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Jars of Clay

Icon of Elijah with the Widow and Her Son by an anonymous Russian icon painter (from the Tretyakov Gallery)

10th week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

1 Kings 17:7-16, Psalm 4, Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the light of the world”—a torch lit by the transfiguring Light of the Trinity. All things seen in this Light reveal hidden mysteries beyond our cosmic frame of reference.

The story of Elijah and the widow opens a window onto eternity. The poor woman is appointed by God to take care of Elijah’s needs because his brook had run dry, but she is at the end of her rope. She has the heart to do all she can for the prophet, but reality stares her in the face. Her cupboard is empty except for “a handful of flour” and “a little oil.” She and her son are about to die, she tells Elijah. 

Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’” She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and Elijah and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.

The miracle of the self-replenishing jar and jug is a snapshot of life in the Trinity, where Persons are always empty yet always full. On earth individuals live a “balanced” life divided between self-care and care for others. If we do not take time to be alone, eat, sleep and recuperate, we “burn out.” Giving and receiving in the earthly condition entails energy loss. In the Trinity, however, solitude (unique distinction) and communion (mutual indwelling of diverse persons) are simultaneous without any loss.

How is this so? Each person is whole and entire, not a part of a whole. In ultimate reality there is no such thing as “coordination,” which is a harmonious functioning of parts. The Trinity is Whole-Whole-Whole, not a harmony. 

“The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God,” the Athanasian creed states. Each Divine Person is the Whole Divinity. Each human person is the whole humanity. Persons of the deified humanity in Christ are brought into communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

There is nothing in the spacetime continuum that can serve as an example because all things in material extension are in a condition of parts outside of parts. Nothing escapes it except persons, who transcend it. Individuals in time exhibit all the properties of parts. Individuals coordinate, cooperate, subordinate, etc. A close examination of language, which is linked to matter, reveals the fact. The prefix co- of coordinate means “together” or “jointly,” indicating a harmony of parts. Persons are not coordinated or subordinated, but Wholes dwelling in Wholes in a condition Jesus calls angelic (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25).

Because absolute diversity and absolute identity (oneness) are simultaneous without coordination, subordination, or any kind of “connection” between the two, they are always in mint condition without loss. There is no balancing act in the realm of personal communion. There are no scales or measures. There is no gain or loss. There is no burn out. Diversity and unity are complete, whole, absolute, and without mixture. Not even a preposition connects them: “the Three One God,” in the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Oration 40.41).

Ultimate reality exceeds the limits of thought which is inextricably tied to matter. To think is an action in time. There is a beginning and an end to a process of thought. Logical strings and logarithms, musical scores and poetic meters—any kind of thought requires time. Time is inseparable from space and matter. Therefore thought itself vanishes in ultimate communion where the Trinity is “all in all.” 

Diversity is preserved in communion without spatial dimension and separation. In spacetime, diversity requires a condition of parts outside of parts. The properties demonstrated by Jesus’ resurrected body, however, indicate that spiritualized matter has some of the qualities we now attribute to mind. For example, while in New York we can think of California and travel there mentally. A spiritualized body may be able to pop here and there instantaneously, at the “speed of thought,” to use a limping figure. (How can there be speed beyond spacetime?)

The widow’s jar is a figure of persons—jars of clay containing the infinite treasure of the Triple Light. “Let light shine out of darkness… to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20), Jesus promised. In the Trinity, the Light of Three Faces will shine upon us and we will rejoice “more than when grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7). 

May the salt of divine grace season our hearts and minds, and may the Light of the All-Holy Trinity shine in us that the world may glorify the heavenly Father.


In the Image of the Trinity

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

With the revelation of the Trinity, the totality of reality is bathed in a new light. Every domain of human life is transformed. What does a tri-personal universe look like?

Let us listen to St. Gregory of Nazianzus, also called “The Theologian” (Oration 40.41):

This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the One Godhead and Power, found in the Three in Unity, and comprising the Three separately, not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities or inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of Three Infinite Ones, Each God when considered in Himself; as the Father so the Son, as the Son so the Holy Ghost; the Three One God when contemplated together; Each God because Consubstantial; One God because of the Monarchia. No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking of escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of That One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the Rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light. 

The personal God who spoke to Moses in a cloud “face to face, as a man speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11) has revealed himself in Jesus Christ as simultaneously and primordially Three and One. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are absolutely diverse and absolutely one. Each Person is the “Whole” divinity without dividing or sharing it in an ineffable manner beyond logical categories. The Trinity is “divided without division” in St. Gregory’s faltering words (Oration 39.11). More elegantly put in another translation, the Trinity is “divided indivisibly” or “undivided dividedly.” 

Minds “captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) can no longer think of “God” or divinity in abstraction from the Three Persons. Eternal life is knowing the Father and the one whom he sent, Jesus Christ (John 17:3), by the inspiration of the Spirit of truth (John 16:13). The Three are One and the One is Three inseparably, both in reality and in thought. 

In discourse about the historical unfolding of divine revelation we speak of the “God of Abraham and Moses,” but after Pentecost, we habitually pray and live in the love of the Trinity. 

Humanity in the image of the Trinity means that absolutely diverse persons are each and every one stewards of the one human nature without division. “Indivisibly divided” and “undivided dividedly,” persons in communion transcend blood lines, tribes, languages and cultures. The notion of “family” becomes a communion that encompasses all persons without exclusion. If persons are absolutely unique and unrepeatable, there are actually no “relatives” in ultimate reality. In the realm of personal communion transcending the earthly condition of divided individuals, the “distance” between one person and another is exactly the same, that is, non-existent. Distance comes from measure, but in personal communion distinction transcends and takes the place of measure.

The idea of distance arises from the experience of measuring. To measure a certain length one begins with a standard, such as a meter stick. The length to be measured is then quantified in units of the standard. 

In the world of measures, individuals are compared using standardized tests, meter sticks, scales and thermometers. This is possible because individuals exist in a quantifiable condition of material extension. Biological descent, blood lines and genetics are all woven from the fabric of material extension. One individual is measured against another, compared, weighed, valued (and sometimes devalued). 

Persons, however, cannot be measured. Unlike individuals who are cut from one material fabric, persons transcend divisibility. Each person contains the whole human nature, a reality that is invisible to the physical eye and unmeasurable. Persons are also wholly distinct, one from another, transcending relativity. Things that are relative and comparable have a shared foundation in relative degrees. Not so with persons. In the image of the Trinity, the one deified human nature in Christ is not participated in degrees but encompassed whole and entire by each and every person. 

Much more could be said about this, but we can only live, think and write one day at a time.