Fr. George O'Neill, S.J.
With Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1933


(From a Sermon on the Blessed Trinity)

IT is a charge frequently urged or even taken for granted against the Christian faith that it is something wholly blind, an acceptance of beliefs without any sufficient reason for believing. This is an error inspired by hostility, or an excuse for itself made up by unbelief. "Faith", as St. Augustine says, "has its eyes, by which it truly sees to be true what it does not as yet see." Besides that, Faith conceives as real, realities that it does not as yet fully grasp; it finds various motives that render worthy of belief the most obscure mysteries. Their very obscurity may appear a good reason for believing them. This I believe to be especially true with regard to the mystery of the most holy Trinity.

The Church requires us to believe that there are three Persons in one God. An incomprehensible truth, doubtless; but is it incredible because it is incomprehensible? Is it not, on the contrary, extremely probable that the
Supreme Being, God, does not exist in the same manner as creatures and that His manner of existing is infinitely above our powers of understanding? You cannot solve the apparent contradiction of unity of nature and trinity of persons; but if such a difficulty of comprehension prevents your belief you will be reduced to believing no article of Catholic faith, seeing that they all transcend the grasp of the human mind. Is not God wholly above your comprehension? Can you understand how, being wholly indivisible, He is at once in all places; or how the present, the future and the past are all alike present to Him; or how He has created all things out of nothing? He is unmoved, unchanging, yet He gives life and motion to all. He allies within Himself infinite justice with infinite mercy. He governs the world with perfect wisdom; yet He tolerates innumerable evils or apparent evils which a simple act of His will could put an end to. What wisest man, what theologian has not been lost in the mazes of Divine predestinations and judgments: why grace is given in one measure to one person, in another to another; why some nations are enlightened with the preaching of the Gospel while others are left in darkness? In view of these mysterious dispensations are we not all alike obliged to close our eyes, to recognize the dimness of our knowledge and our intelligence, and to cry out with St. Paul; "O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways!"

And yet we demand to understand the very being and nature of God
---- we for whom the least of His works is an enigma, we who so ill understand even ourselves! Who will tell me by what springs the soul works in the body to which it gives life, or how the body communicates to the soul ---- a purely spiritual thing ---- the impressions which it receives? How is it that you form a thought in the mind, that you preserve it in your memory; that the myriad objects that have affected your senses are depicted permanently in your imagination; how is it that you seek them there and find them; that you see and judge of past and remote objects as if they were present to you? How is it that in sleep you fancy you are acting, speaking, hearing and experiencing all the varieties that belong to your waking life? I look forth from this pulpit, and instantaneously is traced upon my eyes the image of every one who is in this church without their being confounded or blurred by one another. I speak, my voice strikes on every ear and through each ear is conveyed to each mind the meaning of what I say; can you understand by what wonderful machinery, corporal and spiritual, this whole process is accomplished?

Again, study the wonderful works of external nature that lie around you
---- a study that may be no less useful than agreeable; and there how much will you not find to stir your admiration, to confound your understanding and to bring home to you your ignorance? How marvelous ---- if we look to the tiniest objects in creation ---- is not the completeness with which a little gnat or mosquito is equipped with all that is needed for the functions of its life; in so minute a space the various muscles, nerves, fibbers, tools, that are necessary to fly, to feed, to carry on numerous and complicated processes! How, from a minute seed that decays in the earth is formed a tree that grows, that covers itself with blossoms, that loads itself with fruits? How do those millions of various flowers draw from the earth their perfumes and their brilliant colors? How does the little bird come forth from the egg, and by degrees grow bigger and stronger, and cover itself with the feathers just suited for its protection and for its flight?

Yes; the humblest works of God are mysterious, are inscrutable; and yet we claim that the nature of God Himself should be proportioned to the blindness of our petty intellects! Creatures are, indeed, a ladder by which we may make some ascent to the knowledge of God; but we presumptuously behave as if we had reached the summit, when we have barely mounted the lowest steps. Let the ambitious mind exercise itself first of all on the wonders which are strewn around it in the merely natural world, and then it may strive also to study the Creator of that world. Try to explain fully the leaf of a tree or the insect that feeds upon it; and, until you have fully comprehended the marvels of these least works of the Creator, do not say it is strange that His nature eludes you.

God Infinitely Mysterious
--------- and Lovable

I venture to say, my brethren, that I should feel distrust of any religion that asked me to adore nothing that I could not comprehend. Had I never heard of the Blessed Trinity, I should still believe that the being of God is something far too sublime to be within the range of any created understanding. And therefore, when revelation tells me that God subsists in three distinct and equal persons, this dogma appears to me credible in proportion to its being inexplicable on ordinary principles; the less I can comprehend it the less I doubt of its truth.

For century after century, ever since the preaching of the Apostles, this dogma has been accepted as an article of the Catholic faith by the wisest as well as by the simplest. And it is consoling and profitable to reflect that faith can accept God's message without profound learning, and that no philosophy is necessary to inspire us with charity. In vain, on the other hand, will any man have the sublimest thoughts about God, if he does not love God.

If you love God with all your heart it will matter little whether you possess or not these sublime or subtle conceptions of Divine things that too often puff up those who possess them rather than serve to sanctify them. Nay, it is certain, and very consoling for many of us, that the most ignorant have a special help for attaining to the perfection of charity. And this help is, that they have in their souls a simple and clear faith. Independent of subtleties and entanglements, unaffected, in some measure, by human ideas and difficulties, it is a pure root from which charity easily springs into fair flowers and fruits. Far, then, from impatiently demanding enlightenment on such exalted mysteries as that of the Blessed Trinity, let us rather ask for that childlike simplicity of faith in what God has revealed, which, according to the word of Christ, opens for us the gates of His kingdom. "Unless ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven." Let us love with that childlike singleness of heart a God Who, while He eludes the researches of our intellect, yet deigns to come very close in love to our hearts.

No, we do not comprehend the sublimity of His nature; but does not that very fact bring home to us that, since that sublime Being has made Himself the reward of our faith, our hope and our charity, the reward is indeed such as to surpass all that we can see or know, all even that thought and imagination can ever attain to? Let us adore, then, my brethren, our God in His incomprehensibility, yielding captive in His sight the powers of our weak intelligence. Let us love Him in His infinite goodness, setting no limits to the ardor of our charity. Let us love Him on earth, where He conceals Himself from our vision, that so we may deserve to see Him in Heaven and love Him, as He is. Amen.



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