President Duterte again stirred up the hornet’s nest when he called the Catholic Church’s belief in the Holy Trinity “silly,” during a speech on Dec. 29, 2018, in Kidapawan, Cotabato, as reported in the Inquirer.
“There is only one God,” he was quoted as saying. “You cannot divide God into three. That’s silly.”
Mr. Duterte also questioned the idea of hell. “Heaven is where people go after they die, but there is no hell. Why would God throw you to the fire, and how will you burn?”
Actually, the controversy behind the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Trinity, that is, the doctrine that there is only one God who exists separately in three persons, namely, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, is a very old one. It has hounded the Church from the very beginning of its formation, and almost split Christianity in the third century.
It was Tertullian (169-220 AD), a brilliant thinker, theologian and polemicist, who was first to defend the doctrine of the Trinity against all attacks from various quarters. He was called the Father of the Latin Church.
According to Tertullian, the Trinity means “three persons but one substance.” The Trinity “refers to the sharing of a portion of the substance of the Father with the Son and through the Son with the Holy Spirit.” For Tertullian, “the Trinity is not a triune God, but rather a triad or group of three, with God as the founding member,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Tertullian had a great influence in early Church history. His concept of the Trinity was incorporated into the Nicene Creed at the second Ecumenical Council which met in Constantinople in 381 AD.
The Council affirmed the Holy Spirit to be God “even as the Father and Son are God, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and together glorified.”
You got that?
From my point of view, we can’t really blame Mr. Duterte, or anybody else, for calling the doctrine of the Trinity “silly,” because it defies all logic, common sense and the natural order of things. How can there be three persons but one God? And yet Catholic polemicists and apologists of the early centuries have found a way to defend its beliefs, no matter how illogical they may be.
Even Tertullian, who was a great thinker and a staunch defender of the Christian faith, found it extremely difficult to counter the logical arguments against some of the Church’s teachings and beliefs. He said, for example, that “arguments about Scripture achieve nothing but a stomach ache and a headache.”
Difficult to defend
Another teaching of the Catholic Church which Tertullian found difficult to defend logically is Christ’s Resurrection, yet he believed in it. He said, “The son of God is dead. It is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And he was buried and rose again. The fact is certain because it is impossible.”
Tertullian did not seem to be bothered by the inconsistencies between his statements and his behavior. For example, it is said that he did not believe in the cross because it was a pagan symbol. And yet he would make a sign of the cross before and after praying.
He was also apparently a misogynist or a woman hater. He believed it was because of woman that Adam sinned. He called women the “gateway to hell.” And yet he married a woman.
Another teaching of the Catholic Church which I find logically indefensible and naturally impossible is the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.
According to the official teaching of the Church, once a Catholic priest blesses the bread and wine during the Holy Mass, they become literally the body and blood of Jesus Christ—not symbolically, mind you!
And yet the early theologians, in a stroke of brilliance, invented a term for it. They called it “transubstantiation,” which is essentially no different from alchemy or magic. And there is no arguing about that, though Martin Luther called transubstantiation “a monstrous term for a monstrous idea.”
So, let us all proclaim, in the manner of Tertullian: “We believe in the Trinity, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Holy Eucharist because they are impossible.” No religion can exist without belief in the impossible, the illogical and the miraculous!
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