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Ratzinger on the Trinity

Ok, so, as an intermission between barrages of Cavanaugh, I have another Catholic to bring to you--namely, the Pope.

In his Introduction to Christianity, he has a positively amazing section on the Trinity. I have here a whole bunch of quotes from it, selected mainly because I've already typed them up for other arenas--though you can be sure they represent some of the best selections:

"We can only speak rightly about Him if we renounce the attempt to comprehend and let him be the uncomprehended. Any doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, cannot aim at being a perfect comprehension of God. It is a frontier notice, a discouraging gesture pointing over to unchartable territory. It is not a definition that confines a thing to the pigeonholes of human knowledge, nor is it a concept that would put the thing within the grasp of the human mind."

"In other words, all these statements [of heresy] are not so much gravestones as the bricks of a cathedral, which are, of course, only useful when they do not remain alone but are inserted into something bigger, just as even the positively accepted formulas are valid only if they are at the same time aware of their own inadequacy."

"Faith consists of a series of contradictions held together by grace."

"He who tries to be a mere observer experiences nothing. Even the reality 'God' can only impinge on the vision of him who enters into the experiment with God--the experiment that we call faith. Only by entering does one experience; only by cooperating in the experiment does one ask at all; and only he who asks receives an answer. . . . Indeed, we must go a step farther: that we put any questions or make any experiments at all is due to the fact that God for his part has agreed to the experiment, has entered into it himself as man. Through the human refraction of this one man we can thus come to know more than the mere man; in him who is both man and God, God has demonstrated his humanity and in the man has let himself be experienced."


“God as substance, as ‘being’, is absolutely one. If we nevertheless have to speak of him in the category of triplicity, this does not imply any multiplication of substances but means that in the one and indivisible God there exists the phenomenon of dialogue, the reciprocal exchange of word and love in their attachment to each other.

They are not substances, personalities in the modern sense, but the relatedness whose pure actuality (‘parcels of waves’!) does not impair the unity of the highest being but fills it out. St. Augustine once enshrined this idea in the following formula: ‘He is not called Father with reference to himself but only in relation to the Son; seen by himself he is simply God.’

Here the decisive point comes beautifully to light. ‘Father’ is purely a concept of relationship. Only in being for the other is he Father; in his own being in himself he is simply God. Person is the pure relation of being related, nothing else. Relationship is not something extra added to the person, as it is with us; it only exists at all as relatedness.

“Expressed in the imagery of Christian tradition, this means that the first Person does not beget the Son as if the act of begetting were subsequent to the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of self-giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving.

In this idea of relatedness in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the ‘accidents’, Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the ‘individual.’ Let us listen once again to St. Augustine:

‘In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.’ Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the sole dominion of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today ‘objectifying thought’; a new plane of being comes into view.

It is probably true to say that the task imposed on philosophy as a result of these facts is far from being completed—so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, without which it would be inconceivable.”

Relational ontology, man!


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