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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

musings on the Trinity, Patrick and the Shamrock

The Enlightenment fathers often compared Socrates and Jesus as merely great teachers. As a minor historian I would say we have to allow for the fact that Jesus may just have been another gifted Rabbi. So if that were the case, I think he still would have to be rated the most influential teacher of all time (In the Western World but it remains to be seen if the Western World will survive; if it doesn’t then it is a moot point.) I would argue he MUST remain the greatest teacher of the West or the West is doomed. Those in the West must not ignore Jesus of Nazareth in any case either as a man –a Great Teacher- or as the Son of Mary and the Son of God. Of course in my book ALL THREE of those facts are true. The first should be obvious even to the secular historian; the second and third is a matter of emphasis and opinion. I happen to believe it myself. Jesus was human completely human –everyone can agree on that- but he also was part of the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity is one of the most difficult Christian concepts to explain however. In fact, teaching young people about the Holy Trinity is a dilemma. How God can be one yet three is one of the deepest mysteries of our faith? Some will respond, “We’re not supposed to understand it. Just believe Church teachings.” That is not a very satisfactory answer. St. Patrick must have had the same difficulty during his apostleship in ancient Ireland.

When I teach the concept of the Holy Trinity, I use the symbol of the shamrock. St. Patrick himself knew this, which is why he used the metaphor of the shamrock. There is an old charm (freely translated from the Gaelic oral tradition):

Three folds of the cloth, yet only one napkin is there,
Three joints in the finger but still one finger fair,
Three leaves of the shamrock yet no more than one shamrock to wear,
Frost, snow-flakes and ice, all in water their origin share
Three Persons in God; to one God alone to we make prayer.

Secularists point out that there is no ancient document source linking St. Patrick to the shamrock belief than three centuries or four centuries at most. See for example the BBC
“Old Irish manuscripts make no reference to this in connection with St Patrick, so this is likely to be pure mythology.”

But considering that 90% or more of Irish literature was destroyed by the English invasions this should not surprise anyone. It is also a great prejudice of the modern that only the written is true (when the written is often false or falsified) and oral tradition is not true.
In fact, the oldest occurrences of “shamrock occur in ENGLISH” not Irish Gaelic (there is no source older than the 18th century to have this word; the word “shamrock” derived obviously from the Gaelic word is attributed to about 1572. ) This indirect evidence is telling.

To dismiss the St. Patrick legend as pure mythology also forgets the fact that three was a mystical number for Celts. The druids in Ireland looked at the shamrock as a sacred plant because its leaves formed a triad. It would not have been unusual at all for St. Patrick to have explained the Trinity in the way he did. So I have always believed in the shamrock story. There is also the evidence of the Gaelic tree alphabet. The Saints and Scholars of ancient days used sacred plants and trees to teach the alphabet to the Gaels (the letters of the Gaelic alphabet stand for plants and trees; this was obviously a mnemonic device though perhaps predating St. Patrick and his disciples)

The presence of the Trinity on the day when Jesus is baptized by John in the River Jordan is clearly affirmed in the Gospel.
13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan, unto John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John stayed him, saying: I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfill all justice. Then he suffered him.

It is here were meet also the figure of the Christ, the Messiah who brings the divine plan of salvation to fulfillment and humbly accepts his baptism as any ordinary man or woman, sinner or saint.

It is this voluntary humbling in this great Trinitarian scene which wins him the praise of God, the Father who proclaims his love for his Son:
16 And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. 17 And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Of course the dove symbolizes the end of the flood in Noah’s day and the dawn of a new era. Ever since, the dove has symbolized deliverance and God's forgiveness. Gn 8:8-12). The dove in flight is the symbol of the Ascension of Christ or of the entry into glory of the martyrs and saints (cf. Psalm 123:7 “Our soul is escaped as a bird from the snare of the hunters, the snare is broken and we are delivered." In like manner the caged dove signifies the human soul yet imprisoned in the flesh and held captive during the period of mortal life. The dove signifies also the Christian soul, not the human soul per se as such, but as indwelt by the Holy Spirit
Indeed, The dove is a universal symbol of peace and innocence. In ancient Greek myth it was a bird of Athena which represented the renewal of life. According to ancient Scottish legend the devil and witches can turn themselves into any bird shape except the dove. As a Christian symbol the dove is of very frequent occurrence in ancient ecclesiastical art. Two doves on a funeral monument sometimes signify the conjugal love and affection of the parties buried there.
The authors of the Gospels lay great stress on the idea that the major events in Jesus' life can be seen as predicted by the Jewish prophets, especially Isaiah. In the following passage (Isaiah 40: 1-5) Isaiah announces the coming of the Christ or Messiah. These words were memorably set to music in George Frederick Handel's Messiah.
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."



Carlos Echevarria said...

what did you do for fat tuesday?

i had a couple of cocktails at lunch, LOL

Oh well, I am giving up some stuff starting tomorrow....

Did u see that speech? not impressed but i think Jindal bombed...


Jindal was not all THAT bad; it is a very difficult thing to have to respond in general to a speech like that. I liked some of what he said. He seemed more truthful than Obama who was promising there would no waste and oversight.
9000 ear marks???? As a teacher I can't have cocktails at lunch so you have one over me there. In fact, I substituted today and worked through lunch. But all quiet on the Western Front.

Hope you liked my mustings on the Trinity and the Shamrock (based on Sunday's Catechism class)