The teaching on the Holy Trinity in the writings of Vassula Ryden
In this critical study, the teaching on the Holy Trinity contained in ‘True Life In God’ will be compared with the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). The second part will be dedicated to the theological analysis of the main accusations brought forward against Vassula with regard to her teaching on the Holy Trinity.
The Holy Trinity in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in True Life In God
From tine to time one comes across the accusations that the teachings on the Holy Trinity in Vassula Ryden’s writings is erroneous, even downright heretical and at odds with the teaching of the Catholic Church (1). Can such an accusation be true?
The teachings of those whose teaching is contrary to that of the Church are heretical. As it is, the writings of Vassula Ryden, in spite of these objections, contain teachings completely in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church. In order to substantiate this one has to compare the text of ‘True Life in God’ with that of the teaching of the CCC, which states intrinsic truths of faith concerning the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Let us remind ourselves of them.
There is one God in three persons
The first fundamental revealed truth – as we are reminded in the Catechism – is that God is by nature one God.
“The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons.” (2)
Christians believe that God is one. However, it is often noticeable that many believers have become so accustomed to thinking and speaking of the three Divine Persons, that they think and speak as if there really were ‘three Gods’: one in heaven – God the Father; the second – Jesus Christ, God-man; the third – the Holy Spirit, who is now active in the Church. As it is, there exists only ONE God.
We find the same teaching of the oneness of God in the Catechism as in the writings of Vassula Ryden. This is illustrated by the following examples.
“I am One; the Holy Trinity is One, I am One” (4.04.87)
“I, your Lord Jesus Christ, am leaving My Sighs of Love upon your forehead and with Great Love I bless each one of you to unite and be one as the Holy Trinity is One and the Same, you too be one under My Holy Name.” (10.10.89) The Church must then be one and united, as the Holy Trinity is only one.
“I am One God, and they must understand that the Holy Trinity is all in One! The Holy Spirit, the Holy Father and Jesus Christ the Son, all three are in One” (4.04.87). And therefore, according to the Catechism and True Life in God, the Holy Trinity is one in its Divine Substance or essence or nature (CCC 252).
Each Divine person is the same God
The Church teaches that each Divine Person is all the same God, eternal and infinite. This means that the Divine substance is not divided into three parts, possessed separately by each Divine Person.
The Catechism expresses this mystery, which is so difficult for our minds to comprehend, as follows:
“The Divine persons do not share the one Divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: ‘The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God. Each of the Persons is that supreme reality, viz. the Divine substance, essence or nature’” (CCC 253).
The teaching that each Divine Person is the same supreme reality, that is, the same God in substance, is also found in the writings of Vassula Ryden. And thus Jesus, speaking of His Divine nature – the same as for all the Persons – teaches Vassula:
“I am One; I am All in One; I am All in One.”
“You are All in One?”
“And the Light?”
“I am the Light too.” (2.03.87)
The above text tries to bring nearer to us the unfathomable mystery of faith conveyed to us by the Church, namely, that each Divine person is the same Divine substance, the same Divine “All”; that is, the Infinite Perfection. In other words, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the same infinite perfection, which is called the Divine substance, essence or nature (CCC 252, 253).
The Divine Persons are not divided
Following on, the Catechism explains that the Divine Persons are not divided from one another, because of their one nature (substance, essence). “The Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son” (CCC 255). The same teaching is found in ‘True Life In God’. Thus Christ explains to Vassula – “Have I not said the I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? If I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, My Heart too is in the Father and His Heart is in Mine” (25.03.96). Therefore the teaching of the Church on the indivisibility of the Divine persons on account of their nature, agrees with that which is to be found in the writings of Vassula Ryden.
The Divine persons are really distinct from one another
A further truth – or rather, a further mystery regarding the Holy Trinity, as given in the Catechism – speaks of the real distinction from one another of the Divine persons and is put forward as follows:
“God is One but not solitary. (3) ‘Father’, ‘Son’, ‘Holy Spirit’ are not simply names designating modalities of the Divine Being, for they are really distinct from one another. “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son He who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit He who is the Father or the Son”. (4) They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin. “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds. (5) The Divine Unity is Triune” (CCC 254).
This same teaching of the real distinctions between the Divine Persons can be found in Vassula’s writings. Although the oneness of the Holy Trinity is very firmly emphasized, nevertheless the Divine Persons do not identify themselves as being only one person. So for example they speak separately as distinct Persons; Jesus speaks of the Father and of the Holy Spirit, but never identifies with them as Persons. Thus He never says: ‘I am the same PERSON as the Father, I am the same PERSON as the Holy Spirit.’ There is never negation or identification of the relations of origin thanks to which the Divine Persons are really distinct. The identification is then only seen when one of the Divine Persons speaks about the Divine Substance, that is about His own nature, which – as the Church teaches – is the same as for all three Persons (CCC 253).
In ‘True Life In God’ one notices a similar way of the Holy Trinity revealing itself as in the Sacred Scriptures. And so first of all in the Old Testament, God reveals Himself as the only one, then – in the New Testament – the one and true Son of God, who became man. This Son of the Most High subsequently promises the Holy Spirit; that is Someone who – although He does not identify Himself with the Father and the Son – has all the attributes and qualities of the Divine Nature, for example Divine knowledge, enabling Him to penetrate the depths of God Himself, of His almightiness and so on (see 1 Cor.2:10).
