Tag Archives: persons

What is Equality? (Part 2)

“Are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit “equal”? (Part 2)”
©️2020 by Gloria M. Chang

What is Equality?

Equality requires an external standard measure. For example, X is equal to Y in length, taking either X or Y as the standard. If Z is equal to X, it is also equal to Y.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit are absolutely diverse, having nothing outside the Godhead (not even its nature), and therefore neither equal nor unequal. 

So what is going on when we say that the divine persons are “equal”? The mind performs an operation by dissecting the divinity from Father, Son and Holy Spirit and creates the following equations:

Father = God
Son = God
Holy Spirit = God
Therefore, Father = Son = Holy Spirit

Conceptualizing equality sets each person and the extracted divine nature on opposite sides of a balance. “God” becomes the external standard or measure for the three persons. Three diverse entities equal to a fourth (the standard) results in equality of the diversities. The mind divides in order to unite.

Such dissections are not real, of course, but only mental. The measuring mind has no other recourse in the struggle to express realities that are beyond spacetime. The concept of equality is cut from the cloth of material extension.

The shortcoming of this mental gymnastic is that it collapses the absolute distinction between person and nature; nature is extracted as a medium between persons to equalize absolute diversities. In consequence, absolute diversity of persons is attenuated and “mixed” with the absolute identity of nature. Diversity is “diluted” by identity.

Thus, equality and inequality cancel each other out:

Father = Son = Holy Spirit
Father ≠ Son ≠ Holy Spirit

A deeper question arises: what drives the desire to equalize persons? The very drive to equalize reveals an underlying assumption that diversity alone does not unify; that diversity is inherently prone to hierarchy and subordination. One of the early Trinitarian heresies was called “Subordinationism.” 

This perception is an assumption drawn from material experience. In the ancient Greek mind, diversity in the universe was either vertical or horizontal, neither of which accounted for the reality of persons. 

On a vertical ladder, all beings in the universe were diverse on account of inequality. From the lowest being to the highest, each species occupied a unique rung on the ladder, e.g., a rock, rose, and rhinoceros.

On a horizontal plane, multiple individuals of the same species or form differed by being limited by matter, e.g., three distinct roses of the same rose form. (In Aristotelian terms, each “substance” or rose was a distinct form/matter composition).

Persons in the Trinity are not diverse forms or species, for that would lead to subordinationism and hierarchy. Persons in the Trinity are also not individuals of a form, for individual substances are not unique identities.

The Trinity introduces an entirely new reality beyond Greek metaphysics. Communion of persons is the only reality in which diversity and identity are absolute, simultaneous, unlinked (not co-ordinated), and indivisible. In all other cases, diversity and identity are inextricably bound to one another in a  dyadic conceptual structure (act/potency, form/matter, substance/accident). A rock, rose and rhino occupy ascending degrees of being, the fundamental unifier of diversities in medieval metaphysics. Rose A, B and C differ by being individuals outside one another, participating in the same form. 

Persons are neither degrees nor participants of anything. Diversity simply is. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. “God” is not a form or essence that is divided or shared. Neither is “humanity” a form or essence that is divided or shared. Each human person is the whole humanity. Salvation hinges on this point, for if the second person of the Trinity did not assume humanity in its entirety, only the particle of humanity that was Jesus of Nazareth, considered as an individual substance, was saved.

Persons and nature interpenetrate indivisibly. Mutual indwelling or perichoresis is “divided indivisibly” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus).

Diversity is not founded on anything outside itself; it is a primordial “given”—the first truth of reality which is the Trinity. The first truth and cornerstone is simultaneously a unity. Triad and monad are primordial and cannot be collapsed into one. Triad is not grounded in monad, nor is monad grounded in triad. The Trinity is groundless. Thus it transcends all analogies, including the analogy of being which is dyadic in structure (existence/essence). Absolute diversities transcend the “ground of being.”

The dyad has no place in the Triad Monad; the dyad exists only as a theological construct, e.g., “Triad Monad” and “person nature.” Thought is inescapably dyadic. The original dyad of thinker and thought is the first remove from primordial reality. The Trinity is not “thought thinking itself” (Aristotle’s definition of God).

The concept of equality need not intervene when this reality is realized. Among persons diversity is neither inherently unequal nor hierarchical. 

The Trinity casts a new, mind-bending light on the totality of reality encompassed by persons in communion. Grammar does not have the power to express this reality, but here are a few attempts to summarize this analysis:

  1. Equality is divided; absolute diversity is united.
  2. Equality is divisible; absolute diversity is indivisible.
  3. Equality separates; absolute diversity is inseparable.

