Michael A Rizzotti
The Holy Trinity is the most fascinating but also the most misunderstood of all theological doctrines. It’s an unfortunate situation, because the Trinity may hold the key to understanding an important facet of the dynamic dimension inherent in all religious experience.1
The first principle of the doctrine stipulates that the Trinity is an absolute mystery. Its revelation is only possible with the help of two spiritual activities: love and knowledge. With love, one is open to the fullest to life’s mystery. Through love, we may live the Trinity, although we may not be able to express its mystery. With knowledge, life could be experienced with the greatest of insight. Yet words and symbols may be inadequate to describe the whole reality of the Trinity. Its mystery is only accessible through God’s self-communication, which is a process of everlasting realization; herein lies the mystery.2
The Old Testament does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity per se, even though, in retrospect, it may appear to confirm it. For instance, the name Elohim implies a divine plurality. Furthermore, the Lord appears to Abraham under the guise of “three men” who tell the skeptical patriarch that his wife Sarah will bear a son despite her advanced age.3
The Bible says that there is one God, yet God is not alone. He created man in his image in order to communicate his creation to him. In the same fashion, he created woman so that man would not be alone. Therefore, God needs an interlocutor with whom to talk. As the narratives show, God chose to speak to Moses and his prophets. Yahweh reveals himself to whomever he chooses in order to establish a relationship with his people throughout history.
With the Gospels, the Trinity is inaugurated. The narratives recount the story of Jesus who speaks of his Father, but also of the Holy Spirit. This development introduced a new dimension to the reality of God.
Throughout the centuries, the Church developed the doctrine apologetically. Most of it has been developed during the first fifteen centuries of the Church’s history. It has remained basically the same for the last five hundred years.
Not until late in the fourth century did the Church’s teaching begin to take shape.4 The fundamental tenets developed by the magisterium define the Trinity as an absolute mystery and believe that one God exists in three persons: they are equal, coeternal and omnipotent.5 God is one divine nature, one essence, and one substance. In the Trinity, the three persons are distinct from one another. The Father has no principle of origin. The Son is born from the substance of the Father. The Spirit is not begotten, but proceeds from the Father and the Son, from one principle, in one single spiration; e.g., action of breathing.
As the definition above shows, the Trinity is a complex doctrine, rendered even more difficult by the elaborate lexicon developed by the magisterium over the ages. Yet, in order to understand any of its basic tenets, one must first comprehend a fundamental concept, that of “person”.
In the Old Testament, the word “person” -nepes in Hebrew- has a broad range of meanings which includes: living being, soul, breath. In several instances, it is similar to “adam”.6 The New Testament uses the Greek translation of the word anthropos which has basically the same meaning. In the course of history, the Church developed the concept of “person” gradually to reflect the more complex definitions of the Incarnation and the Trinity.
Foremost, the word person is not used in the psychological sense of independent center of consciousness or personal center of action.7 The persons of the Trinity, in these terms, would imply three states of consciousness with three free wills, which is not only misleading but incorrect. The persons of the Trinity are not three different centers of activity.
Person is not understood as a separate physical entity, but more as Karl Rahner describes it, as a “distinct manner of being”. Therefore, each of the three persons is not separate, they are selfless and complementary, where God is one essence and one absolute self-presence. There are not three consciousness either, but rather one spiritual and absolute reality that subsists in a threefold manner of being.8
The concept of person, although somewhat confusing and vague, is nevertheless necessary. It is useful because it allows us to fathom the idea of relationship, from which communication stems. More precisely God’s dynamic self-communication. In this sense, the three persons are fully and totally open to each other as a unity, as One God.
If we replace the word “person” by “modes of being”, as suggested by Karl Barth, or, “distinct manners of being”, as proposed by Karl Rahner, we gain clarity in respect to the three-ness of God, but lose in terms of the dynamic tri-unity inherent in one God. The image of person is retained because it is easier to envision God in terms of a person rather than a “mode of being” or a “distinct manner of being”.9
Therefore, the person exists only in terms of relationships. Personality exists only as inter-personality. In the Old Testament, the person exists foremost in relations of the I-Thou-we kind.10 The case in point is the relationship between God, Moses, and Israel as revealed in the Bible. However, the relationship expounded by Martin Buber is characteristic of the Old Testament’s theological tradition of God’s condescending majesty, emphasizing the otherness of God, whereas the concept of the Trinity, as expounded in the New Testament, is Christological. It presents the relation as of the me-you-we type. Jesus, as the God incarnate, reached out to the profane realm: the here and now. His relationship with the world is transformed into a more mundane kind. As a result, he breaks the master/servant relationship between God and his creation, between the land-lord and his servant.11
Jn. 1:1 In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God;
all things were made through him,
and without him was not anything made that was made.
