Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mystery of the Trinity

The Holy Trinity can be a difficult doctrine to fully comprehend.

We in the 21st century are not the first to have trouble with a reality of God. Remember in the Old Testament how God tells us, “The Lord is God in the heavens above and on the earth below, and there is no other.”

In those ancient days it was tough for people to accept this. Back then people generally honored sky gods, sun gods, water gods, and specialized gods for about every aspect of human life and every region of human habitation. You can almost hear the people saying, "C’mon, there’s only one God?"

We might smirk at the ancients, but we have a very similar problem today! It flows from a philosophy called relativism, but winds up with much the same result. We have all heard the expression,"truth is relative"
A classic example: You might believe in Jesus, your neighbor believes in Buddha, and a co-worker reveres Allah. Maybe you have heard it said, Your God is true for you and other gods are true for other people. That's an example of someone describing relative truth (not absolute truth).

Absolute Truth: The Bible tells us, and the Catholic Church along with it, that there is only one God. And that God is not an “it”, some impersonal “force”, but a “Him,” more truly personal than any of us. In fact He is so personal, that from all eternity He is interpersonal–three persons in perfect union of will and activity, so perfect that they are truly One God, not three.

Everything in our experience is finite, meaning that it has limits, including the degree of unity that we can have in our relationships. God’s inner unity, the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is unlimited and perfect, love pouring itself, one person into another, ceaselessly, at every moment, for ever and ever amen.

The author of the Da Vinci Code is not the first to allege that the Church made up this whole Trinity thing. Various sects in the first few centuries plus the Muslims made this accusation. Then the Jehovah’s Witnesses rehashed it in the 19th century, blaming the Roman Emperor Constantine.

Everything except the exact word “Trinity” is right there in the Scriptures. We use that word so that our human brains can try to define/ explain/ name that reality. When we try to wrap our minds around concepts so beyond our total understanding we use what we can . . . .words. Just because the word "Trinity" is not used in the Bible does NOT mean that the teaching wasn't there. It was most explicitly there!
  • In Romans 8, Paul speaks of the Father, Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit all in the same few verses, distinct and yet one.
  • In John’s Gospel, Jesus dialogues with his Father in prayer, showing their distinction, yet boldly proclaims “The Father and I are One.” Jesus sends forth the disciples to baptize people in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Note he does not say in the “names” but in the “name”, showing the unity of these persons. And baptizing in this triune name demonstrates their equality as well, for what sense would it make to baptize in the name of three, one of whom is God and the other two of whom are not?

The feast of the Most Holy Trinity does not just celebrate the nature, grandeur, and beauty of God. It also recalls that we have been baptized or plunged into this energizing reality of divine love. It is not just the Holy Spirit who indwells our souls, but the entire Trinity who has made each of us a dwelling place. The three divine persons are loving each of us in us and want to love others through us.

Some charge that we call this doctrine a mystery because we want to cover up how illogical and preposterous it is. No, it is a mystery because it exceeds our powers of imagination and comprehension. But shouldn’t we expect the inner nature of God to be greater than our finite minds? Any reality that our minds can master is by definition inferior to our minds. The Supreme Being by definition has to be greater than our minds.

***Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio adds, " [The Holy Trinity a ] fabrication? Impossible. Human minds cook up things that other human beings are likely to buy. Three gods? People could handle that. How about a hierarchy of one supreme God with two assistant demi-gods? That would work. Three equal but distinct persons in one divine being strains the brain too much to have been concocted by a bunch of theologians or politicians."


Catholic Encyclopedia:

The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion -- the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another.

Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." In this Trinity of Persons the Son is begotten of the Father by an eternal generation, and the Holy Spirit proceeds by an eternal procession from the Father and the Son. Yet, notwithstanding this difference as to origin, the Persons are co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent. This, the Church teaches, is the revelation regarding God's nature which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to deliver to the world: and which she proposes to man as the foundation of her whole dogmatic system.

In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together. The word trias (of which the Latin trinitas is a translation) is first found in Theophilus of Antioch about A.D. 180. He speaks of "the Trinity of God [the Father], His Word and His Wisdom ("Ad. Autol.", II, 15). The term may, of course, have been in use before his time. Afterwards it appears in its Latin form of trinitas in Tertullian ("De pud." c. xxi). In the next century the word is in general use. It is found in many passages of Origen ("In Ps. xvii", 15). The first creed in which it appears is that of Origen's pupil, Gregory Thaumaturgus. In his Ekthesis tes pisteos composed between 260 and 270, he writes:

There is therefore nothing created, nothing subject to another in the Trinity: nor is there anything that has been added as though it once had not existed, but had entered afterwards: therefore the Father has never been without the Son, nor the Son without the Spirit: and this same Trinity is immutable and unalterable forever (P. G., X, 986).
It is manifest that a dogma so mysterious presupposes a Divine revelation. When the fact of revelation, understood in its full sense as the speech of God to man, is no longer admitted, the rejection of the doctrine follows as a necessary consequence. For this reason it has no place in the Liberal Protestantism of today. The writers of this school contend that the doctrine of the Trinity, as professed by the Church, is not contained in the New Testament, but that it was first formulated in the second century and received final approbation in the fourth, as the result of the Arian and Macedonian controversies. (refer back to ***Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio's response above!)
In view of this assertion it is necessary to consider in some detail the evidence afforded by Holy Scripture. Attempts have been made recently to apply the more extreme theories of comparative religion to the doctrine of the Trinity, and to account for it by an imaginary law of nature compelling men to group the objects of their worship in threes. It seems needless to give more than a reference to these extravagant views, which serious thinkers of every school reject as destitute of foundation.

1) article by Dr. Marcellino D"Ambrosio
2) A Catholic Notebook
3) New Advent / Catholic Encyclopedia

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