In which St. Raphael talks about his work with the youth and St. Gabriel gives an account of world history from the angelic perspective. A discourse on the Trinity.
"MY, MY, LIFE IS NEVER DULL!" said Raphael, with a laugh so brilliant and effervescent that I had to laugh along with him. He was standing beside me, leaning over the railing, just as Michael had been only a moment before.
"Raphael!" he declared suddenly. "Archangel! How are you?" "I'm fine," I said, "but confused. What exactly is going on down there?"
"That? The usual. And there's getting to be more of it every day. You would be amazed if I told you."
"I'm sure I would be," I said.
"Basically, the devil is a snob; but it is possible that the bat-winged wonder has actually learned something over the centuries. This would mean trouble for us," he said cheerfully.
As he spoke, the little group of belligerents seemed to soften and disperse. Perhaps they had remembered that it was Christmas Eve; in any case, a spirit of peace and goodwill overcame them. Trouble for now was averted. Meanwhile Raphael continued his reflections, which gradually spiralled into the point of my question.
"Satan has no real grasp of the importance of the poor. He makes their lives miserable when he can, but his heart — so called — is not in the work; and this leaves us many opportunities. He tends to assume that the fate of the world depends upon intellectuals and government programs, if you can figure that! But recently he has been allocating more resources to poisoning the lives of the poor and blocking their natural receptivity to grace."
"Do you and Michael work together?" I asked.
"He directs the whole show. This means that I get myself into trouble, and he gets me out of it." Another laugh. "Right now, since we have changed places, the enemy will assume that I am he, harmlessly talking to you, and will confuse him with me. That will come as a nasty shock to someone."
I stared enviously after the remnants of the gang, peaceful once more, to think that these forgotten people might be the object of a battle among the angels.
"Does Hell think I am harmless, then?" I asked.
Raphael shrugged. "So far you haven't exactly done much to rock the foundations of Pandemonium. Decent Christians are a nuisance to Satan, and he sends his minions to tempt them. Typically, he plays on their fear of poverty and loneliness. But if you really want to poke a stick in the wasps nest, abandon yourself and follow Jesus. Michael thinks you have potential," he added doubtfully. "He says that you love truth; he thinks your apathy is more the result of ignorance and environment than wilful absence of desire."
"What was happening down there," I asked, "It didn't look like one of the world's great battles."
"Timing is everything, especially with beginners," Raphael said. Until then the archangel's remarks had flashed around their subject, like shafts of light reflecting from a glass mobile. But now his tone changed and he began to speak with the passionate seriousness of a man discussing his life's work with someone who has long opposed it.
"It's the young people, like those I was with, that really suffer from 'inoperative communities' as that silly book of yours calls them." Raphael was referring to the deconstructionist work I had been reading.
"It's all very well for comfortable people in respected positions to play games with sense, and to look forward to the dazzling freedom of a world in constant flux, or whatever it is that he thinks a state of perpetual revolution will bring. But these young people are living the inoperative community: the world without tradition, or sense or faith."
"The author seemed to be very aware of the necessity of a divine dimension in human society." I pointed out. This was true, although he never explained precisely what this dimension would look like. Anything like the historical practise of the faith was sternly repudiated on the grounds that it alienated the community from its own reality.
"You know," Raphael said. "I greatly preferred the atheists when they didn't believe in God. There was something clean and manly about the old Left, and to the extent that it terrified the middle classes into taking some responsibility for the poor, it could even be beneficial. But now we have arrived at the most complete attempt to date by man to worship himself. Nonsense! And look at the result. You should see the homes those youths come from: dysfunctional does not begin to describe it. These people have never been loved, never belonged to anything larger than a gang, and never been given any greater vision than the mood of the moment. There is a whole network of human existence, of friendships, expectations, and knowledge — a network that you take for granted — and these young men have simply fallen below all that. Where would you be now for instance if your command of English syntax were so limited that you could not frame a logical argument or summarize your experience?"
I remembered conversations I had overheard on the bus, built around a framework of "then she goes ... then he goes ...," the core dump of a previous conversation, that gained nothing in the telling.
"What can you do to help?" I asked.
"Hah! That's a good one. What indeed? You could fill the libraries of the world with books about problems that angels can't solve, and situations that we can't prevent. 'Foundations once destroyed, what can the just man do?'
