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The Most Holy Trinity

Dr. Kania: The Critical Mass – Part II (cf. Mark 7:7)

My father once told me the story of a woman who was praying in front of an Icon of Our Lord in a Church. As he recounted the story, a second woman had overheard the first woman’s fervent prayer, which ran: “Dear Lord, I love my husband, but he can be so short-tempered. If you could please just teach him a lesson – nothing too drastic, perhaps a twisted ankle, just to teach him some humility.” The lady who had overheard this supplication, tapped the supplicant on the shoulder and whispered into her ear; “Go over to the Icon of Our Lady – don’t you know men always stick together?”

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On the 2nd of June, 2019, there appeared in the Sunday Times newspaper in Perth, Western Australia a short article (School Prayers Go Gender Neutral). The newspaper article was describing how in four of Brisbane’s elite Catholic Girls’ Schools, the students are now being taught that God is ‘gender-neutral’ and that in these schools they are ‘dumping’ terms such as ‘Lord’ and ‘Father’ because of a form of ‘feminist philosophy’. Other examples that the article cited were that the students of these schools were now being taught to draw the Sign of the Cross, by using the formula: “In The Name of the Creator, Jesus and the Holy Spirit,” in place of the Traditional formula: “In The Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and to call God: ‘Godself’, rather than ‘Himself’.

I am highly supportive of the battle for equal rights between gender, but rather than tilting at windmills, see this battle as one of the struggle for opportunity rather than the struggle for squaring the circle.

If the Sunday Times article is accurately conveying what is occurring in these Brisbane schools, it seems that some of our leaders in our ‘leading’ Catholic Schools, seem to lack the fundamental Faith and Knowledge tenets of Sacred Scripture, and Church Doctrine.

I am highly supportive of the battle for equal rights between gender, but rather than tilting at windmills, see this battle as one of the struggle for opportunity rather than the struggle for squaring the circle.

First, let us be clear, and state what should be obvious: God is not gender-neutral. God does have a gender. Christ, Who is a Person of the Godhead, was born as a male in Bethlehem – so we can be quite certain that at least one Person of the Holy Trinity is male by gender – by way of the Incarnation. Otherwise, if this were not so, Christ’s birth was not fulfilling the promise of the Archangel, (cf. Luke 1:31), nor that of the Prophets: (cf. Isaiah 7: 14), in that a male child was being born for the Salvation of the world. Furthermore, Christ was born of a woman. Hence both genders are integral to the Incarnation story. We could open up here a series of heresies to the contrary: that Christ’s being a male was a form of gender-based Docetism, only appearing to be male; but then we are entering a discourse on beliefs that stand outside of the Creeds of the Catholic Tradition; and therefore certainly standing outside of the fundamental tenets on which our Schools exist and from which they take their mandate to teach. If the Sunday Times report is true, such ‘gender-appropriate’ alterations to central aspects of the Faith, are worrisome; for being a Headmaster or an ‘educator’ in a Catholic School is a matter of service to the Church, and does not give an individual the mandate to overturn Church Tradition, based on personal whim, changing societal norms, or dubious spiritual ‘insight’. 

Any relationship based on fluid identity is a relationship that is easily washed away, such as building a house upon shifting sands.

Second, as has been alluded to, the very purpose of the formulation of the Creeds was to establish a framework by which believers could understand aspects of the Triune Godhead in Whose Church they were being baptized. If we are then to take the Nicene Creed – Christianity’s great affirmation of the Faith, we read the words: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.” (English Translation: from the Mass of the Roman Rite). Fatherhood and Sonship are fundamental to the opening lines of the Nicene Creed, because before we can believe in a particular God we need to have some understanding as to Who this God is. A sense of identity is critical; both His, that is God’s, and our relationship to Him. Hence, we have the passage from the Book of Exodus: “Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord,[b] the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus 3: 13 – 15, RSV). The Name that God provides Moses – encapsulates in the meaning – the only One Who has Existence – from which we creatures all derive. His name as expressed in the Tetragrammaton: YHWH, is so revered, so cherished that the Chosen People dare not express the Name. Hence what’s in a name? Everything. We cannot alter names, without altering, seismically – Identity. We lose sense of who the other is – and following from this – who we actually are in our relationship to them. Before you can be in a relationship with another, you must be able to unequivocally identify yourself. Otherwise the other will not be able to know you, as you are, as you are called – as you wish to be. Any relationship based on fluid identity is a relationship that is easily washed away, such as building a house upon shifting sands.

That is why The Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 239 does say that God the Creator is the Father, but can be referred to using paternal and maternal images.

