A Trinitarian Pattern in Creation

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A Trinitarian Pattern in Creation



Fred O’Brien, EOHSJ

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power
and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood

and seen through the things he has made.                                                 Romans 1:20


Now God has built the human form into the world structure,

indeed even into the cosmos. just as an artist would use a

particular pattern in her work.                                                                  Hildegard of Bingen



The Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962 had the world face the prospect of

a nuclear catastrophe. With the withdrawal of the Russian missiles the U.S. embargo was

lifted and the immediate danger resolved. Pope John XXIII, who had made himself available
as an intermediary and appealed for peace during the crisis was entering his eighty-
second year. Battling a painful cancer he was overseeing the first session of the 2nd
Vatican Council. Having received the Balzan Peace Prize, been chosen as Time’s “Man
of the Year”, Time Magazine noted that “To the entire world Pope John has given what
neither diplomacy nor science could give: a sense of the unity of the human family.”
(Jan 4, 1962, p.54) With the conclusion of the first session of the council on December
8, 1962 John set about completing his final encyclical.
Pacem in Terris, published on Holy Thursday 1963, highlights the fact that “both in
living things and in the forces of nature, an astonishing order reigns” (n.2). This order is
reflected in human persons and underpins their inviolable dignity. This dignity is the
basis for a wide array of rights, for example, the right to life, worship and to form
associations. These rights have corresponding duties, particularly the obligation to
“contribute generously to the establishment of a civic order in which rights and duties are

ever more sincerely and effectively acknowledged and fulfilled (n.31). Pope John
addressed the basis for legitimate authority to rightly serve the common good, which is
the sum total of the conditions that allow persons to seek their perfection “more fully and
more easily”. Having contrasted the turmoil that exists among human beings with the
astonishing order of the universe! (n.3) he writes as follows:

Therefore, amongst the most urgent issues facing serious thinkers today is that of
working out a new pattern of human relationships based on truth, justice, love
and freedom: relationships between person and person, between citizen and state,
between one country and another and, finally, between individuals, families,
intermediate bodies and states on the one hand, and, on the other, the community
of the whole family of mankind. There is none, surely, who will not esteem this as
a service of the highest order; for it is that which will render possible the building
up of true peace according to the pattern which God has made. (n. 163)





God’s Image in Creation

He set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers He has created are
beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the
perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all
flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would
no longer be decked out with little wild flowers. St Thérése of Lisieux (14)


            St. Thérése refers to the “book of nature” wherein she discovered Jesus’ garden,

the world of souls. She speaks of people as of different flowers – roses, lilies, violets, and
daisies. Each is special to God and no difference in worth or status is implied in her
designations. She refers to those who have nothing but the natural law” as guide as
those “wild flowers” on whom “God manifests His infinite grandeur”. “It is to their
hearts”, she tells us, “that God deigns to lower Himself.” Referring to God’s love, she
tells us that “Our Lord is occupied particularly with each soul as though there were no
others like it. And just as in nature all the seasons are arranged in such a way as to make

the humblest daisy bloom on a set day, in the same way, everything works out for the
good of each soul” (14-15).

“God’s purpose in creation was that humanity should seek God’s image and should mould
itself after that image. But after mankind had neglected the wisdom of God which is to be
found in His handiwork, God took on the form of man so as to give us human beings an
example within our own nature of the divine attributes which we must make into our own,
so that we may be transformed and united with God.” Niels Stensen (Pålsson 71)


Niels Stensen (1638-86) was a prominent scientist and medical doctor of the seventeenth
century. He was the first to describe the endocrine glands of the head and argue for the
necessity of mathematical description in biology. He carried out original research on the
anatomy of the brain and laid the foundation for three new sciences: palaeontology,
historical geology and crystallography. His career as a scientist left profound traces in his
spiritual life. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1667, ordained priest in 1675,
consecrated bishop for northern Germany in 1677 and beatified by Pope John Paul II in
1986. Constantly seeking God’s image in his scientific research he waxes eloquent when
investigating the production of tears from the lacrimal gland:


