I spoke last time of community, and at the end I suggested that the pattern of any real human community, and foremost, of that community which is the Church, is God Himself, revealed and known to us as One in the Holy Trinity. I will speak tonight about God. In relation with the theme which we are examining I will draw certain parallels and I will leave other parallels open for you to think them out. I am aware of the fact that this is not an easy attempt, and the main difficulty in attempting that kind of exposition lies in the fact that we can know the unity of God only through the unity of man. One knows only what one knows by experience. One cannot know something which is very different from anything we have any experience of. And in that respect, to speak of the unity of God is to speak in terms of images and approximations, because although the Church and mankind are called to be one in the image of God, and to be a revelation of this complex unity, we know very little about it.
This applies perhaps in a peculiar way to the situation of the Christian world, broken up and divided. There is no Christian community, I believe, which is in possession of that experience of perfect unity which could allow us to proclaim convincingly, not in words, but in the revelation of the power of God, what the unity of the Church is. And simultaneously it debars us from being able to give an adequate theology of the unity of God, One in three Persons.
In our search for Christian unity as well as in our search for a theology of God that is a knowledge of God expressed, proclaimed, unveiled before man we have a double task therefore. On the one hand, to discover in prayer, in worship, in theological contemplation, all that God reveals to us about Himself, but at the same time to achieve all the unity, all the oneness, all the complex togetherness which is already possible – because apart from moral prerequisites, no knowledge of God is possible in all truth. This point has been expounded and written about in the last number of Sobornost’ in a most remarkable article, to which I would like you to turn.
We may ask ourselves whether any attempt at reading into the mystery of God the mystery of mankind is legitimate, or whether the reading of the mystery of mankind in the light of the mystery of God is possible. May I say that it is both possible and impossible. Whatever is revealed can be received. There is no revelation where there is no conformity between what is revealed and him who receives the revelation. Otherwise there would be neither understanding nor vision, no perception of any kind. On the other hand, we must remember that whatever is revealed is on the scale of human capabilities, even if it brings them to the last possible limits, and that beyond the capabilities of man I to know God there is all the mystery of the Living God. The revelation which we are given is a revelation of a Person to total persons; it is not the disclosure or formulations, that could express what is beyond expression. The revelation of God is our confrontation with the Living God, Who must be apprehended by each of us with all the powers we possess of intellect and of heart in our soul and our body, in our uniqueness and our togetherness. So let me turn now, after this short preface, to a few points concerning God.
If we are asked, ‘‘Who is God? Who is our God? the foundation of our being, the pattern of mankind and the fulfiller of man? We can give two kinds of answers, which are both very difficult to receive outside the experience and tradition of our churches. The first answer is paradoxical: Our God is a man called Jesus. The second answer is difficult to accept because it gives an impression of being anthropomorphic, of expressing God in terms which are even small for man. When we say God is love, it seems to many that we make too much of the word “love”, because man is not only love: he is intellect, he is a body, he is all the complexity of his nature. How then can God be something which is only part of man. The difficulty here comes from the fact that we think of love, in terms of emotion, of affection, of feeling, and not in its true sense of the plenitude of victorious, triumphant life. What do we learn from the fact that our God is the man Jesus Christ, as He is described by St Paul?
A first thing, which I believe is of extreme importance, the fact that God is personal. Only a God who is a person can unite himself to a human person. There can be no union between an abstract, diffuse, impersonal god and a human person. There can be a pervasion of his humanity, but not a union. And that is of extreme importance in terms of revelation, because the supreme revelation which is given us in Christ is the meeting face to face which we are offered, given, of a human person with a divine Person.
In the name of Jesus there is also something else. By becoming the Son of Man, the Son of God enters into human history. By taking flesh the Word of God unites Himself to the material world. In Him all that is created, both what is human and what is visible, tangible or so minute that it is invisible, or so immeasurable that we cannot perceive it, is re-capitulated, acquires a head, becomes part of a complex whole which is no longer, if it ever was, inert matter, but an ordered Being. That allows us to speak about God in more than one way,
Because of this connectedness of God with history and with man, because of the interwoven now of the divine and the created.
And yet what is so important – and I have repeated that already – the revelation is a revelation of a Divine Person to total persons, not the unfolding of a system of intellectual truths, and that for a reason which is intrinsic to the very mystery of the incarnation. There is a difference between truth and reality. Reality is all things, including God, created and uncreated. Truth is all we can adequately declare, say, about the reality to the extent to which we apprehend and comprehend it, to which it reveals itself to us and to the extent to which we become capable of knowledge, and of communion. But in incarnation reality and truth, expression and what it has to express coincide. He is both the fulness of reality, both created and uncreated – that is the meaning of the Incarnation – and He is at the same time the perfect fulfilled revelation about the total reality both of God and of the created world.
