Tuesday, June 01, 2021

The Fourth Person of the Trinity

A lot of groups have one, though they usually deny it mostly because it isn't a formal belief.  That matters, but the folk-belief of what the people in the pews matters also. It is a legitimate discussion what the various weights of such things are.  It is easy enough to argue against the extremes. "Sure some of the Jews here essentially worship Bar Kochba, but they are still good Jews, really. When you look at it kindly.  And squint.  Squint hard." Without necessarily having a person or an object to focus on, we can still see lots of Catholics who believe non-Catholic stuff, sometimes taught to them by nuns when they were young, or Baptists that believe in divining rods, or Pentecostals whose core believes accord more with New Thought than Christianity, or Unitarians/Episcopalians/UCC/Lutherans these days who think that Jesus was a 60s liberal, really. You just have to look. It does not always coalesce into a single focus, but it does.  And when it does, it seems to last forever.

Educated Catholics express such frustration that Protestants accuse them of worshiping the Holy Mother. We don't. Let me explain this to you one more time, in very precise language. In terms of official position, they are absolutely right. People who know ethnic Catholics from the last few generations will say in response, "Sure, but this is not theoretical. I've seen it."  And if you grew up in a town with lots of Catholics, you have. So which is the "real" Catholic belief? That really depends on what rules you are setting up for asking that question.

Most of my sons went to technically independent Christian schools that had strong Baptist foundations for some or all of their education. I still recall visiting the sanctuary of one of them early in my older sons' first year there, after hours in the autumn, when it was darkening outside and I was killing time waiting for one of them to finish with soccer or something. There was an open Bible on a stand in the front of the church, illuminated by an overhead spotlight.  All else was in shadow - the altar, the stained glass, the side decorations.  I thought "It would be hard to convince a visitor from Mars that these people don't worship this book, whatever else they say."  And if you have been in such schools and such churches, it would be hard to even make a decent defense to the Martian. With both the Catholics and the Baptists, I think the lack of robust expression of the Holy Spirit is part of it, however careful and accurate their official theology is.  Not all of us are capable of such abstraction, and all of us are limited. While Pentecostals elevate the Holy Spirit more than others, it is mostly just feelings and effervescence.  Which are very good things, pointing to the reality.  Yet those are often (usually?) taken for destinations rather than way-stations.  Humans is humans.  Sumus quod sumus.

Even Catholics used to tell jokes about their grandmothers from the old country praying to Mary, telling the voice of Jesus in the sanctuary "Shut up, I'm talking to your mother." I don't think that happens much anymore, but as I am only in touch with mostly assimilated Catholics of later generations, I may be missing something.

By the way, do people level this accusation against the Orthodox?  In Europe the antagonism was between Rome and NW Europe.  No one cared what the Greeks or Russians thought, let alone Syrians or Copts, who were regarded as as legendary as gryphons. And would the accusation be fair?  they do venerate Mary.  Let me know what you know.

All this I knew decades ago, but I am now late in my seventh decade.  What are the new nominations for fourth Persons? I mentioned 60s liberalism as a vague new theology, but it doesn't have an embodiment that is still central. Gandhi and MLK are merely incantations at this point. No one worships them, merely disdains their critics. I have read many Jews who assert that the Buddha has much to teach that is consonant with Jewish thought, but I don't think he rises much above that.

Is there anyone out there I am missing? I am not so much looking for someone who is widely popular as some one or some thing that has lasted, even among a minority of Christian believers. I suppose there is always Braco.


Christopher B said...

Off the top of my head after reading this, I'd pick the Apostle Paul for a prime contender.

Mark said...

'play stupid games, win stupid prizes' is the expression that pops into my head. Any component of reality can be bastardized and distorted, it's what that guy does (you know, the one who roams the earth, walking to and fro all the time).
The Orthodox claim 'right belief', that's what the word means, but we all know the map is not the territory, and any of us can (and do) have imperfect grasp of perfect truth. I'm not carrying water or cards from any denomination. Got Baptist roots, hippie bonafides, new age scars, Buddhist sympathies, Catholic affinities and Orthodox sensibilities. 1+1+1 = 3 not 4, regardless of persuasion. I recommend someone like Gregory of Nazianzus for accounting of trinitarian concepts. The Orthodox call Mary 'Theotokis' = Mother of God, but they don't intend her as a 4th. Wrapping our heads around these things is not a matter for opinionated dispute, but for careful and quiet contemplation, intended to escape the horizontal limits of logic and reason. If i had to play the game, I'd say the 4th is you, or me or Nicodemus, or any one of us. As has been said, if you meet buddha#4 on the road, kill him. Just my humble heterodoxy.

james said...

For some denominations/congregations, perhaps ethnicity holds that place. Saint Nicholas II? Some mideast religious groups have no members outside their tribe.

Grim said...

Related tangentially, but I think you'll find it interesting.

Once I read an article by a retiring professor of history, who related how he had given a quiz to all the many years of incoming freshmen students he'd had. He asked them to name important figures from the American revolution. Unsurprisingly, George Washington was nearly always named. Very surprisingly, however, so was Betsy Ross. Her name came up strongly in every generation, over and over.

It surprised him so much that he went back through the primary and secondary school curricula to find out why such emphasis had been given to her. In fact, he discovered that she was only mentioned in the primary schools, and very early in the education of the young students. They wouldn't have heard her name for years and years in school, but they frequently cited her as one of the central figures of the revolution.

He came to the conclusion that this was less about her, or about the curricula, than about a basic psychological function in the human mind. George Washington was the Father of His Country -- and Betsy Ross, they had understood as children, was the Mother. And thus they were the two most important people to the American family, ex officio.

It may be that religions run into this too. God the Father, Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit that unites them... that's all well and good, but for a human being there needs to be a mother. It doesn't make sense without one.

Well, the Trinity doesn't make sense anyway without a great deal of philosophical study. Sometimes not even then; Maimonides thought Christians were just incoherent for believing in it.

Mark said...

There's a very strong connection between Mary and the Holy Spirit (obviously), but it's kind of edgy to get too overt about their Identity, or even to bring it up in certain Proddy circles. Kind of a tacit or inchoate feminine incarnation. Perhaps that's perfectly in keeping with the feminine nature. The more I ponder it, the more I like it.

Donna B. said...

I think the bottom line is that a 'he' or 'she' without the other is sterile, therefore cannot grow. I also wonder what the relationship between sterility and purity is. Neither seems to me to be productive.

Linda Fox said...

I almost lost it when I reached the part about "Shut up. I'm talking to your mother".
And, I am a Catholic.
True, many deify people or objects. Not only in Catholicism, but Protestants, too. And, the Woke deify People of Color (whom they nonetheless presume to order around, and correct when they stray from the Holy Official Leftist Message).

G. Poulin said...

Mother Teresa said that the faces of the poor are the face of Christ, thus inadvertently deifying the poor. When I tell people that they've made a little green god out of the poor, the marginalized, etc., they will furiously deny it. But I know; I've seen it.