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The InterVIEW

Author says think Trinity, think relationship

Father Thomas Norris is a lecturer in systematic theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland. Photo provided

A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today's Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.

Father Thomas Norris, author of “The Trinity: Life of God, Hope for Humanity, Towards a Theology of Communion,” is a prominent theologian from Ireland and a priest of the Focolare Movement. A member of the International Theological Commission, he visited the Archdiocese of Chicago in late April and early May to discuss the book, and shared some thoughts about it by e-mail with the staff of The Catholic New World.

Catholic New World: Can you explain how the trinity relates to a theology of communion?

Father Thomas Norris: We read in St John’s Gospel (11:52) that Jesus came into the world “to gather together the scattered children of God.” It’s another way of talking about his mission as the Redeemer, for is not the first effect of sin to break relationship with God and with one another? Well, the Father sent his Son from heaven with a precise purpose, namely, to overcome this vertical and horizontal disintegration caused by sin.

In fact, the Second Vatican Council describes the church as “a people made one from the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

CNW: How does that relate to the spirituality of Focolare? What aspect of the trinity was Chiara Lubich in tune with?

Norris: Chiara Lubich uses a very helpful analogy to bring out the connection between the Trinity and the church.

“It has pleased God to save us not merely as individuals, but as a community.” This is the teaching of Vatican II. The life of God is communion. It’s the life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each divine Person lives for the Other. The Father lives in the Son, the Son in the Father, and both in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, the second Person, comes on earth in the fullness of time in order that “we might have life and have it in abundance” (Jn 10:10). It’s this very life of unity and of communion that he brings us. It is this life that is at the heart of the church.

And that’s why since the council the church has been stressing this dimension of her mystery. When John Paul II wrote his inspiring letter, “On the Third Millennium,” he said, “The greatest need of the church today is to be the school and the home of communion.” If you prefer, “Be a family.” Be that family born in baptism.

The spirituality of the Focolare is the spirituality of unity or communion.

Chiara Lubich made the discovery during the Second World War in Italy in Trent. With her young friends she often had to run to the air-raid shelters. They brought with them only one book, a copy of the Gospels, being conscious that they had to live the Words of fire and life contained in the Gospels.

One day they read what Jesus said as he was about to die, “May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us.” These are profound words. But Chiara and her companions felt they should live them in a particular way. With time Chiara realized that they were born for the realization of these words.

Chiara saw that the divine Persons were united through their infinite mutual love, so much so that each Person was a “nothingness of love” for the others. Chiara therefore places great emphasis on relationship.

CNW: Why has the trinity presented so many problems for theologians, both for Christians trying to understand it, and for members of other faiths who suspect that the trinity cannot be truly monotheistic?

Norris: Yes, this is indeed true. People rarely hear a good homily on the topic. Some people even spoke of an exile of the Trinity.

But over the past 30 years there has been a return, a striking return. Something that has helped greatly in this is the return to the Scriptures. And to the great theologians of the Trinity like St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.). He is the one who wrote, “If you see love, you see the Trinity.” And he explained, “Since you see someone who loves, someone who is loved, and the love uniting them.” This corresponds to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

CNW: Who is your book aimed at, people who are interested in improving their own spiritual lives or theologians who are seeking a deeper intellectual understanding?

Norris: The book “The Trinity. Life of God, Hope for Humanity” is written for theologians and for people who’d like to understand their faith better. In fact, it tries to link spirituality and theology in a new and fresh way. The book has a whole chapter on what happens to the economy when the spirituality of unity/communion meets with economic realities.

One reviewer has said that the greatest wound of the church over the past thousand years was the separation that came in between thinking the faith (theology) and living the faith (spirituality). He went on to say that this book is a contribution to the healing of this wound.