Monday, May 23, 2016
What God is this?
Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Trinity Sunday.
You may remember that, as Catholics, we subscribe to three creeds. We're used to the Nicene Creed and, when we got to Mattins or Evensong, we often say the Apostles' Creed. Today though, and on other special days, we say the Quicunque Vult - the Athanasian Creed. It's attributed to St Athanasius who fought against heresy in the 4th Century, though it may be better ascribed to St Ambrose. St Athanasius is quite a severe and aggressive saint, particularly when it comes to heresy. However, he's not the only one. St Nicholas of Myra, yes Santa Claus, is reputed to have punched the heretic Arius in the face because he believed that Jesus was created.
Surely it's not right to come to blows over something and complicated and hard to understand as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, is it? Is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity really worth condemning people as heretics?
The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity is vitally important. Remember the first of the ten commandments. "Thou shalt have none other gods but me." We need to worship God first and foremost if we are ever to be reunited with Him, but we need to be clear on who He is. This isn't easy because we can't know God - He's always beyond Human thinking. This is why He reveals Himself to us in the Holy Scriptures. It's to make sure that we are truly worshipping the correct God.
Lots of people believe in gods who created the world, but none of them are like the God Who really did. How do we know which God created the world, and how do we know that He isn't Odin or Chronos, or Vishnu? The fact of the matter is that Christianity is unique in that we have a historical record of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection. We have the record of His claims to be the Son of God. We have the record of His miracles which accompany His preaching and teaching. We have the testimony of 400 people who see Him alive after His crucifixion. And we have His promise of the Holy Ghost.
This is the truth about God. There can only be one God, yet He is God in three persons. This is difficult to understand, yet it is true. Anyone who denies the truth of the Holy Trinity is a heretic. This is a strong word but the word heretic means one who has made a choice. This is the key thing. The god of a heretic is a god that has been chosen by a human being. But there is only one God, and if we do not worship Him, then we worship a false god and so we commit idolatry. The heretic makes an idol of his own choices.
St Nicholas strikes Arius because he believes he needs to stop Arius' heresy. But Arius' heresy never really goes away. Too many people believe that Jesus was just a good man. If this were true then,miracles aside, this good man would also have been a raving lunatic babbling about being the bread of life, about being the true vine, about being the son of God. Arianism is responsible for many people falling away from the faith and endangering their salvation. St Nicholas reacts violently to that.
Should we do the same?
Perhaps we should not be so violent. We do need to remember that we do not see into the hearts of men. We cannot suspend the second commandment of loving our neighbour as ourselves just to defend a truth. To hate a person because they do not believe rightly about the Holy Trinity is also a heresy. The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity is about incomprehensible relationships which are expressed through Love.
We do need to stand up and declare our faith well and passionately. In this age when Churches are falling apart because of heresy, it is more and more important for us to keep hold of the Catholic Faith. This is not an intellectual faith, but a faith in which we live out our doctrine. We believe in God Incomprehensible, this means we need to be patient with those who get it wrong because we can't have it right either otherwise we comprehend God. Nor should we label persons as heretics as this will only lead us on the path to demonising them. We should pray hard for a change in their minds, but we must also pray for our transformation too so that we approach the Truth more closely from our own fallible and incomplete understanding. Above all we should pray for greater love in our hearts for all human beings, irrespective of whether they believe rightly or not.
Our God is real and above all earthly thought. The Doctrine of the Trinity is the route to Him and the means of our salvation. It is not to be understood, it is to be lived and loved.