The above comparison of the teachings of Vassula Ryden with the Catechism brings us to the following conclusion: in ‘True Life In God’ we find exactly the same teaching on the Holy Trinity as is given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which means it is the same teaching which the Church proclaims in her dogmatic teaching.
Replies to the accusations of there being trinitarian heresies in Vassula’s writings
Let us start by reviewing the various accusations put forward against the messages in ‘True Life In God’. We shall try to find answers to these and at the same time we shall analyse the various biased methods applied, which if used with even the most authentic theological work, and even with the Sacred Scriptures themselves, would certainly result in the ‘discovery’ of errors therein.
A method which enables heresies to be found anywhere
Although the teaching on the Holy Trinity in ‘True Life In God’ is the same as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Vassula Ryden and her writings often become the object of sharp criticism and accusations and allegations of heresy. Thus some theologians accuse her writings of portraying the Persons of the Holy Trinity as identical, and thus expounding heretical trinitarian teaching.
But is it really true that ‘True Life In God’ is in opposition to the dogmatic teaching of the Church, according to which there exists a real distinction between the Divine Persons? (see CCC 253, 254, 255)
A careful study of the writings of Vassula, and the analysis of that which she herself speaks about in her numerous witnessings, in no way at all warrants such judgment, since in ‘True Life In God’ the three Divine Persons reveal themselves as really distinct from one another.
This real distinction of Persons becomes apparent in the fact that the Divine Persons speak separately. First and foremost however – and surely this is the most important point – the relation of origin of the Divine Persons, through which they are really distinct from each other, is never questioned in these writings (see CCC 254). Thus the Son does not identify with the Father as a Person, because He is never described as He “who generates”, but as He “who is begotten”.(6) Similarly, the Holy Spirit does not identify Himself with the Father or with the Son as a Divine Person, because nowhere is He called “the One who generates” (that is, the Father), nor is He called “He who is begotten” (that is, the Son). He also is sent by the Father (7) and by the Son (8). In this act of being sent His separateness is made apparent, because no one can send himself, but a separate person.
Therefore throughout the writings of Vassula the Divine Persons are portrayed – in conformity with the teaching of the Church – as really distinct from one another. There is not a single sentence in the entire work of ‘True Life In God’ which could contain a trinitarian heresy (9), not even in those extracts which have been criticised as allegedly presenting the Divine Persons as having similar names. A trinitarian error could only be when there is clear assertion made of the following nature: “In God there is no relation of origin”, “There is only one person in God”, “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the same Person”, “I, Jesus Christ, am the same Person as the Father and the Holy Spirit”, “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit identify themselves as Divine Persons, and do not distinguish themselves from one another as Persons”. There are no such heretical statements that do not conform to the teaching of the Church in Vassula’s writings. If then, there are no doctrinal errors in ‘True Life In God’, then how is it possible for the opponents of this work to allegedly find them? Those who attack this work know very well that they would be wasting their time in trying to find formal heresies – that is, those that are expressed unambiguously and intentionally – because they do not exist in this work. That is why they choose a particular method in order to find errors and heresies ‘in spite of all’ and ‘at any cost’.
What characterises this method? Its basis is simple. It is enough simply to read the text of ‘True Life In God’ according to the following principle: when it is possible to interpret the messages of the Divine Persons either in the spirit of the teaching of the Church or contradictory to it, then the messages are given a meaning which is at variance with the teaching of the Church. Thanks to this method – which is applied with great glee with regard to Vassula’s writings – one can always arrive at the desired conclusion: that her writings negate the dogmas of the Church and spread heresies.
Such a way of interpreting the texts is, however, false. If it were applied also with regard to the Sacred Scriptures, there too one would be able to ‘discover’ a multitude of ‘heresies’.
This method is not only false but also immoral; it is contrary to God’s eighth Commandment, which forbids us to bear false witness against one’s neighbour, to slander him or to judge him rashly.
The Catechism reminds us with these words: “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret in so far as it is possible his neighbour’s thoughts, words and deeds in a favourable way (CCC 2478).
The Catechism also cites a valuable teaching of St Ignatius Loyola: “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favourable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved”(10). The words of the Catechism which forbid us to pass unfounded harsh criticism are very severe. “He becomes guilty of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbour (CCC 2477).
‘Unclear’ or ‘ambiguous’ does not mean erroneous or heretical
The favourite weapon used in fighting against Vassula’s writings is to accuse them of being obscure, of double meaning or ambiguous. This accusation is not honest, because it suggests that ambiguity or lack of clarity is an error, or that ambiguous expressions are nonsensical and of no value. In this way one can easily put down even the most highly esteemed theological works.
To suggest an error where something is unclear or ambiguous, is inadmissible, and contradictory to the true principles of interpretation of texts. If this were the case, it would undermine the value of all poetic expression, metaphors and similes which so frequently occur even in the sacred Scripture. Error or heresy are only found in explicit statements or negations. As regards ambiguous or unclear sentences, they could be erroneous or true. However the deciding factor is the context and not the whim of the reader. It is the context which defines the real meaning of ambiguous of unclear expressions. Ambiguity per se is therefore not necessarily an error or a heresy.
In connection with the problem of so called unclear texts, it is useful to turn our attention to one other thing: that this is not necessarily the fault of the writer or his intellectual failings. There are many texts which are unclear only because they are beyond the capability of understanding of the reader, who cannot grasp them; for example, as with a child reading with difficulty many parts of a book, which adults understand without difficulty – to the child these parts seem incomprehensible and unclear.
