The Holy Trinity – Mystery at the heart of the World

Romans 8:14-17

The solemnity of the Holy Trinity. It took the church four centuries to formulate its doctrine on the Trinity. Just in case, this is the one session you missed in Catechism because you had a stomach bug, let me revise the basics. The Trinity is not three Gods. We are monotheists, as strongly as the Jews and the Muslims. But this One God, we believe, exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each of these is God. The Father is fully God. The Son is fully and equally God. The Spirit is fully and equally God. They are their own persons, hence three. But they are still one, not three Gods.

What we are talking about, of course, is not something we can imagine. Aquinas would say that the highest knowledge of God that we have, is in fact, negative. The doctrine defines what we cannot say about the Trinity first and foremost. What we do say, it defines, how we say it, because what God is, we can talk only by analogy. And no analogy is perfect. It is not something we can ever, fully understand, even in eternity. Our minds, our capacities are finite, as creatures, and God is infinite. But that doesn’t mean we cannot know God. As the Penny Catechism would say, God created me, to know him, to love him, to serve him and to be happy with him in eternity. We will never fully understand, in a rational manner. But we will know God through becoming like him, by being united with him in love. It is a far deeper form of knowledge. And this is the heart’s greatest joy.

But like everything about the faith, which is in essence, Mystery, there is an invitation to understand as well. It is captured well in the motto of the great saint, Anslem: fides quarens intellectumFaith that seeks understanding. But there are good and bad ways to understand. We live in a completely consumerist culture. There is a deep quest for knowledge, to figure everything out. Why? So, we can use it for our benefit. But knowledge for its own sake, as the Scriptures warn, simply leads to pride (1 Cor 8:1). It becomes an instrument of power. And it destroys. The results are all around us. We know how to traverse the oceans and use them, we have ended up polluting them. We have over-fished and destroyed most species in the sea, most of which ends up being wasted. All so we can consume and have enough choice. There are no limits to such seeking. We want to alter the human body itself, even our genders. We don’t want to stop with stem cells, we want to experiment on embryos. The quest never stops. We constantly want to experiment, to know.  Everything is at the service of our use, of control. We end up with a lot knowledge, but little understanding, a lot of facts, but no wisdom. And approached this way, the doctrine of the Trinity would seem meaningless. Immanuel Kant, the Enlightenment philosopher famously said, “the doctrine of the Trinity, taken literally, has no practical relevance at all…Whether we are to worship three or ten persons in the Deity makes no difference…”. Pace, Kant, it makes all the difference, because it is about who you are. 

The whole of creation reflects God’s image, his glory. Man, among these, is supremely created in God’s image and likeness. He unites in himself, the purpose of this creation. And so he cannot understand himself, let alone creation, without the light of the Trinity in whose image he has been made. This Mystery, at the heart of creation, at once animates and unlocks everything else. This Mystery gives an inner coherence to everything. It is something completely opposed to the consumerist knowledge we have been talking about. God in himself is a community of Love. And each of the persons, in the godhead are relationships. We think of persons as individuals having something  – including relationships. The persons of the godhead are simply relationships – they are subsistent relations. The Father is a person only because he is the Father of the Son. The Son is simply Son of the Father. The Spirit is the spirit of the Father and the Son. They do not exist except as relationships. Each of the persons exist only for the other. To know that I am created in the image of this community of Love means, how I live changes.  My knowledge is at the service of love, of wonder. It is not a tool to be wielded for my own purposes. When I love someone, I want to know them, so I can love them more, not so I can use them for my benefit. I approach everything with an awe, a wonder. I receive all of creation as a gift; like Adam, I realise I am placed as a guardian of all of God’s gifts, myself included. It also means that we can be fully ourselves only when we exist for the other. It is in giving myself away, just as the persons of the Trinity do with each other, that I can come to know myself, let alone, the other. This kind of knowledge is not something that can be known in a laboratory. It can only be known as we allow ourselves to love and we receive love. 

Which is why the Church values the vocations so highly. Marriage, priesthood, religious life. In them, we are forced to love. That might seem a contradiction in terms, but to a fallen race, love has to be learned and practiced. Love is not simply having feelings or something we act on when we understand. It is something to which we make a commitment, a decision. It means being present to the other person, sometimes when we’d rather be doing something else. Waking up at 2 AM to feed your baby, after an exhausting day might not be filled with great feelings, but that is love. It is also why the Church is against contraception. Because it is against Trinitarian love. Love to be true to itself, should be generous, without holding back. Jesus held nothing back on the Cross. In all this, we change by doing, by the very act of loving. The saints who were martyred, did not become martyrs overnight. They learnt to love every day. When the day of their triumph came, they were ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. This is not easy. But we don’t do this on our own strength. That is why God gives us his Spirit, so we can love like him, become like him. And to follow the leading of the Spirit is to know within that we are children of the God who is Love itself.  

Aquinas was once asked, what God does all day. He replied, saying, God enjoys himself. This joy is what is at the heart of self-sacrificial love. Love which does not produce joy is flawed. As we make this journey, in learning to love, we become more and more God’s sons and daughters. Then, when we finally come face to face with this Mystery we have lived, our hearts will be filled with joy. As Augustine says,

All shall be Amen and Alleluia. 
We shall rest and we shall see. 
We shall see and we shall know. 
We shall know and we shall love. 
We shall love and we shall praise. 
Behold our end, which is no end.


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