“That which practice and possibly observation on animals have taught mechanics, that to
case movement they should lubricate the things to be used with a greasy fluid, has been
provided for by the most ingenious of all mechanics in the most perfect way from the
beginning in the creation of animals. Mechanics have seen that if between that which is to
be moved and the fixed surface across which the movement is to take place a third substance
is inserted, which is easier to move, then the work proceeds much more conveniently, and so
they ease rotation by applying a fairly greasy fluid to the axle around a wheel
revolves, in a similar way as they launch a ship into the water by using rollers placed
beneath it. So too they carry out other movements with less effort, of which we have many
examples everywhere in workshops, when they separate the stationary surface from the
moving one by an intervening fairly greasy fluid. But in the self-acting body of animals all
this is done even more ingeniously, or rather more divinely; here both the fluid produced
and the manner in which it is produced show a far greater skill. For the parts are so ordained

that the fluid concealed nearby, as if in a store-chamber, is squeezed out more sparsely or
more copiously according to the greater or less use there is for it, we ourselves not even
being aware of it, for after it has completed its function it is then carried away to other parts.
Thus, in the mouth the movements of the parts are eased by the incoming saliva; thus
swallowing is eased by the slippery fluid which by that which is to be swallowed is
squeezed out of the glands distributed below the mucous membrane. With the same
intention the inside of the whole intestinal canal is coated with mucous. But above all this is
seen most neatly in the eyes; for here some special ducts reveal themselves, both some
which supply the fluid intended to assist the movements of the eyelids, and others which
carry away the same fluid elsewhere…”(Poulsen & Snorrason pps 85,86)



            The reality of the presence of God’s love in nature spoke to Niels Stensen in his

scientific investigations. In the foreword to his De glandulis oris he writes: “The structure of animals is the work of a master who is wise and who loves the living” (Pålsson 25).

With regard to the importance of spending time in, and observing, the natural world he has some useful advice referring not only to the benefit accruing to oneself but also to one’s neighbour.

“One sins against the Majesty of God if one refuses to look at nature’s own work and if one
is content with merely reading what someone else has written about it. That is the way to
conjure up for oneself different fanciful opinions. It means not only missing the joy of
beholding God’s marvels, but also wasting time which could have been used for something
useful and to the benefit of one’s neighbour, by lapsing into all sorts of things which are
unworthy of God.” (Pålsson 17)

Niels has much to say about specialist and overall scientific enquiry, the significance of
human relationships, and of God as the origin and destination of all enquiry. Additionally
he was ecumenical in outlook and, reading his work, we can observe a pattern of design in
nature that speaks of interconnectedness, interrelationship and interdependency founded on
love and utterly awesome to reflect upon. The following observations highlight these


“For scientific research entails that one cannot keep the various areas isolated from each
other but is obliged to bring many of them into one’s consideration at the same time. And
the longer one is occupied with the detail, the more elements one lacks in the whole and a
more abundant area of research one finds in it.
(Poulsen & Snorrason 116)

“This is the true aim of anatomy, to lift up our gaze through the accomplished artistry of the
body to grasp the value of the soul and, as a consequence of the wonders of the body and of
the soul, to teach us to know and to love the Creator… What we see is beautiful, what we
can deduce is even more beautiful, but the most beautiful of all is that which we do not
know.” (Pålsson 51)

“It seems to me that after God there is nothing more holy in this world than

a true friendship.” (Pålsson 41)


“I desire with all my heart that all human beings may understand the word of God solely in
accordance with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and that we can soon become again one
soul, one heart, one sheepfold, one vine, one body, one only universal Church of Christ.
May the all-holy Trinity bestow that grace on humanity, through the merits of Jesus Christ

and by the intercession of the most holy Virgin Mary and of all God’s true friends in heaven
and on earth.” (Op. Theol., 1, 474 in Pålsson 72)

Specialist and Generalist Knowledge and the Systems Viewpoint

Niels Stenson’s view, written in his student diary when he was but 21 years old and
studying medicine, that scientific areas of enquiry should not remain isolated from each
other (see above) brings to mind some thoughts stemming from another medical great,
Hippocrates of Cos (469-399BC), thoughts which influenced the thinking of the Greek
historian Thucydides (C460-400 BC). They also bring to mind thoughts outlined by
Aristotle in the beginning of his book, ‘On the Parts of Animals as follows:


            “There are, as it seems, two ways in which a person may be competent in respect

of any study or investigation, whether it be a noble one or a humble: he may have either

what can rightly be called a scientific knowledge of the subject; or he may have what is
roughly described as an educated person’s competence, and therefore be able to judge
correctly which parts of an exposition are satisfactory and which are not. That, in fact, is
the sort of person we take the “man of general education to be; his “education” consists
in the ability to do this. In this case, however, we expect to find in the one individual the

ability to judge of almost all subjects, whereas in the other case the ability is confined to
some special science; for of course it is possible to possess this ability for a limited field
only. Hence it is clear that in the investigation of nature, or natural science, as in every
other, there must first of all be certain fixed principles by which the acceptability of the
method of exposition may be tested, apart from whether the statements made represent
the truth or do not.” (Aristotle, Parts of Animals, Book 1, first para.)


