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Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year B

Why do we need the Bible? Why do we need the Church? Surely we can just

work things out for ourselves? Maybe if we do away with the Church, and put

the Bible to one side, maybe we could be in a better position to enter into

dialogue with other faiths and religions, and work towards world unity in

faith? What do you think? Well, personally, to put it politely, my response is “I

would rather not, as it wouldn’t lead to anything of any real value, in fact quite

the opposite”.


So why do we need the Bible, the Church, and something called Sacred

Tradition as well? St Thomas Aquinas, one of the great thinkers in the Church,

put it this way (I’m paraphrasing): yes, there are certain things we can work

out for ourselves. But there are other things that we might only partially get

right, mixed together with certain points in error, and there are other things that

we might never be able to work out for ourselves without divine revelation.

The pre-eminent example he gives of this is the doctrine of the Most Holy

Trinity.


Without divine revelation, we would never be able to work out, just for

ourselves, that there is one God who is also three persons: Father, Son and

Holy Spirit. And despite having the Bible, and also Sacred Tradition, which

means various documents, sermons and so on written in the early years of the

Church, there are always new challenges, which requires the need for the Holy

Spirit to guide the Church to keep her true to what is right and to avoid new

errors.


The divinity of the Father has never been called into question, apart perhaps by

atheists, but the divinity of the Son has. In the fourth century, the bishop Arius

decided that the Jesus was fully human, but not fully God, but rather of lesser

status than the Father. But if He isn’t fully God, that then creates problems of

how we understand Christ’s redemption of the human race. It is by being fully

man that He is able to stand in our place and represent the whole human race;

it’s by Him being fully God that He is able to pay the price of our redemption,

offering a sacrifice of infinite value, and enabling Him to be the bridge between

God and humanity.


Arius was rather skilful with his reasoning, and also managed to put his ideas to

music so they could be sung in taverns and easily understood and spread. But

he was wrong. The bishops and theologians of the Church met at Nicaea, and

the rest, as they say, is history. The Church put together a statement of true,

orthodox belief, which we now call the Nicene Creed, although it was later

added to with further detail and explanations. So it required the Holy Spirit,

working through the Church, to dispel wrong reasoning and to call the Church

to unity.


We have to be so careful when it comes to our understanding and description of

the Most Holy Trinity. In fact, things can be so subtle that in the Nicene Creed,

one letter made all the difference. When we profess that the Son is

consubstantial with the Father, the Greek word used is homoousios, saying that

the Father and the Son are of the same substance, which in Latin is

consubstantialem, hence the English word consubstantial. Arius wanted to say

that the Son is not of the same substance, but of a similar substance to the

Father, which involves adding an extra Greek letter iota, to read homoiousios.


Fast-forward now to our present era and the sacrament of baptism. I mentioned

last week that we can’t replace God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit with God as

Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. In today’s Gospel, Christ tells the disciples

that they should baptise “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the

Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you”. In recent

times, Rome has pointed out that baptisms using “Creator, Redeemer and

Sanctifier” are in fact invalid, and this was re-affirmed in the document Gestis

Verbisque which came out on 2nd February this year. It also mentioned that, in

some places, some have changed the formula to “In the name of your dad and

mom ... we baptise you”, which has meant that people invalidly baptised this

way have had to be tracked down and have their baptism and confirmation

repeated. There was even the case of a young priest who discovered he had

been invalidly baptised, and had to be baptised, confirmed, receive his First

Holy Communion, be ordained, etc. etc. All because someone decided to do

things differently at his baptism.


Today we confess that there is one God who is three persons, Father, Son and

Holy Spirit, that all three persons are equally God. We also recognise our need

for God’s revelation, made clear to us through the Church. We recognise that

our own private reasoning is not infallible and that others in the past have gone

wrong, and we give thanks for Holy Spirit working through the Church,

keeping us on the straight and narrow.

 

Curious about exploring things further?  If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at stjoseph.thame@rcaob.org.uk

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