All of these summations of absolute diversity are consonant with the fourth-century insight of St. Gregory of Nazianzus that the Trinity is “indivisibly divided” or “divided indivisibly.”

“Separate but equal” was a failed political doctrine once used to justify segregation in the United States (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896). Better than “all men are created equal,” persons are created absolutely diverse and one, beyond comparison and measurement. As in the Trinity, no ranking exists among persons who are utterly unique and therefore incomparable. As each human person is the whole humanity in the image of the Incarnate Son, no person is greater or less than any other. 

The task of theology entails the hazard of dividing the indivisible in order to say something about it. Creeds and Councils have done their utmost to express the inexpressible with limited concepts, so with devotion we rightly profess that “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and coeternal majesty… In this Trinity, there is nothing greater, nothing less than anything else: But all three persons are coeternal and coequal with one another” (Athanasian Creed).

A new consciousness unconditioned by spacetime is required to “see” reality by being neither inside nor outside it, but in union and communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Such a state transcends vision and sight, subject and object, knowledge and love as we now know it.

A Theophany of Communion

Icon of the Transfiguration by Alexander Ainetdinov. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Feast of the Transfiguration (Year A)

Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the last of the biblical theophanies, unfolded the deepest secret of divinity hidden from Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Horeb. 

Unlike the Old Testament theophanies, in which God spoke to his prophet one on one, or “face to face,” three witnesses were present on Mount Tabor. The first peculiarity of this mountain theophany was its communal aspect. Jesus took a trinity of disciples, Peter, James and John, his inner circle.

And he was transfigured before them;  his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.

A trinity of mortals suddenly found themselves beholding a trinity of prophets in the dazzling light of the transfigured Christ. Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah), exchanged greetings with his predecessors.

James and John were speechless, but Peter felt compelled to say or do something, anything.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

“He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified,” Mark reported (9:6). Peter was ready to take charge of the situation, though he barely understood what was happening. His instinct for hospitality came forth spontaneously as he offered to house Jesus and his illustrious companions. Jesus was, after all, his house guest. 

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said,“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 

“The heavens are my throne,
the earth, my footstool.
What house can you build for me?
Where is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1)

The same voice that spoke to Isaiah now spoke out of the cloud, but it was no longer solitary. The God of Isaiah who could not be confined in houses made by human hands has a Son! With the Father and the Son, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was also present in the light of glory. 

This was the second time the son of a carpenter from Nazareth was addressed by the Father as “my beloved Son.” The first time was at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan (Mark 1:11). 

When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.

The traditional icon above portrays Peter on the left, kneeling, John in the center falling prostrate with his back to the light, and James knocked backward in awe. 

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.  

The unearthly light disappeared, but what an unforgettable experience! It would seem that anyone who witnessed Jesus in such blazing glory should have had enough confidence to stand fast with him in the garden of Gethsemane. But that was not so. And perhaps that was why Jesus ordered silence.

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Cross was the pivot between two extremes. The mortality of the Cross stood as crux between the glory of incorruptible divinity on Mount Tabor, and the glory of incorruptible humanity at the resurrection. The infinite and the finite, divinity and humanity, entered into incorruptible, inseparable, indivisible glory in the multi-personal unity of the Trinity three days after the crucifixion.

Whereas Moses and Elijah only knew God as monad, and therefore spoke to him as a bride to a bridegroom, the marriage of humanity and divinity opened the way to a communion of persons transcending the marriage of two natures. At the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John, a trinity of disciples, received a foretaste of the multi-personal communion of saints in Trinitarian Light.


Kingdom of the Little Ones

Fra Angelico, Coronazione delle Vergine (1435)

Deuteronomy 7:6-11, 1 John 4:7-16, Matthew 11:25-30

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

“God is Love.”

Like an owl squinting in sunlight, the eyes of humankind open gradually to the truth of who we are as a people and who God is. “You are a people sacred to the Lord,” Moses told the Israelites. Bending to the weakness of human mistrust, God made an “oath,” a covenant with his people, though Jesus would later exhort them not to swear at all. No gap lies between a divine word and its fulfillment, after all. The oath was for Israel, not for God.

The engagement between God and his people was also very fuzzy, like a picture out of focus. The “I AM” of the burning bush was personal, but faceless. “No one has ever seen God,” and yet, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said (John 1:18; 14:9). 