Third, a further question is asked as to whether God the Father, remains the Father if we are able to apply maternal images to Him. To answer: when human beings are made, they are made from a male and a female. Irrespective of the ‘wonders’ of science – human beings left solely to nature, require fertile members of each gender, in order to be born – one being a male and the other female. No matter how much we experiment in the laboratory – this cannot be changed in nature. So following from this – our human terms of reference for our parents, quite naturally allow for both allegorical paternal and maternal images for God our Creator. We can only reason according to our wits, so when we speak of our Creator, common sense dictates that we use the palette of our life experience in order to paint with. That is why The Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 239 does say that God the Creator is the Father, but can be referred to using paternal and maternal images. But this use of allegory does not equate with altering the form of Scripture and Sacred Tradition to read that the first Person of the Holy Trinity is now not ‘the Father’. We understand God the Father using both paternal and maternal images, as we refer to our progenitors in such a light. Our Creaturehood is as an Image of God, but we are not God, our paradigm is limited to the depth and breadth of our understanding – and God’s nature is infinite. Hence, it is impossible for us to fully understand everything about God; so our allegories of God have their limitations. Children drawing pictures of God the Father, do so oftentimes painting a man with a long beard sitting in the clouds. Why? Because, God is in the Heavens, he must be older than Christ, as Christ is His Son, so the child puts a few decades and more on the First Person of the Holy Trinity. How different this image of God the Father, to the image that Andrei Rublev wrote in his famous the Icon of the Trinity (known also as the Hospitality of Abraham), where all Three Divine Persons are of equal age. Rublev probably depicted the Persons of the Trinity as being the age of Christ when He died, in order to suggest that God through the Person of the Son, participated in time, as a human being – but the Godhead also stands outside of time.

Fourth, and probably most importantly, we have to be careful so as to not put words into God’s mouth.

Fourth, and probably most importantly, we have to be careful so as to not put words into God’s mouth. If Christ is indeed God, and a Person of the Godhead, He knows the Nature and Relationship of the Holy Trinity. Christ never refers to God the Creator as His ‘Mother’. He speaks of the Virgin Mary as His ‘Mother’. There must be a reason for this. This is part of the Salvific plan. In this plan there is more than a mere hint of God erasing the error of our first parents, Adam and Eve, male and female, from which humanity fell. The process of Restoration is one, where both genders must participate – having explicit roles – the Divine Son, and His Mother, the God-bearer, the Handmaid of the Lord’s plan.

The male gender image of God, also specifically interlocks with humanity being restored to God, as His Bride. We see this in the Songs of Solomon, and we see this in the Letters of St. Paul. Humanity is being restored by way of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – trying to make us spotless. Yes, God of course is Transcendent, but He also works inside a Paradigm that we can both attempt to fathom, and also live within.

Yes, God of course is Transcendent, but He also works inside a Paradigm that we can both attempt to fathom, and also live within.

In terms of specific identification, Christ explicitly unpacks the Persons of the Holy Trinity. We have the words of Christ – repeatedly saying in the Gospels that: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10: 30, RSV). In another passage, just after the scene of the woman caught in adultery – Christ speaks of the relationship of the First Person of the Holy Trinity to the Second – solely as Father and Son. (cf. John 8: 18 – 28, RSV). In addition, Matthew 6:9, has Christ teaching us to pray to the ‘Father’, hence the Lord’s Prayer, commences with the line: ‘Our Father’. At the crucifixion Christ from the Cross, cries out: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34, RSV). The use of the title ‘Father’ by Christ – heard by His followers, who were both male and female, is intentional and constantly re-affirmed in the Gospels, by God the Son. The Gospels also reveal how God the Father identifies His Son. The Gospel of St. Matthew has at the Theophany, the First Person of the Holy Trinity acclaiming His Son:  “and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3: 17, RSV). The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, echoes this scene from the Jordan River:  “and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” (Luke 3: 22, RSV) Holy Scripture offer us ample evidence of the relatedness of the First and Second Person of the Holy Trinity referring to one another as Father and Son, witnessed by the multitude. I may dislike the notion of ‘fatherhood’, but this dislike cannot replace the Word and Words of God as written in Holy Scripture. I have a right to an opinion, but not a right to morph the Word according to my own image.

One would hope that our understanding of Faith and God has gone beyond debates about numerical gender imbalance among the Disciples, or such like; for if not, in the process we lose the entire message of Scripture, by straining for the gnat and swallowing a camel.