Aristotle opts for the benefits of an overall perspective in judging well in any situation.
In Thucydides’ time the most conspicuous science that produced practical results was
medicine. From Hippocrates he learned to treat the body politic as analogous to the
human body and to accept the corollary that it is impossible to understand the parts
without understanding the whole.
Systems theory, the modern version of this approach, facilitates recognition of the context
within which organizations and governments operate, and emphasizes the interrelations
among the various activities that are required to accomplish goals. The concept finds a
useful explanation in the living organism analogy. From the most simple one celled
bacterium to the more complex living organisms one can observe the creature as an open
system’ made up of ‘sub-systems. There are inputs in the form of food, water, oxygen
and other materials and energy sources. There are the transforming processes of
metabolism. And there are outputs of energy and waste products. Sub systems can be
observed in complex organisms, e.g. circulatory, respiratory, digestive, etc.. Human
organizations can be viewed as open systems interacting with their environment. When
we view communities in this way it becomes most significant that no part be examined in
isolation. Elements are interconnected, interrelated and interdependent. If an adjustment
is made to one part repercussions extend throughout the community. If the overall
environment within which a community operates changes then the community tends to

adapt such that a healthy equilibrium is maintained.
With increasing globalization the repercussions of activities and trends in different parts
of the world are being experienced with great force and promptitude, Economic swings
and disease trends are no respecters of geographic boundaries. Niall O’Brien, in his
foreword to Sean McDonagh’s book To Care for the Earth, gives a dramatic example. In
jail in the Philippines and underfed, he and his companions had negotiated a 50 percent
increase in their food allowance.

            “Now just at that time the media announced that interest rates in the US were about

to go up. (This was due to new borrowings by the US government for the strategic defence
initiative – Star Wars.) Simultaneously the next interest payment on the Philippine
national debt (then standing at twenty five billion dollars) rose accordingly. A bridging
loan of millions of dollars was needed immediately. The International Monetary
Fund/World Bank insisted on the peso being devalued and prices rose. Within a couple of
weeks the cook was back. Now she was the one protesting the new allowance would not
stretch: the fish shrank back to their old size. So finely tuned is the world economy today,
that what happens in the First-World directly affects, within weeks, the diets of the Third-
World. It is a small world. It is one world, and we are each other’s keepers and we are
keepers of the whole fragile earth which keeps us all.” (McDonagh, foreword)


Stewardship of Creation

In 1990 the Director of Environmental Health of the World Health Organization advised
the international community that: “In every country on this planet man made
environmental problems are being generated faster than we can solve or prevent them. In
other countries, environmental health capacity is inadequate to meet human needs even as
the problems themselves change, becoming more complex, more critical, more urgent”.
(Kreisel 22)
The General Assembly of the U.N in 1992, in a lead up to the Brazil Conference on
Environment and Development, informed the world community that it was

“deeply concerned by the continuing deterioration of the state of the environment and the serious
degradation of the global life support systems, as well as by trends that, if allowed to
continue, could disrupt the global ecological balance, jeopardize the life sustaining
qualities of the Earth and lead to an ecological catastrophe”. (N.Y. Prep Conference
Our environment, on a global scale, has become less manageable because of fundamental
weaknesses in the strategies selected and by the conditionings and pressures exerted on
men and women by dominating structures and mechanisms in the various spheres of
society. The roots of the global environmental crisis can be traced to the emergence of a
scientific and administrative approach largely insufficient for the analysis, programming
and management of the environment. Science and technology must be directed towards
the good of humanity and, accordingly, be governed by ethical and moral principles. The
need for a philosophy that can promote the development of a correct environmental
perception and form the basis of a balanced behaviour in the pursuit of environmental
health objectives is urgently needed today. (cf. Pacem in Terris 137, 138, 163, 164)


The biogeochemical equilibria which sustains life on earth has been significantly
modified by mismanagement of the environment. Threats to human health, such as:
depletion of the ozone layer in the stratosphere, presenting increased ultraviolet radiation;
global climatic change and deforestation, with consequent changes in the earth’s water
cycle; contamination of internationally traded foodstuffs with biological and chemical
contaminants and pesticide residues; increases worldwide in the risk factors associated
with poor food hygiene and in the incidence of diseases spread from animals to man

These, and other examples point to the need for a global perspective and approach in
environmental stewardship.