The identity of the mysterious YHWH began to focus a little bit more as Jesus shared with his disciples the heart of the Father, and promised to send them the Advocate, the Spirit of truth. 

As God’s identity was revealed, Israel’s began to sharpen into some clarity. God is not only One, but Three. Israel, the precursor of the Church, is not only a people, but persons. 

Moses consecrated Israel as a “sacred people,” a nation set apart. The Holy Spirit consecrated the disciples as unique persons when he descended upon each one with a distinct tongue of fire.

“Love” is not an abstraction, but a concrete reality with concrete faces—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each unique person baptized by the Spirit in one Body of Christ. The finite and the infinite, the created and the uncreated are united in communion in a way beyond conceptual grasp.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Anne, St. Joachim, the Holy Innocents, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. John, St. James (son of Zebedee), St. James (son of Alpheus), St. Andrew, St. Philip, St. Bartholomew, St. Thomas, St. Matthew, St. Simon, St. Jude, St. Matthias, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Paul, St. Barnabas, St. Timothy, St. Titus, St. Priscilla, St. Aquila and all the saints to the present day each shine with unique splendor in heavenly communion.

The eternally young, ever-begotten Son of the Father who became the microscopically small son of Mary with a tiny beating heart invites us to become little with him. Mysteries that elude the “wise and the learned” are revealed to “little ones.” 


Secret Friendship

©️2020 by Gloria M. Chang

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

2 Kings 2:1-14, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

“But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Jesus’ command sounded strange to his hearers then and now. How can one hand be ignorant of the other?

Or if we ask the question in reverse: How does the left hand know what the right hand is doing? Why are humans self-conscious? 

The injunction follows the exhortation not to perform righteous deeds in order to be seen or win the praise of others. Pure actions proceed spontaneously without ulterior motives or self-satisfaction. Children of the Father are good without even knowing it. 

In the paradisal state, goodness is not even a category. The mind recognizes “good” only because it also recognizes “evil.” Consciousness of the good spiraled out from the “knowledge of good and evil,” the splitting of the original, one-pointed mind. Communion in the deified state will know nothing of either goodness or evil, love or hate, kindness or unkindness. When the Trinity is all in all, distinctions and categories disappear. Love is a reality, not a category.

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Distinctions between an “inner” and an “outer” room also resulted from Adam’s breakdown. In personal communion there are no outside individuals to impress. We commune with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit as one Body of Christ. In the silent prayer of the heart, we can begin to quiet the senses and let go of the vanity of public image.

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

We are called to develop a hidden interior life in the heart of the Father. Life in the Trinity is a personal friendship, and intimacy is a privilege of persons. Jesus gave us a hint of what this means when he refused to divulge John’s destiny to Peter (John 21:22). Each of us is called to a particular and unique friendship unlike any other—a secret known only to the Father. We are wasting time when we look for human applause or compare ourselves with one another. The way to unity among human persons is to turn to the Person of the Father first. In the Father’s heart, personal union and communion are forged.

Elijah’s glorious assumption into heaven shows us that heaven is not so far away. We can begin to find heaven in our heart and in our midst through hidden prayer today: “For behold, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). 


Becoming a Person

Icon of Jesus and Pontius Pilate

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

I Kings 21:1-16, Matthew 5:38-42

Humans are the oddest creatures on the planet. The account of Naboth’s stoning is odd from beginning to end.  

King Ahab tried to strike a deal with his neighbor Naboth to acquire his vineyard, which was next to his palace. He was refused and went home dejected. Ahab lived in splendor. Why did he need to increase his property?

Jezebel assumed that a potentate has the right to take the property of another. Might makes right. Her spiritual discernment was dulled to the point of insensitivity by layers of power politics, materialism, and brutality. With impunity she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, and he didn’t even bother to inquire about her specific plans. From wallowing in self-pity to being led along by Jezebel in her schemes, Ahab proved himself utterly passive and languid.

Naboth’s fellow citizens were exceedingly odd. A letter arriving with Ahab’s seal directing them to “get two scoundrels” to falsely accuse Naboth and stone him to death was carried out without a single voice of protest.

The same mob mentality that crucified Christ was at work in these false accusations. The same absence of personal consciousness animated the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and other mob atrocities. Countless rulers in history have waged war to seize territories not their own, or increase their wealth beyond rational limits. Something deeply irrational lies at the root of these destructive behaviors.

In mass scapegoating, advertising, and other instances of artificially manufactured desires, humans behave almost as automatons—following the lead of another, and another, until collective desire reaches such a pitch as to become unstoppable.