In him was life,
and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it. 12
In the New Testament, communication of the Word is only possible through a medium of which Jesus is the prototype. The unfathomable presence of God’s spoken Word in Genesis becomes incarnate in the Son through the life given by the Spirit in Mary.
God literally spoke the world into existence. Without the Word, God could not be heard or known. Man and woman are created in his “image” and bear witness to his Word and creation, emphasizing the possibility of a relationship between the Word and the hearer.13
Furthermore, God shares his knowledge and his love through the Word in a twofold manner. God reveals himself through the “economic” Trinity, which discloses itself in history, and through the “immanent” Trinity, which inspires the Spirit of the Word to the hearer.14
In essence, the “economic” and “immanent” Trinity are one dynamic reality breathing life into each other. The “immanent” Trinity could not subsist without the “economic” Trinity, and vice versa. Similar in fashion to the Spirit, as the breath and the wind that is breathed in and out, reflecting the inner and outer mystery of God.
Mt. 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”15
The sacred triad: the sacred
We have already outlined the three principles of the religious experience in terms of the sacred, the profane, and the wholly other. At this point, we will parallel their definitions in analogy to the Trinity.
It is practically impossible to talk about the sacred without referring to the profane, since the identity of the first depends on its opposition to the second.
sacred vs profane
God vs Satan
holy vs common
pure vs impure
clean vs unclean
This dynamic opposition is the realm of religion. At this point, we must clarify that the “experience” of the religious must be distinguished from the interpretation of the experience. While the experience of the sacred is unique, the expression of that experience belongs to the field of language. Language relates the experience with the use of words and symbols, either spoken or written.16
Individuals experience the sacred everyday in varied forms: through the ecstasy of love, a revelation, nirvana, or even a UFO sighting. Although we may not understand or agree with a person’s interpretation of his or her sacred experience, we cannot deny that he or she lived an extra-ordinary happening. His or her personal experience is unique, unfathomable, and even ineffable; i.e., language may not be an adequate medium to communicate that experience.
An example may be helpful. Everybody has experienced a dream at one time or another in their sleep. And each person’s dream is unique. When the dreamer relates his or her dream, he or she does so with the help of language. However, language cannot accurately translate the dream which involves the total visual and participative experience of the dreamer. Consequently, it would be better to say that a person lives a dream. In relating his or her dream, the dreamer makes a linguistic account which is different than the original experience itself. In linguistics, the language of the dream is the object-language, whereas the account is a metalanguage. If a psychoanalyst, for instance, becomes involved with the interpretation of the dream, he or she is left only with an account of the dream of which the dreamer is the mediator. As such, the interpretation rendered through language is an obstacle to the full experience and full content of the dream.
In the study of the sacred, we are faced with a similar problem. We can only interpret the expression of the sacred, never its unique experience since we deal only with words and symbols that relate to the sacred. Language only reveals one aspect of religious experience, albeit an important one. Nevertheless, by exploring the manifestations of the sacred, we gain insight into the fundamental composition of the religion phenomenon as it manifests itself in language.
The word sacred comes from the Latin sacer. The Romans used the word to describe what was under their gods’ jurisdiction. When they referred to the sacrum, it implied the location where a ritual was performed; namely, the temple. The sacred place was also intrinsically tied to the cult. Both, place and cult, were closely circumscribed and distinct from the outside space called the profanum. The profane literally means the space outside the temple. Hence, profanare meant to bring the object of sacrifice “out” of the temple, transgressing the boundary between the sacred and the profane.
The Bible uses mostly the word holy -in Hebrew qadosh- instead of sacred which has a similar meaning.17 The temple, but especially the Holy of Holies, is separate from the common space. Similarly, the ritual performed in the temple distinguishes the sacred from the profane activity.