"I try to bring them to the point where human society can take over. I direct them to employers who can given them a good example of Christian labour; or I put them in the way of suitable young women with whom they can found good families And I try to convince them to trust the System. I was doing very well with one of them — too well, since we attracted some unwanted attention I think now you can see how dangerous it would be for such a person to have a run-in with a guard at this stage, when he was just beginning to think that law and order might have some value."
"But how far do you actually trust the System?" I asked.
Raphael pursed his lips, and said, "The System murdered our Lord. That's how far I trust it. It has gone a long distance toward defacing the image of God in these young people; and that is how far they trust it. But that's not the point. These people are heirs of the Kingdom, and they must learn how to rebuild the unity their lives have never known."
"Can it actually work?" I asked. One reads about the kind of people that Raphael worked with and in general little hope is extended their way. The urban underclass frequently defeats the hope of those who study it; one assumes that it has an equally demoralizing effect on those that belong to it. What is to be done with people society does not appear to need?
"God heals," Raphael said. "He heals through love, and humanly speaking, love works by building structures, be they the family, social clubs, the workplace or the state. Love rebuilds unity. Otherwise, there would be no hope."
Something he said recalled my earlier conversation with Michael, the one that the fracas had interrupted, and that Raphael had been assigned to continue.
"Unity," I said. "Michael was just discussing that point with me, and it sounded like philosophy 101. Now you have mentioned unity ..."
"And it sounds like sociology 102 and a half. It depends on whether you are looking at it from the outside or from the inside. A family, from the outside, acts like a unit. It holds property as an individual, for example. But once inside, you can see that what makes it a unit is precisely the fact that a man and a woman love each other. Everything follows from that: the children, the house, the pet dog. It is a unit because it is a unity; and it is a unity on account of diversity in love. How could it be otherwise, when Love itself is constructed in this way: from the outside, undivided unity; on the inside, three persons. Fact!" he added, as if I had just impugned the doctrine of the Trinity. "Well," he said, "time for us to do some good." Raphael swung one of his coloured scarves over his left shoulder with a flourish, and made to walk down the stairs.
"Michael said that he would come back," I said, worried about what I was getting myself into. "What if he can't find us?" It was a foolish thing to say, and I regretted it at once. Oddly enough, Raphael took it very seriously. Perhaps he saw more truly that I did the shapeless fear from which it came. Clearly it was not for his humour alone that he had healing influence on the broken lives of young people.
"You poor creature," he said with sudden compassion. "Do you really believe that you matter so little to Heaven that we would ever permit you to fall out of our sight?" Then he laughed. "We are not as badly organized as that. All Michael needs to do is ask your guardian angel where you are — assuming that he does not have you directly in view, and he doesn't miss much — and I would not want to be that angel if he could not report at all times your exact location, activity and mood."
This put a new spin on things. I followed Raphael down the stairs to the second level, wondering not for the first time if there was such a thing as a private life anywhere in the universe; presumably not, I reflected, if we were made to serve another, and not ourselves.
We passed a book store. Prominently displayed — indeed impossible to miss — was a promotional rack of New Age material on angels. The reader was invited to 'ask his angel' and in other ways solicit the company of spirits. I pointed to the display.
"Is it true, what these books say, about everyone having a spirit guide, and all that?"
Raphael made a face. "At a rough estimate, those books are 50 percent true, 50 percent false, and 100 percent nonsense. Yes, everyone has a guardian, as do some institutions even, and the nations. But you would think the Heavenly Host were running a daycare centre or a lost and found, those books make such a pig's. breakfast out of our work."
"It is difficult to understand," I pointed out. "I mean, if there are guardians all over the place, why do bad things keep happening?"
"I can't force a soul to choose love, if it insists on clinging to itself," Raphael said. "All we can do is to make virtue look attractive, and vice look appalling. If it wants Hell, ultimately, we can do nothing about it."
"I didn't mean bad things like being damned," I said. "I meant bad things like car accidents."
"We work to God's glory," said Raphael briefly, "and for the salvation of men."
WE SEEMED TO HAVE REACHED OUR DESTINATION. It was a restaurant opening from the second floor of the mall, and with another entrance, higher up, from the street outside. Raphael wheeled in, and I followed. We went through the lower portion, up the stairs at the back, and emerged on the street level to a larger room full of booths and a bar. It was almost dark outside, with one last flag of scarlet from the setting sun.
