Mystery of the Trinity —East and West…
(CUSA) – For the Second Sunday of Lent this year, Fr. Cantalamessa considers the Trinity in all of Christendom.
FR. RANIERO CANTALAMESSA—
The recent visit of Pope Francis to Turkey, which concluded with his meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, and in particular the pope’s exhortation to Eastern Christian and Western Christians to share fully their common faith have convinced me of the usefulness of devoting the Lenten meditations for this year to support this desire of the Holy Father, which is also the desire of all Christendom.
This desire for communion is not new. The Second Vatican Council, in Unitatis redintegratio, already urged a special consideration of the Eastern Churches and of their riches. St. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter in 1995, Orientale lumen, wrote,
Since, in fact, we believe that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church, the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it and to encourage the process of unity in the best way possible for each.
That same holy pontiff formulated a principle that I believe is fundamental for the path to unity: “I pray . . . for fruitful cooperation in the many areas which unite us; these are unquestionably more numerous than those which divide us.”
The Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church share the same faith in the Trinity, in the Incarnation of the Word, in Jesus Christ as true God and true man in one single person who died and was raised for our salvation and who has given us the Holy Spirit.
We believe that the Church is animated by the Holy Spirit, that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life,” that Mary is the Theotokos, the Mother of God, and that eternal life is our destination. What could be more important than this? The differences occur in our manners of understanding and explaining some of these mysteries, so they are secondary and not primary.
In the past, relations between Eastern theology and Latin theology were marked with an obvious apologetic and polemic coloring. They focused—in recent times, fortunately, with more irenic tones—on the distinctions and on what each side believed was different and more correct than the other side.
The time has come to reverse this tendency, leaving aside any obsessive insistence on the differences (which are often based on a forced interpretation, if not a distortion, of the other’s thought) and instead to bring together what we have in common and what unites us in one faith.
This is necessitated peremptorily by the common duty of proclaiming the faith to a world that has profoundly changed and has different questions and interests than those during the time in which the disagreements arose—a world in which the vast majority no longer understands the meaning of so many of our subtle distinctions and is light- years away from them.
Until now, in the effort to promote unity among Christians, one approach has predominated that could be formulated this way: “First resolve the differences, and then share what we have in common.” The approach that is now increasingly being pursued in ecumenical circles is “Share what we have in common, and then resolve the differences with patience and reciprocal respect.”
The most surprising result of this change in perspective is that the same doctrinal differences, rather than appearing to us as an “error” or a “heresy” of the other side, are beginning to appear more and more often as compatible with one’s own position and at times even as a necessary corrective and an enrichment.
We have a concrete example of this, on another front, with the agreement between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999 concerning justification by faith.
A wise pagan thinker in the fourth century, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, noted a truth that acquires its full value if it is applied to the relations among the various theologies of East and West: Uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum. (“It is not possible to arrive at such a great a mystery through one path.”)
In these meditations we will try to demonstrate not only the necessity but also the beauty and joy of finding ourselves at the summit of a mountain, although we reached it by different slopes, to contemplate the same marvelous panorama of Christian faith.
The great mysteries of faith, whose fundamental agreement in the diversity of the two traditions we will seek to confirm, are the mystery of the Trinity, the person of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of salvation. Two lungs but one breath. That will be the conviction that will guide us on our path of exploration.
Pope Francis speaks in this sense of “reconciled differences”: they are not silenced or trivialized but reconciled. Since these are simple Lenten sermons, it is clear that I will touch on very complex problems without any claim to thoroughness, and with an intent that is practical and preliminary rather than speculative.