought in the early modern period, but in combating them Catholicism began to lose the the symphonic nature of truth that primitive Christianity often had. In a real sense, the Vatican in general, and the Pope in particular, became the one and only source of truth and power in the Church. Not just the Papacy in general, but the CURRENT Pope became the supreme arbitor of what the Christian mystery ultimately means, to the extent that he can change the liturgy and time-honored devotions if he sees fit to do so. Thus, communion with the past, with tradition, is ultimately severed in the name of a perceived certainty of one absolute source, instead of a harmonic flow of fountains of Christian belief and life.

Interesting concepts, but take them for what they are: speculations. In the end, the Holy Trinity is THE Mystery, and trying to apply it to these earthly things may be unworthy of Its dignity. If anything I have written, however, has any truth to it, it can go a ways to explaining the ecclesial bind we are in.