Tag Archives: Trinity

From Masks to the Trinity and Back Again

Ancient Greek theatrical mask of Zeus, replica. Licensed by Carole Raddato under CC BY-SA 2.0.

21st Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Matthew 23:23-26

Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)

What if hypocrisy was an impossibility, like squaring the circle? 

For starters, what are the conditions that make hypocrisy possible?

The word hypocrisy comes from the ancient Greek hypo- (“under”) + krinō (“I separate, judge, decide”). The PIE (Proto-Indo-European) root of krinō is krei- (to “sieve,” thus “discriminate, distinguish”). The overall sense of krei- is a splitting, dividing, or separating.

The original word did not have a negative meaning, but referred to a stage actor (hypokrites) in ancient Greece. A hypokrites was an interpreter of a character from underneath a mask. In modern usage, a hypocrite is a pretender who wears a mask to conceal what is underneath.

The substructure of hypocrisy is thus a split between appearance and reality. Individuals have the capacity to create personas (a word that originated in the Roman theater, meaning “mask”). 

Authentic encounter between persons is often conceived as “face to face.” Inauthentic encounter is “mask to mask.” Without spiritual X-ray vision, the “insides” (thoughts, feelings and intentions) of other persons are unknowable. Face and mask are difficult to disentangle in our four-dimensional world.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean” (Matthew 23:25-26).

An image from Edwin A. Abbott’s novella, Flatland, may serve to illustrate the conditions of hypocrisy. A two-dimensional square with only length and width has no thickness. Height (up-down) is not a category in his world. Since he cannot rise “above” Flatland, other polygons appear to him as a line (like the edge of a piece of paper). In effect, he is unable to see any figure, including himself, as it really is.

If the square acquired consciousness of height, he could “see” the insides (area) within the lines of other squares and polygons. 

Hidden subjectivities (the “inside of the cup”) are invisible to others who see only the “outside of cup and dish.” Hypocrisy deceives not only outsiders but the self. Posturing can lead to a false identification with a public persona or image.

But what if the interior of persons was as completely visible as the exterior? The disciples were amazed at Jesus’ discernment of hearts (Matthew 9:4; Luke 6:9). St. Philip Neri, St. John Vianney, St. Padre Pio and other saints of Christian East and West received the gift of reading hearts in order to guide people to holiness. This rare gift of the Holy Spirit is evidence of a higher, deified consciousness.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature… for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).

Nothing is hidden to the divine sight. Allowing the divine light to shine within, grace can form us into whole and integrated persons. Hypocrisy is not possible when inside and outside are illuminated perpetually by the divine and transfiguring light. 

The opacity of matter supplies the conditions for the possibility of masks and personas. The weakness of the inner, spiritual eye obstructs penetration through that opacity. What does integrated personhood look like?

Clues from the Trinity

The Trinity is the primordial source of personhood. Do the divine persons have hidden subjectivities unknown to the others? What is the difference in the Trinity between personal consciousness and the unified consciousness of the divine nature? Is there any difference?

The mysteries of theology so far exceed our language and philosophical categories that one is silenced in the face of them. Yet the conversation of the centuries invites dialogue with our forebears.

For example, the notions of intellect and will were located by the Church Councils not in persons but in natures. They did not use the modern word “consciousness.”

Each of the two natures in Christ possesses its own natural will and its own natural mode of operation. (De fide.)

That statement rules out a personal intellect and will. In other words, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have one intellect and one will, but the persons do not possess distinct intellects and wills.

The man Jesus Christ, however, has a will. That will is located in the individual substance of Christ. Jesus is not a human person (the heresy of Nestorianism). The assumption is that every human individual possesses a separate will. Yet, to be consistent with the dogma, that will is not personal but belongs rather to the individual substance of human nature/essence each person incarnates during their earthly sojourn. 

The problem arises: If the divine nature has a single intellect and will, does the human nature also have a single intellect and will (now or in eternity)? Current presuppositions rule out the idea that human nature has a single intellect and will in its present condition. It follows that human nature in its atomized state does not image the divine nature in this respect. It is splintered. 

When the splinters are unified in the Body of Christ, will there be unity of intellect and will? The logic of current dogma seems to require the Incarnate Christ to retain a separate, individual (not personal) will in perpetuity. If that is so, deified human nature would retain the character of atomization. “One mind and one will” in Christ, under this logic, means conformity of separate, individual (not personal) wills with the divine will. 