Let us now go on to a more detailed analysis of these parts of ‘True Life In God’ which are attacked and labelled as heretical by their opponents. At the same time we shall investigate the methods used which ascribe the worst possible meaning to the messages, even if it does not harmonise with the whole context of this work.
There is no identification of the Person of the Father with the Person of the Son in True Life In God
One of the opponents of the writings of Vassula Ryden is the aforementioned Father M. Pacwa. He accuses her of mixing up the Divine Persons by supposedly identifying the Son of God with the Father and the Holy Spirit.(11)
As an example of this error he gives part of a sentence uttered by Jesus: “Unite! Unite! Be one now as the Father and I are One and the Same!” (15.2.89)(12) Christ’s call reminds us of the fragment of His priestly prayer: “I have given them the glory You gave me, that they may be one as We are One with me in them and You in Me” (Jn 17:22-23). St John refers to some other words of Christ emphasising His Oneness with the Father: “I and the Father are One” (Jn 10:30).
Let us return however to the texts of Vassula Ryden, which supposedly mix up and identify the Divine Persons. Frequent objects of attacks and accusations of trinitarian error are Christ’s words: “As the Father and I are One and the same!”(13)
This accusation of error is groundless. This sentence can be understood quite correctly as follows: “As the Father and I are One and the same God” means “As the Father and I are the same Divine substance, the same Divine nature, the same Divine essence.” These three concepts are used by the Church to describe the Divine Being in His unity (CCC 252). For unknown reasons Fr Pacwa attributes these studied texts in ‘True Life In God’ with an erroneous meaning: “As the Father and I are One and the same Person”. Surely the wording in the messages does not suggest such an interpretation, and the whole context of the work clearly defines the Divine Persons, and in any case Fr Pacwa recognises this himself; he writes “on more than 85 pages Vassula correctly differentiates between the Father and the Son.”(14)
Similarly, he admits that at least 160 times in the 5 notebooks which he studied, the distinction between the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ is correctly presented.(15) Why then does he not interpret the cited messages as corresponding with the aforementioned context, which clearly stated the real distinctions between the Divine Persons?
Surely the proper principle for an interpretation of ambiguous texts is that it is the context of this work – and not the reader and his own whim – which decides their meaning. One uses this kind of principle, amongst others, in the exegesis of the Bible.
One cannot use the rule that context does not matter, in order to ascribe to the messages in ‘True Life In God’ the ‘worst of all possible’ meanings; that is, that they are erroneous, not in accordance with the teaching of the Church, and are heretical.
Fr M. O’Carrol rightly points out to Fr Pacwa that in using his method, one can wrongly interpret event the words of Jesus Himself, who says: “To have seen Me is to have seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).(16)
If one was always to attribute the ‘worst of all possible’ meanings, one would be able to accuse Jesus in the Gospels of the same error that Fr Pacwa points out to Jesus in ‘True Life In God’ – that is, identifying Himself with the Father as one Divine Person.
By means of the method, which is used by many opponents of ‘True Life In God’, one can also succeed in finding heretical teachings in the words of Jesus given to us by St John: “The Father and I are One” (Jn 10:30).
According to the logic of this specific method one has to understand these words using the ‘worst possible meaning’, and therefore: “We are one, because We are one and the same Divine Person”. It can also be added, as is often done with regard to ‘True Life In God’, that the text of the Gospels is ‘ambiguous and unclear’.
Of course, Fr Pacwa knows full well that one cannot interpret difficult sentences from the sacred Scriptures with the help of the same method which he uses in relation to the ambiguous excerpts from the writings of Vassula Ryden. Therefore, in order to demonstrate to Fr O’Carrol how to correctly understand the aforementioned difficult passage from St John’s Gospel, he quotes whole pages written by the doctors of the Church.(17) In this case he uses, of course, the correct method of interpretation of ambiguous expressions, in order to be able to understand in accordance with the whole context, and not to try to find errors and heresies at any price. What a pity that so many opponents of ‘True Life In God’ do not apply – for some unknown reason – the correct method of understanding this work.
Can Jesus be called ‘Father’?
Fr M. Pacwa accuses Vassula of mixing up and even identifying the Divine persons as one and the same, because Jesus calls Himself ‘Father’ and allows her to address Him in this way.
In order to prove this ‘heretical’ mixing up of the Persons, Fr Pacwa took great pains to draw up a list of passages from the messages in which the description ‘Father’ is applied to Jesus, for example in the message 12.1.87. Thanks to this large number of quotations – chosen and torn out of their context – it is suggested to the reader that the analysed work is a collection of errors, heresies and absurdities.
In spite of appearances, this method of searching out heretical identifying of the Divine Persons is faulty. One can compare it with showing that if two people have the same name, for example John, then they are not two separate persons but rather only one person, one man! One would also have to say – according to the logic of such thinking – that all Brothers in a monastery are ‘one man’ or ‘one person’, because we call each of them ‘Brother’. It is a strange way of reasoning, but nevertheless, it is the basis of most ‘proofs of heresies’ which are allegedly found in the writings of Vassula. This problem will be discussed a little later.
In accusing Vassula of the error of mixing up the Divine Persons by calling them by the same name ‘Father’, the critics of ‘True Life In God’ confuse two realities bound up with the Holy Trinity, which are very clearly delineated in the Catholic theology.