It was almost dark inside as well, but a darkness of a more dispiriting kind. The bold, 50's style decor did not go well with plastic holly pasted onto chrome. Few people were there, but more than one might expect: some final shoppers, and those apparently with no purpose on that night and with nowhere to go — too poor for the shelters and too rich to book a vacation south.
As the last flights of Christmas Eve arrived at the airport, overbooked since November, all the light and power of this holy night drew itself more tightly into the churches, and into the city's many homes, in cheer. For one day of the year, all life and interest withdraw from the commercial and public places to Church and Family, whence originally they came. The downtown area, the mall and the restaurant where we were standing were like some abandoned harbour, from which the ocean has long since receded to a further shoreline.
"Look at this," said Raphael. "A room full of lonely people, and no one has thought to start a party."
So we did that. Punch was ordered; the juke box was launched into "Joy to the World"; people were summoned from their seats; and song sheets were procured. There was a difficult moment over the punch. Who was to pay? This was awkward, but Raphael had a plan for that as well. "The good is diffusive," he hissed into my ear. "So — diffuse !". I pulled out some bills. To my relief others followed suit. I even received all the credit for getting things started, and became a small centre of gleeful attention at the bar.
Thus, standing and facing the door, glass in hand, I could see the messenger as he parked his bicycle, removed his helmet, and came inside. He looked like one stepping in from the end of the world. He had a sensitive and fine-boned face, but his hair was as red as the sunset, and the fire of revolution burned in his eyes.
Among humans a threshold is a spiritual as much as a physical fact. To enter a house is to leave one world and cross into another. There is a pause; a look from side to side; a break of pace. All that was absent here. Like the consequences of a single thought, the bicycle was placed by a lamp post, the door opened, the building entered and the room crossed. I was not surprised when the figure came to a sudden halt two feet from my face and announced
"I am Gabriel. Peace to you, and to all in this place."
That was it. The two angels had nothing to add, so I asked what they were doing.
"We praise and give glory to God, the thrice holy and undivided Trinity." Gabriel replied, as if that were that.
There was a brief moment, and then Raphael explained. "I think she means to ask what particular action we intend to direct to her vicinity. And the answer to that — he said, turning to me — is that we are getting you something to eat, or you will faint dead away in the middle of Mass."
The sparks we had lit had burst into flame, and by now the party was sinking into the embers of contentment. People were taking their food and their drinks to the tables and creating little parties of their own, with punch and cocoa and slabs of Black Forest Cake. A waiter called my name. "Miss Dalzell! I have your order." I had not placed one, but I collected the tray and paid. It contained a bowl of chicken soup, a glass of milk and a green salad. It looked very healthy, I thought.
I returned with the tray, where the three had picked a table. Michael had reappeared and joined the other two. They were seated at a round table, sharing a bench with their backs against the wall: Gabriel in the middle, Raphael on the left and Michael on the right. There was a bowl on the table between them. A man sitting still suggests an invitation to be disturbed by his friends. Stillness, except in the very holy, has something irrelevant about it. But for these creatures, created before all living things, and containing more of the exactitude of mathematics than the rhythm of breathing things, immobility appeared only as a concentrated form of action. I was afraid to draw closer.
"Sit down," said Gabriel, "and eat."
I put my tray on the table, and sat down, facing them. I began to eat my soup. The spirits watched me, iconic as the stars at night, three pairs of unblinking eyes looking into mine — or were there more? How many eyes did Scripture attribute to these creatures, and how many pairs of wings? Some memory struggled to take shape in my imagination; because unaccountably, and contrary to all rational possibility, the angels reminded me of something I had seen before, but could not place.
"What are you thinking?" asked Gabriel.
And then it came to me: the statues of the Pagan gods I had seen in the museum, and more than these. I remembered illustrations in children's books and the characters of myth. The angels had about them the quality of general principles, rather than local personalities. But as soon as I made the connection, the differences between the living spirits before me and their archetypes proved all the more striking.
On the surface of it, Michael was the most obvious of the three. One thought inevitably of Mars; but the old gods of war represented personal courage and violence. Michael was a soldier by circumstance, in the army of a civilized nation, fighting on the strength of discipline and strategy. Similarly, Raphael had something of the flash of Mercury, patron of merchants and travellers, but there was compassion in the archangel that the idol ignored, and if he travelled, it was to bring others home. Gabriel I could not place at all, until I remembered that the modern age has images of its own. "A nineteenth-century intellectual," I thought, "history and politics."
I explained about the idols.