An alternative possibility is that the person of Christ, in his post-resurrection state, “waits” for the completion of his Body when separate human wills will be transformed into a single will. St. Paul seems to suggest that individual members complete what is still “lacking” in the Body of Christ:

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Distinguishing the notions of person, individual, and nature in the light of the Trinity is a thorny conundrum.  Since Christ is a divine, not human, person, it follows that personal identity transcends human nature. Because the saving work of Christ necessitated the assumption of human nature in its entirety, by implication Christology reveals that to be a person (divine or human) is to embody nature in its entirety. That would seem to rule out an eternal atomization of the human essence.

What then is the status of individual substances? If the person of Christ does not have an intellect and will of its own (either divine or human), what is the status of intellect and will in personal communion? Theology must account for Christ, in whom person cannot be equated with the individual human substance. 

The crux of the problem: The De fide statement about the two wills of Christ does not make a distinction between Christ’s individual human nature (substance = Jesus the man) and the universal human nature (essence). 

The following statements bear unraveling:

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus prayed to the Father, and according to dogma the “Father’s will” is not personal but the natural will of the divinity. The divine will is the single will of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “My will,” on the other hand, refers to the natural will of the man Jesus who is not a human person. Accordingly, Jesus was bringing into conformity with the divine will his will as man. 

Some modern theologians speak of “personal centers of consciousness” in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each divine “I” beholds the others in a “circular” movement (perichoresis). Whether we speak of “centers of consciousness” or a personal “I,” the vocabulary has shifted from the strictly dogmatic “intellect” and “will.” Creedal vocabulary has not incorporated the language of personal consciousness. 

The historical, creedal development of divine and human consciousness (intellect and will) terminated in the divine and human essences but did not reach personal consciousness. Further, as regards human consciousness, intellect and will were delimited within individual substances of the essence. Yet the person of Christ transcends both individual human substance and universal human essence. 

The patristic language of mutual indwelling (perichoresis and circumincession) came closest to approximating personal consciousness. By affirming distinct personal identities and the unmixed nature of their coinherence, it is possible to contemplate absolute diversity and absolute identity in simultaneity: The Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit, the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son. However, the formula leaves unexpressed the content of diversity. It does not answer the question: Are diversities distinctly conscious? 

The Council Fathers did not use modern vocabulary to discuss personal consciousness. The field of the personal in theology was largely unexplored and undeveloped. From Israel to the Church, divine unity has dominated theological thought. Primordial distinction and diversity remain opaque mysteries in both theology and philosophy. 


The questions posed above led to an unforeseen meandering that only unearthed more impenetrable enigmas. 

Back to the original question: What if hypocrisy was an impossibility, like squaring the circle? 

The theological notion of person (persona or prosopon) came from ancient mask theater but was purified for application to the divine identities. Father, Son and Holy Spirit have no interior or exterior, and therefore exist beyond the possibility of dissimulation.

Persons in the image of the Trinity, in a transfigured humanity, are also one beyond the distinctions of face and mask, inside and outside, hidden and manifest. Each person shines with a unique splendor and glory. What that unique distinction is remains to be discovered.


Language and Religion

20th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

“Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).

What is the foundation of the concepts “first” and “last”?

“First” is derived from one. One is derived from two. Unity and multiplicity give rise to each other as relative concepts. Both arise from the perception of parts outside of parts. The origin of numbers and sequence in human thought began with countable objects, including humans themselves.

Numbers are neither primordial nor eternal, as the simple Trinity is indivisible and has no parts. Concepts of One and Three in discussing the Trinity belong to religion—the sphere of humankind’s return to unity. Indeed, the word “religion” comes from the Latin re + ligare (to bind back), an etymology discovered by early Roman grammarians and St. Augustine. 

Consciousness of separation (among objects, humans, and between humans and God) generated the need to “bind back” what was divided. 

“First” can ultimately be traced back to the primeval wound and separation of Adam from the Trinity. The one-pointed, “single eye” of original consciousness was simple and undifferentiated. As in the Trinity, the first human person had awareness of a unique “I” in communion with three unique “I’s,” but without consciousness of boundaries. Persons in communion (perichoresis) interpenetrate or dwell within one another in a manner beyond the dichotomy of spirit and matter. The process of return to the Trinity requires the transformation of fragmented consciousness (viewing the “I” as separated from all others) to a unified consciousness (realizing the “I” as inseparable from all others).

In the untransfigured realm, persons experience one another as individuals. The “I” of each person appears circumscribed by shape and form; existence extends only as far as the epidermal limit. Consciousness conditioned by spacetime projects its categories onto the divine, which is evidenced in language and grammatical structures. For example, the concept of “equality” is derived from spacetime: What is Equality? (Part 2)

The resurrection of Christ reveals the embryonic potential of matter for deification and transfiguration to an all-encompassing, undifferentiated state. When indivisible union and communion are brought to fruition in the Trinity, there will be no foundation (fissure) for “first” and “last.” 

