Message for Trinity Sunday
Fr. Joseph Levine; June 7, 2020
Readings: Ex 34:4b-6,8-9; Dn 3:52-56; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3;16-18
A sure way to discredit someone, at least in ‘respectable’ media circles, is to accuse the person of being a ‘conspiracy theorist’. Like so much of the rhetoric that flies back and forth in our society today, on social media, in print media, on protest placards, in conversations, there is very little actual thought contained in the accusation.
If anyone actually stops to think about it for half a moment, for good or ill, powerful people (and less powerful people) form conspiracies all the time. The United States was established by way of a conspiracy to overthrow British Rule, engineered in the Continental Congress. Political parties a form of conspiracy. It used to be well known that the ‘real work’ of political parties was achieved in the proverbial ‘smoke-filled rooms’. If anyone thinks that today there are not still ‘back room’ deals engineered by members of different ‘party establishments’ they are naïve.
Of course, those are not the sort of ‘conspiracies’ that conspiracy theorists are known for. The real conspiracy theorist basically holds that hidden behind all of the more obvious forms of conspiracy there is some secret cabal of powerful men, like the ‘Illuminati’, that control pretty much everything that happens in the world as they deviously advance their sinister agenda.
It is true that there are powerful people who are seeking to bring about what has been referred to as ‘the New World Order’ and if they are truly successful it would mean the end of the Catholic Church simply because the New World Order has no place for the reality of God, though it might allow for a sort of ‘religious appearance’ that offers a sort of divine blessing and sanction on all its projects. The New World Order would also mean the end of the United States as we have known it simply because, in practice at least, the United States Constitution and all American law would need to be brought into line with and subordinated to the principles of the New World Order. Of course, this New World Order, on the surface, at least, offers the promise of peace and prosperity for the whole world.
Three things to observe here: these powerful people do not have the degree of power that conspiracy theorists attribute to them; many of them, at least, might sincerely think that they are acting ‘for the benefit of humanity’; and while they share many goals they also seem to be connected with different ideological currents that are not easily reconciled.
Back to the conspiracy theorists: they are partly right, at least as to the general outlines of the New World Order and they are partially right about the presence and activity of hidden malevolent forces in human affairs. Nevertheless, apart from particular details, they are wrong to place the source of the conspiracy and the control of the conspiracy on the purely human level. The true agent of the ‘evil conspiracy’ is called Satan and through the evil conspiracy he is preparing the way for his chief human ally, who will be the Antichrist.
Lest you think that Fr. Levine has gone off his rocker and dismiss me as just one more crazed conspiracy theorist, allow me to cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.” (CCC 675)
The conspiracy theories easily convey the erroneous idea that there is no real human freedom, since everything is controlled by the ‘conspiracy’. They also easily lead to a denial of divine providence since they convey the impression that everything is controlled by malevolent forces. The response then seems to be one of making the conspiracy known and uniting people in opposition. The problem is the conspiracy is overwhelming in its power so more than anything people are left fearful and insecure in the midst of a dark and malevolent world.
The proponents of the New World Order also sow fear and insecurity. Since the root of their ideology is atheistic, they can give no guarantee of any ultimate goodness behind things. Instead they offer their New World Order as the manmade substitute. So they want us to fly to the hope of the New World Order to save us from the unstable and chaotic world in which we live, just we must fly to the hope of a vaccine to save us from the uncontrollable pandemic.
So what does all this have to do with Trinity Sunday?
The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not overcome it. (Jn 1:5)
The mystery of the most Holy Trinity provides us, we could say, with a Catholic theology of conspiracy, which is a realm of great light. We are all too familiar with the darkness; we need to discover the light.
“Catholic theology of conspiracy”? I have never heard of such a thing.
Probably not since I might have coined the expression myself. Nevertheless, the substance of what I shall discuss under this heading has an impeccable pedigree. One could say that St. Augustine’s great work, “The City of God”, was an exposition of the Catholic theology of conspiracy.
So let us begin at the beginning. In the beginning was the one God: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the Most Holy Trinity. The Father begets the Son; the Son is begotten by the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from them both.
The Holy Spirit is not begotten. How is it then that he proceeds? He is said to proceed by way of ‘spiration’, or ‘breathing’. The Latin root of the word ‘conspiracy’ is ‘conspiratio’, which literally means ‘breathing together’.