A modern approach should view the environment in an interrelational way, and
emphasizes the contributive role of the social partners, rather than the fragmentation of
knowledge into sectoralised areas where overspecialization predominates. In Urban
Systems in Crisis, Frederick Vester suggests that: “Only when we accept the fact that,
even in our civilization, not only are factories cross-linked with each other, not only
rivers with each other, not only the vegetable and animal worlds with each other, but also
river systems with factories, factories with consumer behaviour, consumer behaviour
with tax law, and this via national development planning with the location of factories,
this with a change in traffic volume, which in turn is cross linked with human settlement
structure, and this perhaps with criminality and drug abuse, can we begin to hope to make
the right decisions and thus find the right solutions.”


A global viewpoint opposes the vicious circle syndrome that has tended to dominate
society, creating structures and practices that fail to meet the environmental challenges
that face us and do violence to the people that work within them. Sectoralization is
promoted at second level education leading students to select well circumscribed third
level courses. Graduates are recruited by sectoral government departments that only
welcome into their fold qualifications specific to a narrow frame outlook, accepting the
most specialized of the qualified group.

The linear thinking outlook that blames badgers for the failure of animal disease
eradication schemes, claims that grazing goats cause global desertification, and ignores
human health, safety and welfare criteria in environmental decision making, must not only
be challenged, but must be replaced by an approach that recognizes the true nature of our
fragile earth, where not only is no man an island, but no scientific discipline; no state,
semistate or private enterprise can ignore the environmental and social consequences of

it’s activities.

“…what distinguishes persons is not an increase in dignity,
but a special and complementary capacity for service.
                         “Pope John Paul II

A Pattern of Unfailing Dependence

God created all things with remarkable ease and brevity,
and in them he left some trace of who he is,
Christifideles Laici (n.20)
not only in giving all things being from nothing,
but even by endowing them with innumerable graces and qualities,
making them beautiful in a wonderful order and
unfalling dependence on one another.                               
St. John of the Cross (496)

God has arranged all things in the world
in consideration of everything else.                                      
Hildegard of Bingen (Uhlein 65)




In 1991 the National Association of Adult Education of Ireland, Aontas, held a
workshop at Killaloe, in County Clare. Some 45 people from different backgrounds,
the fields of adult education and environmental science, came together and outlined and discussed their approaches to developing a course on “Caring for the
Environment”. Early on the first day it became apparent that the great variety of
perspectives and attitudes present could result in much disagreement. Some felt that
philosophy and ethics had no place in a proposed course while others considered them as
an essential ingredient. Some dismissed theology as irrelevant while others considered it
as important in fostering a true understanding of guardianship. The great variety of
viewpoints also included those who saw human development as fundamental to any
approach, while others considered environmental management approaches too
anthropocentric. The depth of feeling on these issues had the potential to create a
significant barrier to communication and cooperation. In addition to the foregoing
differences of opinion on what has been termed “soft science” there were a variety of
scientific disciplines present with different concerns, approaches and priorities. At an
early stage it appeared to me that the differences in approach presented insurmountable
obstacles. But I was wrong.


On the afternoon of the second day we were taken on a guided tour of North Clare

and visited the area known as the Burren, a unique environment where Alpine and
Mediterranean plants and other life forms thrive. As we walked the road and the land of
the area the backgrounds of the different participants came into play in interpreting the
environment that we were observing. Agriculturalists, botanists, geologists, ecologists,
those familiar with the local history and culture and others completed a picture of what
we were looking at. Finally I found myself with a small group looking down on a
patchwork of ground about the size of a tabletop. It contained perhaps a hundred or more

types of plants with all variety of beautiful flowers and, within these, a mix of living
creatures, including insects, spiders and worms. Having experienced this patch of the
environment in terms of its great diversity and overall unity, in which interconnections,
interrelationships and interdependencies revealed the importance of each element and the
significance of the overall pattern, I was struck by the fact that a group of people could
form a network, the model of which was the environment itself. Each member of this
diverse group had an important contribution to make and our networking was of a pattern
of nature. We were a community united, sharing, open to the giftedness of each and all,
caught up in God’s creation and delighting in the dynamic process that was a wondrous


