Open Heart of the Son: Place of Trinity, Source of
Speaking of God's love, it is necessary to talk about the Trinity of
his Persons. Various ways exist of talking about this Trinitarian God.
There is, for example, the way of St Irenaeus, who interpreted the
history of salvation, including creation, seeking to rediscover in each
of its crucial stages the presence of the Three, their specific role and
the complementarity of their actions.1
I mention St Irenaeus because instead of examining the immanent
consistence of the plurality of the Persons in their one divine nature
through the faith, as, for instance, St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas
do in their works entitled De Trinitate, he scrutinizes what they
consist of through the prism of the "Economy".
This is also the method Benedict XVI used in his recent Encyclical
Deus Caritas Est, the difference being that his mention of the
divine Persons is less obvious than in the works of the Bishop of Lyons.
"Less obvious" does not mean less present, but present in a different
way, that is, based on a central point from which flows a force of
attraction and outreach that embraces the entire Encyclical. This
central point is the open Heart of the Crucified Christ.
Before showing from this central point how the work of the Father and
the Spirit is manifested, I would like to reflect briefly on the
existence of this centre and on the energies it releases.
Encounter with a person
From the very first lines of the Encyclical, the Pope points out that
"being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea.
but the encounter with an event, a person", a Person whom the following
citation from St John's Gospel (Jn 3:16ff.) presents implicitly beneath
the features of the Crucified One with the Pierced Heart (n. 1).
Confirmation of this deduction is given a little later: when the Holy
Father mentions "the pierced side of Christ (cf. 19:37)", of which John
speaks, "we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter:
'God is love' (I Jn 4:8)" (n. 12).2
Once his existence has been proven. one can and must say that this
centre exercises a force of attraction over the whole of Benedict XVI's
Reflection with regard to the relations between eros and agape,
or more precisely of the leap in quality that God causes eros to
make, using its categories to describe his love for Israel (betrothal
After having pointed out, following Hosea 11:8-9, how God, out of
love, "turns God against himself", "against his justice" in the face of
his people's infidelities and forgives them, the Pope continues: "Here
Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so
great is God's love for man that by becoming man he follows him even
into death, and so reconciles justice and love" (n. 10).
And a little later, this time in the context of the fulfilment of the
Old Testament through the New, the Pope says: "His death on the Cross is
the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives
himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most
radical form" (n. 12).
Consequently, God's love manifested to Israel in the Old Covenant
aspires to something more ("beginning/fulfilment"), attracted through
this "something more": God the Son in person, united with humanity
(Israel was already at his service) and giving himself to the point of
letting his Heart be pierced open for it.
Christ's irradiating power
With these observations, we have imperceptibly passed to the
irradiating force of the centre that is the pierced Christ.
He is the revelation of divine love par excellence: it is "by
contemplating the pierced side of Christ" that the truth "God is love"
(I Jn 4:8)... "can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition
of love must begin" (n. 12).
He is also the One in whom the work of human salvation is brought
about. In this regard, the Holy Father writes further: "It is from
there" (the pierced side of Christ) that "the Christian discovers the
path along which his life and love must move" (n. 12). This is a clear
allusion to the Church, to which we shall shortly return.
First, however, we must return to our starting point: the Trinitarian
God who is made present and active in this Papal Text in the pierced
Christ. The Holy Father has suggested to us a path in this direction by
affirming that the definition of divine love is made "from there".
Now, there is no Christian love that is not originally Trinitarian.
But the question now is to know: does the Holy Father affirm this
In n. 19 of the Papal Text, which is like the pivot on which the two
panels of the diptych of the Encyclical rotate, we read: "'If you see
charity, you see the Trinity', wrote St Augustine. In the foregoing
reflections, we have been able to focus our attention on the Pierced One
(cf. Jn 19:37; Zec 12:10), recognizing the plan of the Father who, moved
by love (cf. Jn 3:16), sent his Only-begotten Son into the world to
redeem man. By dying on the Cross
as St John tells us
Jesus 'gave up his Spirit' (Jn 19:30), anticipating the gift of the Holy
Spirit that he would make after his Resurrection (cf. Jn 20:22). This
was to fulfil the promise of 'rivers of living water' that would flow
out of the hearts of believers, through the outpouring of the Spirit
(cf. Jn 7:38-39)" (n. 19).
This Text confirms that what we have just presented is no longer
hypothetical. In this Encyclical it is precisely from the open Heart of
the Crucified Jesus that the presence of the work of Three is manifest,
for it is in him that their love is condensed for the benefit of
humanity: the Father giving his Only Son to the world without any
reservations; and the Only Son offering himself totally to the Father, a
radical and reciprocal gift from which flowed the Spirit, whose task was
to reintroduce humanity into the eternal Perichoresis of the love
of the Three.
Spirit transforms hearts
This is what we have been able to "recognize", the Pope says,
contemplating the open Heart of the Son. In saying this, he rightly
mentions having localized the presence of the Three more or less
explicitly in the first part of his Reflection on divine love
(transposition of the attraction already evoked in the Text
overall) and supposes that it will be the same also in the second part
(transposition of the outreach already mentioned throughout the
Text), this time relying directly on the presence of the Spirit of the
Father and of the Son among believers.
