Sometimes we try to explain the Trinity with simple analogies. For example, the Trinity is like water which can be found in three different forms: liquid, solid, and gas. Or similarly one might use the analogy that the same man can be a husband, a father, and an employer. But seeing God as one, without distinguishing his persons, and as appearing in three different modes of existence is a heresy called modalism.
Perhaps then we could say the Trinity is like the sun in the sky. Here we have an analogy where you have the sun, the light from the sun and the heat generated by this light. This analogy also fails, since the light and the heat come into existence out of the sun. This analogy is close to the ancient heresy of Arianism which asserted that the Son and the Spirit are separate creations of the Father who existed before them.
Perhaps the Holy Trinity is a mystery that is too hard to explain? While simple analogies do fail, it is possible to understand some basic truths about the Trinity. In fact, there are five surprising truths we need to learn.
Firstly, far from being some obscure and impractical belief, the Catechism reminds us that, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life” (CCC 261). It is the most fundamental and essential teaching of our faith (CCC 234). Everything God does is the common work of the three divine persons. Every aspect of our faith is touched by this mystery.
Secondly, when God created man and women in the “image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27) this truth highlights a dual unity of the human couple who image the relations between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The central idea of these relations is the eternal self-giving love exchanged between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the one Holy Trinity. In this sense the human family is an image of the Trinity. Pope Francis reminds us, “The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man and a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Amoris Laetitia, 29).
Thirdly, when we talk about the mystery, of the Most Holy Trinity we do not mean that it is a truth that is too hard to understand. Yet this is actually how most people understand the word ‘mystery.’ If I can’t understand I say, “It is a mystery.”
Mystery does not mean impossible to understand. When the Church uses the word, mystery it means a truth which can only be understand because God has chosen to reveal it to us. There is no natural way to discover the Trinity. We only know this truth because God has revealed it.
As the Catechism put this, “The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the ‘mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God’” (CCC 237). God has chosen to reveal this truth and it is central to our faith.
Because God has revealed the Holy Trinity to us we can understand it, even if the depths of who God truly is are beyond our human grasp. We can know even if we can’ t know all things.
Fourth, God is one. “We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the ‘consubstantial Trinity’” (CCC 253). We cannot avoid the special terminology without risking error. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have one divine substance, essence or nature. They are consubstantial.
Fifth, there are three distinct divine persons in the Godhead. They are not simply different forms or modalities of one God but are really “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’” (CCC 254). Yet these origins do not begin in time. The Son is eternally begotten and the Spirit eternally proceeds.
The divine persons may be understood relative to one another. The divine unity cannot be divided, the distinction of their persons resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another. Although inseparable in what they are, and in what they do, each person “shows forth what is proper to him in the Trinity, especially in the divine missions of the Son’s Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 267).
The Most Holy Trinity reveals the eternal self-giving love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The other mysteries of our faith such as the Paschal mystery and the Sacraments flow from this central mystery. They are all a witness to His divine love and they exist to bring us into communion with Him.
This coming week, as we reflect on this great mystery, let each of us think about this truth each time we make the sign of the cross (CCC 2166). Why not make an effort to discipline ourselves to ‘cross ourselves’ slowly and thoughtfully this week, in honor of the Most Holy Trinity?
Scott McKellar is associate director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.
Daily Scripture Readings
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here. http://www.usccb.org
Monday, May 23
1 Peter 1:3-9
Psalms 111:1-2, 5-6, 9 & 10c
Tuesday, May 24
1 Peter 1:10-16
Psalms 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4
Wednesday, May 25
1 Peter 1:18-25
Psalms 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
Thursday, May 26
1 Peter 2:2-5, 9-12
Psalms 100:2, 3, 4, 5
Friday, May 27
1 Peter 4:7-13
Psalms 96:10, 11-12, 13
Saturday, May 28
Jude 17, 20b-25
Psalms 63:2, 3-4, 5-6
The Solemnity of the Most
Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Sunday, May 29
Psalms 110:1, 2, 3, 4
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Monday, May 30
2 Peter 1:2-7
Psalms 91:1-2, 14-15b, 15c-16
Tuesday, May 31
or Romans 12:9-16
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6
Wednesday, June 1
2 Timothy 1:1-3, 6-12
Psalms 123:1b-2ab, 2cdef
Thursday, June 2
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Psalms 25:4-5ab, 8-9, 10 & 14
Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday, June 3
Psalms 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Saturday, June 4
2 Timothy 4:1-8
Psalms 71:8-9, 14-15ab, 16-17, 22
Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 5
1 Kings 17:17-24
Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
Galatians 1:11-14a, 15ac, 16a, 17, 19
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/
Click on the “Daily Readings” tab on the right hand side of the page.