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Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
The Mystery of the Holy Trinity
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When we speak of sacred mysteries, there are infinitely more ways to misunderstand them than to understand them. That’s because we are talking, by definition, about something we don’t understand. That said, we are not ignorant or in the dark about our faith. In His wisdom, God has given us all we need to know, and that’s it. In taking a deeper look at what we know about the Holy Trinity, St. John Henry Newman, in his sermon “The Mystery of the Holy Trinity,” helps us to be clear about the truth and humble in approaching it.

In our common way of speaking, a mystery is something we don’t know, something hidden. But in theological language, a mystery is something we know only by faith because it is only partially accessible by reason; and it is something we don’t know fully. When it comes to the mystery of the Holy Trinity, we certainly know it, but we don’t comprehend it, a fact we come to appreciate as we identify all that it is not.

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: “We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son’s is another, the Holy Spirit’s another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.” In other words, God is entirely one in his divine nature, yet three persons; each of the persons is entirely God, but the “Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Holy Ghost, nor the Holy Ghost the Father,” Newman explains. 

Note the way the Creed begins: with the unity, the oneness of God. Newman begins this way as well, and explains that God does not have wisdom, He is wisdom. He doesn’t have love, He is love. And yet His wisdom is not His love – they are distinct. In God “there are no parts or passions, nothing inchoate or incomplete, nothing by communication, nothing of quality, nothing which admits of increase, nothing common to others.” Like the Creed states, and following Newman, when we contemplate this mystery, we should begin with the unity of God: “We must not begin by saying that there are Three, and then afterwards go on to say that there is One, lest we give false notions of the nature of that One; but we must begin by laying down the great Truth that there is One God in a simple and strict sense, and then go on to speak of Three, which is the way in which the mystery was progressively revealed in Scripture. In the Old Testament we read of the Unity; in the New, we are enlightened in the knowledge of the Trinity.”

From both the Athanasian Creed and Newman’s commentary, it becomes clear that it’s quite easy to fall into error on this subject. In an effort to unravel the mystery, to understand it, many simplify it. Such is the error of the Unitarians, a heretical sect who deny the Trinity, and who Newman contended with in his day. In an 1840 letter to his brother Francis Newman, John Henry explains specifically this simplification: “Thus the Trinitarian takes the whole of Scripture, as it stands, whereas the Unitarian makes the doctrine of one part the rule of interpreting, and the reason for not literally interpreting, the other part…”

Aware of this tendency, the Church surrounds its explanation of the mystery with several “not’s” and “no’s,” because we are tempted to compare this sacred reality with our own experience, which is our way of understanding. In fact, many of Jesus’ teachings, in the form of parables, do just this. As we heard last Sunday, Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed that grows into a tree. But in the case of the Trinity, we have no earthly comparison. Newman says, “we are able to contemplate Almighty God so far as earthly things are partial reflexions of Him; when they fail us, we are lost.”

Despite our reticence, let’s not mistake humility for ignorance. There is a strain of false humility in modernity that has crept into the way of acting by some in the Church. It says that we are speaking of things beyond our understanding and therefore we must be silent, we must not declare our faith openly or without first apologizing for its plain language, that we certainly cannot tell others what to believe. But it is Jesus Himself, in the Gospel of Matthew, who gave us this truth: “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.” If we are His disciples, we will obey His commission.

Nor, on the other hand, should we succumb to the ease of simplemindedness. Newman reminds us that “Christianity gives exercise to the whole mind of man, to our highest and most subtle reason, as well as to our feelings, affections, imagination, and conscience. If we find it tries us, and is too severe, whether for our reason, or our imagination, or our feelings, let us bow down in silent adoration, and submit to it each of our faculties by turn, not complain of its sublimity or its range.”

We can pray: Lord Jesus, help us to know and declare the truth about the Trinity as you have taught us. In what we don’t know, teach us the humility of little children. Finally, help us to be grateful for this incredible mystery which enlightens us about you and ourselves. Let us also pray to the Holy Spirit for the gift of understanding to go deeper into the mysteries of Faith, and for the gift of wisdom which gives us a loving knowledge of God as He is, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

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There is a clear picture that emerges from these glimpses into life at The Oratory School: Education was in service of man, not the other way around. Play found its proper place, not only as a balance to rigorous academic study, but as an important part of human development.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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