Friday 15 May 2015

A Homily of Saint Columbanus on the Holy Trinity

Below is a sermon of Saint Columbanus in which this great Irish Church Father teaches on God as Trinity. The text is taken from the electronic version of the works of Saint Columbanus edited by G. Walker and the original, including references to the Scriptural and other passages quoted in the sermon, is available here.

Sermon I. Concerning the Faith

Since I bear the responsibility for very needful teaching, first of all I may briefly speak of the first thing for all to know. I desire that what is the basis of all men's salvation should be the foundation of our talk, and that our doctrine should commence from that point whence all that is arises and what has not been begins, and that the heart's belief should open the gateway of our talk, rightly opening, as it does, the mouths of all Christian believers to a salutary confession. Therefore, concerning the beginning of human salvation, with Christ's help, let our words rightly take their start.

Let each man then who wishes to be saved believe first in God the first and last, one and three, one in substance, three in character; one in power, three in person; one in nature, three in name; one in Godhead, Who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit, one God, wholly invisible, inconceivable, unspeakable, Whose property it is ever to exist since God the Trinity is eternal, for Whom you must not seek a beginning, Who has no end, and Who has ever been that which He is and shall be; since in God there is no repetition, but ever the perfection of the Trinity. That God the Trinity is one, God Himself bears witness of Himself in the law, saying Hear, Israel, the Lord thy God is one. But that that one God is a Trinity, the Saviour taught in the gospel with the words, Go now and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. By this double evidence of the two laws, as on some firmest supports, the faith of believers is confirmed. And there you truly have a unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity. Briefly then, considering the greatness of the matter, we have spoken of what we believe, and the heart's faith [has drawn forth] the confession of the mouth; and this must be firmly held against all heresies, that the one God cannot be divided or parted, since that which is all, has always been as it is. Thus let there be an end to the poisonous and mad delirium of all the heretics, because we hear and believe on the witness of God Himself, Hear, Israel, the Lord thy God is one, since He Who is one, has ever been exactly what He is; but that you may know how many, He spoke in the plural number at the foundation of the world, Let us make man in our image and likeness. Yet lest you should err upon the number, Christ shows you the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and in the name of this God as one God the whole human race is to be baptized. What more is needed on the joint eternity of the Trinity? That God is one, teaches us enough. But on the reality of the persons of Father and Son and Holy Ghost, Christ's division, with the authority of a command, has fully informed the hearers. So all the pravity of errors is debarred by means of these evidences, in which the Trinity is proved by being named, and the unity by being witnessed.

Since then the greatness of the matter prevents us from discoursing further on subjects which appear to be unspeakable, let us hold what has been said before with a firm faith. For the man to whom these few words on God the Trinity are not sufficient, will not, [according to Scripture,] be profited by more. For of Him we have said only that He is one in three and three in one. Yet of His being who shall be able to speak? Of how He is everywhere present and invisible, or of how He fills heaven and earth and every creature, according to that saying, Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord, and elsewhere, The Spirit of God, [according to the prophet,] has filled the round earth, and again, Heaven is my throne, but earth is the footstool of my feet? Therefore God is everywhere, utterly vast, and everywhere nigh at hand, according to His own witness of Himself; I am, [He says,] a God at hand and not a God afar off. Therefore it is no God dwelling far off from us that we seek, Whom if we merit it we have within us. For He resides in us like soul in body, if only we are sound members of Him, if we are not dead in sins, if we are uninfected by the taint of a corrupt will; then truly does He reside in us Who said, And I will reside in them and walk in their midst. Yet if we are worthy that He should be in us, then in truth we are quickened by Him as His living members; for in Him, [as the Apostle says,] we live and move and have our being. Who, I say, shall explore His highest summit to the measure of this unutterable and inconceivable being? Who shall examine the secret depths of God? Who shall dare to treat of the eternal source of the universe? Who shall boast of knowing the infinite God, Who fills all and surrounds all, Who enters into all and passes beyond all, Who occupies all and escapes all? Whom none has ever seen as He is. Therefore let no man venture to seek out the unsearchable things of God, the nature, mode and cause of His existence. These are unspeakable, undiscoverable, unsearchable; only believe in simplicity and yet with firmness, that God is and shall be even as He has been, since God is immutable.

