Sunday Scripture: Trinity Sunday (YEAR C)


Welcome to this, the forty-fourth of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass.

I have undertaken this project, regularly posting background information on the readings at Sunday Mass as part of my own prayer life. I have found it helps me to do a little study before I go to Mass about the readings, what the theme of the week is, how it follows on from the previous week's readings and what is being said.

In sharing this, I hope to help you too get more from the Bible and Sunday Scripture readings. Perhaps it might give you confidence in the value and legitimacy of the Bible, or perhaps it might inspire you to pray the Divine Office or investigate the weekly readings for yourself.

I see this as very clearly part of what the Church teaches about the Bible:
This heaven-sent treasure Holy Church considers as the most precious source of doctrine on faith and morals. No wonder herefore that, as she received it intact from the hands of the Apostles, so she kept it with all care, defended it from every false and perverse interpretation and used it diligently as an instrument for securing the eternal salvation of souls, as almost countless documents in every age strikingly bear witness. ~Divino Afflante Spiritu
When fideism said that we should turn away from science and study and rely on the Bible for exactly what it is, in a literal sense, the Church said "no", we have nothing to fear from a proper understanding of Scripture and thus we were encouraged to delve ever deeper into the treasure chest of sacred Scripture to see what riches we could find there.

If you want to know how these posts came about, please read my first post in this series here.

I would like to think this regular blog would be a great help to anyone who reads at Mass, to enable them to foster a deeper understanding of the message they are trying to impart to the congregation.

There are several different ways to read this post. I would suggest the first thing to do is to look at the relevant readings. You might then want to look at the specific commentary for a particular reading. I post the same summary of the featured Biblical books each week, but at the end, under the subheading this week, you will usually find some commentary specific to each week. At the end I post a passage which attempts to draw all the readings together and understand the message.

My reflections are not definitive, but based on my study and perhaps authenticated by careful reference to the Biblical Commentaries and books I list at the bottom each week.

This Sunday the theme for the readings might be summed up as:

Albrecht Dürer 1471- 1528 The Adoration of the Trinity, 1511. Oil on lindenwood, 135 x 123,4 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Collect:
God our Father, who by sending into the world the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification made known to the human race your wondrous mystery, grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith, we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

This week's readings are:
  • First Reading: Proverbs 8:22-31.
  • Psalm 8: 4-9; Response: v. 2. 
  • Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5.
  • Gospel: John 16: 12-15.
First, a short preliminary survey of each of the books.

I will post the same, or similar prelims week on week, for each book as we encounter them, although I may add a little detail specific to each week's readings.

The Book of Proverbs is one of the books of the Bible which are known collectively as the wisdom literature. Proverbs constitutes the Bible's compendium of practical wisdom and is an anthology of ancient collections: 1). Poems of wisdom (1:1-9:18); 2). "The Proverbs of Solomon" (10:1-22:16); 3). "Thirty Sayings of the Sages" (2:17-24:22); 4). "More Sayings of the Sages" (24:23-34); 5). "Proverbs of Solomon Transcribed under Hezekiah" (25:1-29:27); 6). "The Words of Agur" (30:1-14); 7). Numerical Proverbs (30:15-33); 8). "The Words of Lemuel" (31:1-9); and 9). an Ode to the Exemplary Wife (31:10-31).

Perusing proverbs is like walking through a shop of fine antiques. We appreciate the value of the collection more when we identify its assorted portions according to the place and time of their origin. The proverbs come from outside as well as inside Israel's borders. The notation that Agur and Lemuel both come from the tribe of Massa in northern Arabia attests to the book's international flavour (30:1; 31:1; Gn 25:14). This cosmopolitan dimension is consolidated when we discover the "Thirty Sayings of the Sages" (22:17-24:22) derive from The Wisdom of Amenemophis, an Egyptian document of the eleventh century B.C.

Biblical tradition ascribed the Wisdom Literature to Solomon, who was responsible for creating a climate in Jerusalem that allowed the wisdom tradition to take root and to flourish. From Solomon we realise that wisdom in proverbs leads to action, not idle speculation.

