"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Wednesday 22 June 2011

The Creed and the Trinity by Henri de Lubac

The Creed and the Trinity | Foreword to The Christian Faith: An Essay on the Structure Of the Apostles' Creed | Henri de Lubac


This book does not pretend to impart any information to the learned historians of the creeds, save that, for better or worse, the author has often made use of their works. Nor does it deal in depth with any of the current theological problems, although it does not avoid alluding to them in passing. Nor should one seek in this book a systematic study of trinitarian doctrine or Christology. Its purpose is not even, at least not directly, pastoral. Rather, we have tried to make it a sort of introduction to catechesis, addressed to all those who, either in preparing candidates for baptism or in teaching children or in day-by-day preaching to the Christian people, are entrusted with this most beautiful of all roles: handing on the faith received from the Apostles, always and infinitely fruitful even as it was when they themselves received it from Jesus Christ.

Like everyone else, the believer is able to observe the changes, slow or sudden depending on the times, in people's mentalities and interests, the variations that occur in language. Without becoming enslaved to theories (themselves subject to so many vicissitudes) that seek to account for these changes, he does not necessarily remain insensitive to the repercussions of this historical development of culture or cultures upon theological work and even, on occasion, upon the very expression of his faith. If he himself is not conscious of it, the Magisterium guides him to make him understand that in certain circumstances renewal is necessary and that one would be condemned to wither and die if one did not ever consent to adapt or change anything. But at the same time he sees with great clarity that the treasure he has received as his inheritance is not the fruit of a perishable culture. The Christian tradition, that living force in which he shares, is rooted in the eternal. If he strives to be faithful, the newness that rejuvenates his heart is not exposed to the erosion of time. Consequently he is not in the least tempted to a certain kind of forced advance in which a number of those around him are indulging. He can only see in that, as Pascal would say, a confusion of orders. He knows in advance: in the letter of the Creed which he recites with his brothers, following so many others, there is infinitely more depth in reserve and timeliness in potential than in all the explanations and critical reductions that would affect to "go beyond" it. He knows this in advance, and experience and reflection reveal it to him a little more each day.

Above all, this Creed teaches us the mystery of the divine Trinity. It is in this mystery that our faith consists. It is for us both light and life. Nevertheless, it is very necessary for us to recognize that this is not always easy to understand and is not readily apparent to everyone. For a number of Christians, and not just those who retain only a vague, conventionalized version of their faith, this seems to be a sealed mystery. Is it proper to blame those who have the task of instructing us? It would be more just to take this blame upon ourselves. We do not always know how to embrace the most pregnant truth, which must slowly produce its fruit within us. Impatient as we are, we would like to understand immediately, or rather, in our shortsighted pragmatism, if we are not shown practical applications for it right away, we declare it to be abstract, unassimilable, "unrealistic", an "empty shell", a hollow theory with which there would be no point in burdening ourselves. This is what Faustus Socinus and his disciples thought, as witnessed by their Catechism of Racow (1605): "The dogma of the Trinity is contrary to reason. It is absurd to think that by the will of God, who is reason and who loves his creatures, men must believe something incomprehensible and useless to moral life and therefore to salvation." This was also the opinion of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, agreeing in this respect with all the Christians of his century seduced by the "lights": the Trinity, in the judgment of the Savoyard Vicar, was a part of those things that "lead to nothing useful or practical". Now we must really be convinced that, when we allow ourselves to indulge in such thoughts, it is we who are thus living superficially, outside of ourselves. The Christian who does not trust the fruitfulness of revealed truth, who consents to interest himself in it only to the degree to which he perceives the benefit in advance, who does not consent to let himself be grasped and modeled by it, such a Christian does not realize of what light and power he has deprived himself. [1] He does not see that in consenting to hear--if it may be called that--only the voices that promise him a response to his immediate questions, he is himself renouncing the opportunity to grow in self-understanding and depth while shutting himself up within the limits of his own narrow experience. Sometimes he even reaches the point of imagining he can no longer find any meaning in a hackneyed, "out-of-date" concept, when in fact he is dealing with a mystery he has not yet glimpsed.

The revelation of the trinitarian mystery turned the world upside down. Not after the fashion of human, political, social or, to use the current jargon, "cultural" revolutions which mark the course of history; but by opening up within man himself new depths, definitive depths, which he must thenceforth never cease to explore. By transforming totally his idea of the divinity, it at the same time transformed man's understanding of himself. More precisely, it revealed him to himself and transformed him. The transcendence of this mystery is total, and precisely for that reason its light can plumb the depths of our being. If I speak as one who believes in the Most Holy Trinity, then "I do not speak of it as I might of a constellation lost somewhere in the limitless reaches of space, but I see in it the first principle and the last end of my own existence; and my belief in this supreme mystery includes me too." [2] It includes me, it includes all of us. By this faith the Church of Jesus Christ lives. [3] If, instead of getting caught in that pathetic masochism into which so many perverse prophets work unceasingly to plunge them, Christians truly resolved to believe--I mean, to trust in their faith--this faith would in all truth make of them today the soul of the world.

