To Ponder BEFORE Trinity Sunday!!!!
We are all familiar with the Blessing given by the Bishop or the Presbyter (Priest) at the end of the Order for Holy Communion. On Trinity Sunday we are very much aware of it!
In the Latin of the old Roman Rite as well as in the Post Vatican II Rite it is as follows:
BENEDICAT VOS OMNIPOTENS DEUS, PATER, ET FILIUS, ET SPIRITUS SANCTUS.
This is officially translated by Roman Catholics as: "May almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." In French it is rendered as: "Que Dieu tout-puissant vous benisse, le Pere, le Fils et le Saint-Esprit." (One notices here that the first "et" is not translated.)
When we turn to The Book of Common Prayer (1549-1662-1928) we find that the Blessing in English is given as follows: "The Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you.. " (One notices here again that the first "et" [and] is not present)
Perhaps the omission of the first "et" is without significance and was for Cranmer a matter of style only. Yet, as a contrast we may note that in the German it is rendered by the R C Church as " der Vater und der Sohn und der Heilige Geist." Here the "and" occurs twice. OR perhaps Cranmer was not as vigilant as he ought to have been with regard to a right statement of the classic biblical, patristic and orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.
Let me explain.
It is possible that (1) "the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost" does not mean the same as (2) "the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost."
Since the Nicene Creed refers to the First Person of the Holy Trinity as "God the Father Almighty" (1) above may be taken to mean THAT "God Almighty, the Father" is the First Person, AND the Son is the Second, And the Holy Ghost is the Third. In this way of reading the first "et" [and] is crucial. Here then we have ONLY the Names of the Three Persons of the Trinity and no word for "Godhead" as such.
In contrast (2) may be taken to mean that there is One Deity/Godhead/God who is Almighty and He is a Trinity: this Trinity is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Here the first "et" is not needed, for style only requires the second one.
I would myself go for (1) because the Service begins with "In nomine Patris, ET Filii, et Spiritus Sancti" and because the Nicene Creed is used in the service where the First Person is called the God the Father Almighty.
Yet against going for (1) there is the modern R.C. translation that I have given above: "May Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." Here "Almighty God" seems to refer to the One God/Deity/Godhead who is a Trinity and then this Trinity is spelled out with the three Names.
The Athanasian Creed, the Quicunque Vult, tells us that "the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty and the Holy Ghost Almighty, and yet there are not three Almighties but one Almighty." From this statement one can argue that "Almighty God" refers to the "one Almighty" of this Creed, that is to the Godhead which each of the Persons possesses wholly and undivided. Or one can argue that "Almighty God" is a description that belongs equally to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
One way or another I do think that the Blessing is intended to be the Blessing of the One, Holy, Blessed and Undivided Trinity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.
One final word. Beginning a Blessing with "May" ( as do modern R C translations and some renderings in the English "Common Worship") reduces its strength and quality. The old "The Blessing of God.." is more likely to give and convey assurance! (see further on this matter, "The Real Common Worship" ed Peter Mullen, Edgeways Books, 2000, pp.108ff.)
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America