But this truth asserted, declared, revealed in the Person of the Lord Incarnate can no longer be simply expressed, apprehended, described in intellectual terms, because we are confronted with Truth that has become Person. Again we are face to face with the point which I have already made, revelation of a Person that can be apprehended, experienced and spoken about only by the total person, the total human person and the total person which is mankind and the Church. The knowledge of God ultimately proceeds not by intellectual or other statements, but simultaneously by all the richness, all the complexity of statements in words, in colour, in line, in music, in ritual, in gesture, in splendour, in humility, and at the same time and foremost, by the mysterious communion which establishes itself through the divine acts which we call the sacraments, which make us partakers of what we cannot know otherwise than through partaking, through communing in one life.
I have insisted on this aspect of the Incarnation because it applies directly to the problem of human society. The human society is an incarnate reality and can be known on different levels: on the level of the fallen world in which we live and of which we are an integral part, and on the level of the world revealed in God through Christ, the Incarnate God. And there is a gap. There is a gap here between the vision of man in Christ and the vision of man outside the Christic mystery. And there is a gap between our calling and the Church, which we profess in an act of faith and the institution, the visible body which can be studied by history and the diverse disciplines that apply to phenomena and who never apprehend, seize the dynamics of God within these phenomena.
I want to turn now to the second name of God: God is Love. And I want to use partly, but also to enlarge upon, the teaching of St. Gregory of Nazianzus concerning both love and divinity. I must confess that I have thought about if so often, tried to express it in so many ways, that I have lost sight of the point at which St. Gregory of Nazianzus ends and my own fantasy, perhaps, steps in. But what I have got to say I believe is orthodox, and therefore, without trying to delimit what is his and what belongs to others, including me, I will try to speak on the God of love. One in the Trinity.
The starling point of St. Gregory of Nazianzus is that if God is love, He is Trinity because only a trinitarian relationship can be an adequate and perfect expression of love. He goes quickly through a first stage in which he indicates that a monad, an arithmetic ‘one’, cannot be a perfect expression of love. It is a reflexive self-adoration. It is expressed in the old myth of Narcissus, who contemplated his own face in the stillness of the waters, was so moved by his own beauty that he remained petrified, unable to detach himself from this vision. But then he goes on to speak of the love of two, and he underlines the fact that if two in their mutual love remain only two, this is a closed circuit which cannot be an adequate expression of love.
In literature we are shown very often how great and impressive the love of two may be. But we also see how often – and this is almost the permanent theme of literature – how tragic is the intrusion of the third one into this relationship that seemed so powerful, so perfect, so self-sufficient. According to the type of literature it is either tragedy or comedy, but the third one in this triangular relationship breaks down the original oneness of the two.
There is also an intrinsic weakness in this short-circuited relationship. Giving and receiving is all there is to it, although that is already a great deal, as we will see in a moment. Giving and receiving if it were perfect, it would mean giving to the other, first of all, all he needs, and all he is capable of receiving. It would mean giving all one possesses. It would also mean giving all one is, an outpouring of the whole self into the other. This expression is scriptural. When we are told that Christ emptied Himself of His divine glory to become man, there is something of that kind expressed. But so often giving doesn’t consist in pouring out one’s whole self, of dispossessing oneself of all one has and all one is. More often in human relationships giving is a way of asserting oneself. And this is what makes the receiving so difficult, so painful and humiliating. It is not in vain that Paul, repeating unwritten words of Christ says, that as the Lord has said, to give is easier than to receive. One can receive whole-heartedly, with perfect surrender as a fertile ground is capable of receiving all that God and man gives, only if one is certain of being loved and certain of loving. To receive from someone who does not love is insulting and humiliating. To receive from someone one does not love is a pain and a suffering.
But the third one, what happens to him? The third one, as I have already said, is always an intruder when the perfection of a relationship is sought in the contemplation face to face of the two. When a third one appears, the golden link between the two breaks down. It is very often turned into two spears pointed at each other. A new false adulterous golden link is established between the intruder and one of the couple, while a blood-red link of hatred establishes itself between the third one, the intruder, and the second member of the couple. A triangle appears, but a triangle which is in no wise an image of the Trinity, but a tension that possesses three centres of disruption and aggression.
