Minutes of Meeting

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Date: March 14, 1993

Location:Alumni Hall Room 101, University of Dayton.

Meeting Topic: The Trinity and Monotheism

Facilitator: Rev. James Heft, S.M., Provost, University of Dayton

Hosts: Bill & Mary Ellen Rain

PRESENT: Jerry & Lorraine Kotler, Cochairs; Arthur Auster, P. T. Bapu, Jim Baynes, Leslie Baynes, Bert Buby, Elizabeth Burks, Glenn Duckwall, Phyllis Duckwall, Shirley Flacks, Jim Heft, Phil Hoelle, Sophie Kahn, Stephen Kahn, Jack Kelley, Eleonor Koenigsberg, Harry Koenigsberg, Joan Lanzendorfer, Richard Loehrlein, Faith Magee, John Magee, Bob Mass, Eileen Moorman, Michael Paricy, E. Robert Premo, Bill Rain, Mary Ellen Rain, Kenneth Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Mitchell Rubin, Louis Ryterband, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk, Jeanine Warisse, Mariane Weisman, Murray Weisman, Rochelle Wynne, Eleanor Zwelling, Victor Zwelling.

Jerry called the meeting to order at 7:54 PM. Mary Ellen Rain delivered an inspiring prayer for peace. Jerry then thanked the Rains for the wonderful refreshments.

Bert introduced the evening's speaker, Jim Heft. Bert pointed out that, although Jim occupies the very demanding and time consuming post of Provost of the University of Dayton, he continues to teach courses. Jim attained a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from St. Michaels College of the University of Toronto. Jim has been a friend of and a participant in the Dialogue over the years.

Jim began his presentation by handing out an outline with the following six major points:

  1. God Language: Dare We Speak at All?
  2. Jewish Monotheism: the centrality of the "Shema Israel"
  3. Christian Monotheism: One God, Three Persons
  4. Trinitarian Reflections Seen by Christians in the Hebrew Scriptures
  5. Trinitarian Themes Emphasized by Contemporary Catholic Scholars
  6. Does the Doctrine of the Trinity Make the Jewish Revelation of God to Moses Imperfect?
With respect to the first point, Jim discussed the inability of human beings to fully comprehend as well as the inadequacy of language to describe God. When engaging in such endeavors, one should have an attitude of humility, candor and tolerance for ambiguity.

In the area of point two, Jim described what his understanding was of the Jewish conception of God. First, in Jewish tradition the name of God is seen as so sacred it cannot be uttered. Jim explained that the Exodus from Egypt was the formation experience for the Jewish people. Jews came to see themselves as neighbors as a result of their common relation to the divine action freeing them from slavery. Jim emphasized that the Jewish concept does not allow for the development of multiple faces of God. The most important prayer of the Jewish People, the "Shema," incorporates this prohibition: "Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is One."

In the area of point 3, Jim stated that it took 300 years for the new Christian community to work out its concept of God as one but with three persons, i.e., the Trinity. Early in this period, Christian thinking emphasized the unity of God. But the later Church Councils at Nicea (325), Constantinople II (381), and Chalcedon (451) helped crystallize the current conception.

With respect to point 4, Jim surveyed a number of quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians see as suggesting the Trinitarian conception of God. In the area of point 5, Jim overviewed themes emphasized in current Catholic scholarship, especially the viewpoint that at the practical level Christians are monotheists with a heightened sense, through spirituality and liturgy, that is also three-personed.

In discussing point 6, Jim stated that, although the doctrine of Supersessionism (that the Christian covenant replaces the covenant between God and the Jewish People) was prevalent in earlier Christian teaching, current Catholic thinking is not supersessionist. Vatican II explicitly rejected the doctrine of Supersessionism. With respect to Catholicism's relation to other religions, Jim emphasized that Catholic thinking should avoid being either "absolutist" or "relativist." Absolutist thinking is based on the contention that "we have all the truth" and relativist thinking involves the view that "all religions are equal as long as people are good." Jim recommended a posture for today's Christian that is both Confessional (proclaiming ones faith) and Dialogic (willing to learn from others).

Jim's formal presentation ended at 8:34 PM, after which there were many questions and much discussion. Steve related his experience in a Methodist Church in which it was taught that Jews do not receive salvation. Art raised three points: the ineffability of the name of God, the frequent plural reference to Jewish people in relation to God (i.e., "Our God . . ."), and the reference in the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States to "indivisibility."

Lorraine asked how God can be both three and one at the same time. Jim replied that this paradox is at the core of Christian theology. Jesus is seen as both a messenger of God and a part of God. Ken asked why Christians have felt the need to treat Jesus as divine rather than human. Jim replied that the resurrection of Jesus grounds his divinity. Jerry asked about the Council of Nicea during which there were key votes (not unanimous) on the nature of Christ's divinity.

Shirley maintained that Jesus is an easier concept of God for masses of people to relate to than the Jewish concept of God. Eileen elaborated on the experiential nature of Christianity, the experience of the disciples and the spreading of the word. Steve stated that early Christians had to modify Jewish belief to make it palatable for the non-Jewish world.

Bob Mass raised the question of what Jesus himself meant when he referred to God as One. Bob Premo raised some questions about the number of dimensions in space (three) and how this may have been related to the development of conceptions of God as a Trinity. P.T. Bapu continued this discussion of dimensions. Murray referred to a book by Overstreet which attempted to reconcile the idea of the Trinity with monotheism. Jack made the case that Christians are essentially monotheists.

The question period ended at 9:12 PM, at which time the meeting recessed. The meeting reconvened at 9:24 PM for the discussion of administrative matters. Jerry read a letter from Carrie LaBriola thanking the Dialogue for its "going away" gift and saying that she misses her Dialogue friends in Dayton.

The April 18 retreat was discussed (see the announcement following the minutes). The May 9 meeting will be held in Alumni Hall and will be co-hosted by the Austers and Rubensteins. Eileen was added to the list of speakers for the June 13 meeting on "Toward Total Dialogue."

Suzie Walk announced the Holocaust Remembrance to be held during April and May at Sinclair Community College. 80 to 100 volunteers are needed to assist in the various activities. Contact Suzie or John Walker (at Sinclair) to volunteer or to obtain brochures.

Faith Magee drew the attention of the Dialogue to a recent article in the Dayton Daily News about Judith Bowers, a former member who is an ordained United Methodist minister. She developed Lou Gehrig's disease and died last November. A memorial fund at United Theological Seminary is designed to help make the campus handicapped accessible. A service for Judith was scheduled on Tuesday, March 16 and Faith requested Dialogue members attend.

Jack raised the concern of the Dialogue about a French production titled, His Name Was Jesus. It is a multimedia production designed to move Christians from despair to hope. Unfortunately, the inaccurate and incomplete portrayals of characters from the Christian gospels may have negative ramifications for Jews. Also the presentation raises concerns about the presentation of non-whites and women. The new work will be traveling to 31 cities and should receive wide exposure. Due to these concerns, Jack traveled to Cincinnati with Richard Loehrlein and Bill Rain for a meeting at Rockdale Temple called by Ms. Barbara Glueck of the American Jewish Committee and also attended by Mary Lou Vera, Catholic ecumenical officer, and various other people. The group viewed selected parts of the video, discussed its implications, and began to develop an approach to dealing with it. It seems likely that a statement by the Catholic Ecumenical Office will be issued to alert people about the questionable aspects of the production.

The meeting adjourned at 9:56 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Kenneth Rosenzweig


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