The Trinity: Virgin or Family?
by Hiermonk Gregory Hrynkiw, ASTH
According to the divine law of sacramentality, God employs physical things as signs of spiritual realities. In St. Gregory of Nazianzus’s theological anthropology, this sacred law is woven into the very fabric of man’s unity as a ‘divine-terrestrial creature.’ God “took a piece of new-formed earth and with immortal hands set up my shape… into it he infused spirit, an efflux of the unseen Godhead. And from dirt and breath he made a man, image of the Immortal” (Poem 220.127.116.11-96; PG 37.529).
Thus, human nature possesses, what St. John Paul II called in his Theology of the Body, an ‘original solitude,’ which transcends the material and longs for communion with the Divine. As Gregory writes: “Therefore I have an affection for this [earthly] life, through what’s earth in me, but inwardly long for another, through the part that’s divine” (Poem 18.104.22.168-99; PG 37.529). Man arrives at this existential dimension of ‘original solitude’ through his intellect’s objective discovery that he is unlike all other material beings, because he is created in the image and likeness of God. Both St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. John Paul II fall within the almost unanimous theological tradition that places the image of God in man’s soul—most especially his nous or intellect. John Paul II further develops the notion that the body is a sign of the divine image in man’s soul: “only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it” (TOB 19:4).
Furthermore, according to St. John Paul II, after having objectively discovered this prior existential ‘original solitude,’ deriving from man’s relationship to the Divine, man then turns to reflect upon himself only to discover a second ‘original solitude’, which his body reveals—the life-creating complementarity of male and female. Gregory of Nazianzus follows a similar theological thread, which moves from man’s objective knowledge of reality towards his own self-consciousness:
“Then came this greatest marvel of the all-wise Word: taking that man whom he’d formed as a spectator of this world [the objective knowledge of reality], and parting in twain my root, and the seed of multiform life, by his great life-giving hand, he removed from his side a sole rib, and built it into a woman, and, mixing in desire in their breast, he set them both loose to embrace each other” (Poem 22.214.171.124-109; PG 37.530).
Only God can fill man’s prior and existential original solitude, as St. Augustine said: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” Marriage, however, can ease original solitude’s secondary dimension, which is based upon sexual differentiation and the procreative openness to life—both human and divine. Thus, according to the divine law of sacramentality, marriage between a man and woman is a sacred sign of the Trinity's self-giving life and love. The Father eternally generates the Son by fully giving Himself into the Son, and the life and love that the Father and Son mutually share is the person of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a communion of persons and the covenant that God makes with mankind is the total giving of Himself to us in a community of persons, His family, the Church: I will be your God and you will be my people. Marriage is the sacred sign of this covenantal life and love of the Trinity, in which a man and a woman wholly give themselves to one another within a procreative openness to new life as co-creators with the Divine. Similarly, consecrated life is a total oblation of oneself to God. It too is a self-giving communion of persons. Likewise, single Christians, straight or gay, are also called to selflessly live out their 'continence for the kingdom of heaven' within the communion of Christ's Body, the Church.
This is the theological anthropology that grounds Pope Francis’s thought. A few years prior to his election as Pope, in an open letter dated 27 July 2010, Cardinal Bergoglio emphatically defended the divine institution of human marriage:
“This is not merely a question of terminology or formal conventions of a private relationship. Rather, it is a natural anthropological bond. The human being, in his very essence, tends to this union of a man and a woman for mutual fulfillment, attention and care, as well as the natural way for procreation. This confers an importance upon marriage, both socially and politically. Marriage precedes the state: it is the foundation for the family and for a cell within society, predating any legislation, and even predating the Church itself. Therefore, the approval of a law in favor of same-sex marriage would mean a very real and grave step backward from an anthropological point of view.
“Marriage between a man and a woman is not the same as a union between two people of the same gender. To make a distinction is not to discriminate but to respect; to differentiate in order to discern is to properly assess, not to discriminate. In a time when we place so much emphasis on the value of pluralism and cultural and social diversity, it is actually a contradiction to minimize our fundamental human differences. A father is not the same as a mother. We cannot teach future generations that the task of raising a family in a stable, committed relationship between a man and a woman is the same as two people of the same sex living together.”
Likewise, according to Gregory of Nazianzus, the human family is at the starting point in man’s deification, because Christian marriage is naturally a sign that points towards Christ’s self-sacrificing love for His Bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5, 22-33). The sacrament of marriage is ordered towards the spouses’ mutual pursuit of deification, which comprises a self-controlled openness to God’s life-giving presence within procreation. Gregory writes, God “set a limit to their desires, that which they call marriage, a rein for matter’s want of measure: so that people should not go panting and raging uncontrollably after each other hotly like cattle and break away the holy human race from the love of celibacy” (Poem 126.96.36.199-96; PG 37.529).
