For the most part, my posts here at the Orthosphere fall into two categories: current affairs on the one hand – politics, economics, public policy, the culture wars, etc. – and on the other philosophical theology. It is not surprising that our site statistics show the latter sort of posts are generally far less popular and interesting to visitors than the former. Only one of my philosophical posts makes it into the top thirty that I have published since the Orthosphere began. It is The Holy Trinity: A Simple Explanation for Children. Though it is fairly recent, it is the fourth most visited post I have published; every day it gets at least a few hits from Google searches, so it is likely to keep rising in the rankings.
Why is that? Why does the Trinity matter to people?
I mean, sure, it’s hard to explain the Trinity, especially to kids, and kids have questions, so there must be lots of Christian parents searching for a good explanation on any given day. But this raises a set of deeper questions. If the Trinity is so hard to explain, why did the Fathers make it so central to the Faith? Why do the creeds take their structures from the Persons of the Trinity? And, what is so important about creeds in the first place? Why can’t we dispense with these troublesome, incomprehensible formulae, and just love God and each other? And, for Heaven’s sake, why should a profession of adherence to the Nicene Creed – it began and remains the baptismal vow – be the threshold and test of Christian faith?
It’s simple, really. If you don’t believe in the Trinity, you can’t believe in the Incarnation, because without at least two Persons in God, there is no way to understand how Jesus could be related to God his Father and also be himself God. If you can’t believe in the Incarnation, you can’t begin to believe that Jesus is God. And if you can’t believe that Jesus is God, you can’t believe that Jesus, as just a Really Nice Guy, has any power either to forgive or atone for our sins. If you can’t believe in the Atonement, you can’t believe in the Good News of salvation. And that means you can’t be a Christian. In that case, you’re in the same situation as pagans: totally, hopelessly, irremediably screwed.
For moderns, it’s even worse. The ancient pagans at least believed in God, or the gods, and this belief gave them a reason to behave properly, so that they had a good shot at worldly success. Not so for moderns, who have no such reasons; for, they don’t arrive at the question of belief in the Atonement from a position of theism, of any sort, but rather from atheism. Atheism is the default presumption of all moderns. I mean, *no one* believes in Zeus anymore, or Thor. Well, that is to say, my Berkeley neighbours at least pretend to believe in Thor – they gather together in raucous, tuneless worship of him every Thursday evening, anyway, dammit – but the doings of an odd few denizens of the Citizens Republic of Berzerkeley really approach the limit of nothingness anyway, in the wider scheme of social things. Like MoveOn.org, a pet project of one of another neighbour down the street.
Be all that as it may, and allowing for the bewildering array of more or less serious cults out there, moderns are basically atheist. Their first reaction to the Good News, as to anything else that doesn’t obviously and quickly lead either to money or sex is, “show me.” Their skepticism is a jerk of the knee. One can’t blame them, for they came by this attitude honestly, at the knees of their liberated mothers and weak-kneed fathers.
So moderns are doomed in an ontological, soteriological sense, as the pagans were – and that alone can be pretty demoralizing, to be sure, literally “destructive to morals” – and they have no other reason to do what is right, as the pagans did. No need to rehearse the disastrous moral, social and demographic consequences of that nihilism for readers of this blog.
That is why the Creeds are so important. They arrived on the historical scene just as simple, honest credence in the pagan pantheon was waning, with atheism and nihilism the only logical alternative for any but the sternest, most Stoical consciences – i.e., about fifty men in the world, altogether. Without the Creeds, it’s a steep and slippery slope down to atheism and nihilism of the sort that now pervades our culture, and forms its cult. The Creeds kept the West from a complete breakdown of morals, thus of morale – and from the deletion their lack foredooms.
Oh, you can be a believing Christian without the Creeds, no doubt. But if you are at all a reflective sort, and you drop any part of the Nicene Creed – just the sort of thing that reflective people are prone to do – then you are very likely done for, sooner or later.
If on the other hand you do think from time to time about what you believe, as almost everyone does, and if you also agree with the Creeds, then even if you don’t understand exactly what they say, you will be prevented from believing that Jesus is not God – you will then think only, “Jesus is God, and naturally I don’t understand how that works.” You may then avoid concluding that he has therefore no power to save you, so that you are doomed. Believing which, you really are certainly doomed; for believing that God has no power to save you is the one unforgivable sin, the Sin against the Holy Spirit.
Thus the Creeds can help prevent the simple, obedient believer from an intellectual openness to that temptation we all so strongly feel, to utter spiritual and moral collapse, and thus to damnation. And this prevention carves out room, in lives as they are actually lived, for the quotidian piety and devotion that can engender in the heart a deep, concrete faith which can never be captured in words, and never therefore gainsayed by any word or thought at all – so that it can support that unequivocal “yes” of Mary, to which we are all called, and in which alone we agree to our salvation.