This week: Proverbs speaks of the clear Trinitarian dimension found throughout the Old Testament and revealed explicitly in the New. Wisdom's superiority over all things is due to her origin before them. Wisdom witnessed Creation and thus came to know its' secrets. Wisdom in the Old Testament has three central topics: creation, human responsibility and the personification of wisdom. Both the prophets (e.g., Is 40:12-31) and the Priestly editor (Gn 1:1-2:3; 9:1-17) make reference to creation as a source of revelation in its own right. This is echoed in throughout Sacred Scripture and is also stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 31-33). In the same way that the Catechism states we can start to recognise God in movement, becoming, contingency, and the world’s beauty and order” so the wisdom literature’s author also points our attention towards the cosmos, and facilitates the voice of God in explanation of our ignorance of its mysteries (Jb 38:1-41:26) so that we might find conversion in the presence of the LORD (Jb 42:1-6).

The wisdom literature asserts that to live well, one must employ reason and the primary virtue essential for living a life of wisdom is tabin adonai (fear of the LORD). Reason breeds understanding which opens the heart (the centre of the Hebrew person) to the fear of the LORD (Prov 2:5-6) from which flows wisdom. We can see how this illustrates Israel looking inward; taking the law and individualising it, Israel exploring the extraordinary truth that she had unique knowledge of; asserting that every person must take responsibility for their own life, for coming to a knowledge of the truth and exercising the discipline necessary to live by it.


Psalms is the Bible's manual of inspired song and prayer. The collection of 150 Psalms represents the culmination of a long tradition that extends across almost the full span of the history of ancient Israel, from the Exodus (c. 1280 B.C.) until the last centuries of the Old Testament era (c. 200 B.C.). In Hebrew the canon of the Bible is called the TNK or Tanakh, which consists of Torah (teaching), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings)—thus TaNaKh. Psalms makes up the first of the writings in the Hebrew text. One of the most powerful things we know about the Psalms is that this is how Jesus Himself prayed.

This week: the psalm is a hymn of praise to YHWH as creator with several connections with Genesis 1. The hymn is framed by an inclusio (v. 10). The "name" of God is the is the sacramental bearer of the divine reality. The poet contrast the divine majesty and human insignificance.

Romans is a letter whose theological wealth touches most of the theological themes of the New Testament: Election, Faith, Law, Life, Righteousness, Salvation, Sin, and Spirit. It is in Romans that Paul sets out, more explicitly than in any other epistle, the meaning of Christian Salvation, the powerlessness of man and the fullness of the redeeming work of God.
Modern opinion is that Paul wrote Romans during the final months of his third missionary tour (Acts 18:23—21:16), probably during the winter of late AD 57 or early 58.

The body of Romans divides neatly into three parts:
  • Salvation in Christ (1:16-8:39)
  • Restoration of Israel (9:1-11:39)
  • Christian Living & Epilogue (12:1-16:23)
Rome clearly has a glowing reputation of faith by the time Paul writes to the community there: "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world." (1:8) and I have to say that this is one of my favourite things about this Epistle! Paul is writing in order to introduce himself to the community there in preparation for his planned visit (1:11-13). This is unusual in itself as Paul didn't always do this. Paul hoped to establish the Roman Church as his missionary base for a new phase of evangelisation, having completed his work in the eastern Mediterranean. Paul's plan was to now turn his gaze towards Spain in the west (15:23-24) and to this end, he attempts to enlist the support of the Roman Church in carrying out his apostolic plan.

This week: I suppose this passage from Romans was chosen for Trinity Sunday because it explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit. The justified are endowed with theological virtues. By faith, they live in peace with God and have access to His grace; in hope, they long for the glory of God that awaits them; and through love, they show that the charity of the Spirit dwells in their hearts (CCC 1813). Equipped in this way, believers can become more like Christ through endurance and suffering (CCC 618).

The Gospel According to St. John: I have written a detailed exposition on the Gospel of St. John which you can read here.

This week: The work of the Spirit counter-acts the work of Satan. The former discloses the full meaning of the Gospel (14:26); the latter spreads deception and falsehood throughout the world (8:44). The point here is that the Spirit continues the teaching mission of Jesus to bear witness to the truth (8:31-32; 18:37; CCC 687). Vatican II outlined the doctrine of magisterial infallibility, meaning that the pope alone or the pope and the bishops united with him are divinely protected from teaching error when they define matters pertaining to faith and morals (Lumen Gentium 25). The guidance of the Spirit is Christ's guarantee that the Gospel will not be corrupted, distorted, or misunderstood by the ordained shepherds of the Church during her earthly pilgrimage (CCC 768, 889-92).