Priests are especially privileged persons who can be designated as sacred. Jerusalem, but more specifically, the temple of Jerusalem, was the sacred place par excellence and the center of the world, as the Holy of Holies was at the center of the temple and the ark was at the center of the Holy of Holies.18
Ex. 3:1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Mid’ian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” When the lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush , “Moses, Moses !” And he said, “Here am I.” Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
The passage above reveals a central aspect of the sacred. The place where the hierophany occurs is described as the “mountain of God”. As we have outlined, the mountain is a privileged place where the sacred appears. It is a universal symbol found in the most important mythologies of the world.
The “appearance” of the angel of the lord announces the coming of a hierophany. Moses’ sighting confirms a mysterious event, although it is yet without meaning. God’s words finally reveal the purpose of the apparition. At the outset, God sets the boundaries between the holy and the common ground. The holy imposes a distance that separates the divine from the human, the extra-ordinary from the ordinary, the sacred from the profane.
the holy vs the common
Israel vs outsiders 19
priests vs ordinary men
The power of the holy, which is Yahweh’s exclusivity, is bestowed upon Moses, his spokesman. Moses is the only one to whom Yahweh reveals his name. Yet, by the same token, the people of Israel are also consecrated by Yahweh as a “holy people”, a “holy nation”, a “holy race”.20 Yahweh’s identity and the identity of his people are consecrated and set apart from other gods and other people.
Lev. 20:26 You shall be holy to me; for I the lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.
The origin of the sacred is described in the text as stemming from the center flowing toward its periphery.21 The whole process emanates around the holy at the center of which Yahweh’s words are the source of everything. In order of importance, Yahweh is the holy one, followed by Moses as the prophet, then the priests, and finally the people, all into one single entity: Israel. The “holy people” becomes a social and religious entity which is set apart by Yahweh. He is holy, and so is Israel. God is separated from other gods and Israel is set apart from other people to become the matrix of their religious identity.
Hence, only Yahweh’s words enable him to reveal the holy. Without his words, his will could not be known. It goes without saying that the spoken word cannot be separated from the written word, since the Bible is a literary work. Without the written word the experience of the holy would not have been preserved. The Bible is the medium that is used to propagate the story of Israel. Without the priests and scribes that have written and preserved the sacred heritage it would have been lost forever.
Mt. 17:1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli’jah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli’jah”. He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke the account of the transfiguration is almost identical.22 The parallels with the text in Exodus are striking. The similarities are abundant: the mountain as a sacred place, the holy ground that sets boundaries “apart”, Jesus’ face that shines like the sun, the voice of God which is heard from nowhere, the awe, and the fear. Similar also is God’s manifestations of power displayed in the thundering, the lightning, and the fire shared with the hierophanies on Mount Sinai and on Mount Carmel. 23
Furthermore, Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah. His association with the two biblical heroes is presumably meant to associate and connect Jesus with two of the most powerful and charismatic personalities of the Old Testament.
As we go further, the similarities begin to fade. The most notable difference being the appellation of Jesus as the Son of God. This affiliation shatters and redefines the biblical concept of the holy.
Except where Moses is Yahweh’s mouth, none of the Patriarchs are identified with the Word of God. They are significantly his prophets, his people, in other words, they are God’s instruments. None of them were called his sons. And although the idea of affiliation is prominent in the Old Testament, as typified by the title “God of your fathers”, the relation is meant to confer the idea of the sovereignty and authority of the patriarchal lineage rather than that of sonship. Furthermore, the Gospels inaugurate the sonship of Jesus Christ as the holy.
Ex. 3:14: (Yahweh) I am who I am
Jn. 8:58: (Jesus) Before Abraham was, I am 24
Therefore, Jesus shares the exclusivity of God’s sacred identity. As a human being he becomes a visible and identifiable image of God. As such, he transcends the first and second commandments given by Yahweh. And, by performing miracles on the Sabbath, he transgresses yet another commandment. As a result, Jesus becomes a law onto himself. He breaks the boundaries of the sacred’s exclusivity.25
Jn. 17:19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.
As we have mentioned earlier, the profane is closely related to the sacred. The very existence of the sacred thrives on it.
The Latin word profane literally means pro, “outside”, and fanum, “temple”. The sacred and the profane are separated into two distinct arenas. Foremost, the sacred protects its own exclusive area of control from which the profane is excluded. This exclusion is the essential characteristic of the profane. Hence the profane is described as the other reality. It is a vague and common reality outside the realm of the sacred in sharp contrast to its compelling and powerful identity.
In the Old Testament narratives the word profane shares some similarities with the Latin etymology. Its most frequent use is in the verbs “to defile” and “to pollute”. It is also used to imply the opposite of holy, as “ritually unclean” or “impure”. However, the profane is generally translated into common, especially in connection to being “apart” from the holy. To profane something holy is to make it common, ordinary, in stark opposition to the uniqueness of the holy. As the following examples show:
Ez. 42:20 It had a wall around it, five hundred cubits long and five hundred cubits broad, to make a separation between the holy and the common.
Ez. 44:23…and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.
The Gospels depict Jesus as abiding by the law, but sometimes he is also portrayed as challenging the law. Although he may appear at times to transgress the commandments, he does not condemn them. He does, however, castigate the hypocrisy of the priests that regulate the law. Foremost, Jesus is depicted as the prototype who inaugurates a new law.
His new rule supplants all other commandments: he says to love your God above anything else, but also to love your neighbor as yourself. The emphasis of the message is not the opposition between one God and other gods, but love. Jesus transcends the dichotomy between the holy and the common, yet he does not dull the distinction between the two. In fact, he inaugurates a new kingdom; ie, Christianity.
Mt. 22:21 “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus reverses the order of worldly things. What was profane is now sacred. He consecrates the common and makes it sacred, while he denounces the sacred hierarchies of the worldly powers.
the sacred vs the profane
the kingdom of God vs this world
the impure vs the priests
the unclean vs the zealous
Jesus’ realm is outside the reach of the worldly powers. His kingdom, however, is not inaugurated to overthrow the worldly system, since it is based on the power of love. His kingdom is not of this world either, but from a world yet to be created by faith and solidarity between the believers. It is a place for those who forsake their share of this world for a part in the other.
As he explains to his disciples, only those who understand the language of the parables have access to his kingdom. And Jesus is the door to another realm of meaning: from the physical to the spiritual, and from the literal to the metaphorical. In essence, the parable is nothing else than an allegorical story, which is nothing more than an extended metaphor.26 In the quote below, Jesus explains the meaning of such parables to his disciples, who themselves cannot yet understand:
MT. 13:10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”27
Jesus takes great care to point out that the key to his message will be lost by those caught up in the material aspect of the worldly existence. In the same manner as the true meaning of the message from the miracles is lost to the marvel and spectacle of the sign. The world would soon rather forget that Jesus cures the unclean, the outcasts and the excluded which society abhors and segregates. His miracles transgress the boundaries of the sacred and transcend them. By doing so, he shatters the structure of the sacred and the hierarchy on which society is built.
There is more to the profane than one might expect, even though the sacred consolidates all the attention on itself and dismisses the profane as a non-entity, as something remote and insignificant. We have seen that the profane is repudiated as the common, the ordinary, the hidden; it is decried as the other. And as such it is kept apart from the sacred hierarchy. The sacred tries to keep this other reality overshadowed and hidden so as to highlight its own power and play down the reality of the profane. As we have seen in Genesis, the serpent is a symbol of the Goddess and the tree is a metaphor of Asherah. These religious truths have been deliberately excluded from the divine reality of the Old Testament. These examples represent the profane and excluded reality in the religious experience.
Even though the sacred deliberately tries to deprecate the profane, it is nonetheless a reality, a dynamic entity essential to the existence and the survival of the sacred experience.
As Jesus focuses on the profane reality of the poor, the sick, the prostitutes, the possessed, the foreigners, the Gentiles and the slaves, he points to a reality that is excluded from the Jewish religious world dominated by the priestly order. In spite of the religious authority of the priests, he elected the outcasts as the beneficiaries of his kingdom. He reveals that the other reality is the essence of his message of love which exposes the true purpose of religion. As a result, he broke the foundation of the old precepts of the religious structure and activated a new reality that transcends the old religious order.28
Yet the profane has a specific function in the realm of the religious: it is an adumbrated and hidden quality that symbolizes the unacknowledged side of reality.