For Gregory, the primary end of Christian marriage is deification: that each spouse “be made God to the same extent that he [Christ] was made man” (Or. 29.9). From the beginning, God created marriage as a sacrament (mysterion) of the mystical marriage of man with the ‘Trinity’s pure nature’ through and in Christ. The sacrament of marriage, as an icon of Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church, is intrinsically monogamous. In fact, Christianity is the only world religion that requires monogamy, on account of Christ’s restoration of marriage to what it was meant by God ‘from the beginning’ (cf. Mt 19, 3-9).
More specifically, deification is man’s participation in the life-giving relations of the Trinity. Revelation teaches us that God’s intimate life is an interpersonal divine communion. For Gregory, however, the relations of the Divine Persons are non-sexual, but rather virginal or spiritual in nature: “the original Virgin is the Holy Trinity” (Poem 188.8.131.52 ); yet for St. John Paul II, the Trinity is a family. During his visit to Mexico in 1979, St. John Paul II made the extraordinary proclamation that “God in His deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family—love,” in the Third Person of the Trinity. So which is it? Is the Trinity a Virgin or a Family?
According to Gregory of Nazianzus, the Trinity is family of virginal relations. God is not a sexual being, since sexuality is limited to material relations (CCC, 370). God, as Pure Spirit, is an interpersonal divine communion of virginal, that is to say spiritual relations:
“The original Virgin is the Holy Trinity. From the Unoriginate Father is the Lord the Son—not that the Father is moved by anything outside him (for He is to all things the Way and Root and Beginning), not that he begets a child in a way akin to mortals, but as light comes forth from light. But from the Child there is no other well-loved Child, claiming a similar boast: so that the one remains the sole Parent, while the other is sole Son and most Unique from the Unique; these come together in one with the great Spirit, who likewise comes from the Father, one God opening up in threefold lights. Such then is the Trinity’s pure nature” (Poem 1.2.20; PG 37, 523-524).
Furthermore, Gregory echoes an ancient Syriac tradition in his fifth theological oration, On the Spirit, where he explains the difference between the procession (ekpoureusis) of the Spirit and the generation (gennesis) of the Son by employing Adam, Eve and Seth—the first nuclear family—as an earthly image of the eternal processions in the Trinity, the Divine Family:
“For is not the one an offspring [Seth, the son], and the other something else [Eve, taken from the side of Adam]? Did not Eve and Seth come from the one Adam? And were they both begotten by him? No… Eve is taken from Adam, Seth is begotten [two different relations]; yet both are one and the same—they are both human beings [that is of the same nature]” (Or. 31:11).
For Gregory, both virginity and marriage are ordered towards man’s deification within the fecund virginal relations of the Original Family (the Eternal Absence of Solitude) through Christ, the Virgin-Bridegroom. Already at creation, marriage included ‘the love of celibacy’ in a ‘shadowy way; but now it burns brightly, ever since there appeared a virgin Mother of God” (Poem 1.2.8, 23-24; PG 37, 651). Having been recreated in Christ, Christians participate in a new and marvelous communion with the Divine. Within the sacred economy of the new covenant, however, marriage is ordered to virginity: “Christ, giving both of them a gift of honor, will sit Virginity nearby at his right hand, and Marriage at his left, which is also a most high honor” (Poem 184.108.40.2060 ). Nevertheless, Gregory cautions materialistic virgins that they fall far below honorable marriage: “marriage is earthly by nature, while virginity is wedded to Christ the King of all. Yet, worldly-minded virginity descends to the earth, while honorable marriage ascends to the heavens” (Poem 1.2.1).
Besides, the innate goodness of marriage is the foundation for the greatness of virginity. In fact, virginity wholly seeks a spousal relation with the Divine, Who alone can consummate man’s prior and existential original solitude, and partakes in a spiritual paternity and maternity animated by the Holy Spirit. Christ reveals in Himself the privilege given to virginity ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’ (cf. Mt 19, 10-12). St. John Paul II also highlights that:
“The marriage of Mary with Joseph (in which the Church honors Joseph as Mary’s spouse and Mary as his spouse) conceals within itself, at the same time, the mystery of the perfect communion of persons, of Man and Woman in the conjugal covenant and at the same time the mystery of this singular ‘continence for the kingdom of heaven’: a continence that served the most perfect ‘fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit’ in the history of salvation” (TOB 75:4).
In conclusion, neither virginity nor marriage, as we know them, will be in heaven. They are only types that will be fulfilled and perfected. Marriage is an image of our soul’s mystical marriage or union with the Divine (cf. Rev 21, 1-3), while virginity is an eschatological sign and anticipation of our participation in the virginal relations of the Trinity. At the ‘marriage feast of the Lamb’ (Rev 19, 7) all the heavenly nuptials united to the Heavenly Bridegroom will be share in a kinship closer than any other interpersonal relation—the communion of the saints.