Concepts, words, language and thought are all temporary vehicles for our journey back to unity in the Trinity.


Click here for another reflection on the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard: Indivisible Glory

Through the Eye of a Needle

“What is impossible for human beings is possible for God” (Luke 18:27).

20th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Matthew 19:23-30 

Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” 

A camel’s hair can pass through the eye of a needle, but not the rest of the beast. One must be free of attachments to fly through the eye, as Mary did at her Assumption.

Yet even a hair may be too thick. A bird tied down to the earth by a thread is no better than one tethered by a thick rope, according to St. John of the Cross (Ascent of Mount Carmel XI.4). Even a monk who has renounced property and riches can cling to a trifle like a knife, pencil, pin or pen, according to John Cassian, a fourth-century monk (Conferences I.VI). The size of an attachment is unimportant; what matters is purity of heart. A heart that is unattached, not only to material things but even to intangibles like ideas and opinions is truly free and untrammeled. 

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” 

St. Paul summed up the path of salvation with one word: love. The invitation to the rich young man to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Jesus would have availed him nothing without love: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (I Corinthians 13:3). 

Love trumps poverty and even martyrdom. God, for whom all things are possible, is love. Attachments keep us from union with God as they build walls around the self and impede communion. A single resentment is a heavy camel. Only the grace and love of the Holy Spirit can burn the last thread that ties us down. 

Then Peter said to him in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” 

Jesus, the Son of David and promised Messiah, was expected to establish political dominion on earth for Israel. Peter’s question arose from a centuries-old Semitic mindset that persisted even until the Ascension when the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) 

Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

The imagery is thoroughly Semitic, complete with thrones and a perfect twelve to correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve appears in Revelation several times as well: twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve tribes, twelve foundations of the city wall, and the twelve names of the twelve apostles (Revelation 21:12-14). The “woman clothed with the sun” wears a crown of twelve stars (Revelation 12:1). Twelve signified perfection and completion.

The long-suffering journey of the twelve tribes down the centuries, filled with wars and strife as well as prophecies and wonders, ended with Christ on the Cross. He is the gate to the Promised Land. His Ascension left no question that the dominion hoped for by Israel was “not of this world.” The kingdom imagery impressed upon the disciples was a hint of a transcendent reality in a “new world” or a “new age.”

The indivisible nature of theandric communion will render concerns about rank and privilege void. Any trace of “What’s in it for us?” in Peter’s question was counterbalanced by Jesus’ enigmatic words: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” The very thought of privilege is a wedge between self and other, a division which has no reality in the Trinity. Jesus, though he was the Son of God, did not lord it over others.

“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”

Jesus’ description of radical discipleship called for detachment from home and hearth—an alien concept for Hebrew culture. The Essenes (an ascetical Jewish sect) and St. John the Baptist came closest to the description by their voluntary poverty, celibacy and austerity. But for the majority of Jews, religious obedience held the promise of prosperity and material abundance (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The story of Job concluded with the twofold restoration of home and hearth. Jesus’ hundredfold—an imperishable and eternal home and hearth—infinitely exceeds Job’s recompense. 

Those who have responsibilities in a family and home can still heed the words of radical discipleship. Every time we empty ourselves of ego and possessiveness, we help the human family in Christ grow as his indivisible, theandric Body. This is our hundredfold which begins here and now. As we are one, no thought, word or action is inconsequential. Detaching with love from even a trifling pen or unnecessary word can move mountains and transform hearts. The borders of our home extend to the ends of the earth by the smallest kindness.


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.

Indivisible Glory

Denarius featuring Marcus Aurelius. Licensed by Raziel Suarez under CC BY-SA 3.0.

18th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday (Year II)

Matthew 16:24-28

For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay each according to his conduct.

Matthew 16:27

How does one reconcile this statement about proportional payment with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard?

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. [And] he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you.Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:1-16

Contradictory images are an indication that the reality to which they point exceeds their sign power; they are hints of a beyond which words cannot encompass.

What happens if word-images about realities beyond spacetime are taken literally?

Both passages in Matthew use the image of payment or wages, a notion derived from economics: employees receive money in return for services rendered. What is the purpose of this image? In the first case, the wages are variable, and in the second invariable.

The notion of unequal payments or distribution of goods presupposes a finite quantity. Such a quantity cannot be uncreated or divine. Therefore, if this image is taken literally, heavenly glory involves a created, finite, divisible good. Something created is superadded or sandwiched between humanity and divinity, the created and uncreated.

In the parable of the “Good Employer,” as some call it, the pay scale is disregarded and each worker receives the same salary (a denarius) regardless of length of service. The employer is a poor capitalist and seems to be ignorant of the profit motive, resulting in complaints. He takes the focus away from the laborer and his work to the employer himself. “I am generous,” he says. The Greek original of verse 15 reads, “Is your eye evil (or envious) because I am generous?”