"You are right to see a connection between the idols and ourselves," said Gabriel, "although it is hardly a connection that our party wished to encourage — not at least in that way.
"As you know, it was the Creator's intention from the beginning that the pure spirits should instruct the children of men during the early stages of their history. Your race has no natural skills or defences of a physical type, and you would have been destroyed, as surely as a baby left exposed without adult care. But if you lacked the support of nature, you were to have instead the friendship of angels. We gave you the first human language, the first laws, and the first principles of technology."
I must have looked surprised, because Gabriel amplified his lecture.
"Have you never considered how different are the discoveries of your period from those of ancient times? It was not then simply a question of improving an existing technique, or harnessing a new source of power; the whole system needs to be in place at once."
"The loom needs the shuttle, and the shuttle needs the loom. Both need the spindle and the fibre," Put in Raphael. "Where do you begin? Your scientific method can't do it; it is a question of intuition."
"How did you do it?" I asked.
"Various ways," continued Gabriel. "Sometimes we would present a symbol to the imagination of someone we thought apt to develop the artefact; or we would direct people to study the habits of certain animals whose instinctual practises they could learn to imitate. We also embedded a certain amount of natural knowledge into human speech and suggested that people study the words they used."
"Was this on account of original sin?" I asked, reluctant to accept that my race would have needed help even under ideal circumstances.
"No, quite the contrary in fact. We all thought when Adam fell to Satan's deceit that your race would be abandoned to the devil, and that we would have nothing further to do with you, tarnished as you were, and still are. But we were told to proceed with the original plan in preparation for your Redemption."
"Only now, we must act in your defence as well as for your instruction," said Michael.
"Of course, through the effects of sin, the original unity of the race was always splintering into factions that either fought each other, or migrated to other parts of the world, where they lost contact with their former foes. Different principalities and archangels had charge over the nations, which accounts for something of the different cultural style that you find. Michael here guided the Jewish nation, but they were a special case, since they alone of the nations were taught to worship God directly, and it is his Spirit that spoke through their prophets.
Needless to say, during this period, Satan and his demons were far from idle. Everything we gave, they perverted; and everything we did, they attempted to undo. We gave the laws, and he raised the tyrants. We wanted them to ignore us and study their world; Satan taught them to ignore the physical world and to control their environment by appealing to demons. We would move to draw the race together, and he would drive it apart. If ever we did manage to get a sizeable population of humans into the same city, where they might benefit from each other's wealth and experience, he would inspire a division of classes, so that neither half would ever learn from the other.
"Finally, when the Lord spoke directly to the patriarchs and the prophets, Satan would attempt to pervert the memory of God's chosen instruments. He once tried to steal the body of Moses, only Michael intervened to prevent him."
"I prayed that God might rebuke him," clarified the warrior archangel.
"What did he want with the body of Moses?" I asked.
'We never found out," said Michael. "We were afraid that he wanted to induce the Jews to worship Moses and forget their Covenant. But whatever the plot, he was up to no good. You can be sure of that."
"Now to return to your point about idols," Gabriel continued, "that was another perversion. Some of the idols are the images of demons, whose worship Satan encouraged for obvious reasons. Others are images of nature, which he wanted them to worship rather than to understand: two errors in one. And still others are the reflections of the holy angels that worked with the nations, so as to twist whatever good they might suggest. It does not much matter to Satan what a man worships, so long as it is not God."
"His favourite trick where we were concerned," said Michael, "was to induce men to admire the pure spirits for characteristics that are of no human value. Thus he would tempt them to admire us on the grounds that we lack bodies and are physically indestructible, when any worth we possess lies solely in our service of God — the rest is only a means."
Gabriel continued. "So there you have it. To say that the situation was an impasse would be greatly to exaggerate our effectiveness."
"We were going down in flames," said Raphael.
"Then God became man," said Gabriel, and all three fell silent.
"IS THAT WHEN YOU BEGAN TO WIN?" I asked.
"We never won. You did," said Gabriel. "You are in your own hands now, and we are governed by your King, and our God. Ever since that time, history has moved in reverse, as you can see."
"No I can't see it," I said, surprised, "I thought we were progressing forward."
