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WINTER 2005
Vol 39 No 2


Editorial:
POPE BENEDICT XVI

Kristina Keneally
A PAPAL CONDOLENCE MOTION

Tim Costelloe SDB PRIESTHOOD IN THE THEOLOGY OF JOHN PAUL II

Jim Quillinan
LEARNING NEW WAYS OF EVANGELISING

Vincent Battaglia
BELONGING, COMMUNITY, AND THE CHURCH: Some Theological and Pastoral Reflections

Lawrence Cross
THE TRINITY'S FIRST CREATION THE CHURCH: An Orthodox Bishop's Appreciation Of The West's Greatest Father Of The Church

Anthony Arthur MSC
CONTEMPLATIVE MISSIONARY SPIRITUALITY: The Way of the Heart

Mark Raper SJ
THE CHURCH AS AGENT OF HOPE: What can Religious Faith Contribute to Life in Contemporary Australia?

Bruce Duncan CSsR
A NEW CATHOLIC SOCIAL MANIFESTO? The Compendium Of The Social Doctrine Of The Church

Review
RICHARD LENNAN, "RISKING THE CHURCH. THE CHALLENGES OF CATHOLIC FAITH"



 

The Trinity's first creation the Church: An Orthodox Bishop's appreciation of the West's Greatest Father of the Church

LAWRENCE CROSS

THE METROPOLITAN of Silibria, Emilianos Timiades, has contributed a great deal to ecumenical theology in the last twenty years with much of his writing on the theme of the Trinity and the Church. One of his chief concerns has been to demonstrate exactly how the Holy Trinity impacts on human life, particularly in the Church1. To do this he points to something said by St Gregory of Nyssa, one of the three great Cappadocian Fathers, about the way in which our one common humanity is expressed in different individual persons. This is a humble way of understanding how divinity is shared by three divine persons. Moreover, one of the Holy Trinity has become man for us and has established the Church which is eternal. However, it is the Holy Spirit who prolongs the divine-human assembly of the Church, giving it its inner unity, its continuity from generation to generation.

It is here that Metropolitan Emilianos turns to the greatest of the Western Fathers, St Augustine, in order to further his exploration. On the last point, concerning how the Holy Spirit prolongs the divine-human assembly of the Church, sustaining its inner unity and its continuity from generation to generation, he cites St Augustine's De Civitate Dei (22:30). 'There shall we rest and we shall see. We shall see and we shall love. We shall love and we shall praise. Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end.' Earthly life is life in via, on the way to the fatherland, to God. Finally, when we are there in full union with the Holy Trinity, we are in patria. Earthly life is certainly real, but it is a partial participation in the Trinity's glory, a participation made possible through the Church. Metropolitan Emilianos proposes that this participation in the Trinity's glory through the Church is the chief impact of the Holy Trinity upon the human person. The Trinity uplifts our whole being to be like God, to be Holy. The Metropolitan then explains what holiness is.

Holiness is something that comes from another world. It belongs to another world and reality. Consequently, a holy person lives differently from others. They are so human as to be different. They live for other realities and values. The power of sanctification has an ontological effect. It brings about fellowship, holiness, theosis. A Christian then is someone who knows God's love as God's supreme gift, undeserved and abounding, and who recognises it as redemptive power in the world. Our union with the Holy Trinity changes us into what we can be. This is the process of theosis, (Gk: meaning to become divine, to be made like God) which is implied in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:12; 14:20; 15:4-5) and in Romans 6:5 and 1 Corinthians 1:9 , but which appears with startling clarity in 2 Peter 1:4., that through the glory and goodness of Christ 'you should share the divine nature'.

Metropolitan Emilianos next turns to Pseudo-Dionysios' Ecclesiastical Hierarchy where theosis is described as 'a constant love of God and of divine things.' It continues:
The vision and knowledge of divine truth. A divine sharing in the simple perfection of him who is supremely simple. The joy of contemplation which sustains the spirit and makes those who attain to it sharers in the nature of God. (Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, I,3.)

This is a union in what is called the divine energies. St Maximos the Confessor speaks of the same things in his Ambigua. 'God and those who are worthy of God have one and the same energy.' (Ambigua, PG 91, 1076.)

God as Trinity, therefore, is about being caught up into the life of God. It is only possible because God is Trinity and because the Church is an icon of the Trinity's current of love. Our love should therefore copy the intimate solidarity of the Holy Trinity. As St Anthony of Egypt observed:
From our neighbour is life and from our neighbour is death. If we win our neighbour we win God, but if we cause our neighbour to stumble we sin against Christ. (Apophthegmata, 9.)

Everywhere in the hymns and liturgical texts of the Eastern Church we find a burning eros, a strong love of God which is founded on the conviction that we have come to share in the life of the Trinity. The Holy Trinity is the basis of this new faith. By entering the Church one is incorporated into the whole Trinity. In the liturgical texts this Trinitarian inter-action prevails. The emphasis on Christ is immediately joined to the two other persons, as happens, for example, in the celebration of the Epiphany. The very first offspring and creation of the Trinity is the Church, the Church of the Trinity. The Holy Trinity dwells in the Church and the life of the members reflects the life of the Trinity. The only creative principle and the source of the Church is the divine Trinity. It indwells, fills and sanctifies the Church. As the Christians sing in the Byzantine liturgy, 'We have seen the true light, We have received the Heavenly Spirit, We have found the true faith worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us!' Indeed they have found it, in the Church.