Relationship in the Triune God

In Part 2 of the Encyclical letter Dominum et Vivificantem John Paul II treats of God the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit (n.8-10). Here we read that the intimate life of the Triune
God involves an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons that can only be
made known to us through divine Revelation (n. 10). God, we are told, out of the
abundance of his love, speaks to men and women “as friends and lives among them, so
that he may invite and take them into fellowship with himself” (n.34). The life of the
Persons of the Trinity, as revealed in John’s Gospel, “includes and clearly emphasizes the
relationship of interdependence which could be called causal between the manifestations
of each…” (n.8).


Using John 16:7 and following (“If I go, I will send him [Holy Spirit] to you…”),

the encyclical explains this relationship of interdependence and why it can be spoken of as
‘causal’ (n.9,10). “The Holy Spirit will come insofar as Christ will depart through the
Cross: he will come not only afterwards, but because of the Redemption accomplished by
Christ, through the will and action of the Father” (n.8). The highest point of the
revelation of the Trinity, we read, is reached here in John’s Gospel (n.9). We are
introduced to the inner life of God, where there is a concurrence in actions taken, and
outcomes occur and depend on the self-giving distinctive actions of each Person of the
Blessed Trinity. “The ‘departure’ of Christ through the Cross has the power of the
Redemption – and this also means a new presence of the Spirit of God in creation: the
new beginning of God’s self communication to man in the Holy Spirit.” (n. 14) “God’s
love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
(Romans 5:5)



A Pattern found in God and in God’s Creation

“It is by responding to the call of God contained in the being of things that man becomes
aware of his transcendent dignity. Every individual must give this response, which
constitutes the apex of his humanity, and no social mechanism or collective subject can
substitute for it. The denial of God deprives the person of his foundation, and consequently leads to a reorganization of the social order without reference to the person’s dignity and

                                                                                                        (Centesimus Annus, 13)


“When man disobeys God and refuses to submit to his rule, nature rebels against him and
no longer recognizes him as its ‘master’, for he has tarnished the divine image in himself.
The claim to ownership and use of created things remains, but after sin its exercise becomes difficult and full of suffering (cf. Gen 3:17-19).”


                                                                                                   (Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 30)


The late Marshall McLuhan was convinced that ever since the invention of movable type,

humankind received a great proportion of its information from print and had become eye
orientated, and distorted in its perception of reality. Nature, up to and beyond the
industrial revolution, tended to be viewed as linear and sequential, as made up of separate
parts, as fragmented and mechanical. According to McLuhan, were we more ear
orientated our apprehensive faculties would be more true to nature and we would
perceive reality as orchestrated and ecological. To apprehend God’s creation, however, in
a way that reveals the Triune God and his design for active loving human participation
requires a change of heart which comes from God alone and involves our free response.
To read the signs of the times requires that we be open to other humans and to creation
itself. The pattern which God has made has been revealed in Jesus, the second Person of
the Blessed Trinity. A new world order is established by the incarnation and by the
passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is nothing less than a new creation’,
the mystery of God’s purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made from the beginning
that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in heaven and
everything on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)


            Within the Trinity there is a dynamic relationship of unbounded and infinite love

between the Persons. This involves reciprocity, mutuality, concurrence, receptivity,
complementarity and total self-giving with nothing lost on behalf of each of the three
Persons. The life of the Trinity is of overflowing fruitfulness, both within and outside of
God, giving ground for creation, a covenant relation with the family of humans made in
God’s image and likeness, and for salvation. The cross and the resurrection are the
demonstration of both the constancy and spontaneity of Trinitarian love. It is a love into

which humans are called and into which they are welcomed.

. The Triune God …. giving himself in the Holy Spirit as gift to man, transforms the human world from within, from inside hearts and minds. Along this path the world, made to share in the divine gift, becomes …ever more human, ever more profoundly human.
(Dominum et Vivificantem n. 59).

“God gives his theologians the words the images that enable them to speak of him to others. And to those others he speaks as a “symbolic theologian” – through nature,
through their inner experience and through his traces in human life and world history – thereby enabling them to understand the language of the theologians.” (Stein 117)









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