Here an allusion to the Church is made. But how should her essential
features be defined? Let us now read the Text alluded to above:
"The Spirit, in fact, is that interior power which harmonizes their
[believers'] hearts with Christ's Heart and moves them to love their
brethren as Christ loved them, when he bent down to wash the feet of the
disciples (cf. Jn 13:1-13) and above all when he gave his life for us
(cf. Jn 13:1, 15:13).
"The Spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the
Ecclesial Community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to
the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in
his Son" (n. 19).
Here the Pope proceeds in consecutive stages. The Church is first the
harmonious agreement of individual hearts, and then of the heart of the
Community with the Heart of Christ through the "art" of the Spirit of
the Risen One, as St Irenaeus was to say.3
This agreement is not harmony for its own sake but harmony at the
service of the brethren, to be loved in accordance with the boundless
love the Lord showed in the washing of the feet on the evening of the
Last Supper, and harmony at the service of the Father, whose glory is to
make humanity a single "family" in his Son. Therefore, the Church is a
community essentially in mission on the basis, as the Holy Father says
elsewhere, of a "love... given" (cf. n. 14) that is powerful and strong.
With the allusion to fraternal service, a constitutive part of the
Last Supper according to John, we are touching another aspect of
ecclesiology that is very present in the Encyclical and manifestly dear
to the thought of Benedict XVI.
Christ's open Heart, with all it contained, certainly did not close
after the Resurrection. It stayed open (cf. Jn 20:20, 27; Lk 24:39; Rv
5:6)4 and continues to beat in the Sacrament of the
Eucharist. Without insisting on the context in which allusion is made in
this passage to the Sacrament
it appears as "sharing in his body and blood", "union", "the... dynamic
of his self-giving", a perfect and unforeseeable realization of agape
it is likewise presented as a source, the place from which the Church
emerges. Concerning this the Pope writes:
"Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives
himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him
only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his
own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him,5 and thus
also towards unity with all Christians. We become 'one body', completely
joined in a single existence" (n. 14).
Let us conclude. In the light of these reflections on the three words
considered here: "Trinity, love, Church", it is possible to become aware
of the grandiose horizon that this Papal Text unfolds before us, and of
its appeal for a Christian life of high quality.
"God is love". This is a sentence often repeated in our time. It
happens that it is quoted to justify contorted agreements with the lofty
demands of the Gospel. God loves in the form of forgiveness, it is said;
so there is no need to be afraid.
As we have seen, the Holy Father also insisted on this turning of God
against himself, against his own justice, and likewise, in this
perspective, included the Cross.
But pay attention! He does this not to approve our weaknesses, but to
show how absurd they are in the presence of a God who works pro nobis
in his three-personal Love and invites us to a similar commitment to him
and to our brethren, in order, in the great "Family" of the Church, to
rejoice in his unfathomable and beatifying Love.
Of course, in the ultimate analysis our weaknesses are inevitable,
but it is one thing to encourage them, even, alas, leaning on God, and
quite another to repent and reject them as unworthy of him.
And the love that God is, is large enough to reach us even there and
help us gradually to tune our poor hearts, injured by our miseries, to
his Heart that is open to heal them (cf. I Pt 2:24).6
1 Cf. B. Benarts, Il ritmo trinitario della verita
cristiana. Rivelazione di Dio e storia dell'uomo in Ireneo di Lione
(soon to be published by Città
2 For other similar texts, see n. 7, for example.
3 For our Doctor, the "art" of the Spirit went together
with that of the Son-Word. And here he represents things in a text that
is truly of great beauty: "Offer to him your heart in a soft and
tractable state, and preserve the form in which the Creator has
fashioned you, having moisture in yourself, lest, by becoming hardened,
you lose the impressions of his fingers. But by preserving the framework
you shall ascend to that which is perfect, for the moist clay which is
in you is hidden [there] by the workmanship of God. His hand fashioned
your substance; he will cover you over [too] within and without with
pure gold and silver, and he will adorn you to such a degree that even
'the king himself shall have pleasure in your beauty'" (Irenaeus of
Lyons, Adversus Haereses, Book IV, chap. 39, 2).
4 Biblical datum equally dear to the late F.X. Durrwell.
Cf. R. Tremblay, Le coeur qui reste ouvert. Un trait essentiel du
Christ pascal selon F.X. Durrwell, in W. Baier u.a., (Hrsg),
Weisheit GottesWeisheit der Welt. Festchrift für
Joseph Kardinal Ratzinger zum 60. Geburtstag, Bd. I, St Ottilien,
EOS Verlag, 1987, 555-574.
5 Cf. n. 6, etc. This idea often recurs in the theologian
J. Ratzinger's thought. Cf. R. Tremblay, L'"Exode", une idée
de la pensée
du Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in R. Tremblay/D. Billy (eds.),
Historia: Memoria Futuri, Mélanges
Louis Vereecke (70th birthday) (QM., 5) Rome, EDACALF, 1991,
6 And thus to be able, in the exercise of charity (Part II
of the Encyclical), to have a "heart which sees", that is, "a heart
which sees... where love is needed and acts accordingly" (n. 31b).