When my wife and I were visiting our family back in Canada at Christmastide, a significant number of us dined at Boston Pizza in Prince Albert, SK, one day for lunch. As we enjoyed the tasty delights of our pizza and endless refills of pop, my brother who is an Anglican priest (as opposed to my brother who is a comic-book encyclopaedist or my sister who is an editor), sitting across from me, declared, ‘No one writes mysteries anymore.’
‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘P D James does. They’re pretty good.’ I flitted through my memory, noting that Conan Doyle, Chesterton, Sayers, and Christie are all, indeed, dead.
Then he said something along the lines of, ‘I mean no one writes actual mysteries. All people write are solutions. Everything has an explanation in what we write. People don’t write books that are about mysteries anymore.’
Something like that. It was longer, but it was also early January, so I forget. But the gist of what he and I exchanged in that moment at lunch was, indeed, that we don’t write mysteries.
If we meet a mystery, we want an explanation. We are uncomfortable with vast uncertainties, so we come up with systematic explanations of them so the mystery will go away. I recall that I pointed out that this was the key to Luther’s sacramental theology, that he did not believe in either transubstantiation or consubstantiation, yet certainly not the Zwinglian vision of a spiritual symbol. According to This Is My Body, these were all insufficient because they sought to explain with human philosophy what was ultimately a mystery to be left in reverence. Is means is. This is Christ’s body; this is Christ’s blood. End of story. Receive it in faith, do not explain it with philosophy.
God Himself(s) is a mystery as well. No matter how well an Aquinas or a Bonaventure can go into the relations of the Divine Persons, the very doctrine of the Trinity remains always beyond reach. And that is mere doctrine; FatherSonHolySpirit Themself stands beyond us in a big way.
Yet he does invite us in.
A mystery is not simply hidden. It is a hidden thing, or a hard-to-understand thing, that invites us in. We are called to go further and further in. This is how it is related to mystery cults, religions that involve secret initiation ceremonies that unite their worshippers with a god in some way. God invites us in, and we are drawn further into his mystery as we go through life with Him.
Thus the mystic enters the mystery of the Triune God through prayer, ascetic practice, meditation, contemplation, worship, sacrament, daily work, and daily life, finding These Person everywhere and pervading everything. St. Hildegard and Lady Julian are granted visions; St. Thomas Aquinas is given insight; St. Gregory Palamas enters the mystery of God and finds Him beyond articulation. Evagrius Ponticus says that contemplation of the HolyThree is the highest goal of the Christian life.
And the more we know El, the more we realise how little we know of This OneThree Who isare everywhere yet beyond everything.
And so, having delineated the boundaries of what it is safe to say in our tomes of systematic theology, having uttered the Creed with utter sincerity, having sought to see the Creator God in the face of the poor, we reach a place where only groans can express these thoughts.
We enter the cloud of unknowing, having ascended Mt. Sinai.
The apophatic takes over.
The DivinePerson(s) — ‘God’ as we like to call ‘Him’ — is without beginning and without end. Temporally and spatially.
Is not human.
Is not made of matter.
Is a variety of things of which we can only really say what He is not.
He is a(3) Person(s) and ready to for us to encounter, love, and experience Him.
Are we ready to enter into this glorious mystery? Or shall we play in the shallows of definites and clear answers instead?