THE TRINITY AND SOBORNOST
One of the problems with living the Christian life as Catholics is that we live it, or have lived it until the 1960’s in a very personal way, and sadly in a very competitive way. One can think of that lovely saint, St Margaret of Hungary who was determined not to let anyone take away from her any opportunity for my penance and mortification, and though on one level such sentiments are excellent, there is a sense in which, even if we are saints, we can get fixated on the penance and the merit and somewhat lose the point. The point is that we love God, forget self, and pray for others’ conversion, but all the while admitting with the Publican that we are sinners, and beg for God’s mercy. However individual or solitary we might be, we must all be preachers of the gospel, even if we are hermits.
A good example of the hermit having a great effect is St. Nicholas von Flue. Nicholas was Swiss and lived in the 15th century. He was from a well to do farming family, and was also a leading member of the local community. He was married to Dorothy Wissling, and they had ten children. He was active as a magistrate and judge, and belonged to a fraternity called the Friends of God whose main aim, as it should be for all of us, was to imitate Christ. After twenty years of happily married life (Though what Dorothy thought of Nicholas’ nights given over to prayer and visions we do not know.) he asked Dorothy’s permission if he might leave and become a hermit. This she assented to, and he lived in a little cottage at Ranft, not far from his home. He spent from midnight to midday in prayer, and then visitors came to see him. When the integrity of Switzerland’s different cantons ( states) were in jeopardy, even though the edict of Stans had covered most things, feelings were still running high as to whether the contested areas of Fribourg and Soleure should be included in the Swiss Confederation. Nicholas’ advice was sought, and the two areas were included. David Hugh Farmer in his excellent Oxford Dictionary of Saints has this to say:
What seems certain is that this saintly hermit, detached from all worldly interests, mediated effectively in a crisis which was resolved in such a way as to lead to the permanent achievement of national unity.
Another saintly individual, the enchanting Catherine Docherty in her desire to bring the riches of her Russian Orthodox background into her Catholicism through the Madonna House movement which she founded, emaphasizes the Russian Orthodox concept of Sobornost, which most probably anticipates the rather prosaic discovery by the Second Vatican Council of the Church being “The People of God”. Sobornost has a more attractive ring to it. What is Sobornost.
It means a unity that has passed through the Gospel as “a gathering factor”--- for in Russian, “sobornost” means “gathering”.
Sobrania is related to “sobornost”. The gathering is usually solemn and very important to those who gather it” or get it together. So, in manner of speaking, the Russian would say, “I participated in a sobor....It was a wonderful sobrania, and it had real sobornost.”Translated, this means that the person was at a vitally important meeting, and that the gathering (sobrania) was really handpicked, shall we say, because it had really unity.
However true all this is, it is still very difficult to reach the immense depth of mind, soul and heart that is expressed by the word “Sobornost”. It is, to be absolutely truthful, when it exists, an absolute unity of, in this case, Christians. They think alike. The pray alike. They are alike. If one comes across such a group, it seems that they are looking at an icon of Christ. Each face is a composite of that icon, and the unity is soul-shaking, mind-blowing and earth-shaking. (Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Sobornost, p.11; Ave Maria Press Edition 1977)
Catherine then goes on to comment that certain sorts of sects have this unity, but even then she says it does not last long. So how can we bring about this wonderful unity. We can do it, she goes on to explain, by living the life of the Trinity in our lives. This should of course lead us to a profound meditation of St. John’s Gospel chapters 14 to 17, because here we see The Life of the Trinity shown to us vividly by Christ during the last Supper. It is interesting that he does not go on much about his imminent Passion, what he does go on about is his love, the Father’s love, and the Spirit’s love. This is what Jesus wants and what the Father wants, and what the Spirit wants. The Trinity is just waiting for an entrance into our souls to repair the damage. In that sense the Trinity could be likened to a whole army of architects, builders, artists, and conservationists descending on Dresden after the War to rebuild it. If we liken the Church to Dresden, or Cologne, Hamburg or Rouen after the War, we will get a very good picture of the state of affairs. The damage will not be effaced until the Church like a good patient allows the Trinity to perform the necessary operations and courses of treatment on it.
The Aftermath of the Second Vatican Council has produced a vast amount of self congratulatory bombast, dubious theology, dangerous interfaith dialogue, and very muddled ecumenism. A classic example of the interfaith dialogue has been the depressing enthusiasm for the Dalai Lama who, if he is a true Buddhist, will not be particularly theistic. The Dalai Lama seems to have suffered from the disease of celebrity and is far more Western than possibly he realizes. With regard to ecumenism, nothing could be more depressing than the ARCIC conversations. The Anglican Church cannot see how far it is removing itself from Protestant Orthodoxy let alone Catholicism and thus there will be no meeting of minds, and if there is a meeting of hearts it will all too easily descend into sentimentalism; for Charity is truth and that cannot be denied. It is certainly not a warm fellow feeling.
Another thing that the Church has failed to realize is that really Non-Christian religions, such as Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, are really not interested in dialogue, and neither are the Jews. Only when the Church recovers her self confidence, which has been almost battered to pieces by modernity, modernism, will she begin to see clearly. It would be of the greatest importance for Pope Francis to write an encyclical on how the Church could live The Life of the Trinity, and who better than a son of St. Ignatius whose most profound vision and mystical experience was of the Trinity. Once we have this Sobornost, this profound unity then we will begin to evangelize lovingly, with crystalline clarity, and with tremendous power and sweep away the contemporary heresies which are as old as the hills, namely Gnosticism and Pelagianism, which have been revived under different names. These are the two most dangerous heresies, now re-awakened like dragons of old, which are causing such havoc and misery throughout the Church.