We are able to know certain eternal truths without the light of faith. According the Church for example, the greatest truth of all—God exists—is knowable from the light of human reason and the works of creation alone.
But there exist truths that we cannot discover until God reveals them to us. The doctrine of God as a Trinity of Divine Persons is an example of such a Divinely Revealed truth.
This is one of the most fundamental beliefs of Catholics, yet we are not able to fully understand its meaning. Frank Sheed, one of the great Catholic apologists of the twentieth century, often spoke of the mysteries of our faith. He taught that the word mystery does not refer to a truth about which we cannot know anything; it refers to a truth about which we cannot know everything.
Let’s Not Be Afraid to Engage This Mystery
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is celebrated each year on the Sunday following Pentecost Sunday. It is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234). We can never fully understand it, but let’s not be afraid to engage this mystery.
Believe me, it is worth knowing. Why else would God reveal it to us? So, let’s get to it and discover what it teaches us about God and what it means to our daily lives.
First, this mystery is important because God has called each of us into relationship with Him. He wants us to attain more than only knowledge about Him; He wants us to actually know Him, personally. A central element of knowing Him is to know who He is. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us know who God is.
So, those who wish to know God as He is and enter into an ever-deepening relationship with Him must spend time in prayer and also study what the Church teaches in order to embrace and receive this knowledge of His Triune nature.
The Mystery of the Holy Trinity Defined
Three major world religions profess belief that God is One: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Because of this, we refer to these religions as monotheistic.
In this sense, each of these three religions knows something supremely important about God – He is One. We must never lose sight of this truth. But…
Here is the first great truth of this mystery. Christians know and profess a deeper knowledge of God’s nature—what God is—that extends to His identity—who God is. This is the mystery of God’s inner life. This is the mystery of the Holy Trinity, who, according to Pope Benedict XVI “is not infinite solitude, but communion of light and love” (Angelus, June 11, 2006). Here, then, is what we can say about the Blessed Trinity:
- God is one nature… that is, there is one God.
- In God there are three distinct persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit; each is the one God, they are not three gods.
- The three persons of God each possess the one nature of God in totality (God’s nature is indivisible).
- The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
- The Father is not the Son, nor the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father, nor the Son.
Our natural reason might cause us to stumble here. Our reason my mislead us.
- One misleading example—if I look at myself, my mother and my father, I might see three members of the human species, that is, three humans. So when I consider the three persons of God, I might be misled by my reason to see three members of some divine species, that is, three gods. But God is not a species. And He is not three gods.
- Another misleading example—I am a father, I am a son and I am a husband, but this differs from the Trinity. The Trinity is three distinct persons, not three modes of seeing the same person.
The Trinity, as Pope Benedict taught in his Angelus address, is a communion of persons.
- God, the Father, in His infinite knowledge, knows Himself perfectly. He is capable of thinking of Himself. And that divine knowledge is so life-giving that the Father’s thought generates the Person of the Son by that knowledge. Theologians call that person—that thought—the Word.
- The infinite love of God is so life-giving that from the perfect, mutual love of the Father and the Son proceeds the Holy Spirit.
So, we begin to glimpse a truth that God is a communion of persons—a divine family. God’s knowledge and love has no beginning and no end, thus the three persons of God are co-eternal—each without beginning and without end.
The Image and Likeness of God
So now we come to a second important truth of this doctrine and it relates to us.
Man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God. Although in one sense we may lose the likeness of God by sin, in another sense we never forfeit the image. Thus, in learning about God and coming to better know who He is through the doctrine of the Trinity, we learn something about ourselves.
We were not made to be solitary beings; we were made to be in community. We were created to live and love as God does.
We all know that God is love. We’ve seen that God’s knowledge and expression of that love is the very inner life of the Holy Trinity. And that teaches us something very important about us—if we are to be true to whom we were made to be, we will live and love as God does and in doing so we will find joy and peace—indeed it is the only way.
God’s love is life-giving and boundless. We see that in last Sunday’s gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This is the good news of Jesus Christ and the secret of life! God not only thinks of Himself, He thinks of you. And that thought created you. You exist because God first thought of and formed an image of you. God loves you perfectly and that love sustains your being and now redeems you.
Through the Redemption, He invites each of us to share in His inner life and become members of His family. Can you imagine that! Take a moment and let the love of God soak down into your very soul.
The Family as an Image of the Trinity
Created in His image, God calls us to share in His life and work. The family—father, mother and children—is to be an image of the love shared in the Holy Trinity. In this way, the covenant of marriage is an image of New Covenant mediated by Jesus Christ, the Word, from the Cross. Through unconditional love and sacrifice, man and woman, in marriage, share in God’s work of creation and redemption.
A man loves his wife without condition and expectation. He gives everything to her, holding nothing back, willing to sacrifice even his life for her. A woman loves her husband without condition and expectation, holding nothing back, giving herself fully to her husband, willing even to die for him. This mutual love, sanctified by God, is so life-giving, that from that love pour forth children whose image was first formed in the mind of God… children made for heaven!
Into the Deep…
Image credit: “The Holy Trinity” (detail) by Antonio de Pereda, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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