A World Justified and Diaphanous: Eternal Life is Trinitarian, Part 2

[Originally posted on Facebook, Sunday, May 22nd.]

Happy Trinity Sunday! Today we concentrate on the mystery that makes sense of everything.

The question I began exploring yesterday, lies before us still: “What is eternal life?”

Supremely, it is life in the Spirit of the love of the Father and the Son. And such a Trinitarian life even now provides a revolutionary optics by which to see the world and history, for faith is growth towards beatific vision. Love gives vision.

Mystagogical initiation into the Trinitarian life is the point of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse (John 14-17), which I wrote about in my post “Darkness Sharpens the Eye.” I think the First Letter of John provides the fullest elaboration of that initiation: the Trinitarian life, a life of Trinitarian indwelling, is a life of radical love.

First, a brief return to the Farewell Discourse. Today’s Gospel marks a solitary post-Easter return of the Discourse: “All things that the Father has are Mine; on account of this, I said that of Mine, [the Spirit] takes and will announce to you” (John 16:15). That’s an almost infinitely compact expression of the Trinitarian processions, as extended in the saving missions. Only Jesus could have said it.

One more citation we need from the Discourse is Jesus’ own definition of eternal life: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You (Father), the only true God, and He Whom You sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).

That proves the thesis that eternal life is simply Trinitarian life. What Jesus is sent to bring us (“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”—John 3:16) is precisely inclusion in the Trinitarian relations, for we cannot know the Father but through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. If we do not know Jesus, we cannot know God, for He is God from God (the Prologue leading up to John 1:18), which we could not recognize without the Holy Spirit: “no one is able to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:3).

Which is why John is so severe about the anti-Christ, the one who negates the Trinity, the unitarian who preaches severity not mercy, accusation not justification, that is, the Christian pharisee:

“Who is the liar except the one denying that Jesus is the Christ? This one is the anti-Christ, the one denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning (ap’ archēs) abide (meneto) in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides (meine) in you, you will also abide (meneite) in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise which He promised us: eternal life” (I John 2:22-25).

The “liar” is the Adversary of each human, the one who makes the case against us. And he doesn’t believe in the Trinity (James 2:19).

The Trinitarian vision is the vision of the justification of man, and of each of our fellow humans. “Abiding” in that vision is life in the Spirit.

If one denies that the fulfillment of the messianic promise comes through the sending of very God, God the Son, then one has misunderstood the whole work of justification, which is inclusion within the Trinitarian life. It is simply by that inclusion that our sin is overcome (Trinitarian indwelling—divine filiation, the indwelling of the Spirit—is the ultimate cause of justification in the act of justification, baptism).

Denying the divinity of the Messiah means making God the Father a metaphorical “father.” But God’s Fatherhood is no mere symbol. God the Father is Father all through. Because He is God AS Father, and in no other way is He so, that is, because He is Who He is in the generating/uttering of His Son/Word in the Holy Spirit, His merciful paternal care can never be minimized. The Father’s plan of loving goodness is the truth of history.

But this can only be so, all the horror of history could only possibly be overcome, if God is Trinity, for then the processions of the Son and of the Spirit from the Father can open to absorb all the toxicity of malice, through the saving economy, culminating in Cross and Resurrection and Church. (The classic and most beautiful systematic explanation of this is given by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Summa theologiae I, q. 43, on the divine missions.)

Because God is Trinity, divine love can course like blood through all the channels of time and make everything new.

This apocalyptic conquering of evil occurs through the sacramental economy, preeminently in baptism and Eucharist. The Eucharistization of humanity through the Church is growth in both intensity and extent of the divine Spirit’s indwelling of the human spirit, both personal and communal.

When our spirit is thus divinized, the world becomes diaphanous of Trinitarian glory. Life in the Spirit is a life of iconic vision. It is seeing what no one else sees, an irrefutable glory, in our neighbor, in creation, in history.

Everything becomes luminous, and streams with the glory of God, when we believe in the Trinity and live within the Trinity: “[The New Jerusalem] has the glory of God, and the radiance of it is like a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal” (Revelation 21:11).

Balthasar taught the following profound truth to me, perhaps the profoundest of all: the infinite “intervals” of the Trinitarian relations (the divine Persons are “really distinct”: the Son is “not” the Father, the Father is “not” the Son, etc.) produce all the beauty of this world, and only the Trinitarian “intervals” can absorb all the abysses of this world, making beauty shine even through the hell of despair and malice and godforsakenness that is our history of carnage.

Aquinas says that magnificent thing about all the wonder of creation being marked by the specific contours of the Trinitarian life: “The processions of the Persons are also in some way the cause and ‘ratio’ of creation…” (ST I, q. 45, a. 7, ad 3).

Balthasar extends this essential insight of Trinitarian metaphysics to history: all wonders speak the Trinity and no hell can escape the Trinity.

An anti-Trinitarian monotheism cannot encompass our hells. The pharisaical unitarianism of a hardened Christian heart is the consummate idolatry. That is why John ends his first letter, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (I John 5:21).

To see the persons that the good Father places in our life, convenient or not, as the neighbors I am to justify, whatever the cost to me, to be filled with gratitude for even that cost, is to be a Trinitarian Christian, is to be love in the world, is to be a person who makes love shine in the world. The conducting of this mission, the Christian mission, is the beginning of eternal life.

[The following astonishing passage by Balthasar provides a powerful overview of the Trinitarian life: “The Father strips Himself, without remainder, of His Godhead and hands it over to the Son; He ‘imparts’ to the Son all that is His. ‘All that is Thine is Mine’ (John 17:10). The Father must not be thought to exist ‘prior’ to this self-surrender (in an Arian sense): He IS the movement of self-giving that holds nothing back. This divine act that brings forth the Son, that is, the second way of participating in (and of being) the identical Godhead, involves the positing of an absolute, infinite ‘distance’ that can contain and embrace all the other distances that are possible within the world of finitude, including the distance of sin. Inherent in the Father’s love is an absolute renunciation: He will not be God for Himself alone. He lets go of His divinity and, in this sense, manifests a (divine) God-lessness (of love, of course). The latter must not be confused with the godlessness that is found within the world, although it undergirds it, renders it possible, and goes beyond it. The Son’s answer to the gift of Godhead (of equal substance with the Father) can only be eternal thanksgiving (‘eucharistia’) to the Father, the Source—a thanksgiving as selfless and unreserved as the Father’s original self-surrender. Proceeding from both, as their subsistent ‘We,’ there breathes the ‘Spirit’ Who is common to both: as the essence of love, He maintains the infinite difference between Them, seals it, and, since He is the one Spirit of Them both, bridges it” (Theo-Drama, Vol. IV: The Action).]