Lk. 1:35 “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
Here, Mary’s identity is overshadowed from the holy. Her role has been kept in the background so that Jesus can accomplish his mission. We have also seen how the segregation is characteristic of the profane; as the hidden, the other and the excluded reality. Mary, first as a mother and then as a woman, is excluded from the symbolic triad of procreation; e.g., the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Even though the Holy Spirit is the only “person” that does not have a gender connotation, it does have numerous feminine attributes; ie, “life-giving Love”, “the giver of life”, and “breath”.29 In contrast to the affiliation of the Father and the Son, the identity of the Holy Spirit is, to say the least, overshadowed. Nevertheless, behind it lies the mystery of an-other hidden spiritual vitality.
The Holy Spirit is a profane reality of the Mother.
Among the numerous metaphors used to describe the Holy Spirit, many have several things in common; i.e., “genesis”, “breath”, “dove”, and “the giver of life”. All point to a feminine origin of the principle of life.
Most of all, the profane reality of the Goddess has been excluded from the creation -and procreation- myths of Genesis. She has been vilified as an idol and opposed by Yahweh. It turns out that Asherah was a scapegoat, denounced and discredited as idolatry.30
The wholly other
Emile Durkheim first introduced the dichotomy between sacred and profane in his book on “primitive” religion. Several years later, a landmark work on the “holy” was published. It was written by Rudolf Otto. Unlike the sociological method of Durkheim, Otto was more preoccupied with the “feeling” aspect rather than the “rational” expression of the holy which he labeled the “numinous”. It is in this work that he first introduced the expression “wholly other”.33
Otto developed the concept because he perceived a need to expand the inventory of “expressions” to better describe the mysterium aspect of the holy. As he would explain: “…something of whose character we can feel, without being able to give it clear conceptual expression.”34 Concepts like “supernatural” and “transcendent” were usually used to define such a unique quality of the “numinous”.
As we will see, this concept is not only useful but indispensable. It helps to fully understand the whole religious experience. It becomes essential to show the whole interrelation and the transcendental link between the sacred and the profane into the wholly other.
Otto did not develop his idea of the wholly other as a logical result of the dynamics between the sacred and the profane. He defined the wholly other as what stands beyond the realm of the intelligible. The sphere where the divine manifests itself, namely, the unfathomable and the ineffable. First, the unfathomable suggests that one is unable to understand and express his feelings of awe in the face of the holy. Second, the ineffable implies that words are inadequate to explain such an experience. Better still, no known language is able to fully disclose the mysterium.
Unlike Otto, we are not so much concerned with the feeling as with the expressions of the holy as related by the narratives. We are less concerned with what Moses felt at the sight of the burning bush, than how the writers/editor have related the experience. The Holy Bible is full of accounts of such mysterious experiences. Consequently, it is possible to explore the symbolic nature of that experience through the account. In other words, the text is the data that allows us to analyze the holy systematically.35
Etymologically, the adverb wholly has two meanings. The first, an older sense derived from “whole”, means in its entirety, in full, the sum total, all of it: hence, inclusively. The second sense is implied by the word entirely, as to suggest the exclusion of others, solely: hence, exclusively. The terminology may appear ambiguous at the outset, but it will become clearer as we go along. And, as we will see, it is rather insightful. The equivocalness of wholly fits exactly into the essence of the two-ness or twofold-ness of the sacred and the profane. Adding the word other to wholly we further expand the scope of its meaning.
>wholly other; the dynamic center that is exclusively other because words cannot express that otherness: the sacred, the mysterium, the ineffable. The mystery of the holy is always other than the expressions that try to describe it. The exclusively other can be seen as the center represented by Yahweh -the holy- who set his prophets, his priests and his people apart from the other people.
<wholly other; the whole and the dynamic reality that is beyond the center and beyond the hierarchy of the sacred. It is the yet unknown, the yet undiscovered, the unfathomable; i.e., the other religions, the other cultures, the mystery of the universe and eternity: the inclusively other. Beyond its center is the hidden reality of the goddess Asherah -the tree. And beyond the periphery of the chosen people stands the whole reality of the other gods and other cultures.