"To be sure, each life moves from birth to death as before, but the times must be redeemed as well as the people in them, and history retraced to its foundations. That is because progress without God was no better than a retreat, and human wisdom gained in that way mere foolishness. Originally the race was one. Under sin it was dispersed. Later agriculture and industry were developed; and finally men turned to philosophy and a study of the causes of things. But since the sending of the Spirit, the order has been reversed. First Christians learned to see God by faith; then in man and finally in natural things. Historically, they began by determining the doctrine of the faith; then they incorporated into it the philosophy of the ancients, and when this was understood, they turned to the natural world. Now at last, during the current age, the world is being united again."
"We have a distance to go there," I said.
"True. Michael's two constituencies have still to be united: the Church and the House of Israel."
"That will be a blessed day for me!" said Michael with unusual intensity.
"It will be a blessed day for us all," said Raphael, "since after that, death itself will be vanquished,"
"And our work will be done," finished Michael.
"Will it be soon?" I asked.
"We don't know," continued Gabriel. "There would be no point to our knowing, since were we to act upon the knowledge Satan would deduce the date from our preparations and wreak havoc with the information. For the same reason even Jesus did not know. But the elements are already in place, and you know the general outline. 'The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed.' But in the end, he will triumph, since he has triumphed already."
"There is something I have never understood in the prophecies concerning the End Times," I said. "Scripture seems to be describing two different futures, and I don't see how both can take place at once. On the one hand, there are terrible natural and political catastrophes; a third of the population will be wiped out. There will be great persecutions of the Church and every natural human good will disappear from public life. You could hardly fail to notice that something was going on. But then you get a number of prophecies that stress how unexpected the end will be. The Anti-Christ is in power, and almost everyone is deceived. They think they are living in a golden age of freedom and prosperity."
"Are you quite certain that you do not understand?" said Michael grimly. "The dominant ideology of the modern period is directed to constructing a human society independent of God. Look to the doctrines taught in your media and your schools. To them freedom means only one thing: a state erected on the denial of God."
"Don't you believe in the separation of Church and state?" I asked, surprised.
"I believe in one God. The customs of men are numerous and varied, but judge for yourself how often the nations that have most prided themselves on their liberty have used their freedom to enslave other nations and to fight amongst themselves. In the space of a hundred years, secular humanism has produced teachers who deny the objectivity of reason, physicians who kill their patients, and scientists who have prepared the annihilation of the planet. And yet to many this is called a liberation."
"The end may still be some time in coming," Gabriel pointed out. "Some of us expect that language itself will be turned back on the speaker, as happened to Caiaphas at the trial of Christ. Words will be used only for their political effect, with the result that they will divide their hearers and communicate nothing."
Then Raphael spoke. "When the end comes, we expect that the substance of human dignity will be so far forgotten that few will even recognize what they have lost. You are already well advanced along that path. Think of the young women cheated out of their virginity; children deprived of their families; and adults denied the friendships that should last them through life in service of the mobility of the workforce. The disintegration of the world will proceed precisely as its political structures are re-enforced; law will be used to substitute for nature. It will be a flat world, where society is reduced to the relation of master and slave, and each person will be both slave and master."
"This is terrible," I said. "Can nothing be done?"
"Everything has been done already," said Gabriel. "While the city of man grows to encircle the world with its denial, the city of God will be growing in the Spirit until it too will fill the world. The image of the Trinity will be erased from the public life of man and the poor will suffer, but it will shine with increasing brilliance in the Church."
"That is the essence of what will occur," said Michael, "but God in his mercy may terminate history before the worst of these extremes have been reached. We observe and we act; but who is like God to measure the outcome of the world?" Having begun the answer, Michael also rounded it to a finish, in his usual way.
THE ARCHANGELS FELL SILENT There was, I noticed, a contrapuntal quality to their thought. They seemed to participate jointly in a subject, which then radiated through each, like a ray of light passing in turn through different colours of glass. But for me, I think they would all have spoken together, in the manner of a choir, so as,to construct a vision of reality through interpenetrating layers of thought. I, however, continued to funnel their utterances down the funnel of time, through mental association and logical sequence. The pieces did not come together.
"Gabriel," I said. "Just now you equated the doctrine of the Trinity with good government. I have never really understood why that mystery should be counted as the central doctrine of the faith, let alone what it has to do with anything of practical importance."
"Is it not sufficient that it should be true?" put in Michael.
"It would be if I could understand it," I said desperately. "But what does it mean to say that there is one God in three persons? If this is central, then what happens to the normal world, where persons are individuals and three is not equal to one?"
