For Trinity Sunday – A Parable
A bright and rather contemplative student of mine got herself into a perplexity recently. She had learned that Pope John XXIII had invited the world’s bishops to send in proposals that should be considered at Vatican II (1962-65). The new bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, wrote in that the work of the Council should be organized around two key concepts, “person” and “community.”
Alice saw soon enough that person and communio are also the keystones of the mystery of the Trinity. And also at the foundation of Catholic social teaching.
“One God in three divine persons.” Communio divinarum personarum. Three divine persons in one communion. Consubstantial. From which flows universal solidarity and the assent, the fiat, of each personal conscience. The subjectivity of each person and the subjectivity of each society. The one human community. Out of many grains of wheat, one loaf. The One Body of Christ, the communion of all in Christ.
The themes keep recurring: personhood and communion.
In another course she was taking, however, Alice had learned that the idea of “Trinity” is to Jews blasphemy and to Muslims an abomination. There is one God, one only God, no other God. It shook her that the Christian “three” seemed in flat contradiction to the monotheistic “one.”
She worked on this perplexity in the journal of ideas she kept up every day. In it, she told me, she had worked out three steps but could go no further. The first step was to think awhile about what she meant by “divine.” Alice had a bent for poetry and fiction, so she thought first about what seemed divine in her own experience. The one experience she thought of as most like God, most divine, in all her experiences, was her love for her fiancé, for her parents, for her sister, and for her friends. Without those, she thought, her life would be flat and empty. Oh, she enjoyed many things in life – but nothing so deeply as loving and being loved.
This connected in her mind to something from her class on key teachings of the Christian faith. The professor had drawn a contrast between the Greek view of God, as in Aristotle and Plato, and the Trinitarian view. The Greeks lived in a culture of polytheism, to be sure, but the greatest thinkers came to see that there must be one God – a supreme God, source of all light and all being, and all beauty and goodness and truth. As a consequence, the Greeks tended to think of the Supreme Good as solitary – solitary in brilliance and outward-flowing beauty, the source of all other beauties of our experience. The one Nous. The one radiant, brilliant intelligence infusing all things.
Now comes along this odd Christian idea: The Father lives in the Son, and both issue in the Holy Spirit of light and love. (John 15-16.) Here arose for Alice an aha! experience. The most divine thing in my life is communion with those I love. Let me try to think of God as a communion of love. She contemplated this insight for some days. She prayed over it. She tried it out to see how it fit with her past experiences of life.
“Yes!” she concluded: My love for others (and theirs for me) is the most beautiful, dearest thing in my life. My whole life is a kind of communio. My loved ones live in me, and I in them – we sustain each other. The best, the deepest, the sweetest part of me is communion. The most divine thing.
The second step Alice took is a little fuzzy, and she is not quite happy with her search at this point. Worse, I wasn’t able to help her much. The second task was to try to think of communio as a singular noun. One communion.
The best I could come up with is this: The difference between a collectivity consisting of many persons gathered, say, in a meeting hall, each thinking independently, versus a communion in which all are present together, their interior concentration one in purpose, understanding, and will.
You can imagine three separate persons, each in his own thoughts. You can imagine another three persons rapt in union of soul. Communio involves an interior dimension, a union of an order different from being physically together. A communion of mind, will, and love approaches something like con-substantiality: a perfect union of persons.
The third step was more practical. To be a better reflection of the Trinity in the real world, she decided to try to multiply in her life the acts of love and kindness she shows to her neighbors, especially the annoying ones, those she currently loves least. Loving those who are already lovable is too easy.