Only when the sacred opens up to and includes the profane does it ascend to the wholly other. Only when the profane becomes part of the sacred does it ascend to the wholly other.
In Exodus, the words of Yahweh preempt the sign of the burning bush as the source of the holy. It is Yahweh’s words that are at the center and from which he reveals his will. Yet Yahweh’s identity -image- remains obscure and exclusively other.
Whereas the profane reality and space are excluded from the holy, God separates the Holy ground from the profane, from the common. This realm of the other is the reality of the profane, comprised of such examples as the other gods/goddesses, the other religions that make up the whole religious reality of the world.
In the Gospels, the transfiguration reveals Jesus Christ at the center with God: “his face shone like the sun”. Again, God reveals his “beloved Son” to the world through his spoken Word.36 Here too, the voice of God comes from nowhere. The Word of God reveals that God is with us and that Jesus Christ, as his Son, is himself God and as such he shares a place at the center.37 This time, Jesus Christ’s identity is fully disclosed by his own physical “body”.
Jesus Christ as the Son of God is himself holy, but as the son of Mary he partakes in the profane reality of the human condition. Jesus’ twofold origin -that of God and “man”- embodies the whole spectrum of the religious reality and the two poles of a true spirituality: the sacred and the profane. This twofold unity transcends the exclusive holiness of God and reaches beyond the boundaries of his divine essence through his human nature and into the wholly other. Jesus Christ, as the wholly other, transcends the exclusivity of the holy into the inclusively whole divine reality. The wholly other is both center and totality, one single reality.
Hence, the profane reality becomes as important as the sacred in the religious experience. Only then can the dynamic interrelation between the sacred and the profane become alive in the wholly other and transcend the two spiritual entities into one whole dynamic reality of being.
Christ, as God, is the mysterious holy center from which everything originates and everything flows. As God he is the center of power, as “man” Jesus is the door to that power, the hope of the powerless. The Gospels dispel the notion that the profane reality of the impure and unclean should be excluded. It recounts that it should be embraced instead. Jesus dissipates the barriers and highlights what is at the heart of faith: the wholly other. He denounces the segregation of the powerful and their institutions. He reaches out to the forgotten and the segregated by society: the sick, the poor, the possessed, the foreigners, the women, the Gentiles, the sinners, the slaves.
Jesus inaugurates a law, that of love. Love as the total openness that blurs the boundaries between the sacred and the profane into the realm of the wholly other. His new command undoes the boundaries imposed by the sacred institutions. It exceeds the borders of the sacred and overflows into the profane world. The holy is no longer an exclusive arena accessible only to a limited few of the higher hierarchy. What was out of reach becomes accessible to all who believe. With love one can bypass the sacred institutions and have access to God. The power of Jesus’ being opens the door to the wholly other realm.
Jesus Christ talked of two worlds. One that he identified with Caesar and the other with God. The two kingdoms, however, do not oppose each other in a political fashion.38 The kingdom of God that Jesus speaks about is not of this world. It is a place where the faith in the Word creates a “world” onto itself, outside the boundaries of time and space. Faith in the message of the Word is the key to the creation of the kingdom of heaven.
To conclude, the sacred triad and the Holy Trinity share some fundamental principles which can be illustrated as follows:
God the Father………the holy/the center
Jesus Christ………the wholly other/the whole
the Holy Spirit………the profane/the overshadowed
As outlined earlier, the Holy Spirit has no gender status, yet it is called “the giver of life”. Furthermore, the third person overshadows Mary’s identity. As such, the Holy Spirit conceals an-other reality, that of the profane reality of the Mother of God.
Lk. 1:35 The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
The narrative describes that the power of the “Most High” overshadows Mary as the Mother of Jesus, and as a woman. As we have said, it is in the nature of the sacred to “overshadow” and exclude the profane. Similar in fashion to the exclusion of the Goddess in Genesis. We have also seen how the metaphors and attributes associated with Mary are closely associated with the Holy Spirit. The most prominent of which are related to life and procreation in terms of “breath” and “the giver of life”. Furthermore, the epithets of the Holy spirit as “the giver of life”, and of Mary, as the Mother of God, are closely akin.39 The Gospels describe how the unique collusion between the Holy Spirit and Mary results in the conception of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of “man”.