We usually think of conspiracy in a bad sense, but people can also conspire for the good. If there can be a good conspiracy, then the original conspiracy, the hidden origin of all that is, is the conspiracy of the Father and the Son, who conspire in breathing forth the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity is an eternal conspiracy of goodness and love and that eternal conspiracy of love created the universe.
We also think of conspiracies as being secret. Well, the Holy Trinity is the most hidden mystery of all; no created mind could ever discover or penetrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity, except that he willed to make himself known.
Further, the Holy Trinity, short of attaining the goal of eternal life, is known only to faith. To the man without faith (or at least an openness to believe) the believer sounds like he is talking nonsense when he speaks of the Trinity. The devil knows that it must be true, because it comes from God, but does not really grasp it. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not grasp it. (Jn 1:5) Only those who believe and who have some likeness to the Trinity in love, are truly able to gain some glimpse of the mystery that is object of the eternal contemplation of the blessed in heaven.
So, there is the eternal conspiracy whereby the Father and the Son breath forth their mutual love, the Holy Spirit. In that eternal conspiracy the Father and the Son also conspire in the Holy Spirit to extend the circle of their love by creating the universe.
The goal of the conspiracy of creation is to fashion creatures who will be capable of recognizing the goodness and love of the Holy Trinity, respond to and share in the love of the Holy Trinity, and so enter into the eternal embrace of the Holy Trinity. With the capacity to recognize and return the goodness and love of the Trinity, comes also the capacity to reject that love and, we could say, the need for created love to be proven.
What is the proof for this conspiracy? God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. He has fully revealed and proven the divine conspiracy of the most Holy Trinity.
In this light let us take a quick look at three passages of Scripture.
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rm 8:28-29)
Then: Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (He 1:14)
And: See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. (Mt 18:10)
These passages reveal to us – human beings who grasp things from a human perspective – two kinds of creatures capable of responding freely to God’s love: angels and men. Holy angels are revealed as servants of love, men as destined to become sons, like the very Son of God. Yet, it is the angel who already beholds the face of the heavenly Father; it is the angel who already lives securely in the embrace of the Holy Trinity. While man has received the promise of becoming like the angels. (cf. Mt 22:30) St. Augustine tells us that there will be one heavenly city composed of both angels and men.
Nevertheless, in the scriptural contrast between servant and son we might get some glimpse of the origin of the counter conspiracy, the conspiracy of rebellion. For it is said that the chief of those servants, Lucifer, was not content with mere service; he wanted to be like God and rule in his own right. He declared, “I will not serve.” He despised the little ones, the lesser beings, the earthly worms, man; he would not serve their salvation. He rebelled and led a multitude of angels in his train. He became Satan, the leader of the diabolic conspiracy that is condemned, during the course of history, to fight in vain against the plan of God – in vain, because none can resist the will of God. In the end, Satan’s every momentary triumph, like the crucifixion of Christ, serves only to give glory to God. Nevertheless, Satan will never cease conspiring together with his minions, until the final judgment. Satan conspires and by way of his human collaborators, witting (or half-witting might be a better way to put it) or unwitting, he continually spins impenetrable webs of human conspiracies. That is the truth that lies behind every ‘conspiracy theory’.
The diabolic conspiracy is extended in human history, but so also is the heavenly conspiracy. That is one place where the ‘conspiracy theories’ usually miss the point altogether. That, however, is precisely the point of St. Augustine’s master work, “The City of God”. “Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.” (City of God, XIV.28) We could also rephrase this as the earthly city formed by the love of this world to the contempt of the eternal life and the heavenly city formed by love of eternal life to come to the contempt of this world.
Note that the opposition is not between love and hatred, but between rightly order love, which returns to God, and disordered love, which rests in created things, which are then ordered to the ‘ego’. In that light, there is a ‘holy hatred’ that opposes everything that is opposed to God’s will and an ‘unholy hatred’ that rejects God’s plan of salvation.
