Monday, June 04, 2007

In Honor of Trinity Sunday

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, and the Athanasian Creed was read. Now as has long been known, the Athanasian Creed was not actually written by St. Athanasius (AD 293-373). Actually it probably first was used in Gaul around AD 500.

Gaul? AD 500? As you may have guessed, then, it has something to do with Gregory of Tours and his History of the Franks. He does not mention the creed itself, but he illustrates the environment in which it was made. The Franks made their mark in post-Roman history by converting to Orthodoxy/Catholicism. Based around modern Paris, their king Clovis then used that orthodox catholic confession to win support from the Gallo-Roman elite for driving out from southern France the Gothic kings of Spain who professed the Arian faith. So Gregory of Tours was a supporter, at least nominally, of the Catholic and Orthodox Frankish kings against the Arian Gothic kings based in Spain. Arianism may have been kaput among the Latin speaking populations of the West, but among the new barbarian monarchs and their supporters among the native Latins it was still a going concern.

Gregory records a number of theological debates, including one with an Arian and another with a Frankish king who had a new "compromise" position. Here is one debate, in honor of Trinity Sunday:

As envoy to Chilperic [a Frankish king], King Leuvigild [of Spain, a Goth] sent Agilan, a man of low intelligence, untrained in logical argument, but distinguished by his hatred of our Catholic faith. Tours was on his route and he took advantage of this to attack me [i.e. Gregory, as the bishop of Tours] concerning my beliefs and to assail the dogmas of the Church.

"The bishops of the early Church made a foolish pronouncement," he said, "when they asserted that the Son was equal to the Father. How can He be equal to the Father, when He says: My Father is greater than I? It is not right that the Son should be considered equal to he Father when He Himself admits that He is less, when it is to the Father that He complains about the miserable manner of His death, when at the very moment of His death He commends His spirit to the Father, as if He Himself were completely powerless. Surely it is quite obvious that He is less than the Father, both in power and in age!"

In reply to this, I asked him if he believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and if he admitted that He was the wisdom of God, the light, the truth, the life, the justice of God. Agilan answered, "I believe that the Son of God was all those things."

Then I said: "Tell me now, when was the Father without wisdom? When was He without light, without life, without truth, without justice? Just as the Father could not exist without these things, so He could not exist without the Son. These attributes are absolutely essential to the mystery of the Godhead. Similarly the Father could hardly be called the Father if He had no Son. When you quote the Son as having said: My Father is greater than I, you must know that He said this in the lowliness of the flesh, which He had assumed so that He might teach you that you were redeemed not by His power but by His humility. You must also remember, when you quote the words, My Father is greater than I, that He also says in another place, I and my Father are one. His fear of death and the fact that He commended His spirit are a reference to the weakness of the flesh, so that, just as He is believed to be very God, so may He be believed to be very man."

Agilan answered, "He who does what another commands is less than the other; the Son is always less than the Father because He does the will of the Father, whereas there is no proof that the Father does the will of the Son."

"You must not understand," I replied, "that the Father is the Son and that the Son is in the Father, each subsisting in one Godhead. If you want proof that the Father does the will of the Son, consider what our Lord Jesus Christ says when He comes to raise Lazarus
-- that is, if you have any faith in the Gospel at all: Father I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I know that thou hearest me always, but because of the people which by I said it, that they may believe that thou has sent me. When He comes to His Passion, He says: And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. Then the Father replies from Heaven: I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. Therefore the Son is equal to the Godhead, and not inferior in anything else. If you admit that the Son is God, you must agree that He is perfect and that He lacks nothing. If you deny that He is perfect, then you do not admit that He is God."

Agilan answered: "It was after He was made man that He began to be called the Son of God; there was a time when He was not."

"Listen to David speaking in the name of the Lord," I replied, "Out of the womb have I borne thee, before the morning star.* John the Evangelist says: In the beginning was the Words, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, by whom all things were made. You are so blinded by your poisonous heresy that you do not understand the Godhead."

Agilan answered: "Do you believe that the Holy Ghost is God and do you maintain that He is equal to the Father and the Son?"