One direct and obvious consequence of Christ having referred to the First Person of the Holy Trinity – as the ‘Father’, is of course that when we speak of God the Father, in the same manner as did Christ – we then for consistency refer to God as: ‘Him’, ‘Himself’, and ‘He’, not out of any sense of gender imbalance – but because it is a case of syntactic accuracy.  Personal pronouns need to consistently obey gender language rules in order for meaning to be unambiguously conveyed, and subsequent confusion to be avoided. If Christ refers to the First Person of the Holy Trinity as His Father, then following on from this we must refer to the Father, in English language conventions using not ‘it’ or ‘she’, but as He. To do otherwise is puerile, a linguistic stunt, in similiar fashion to the opening vignette of the woman choosing between two Icons to pray before, in order to have her prayer about her husband’s ankle better answered. One would hope that our understanding of Faith and God has gone beyond debates about numerical gender imbalance among the Disciples, or such like; for if not, in the process we lose the entire message of Scripture, by straining for the gnat and swallowing a camel. (cf. Matthew 23: 24, RSV)

That there is now confusion as to the Identity of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, in some of our Catholic Schools, among some of our Staff, and among some of our Students, could in part be seen as reflecting a growing confusion in Identity of members of our wider community, who find it difficult to relate to God the Father, not because the First Person of the Holy Trinity is in fact not the Father, but that they do not understand Scripture, Sacred Tradition, or perhaps struggle with the concept of Fatherhood. Perhaps these people may have had absent fathers in their life – but there must come a point, when a person reaches maturity, in which they understand that differences between life-experiences are natural; but some things are in fact absolute. I may not like the fact that no matter how much I attempt to make good use of my life, and the time it comprises, I continually waste a third of my days in sleep. But this is an absolute I must accept according to the human condition; it is part of the life cycle, like my greying hair, and other signals of decay. I would rather have had straight hair than curly; to have been over six feet in height, and not have two bad knees – but in order to live my life – there must be an acceptance of things that I cannot change. If your father has been an abject failure – try to do better when it is your turn to be a parent; but do not reject the concept of fatherhood because of a failure in some human beings; for using this as your rule no form of ‘role’ involving human beings is able to stand the scrutiny.

The gene pool of adult practising Catholics is often cited as being around the ten per cent mark or less in Australia. Of this ten per cent, a fraction only would be employed as educators in Catholic Schools, meaning that if we do not staff our Schools with those who do not attend Mass, we will not have enough staff to make the educational operation viable in Australia

That students in some of our ‘top’ Catholic Schools are now it seems being led to adopt theological positions untenable in Scripture, and Church Tradition, is of grave concern, especially so, when altering such terms that relate to the fundamental tenets of belief; even to the point of taking out of Christ’s mouth His very words, including His exhortation, at the closure to the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew:  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19 – 20, RSV)

Should we be surprised by a report such as this coming from out of Brisbane? Why should we be? In The Critical Mass – Part I, I explained at length, how we are crossing a threshold, where many of those employed in our Schools, may soon in fact have little or no Church practice. The gene pool of adult practising Catholics is often cited as being around the ten per cent mark or less in Australia. Of this ten per cent, a fraction only would be employed as educators in Catholic Schools, meaning that if we do not staff our Schools with those who do not attend Mass, we will not have enough staff to make the educational operation viable in Australia. Conversely, by employing those non-committed to the Faith, we run the risk that much of the confusion in society regarding gender and identity issues, is coming into our schools, unfiltered – unduly influencing the students on whose behalf a mandate was first issued to protect, preserve and educate in the Faith. We need always to remember the explcit instruction issued to educators in the Catholic Education system, as enunciated in The Catholic School document of 1977: “At great cost and sacrifice our forebears were inspired by the teaching of the Church to establish schools which enriched mankind and responded to the needs of time and place. While it recognises its own inadequacies, the Catholic school is conscious of its responsibility to continue this service. Today, as in the past, some scholastic institutions which bear the name Catholic do not appear to correspond fully to the principles of education which should be their distinguishing feature and, therefore, do not fulfil the duties which the Church and the society has every right to expect of them… 66. Often what is perhaps fundamentally lacking among Catholics who work in a school is a clear realisation of the identity of a Catholic school and the courage to follow all the consequences of its uniqueness. One must recognise that, more than ever before, a Catholic school’s job is infinitely more difficult, more complex, since this is a time when Christianity demands to be clothed in fresh garments, when all manner of changes have been introduced in the Church and in secular life, and, particularly, when a pluralist mentality dominates and the Christian Gospel is increasingly pushed to the side-lines.” (The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School, 1977: par. 65 & 66)

Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania

This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper, August 2019

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