Who then is God? He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God. Seek no farther concerning God; for those who wish to know the great deep must first review the natural world. For knowledge of the Trinity is properly likened to the depths of the sea, according to that saying of the Sage, And the great deep, who shall find it out? If then a man wishes to know the deepest ocean of divine understanding, let him first if he is able scan that visible sea, and the less he finds himself to understand of those creatures which lurk beneath the waves, the more let him realize that he can know less of the depths of its Creator; and as he ought and should, let him venture to treat less of Creator than of creature, since none can be competent in the greater if he has not first explored the less, and when a man is not trusted in the lesser, in the greater how should he be trusted? For why, I ask, does a man ignorant of earthly things examine the heavenly? Oh, those who speak idle words, Not knowing, [according to the Apostle,] either what they speak or whereof they affirm! How many indeed, for whom the cry is woe, though striving to fly aloft with feeble wing, and turning their creaturely face towards the sky, at least partly, not to say in every case, without counting the cost beforehand, first venture with unclean heart and impure lips to teach concerning the great deep, not understanding that God the Trinity is known not by words but by faith, Who is understood by the pious faith of a clean heart, and not by the gabble of an impious mouth. Therefore the great Trinity is to be piously believed and not impiously questioned; for the one God, the Trinity, is an ocean that cannot be crossed over or searched out. High is the heaven, broad the earth, deep the sea and long the ages; but higher and broader and deeper and longer is the knowledge of Him Who is not diminished by nature, Who created it of nought.

Understand the creation, if you wish to know the Creator; if you will not know the former either, be silent concerning the Creator, but believe in the Creator. For a silent piety is better and knows more than an impious garrulity; for it is unseemly and impious enough to pass over from faith to the empty words of one who treats of the invisible, immeasurable, and unfathomable Lord. For The great deep, [as it is written,] who shall find it out? Since, just as the depth of the sea is invisible to human sight, even so the Godhead of the Trinity is found to be unknowable by human senses. And thus if, I say, a man wishes to know what he ought to believe, let him not think that he understands [better] by speech than by believing; for knowledge of the Godhead will recede farther when he seeks it than it was. Therefore seek the supreme wisdom, not by verbal debate, but by the perfection of a good life, not with the tongue but with the faith which issues from singleness of heart, not with that which is gathered from the guess of a learned irreligion. If then you seek the unutterable by discussion, He will fly farther from you than He was;if you seek by faith, wisdom shall stand in her accustomed station at the gate, and where she dwells she shall at least in part be seen. But then is she also truly in some measure attained, when the invisible is believed in a manner that passes understanding; for God must be believed invisible as He is, though He be partly seen by the pure heart. Wherefore, my dearest brethren, let us pray to our God Himself, everywhere present and invisible, that either faith's fear of Him, or charity which knows no fall, may endure in us; and may this fear joined to charity make us wise in all things, and may piety persuade us to be silent on what is too great for speech, since it is a thing unsearchable and ineffable to know God as He is. Who He is and how great He is, He only knows. But since He is our God, though invisible to us, He must yet be besought by us, often besought; ever must we cling to God, to the deep, vast, hidden, lofty, and almighty God; and we must pray by the merits and intercession of His saints, that He would bestow even some ray of His light upon our darkness, which may shine on us in our dullness and ignorance on the dark roadway of this world, and that He would lead us to Himself, by the favour of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit is the glory unto ages of ages.


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1 comment:

Χρήστος said...

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
May the Three in One be with us day and night.
Whether in the depths of the sea or on the mountainside.
May our Mother be with us, her arm around our heads.

"Understand the creation, if you wish to know the Creator". This words are so deep. We must learn to love all the creation. We must see in everything the love of our God.

If it is easy, I would be very grateful, if you could post some prayers from the book of Bangor. I think it is the Litany of Bangor or something like this.