A Religious Ed. teacher asked her class students what they understand the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity to be. An eager child replied: “I know it very well from my family.” The teacher signaled him to talk. “The Trinity is Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” The class exploded with laughter as the teacher told the kids, “It’s a nice attempt.”
The doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity cannot be fully grasped by the human mind. It is a mystery, the greatest of Christian mysteries. A mystery is so because though revealed, some or many aspects of it are still unknown.
Thus, if we expected any part of the written Word of God in the bible or Church magisterial writings to explain this mystery in such a way that it’s so perfectly clear to the human mind, then we are asking that it no longer be a mystery. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic. However, it doesn’t mean it’s irrational. It simply means it’s beyond our full comprehension.
Once Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen was asked to explain the mystery of the Trinity. He warned the audience that no matter how erudite his explanation may be, it would still not be clear to them. He went on with the teaching for about two hours. After the lecture, a woman approached him and said, “Now I understand the mystery of the Trinity very well.” To which Sheen replied, “Then you didn’t understand it at all.”
Hence, my reflection here isn’t going to make the explanation about the Trinity clear either. We believe this mystery through the gift of faith, which God gives so we can gradually understand what we do not know about him. Believe first, then you will understand.
Actually, the word Trinity isn’t in the bible, though the reality it represents is. Those who insist that every word must be in the bible before they accept it as the Word of God take note. As I hinted in my book, Word for A Wounded World, it was an African Catholic, Tertullian (155-230 AD) who coined the word, Trinity (from Latin – Trinitas) to designate the triune God. The Church solemnly defined the doctrine at the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) in refutation of Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Early Christians, right from the time of the apostles, arrived at the doctrine when they applied their God-given reason to the revelations whose full realization Jesus the Christ is. Jesus 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 relationships 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 Lord Jesus said that the Father had given him (the Son) all that he has and that he in turn has given to the Holy Spirit all that he has received from the Father. In this, we see the unity of purpose among the three persons of the Trinity.
In the story of salvation, 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 Godhead.
Like Saint Augustine, we may not be able to fully understand the how of the Trinity, but I think it is very important to understand part of the why. Why did God reveal to us this mystery regarding the very nature of the Supreme Being? In part, the importance of this doctrine lies in this: we are made in the image of God, therefore, the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves.
Experts in religion tell us that people often try to be like the god they worship. People who worship a warrior god tend to be warmongering. People who worship a god of pleasure tend to be pleasure-seekers. Those who worship a god of wrath tend to be vengeful, and people who worship a god of love tend to be loving. As the saying goes, like a god, so the worshippers.
Therefore, 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 and what does this say about the kind of people we should be? On this, I have two points to share with you.
(1) God does not exist in solitary individualism but in a community of love and sharing. Thus, a Christian in search of Godliness (Matthew 5:48) should shun the tendency to isolationism. The ideal Christian spirituality is not that of flight from the world like that of certain monastic traditions where the quest for holiness means permanent withdrawal to the Himalayas away from contact and involvement with people and society. This is a rare exception not the rule.
(2) Agape love, that distinctive sacrificial love which Christians should emulate from our Lord Jesus Christ, requires three – I, God and thou. You remember the old saying, “Two is company, three is a crowd.” The Trinity shows us that three is “community of love,” not a crowd; three is love at its best.
Taking an example from the human condition we see that when man A is in love with woman B, they seal the love by baby C. Father, mother and child – love, when perfected, becomes a triune. Even among couples who don’t or can’t have a baby, there is often an intense desire to have their love replicated in a baby, a child of their affection. This is natural.
We are made in God’s 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 horizontal relationship with others and a vertical relationship with God. By so doing, our life becomes Trinitarian like that of God. Then we discover that the so-called “I-and-I” principle of unbridled individualism, which is acceptable in modern society, leaves much to be desired.
The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to adopt rather an I-and-God-and-neighbor principle. Thus, our entire life becomes a pleasant orbit around God with the warmth of relationships with others. The I-alonism or the me-me syndrome does not assure us of a long-lasting future. I am a Christian insofar as I live in a relationship of love with God and other people. Actually, this is socially healthier than exclusive individualism.
You may have heard about a 75-year research on real people (considered the longest research ever conducted by Harvard University) on what keeps people happy and healthy. The current director of that research, psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, recently shared some of the results. Based on the findings, he claimed that people who build relationships and keep relationships tend to live happier and longer. Loners tend to die earlier and are unhappy.
I guess you want to live long and be the best you have been created to be. Tap from the lessons of the Trinity. Relationships are the key to happiness; the finer the relationships, the better. What could be better than building our spiritual core while connecting with our neighbor?
May the grace of the Holy Trinity help us to banish all traces of self-centeredness in our lives and to live in love of God and of neighbor.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.