Our God is a living God, a God who, in himself, is sufficient unto himself. In him there is neither solitude nor egoism. In the very depths of Being there is ecstasy, the going out of self. There is, "in the unity of the Holy Spirit", the perfect circumincession of Love. Thus we can glimpse the depths of truth in St. John's remark (which is not true vice versa) that "God is love." If we exist, it is not due to chance(!) or to some blind necessity; nor is it the effect of a brutal and domineering omnipotence; it is in virtue of the omnipotence of Love. If we can recognize the God who speaks to us and wishes to link our destiny to his, this is because within himself he knows himself eternally; within his being a dialogue exists which can overflow without; he is animated by a vital movement with which he can associate us. If, even without philosophical training, we can resist those who tell us that matter is the ground of all being, and if we spontaneously go beyond the overly abstract views of those who tell us that spirit, or the "one", is the ground of being, it is because this mystery of the Trinity has opened up before us an entirely new perspective: the ground of all being is communion. [4] If we are able to overcome all the crises which might lead us to despair of the human adventure, it is because by the revelation of this mystery we know that we are loved. And at the same time we learn what the most clearsighted among men are inclined to question: we learn that we ourselves can love; we have been made capable of doing so by the communication of divine life, that life which is love. We thereby understand also how "the fullness of personal existence coincides with the fullness of the gift", how self-realization without the gift of self is a delusion, and how, on the other hand, the gift of self goes astray into aimless activism if it is not the overflow of an inner life. We know, finally, that we must yield to this desire for bliss which no theory, no negation, no despair will ever tear out of the human heart because, far from being the pursuit of one's own interest, it blossoms under the action of God's Spirit into a hope of loving even as God loves.

If, as explained in the following pages, the mystery of the Trinity is not revealed to us first of all in itself but in the Trinity's action outside of itself, in its saving activity, it is no less true that the term of that saving action is indeed, already, the Trinity itself, glimpsed by faith in its very essence--even though always veiled in mystery, in umbris et imaginibus. So the "Trinity in itself" is still, even now, "the Trinity in relationship with us". Trinitarian doctrine is not the brainchild of some solitary thinker; it comes from the revelation of Jesus Christ. Nor is it a result of "high theological speculation". It is not a secret "reserved to the learned professionals, but it has an effective importance for every Christian". [5] Our inner existence, our personal relationships, our social action, our research and our efforts toward Christian unity, the entire basic orientation of our thought and life will be right and fruitful in proportion as they are in conformity with the reality of this mystery.

The mystery of the Trinity, which sheds light on the mystery of human existence, is wholly contained in the mystery of Christ. For this reason, as we well realize, another work would be necessary to introduce this one. It would start with the very first formulations of the Christian faith, which are Christic formulas. In Jesus Christ, God has opened his heart to us. Through him, "the Mediator of revelation and also its fullness", the Good News was proclaimed and will never cease to be heard. "A day has dawned which will know no ending. It comes to us out of the obscurity of Nazareth and reaches down to us through the centuries; it leads us on beyond all time . . . even to the very Center of truth. Hope has already begun; it can no longer end." [6]


[1] "The life of the Church is more reliable than our own judgment. It is necessary to trust it, and experience does not hesitate to enlighten in this regard the one who lives his faith simply and profoundly": Cardinal G. M. Garrone, Que faut-il croire? (Paris: DesclŽe de Brouwer, 1967), 45.

2 Romano Guardini, Vie de la foi (Paris: ƒd. du Cerf, 1968), 48.

[3] Cf. Origen, In Exodum, hom. 9, no. 3: "Funis triplex non rumpitur, quae est Trinitatis fides, de qua pendet et per quam sustinetur omnis Ecclesia" (ƒd. Baehrens, 239).

[4] Jean DaniŽlou, La TrinitŽ et le mystŽre de l'existence (Paris: DesclŽe de Brouwer, 1968), 53. "It is hard to believe that Christians who possess the ultimate secret of things, who are the only ones able to penetrate, by the light of Christ, into the abyss of the hidden mystery that envelops all things, should not be more aware of the fundamental importance of the message they have to convey."

[5] Cf. Timothy Ware, L'Orthodoxie, French trans. CharitŽ de Saint-Servais (Paris: DesclŽe de Brouwer, 1968), 285.

[6] Jean LadriŽre.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Excerpts:

• Ignatius Insight Author Page for Henri de Lubac
• Are Truth, Faith, and Tolerance Compatible? | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• Why Do We Need Faith? | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• The Ministry of the Bishop in Relation to the Blessed Trinity | Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I
• The Reality of God": Benedict XVI on the Trinity | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• Father, Son, and Spirit--So What's In A Name? | Deborah Belonick
• Eternal Security? A Trinitarian Apologetic for Perseverance | Freddie Stewart, Jr.
• Jean DaniŽlou and the "Master-Key to Christian Theology" | Carl E. Olson
• God's Eros Is Agape | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• First Musings on Benedict XVI's First Encyclical | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
• Some Comments on Deus Caritas Est | Mark Brumley
• Love Alone is Believable: Hans Urs von Balthasar's Apologetics | Fr. John R. Cihak
• Understanding The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, S.T.L.

Henri de Lubac, S.J. (1896-1991) was a French Jesuit and one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. De Lubac was ordained a priest on August 22, 1927, pursued further studies in Rome until 1929, and then became a faculty member at Catholic Faculties of Theology of Lyons, where he taught history of religions until 1961. His pupils included Jean Daniélou and Hans Urs von Balthasar. De Lubac was created cardinal deacon by Pope John Paul II on February 2, 1983 and received the red biretta and the deaconry of S. Maria in Domnica, February 2, 1983. He died on September 4, 1991, Paris and is buried in a tomb of the Society of Jesus at the Vaugirard cemetery in Paris. For more about his life and a listing of his books published by Ignatius Press, visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page.

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