Descent of the Spirit

WHEN THE PARACLETE COMES WHOM I WILL SEND FROM THE FATHER, THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH WHO COMES OUT FROM THE FATHER, HE WILL BEAR WITNESS TO ME (John 15:26). These words of Jesus, together with the formula for baptism given at the end of St. Matthew's Gospel, reveal, in germ, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. These two statements, even taken separately, and certainly when considered together, will appear to those who have faith, as a clear, if implicit, affirmation of the truth that God is three yet one. That St. Paul held the same belief and propagated it is also demonstrated in a number of his letters, perhaps nowhere more strikingly than in the blessing that he imparted to the Romans. It has become familiar to us, for it is often repeated at the beginning of mass: THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, THE LOVE OF GOD AND THE COMMUNION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU ALL (Romans 13: 13). However, in Paul's usage, as in the other New Testament writings, the word Trinity itself does not appear. It is first used in this connection in 170 A.D.

The more detailed implications of these texts were not explicitly apparent even to the authors themselves. Centuries of meditation, prayer, much analysis and studious reflection, often in a climate of passionate debate, were required before a precise manner of conceiving and expressing this most sublime of all mysteries proved sufficiently adequate to assure the needs of orthodoxy. The best theologians at this period and since have been keenly conscious that no expression or formula could adequately describe the nature of Trinity; even the most carefully elaborated statements can but point in the right direction as to avoid decidedly false conceptions of this transcendent and mysterious Being.

Jesus himself undertook the unveiling of the mystery of God's inner life as the unceasing communion of three persons within the divine nature of a single God. The chief commandment of the Old Testament remained for Jesus as binding as it was for Jews since the time of Moses as he affirmed one day to an inquiring scribe:

Jesus then replied to him that the first of all the commandments is: "Hear, of Israel, the Lord your God is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your whole mind and all your strength (Deuteronomy 6: 4, 5)". [Mark 12: 28-30]

St. John informs us that it was when Jesus clearly affirmed that he was equal to the Father, that the Jewish leaders determined to put him to death. They were convinced he was guilt of blasphemy and so they considered it their duty, under the provisions of the Mosaic law, to do away with him. "For this reason the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath, but also said God is his Father and made himself the same as God (John 5:18). In various further statements our Lord spoke in ways that indicate that the union existing between him and the Father is total. "As the Father knows me so do I know the Father (JOHN 10: 15)", that is to say, the knowledge of each measures that of the other. In both instances it is unlimited; there are no secrets between them. Such complete knowledge is possible only to persons who are fully equal. Consistently with this claim Our Lord goes on to state categorically that "I and the Father are one (10: 30)." So real is this unity that Jesus can declare that " if you knew me you would also know my Father (14: 7)." and again "He who has seen me has also seen the Father (14: 9)." The nature of this unity is hinted at when he states that "I am in the Father and the Father is in me (14: 10)."

We can never conceive clearly in this life more than a shadow and outline, as it were, of this transcendent truth that God, while remaining one is three distinct persons. However, by turning to God in prayerful contemplation we can grow in a loving faith that penetrates deeply into the mystery of the Trinity as William of St. Thierry taught. This loving desire is itself the embrace of the Holy Spirit that carries us into the very heart of the Father in the Son. The experience of God consists in an obscure knowing that it is the fruit of love and so affects us in our way of being. We thus develop a personal love of God that moves us to share all its substance with others. It is the loving obedience of Jesus that merits for us this loving, selfless embrace of the Spirit.

The total love that achieves such selfless dedication is beyond our limited powers. It is a gift of a divine Person, the Holy Spirit acting within us. Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Blessed Trinity at this Eucharist, may we obtain a larger share of the love given by the Holy Spirit acting within us as a pledge that we belong already to the Father in the Son. For this love alone enables us to fulfill out destiny of sharing forever, together with all the saints, the life and glory of the Blessed Trinity, who is God blessed forever. Amen.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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