#726 – Dick Bernard: A Most UNholy Trinity

NOTE to regular readers at this space: there are some interesting responses at the end of the post on 42, here.
Last Sunday was the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity in the Catholic Church.
I’m lifelong Catholic, and as usual I was at Mass at Basilica last Sunday. (For those interested, the readings were: 1 PRV 8:22-31, 2 ROM 5:1-5 and JN 16:12-15)
Explaining the doctrine of the Trinity seems always to be a difficult task: how do you take a doctrinal belief – “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” as we learned it – and make into something understandable.
Our Priest, retired, a regular celebrant for us, did a pretty decent job simplifying the belief into a series of human relationships: parent-child; sibling-sibling; general relationship to all that surrounds us – Father, Son, Spirit. At least, that is how I heard his message, and I listen pretty carefully to sermons, good, bad or indifferent.
I have no beef with beliefs. We all have them, about any number of things.
But there are limits, and from time to time I run into abuses.
And shortly before I knew last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, I was thinking about another very unholy Trinity: “Truth”, Belief, and Power.
Perhaps this started a week or two earlier when I stopped by the ND Church where I had been confirmed in 1955.
Outside was a well kept sign announcing facts about the Church. Here’s the church and the sign.
(click to enlarge)

North Dakota Catholic Church April 16, 2013

North Dakota Catholic Church April 16, 2013

In the display area of the sign – you can just make it out at the bottom – was this phrase:
Have you read my bestseller?
There will be a test.

I wondered who authorized this “quote”. I presume the “bestseller” is the Bible, and I wondered what questions the writer would have on the “test”, and what the correct answers might be.
But mostly, I wondered, what presumptions did the writer make about what “God” believed, or even was. Everything about God is, after all, a belief, too.
I went on my way and reached my destination and the next day went to daily Mass with a valued relative in the nearby Catholic Church. The Priest, who is a person I like a lot, gave an earnest sermon very heavy on what he felt was “truth”.
By itself, that would have passed over, but a couple hours earlier I’d read a rather strange comment in the May 17, 2013 Fargo Forum: the headline read “[ND Congressman] Rep. Cramer links abortion, school shootings in speech“.
Now, that grabbed my attention. Turned out it was at commencement exercises at a Catholic College in Bismarck ND and “in an interview…Cramer said he was trying to convey a message centered on speaking the truth about today’s culture.”
What the Representative was really speaking about was his belief about what truth might be (or, more cynically, what he hoped his listeners would translate into votes for him next election). Worse, he was speaking from a position of temporal power: the single Congressperson for an entire state, professing to act for 700,000 or so citizens.
Visit over, I came home, mulling this whole topic over in my mind. Belief, Truth, Power is a horrible combination, including for the ones temporarily holding temporal (or religious) power.
At least, mostly, as reflected by the fine Priest at Mass last Sunday, on matters like the “Most Holy Trinity”, even my very fallible Church accepts that beliefs are just that: beliefs beyond clear and certain understanding.
But there are no end to the examples of this Unholy Trinity in our contemporary society, including within the powerful in my Church’s hierarchy.
To the person who put up that sign suggesting God’s command to the reader; to the folks obsessed with exercising temporal power to impose their beliefs, and declare what absolute “objective” “truth” is; I wish all of them would be dismissed for what they are. Charlatans and frauds.
Oh, how I wish.

6 replies
  1. John G. Gibbs
    John G. Gibbs says:

    Your “family, justice, and peace” is a good combination. I’m reminded of theologian Paul Tillich’s book, Love, Power, and Justice. For those who wrote the NT there was a kind of practical Trinity that did not depart from monotheism. Some centuriues later the doctrine of the Trinity as we now know it was formulated, again without conjuring polytheism. The word is in two parts: tri (3) unity (1). Understood etymologically, then, “trinity” affirms 3-in-1.
    Likely most of us, like earliest Christians, experience one God in 3 major practical ways as Revealer, as Revelation, and as Revealedness. God is Subject of revelation (Father), Act of revelation (Son), and Goal of revelation (Holy Spirit), according to theologian Karl Barth. [See Eberhard Busch, The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth’s Theology (Eerdmans, 2004).
    Otherwise said, within the one God there is the will to communicate, and that will does not let us go: before we were born, during our life, and after we die.

  2. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    Hi, Dick. Lots of interesting points in your post and I appreciate John G. Gibbs reflections too. For some time now I have been thinking about when the turning point occurred with regard to “objective truth” in modern thinking. I was aware of it in the 70’s, but I can’t say I caught on right away to the now obvious fact that humans construct knowledge/beliefs/science in communities of inquiry. I wonder if some people, like church men, who have been isolated within a particular frame of reference are still convinced that they can say what God wills, what God thinks, what God IS, and that what they think is Truth to be believed by all people. I wonder if they are charlatans and frauds or just haven’t had the dime drop yet. How many generations would you say there are now who have not known the old way of looking at a fixed reality as Truth? Faith is quite a different operation of spirit than constructing propositions about what IS. So having faith that God, unbounded by any human constructions, is present in the universe here and now, working through limited human minds like our own, may keep us all questing. What do you think?

  3. Harold Shuckhart
    Harold Shuckhart says:

    I have often wondered why God is three persons only in the NT? In the HT, He is presented as one person (who sometimes uses the imperial “we”). If, in fact, the nature of God is trifold, why was this hidden from the Hebrews? Was it only after the Jesus cult took hold and the cult creators wanted to recruit Hebrews, so they made Jesus God’s son. I am still not sure what the Holy Spirit is supposed to be, why it is needed, or what it does.

  4. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    Harold, you put the question well: Can we say–in fact–what the nature of God IS? There are lots of clues in the creation about three-fold relationships and dynamism, so it is acceptable theologizing, don’t you think? But I wonder about saying we know the “nature” of God?

  5. Jeanette Blonigen Clancy
    Jeanette Blonigen Clancy says:

    As you accurately state, beliefs are not necessarily truths; many religious beliefs are myths meant to be understood symbolically, but are interpreted literally.
    Example: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” seem to be 3 guys in the sky, which creates significant problems in gender relationships.


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