The Holy Trinity and Precision in Religious Language


The Feast of the Holy Trinity is an exclamation punctuating the joyous days following Christ's Resurrection.

Throughout His earthly ministry, the Second Person of the Trinity kept hinting at this deepest of all mysteries, as when He said that those who saw Him saw the Father, and that the Father and He are one, and again when He breathed the Holy Spirit on the apostles so that they might forgive sins. It was only as He ascended in glory, that He explicitly announced the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It is a paradox of our age's pedantic arrogance that it tends to think of earlier cultures as rough and clumsy, while affecting exasperation at the subtlety of their language. As the Church prepares to use, later this year, a more precise translation of the Creed, there are those who say that the terminology will confuse ordinary people. The Fathers of the Council of Nicaea, and later Constantinople, did not think that their formulas were only for philosophers. Some were gifted thinkers, but it is said that Bishop Nicholas of Myra was so unsubtle that he punched the heretic Arius in lieu of debate.

We understand easily only what we have made. When it comes to what someone else has invented (for me, the computer is an annoying example) it is harder. When it comes to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who was not created at all, it is impossible to understand Him without His help. So Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to "teach you everything" (John 14:26).

The new English translation of the Creed will speak precisely as the Holy Spirit did when He led the early bishops to speak in their own Greek, using words like "only begotten" and "consubstantial." The sub-apostolic Fathers were free of the bias infecting second-rate intellectuals, who suppose that deep thoughts are too obscure for anyone other than their extraordinary selves. St. Paul was an evangelical failure once when he tried to be a rhetorical success, endeavoring to persuade the professors in the Areopagus university by quoting their own authorities. He certainly had done his research, but he might have been more successful had he quoted Jesus of Nazareth instead of Epimenides of Knossos and Aratus of Soli.

Yesterday was not atypical in our parish. Within about eight hours, I offered the Sacrifice of the Mass twice, heard confessions, baptized a baby, married a young couple, and buried a man. Each of these actions was done in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in whom "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Though some of the Greek poets had used similar words, the Word of God made them real. That is why St. Paul died in Rome, not for a syllogist but for a Saviour.




Father George William Rutler. "The Holy Trinity and Precision in Religious Language." From the Pastor (June 19, 2011).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2011 Father George W. Rutler

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