It is the third one which is decisive in the breaking down and in the revelation of the weakness in the relationship. Is there a way in which this relationship can grow from triangular, or simply be, a trinitarian relationship, an integrated, harmonious, fulfilled and perfect relationship of three? St. Gregory says that a third condition must be achieved, not only the giving and receiving, however perfect, however fulfilled, – but sacrificial love. As long as sacrifice is not present in the mystery of love, something is absent from it and the love is doomed to destruction.
This sacrifice may be caught somehow in an example from Scripture. In the image of St. John the Baptist, who said that he was the friend of the bridegroom, he was the friend who so loved the bridegroom and the bride that he brought them together, led them to the nuptial feast, then brought them to the bridal chamber and stayed outside in order to protect their contemplative meeting, the meeting of two persons who will be face to face with each other in all the complexity and richness of their human being – spirit, soul and body. The same John of whom we are told that he was a voice preaching in the desert, so perfectly identified with the message that nothing of self was left in him, but only the divine voice and the divine proclamation, him who said about himself that he must decrease that the other One might increase.
In a relationship, balanced and integrated, of three each one must simultaneously give, receive and accept this mysterious annihilation, accept not to be, for the sake of the two others, that they might be fully and perfectly together, protected and indeed upheld by the love, the sacrificial love of the third one. There is in the simultaneity of love, in the timelessness of relationship, them is the outpouring of each person into the other so that they don’t exist any more in themselves and for themselves. They don’t assert themselves but surrender, abandon and give themselves, “I am in My Father, and My Father is in Me.”
Also the perfect receiving that allots to receive and reveal: Christ said of Himself that He spoke the words of the Father, and. the Spirit would take from His own and speak words of truth that belong to Him, Christ. And there is also this mystery of the third who does not intrude, the third who so loves that he is prepared not to be, to lay down his life, if you want to speak in terms of history and becoming, could accept the mystery of sacrifice – and I have already mentioned, I think, that sacrifice means “make holy”, bring oneself as an offering in order that the two others should be fulfilled in perfect mutual contemplation.
This gives us an amazingly dynamic vision of our God, a God Who is alive, not because He is made that way and incapable of anything but triumphant life, but a God Who is love, in Whom sacrificial love has marked the Cross, in Whom death accepted, willed, chosen is an expression of love, and in Whom the Resurrection victory over death is an intrinsic mystery. Death and love are akin. As long as we do not love, we can assert ourselves, affirm ourselves. In that case we affirm our own identity, as contrasted from, as opposed to any other identity, I am, and therefore I assert the complete otherness of the other.
This, in our fragmented, disrupted humanity, is what we see in empirical practice in the form of individuals, the last term of a fragmentation. When love appears the desire to assert oneself to begin with is strong. Don’t we say, “I love you”, laying tremendous stress on the word “I”, taking “you” as the object, and using the word “love” not in its dynamic life-giving sense, not as a verb – if I may be so ungrammatical – but as a simple mere conjunction that holds together “I” and “thou”. But when love grows, when the discovery of the other, admiration, wonder, worship, reverence, grow, then the “I” begins to diminish, the “thou” becomes more and more significant, and the relationship between the two becomes, instead of conjunctional, truly verbal, dynamic. It becomes an action and a dynamic situation.
In this relationship the other one acquires an increasing significance, and simultaneously my own significance becomes less and less. So that gradually the beloved one means everything. I mean nothing to myself any more. Christ spoke of love when he said that no one has a greater love than he, who is prepared to lay down his life for him he loves, for his neighbour.
In the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John we read that the Word was with God. In Greek “is” is not a static, but a dynamic form of speech: God was the Word. He existed only towards God, in motion towards God. God was at the centre; all His motion was towards Him. This means that ultimately love corresponds to the dying out of any assertiveness, any desire to affirm oneself, in a worshipful, adoring attitude to the beloved one who is to be served and who has become an absolute centre.
But then love corresponds to this plenitude of life. What will vindicate the existence, the life of him who has laid down his life? I have quoted already to some of you a phrase of Gabriel Marcel, who says, “To tell someone ‘I love you’ is tantamount to saying, “You shall never die”. I am not speaking, obviously, of the minor forms of speech, or the way in which we use “I love you” on a shallow level without depth. But if in the relationship I have been speaking about, one surrenders life itself, being itself, he will be upheld by the love of those for whom he has ceased to exist in terms of self-assertion.
