Ken Trainor’s May 2 column in Wednesday Journal titled, “What I Believe,” is yet another purely subjective postulation on religion. My appreciation for his honesty notwithstanding, he espouses a nebulous faith that excludes theology and therefore rationality. Though he seems to preach “science” and the elevation of the mind, big words like “consubstantial” have no place in his religion.
But the Trainor creed is only seven decades old and yet already old-fashioned. In a society steeped in “spirituality” and “personal religion,” it is the Church that has the progressive voice, calling us back to objective, time-tested truth. Christian orthodoxy has again become the foundation for a renewed counter-culture in Western society.
To substantiate this claim for orthodoxy, we can address Mr. Trainor’s opinion that since the word love nowhere appears in the Christian creeds, they must have been the work of “bureaucratic dweebs.” Before you start imagining old prigs in miters, smoking from warden’s pipes and snickering at the rest of humanity, know first that the creeds were defended by both the intellectual bishop and the undereducated desert monk. And each bore the scars of imperial oppression.
Second, the shaky underlying assumption here is that there is little relationship between Christ’s teaching and that of the institutional Church. This neo-gnostic tendency to separate Christ from His Church, the soul from its body, is convenient for Mr. Trainor’s subjective credo. What he really seeks is a kind of freedom. But a credo devoid of objective theology and a visible body is a religion that quickly turns from liberty to libertinism. The standard of truth, of faith and morals, ultimately lies with one’s own perception. This is cheap, fast-food spirituality. True freedom, however, “consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” (St. John Paul II)
To be a Christian, therefore, is much more costly. The original Nicene Creed begins with Credimus, “We believe.” The “We” is suggestive of the collective emptying of the self. From the very first words of the creed, we begin to recognize love, for love is sacrificing the self. Yet the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, of which the creed also speaks, is only worth its weight if Christ was both consubstantial with us and consubstantial with the Father.
If Christ wasn’t consubstantial with us, God could not love us so intimately. If Christ wasn’t consubstantial with the Father, man could not love God so intimately. The most popular verse in the Bible highlights this fact:
“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son [consubstantial Son], that whoever should believe in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
He who is God condescended to us so that we might ascend to Him. Christ’s consubstantiality with the Father establishes His great humility, in that He became man. His great humility shows forth His limitless love, in that He died for us. Through the “bureaucratic” Creed, then, we learn of love’s gravity and extent.
Mr. Trainor, you’re mistaken. The Nicene Creed does employ the word love, only it is defined. It reads, “He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.”
But God’s love did not begin on the cross or even at creation. The linguistic precision of the creed allows the Church to teach that God has always been love. Each consubstantial person of the Trinity forever abides in relationship with one another. Christ could properly say that the Father “loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24) The Trinity is about the “We.”
Given our contextual reading of the creed, we see that consubstantial is not just some “Latinate bastardization.” When we take the time to understand it, we find that it is essential for comprehending that vague English word, love. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John, 4:11-12)
Is it any wonder, then, why Mr. Trainor is uncomfortable with that other pesky word, “incarnate?” Embodied religion challenges a mere spirituality of the mind. Incarnation is costly because it requires active “devotion.” As God came to serve in the body, likewise we offer ourselves in service to God and to one another.
How does that saying go? Something like, “If it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing.”
Daniel Alspach is a resident of River Forest.