If there is one theme that stands out in Jesus’ overall teaching, it is purity of heart. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)

The grumbling laborers have a divided heart, split between “mine” and “thine.” The parable is not ultimately about economics, in which the employer’s business would fail miserably, but about eternal union and communion in the Trinity. 

A single eye and a pure heart sees that the only “reward” is the Giver himself; any gift outside of the Giver could only be created and finite. What is created and finite is humanity itself, which has been wholly immolated by Christ on the Cross.

The spiritual life is like a classroom of young children. A teacher can motivate students by offering prizes and rewards, but the most mature are those who do what is right without seeking reward or attention. Saints like Thérèse of Lisieux preferred to be hidden and unknown. “Crowns” do not intensify the eternal and infinite joy of communion in the Trinity. Verbs such as “add,” “increase” and “intensify” come from the material realm. The new consciousness will no longer be able to cogitate such concepts, just as a 3-dimensional sphere cannot operate like a 2-dimensional circle. 

So what is the point of the first saying? Since it follows the exhortation to self-denial and taking up one’s cross, it is a motivation to persevere like children running for a prize. St. Paul uses similar imagery (I Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:14). 

In the parable of the Good Employer, hired servants driven by the profit motive gradually mature into sons and daughters of the Father who live and act out of their royal identity. Being takes precedence over having or gaining

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?” (Matthew 20:13)

The Good Employer addresses his workers as “friends.” He invites the “first” and the “last” alike to receive the joy of union and communion in the Trinity. When the Trinity is all in all, ordinal numbers and sequence will no longer be thinkable.

“All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).


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.


A Divine Conductor? (Part 2)

“But isn’t God like a divine conductor? (part 2)”
©️2020 by Gloria M. Chang

The Three One has no “internal conductor,” but can the Trinity be conceived as the “conductor” of human persons and the cosmos? 

What is the relationship between persons and the cosmos? From our material frames of reference, human persons are parts of the universe due to our bodies. We belong to systems within systems (internal biological systems, geosystems, chemical systems, political systems, the solar system, and so on). Relativity of parts gives rise to the myriad systems discoverable by our human minds.

Persons in the image of the Trinity, however, are destined for a wholeness beyond relativity. Persons are not merely individual parts of human nature, but unique identities transcending it. In the Incarnation, the Logos assumed human nature in its entirety. The interpenetration of the second person of the Trinity and our human nature reveals the interpenetration of each human person and the whole human nature.

In theandric oneness, persons dwell within the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: every person is “in” us and we are “in” every other person, for we are essentially one in Christ.

“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20).

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

The cosmos has no separate existence from the theandric body. Each person contains the cosmos, and the cosmos dwells within every person. The cosmos is our very body, though in our current individualized state we experience ourselves “inside” it, and the cosmos as “outside” us. 

The resurrected Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary have provided glimpses of life beyond prepositions. Entering through closed doors and appearing instantly from one GPS point to another, the transfigured life infinitely surpasses Flatland experience. 

In the sixteenth century report by Don Antonio Valeriano about the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Juan Diego tried “to avoid being detained by the Heavenly Lady” by going around the hill at Tepeyac on the fourth day after her first appearance. He needed to attend to his sick uncle; he could not afford to run into the “Heavenly Lady.”

“But she came out to meet him on that side of the hill…” The rest of the story is legendary, and Juan Diego’s miraculous tilma remains as evidence of the unseen world.

Perhaps the Trinity may be seen as a “divine conductor” insofar as the interconnected parts of the universe are orchestrated in marvelous and intricate ways. From a poetic angle, the cosmos resounds like a “symphony” with silent and hidden melodies wafting through trees and under rocks, and whistling through clouds and galaxies. 

Then again, in light of progressive insights in science and philosophy, the notion of “interconnected parts” fails to account for the underlying wholeness yet to be discovered. The assumption that the “observer” stands outside the “observed” in a subject-object relationship is no longer tenable at the quantum level. 

There is more to reality than meets the eye. Deep mysteries lie beyond four dimensionality, such that even physicists have explored the idea of “pre-space” (David Bohm and Basil Hiley).

Jesus’ revelation of the primordial communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit personalizes the cosmos and reveals the multifarious faces of the communion of saints ever-present to our “4-D geometry.” The conductor-cosmos motif works just as well with a monistic, impersonal deity or principle, and therefore falls short.

We may not “see” or “touch” the Trinity and communion of saints, but we must be wrapped within them even now, as they have no longitude or latitude. “Where” would they be?