I found myself placed next to a high powered High Court Judge at a dinner party in one of the most exclusive clubs in London. What on earth was I going to talk to her about I was thinking when, discovering that I was a Catholic writer, she made everything simple for me. She asked me to explain to her the mystery of the Holy Trinity! Fortunately I had just heard my parish priest avoiding a similar question on Trinity Sunday by telling the story of St Augustine at the seaside.
There were no funfairs in those days, no amusement arcades to waste your money in, and no piers to walk along, so St Augustine settled down on a sand dune and started thinking about the Church Council that had pronounced that there were three persons in one God. He was having great difficulty understanding this profound mystery of God’s love when he was distracted by a little boy who was filling a little bucket with water from the sea and pouring it into a hole that he had dug only a few yards away. “What are you trying to do?” saint Augustine asked . “I’m trying to put the sea into that little hole.” said the boy. “You will never be able to put the mighty sea into that little hole, ” said the saint. “Neither will you be able to fill your little head with the mystery of God’s love.” said the little boy, who promptly vanished leaving the great theologian wondering whether or not the little boy had been an angel or a figment of his imagination.
Sadly the Judge wasn’t impressed and turned to talk to someone else. When she turned back to me again to ask me to pass the salt I tried to retrieve the situation. I explained that not even Jesus tried to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Jesus was not a Greek who was primarily interested in what a thing is in itself, but a Jew, who is always more practical, more existential, more interested in explaining what a thing can do. He was far more concerned with telling us how to enter into the life of the Holy Trinity, than in giving the sort of theoretical explanations that came later. In order to understand what it means to enter into what St Paul called, “the love that surpasses the understanding,” the Fathers of the Church, up to and including St Bernard, used the human analogy in the commentaries on the Song of Songs, and I decided to do the same for my friend the judge. To my surprise my explanation seemed to satisfy her, so much so that she said she would come to my book launch, so let me repeat what I said to her so you might decide to come too.
You may remember that in Wuthering Heights, Catherine Linton’s love for Heathcliff was so great that she said, “I don’t love Heathcliff, I am Heathcliff.” In other words, she wanted to enter into him more fully and more completely than their human bodies allowed, and remain there forever. She was not so much saying what had happened, but what she desired to happen more than anything else. She wanted to lose herself in him and wanted him to lose himself in her. You find the same idea in the story of Tristan and Isolde. When the two reached the heights of human love, their union was so sublime that at one moment Tristan actually calls Isolde, Tristan and Isolde calls Tristan, Isolde. You find exactly the same thing in the gospels. At one moment Jesus calls himself the Son of God and at another moment, God. Although the love of Tristan and Isolde is as close as any human mind can imagine, not even Wagner, whose music describes their love more perfectly than any words, suggests that they merge to become a new single identity. Genuine love is between two. Just as there are always two separate persons in human love, so there must surely be two separate persons in divine love. Although Jesus insists time and time again that, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30), and that, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11), it is perfectly evident that their individual identity is never lost, no matter how close their union. However, the Gospels go one step further. The love that binds them together is not a blind impersonal force, but a separate personal love in its own right. Returning to the human analogy to try and explain what this means, in Wuthering Heights Catherine and Heathcliff see that the mutual love that binds them together seems to have something of an identity of its own, that is equal to the love that each has for the other. If anything, it is greater because it appears to have a personality that can unite them, even when they are separated by time and place, and even by death. In God alone, the love that can in this life be experienced in some measure, can be found in its most complete form, and experienced in an endless ecstasy and to all eternity.
Jesus does not tell us these profound truths because he wants to exercise our minds with dry abstract truths about the inner nature of what was later called the Holy Trinity, but because he wants to inspire us with the truth. The truth is that the Father and the Son have chosen to make their home within us, so that the most sublime love affair imaginable actually takes place within our inmost being. The reason for this is even more incredible. It is for no other reason than that the love which is the Holy Spirit that binds the Father to the Son, can bind us too into this love, so that we can experience it as it penetrates us more and more. The ultimate experience of God on earth, that is only known to those who arrive at Divinisation or Mystical Marriage, is Trinitarian. In other words, they become clearly aware that they are caught up in, and experience in some measure, “the love without measure” that endlessly revolves between the Father and the Son within their own inner being. This realisation is in fact the sign that a mystic is a true Christian mystic, and not some Neoplatonic hybrid.
Read, reread, and reflect on all Jesus said and did in St John’s account of the Last Supper, and these profound truths will come alive in a way that nothing I can say ever will. Then you’ll receive far more than mere words, through the Spirit who inspired them, and what you will receive will bring you to your knees in thanksgiving and in adoration.
But all has not been said, for in this profound mystical vortex of loving that revolves between the Father and the Son in which we are caught up, we are not alone. We are at one too, with all who have chosen to enter into this ecstatic joy, with relatives who have chosen the same path, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers, children and grandchildren, and not just our extended family but the whole extended human family, living and dead. They are not just living with us in Jesus, but travelling with us too into eternity. Our own personal joy and satisfaction is enhanced beyond our wildest dreams by re-meeting our own families and in knowing and loving them as never before. Even in the best of families, the pernicious cancer of selfishness prevented us loving each other as we would have wished. But now that the cancer has been spirited away and we have been transfused with pure love, there is nothing to prevent us from becoming the genuine loving families that we never really were on earth. This supernatural homecoming is however, the prelude to joining together for the last time, in order to set out upon our final and unending journey into eternal life and loving. And we, together with all who we love and hold dear, are bonded ever closer together, as we draw ever nearer to the blissful union with the pure unadulterated and infinite loving and goodness, that resides in Our Father who is in heaven.
Just in case you do decide to come to the launch yourself, my book is called Wisdom from the Christian Mystics. It will be launched in London on Thursday 8th February 2018. If you can’t make it I’m sure Amazon.com will help you out.