"In the Three there is one will, one power, one action," I replied, "one God in Trinity and three Persons in unity. There are three Persons, but one kingdom, one majesty, one power, one omnipotence."

Agilan answered: "The Holy Ghost, who is equal to the Father and the Son, according to you, is clearly less than either, for we read that He was promised by the Son and sent by the Father. No one promises anything which is not in his power, and no one sends any person who is not his own inferior. Jesus himself says in the Gospel: If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you."

I replied, "The Son does well to say before His Passion that if He does not return in victory to His Father, having redeemed the world with His own blood and having prepared a habitation in the heart of man, the Holy Ghost, which is God, cannot come down from Heaven into a heart which is idolatrous and spotted with the stain of original sin. As Solomon says: The Holy Ghost will flee deceit.** As you hope for resurrection, do not speak against the Holy Ghost. As the Word of God puts it: Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."

Agilan answered, "God is He who sends; he who is sent is not God."

Then I asked him if he believed the doctrine of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

He answered: "I do believe."

"When the Apostle Peter accuses Ananias of behaving fraudulently over the field which he sold," I replied, "he asks: Why hath it seemed good to thee to lie to the Holy Ghost? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. When Paul is differentiating between the dogmas of spiritual graces, he says, But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to each man severally as he will. The man who achieves what he has set out to do is under an obligation to no one. [i.e. if the Holy Ghost has the freedom to distribute spiritual gifts as He wills, then he is not under obligation to the Father or Son.] As I have said already, you are absolutely wrong about the Holy Trinity and, what is more, the way your founder, Arius, met his end shows just how perverse and wicked your sect is."

Agilan answered, "You must not blaspheme against a faith which you yourself do not accept. You notice that we who do not believe the things which you believe nevertheless do not blaspheme against them. It is no crime for one set of people to believe in one doctrine and anotehr set of people to believe in another. Indeed, it is a proverbial saying with us that no harm is done when a man whose affairs take him past the altars of the Gentiles and the Church of God pays respect to both."

I realized what a fool the man was. "You are, I perceive," said I, "at once a defender of the Gentiles and a champion of the heretics. You not only defile the dogmas of the Church, but you also advocate the worship of pagan abominations. You would do much better to arm yourself with the faith which Abraham found near the oak tree, Isaac in the ram, Jacob in the stone, and Moses in the bush; the faith which Aaron wor in the ephod, which David knew when he danced with the timbrel, and which Solomon proclaimed by his wisdom; the faith which all the patriarchs and prophets, and the very Law itself, have celebrated in their oracular pronouncements and represented symbolically in their sacrifices; the faith which our own Martin, as is witnessed still today, possesses in his heart and manifests in his miraculous power. If you were converted to Catholicism, you would believe in the indivisible Trinity, you would be able to receive my blessing, your heart would be cleansed of the poison of false belief, and your sins would be washed away."

Agilan lost his temper and ground his teeth, almost as if he was going off his head. "May my soul leave the confines of my body," he muttered, "before I ever receive a benediction from a priest of your religion!"

"May the Lord never permit my religion or faith to grow so tepid," I answered, "that I waste His blessing upon dogs, or cast the sacredness of His precious pearls before filthy swine!"

At this Agilan gave up the discussion, rose to his feet, and marched out.

Some time later, when he was back again in Spain, he fell seriously ill: as a result he felt a compulsion to accept conversion to our religion
(pp. 307-310).

This last note is crucial to understanding Gregory's point. What convinces heretics? The Bible? No, because even though all our arguments are based firmly on the Bible, the heretics are blinded and like Agilan will not listen to truth. What convinces heretics is Pentecostal power -- the direct and miraculous intervention of God. Arius seems wrong according to the Scriptures, but what really makes the case decisive is that how he died: his guts spilled out his anus in the lavatory (p. 135). He must be a heretic! After Agilan hears and denies all the arguments, he gets sick and has to believe. That is why of the witnesses of the Trinity, it is St. Martin who is placed in the last and best place: his miracle-working power is alive as Gregory speaks, through the relics in his church.

*An alternative reading from Psalm 110.
**In the Wisdom of Solomon, a deutero-canonical work.

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