In the Church the Trinity animates the supreme economy. So, in the Church one finds the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. Whenever one acts, the others are found. The whole Trinity is the head of the Church, the cause and the source of grace. This means that, once integrated and united with Christ, an individual human being becomes a person united with the Father and the Holy Spirit at the same time. They become partakers of the divine nature. (2 Pet 1:4.) 'Where one hypostasis is present, the whole Trinity is present,' says Chrysostom in his commentary on Romans, 'for in him the wealth of God's being has a living form.' (Col 2:9) It is the Holy Spirit's particular work since Pentecost to co-ordinate the process of sanctification. It is the Holy Spirit who pours out the charismata (gifts) for the renewal of the Church and of the whole of creation. The other fruit of our relationship with the Holy Trinity in the Church is love, the most important thing of all.

This love is a creative force. The relationship to the Holy One is revealed through personal sanctification. Thus St Basil indicates the use of the sacraments and their connection to the redeeming action of the Trinity. (Comm. in Psalmos, 28, 1; PG 29, 281.) There is also something pre-existent about the church which is a deep mystery, too deep to penetrate completely. But the Church has been predestined from the ages for unending glory. The Church is also the way in which people come to experience God. When we realise that God does not give, but that he is given, it really does mean that the Church is divine in that God gives himself to us in the Church. As such the Church is truly divine, because the grace received in it is God's 'presence and his very self' to use Newman's phrase. There is only one sanctifying power, which is the Holy Trinity, God. Consequently, if that sanctifying power is found in the pneumatic body of the Church, the Church is the holiest thing of all.

Like many Orthodox theologians, Metropolitan Emilianos is critical of a great deal of Western theology, believing that Western problems with the Trinity diminish this understanding of the Trinity as divine-human intimacy. He says, for example, that some Augustinian terminology detaches the Spirit's energies from his person and ascribes them to an impersonal thing known as grace. He says, on the contrary, that if grace is the Holy Spirit, its activity must be that of a person upon a person. Most would agree. Participation in the Church involves personal communion. In the Pentecost hymn the Eastern Church sings 'O ye children of the Church, your faces shining with light, receive the dew of the Holy Spirit breathed out in fire which takes away sins by a cleansing.' The devout believer lives this Trinitarian reality. That experience is reflected in everything. It is a nuptial relationship best expressed in the eucharist.

Metropolitan Emilianos blames Tertullian, the second to third century Church father, for the introduction of objectified theology and assigns to him the responsibility for the confusion between divine favour and divine power. (Ad Simplicianum, 2, quaest. I,5.) He says that Western theology's meaning of grace owes its origin to Tertullian and that it was re-inforced by the Council of Carthage of 418 A.D., where grace becomes power received and sanctifying grace. He claims that the problem is that the West is now confused by this judicial language, whereas the Church Fathers, particularly in the East, show that salvation is not so much justification or reconciliation, but a growing into the life of God, theosis.

In expounding the patristic tradition's emphasis on theosis and transfiguration, Metropolitan Emilianos bases much of his explanation on references from St Augustine. He enlists him to support the view of the Christian East, that reclaiming the Church's tradition on theosis and transfiguration is needed to correct the false spirituality in much contemporary writing on the love of God and neighbour, writing which neglects the communal or ecclesiological dimension of final blessedness. Communion in the Holy Spirit must not omit communion with our fellows. By communion with the Holy Spirit we are caught up into the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He cites Augustine's 'That you may love, let him dwell in you, and love himself through you' (Sermon 128), because Augustine understands that Trinitarian communion is manifested in human realities. In this St Augustine is unsurpassed. He shows the reality of the impact of the Trinity precisely in human life. Metropolitan Emilianos cites the wonderful passage:
When we see Him as He is we shall be like Him and being like Him how shall we fail? By what should we be distracted? Let us rest assured that we shall not be wearied by the praise of God nor by His love. If your love should fail, so would your praise, but if love is to be everlasting because the beauty of God will be uncloying, inexhaustible, then do not fear that you will lack power to praise Him always whom you will always have the power to love.

Charity therefore reconciles the warring elements in the psyche and transcends the ego. Charity in the soul is the amor sui, true self-love, which does not seek its own. The Holy Spirit is the means whereby God loves himself. The Trinity can be described therefore as one who loves, one who is loved, and love itself.

1. Timiades, Metropolitan Emilianos (1985), 'The Holy Trinity in Human Life', One in Christ, Vol. XXI, no. 1, 1-18.

Lawrence Cross is Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology (Victoria) of Australian Catholic University and a member of the Centre for Early Christian Studies. He is a married priest of the Russian Catholic Church.