From the time of Abraham to the time of Christ, the City of God was visibly represented on earth in the people of Israel. Not all the people of Israel loved God to the contempt of self; indeed, as a whole the people of Israel was so unfaithful as to merit being expelled from the land during the Babylonian exile. Nevertheless, whether in Egypt, in the desert, in the land of Israel, or in exile, the true knowledge of God always existed in Israel and there were always some who belonged truly to the City of God, loving God to the contempt of self, waiting in hope for the coming of the Savior.
The faithful Virgin, chosen daughter of the people of Israel, received the fulfillment of the promise.
There were also some citizens of the City of God outside the visible confines of Israel, like Melchizedek and Job.
That means that during the time from Abraham to Christ, the divine conspiracy of love worked chiefly through the people of Israel and in favor of the people of Israel. The diabolic conspiracy worked through the nations of the earth to oppose Israel and sought to corrupt Israel from within, working through their interaction with the nations – e.g. Solomon’s foreign wives.
Since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the City of God has been visibly represented on earth in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Through the Church the holy conspiracy has been extended to all the nations.
Not all members of the Church share the love of the City of God; many, loving themselves, belong rather to the earthly city. Nevertheless, the Church possesses always the true knowledge of God and his plan of salvation. The Church possesses also the true sacraments of salvation. Finally, in every age, there are found true saints within the Church, citizens of the City of God, sharing the love of the heavenly city.
There are also some citizens of the heavenly city outside the visible confines of the Church, though it is hard to identify any individual for sure – at least not in the way in which we honor the canonized saints – because lacking the fulness of truth there is always a sort of question mark regarding the truth of their apparent sanctity.
In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: The law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them. (Heb 10:2) There are then ‘the good things to come’, their ‘image’, and their ‘shadow’.
Let us consider Jesus Christ on the mountain of transfiguration as a full revelation of ‘the good things to come’. In the ‘image’ it would be possible to discern the features of his face, as it were; in the ‘shadow’ only outline of his body. The sacraments of the new covenant in Christ, possess the image, but the rites of the old covenant, only the shadow. The sacraments of the new covenant are instruments that confer the life of grace; the rites of the old covenant do no more than symbolize the life of grace.
Since the day of Pentecost when the Church was first visibly revealed to the world, the visible Church has been the visible instrument of the divine conspiracy of love. Before that day of Pentecost, in which the Holy Spirit was visibly ‘breathed’ upon the Church, there are two key moments of conspiracy: when Jesus conspired with the Apostles at the last Supper, entrusting them to carry on the ‘conspiracy’ through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and when he appeared to them in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday, breathed upon them, giving them the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins in the confessional.
The Church, as the visible instrument of the divine conspiracy of love has been the target of the diabolic conspiracy working through exterior enemies, temporal human societies that persecute the Church from without, and seeking also to corrupt her from within through the followers of Judas Iscariot, who have never been lacking.
The whole drama of human history, since the time of Christ, then is centered upon the Church. The whole drama of human history is the drama of the conflict and combat between the divine conspiracy of holy love and the diabolic conspiracy of selfish love. The Church is at the center of that drama.
The Church is at the center of the drama, but the Church is represented most eminently, in her holiness, in her purity, and in her victory, in the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy and Immaculate Mother of God. The whole drama of the conflict is thus revealed at both the beginning of Scripture in the enmity that God places between the woman together with her offspring and the serpent together with his offspring, (cf. Gen 3:15) and at the end of Scripture in the opposition between the woman clothed with the sun and the red dragon (cf. Rev 12:1-6).
Unlike Israel of old the Church received the promise, in the person of Peter, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.
The gates of hell prevailed against the old Israel the moment in which the High Priest condemned Jesus, the Son of God, for blasphemy. In the case of the new Israel, Jesus promised, I will be with you all days until the completion of the age. (Mt 28:20) His indissoluble union with his sacred humanity and his union with his Bride the Church, in his sacred humanity, guarantee the indefectibility of the Church.
The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church any more than they prevailed against Christ himself. That does not mean that the gates of hell will never have a moment of visible triumph; the Church in this world can be crucified and die, together with her Lord. At that moment, the judgment will come from God and the Church will rise again from the dead.
In brief, then, this is the ‘theology of conspiracy’ that comes forth from the original conspiracy of the Most Holy Trinity and illumines all the happenings, big and small, of human history. Through the Church all things work together for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rm 8:28-29)
Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.