What the overshadowed reality of the Trinity unveils is that the metaphysical reality of the mother -and the woman- plays a dynamic, if not primordial, role in the creation of the world.40
1 In that respect I share Raimundo Panikkar’s view. See Raimundo Panikkar’s, The Trinity and the Religious of Man, New York, Orbis Books, 1973, 42.
2 Although I have studied Theology, I am not a theologian. I am not trying to develop a theory on the Trinity, I leave that to the theologians. I merely used the Trinity, which I believe to be the most important theological doctrine of Christianity, as an analogy to the sacred, the profane, and the wholly other.
3 Gen. 18:2f.
4 Doctrines on the Trinity have been developed during the Council of Nicaea (325 ad), the first Council of Constantinople (381 ad), the Eleventh Council of Toledo (675 ad), the Fourth Lateran Council (1215 ad), the Second Council of Lyons (1274 ad) and the Council of Florence (1439-45 ad). Other important documents that relate to the doctrine are the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, and Paul VI’s Confession of Faith.
5 The magisterium dictates that God exists in three persons, subsistences, hypostases. These terms were used to distinguish the dual nature of Christ as divine and human. Karl Rahner, SJ, Divine Trinity, in Sacramentum Mundi v.6, Montreal, Palm Publishers, 1970, 295-303.
6 Gen. 46:18f; Ex. 1:5 etc.
7 In theological terms, person implies individuum vagum or vague being. Karl Rahner describes “person” as a “rational subsistent”; ie, a rational being existing substancially or really of or by itself. In trying to clarify the concept he alternatively uses “way of subsistence” or “distinct manner of subsisting”. Equivalent expressions have been proposed by Karl Barth who has suggested the words “modes of being”. They are mostly used to clarify the distinctness of each person while maintaining their unity in one God so to avoid the trap of tritheism. See Karl Rahner, SJ, The Trinity, New York, Herder & Herder, 1970, 111, and, Divine Trinity, in Sacramentum Mundi, Montreal, Palm Publishers, 1970, 295-308. Also, Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics vol.1, The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part One, Edingburgh, T & T Clark, 1975, 348 f.
8 A further analogy might be in order, although it might be viewed as too “modernistic”. At the time when conception actually occurs, there are three distinct genetic entities that coexist: the egg from the mother, the spermatozoid from the father, and the embryo, which become the child’s new genetic entity. We might say that the three genetic “persons” are distinct, yet they are one human being.
9 The magisterium further states that there are three distinct relations and properties in God. There is also a distinction between the essence of God and the relations that constitute the persons. The “relative” persons in God are not really distinct from the essence of God and, therefore, do not form a quaternity. In God, all is one, except where an opposition of relationship exists. Each of the divine persons is fully in each other, and each of them is one true God. The divine persons cannot be divided from one another, in being or in operation. They form only a single principle of action. Their activity is one and the same even though only the Logos became “man”.
10 See, Martin Buber, I and Thou, New York, Scribners, 1970.
11 In the English language the capital “I” implies a sense of majesty of the subject, characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon mentality, which is not present, say, in French or Italian.
12 Taken from The Jerusalem Bible. The word “overcome” is better rendered into understand or grasp.
13 See Karl Rahner’s, Hearers of the Word, Montreal, Palm Publishers, 1969, and, Luis Alonso Schokel’s , S.J., The Inspired Word, Montreal, Palm Publishers, 1965.
14 Additional clarification about the meaning of “economy” may be necessary. Originally, the word meant the
divine government of the world, until Voltaire and his contemporaries began using the word with its modern sense. A devout anticleric, he, in all probability, used the word as an act of defiance toward the Catholic Church. Since we are on this subject, something else comes to my mind. I have noticed the frequent use of the word “theology” by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Although I fail to understand the exact meaning he confers to the word, he may also be inaugurating a new use for it.
15 The scriptures tell us that the Son is sent by the Father, and the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son. Ergo, the Father is the sender, the Son is the mediator, and the Holy Spirit is the receiver. Jn. 3:17; 6:57.
16 Of course the meaning of “language” encompasses much more. All forms of communication, linguistic or semiotic, could be categorized as such.
