The Most Holy Trinity- The Source of our Christian Living.
Today is the Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. A feast of the Church since 1334, its purpose is to honour the Most Holy Trinity. It was only under Pope John XXII that it began to be observed by the universal Church.The mystery and doctrine of the Trinity, (God is One and Triune- three divine persons, equal glory, co-eternal majesty, undivided in splendour, yet one Lord, one God) is fundamental and central to Christian faith and life as well as her understanding of the mystery of God. It is a mystery in that it is hidden in God and cannot be known unless revealed by God. It surpasses human reason but does contradict it. Human reason cannot ever fully comprehend it. It is the primary doctrine of Christianity in that it reveals the ultimate truth, the nature of ultimate/inner reality, the nature of God. It does not define God, but it truly reveals God. Other mysteries of our faith tell us what God has done in time(the Creation, the Incarnation, the Resurrection) but the Trinity tells us what God is in eternity. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.
To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the incarnation of God’s son and sending of the Holy Spirit (CCC. 237). In otherwords without the coming of Jesus Christ, we would not have known about the Holy Trinity.The confession of three persons in one God is the outcome of extended reflections on the full implications of the mystery of Christ: the God revealed in the life of Jesus is Father, Son and Spirit. The whole life of Jesus is an activity of the Trinity, from his incarnation to his death, through his baptism, ministry and transfiguration. It is on the cross of Jesus Christ that the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is clearly demonstrated. The Trinitarian formula is the rule of faith and has been there as the structure of Christian life: the sign of the cross, the formula of baptism, in the celebration of the Eucharist, in religious art, iconography, etc, and not just a new chapter added to the Christian faith.
The seeds of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity are to be found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the post- Easter experience of the Spirit, and the worship of early Christian communities. Its importance in the Catholic teaching is evident from the beginning of the Church when Christ sent the apostles forth to go and “make disciples of all nations” and instructed them to baptize in the name of the Trinity( Matt. 28:19). However, it was not until the fourth century(Divinity of Christ[Council of Nicaea-325]; Holy Spirit[Council of Constantinople-381] that these seeds were to flower into a full-blown coherent doctrine. Consequently, reflection by the early Church on the experience of Jesus and the God encountered in the person of Jesus as well as the ongoing experiences of the newness of the Spirit of Jesus in the world gave rise to a series of Christian insights which paved the way for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
The Dogma of the Holy Trinity
The Trinity is One – We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, “the consubstantial Trinity’’. The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire (cf. CCC. 253)
The divine persons are really distinct from one another – God is one but not solitary. “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being. They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin (cf CCC. 254).
The divine persons are relative to one another – Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another (cf CCC 255).
While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance.
The whole divine economy is the common work of the three divine persons. For as the Trinity has only one and the same nature, so too does it has only one and same operation.
Inseparable in what they are, the divine persons are also inseparable in what they do. But within the single divine operation each shows forth what is proper to him in Trinity.
Summarily, the revelation of the Trinity begins when Jesus told us that he is God’s Son. Jesus teaches us that God is not only the Creator of the universe but also the Father of the eternally begotten Son, who became one with us as the God-man Jesus Christ(Matt. 11:27). Furthermore, in revealing God as Father and himself as God’s Son, Jesus also made known to us the Holy Spirit. Before his death, Jesus announced the sending of the Paraclete or Advocate, the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit of God who from the beginning was with God and who now dwells as God with us after Jesus’death, resurrection and ascension in glory. The Holy Spirit is thus revealed as another divine person with Jesus and the Father. The coming of the Holy Spirit completes the revelation of the Trinity.
The doctrine of the Trinity has become marginal in the lives of many Christians. It has become for many more a mathematical problem to be solved than a living mystery of persons to be experienced.As a result, the Trinity assumed a life of its own divorced from human experience, practical living and the story of salvation. The highly technical language of one nature, two processions, three persons, four relations has further estranged Christians. Yet, the mystery of the Trinity incorporates us through the dynamic relationship which involves the outward movement of the Father through the Son in the Spirit to humanity and the return movement of humanity back to God the Father through Christ inspired by the Spirit. The pertinent question remains: How can the Christian understanding of God revealed in Christ be expressed in a language and culture that is living?
The Trinity tells us something extremely important about the nature of the Christian God, it retrieves the relational dimension of personal identity and historical reality, it sums up the Christian story of salvation, it structures the whole of Christian worship and it intimates the eschatological destiny of humanity and the cosmos as one of transformed communion with diversity.
The mutual indwelling of divine persons in the one single mystery of God calls for an inseparable unity among people of the world especiallyChristians. The unity of God within diversity of persons, that is, understanding of God as communion of persons calls for a true oneness of all. It invites people to allow their lives to be shaped by this communion of persons.All men and women are children of God; have common destiny through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence discrimination, racism, hatred etc. should not be found among them. As an extension, the Trinitarian communion will help us to rediscover the world as creation of the Trinitarian God, and our kinship with nature will lead us to take care of nature as away of giving glory to the Trinitarian God. The Trinity still remains a perfect model of the kind of relationships that should exist within Christian communities.
God is Trinity because God is love itself in its completeness. Because God is love, love is the supreme value and hence the meaning of our lives for we are created in love. God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and he has destined us to share in that exchange (CCC.221). The doctrine of the Trinity also tells us the nature of love. Love is altruistic not egotistic. God is other –love because he has otherness within himself. A life structured by the Trinity will not be preoccupied with its self-preservation but with self-donation. It will begeared towards promoting the other, rejoicing in the progress and success of the other.
According to St John Paul II, “God in his deepest mystery is not a solitude but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family which is love.” Hence, the doctrine of the Trinity means that the family is not a mere sociological or biological human fact, but goes all the way up into the nature of God. Marriage and family is solely rooted in the Trinity.
It offers a critique of modern liberal anthropologies of autonomy and individuality by highlighting the insufficiency of the isolated human subject. It could begin to act as a counter cultural reality to the existence of so much atomism, violence and domination in contemporary society, and seeks to promote radical equality, mutuality, and communion among all men and women within the varied diversity. Christiansmoulded by the Trinity should demonstrate the possibility of an alternative society. It thus, invites us to deepen interreligious dialogue which will primarily concern the encounter between different truth claims about the meaning of human existence and the destiny of human history.
The belief in the Trinity as One God and Triune means coming to know God’s greatness and majesty; as our first origin and ultimate goal; living in thanksgiving, knowing the unity and true dignity of all men, making good use of created things and trusting God in every circumstance, even in adversity (CCC. 222 – 227).
In conclusion, it is pertinent to highlight two basic theological principles that must guide any Trinitarian discourse/praxis. The first of these principles states that all doctrines of the Trinity are subject to limitation that attach to the principles of analogy and apophatic theology. Hence, the temptation to suppose that the Trinity images adequately the holy mystery of the hidden God must be resisted as much. The God revealed in Jesus Christ as Father, Son and Spirit continues to be incomprehensible to the human mind. In the words of Augustine, “if you have understood, then what you have understood is not God”. Similarly, Aquinas reminds us that we can know that God is but not what God is. The second is that every doctrine of the Trinity must be earthed in the reality of Jesus, the crucified and risen one. Hence, Trinitarian theology must continually be controlled by the historical economy of salvation revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.
The Church’s teaching on the Holy Trinity is a life –giving proclamation that we live in God and God in us to the extent that we live a life alive in God’s grace. This truth we recall, affirm, and celebrate during baptism and everytime we sign ourselves with the Trinitarian formula (in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit).Since, the God of our faith has revealed himself as he who is and has made himself known as “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, being in his very being Truth and love, may we all strive to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.