"It leaves that normal world of yours precisely where it belongs," said Raphael, "in the trash can of fictitious concepts. The world is not like a collection of self-absorbed individuals standing around at a bus stop: perhaps they decide to make conversation, perhaps they choose to remain silent; at a bus stop, who cares? But the world is different. It is not a matter of indifference to be involved or not, to communicate or not, to love or not. These actions belong to the heart of reality."
"All things are good to the extent that they are real," said Gabriel axiomatically.
Suddenly the three began to speak at once, as if the mystery of the three in one could not be confined to the dimension of a single speaker.
And although they appeared to remain motionless on the bench before me, I sensed that they were moving amongst themselves in some great dance of light and colour, as they pronounced the doctrine whose contrapuntal phrases are, as they have always been, the foundation of the faith.
They explained that the good is diffusive; that the greater the good, the greater its capacity to give itself to another, and the stronger its desire to do so. The greatest good can give itself so completely that its very being is given to another, and these two are one. They further declared that just as there are two types of love: the love that gives itself, and the love that seeks union with the beloved, so there are two processions in God. Or again, they said, just as we can be moved both by necessary truth, and by a free movement of the soul, so in the highest good there is a procession comparable to necessity, and another comparable to freedom. Then they spoke of the plurality of hypostases in a unity of substance; of perfect communicability in a distinction of persons; of equality according to nature, and order in the processions; of total likeness and separate personality.
Their liturgy seemed to be weaving a vault in Heaven above my head; I was reminded for an instant of the stars in Michael's umbrella. Here, there were no stars to be seen, and yet as they spoke, I felt that I was seeing something. But when I tried to put into words what they were showing me, I found only that I was reciting the statements of the Creeds. It was the best I could offer. "Begotten not made, one in being with the Father — God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God — who proceeds from the Father and the Son — One God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity, without confusion of persons or division of substance." Dogma is to man the best reduction of the vision of the angels.
"IT IS THE END OF REASON and the beginning of knowledge," said Gabriel. I came to myself and saw that the other two had disappeared.
It was very still in the restaurant, and very warm. Gabriel had changed in some way. He appeared, when he came in, he to have walked out of the end of time from the flames of revolution. Now he seemed to be drawing into the present from the deep well of the past. The fire was still there, but it was the banked fire of a fireside, and not the fires of destruction. I wondered briefly if tradition was actually revolution seen from the opposite direction.
"It is the end of reason and the beginning of praise," he said into the silence that fell around him like the night "Your question," he continued, "about the purpose of the doctrine of the Trinity ... it is commanded in Scripture as a precept of prayer." Then he raised his voice and began to declaim the First Commandment of the Law.
"Hear O Israel! The Lord thy God is one God. And thou shalt worship the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy mind, with all thy strength and with all thy soul."
The years dropped by into the well of time; the Gospel of the New Covenant was lifted before my eyes, an eternal Sacrifice, burning on the altar of the Old. The Two Testaments appeared no more in temporal sequence, but contained each in the other, as perhaps Michael's two constituencies will be.
Gabriel returned to his former lecturing mode.
"You cannot worship God with the heart if you do not know that He is Good; and you cannot worship Him with the mind if you do not know that the One is One by being Three; you cannot worship Him with all your strength, if you do not know that He has conquered death by sending His Son for the Redemption of Man; and you cannot worship Him with all your soul, if you do not know that His Spirit prays in you.
"Thus, whosoever would be saved, must worship one God in the Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, without confusion of person, or division of substance. The Father is God; The Son is God; The Spirit is God. But there are not three Gods, since these three are One God."
"That is something I have never understood, " I said. "When we assert that there are three persons in God, does that mean that there is someone who says 'I am the Father' and another who says 'I am the Son' and a third who says 'I am the Holy Spirit', in the way that I might say that 'I am Catherine' and you say 'I am Gabriel'?"
"There is only One God, and when He spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He said 'I AM.' But the One that spoke to Moses is Three. The Father says, 'This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased,' while the Son says 'I and the Father are One.' And again, he says 'I will ask my Father to send you the Holy Spirit,' while the Holy Spirit speaks only of what he has seen. The persons subsist in relation to each other.
"In God all things pertaining to the divine nature are one: existence, knowledge and will; justice and mercy, power and majesty. They are not split between the persons, but are in each and are the same in each. The distinctions lie not in these attributes, which in God are one, but in the relations between the persons."
"When I asked you about the purpose of the doctrine, I was thinking about your comment linking the oppression of the poor with ignorance of The Trinity." I said. "It seemed to be an unusual connection."