Drawing them all together...

The Trinity is the focus and centre of theology. The central and most marvellous and mysterious of the truths of the faith. The earliest professions of faith in the Apostolic Church are Christological and expressed in concise formulas. To non-Christians, it seems incomprehensible, even scandalous, and we are erroneously accused of tritheism. All the early centuries of the Church were taken up with working out the implications of this teaching, and it presents a rich seam of knowledge for us today.  The great Saint Athanasius stated that the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord and the Spirit is Lord. It follows then that the nature of God has always been as it is—and if we look at the Old Testament, we see a way into understanding this complex teaching.

God is known as YHWH, the ineffable name that may not be uttered. This sacred name is translated as adonai, "Lord". He is not some white-haired old tyrant, but the LORD who saves; He revealed Himself to His chosen servants, especially Abraham and Moses. But there appears to be a paradox here: as Lord of all, He must be beyond all comprehension ("no one can see God and live" —Ex 33:20), and yet He has always spoken to His servants, and revealed His will for mankind. He was understood as present in Creation, the origin of all things. He made the universe and He made you and me. This truth was fundamental to all Israel's beliefs, and is expressed in the psalm. But to create He must love, because love gives rise to life. The Creator must move out of Himself in creating. Hence the ancient belief that a special force existed with God—the embodiment of wisdom, the creative word of God in action. God is active in creation, and He brings this love into our lives by revealing Himself to us in the Incarnation of Jesus, His saving Son. He is God's love and very image embodied for us. But He also is present in our hearts as an impulse of response, belief and adoration springing from the power of God's Spirit at work in us.

The creative love of the Father is thus expressed in the person of Jesus, and lives in our hearts by the power of the Spirit whom Jesus promised to send to help us remember His saving words. As the sun exists, and we feel and see its life-giving warmth and light which it gives out to illuminate our lives and penetrate our very being to give us health and strength, so God exists in Himself, yet reveals Himself in a great act of self-communication, and sustains this self-disclosure in prompting a response within us. St. Paul assures us in writing to the Romans that "the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."


Bibliography:

Baker, K., SJ, Inside the Bible, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998.
Barret, C. K., Acts a Shorter Commentary, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2002.
Boadt, L., Reading the Old Testament, New York: Paulist Press, 1984.
Brown, R. E., An Introduction to the New Testament, New York, Doubleday, 1997.
Brown, R. et al (Ed) The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, (London: Chapman, 2000).
Cotter, D., Genesis, Collegville: Liturgical Press, 2003.Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Dodd, C.H., The Founder of Christianity, (London: Collins, 1978).
Duggan, M., The Consuming Fire, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991).
Fuller, R.C., Johnstone, L., Kearns, C., A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, (London: Nelson, 1969).
Hahn, S., The Lamb's Supper (London: DLT, 1999).
Harrington, W. J., John: Spiritual Theologian (Dublin: The Columbia Press, 2007).
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Edition RSV, (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001).
Kereszty, R., O. Cist., Jesus Christ—Fundamentals of Christology (New York: Alba, 2010).
Kreeft, P., You Can Understand The Bible, (San Francisco, Ignatius, 2005).
Letellier, R., Sunday & Feastday Sermons Cycles A, B, and C, (New York: St. Pauls, 2011).
Magnificat Monthly Vol. 3, No. 8/ May 2013.
Rahner, K., Encyclopedia of Theology, (St. Pauls, New York, 1975).McKenzie, J.L., Dictionary of the Bible, (New York, Touchstone, 1995).
Ratzinger, J., Introduction to Christianity, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004).
Ratzinger, J., Jesus of Nazareth, (Bloomsbury, London, 2007).
Talbert, C.H., Literary Patterns, Theological Themes and the Genre of Luke-Acts, Montana: SBLMS, 1974.
Von Rad, G., Wisdom in Israel, (SCM Press, Tottenham, U.K., 1993).
Chiasm adapted by the author from Cotter, op. Cit. Bible translation used: RSV Second Catholic Edition from Ignatius Catholic Study Bible.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Romans say "Basta!"

Pope Francis is Speaking about Retirement...

Is it right to criticise the Pope?