17 Assuming that the root qd means “to set apart”. There is also the possibility that the root qdsh, related to the Akkadian qadashu, means “to become pure”, and in that sense it has more of a ritualistic connotation. From the same root as the Hebrew word for holy -qdsh- the word qedesha is used to describe the prostitute consecrated to Astarte.
18The Sabbath also typifies the special time consecrated to Yahweh. Objects like the ark, the priests’ adornments, and certain animals, especially the sacrificial ones, are also prescribed as sacred.
19 Ex. 30:32,33.
20 Ex. 19:6; Isa. 62:12; Ezra 9:2.
21 Edward Shils, Center and Periphery, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1975, 17f.
22 Mk. 9:2-8; Lk. 9: 28-36.
23 Ex. 20:18; 1 Kings 18.
24 Jn. 8:24; 13:19.
25 The holy is at all times in danger of being misrepresented. The origin of the holy, as we have said, is Yahweh, not the persons, the places or the objects upon which is conferred a sacred quality. The nuance is important since it is Yahweh’s promise that is eternal while his prophets are mortal.
26 As the Dictionary of the French Academy explains, the allegory is nothing else than an extended metaphor: “La parabole est en quelque sorte une autre forme de l’allégorie et l’allégorie est une figure qui n’est autre chose qu’une métaphore prolongée” Dictionnaire de l’Académie, Paris, Hachette, 1932.
27 Also, Mk. 4:1-20; Lk. 8:10-15.
28 Segregation is an integral part of the system on which society is built. It appears to be a vital part of it. Society lives by the dynamic interaction between the integrated structure and the outcasts. Apparently, the survival of society is based on the outcasts as scapegoats. In other words, the sacred opposes the threat from the outer reality -the profane- which it does not understand and fears. See Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization, New York, Pantheon Books, 1965.
29 The appellation of “life-giving Love” is taken from the Encyclical, Divinum Illud Munus, by Pope Leo XIII on the Holy Spirit, May 9th, 1897. While “the giver of life” is taken from the Encyclical Letter, Dominum et Vivificantem, by Pope John Paul II, on the Holy Spirit as well, given the day of the Pentacost May 18th, 1986.
30 This is true for most religions, since belief is amplified by the dynamic opposition to other cults. For more insight about the opposition of the sacred and the profane see Roger Caillois, L’Homme et le Sacre, Paris, Gallimard, 1939, and, Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, New York, Harper & Row, 1959, and, Cosmos and History, New York, Harper & Row, 1959.
31 Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, New York, Free Press, 1965.
32 Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, London, Oxford University Press, 1923.
33 Idid. 25-30.
34 Ibid. 30.
35 I first began to develop the idea about the wholly other in my Masters thesis entitled: l’Interprétation Religieuse de l’Origine Mythique de la Nationalité: l’Inauguration de Monuments Nationaux (1840-1940), Montréal, Bibliothèque de l’ UQAM, 1978.
36 Mt. 17:1-8, Mk. 9:1-8; Lk. 9:28-36.
37 At Jesus’ baptism, God speaks through the heavens while the Holy Spirit is revealed by the dove descending on Christ, testifying to the reality of the three persons of the Trinity. Mt. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-22; Jn. 1:32-34.
38 One might think of the “quasi-religion” typified by Marxism where the sterile antagonism of working class and ruling class just replaces one dictatorship by another.
39 The reference to “the giver of life”, in connection with Mary, is taken from the definition of the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary, by Pius XII, 11-12. See also Yves Congar, I Believe In The Holy Spirit, v. 1, New York, The Seabury Press, 1983, 163.
40 Catholics have always been loyal devotees of Mary. In many instances she usually plays a role occupied by the Paraclete. They attribute to her the titles and functions of comforter, advocate, the defender of the believers. But mostly she is worshipped as the Mother of God; the kind and gentle intercessor, the giver of life. Yves Congar states that “There is a deep relationship between Mary, the mother of God, and the Holy Spirit”. He further continues: “The part played in our upbringing by the Holy Spirit is that of mother -a mother who enables us to know our Father, God, and our brother, Jesus…the Holy Spirit has often been replaced in recent Catholic devotion by the Virgin Mary.”. He also points out the close link between the motherhood in God and the femininity of the Holy Spirit. See Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, New York, Seabury Press, 1983, vol.1, 164, and vol.3, 154-155.