"Where God is ignored, the poor suffer," said Gabriel briefly. "But as to the doctrine itself, you can see, if you study history, that those to whom the doctrine has not been revealed, or worse those who have known it and rejected it, are incapable of avoiding the most blatant of metaphysical errors. Sooner or later, these errors poison political life and the lives of the poor.
"Those who deny the Son, for instance, soon deny that God can be known at all. From there they lose confidence that anything can be known either about nature or about man. A civilization in the grip of such an error is soon immobilized.
"Then those who deny the Father usually confuse nature with God. And because nature is diverse and vague, their minds are drugged by a thousand names for gods that do not exist. Looking to nature for God, they lose both God and nature. To deny the Spirit produces much the same result as denying the Son, since in both cases God is thought to have nothing to say to man, and man has nothing to say in return."
I rebelled against the notion that a mere idea could have such an impact.
"Civilizations run on ideas," said Gabriel. "But there is more than an idea here. It is a question of grace as well, and whether one lives in the Trinity or not — which is to say, whether one is alive or dead. All things that exist are, as you have seen, so many vestiges and images of God; when the original is lost in the soul, the images are lost in the mind. There is very little that can be understood where the doctrine of the Trinity is denied.
"Nor can the doctrine be evaded. Judge what happens. People equate human life with a simple concept; but because reality is dynamic, and the concept lacks the ability to go beyond itself, they posit some other concept to lie in opposition to the first. So you find that liberals must always be inventing reactionaries to oppose, and likewise, conservatives require conspiracies of radicals. The concept may have a lofty beginning; something like the equality of the sexes, or the unity of the human race. But it soon finds the need of an opposite; so you can see how multiculturalism begets racism, and the feminist movement erects barriers between men and women. Having lost the mystery of love, they are reduced to a dynamic of hate."
"I see," I said. "So is it a matter of life more than of thought?" A shiver passed through my companion that might have been laughter.
"The thoughts of men are the home of the Spirit — or else they grieve the Spirit and cast him out. There is a kind of thought that is the natural activity of a mind alive: it seeks the truth and it finds what it seeks. But there is a different mode of thought, which is only the complaining of the dead, an endless litany of worry, self-justification, malice and pride."
"The doctrine of the Trinity," pursued Gabriel, "was originally elaborated by the Church to account for its faith in Jesus and for the experience of the Holy Spirit. What would be the Good News, if Jesus were only another prophet, or if the gift the Spirit were only another natural enthusiasm? If God did not become man, then you are still in your sins; and even if these could somehow be forgotten, no creature can by its own power see the Creator, understand through his spirit, or love by his love. Where would you be?"
"We would be stuck inside creation, I suppose. Unable ever to love Him as he is, unable even to know why everything seemed so useless," I answered.
"Precisely. If the Spirit had not been sent, you would not have the capacity to believe in the wonderful gift that has been offered you, or have the generosity to accept it. What natural creature could ever imagine that the world has such love in it, or that we might be in his gift?"
"But why the Trinity?" I asked. "Why could it not all be the same God who creates, saves and sanctifies?"
"It is the same God," replied Gabriel with a frown. "But the Church had to account for the fact that Jesus spoke of the Father as someone distinguishable from himself. He also spoke of the Spirit as someone to be distinguished both from the Father and from himself, who was to be sent by the Father and the Son. The sender and the sent are usually distinct, as are father and son."
I pondered this for a moment, but it still failed to add up; there was always a piece left over.
"Don't try to understand," said Gabriel. "Think only that it is the mystery of love, and live what you have been given. You have been given the Spirit; so you have the power to pray and the power to love. You have everything you will have in Heaven, except the vision — and that you cannot anticipate by racking your brains up and down. But if you must struggle to understand it, then think in the following way. Whenever you think of something particularly human in the life of Jesus, say 'I am seeing God? And when you look at creation and think of the eternal power of God behind it, think 'God became man.'
"Similarly for the Spirit. When you see something particularly human in the Church, say, 'the Spirit is here'. And when you read the life of a saint, and see the great love of God that was active in her life, say 'she is a woman like myself, in the Spirit I can do this'. Where each person is, the others are also, and they will be in the Church until the end of time."
This book is reproduced with the author's permission.
Copyright © Catherine Dalzell 1995, 2009
All rights reserved
Illustrations Copyright © Gordon Gillick 1995
Version: 4th December 2009