The revelation of the Trinity liberates persons from the cage of relativity in which individuals look to the left and right to get their cues for how to think and behave. Humans are imitative, according to one theory (René Girard’s mimetic theory). Copycat behavior stems from a lack of  interiority and conviction.

An anthropology based on the Trinity offers the richest and most satisfying solution to the collective ills of humanity. The absolute diversity of persons in Trinitarian communion satisfies the innate desire to possess or be, singly or uniquely. The desire of individuals to stand out or possess “more than” someone else (envy) is quelled by the truth that each and every person is unique and unrepeatable. Persons transcend relativity by the very fact of absolute diversification.

At the same time, the absolute identity of persons in communion, in which the whole, deified human nature is possessed by each, satisfies the innate desire to be complete in every way. 

Envy was the sin identified by Jesus and even Pontius Pilate as the chief motivation for the mob crucifixion of Christ. The final end of the Cross is life in the Trinity. For that life, we must die to our individual selves and selfish desires and become whole persons animated by the Holy Spirit. Spirit-filled persons do not look to the left or right for their moral compass, but are guided from within, by the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father.

The revolutionary teaching of Christ to “offer no resistance to one who is evil” radically subverts individual, self-protecting instincts. Risky, to be sure, but love is the ultimate risk. The Son of God staked everything for love of us to bring us home to the Father. We are free to accept or reject that love.


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.


The Disciple Whom Jesus Loves

7th Week of Easter, Saturday

John 21:20-25

A renewed Peter, now confident of being in the Lord’s good graces, swiftly turns his attention to his fellow disciple John and asks, “Lord, what about him?”

Why does Peter suddenly take an interest in John’s particular destiny? After having his own martyrdom foretold, does he wish to benefit his silent comrade and obtain foreknowledge of his end as well? Whatever may be in Peter’s heart, Jesus tells him that such curiosity is irrelevant. Keep your eyes fixed on me, he says. “You follow me.” 

In our earthly state, with the eyes of the spirit not yet fully attuned to divine realities, there is a tendency to fall into the comparison syndrome. The brothers spent time in idle speculation about John because Jesus had said, “What if I want him to remain until I come?” 

Referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” John stands out for his deeply personal relationship with Christ. He is also highly intuitive. At the empty tomb, “he saw and believed,” and at the miraculous catch of fish, “That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” Requiring fewer proofs and empirical data, John’s vision soars far beyond the created cosmos to arrive at the Word who was “in the beginning.”

The reality is that every single disciple is beloved by Jesus in a unique, unrepeatable, and incomparable way, but only John seems to have reached a high state of realization of that personal love during his time on earth. He also spent years quietly caring for the Blessed Virgin Mary until her Assumption. John’s Gospel was written many years after the other Gospels had circulated. It is the fruit of deep contemplation and lofty theological insight, no doubt in part due to his quiet hours with the Mother of God. 

In light of the Trinity, the comparison syndrome is seen to be illusory. Absolutely distinct persons cannot be compared. Individuals in the divided state of nature can be compared according to quantities and qualities like height and musicality, but persons cannot be. 

Persons contain the whole nature, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each contain the whole divine nature. But the Persons are absolutely unique, and thus transcend the categories of equality and inequality. For example, the Father is neither equal nor unequal to the Son as Person, but utterly distinct from him. The concept of “equality” is typically applied to the oneness of nature (the Son is equal to the Father as God), but cannot touch the distinction of persons. 

This is true also of the brethren of Christ. Each child of the Father in Christ is a unique person, but each also carries the entire Body of Christ, the one deified human nature. When one member suffers, all suffer. When one rejoices, all rejoice. A desert monk once said that he spent twenty years in combat so as to be able to see all humankind as one man. Such a realization puts an end to envy and comparison because we enjoy the gifts of our brothers and sisters as our very own. We also do everything we can to make others flourish.

Bottom line: Each child of the Father is supremely loved and is “the disciple whom Jesus loves.”


God’s Beloved Sheep

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 10:22-30

Jesus assures us in today’s Gospel reading that no one can take his sheep out of his hand. He knows each of his sheep by name and their unique identity. 

“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.”

A cloud of mystery surrounds Jesus’ references to the Father throughout the Gospels, but his unmistakable desire is to lead us back to him, the font of Love, who is a person. 

“The Father and I are one.” Love is one and interpersonal, a communion of divine persons and the final destination of human persons. As the Son receives his unique identity from the Father, so does each one of us, the Father’s adopted children.

Know that the LORD is God.
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Psalm 100:3