The Trinity for Agnostics Part 1
“God is more thought than can be uttered, God exists more than can be thought.” -Augustine
For Saint Augustine, and For Saint Gregory Nazianzus, they spoke much of God. Yet, scattered throughout all their theological musings and quandaries was a reverent hesitation evoked by a heart in wonder hushed by the divine mystery.
Since the age of Enlightenment, or rationalism, or modernism, we have viewed activities of knowledge with rigor. We mixed in the idea of positivism: what can be known must be demonstrated or verified with concrete data and facts. Only what can be measured in the most pure of scientific settings can be held to be true. What cannot be measured and demonstrated in strictly empirical or scientific matters must be ignored. This seems to be at the root of much atheism today.
But most people are not atheists. Some people think that they have become atheist merely to liberate themselves from the shackles of religion. I believe it is the opposite, that many atheists have come to atheism because only positivism, or rationalism, or enlightenment, or whatever gives them confidence.
Instead of atheism, people get caught between religion and agnosticism. I was an agnostic for a long time. Some of my agnosticism was not a reaction to religion. It was a reaction to positivism and rationalism, which had become enshrined our secular society, and even our modern theology.
It was not because I had the certitude of a verifiable alternative that I became agnostic at the age of 15. I think that it was because positivism in the west, and particularly America was tying things so tightly and comfortably together. Unlike the stereotypes of Catholics somehow clinging deeply to irrational biblical fairy tales or whatever, we have actually always had a healthy management of reason amidst faith. But this is not really a defense of that. In some ways reacting to hyper-rationalistic secularism, we were actually hyper-rationalistic to the point of articulating our theological constructions of God that became positivistic or rationalistic. The problem was that it reduced God in so many ways to be grasped and articulated with scientific precision and clarity. God was reduced to a piece of empirical data.
Augustine struggled with this all throughout his work the Trinity. He always wavered between developing an affirmative speech about God, and then denying whatever he attempted to articulate. Even Thomas Aquinas wanted to throw away all his theological investigations after some sort of encounter with the Divine Mystery.
Even the most brilliant theologian saints themselves appear in some ways to be agnostic. Some apologists might be apt at quoting Aquinas against any objection or objector, which is great to a point, as if faith is not a gift from the Holy Spirit, but can be intellectually demonstrated in a positivistic rationalistic laboratory. God is not a lab rat. We cannot make God run the maze and say that is God.
On the other hand, we have plenty of gods in our films, whose power is demonstrated with spectacular special effects. I think many people walk away from the Church, because they are walking away from sloppy or inaccurate depictions of God that is so small as to fit into our theological demonstrations, or that Hollywood special effects God does not behave like the movies or whatever.
But the story of Augustine goes like this. As he walked along the coast of North Africa overlooking the vast Mediterranean struggling to put two words this theology of the Trinity, he was distracted by what some child appearing to play games. The child dug a little hole in the sand, and repeatedly went to the water transferring from the Mediterranean to his little hole in the sand with a little shell. Augustine inquired of the child what this game was. With innocent enthusiasm, and outstretched arms, the child said “I am going to put the WHOOOOOOOOOLE OCEAN in this little hole…” Augustine thought what folly! But the child, who was some sort of angel, “Don’t you know it is folly to attempt to put the Glorious Divine Mystery of the Trinity into your tiny little head?”