Reared in the era of “catechism Catholicism,” I presumed every question about God or God’s actions in our lives had an answer. Morning after morning during my grade school religion classes, I learned all the answers the book supplied, answers geared to help me navigate through a lifetime of faith. But a big change in my faith happened when I discovered another book: the Bible - a book which supplied me with few answers, but lots of questions.
In his recent Commonweal article on theologian David Tracy, author David Gibson remarks, “For Tracy, theology is not about supplying answers that cannot be questioned. A theology should be judged, he likes to say, by the questions it asks rather than the answers it gives.” Following Tracy’s belief, the writers who produced our Scriptures are the best theologians we could ever hope to encounter.
That’s why it’s difficult to write a biblical commentary on today’s feast. Scripture doesn’t answer the questions the Council of Nicea addressed in 325 CE. In answering their basic question, “How can the Father, Son, and Holy Sprit all be God, yet be only one God?” the council fathers had to resort to a non- biblical word: “homousion.” Until that time, “official” church pronouncements always employed a biblical vocabulary. If the word wasn’t in Scripture, neither was it in the pronouncement. Nicea broke that rule.
We’re familiar with the word homousion in its anglicized form. We find it printed on most milk cartons - “homogenized.” It tells us the milk’s different elements have been mixed up to form one entity. The fat molecules are no longer separated from the liquid molecules; like the Trinity, it’s one and the same substance. Employing that non-biblical term enabled the council participants to define the Trinity as “Three persons in one God.”
Yet, as today’s three readings demonstrate, the earliest followers of Jesus, and their Jewish ancestors in the faith, weren’t into supplying their readers with immutable, conciliar answers. They were much more concerned with conveying and reflecting on our faith experiences than in defining those experiences.
Why else would the author of Proverbs describe the birth of wisdom in poetry instead of prose? Those who inquire into this unique wisdom dimension of God embedded in our daily lives always go beyond the limits of a reasoning mind and step into metaphor and symbolism.
Likewise, Paul never defines God’s special attributes in our Romans pericope. Concerned with experiences, not dogmas, he shows his conviction that one of the most reliable places to experience God is in our sufferings. “. . . We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance proven character, and proven character hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
It’s clear John the evangelist is convinced that the experience of God in our lives is ongoing and evolving. According to John’s theology, not even the historical Jesus taught us “everything.” “I have much more to tell you,” Jesus states the night before his death, “but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”
Our sacred authors couldn’t agree more with David Tracy. True faith isn’t locked away in some theological treasure chest and doled out on an “as needed” basis. It’s a living, changing experience of God; an experience which always presents us with more questions than we can possibly answer.