In dogmatic theology one speaks of the Divine Persons in their unchangeable and eternal trinitarian relations with, or in their connection to created beings. One must never confuse these two actual realities, which unfortunately the opponents of ‘True Life In God’ seem to be doing.
As to the relations between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, they are eternal and unchangeable. This means that the First Divine Person, the Father, is always the Father in relation to the Second Divine person; that is, He is eternally generating the Son.
That is why one must never say – without falling into real trinitarian heresy – that the Second Divine Person in relation to the First person is at one time ‘the Son’ and another time ‘the Father’; that is, at one time He who is begotten, and at another time He who ‘begets’.
Again one cannot say, that in the trinitarian relations, the Son is the Father to the Holy Spirit; that is, generating Him; nor can one say, conversely, that the Holy Spirit is Father to the Son; that is, He who eternally generates Him. The relations of origin of the Divine Persons are unchangeable and eternal and result in the fact that the Divine persons are truly distinct from one another. Therefore he who really confuses the Divine persons, also confuses the relations of origin or negates them. However there is no single instance in which Vassula does this in her writings in ‘True Life In God’.
When in her writings Jesus calls Himself “Father”, it is never in reference to the trinitarian relation to the First or the Third Divine Person. In other words: when Jesus speaks of Himself as “Father” and allows Vassula to so call Him, at that time He does not describe Himself as ‘Father of the Eternal Father’; that is, ‘generating the Father’, nor doe He describe Himself as the ‘Father of the Holy Spirit’; that is, generating Him.
When He speaks of Himself as Father, Jesus is not describing the trinitarian relationship but presents a different reference: namely, the one which takes place between Him and us – the created beings. Thus Christ calls Himself ‘Father’ not in relation to the other Divine Persons, that is, not the one generating the other Divine Persons, which would be a heresy, but in relation to us. He is “our Father”, the “Father of all mankind”. (18) And that is the truth. From a theological point of view it is a matter of the relationship of the Divine Persons to the created beings. With reference to this relationship one can, without risk of falling into heresy, call not only Jesus but also the Holy Spirit “Father”.
For example, in the prophecy of Isaiah, which foretells the birth of Jesus Christ, He is called the “Eternal Father”: “For there is a Child born for us, a Son given to us, and dominion is laid on His shoulders; and this is the name they give to Him: Wonder–Counsellor, Mighty–God, Eternal–Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5).
While in the hymn to the Holy Spirit: “Come, O Holy Spirit” (19) we find the description “Father of the poor” with reference to the Holy Spirit: “Come Thou Father of the poor, come Thou source of all our store, come within our bosoms shine…”.(20) This is a correct definition because in this case “Father” does not mean ‘Eternally generating’; that is, the first Divine Person in His unchanging and eternal relationship to the begotten Son, but as in a ‘fatherly’ relationship of the Creator to His creature. Since we are created by all the Divine Persons, that is the whole of the Holy Trinity (see CCC 292), therefore the whole Holy Trinity and all the Divine Persons are ‘our Father’ and we can call Them in this way.(21) St Thomas teaches: “When we say to God ‘Our Father’, we address the whole Trinity”.(22) In the Old Testament God, and not just one Divine Person, was called “Father”; that is, the One who created us, who entered into a covenant with us, and gave the law to Israel (CCC238). In this case the name “Father” did not indicate a trinitarian relationship.
“By calling God “Father”, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority, and that He is at the same time goodness and loving care for all His children” (CCC 239).
So therefore, there is neither trinitarian error nor any teaching which has been rejected by the Church in these excerpts from ‘True Life In God’ in which the description “Father” refers to Jesus Christ. There is no mixing up or identifying of the Divine Persons, because in this case the name does not denote the unchanging trinitarian relationship, but is a reference to: Creator-creature. Therefore anyone who accuses Vassula Ryden of misusing the name “Father” does not express the stance of the Church, but only their own personal view, their own theological opinion.
When speaking about the Holy Trinity, why is there at one time “identification” and at another time “distinction”?
Fr Pacwa notices or rather reproaches Vassula that in her writings, Jesus presents Himself as identical with the Holy Spirit and then in the next paragraph as distinct from Him (23).
From a theological point of view this ‘duality’ does not necessarily have to be a heresy. What is more, there is no other way in which one can present He who is One and Triune at the same time. This, after all, constitutes the unfathomable mystery of faith: that there exists one God, but in three Persons, who are really distinct from one another in their “relations of origin” (CCC 254).
Therefore if the identification is emphasized in a fragment of ‘True Life In God’, it then appertains to the Divine nature, which is one and the same for each Divine Person. However, when a distinction appears, it appertains to the Divine Persons, who are not identical.
It is useful here to emphasize the similarity of language in ‘True Life In God’ – which is so irritating to those who search out errors within it – with that of the language of the Council of Toledo XI (675) which tries to explain with human words – and is therefore very limited – the unfathomable mystery of the oneness and triuneness of the Holy Trinity. We read in the statements of this Council “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God”.(24) In this statement of the Council, we discover this identification which so troubles the opponents of ‘True Life In God’: “it is the same as…”.
The same Council expresses another aspect of the mystery of the Holy Trinity: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son He who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit He who is the Father or the Son”. (25) Here it is pointed out the real distinction between the Divine persons, which can also be seen in the messages of True Life In God.
Once again we come to the conclusion that the mystery of the one unique and trinitarian God is presented in the same way in the ‘True Life In God’ messages as it is in the dogmatic teaching of the Church. There exists only the difference in language, which often becomes the cause of unjust attacks.