A dynamic vision of the Trinity, in which this death of love is overcome by the victory of love; in which the sacrificial love blossoms out into the resurrection of a life that can no longer be taken away, because it was laid down. It is not protected, it is upheld: not asserted, vindicated by the love of the others, the pouring out of self and the emptying of self, the receiving worshipfully what is given, the laying down of one’s life and the taking it back. “No one is taking my life from me,” said Christ, “I lay it down freely.” And St Paul, speaking of His death and Resurrection says, “And therefore God raised Him from the dead.” Yes, the one can lay down his life: it is the other that gives him undying reality and life eternal.
This dynamic vision of the Trinity obviously has consequences in our vision of relationships. It has also a direct relation to the first name of God, Jesus – to what I said about God being that man Jesus.
One speaks often of the impassability of God. The world has come nowadays to mean indifference, inability to be moved. The original meaning in Latin is quite different. It means simply that God is never acted upon. He is never in the passive voice, because in Him everything is supremely active. It is life triumphant, life victorious, life in abundance, that measure of life which we call love, so full and fulfilled that it is not afraid of this ultimate emptying of self which the Incarnation means. In this vision -we can understand that the whole of man did not introduce into God a situation hitherto unknown, that the Incarnation of the Word of God, the Passion of the Incarnate God, was not brought into God by a human, creaturely situation, that all that is meant by the compassionate love of God, by the sacrificial solidarity of the Incarnate, is already present within God and has found expression in history in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Mount of the Crucifixion. This God is the pattern of relationship.
We can see Him becoming in history, by uniting Himself with us, vulnerable and defenseless, as love is vulnerable and defenseless, apparently overcome and yet victorious, as love dies in order to live forever. We see, I think, what it means, therefore, in terms of Church. If it is true that we are to be the body of Christ, the total Christ, head and limbs – to use a phrase of St. Irenaeus – if it is true that in our togetherness is the whole body and singly, personally, we are the temples of the Holy Spirit, that in Christ and in the Spirit we become truly the children, indeed the Only-begotten Son of God – to use again a phrase of St. Irenaeus – then we see that when we speak of the Church as the Body of Christ, this assertion unfolds itself before us in a trinitarian vision, because the Incarnate One is the Son of the Father, Incarnate of the Virgin by the Holy Spirit.
Let us, each of us ponder over this vision of love as manifested, as lived, as reality of the Holy Trinity. But let us also remember something which I believe is of extreme importance. However lofty, however mysterious this teaching of God, One in the Holy Trinity is, it belongs to the realm of the revelation, that is, to that realm where man still can meet God, apprehend Him, understand Him in communion and contemplation.
There is more to God than this. I have spoken of Divine Persons, but the moment we speak of the Holy Trinity, One God in Three Persons, we speak of a life, a way of being which is beyond what we understand when we speak of persons, beyond any limitations. “I am in My Father and He is in Me. My Father and I are One.” We can perceive the personal aspect and we can grow through this vision of the Three Persons Who become suprapersonal, whose life is beyond any limitation of person. We can grow into a vision of God who is simultaneously Three Persons and One Divine Reality, personal, but no longer in our limited and cramping sense of the word. And even beyond this there is all the depth and mystery of what God is in Himself, beyond any revelation, and yet not beyond some sort of communion. Revelation is the meeting face to face of this personal and yet suprapersonal God with the total human person. This God Whom we can no longer understand, no longer perceive otherwise than as the Divine Darkness so bright that we go blind, this God communes with us by outpourings of His own Self, not only by the manifestation of His person in the Person of Jesus, but by the outpourings of Himself which we call the energies of God, of grace divine, that flow, not from any individual Person but from the oneness of God in Three Persons, and make us to partake at a point which we can in no wise understand but which we can know in experience, of a unity which is beyond any expression, which is the unity of God.
If we think now in terms of the Church, in terms of mankind, in terms of society, this is the pattern, this complex, rich, dynamic pattern that must be our criterion. No other pattern is acceptable for the Church. No other pattern either is acceptable for mankind, because mankind is called to become what the Church should be and is not yet fully: a revelation of all this complexity of the divine life and being abroad by participation and communion in all things created by God.
This is all, I think, I can say about the God Whom we worship. Whom we love, the God in Whom we are, in Whom we move, in Whom we live. I think we should give thought to this God. These are the measurements of mankind and of all that God has created, nothing less, certainly a great, great deal more than anything I was able to express.
I would like now to suggest five minutes’ silence, and after that, if you feel like it, perhaps a quarter of an hour during which you would say what you know about it and share with us what I was not able to express and which I do not know.