Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI: The Grandeur of God

Originally Published in The Catholic Thing

Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMIOn this day of celebration of the Holy Trinity, we can perhaps benefit from going back to the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins who wrote that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

This is an important fact to start with on such a day. Hopkins was initially speaking about the natural world, the world that speaks of God the Creator. His words apply equally, however, to the historical world, the world of human beings. God has expressed himself not only in nature but also in history. This is where Hopkins and we ourselves join with Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI – and leave behind many Catholics.

What is now known as the doctrine of the Divine Trinity did not develop out of mere human speculation, out of some school of philosophy. Rather a string of people witnessed God as triune in their human experience. (Ratzinger)

In the Old Testament, in a veiled way, people experienced God as father, they experienced his word through the prophets, and they experienced the Spirit of God. The culmination of this unfolding of “who God is” took place, of course, in Jesus Christ, who did not merely speak God’s words but who is the Incarnate Word and who sends the Spirit upon the Church.

God’s revelation of who he is in history (rather than merely speaking about who he is, as he had done through the prophets) changes what human history is. Some Christian groups still hold on to that changed perspective – as unpopular and as inconvenient a concept as it may be.

The change has to do with the working in history of what Saint Irenaeus called the “two hands of God,” the Word and the Spirit, at the behest of the Divine Father.

The Word, through his Spouse the Church, stands like a beggar on the road of history. You can try to ignore him, you can go by on the other side of the road, as people did in the parable of the Good Samaritan. But you are going to change your activity in some way because of the challenging presence of that beggar.

      The Trinity by José de Ribera, c. 1635

I believe that this is why so many Catholics, not just in America, try to collapse the Catholic Church into a mere sacramental Church – and avoid it as a teaching Church. We can in some sense “manage” our interactions with the sacraments. We can schedule them, we can avoid them (like confession), we can smother them with our planning – like celebrations of Marriage. But if we trust that the Church teaches the truth as well, then our lives are going to change. Most people cannot abide this. Hence, the many lukewarm Catholics.

Rather than just holding to the idea of Jesus, a remnant of clergy and laity actually accepts his challenging presence. He is not someone to be managed, but someone to be followed in the concrete situations of history.

The other hand of God, the divine Spirit, works in our minds and hearts. In the remnant, the Spirit of God helps people to see the presence of the word, so, in Jesus’ words: “He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14) Jesus’ words also indicate that there is no contradiction between what the Spirit teaches us and what the Word (and of course the Church) teaches us.

We are influenced by many spirits. To make sure that an idea comes from the Spirit of God and not from some other spirit, we need to check with the Church.

And this is another one of the many places that we must discern the grandeur of God. This grandeur is not only reflected in the vast panorama of prayer and saints that he has unleashed in the world. It also shows in the great call to bring humanity into one community that can worship the One God. The lukewarm ignore this call.

Likewise, God’s grandeur is evident in his wondrous inner existence as Father, Son and Spirit, the revealed names of the divine persons in the One God. We do not confuse divine personhood and human personhood. Rather they are analogous.

Nevertheless, God the Father shows us what it means to be a person – one who pours his/her existence for others. He shows what it means to be a person-in-relationship, something so rich for individuals and particularly for the complementary interrelationship essential to married couples.

“Person” is such an opulent category of human being that it is never exhausted because God is imaged in human beings. Human intersubjectivity in its analogy to the relations between the divine persons is the treasure on which love and family and civilization itself rest. So God’s grandeur blazes through his creation shedding light and energy into the highest reaches of temporal and spiritual existence.

On Trinity Sunday, it’s good to remember that the triune nature of God does not remain an intellectual conundrum. Rather, it’s the foundation of the spiritual and temporal universe – the extraordinary God-tinged time and space in which we live out what we mistakenly think of as “ordinary” life.


Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI PhD is the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. His books are Laity: Beautiful, Good and TrueThe World of the Sacraments, and, most recently, Catholics Read the Scriptures: Commentary on Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini.
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