Wednesday, June 15, 2011

St. Augustine: theologically foiled by a child!



St. Augustine devoted no small amount of time and effort to expounding on the mystery of the Trinity. There's a story told that one day, walking on the shore, he encountered a child who had dug a hole in the sand and was about the business of going down to the water, scooping some water from the ocean in a shell and carrying it back to the hole he'd dug where he would empty the contents of his shell. St. Augustine asked the child what he was doing and the boy replied that he had set himself the task of emptying the ocean into the hole he'd dug.

Augustine pointed out the impossibility of the task and the child replied, "Impossible, too, are your efforts at trying to contain the mystery of the Trinity in your intellect." Legend has it that the boy, having offered the learned man his wisdom, then disappeared from Augustine's sight.

Augustine's writings on the Trinity are but a few short chapters in centuries of theological investigation into this mystery of our faith. None of us understands it completely or fully, although our knowledge of God as Father, Son and Spirit offer us entry into the mystery, a portal through which we can begin to know, however simply, who God is.

Understanding that there is communio, that there is a relationship of person even within God who is One is, for me, a most satisfying aspect of Trinitarian belief and theology. God revealed by Jesus is God whom I can know, can be in relationship with, can have communion with, can at some level know intellectually and spiritually.

In John Donne's work, Litany, the first three stanzas are on Father, Son and Holy Ghost while the fourth it titled, "Trinity."

___O blessed glorious Trinity,
Bones to philosophy, but milk to faith,
___Which, as wise serpents, diversely
Most slipperiness, yet most entanglings hath,
___As you distinguish'd, undistinct,
___By power, love, knowledge be,
Give me a such self different instinct,
Of these let all me elemented be,
Of power, to love, to know you unnumbered three.

If we but begin to understand - better, to relish - the paradox, the poetry of "unnumbered three" in reference to the Trinity, then we have entered the mystery.

And who knows what more God might therein reveal...



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