Different ways of expressing the mystery of faith in the messages and in the dogmas of the Church
In the messages of ‘True Life In God’ we sometimes find forms of words which can surprise or even shock us. Because of this they often become the object of sharp attacks. Amongst others, one of these expressions is Jesus’ statement: “I am the Holy Trinity, you have discerned well” (26)
And so, for example, Fr Pacwa sites an extract from the messages of 25.07.89 (27) where he accuses it of identifying the Person of the Father with the person of the Son, and also of identifying Jesus Himself with the Holy Trinity. (28)
Indeed we may be surprised by statements such as “I am the Holy Trinity”. This is because we are accustomed to a different theological language; that is to say, expressing the truth of the faith in a ‘descriptive’ way, that is, through use of the third person. In this form the trinitarian dogmas of the Church are also expressed. So for example, using the same kind of language, the Catechism reminds us of the truth, which corresponds to that which scandalises so many: “I am Trinity”, in ‘True Life In God’: “Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son” (CCC 255). (29)
However descriptive language is not the only way in which to present the mysteries of faith. In the Sacred Scriptures the trinitarian truths are often expressed not with the help of the third person, but with the first. So for example Jesus states the absolute oneness of the Divine nature when He says “I and the Father are One” (Jn 10:30). We come across the same language used in the messages given through Vassula Ryden.
One can agree that the statement “I am the Most Holy Trinity” is surprising, but how else can God, who is the Trinity, ‘express’ Himself, when He speaks as one concrete Divine Person, really distinct from the other Divine Persons and at the same time being the one and the same Divine substance?
How can God, one in the Holy Trinity, express Himself ‘correctly theologically’? How can He ‘properly’ present the mystery, unfathomable to us, of the one and trinitarian God?
We can put this question to those who attack the above statements in the messages: which of the concrete dogmatic pronouncements of the popes, councils or synods of the Church are the attacked messages at variance with? What kind of trinitarian heresy do we have here? What kind of error? There is none, because the context of the work explains how to correctly understand each ambiguous or ‘shocking’ sentence. This is the correct way in which to interpret the texts: it is the context – and not the personal whim of the reader – which gives sense to the ambiguous expressions.
The theological truths expressed in the first person can be presented in the third person. For example, Christ could say: “I, Jesus, am God and man”. The same statement could be expressed in theological language in the third person: “Jesus Christ possesses the true Divine and human nature”.
It is not always easy, however, to ‘translate’ statements made in the first person into descriptive theology. In doing so, one can make mistakes. For example, the words of Jesus: “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30) can be changed into the correct wording: ‘Jesus and the Father are one with regard to the nature’. One can also express the words of the Redeemer erroneously; for example: ‘Jesus and the Father are one, as they are the same person’.
Those who read Vassula’s writings very often ‘interpret for themselves’ the texts of the messages expressed in the ‘first person’ into the theological ‘third person’. However, in thus ‘interpreting’ the messages of ‘True Life In God’, one can make mistakes. It happens when the person making such an ‘interpretation’ does not take into account the context, and ‘translates’ in his own way – as it pleases him – a statement expressed in the first person into theological ‘description’; that is, expressed in the third person.
Those who do these difficult ‘translations’ are often like the person who has badly translated a theological work into a foreign language, and then starts to criticise the work – for the errors which result from his own translation. And therefore sometimes someone thinks he has found heresies in ‘True Life In God’, whereas in actual fact they are found only in his own theological interpretations, and not in the actual messages. It is therefore the whimsical interpretation of the opponents of Vassula’s writings that ‘creates’ heresies where there are none, consequently compelling the opponents to criticise the writings and to warn potential readers against them.
There is no identification of the Person of the Holy Spirit with the Person of the Son in Vassula’s writings
Opponents of Vassula’s writings often accuse them not only of identifying the Person of the Father with the Person of the Son of God, but also of identifying the Second Divine Person with the Holy Spirit.
This sort of accusation is also put forward by Fr Pacwa. He quotes, amongst others, the message from 11.10.88: “Their obduracy to listen is condemning them – anyone who rejects the works of My Holy Spirit is rejecting Me, for the Holy Spirit and I are One and the same!”
Here – in demonstrating an alleged trinitarian heresy – we see once again the application of the rule of always attributing the ‘worst meaning’, without taking into account the context, which presents the Son and the Spirit as distinct Divine Person, and which – as we have said before – Fr Pacwa himself has noticed in many places in this work. In spite of this he criticises the words of Jesus: “The Holy Spirit and I are One and the same!”, giving them, without reason, an erroneous meaning. He attributes this statement with identifying the Person of the Son with the Person of the Holy Spirit.
However this is only his own interpretation, because the cited words do not explicitly state this at all. One has to interpret them according to the context, which emphasizes the real distinction between the Person of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The words which are being attacked can therefore be understood quite correctly as the following: ‘We are one and the same God’, which means that the Son, the Holy Spirit and the Father are the same God, on account of the same substance (that is, the same nature of the Divine Being – see CCC 253).
Therefore we do not find erroneous and heretical meaning in Vassula’s actual writings, but only in the meaning given to them by those fighting against this work. What is more, the criticised teaching on the Holy Trinity in this theological masterpiece is in complete agreement with the teaching of the Council of Toledo XI in 675: “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, that is by nature one God.” (DS 530; CCC 253).
It is worth taking particular note of the Council’s description: “is that which”, which is equivalent to the words which are being attacked: “one and the same” in Vassula’s writings.
Is the Son of God Spirit?
The words from 24.9.88 “Remember that I am Spirit and all that I have I share with your spirit” have also become the object of sharp criticism. Fr. Pacwa includes them in the paragraph given over to erroneous statements about the Holy Spirit, (30) without precisely specifying his objections. However, the context of the paragraph suggests that the critic sees here a heresy of identifying the Person of the Son with the Person of the Holy Spirit.
Let us then analyse the theological contents of the message which does not directly make clear which Divine Person s speaking. So therefore when Vassula asks “My God?” she received the reply “I am. Remember that I am Spirit and all that I have, I share with your spirit.” He who gives this message describes himself as God, Creator, Life and Lord. He also says that He is the “Father” of Vassula, whom He calls “child”. In any case, He who is speaking – God the Father or Jesus Christ – states that He is “Spirit”.
So then, is Fr Pacwa right to include this extract amongst the trinitarian errors concerning the Holy Spirit? In the words of the message is there identification of the Person the Holy Spirit with the Person of the Father or with the Son of God? No. We have here a completely correct usage of the word ‘Spirit’, which has very different meanings. At the most there is a concurrence and similarity of words; there is no ontological identification of the Divine Persons, which would have been an error. One only has to look in a biblical dictionary in order to see how many different meanings the word ‘Spirit’ or ‘spirit’ has in the Sacred Scriptures. In dogmatical theology the idea of the ‘spirit’ appertains to God in two ways. It could refer to the Third Divine Person, that is the Holy Spirit, but it could also refer to the Divine Nature which is common to all the Persons.
In using the second meaning of the concept of the ‘spirit’ we say that God is spirit, that is He is not material and possesses all the attributes of a being which in philosophy and theology is called spirit.
According to Catholic theology all the characteristics of the Divine Nature are common to three Divine Persons. Each one of Them is eternal, unchanging and unending in Their perfection. However because in His Divine substance God is spirit, one has to say that each Divine Person is spirit; that is, possesses all the attributes of a spiritual being. So then when one says that the Father is spirit, the Son of God is spirit and the Holy Spirit is spirit.
Therefore, if in a message transmitted through Vassula, God the Father or Jesus says “I am Spirit”, it means: “I am not a material being. I am a spiritual being, who is able to know, to love, and is free, and so forth.
It is also worth reminding ourselves that St Paul calls Christ the Second Adam, a “life-giving spirit”, without preaching any trinitarian heresies. He explains: “The first man Adam, as Scripture says, became a living soul; but the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit” (I Co 15:45).
Therefore in the messages in ‘True Life In God’ there is no error of identifying the Divine Persons when one of them says of Himself that He is ‘Spirit’, because this describes the spiritual nature of God.
The similarity of names does not mean ontological identification of the Divine Persons
In order to demonstrate a heresy of identification of the Divine Persons, the opponents of Vassula Ryden’s writings use a method of very doubtful quality from a theological
point of view. It relies upon the compilation of texts in which the distinct Divine persons are described in the same terms.
As an example of the use of the above method we can once more quote Fr Pacwa, who accuses Vassula many times of not only identifying the Person of the Son with the Father, but also with the Holy Spirit. To show this last error he compiles the messages in which Jesus is described with the same terms as is the Holy Spirit, for example “Spirit of Truth”, “Spirit of Love”, “Spirit of Grace”. (31)
The use of such a method is wrong. Instead of concentrating on the relation of origin of the Divine Persons, all the attention is directed to the similarity of the wording, as if it were this that decided Their real distinction or Their alikeness. It is in this that possibly the most serious methodological and theological error perpetrated by the opponents of Vassula’s writings is revealed, in their seeking out identification of the Divine persons on the plane of real being when they are described with the same or similar descriptions – names. Let us examine this subject in more detail.
It is true that in the messages of ‘True Life In God’, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit are sometimes described by the same words. But can one conclude from this, that the Divine Persons are identified by this? No, just as one does not identify people who are engaged in the healing of the sick by way of calling them all ‘doctors’. It would also be a groundless accusation, if one were to completely identify people by way of describing them as ‘rational beings’, ‘God’s creatures’ or ‘God’s children’. One cannot identify totally different objects by giving them the same name. It is absurd to identify those boys, different from one another on the ontological plane, who have the same name – John, James, Peter. Similarly, in describing the Divine Persons with the same terms is not an identification of them on an ontological plane.
In order to prove a possible error in mixing up the Divine Persons, one would have to occupy oneself in analysing how Their relation of origin are presented in ‘True Life In God’. According to the teaching of the Church, of which we are reminded in the Catechism, the Divine Persons are really distinct from one another in their relations of origin and not in the names by which we call them (CCC 254). The Father is distinct from other Divine Persons not because we call Him ‘Father’, but because of the fact that He eternally “generates” the Son. The Son is really distinct from other Divine Persons not because He has a different name from the Father and from the Holy Spirit, but because He is eternally “begotten”. Finally, the third Divine Person does not identify with the other Persons because He is called the Holy Spirit, but because He “proceeds”. We are reminded of exactly this teaching of the Lateran Council IV in 1215 in the CCC when we read: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds” (CCC 254). He who would identify the “relations of origin” would be wrongly identifying the Divine Persons.
An individual would be denying the existence of the distinct Persons of the Holy Trinity, were he to reject the existence of these relations. Describing the Divine Persons by the same names is not synonymous with identifying them on the plane of their real existence.
In ‘True Life In God’ it would be an erroneous identification of the Divine Persons if statements were found such as: “The Father is the one who generates, and at the same time the Son generates and the Holy Spirit generates”; “The Father is begotten, as the Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit is begotten”; “The Father proceeds, as the Son proceeds and the Holy Spirit proceeds”.
Of course there are no such erroneous expressions to be found anywhere in Vassula’s writings. Therefore when the opponents of her writings want to accuse them of heresy, they disregard the dogmatical teaching if the Church on the trinitarian relations, and concentrate on searching out only similarities of words relating to the Divine Persons, as if it were the words which decided Their identity or Their real distinction from one another. When they find these similarities, they are convinced that they have found trinitarian heresies, identifying the Divine persons on the plane of real being, which is an erroneous conclusion. There is no logic in such a way of reasoning, as there would be no .logic – let us reiterate – in saying that calling many children by the same name, such as John, comes from an absurd and mistaken acceptance of their real, ontological identity.
And so, therefore, searching in Vassula’s writings for texts in which the Divine persons are described by the same terms or names is a useless exercise. The use of such a method is also a moving away from the teaching of the Church, which sees the distinction between the Divine Persons in their relations of origin and not in Their names.
Vassula does not promote the heresy of patripassionism
Patripassionism is a trinitarian heresy which claims that the Father and the Son are one person, and that is why God the Father suffered and died on the cross under the appearance of Jesus Christ. Because Fr Pacwa accuses Vassula’s writings of identifying the Divine Persons, he tries also to find in them this ancient trinitarian heresy. And thus, in performing a breakneck analysis, and in spite of which still not being able to ascribe Vassula’s writings with formal patripassionism, he arrives at the following statement: “Perhaps Vassula means Jesus suffered, but the text is unclear” (32)
However, the analysed text is quite clear when one takes into account its context. Without a shadow of a doubt one can say that according to ‘True Life In God’ it was not the Father but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who suffered and died on the cross. One only has to read one of the many fragments which contain the description of the Passion of the Lord, the Son of God who became man.
As an example we can cite the message of 9th November 1986. In it Jesus reminds us of His Passion, death and His last words to the Father, with whom He does not identify as a Divine Person. In order to dispel any last doubts as to who suffered on the cross, Jesus finishes this particular message with the words: “I Jesus Christ dictated to you My agony”.
And still – as if this were all without any value, and as if the context of the work and even Jesus Christ ‘presenting Himself’ had no meaning whatsoever – Fr Pacwa concentrates exclusively on a short dialogue between Jesus and Vassula, going too far in drawing from it implication of patripassionism. This is the dialogue: “I love You, Father, beyond words” says Vassula. “I love you daughter” she hears Jesus’ reply (7.04.87).
Since in the rest of the message He who had been called ‘Father’ by Vassula speaks of His Passion and His death on the cross, Fr Pacwa puts forward his suspicions of patripassionism, maintaining that it could be God the Father who here describes His death on the cross. It means little to him that He who describes His Passion and death on the cross also portrays Himself if the very same passage as Jesus Christ! For He says: “Have no fear, for I, Jesus am with you” (7.04.1987). Therefore it is not a matter of the death on the cross of God the Father, but of the crucifixion of Jesus. It is obvious, but not to Fr Pacwa. Why? Because Vassula addresses Jesus with the word “Father”, and He replies to her “daughter”.
We have already touched upon the subject of whether one can address Christ by calling Him ‘Father’. There remains, however, another problem; namely, that of whether Jesus has the right to call Vassula “daughter”, without identifying Himself with the Person of the Father through this. Here it seems that Jesus not only has the right to address people in a paternal way, but He also exercises that right. So for example, He addresses His disciples with the word ‘children’ (see Mk 10:24; Jn 13:3; Jn 21:5). Through this does He identify Himself with the Father as one Divine Person? Certainly not, just as He does not do so by calling Vassula “daughter”, because here it is a case of the relation of the Creator to a creature. After all it is with the same words “my daughter” that Jesus addressed many mystics, amongst them St Faustina Kowalska (33), who in her turn speaks of His ‘fatherly heart’ (34) and even calls Him her ‘Mother’ (35), certainly without mixing Him up with the Heavenly Father or with Mary.
And thus ‘True life In God’ does not identify the Divine Persons, nor does it propagate erroneous patripassionism. It is only an incorrect method of analysing texts used by those who attack Vassula, which enables them then to ascribe these errors, as it would enable them to ascribe such errors to other persons, for example St Faustina. In one of he conversations written down by St Faustina Jesus tells her that He is “the Father of sinners” who has laid down His life for them. The Redeemer says: “My heart is overflowing with mercy for souls especially for poor sinners. O that they would understand that I am the best Father for them so that My blood and water flowed out from my heart as from a source overflowing with mercy”(36). So, here too, someone could find patripassionism, but St Faustina certainly does not propagate it.
There are also no other errors in Vassula’s writings
In ‘True Life In God’ – in my opinion – there are not only no trinitarian errors but also no others. On the contrary, one can only find there teaching as proclaimed by the Church. I have read and analysed those of Vassula’s texts which have been attacked by Fr Pacwa and in which are mentioned the Church and its unity. Not only did I not find any heresies in them, but on the contrary, only teaching which is in accordance with the teaching of the Vatican Council II (37).
