An audience asks the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen to explain the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity. He warns them that no matter how erudite his explanation may be, the Trinity doctrine would still not be fully clear to them. After a two-hour rigorous theological and philosophical speech on the subject, a woman approaches him and says, “Now I fully understand the mystery of the Trinity.” To which he replies, “Then you didn’t understand it at all.”
My reflection here isn’t likely to be a refutation-proof explanation of the mystery of the Trinity. I gladly embrace my limitations in this matter.
Faith and Reason
We believe this mystery of the Blessed Trinity through the gift of faith. God gives this gift, so we can gradually understand what we do not know about divinity. The French philosopher Rene Descartes, whose philosophy was built on a radical rejection of everything until one comes to the confidence of the “thinking self,” acknowledges that the thinking person has significant limitations in matters of faith. Revelation complements, if not completes, the thinking self. It is another way of stating what Saint Thomas Aquinas says regarding our response to faith because of divine revelation, for no one assents to what has not been revealed.
To be sure, there are many things we do not know about ourselves, let alone about the complex physical and spiritual worlds. It calls for a humble disposition. Have faith first. Add to faith a humble openness to the truth. Then we will be surprised by insights beyond us. The fourth-century African theologian Saint Augustine’s advice for us “to believe to understand” or the more famous line from Saint Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury (11th century) “faith seeking understanding” is a wise counsel from great minds. In matters of divine truths, we overcome a cognitive dissonance arising from insisting on reason alone if we let faith. One has the fuller picture with faith and reason.
If you don’t’ believe, and you want to, pray for the light of faith. It’s a gift worth more than gold.
The Blessed Trinity in the Bible?
I now look at the specific truth about the Trinity. Although the word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture, the concept and idea, that is, the truth that God is three persons in one is a revealed biblical truth. Christians who insist that every word must be in the Bible before they accept it as the Word of God take note. Fixation with words and ignoring the context and meaning hampers a richer discovery. A person of faith must be aware of this.
It was an African Catholic theologian, Tertullian (155-230 AD), who coined the word Trinity (from Latin –Trinitas). He used it to designate the revealed truth, which is also in the Bible, that God is triune. The Church solemnly defined the doctrine at the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) in the refutation of Arian heresy (Arianism). Arianism denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Right from the time of the apostles, the early Church was on board regarding this biblical truth. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, spoke about the Father who sent him (the Son) and about the Holy Spirit whom he was going to send. There are numerous places in the Bible where Jesus talked about his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. [For your private readings and meditations, see Genesis 1:26; 3:22; Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19; John 1:1-51; 10:30-36; 14:16-17, 26; I Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6; Colossians 2:9; Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 John 5:7-8, etc.]
The Works of the Blessed Trinity
In Christian salvation history, we usually attribute the work of creation to the Father, redemption to the Son, and sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, though they are distinct as persons, neither the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Spirit exists or acts in isolation from the other two persons of the one God.
Like Saint Augustine, we may not fully understand the how of the Blessed Trinity. The “how” implies a kind of knowledge that requires us to know the process from start to finish, comparable to demonstrable technical skills. One must be in the manner of God for one to fully comprehend how God is the Trinity, just like one must be skilled in design to know how to design a house. We are not God and can never fully understand the “how” of the Trinity.
The Question of the Why of the Blessed Trinity
However, I believe it is essential to understand part of the why. The “why” question about the revelation of the mystery of the Trinity is vital to us as human beings. This is because such knowledge is required to have a confident commitment to the Blessed Trinity as the chief object of our Christian faith. The knowledge of the “why” of the Trinity is available to humans who open themselves to the revelation of God. It is also reasonable.
Why did God reveal to us this mystery regarding the very nature of his Supreme Being? God created us in his image and likeness. The more we understand God, the more we know and understand ourselves. We become wise too.
Lessons from the Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity
As believers, a relevant question for us to ask today may be: What does the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity teach us about the God we worship? What does this say about the kind of people we should be? On this, I have two points to share with you here.
1. God does not exist in solitary individualism. God is in a “community” of love and sharing. It is the self-outpouring of God that we cherish as life in Christ and the beauty of all things. Creation is the outpouring of this love of the Father. Salvation is the breaking forth of Divine Love of saving grace in the Incarnate Lord, Jesus the Christ. Sanctification is the ongoing outpouring of anointing grace from the Love of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Revelation is God breaking forth into creaturely order, so in grace, we know and love as we are known and loved. It is in the very nature of God who pours God’s self to us. Faith is an embrace of this outpouring of Divine Love.
Thus, a Christian seeking a deepened Godly life (Mt 5:48) rejects the tendency to isolationism. We live not just for ourselves but also for others and ultimately for the Lord. Saint Paul tells us, “None of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone” (Rm 14:7). Glory is in living beyond ourselves. It is in embracing a divine outpouring of love.
2. Agape love, that distinctive sacrificial love which Christians should emulate from our Lord Jesus Christ, requires three—God, thou, and me. We believe God made us in his image and likeness. Just as God is God in a Trinitarian relationship, so we can be fully human in relationships. The self needs to be in a relationship with others and a relationship with God. By so doing, our life becomes Trinitarian like that of God.
Inspired to Live and Love in the Manner of the Trinity
The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity inspires us to adopt a God-me-and-neighbor principle. Our life becomes a pleasant orbit with God at the core in the warmth of relationships with others. The I-alonism or the me-me syndrome does not assure us of this warmth of love. Also, it does not guarantee an enduring joy of being who God has created us to be in love. Living in a relationship of love with God and others is socially healthier than exclusive individualism. It is a wealth far more glorious and valuable than egocentrism, narcissism, tribalism, and racism.
Seeing each other, no matter our race, class, and background, as equal in love and dignity is living in the light of the Trinity. In such is the harmony of divine presence among us. It is humanity at its best.
May the grace of the Most Holy Trinity help us overcome self-centeredness and live in the love of God and love of neighbor. Amen.
[Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity]