Equality of the Trinity

Question: We read in a recent Sunday Gospel (May 1), that Jesus says the Father is greater than him (Jn 14:28). Since we are all taught that each divine person of the Blessed Trinity fully possesses the nature of God, equally to be adored and glorified, what did Jesus mean by such statement?

Dick Smith, Carrollton, Texas

Answer: Theologically, Jesus means that the Father is the eternal source in the Trinity.

All three Persons of the Trinity are co-eternal, co-equal and equally divine. But the Father is the principium deitatis (the source in the deity).

Hence, Jesus proceeds from the Father from all eternity. He is eternally begotten of the Father. In effect, Jesus is saying, “I delight that the Father is the eternal principal or source of my being, even though I have no origin in time.”

Devotionally, Jesus is saying that he always does what pleases his Father. Jesus loves his Father. He is always talking about him and pointing to him. By calling the Father greater, he says, in effect, “I look to my Father for everything. I do what I see him doing (Jn 5:19) and what I know pleases him (Jn 5:30).”

So, though the members of the Trinity are all equal in dignity, there are processions in the Trinity such that the Father is the source, the Son eternally proceeds from him, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from them both.

St. Thomas speaks poetically of the Trinity as: “To the one who begets, and to the Begotten One, and to the one who proceeds from them both, be equal praise.” So, though equal, processions do have an order, and the Father is “greater” as source, but equal in dignity to Son and Holy Spirit.

Right or wrong?

Question: I have observed some in church blessing themselves with their left hand, genuflecting on left knees, etc. Is this an acceptable practice?

Leo Renne, Jackson, Michigan

Answer: There are no current Church norms in the Latin Rite that forbid the use of the left hand, etc. Culturally, there may be some local norms, rooted more in custom than law. In ancient cultures (and in some places today), there was a stronger sense that the use of the left hand was problematic. This is even enshrined in language. The Latin word for left is sinistra, where we get the English word “sinister.”

This notion of the left being bad or ignoble both reflected and resulted from the ancient practice of reserving the right hand for things like eating or greeting and touching other people. The left hand was used for less noble things such as sneezing, bathing and, shall we say, necessary things in the bathroom. Thus, one would recline to eat on their left side to eat, using their right hand to eat. (Utensils such as forks and spoons were rarer in those days). And to unnecessarily touch another person with the left hand in greeting was considered impolite, even ghastly.

In the “modern” West, the connection of the left hand with bad things is all but gone. The connection remains stronger in other cultures however.

Thus, there is nothing forbidden by the Church in terms of blessing with the left hand or disturbing Communion with the left hand, genuflecting on left knee, etc. However, in varying degrees, certain cultures may take exception to it.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.