I have also not omitted to read the criticised passages on Jesus Christ, on His resurrection, and on Yahweh. There too I failed to find the alleged errors. Nor have I omitted to read those passages containing supposedly erotic expressions, and I have found nothing any more ‘shocking’ than is on the writings of other mystics, for example St John of the Cross or St Mechtylda.
Therefore, I have been and remain always ready to discuss with anyone each sentence and even each word in ‘True Life In God’, under one condition: that the accuser of this work uses an honest method; that is, the same as is used in the exegesis of the bible, and not biased – such as is used solely in the analysis of Vassula Ryden’s writings.
Anything can be discredited
By employing the method of quoting many citations and giving them the strangest meanings, one can easily ridicule any work. One can extract numerous citations from any book in such a way that they contradict each other and give the impression of being absurd. One can even do this with the Sacred Scriptures, if one wanted to prove that it is a book filled with absurd statements. In this way one can achieve anything, as long as a ‘suitable’ method is applied.
Fr. Michał Kaszowski
(1)This opinion is held by Fr Pacwa SJ. He expressed accusations against Vassula with regard to the teaching on the Holy Trinity in Vassula’s writings in the three part article: “A Critique of a Visionary”, Catholic Twin, Circle, !st August 1993, p 4-5; 8th August 1993, p4-5; 15th August 1993, p4-5. Authors of various publications indiscriminately repeat his arguments.
(2)Council of Constantinople II (553): DS 421, CCC 253
(3)Quasi solitarius. Fides Damasi: DS 71; CCC 254
(4)DS 530. Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 804; CCC 254
(6) See CCC 254 and the Messages e.g. 27.09.86. Here we find ‘I am God’s Begotten Son’ Angel nbk 2: 4.10.86
(7) True Life In God 21.11.88; 20.12.88; 22.04.90
(8) True Life In God 21.10.86; 23.9.91; 30.05.93; 9.10.94; 25.10.94; 3.4.95; 1.12.95; 10.12.95
(9)At the time of writing this article 94 notebooks have been published
(10)St Ignatius Loyola Spiritual Exercises 22; CCC 2478
(11)He writes: “According to this evidence, it would be incorrect and heretical for a Christian to follow Vassula’s confusion of the Son with either the Father or the Holy Spirit”(Fr M Pacwa: A Critique of a Visionary. Part I in a III part series on Vassula, Catholic Twin, Circle, 1st August 1993, p5.)
(12)See Messages 9.02.89; 26.7.89; 29.3.89; 29.11.89.
(13) “Unite! Unite! Be one now as the Father and I are One and the Same!” (15.2.89)
(14) “On more than 85 pages Vassula correctly differentiates between the Father and the Son, usually in the context of the Son teaching Vassula to pray to the Father.” (Fr M Pacwa, A Critique of a Visionary. Part II in a III part series on Vassula, Catholic Twin, Circle, 8th August 1993, p 4). On the same page he writes “Other expressions in the notebooks distinguish properly between the Father and the Son.”
(15) “Most of her references to the Holy Spirit, more than 160 by my count, appear to distinguish Jesus from the Hoy Spirit aptly. No one need dispute these acceptable statements on the Trinity.” (p4)
(16)See Fr M Pacwa, A Critique of a Visionary. Part I in a III part series on Vassula, Catholic Twin, Circle, 1st August 1993 p5.
(17)As above, p5
(18) True Life In God 7.2.87
(19) )“Veni, Sancte Spiritus”
(20) Veni Pater pauperum, veni Dator munerum, veni Lumen cordium)
(21)W. Granat, ‘One God in Trinity’. Catholic Dogma, Vol.1
(22) St Thomas I, qu.23, 92, ad 3
(23) “Jesus distinguishes Himself from the Holy Spirit in one paragraph, but identifies Himself as the Holy Spirit in the next” (M Pacwa, A Critique of a Visionary. Part I in a III part series on Vassula, 1st August 1993, p4)
(24 )DS 503, CCC 253
(25) DS 530. CCC 254
(26) see 11.04.88, 26.07.89, 28.07.89
(27) “So have confidence, for you are in your Father’s Arms. I, the Holy Trinity, am One and the Same”
(28) “In addition to calling Jesus the Father, now Jesus is the same as the Holy Trinity!” (Fr M Pacwa, A Critique of a Visionary, Part II in a III part series on Vassula, Catholic Twin, Circle, 8th August 1993 p4)
(29)Council of Florence, 144: DS 1331
(30)Fr M Pacwa, A Critique of a Visionary. Part I in a III part series on Vassula, Catholic Twin, Circle, 1st August 1993, p5
(31)Fr M Pacwa, A Critiwue of a Visionary, Part I in a III part series on Vassula, Catholic Twin, Circle, 1st August 1993, p 5
(32) “Perhaps Vassula means Jesus suffered, but the text is unclear”( Fr M Pacwa, A Critique of a Visionary, Part I in a III part series on Vassula, Catholic Twin, Circle, 1st August 1993, p 5)
(33)Diary, St Faustina Kowalska, 1181
(34) “In You, O Lord, everything that Your Fatherly Heart gives is good” Diary, St Faustina Kowalska
(35) “O Jesus – Living Host, You are my Mother, You are my all” Diary, St Faustina Kowalska
(36) Diary, St Faustina Kowalska
(37) Unity According to the Second Vatican Council and Vassula Ryden, Touched by the Spirit of God. Insights into “True Life In God”, Rev Michal Kaszowski, Trinitas, 1997, pp 39-60, Independence, Missouri