Trinity Sunday according to the Use of Sarum. The sermon was not prepared but consists of a number of fairly disjointed reflections about the meanings of words in different philosophical contexts, also about questions of altered consciousness caused by drugs, techniques of meditation and some mental illnesses. All that to say that we do not possess the keys of knowledge and that the Trinity remains an inaccessible mystery.
I did not prepare a sermon, partly because of a domestic crisis, and partly because I am quite tired of the repeated formulae of the creeds, especially St Athanasius, the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils and the Scholastics basing their concepts and language on Aristotle’s metaphysics and epistemology. I arrived in chapel with the book by Jon D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion, which go into questions of ecclesial communion as an image of the life of the Trinity. One of my dogmatic theology professors was Jean-Marie Tillard, OP, who gave us the treatise on the Trinity, from a completely Eastern Orthodox point of view. I have his book Eglise d’Eglises, L’écclesiologie de communion (Paris 1987) which is largely based on his trinitarian theology. Another one of my dogmatic theology professors, Fr Jean-Pierre Torrell, OP, gave us the course on Christology and insisted on the changing meaning of theological language in history. If you understand French, here is a little talk he gave on why God became man:
I found myself thinking about the changing meanings of words, correlating with the alteration of human consciousness that can occur via different agencies like drugs, meditation or what materialist psychiatrists call mental illness. During the Mass, I was struck by the apparently confused and surrealistic ideas of St John as he related his mystical experience in the words of the Apocalyse, or Book of Revelation as we Anglicans usually call it. My thoughts passed to the born-again narrative of the Gospel, how we cannot be born again physically and how the evangelist “magical” formula is a fallacy. These allusions and parables of Christ are all about the immanent and transcendent Kingdom (Βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ). Even then, in our materialistic and technological era, how can we be expected to understand these words and concepts? The Kingdom becomes locked as with padlocks and chains. Et clausa est ianua…
These past few months have exhausted me spiritually. Yes, there has been the coronavirus and the lockdown. In particular, the very notion of truth – even on the materialistic plane – has been distorted to political ends. Theories of scientists have been touted as science. Science is only achieved by the theory being put to the test by a controlled experiment, in order to become certain knowledge. How many times have we been taken for fools, not only by scientists who confuse theory and science – but also by the deniers and troublemakers. Almost immediately, we find ourselves on the brink of a race war because of the appalling behaviour of an American policeman with a fascist type ideology who killed a man instead of arresting him for the minor offence he had committed. Truly, the virus is sinful humanity.
I have a French film, Le Vieux Fusil, about a village in which the SS killed the entire population including the wife of a doctor. The doctor returned to the village where he had a second home and his wife and children were already there. On arriving, something was obviously wrong, and the vehicles of the SS men were still there. He saw his wife brutally killed with a flamethrower. On going into the church, men, women and children lay dead, machine-gunned by the SS butchers. On seeing the tacky and garishly coloured plaster statue of the Sacred Heart, in his absolute grief, he throws a chair at it and breaks it into pieces. What language was the statue conveying? One of cynical indifference to human cruelty, suffering and death? What was the iconic value of such a vulgar piece of bondieuserie?
These questions of language are reasons why I find it so difficult to find something meaningful to say on the Trinity, this ineffable mystery that meant something other to the ancients than us in our age and materialistic mindset. Yes, we need to study these questions of theology and philosophy, especially the relationship between God and man, the meaning of personhood and love. The Trinity is an image to give us some understanding of God and the notion of relationship between persons, which constitutes the idea of communion and the Church.
I recommend reading the Eastern Orthodox authors like Zizioulas, Lossky and Bobrinskoy rather than dry scholasticism. The Trinity is at the centre of our belief as Christians, but everything depends on the use we make of such knowledge.
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I am extremely flattered to find my own thoughts reflected in this sermon by Dr Rupert Sheldrake, a scientist who has transcended materialism. I have read some of his books. Of course, he is much more erudite and eloquent than I would ever hope to be. The essential theme is the language of God, the Word, consciousness and energy. This is very moving and stimulating: