[first published June 15, 2014; additive edits June 11, 2017]
"When we speak of the Trinity, we must do so with caution and modesty, for, as St. Augustine saith, nowhere else are more dangerous errors made, or is research more difficult, or discovery more fruitful."
(Saint Thomas Aquinas)
by Dr. David Pence
The coming of Jesus announced a Messiah for the Jews, proclaimed a new Kingdom amidst the nations, dethroned the Enemy Prince, and revealed the mystery we contemplate on this day -- that the God-made-man is one Person in a Trinity.
"Even our God is a community," said G.K. Chesterton. Humans will overcome death only by entering into this triune God as sons of the Father, incorporated into the Body of the Son. The Spirit will bind us properly if we humbly let Him act… and He acts through the sacramental Church. He indelibly conforms our souls into Christ's Body through Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. The Trinity, marriage and the family, Holy Orders and the Church – these are the communions we know as Catholics.
Our proposal here at Anthropology of Accord is that the Communio theology which takes its origin from the metaphysical reality we celebrate today must be further developed as the theological and anthropological principle of the public life of the Church and nations. The three persons of the Trinity are revealed to us in the masculine forms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A serious theology will ponder and learn from the masculine apostolic priesthood and the male covenantal nature of the prototype nation: Israel. The Communio nature of the Eucharistic church and marriage are enriching themes of the last century. They have their champions and journals and institutes. Masculine public communio is a bit underdeveloped. Ubiquitous, fundamental, and yet (for fear of embarrassment) unmentioned.
The communal bond of men in nations is the natural polity which ensures the freedom of those more sacred bonds of Church and marriage. In different places and times in history the masculine public polity might have been fellow tribesmen and a warrior chief, or the Emperor and his subjects, or the 'polis' and its citizens. But, today, from Singapore to Germany, from Canada to China, from Brazil to Poland, and from Egypt to the Philippines, the natural bond of men in public communal work and protection has developed in the form of territorial nations. The Scriptural template of this masculine national form is the ritual of circumcision and the forging of one nation under a Law from the twelve tribes of Israel. The nation was built on a forgiving act of brotherly reconciliation. It is deeply tied to the possession of a common land. It is ordered by a common law. Leaders rise as prophets, priests or rulers to keep the communal body in concordance with God. It is our hope that Catholic theologians and philosophers would spend some fraction of their attention on history and the relationships of the natural armed authorities, which constitute public life and the legitimate State.
Possibly the next three graduate students who request to study the Theology of the Body might be reassigned to a project studying how Singapore got to be the polity it is today. We could call it the "theology of the corporate body" if that would make this ancient study of the natural polity more palatable. It was such men making civic agreement and the peace of 'Tranquillitas Ordinis' whom Christ had in mind when He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
Marriage is an important but not all-embracing covenant. Neither the Church nor the nations are families writ large. Christ did not found His church on a sacral marriage, nor was the bond of sacred honor which forged America the union between George and Martha Washington! Both the Catholic Church and the American nation are founded on sacral covenanted brotherhoods of adult men. Religious and political public life are both defined by public communal and masculine loves which include the apostolic priesthood and the particular territorial loves of men for their fatherland. Christ wept over Jerusalem, not Antioch. More than 2000 years have passed and Jerusalem once again is guarded by a nation called Israel. Christ never ordered the apostolic Church to move beyond the nation. He said, "Baptize the nations." Those of us who believe the Trinity is the fundamental form of love and life can no longer ignore in our religious discourse the public form of communion -- the life of nations -- that God promised Abraham 4000 years ago.
The 20th-century Catholic thinker who best navigated in the waters of Christianity and the formation of political cultures in history was Christopher Dawson:
The most articulate explanation of the dilemma of present-day Catholic political thought, scissored between the sacral relations of marriage and the Church, has been presented by Russell Hittinger.
On Trinity Sunday let us pay heed to the nature of our communal bonds – all of which in their proper order give glory to that greatest of bonds – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
UPDATE: Here is an earlier review of Christopher Dawson’s Judgment of the Nations.
And a fascinating address given by Professor Hittinger on the troubled interaction of nations and theology.