THE GREATEST MYSTERY
OF OUR FAITH
The Father Generates The Son
It is one of the more perplexing things about the West, both Catholic and Prostestant that there is so little said or written about the Trinity since the Reformation which can compare with Augustine or Hilary on the Trinity. The problem is that the mystery of the Trinity is so to speak about God himself, as opposed to his relationship to us, but we, poor weak human beings, are always being invaded by spiritual cupboard love when it comes to God. We look at the Crucified Christ, and think what he has done for us, what he has endured to save us. We look on the Holy Spirit, especially in the wake of the somewhat questionable Charismatic movement, as to what gifts he can give us, and once again we will be somewhat muddled by the Charismatic movement’s extraordinary emphasis on the gifts of healing, prophecy and tongues, forgetting that the Seven mighty gifts of the Holy Spirit are profoundly spiritual; namely Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. Our imaginations are stirred by the tongues of fire that descend upon Our Lady and the Apostles at Pentecost. We then are faced with the Father, who is trying to make himself present, if we but had eyes and ears to hear. Sister Eugenia Elisabetta Ravasio is, I suppose the great apostle of the Father for these times, but the Church has not responded to her request for a feast in honour of God the Father. Though Sister Elisabetta was having her visions of God the Father in the 30’s, she did not die until 1990. She was born the same year as Sister Lucia dos Santos, and both of them were two years younger than St. Faustina Kowalska. So we have three seers one who shows us Our Lady as Queen of the Rosary, whose Immaculate Heart will bring peace, the second who shows us the incredible abundance of God’s mercy in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, and then finally the seer of the love of God the Father. Possibly the Trinity is so little understood because we do not understand the Father and his extraordinary love for us. For the Father generates the Son, who has the same nature as the Father namely the nature of God. A human father is finite and so a finite father and a finite son may share the same nature of humanity, but that may be all. The father may be big, strong, powerful, and intelligent, and the son small, weak, and stupid. Frank Sheed, in his wonderful book “Theology and Sanity”, which still has not dated, though written nearly 70 years ago, puts it very simply:
Further again, to come at the same truth in another way, whereas a father and a son who are alike in nature but finite may have every kind of inequality between them, a Father and Son who are alike in nature and infinite must be totally equal, since infinity is the total possession of the fullness of existence. Therefore the Son is infinite, omnipotent, eternal. (Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity, Sheed and Ward, 1992, p.58)
The problem that we have is that we cannot imagine how a son cannot be any other than younger than his father. The problem is that human fatherhood is in time, and is not infinite. A son the same age as his father appears to be either monstrous, or nonsense, or both. However the original Father is Eternal, and human fathers are a distant reflection of Fatherhood. God the Father is outside time, as is God the Son. In human fatherhood you have a lapse of time between the birth of the father, and the birth of his son. Let us return to Sheed.
That lapse of time arises not from the nature of sonship but from the finitude of man, specifically from the fact that he does not come into existence in full possession of all his powers, but has to grow slowly. A man needs a little time before he is able to generate a son. But there is no question of God’s needing a little eternity before He is able to generate a Son; there is no such thing as a little eternity --- eternity is one indivisible thing; God simply is, and in one act of being is all that He is, and simply by being himself is Father of His Son. God never had any existence except as Father: Father and Son are co-eternal: and it is but one consequence for us of their equality that we can see that they are equally necessary. (Sheed, p.59)
Whatever the son is, he is not contingent.
It is true that the Son receives his nature from the Father, but not as a result of a decision which the Father might just as well not have made. By the same infinite necessity the Father both is and is Father: that is to say, by the same infinite necessity, the Father is and the Son is.
As Sheed points out later in his chapter on the Trinity, that if one says God generated the Son from all eternity, it sounds as if it was in the past, and if we say he is generating the Son, there is a sense of incompleteness. We are so to speak stymied by verbs.
The truth is that each phrase --- “God is generated”, “God is generating” --- contains something that the other lacks. The one gives the notion of incompleteness, the other of present action. (Sheed. p. 65)
Sheed suggests that we use the two verbs which will make up a new composite verb. It is the best that can be done. To keep things simple but also by using analogy, we have to think of the Father as The Thinker, the Son as thought. This gives one a much clearer understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son. Let us return to Sheed.
A son is not his father, and if God’s Son is a person, He is a distinct person. A thought is not the thinker, and if God’s thought is a person, He is a distinct person.....For though the thought is not the thinker; it is not a separate nature, as the nature of a son in all our human experience is a separate nature from his father’s. Thought is within the very nature of the thinker. (Sheed, pp.61-62)
If we are to think about other analogies then we should consider Athanasius’s wonderful description of what the Trinity is like, namely the fountain, the stream, and the drink. This preserves the difference of all three, but gives the seamless quality of the Godhead in the symbol of water. An even more interesting variation on a theme is one proposed by a somewhat wayward Christian laymen, who gave as an analogy the following; the water, the ice, and the steam. obviously all analogies lack something otherwise they would not be analogies. Then there is the Sun, the heat, and the light. Augustine’s wonderful analogy of the memory, understanding, and will also is of great help.
So we come finally to the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, and the Son. The Filioque (and the Son) was added after Charlemagne, who being a great devotee of Augustine wanted “and the Son” added, and so it was in the West; much to the chagrin of the East. Whether there will be any way that the two ways of the procession of the Holy Spirit can be reconciled is hard to know.
What we do know is that the love of the Father and the Son is so perfect that they breath forth the Spirit, in what is called Spiration. Let us return once more again to Sheed:
Thus the Lovingness within the Godhead is utterly equal to the Father and the Son, for they have poured their all into it. There is nothing they have which their Lovingness does not have. Thus their Lovingness too is Infinite, the Divine Nature. For love is wholly within the nature of the lover. But this love wholly contains the Divine Nature, because God puts the whole of Himself into love. (Sheed, pp.62-63)
Ultimately we must stand before this greatest mystery of our Faith, and which is the greatest mystery of all. In our puny way we stumble in the dark. What is of the greatest importance is that we try in our prayer life, and in our lives to live the mystery of the Trinity in our lives. For every baptized Christian is not only a temple of The Holy Spirit, but a temple of the Trinity. That is what we must live in our lives, and so before we look at Creation let us in the next chapter look at what the Trinity means for us.