The Mystery of the Holy Trinity

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

One week after celebrating the Feast of Pentecost, the Church honors and worships the Most Holy Trinity.  Faithful people throughout history have tried to understand and contemplate the greatest mystery of existence with little headway—the relationship of the three divine persons in one God, the doctrine of faith we call the Trinity.  

The task is impossible because of the vast disparity between mortal human beings and the eternal Godhead. Analogously, it is like a gnat trying to explain the intricacies of a human being; the difference between the two creatures is so significant that any explanation would be woefully inadequate. Similarly, the difference between God and man is so immense that any description would be more a projection of the human experience than it would be explaining the Trinity.  St. Anslem, in his famous ontological argument, makes light of this fact by contending that the contemplation of God in one’s mind is not God at all because there is something greater than the thought of God, and something greater is God. Still no closer to describing the Trinity.  

Faced with the apparent inadequacies of explaining the Trinity, many religious educators try and broach the subject with their students by focusing on the attributes of the three persons of the Trinity.  The heavenly Father is described as the Creator, the Son Jesus as the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier. Although the statements are factual, they lead us no closer to understanding the eternal dynamic of the three persons in one God. If anything, it isolates the three persons into categories under a loosely defined concept of the one God. This explanation is akin to a family with three sons, one a doctor, the other a lawyer, and the third an engineer. All three are defined by what they do and are connected by being members of the same family.  Hardly a persuasive argument to explain the mystery of the Trinity.

Besides the apparent disparity and the lack of language, another hurdle to better understanding the Trinity is the human’s inability to think and practice love perfectly. Some people habitually conflate human love with divine love and have described their love as ‘unconditional.’  It often comes up when they speak about the love a mother has for her child. Is this unconditional love? It isn’t because of the sinful nature we inherited and the times we seek out the self-interests that prohibit us from loving another wholly and purely.  These encumbrances make it impossible to love unconditionally because we have not yet grown spiritually to a level that would make that possible. The great promise of Christianity is that the impossible will be transformed by God’s grace to give us the ability to love fully and perfectly when we are admitted into heaven.

Even though our practice of love is now less than perfect because of a fallen world, love is such a powerful force in our life that it still can help us understand to some degree, the Most Holy Trinity, the source of all love. Time to draw on another saint of the Church to help us get some insights into the Trinity through the theme of love.

St. Richard of St. Victor, a twelfth-century theologian, teaches about the Trinity as an interpersonal relationship bound by perfect love. He postulates that there is nothing more significant and better than love. He further explains that love is never focused on the self but must transcend to another person. We agree that love should be directed to another, so Richard’s claim is not outlandish. Richard suggests God cannot be only one person because the law of love would be violated. Hence, God must be more than one person.

St. Richard also theorizes that pure love is not only the movement outward toward another but also must include the recipient of love. This person has to have equal dignity. Richard now introduces the necessity of another person equal in majesty and power, commonly known as the Father’s Son. At this point, two persons are now established in the Godhead. The problem with only two persons is that the perfection of charity has not yet been met. If the Father only loves the Son, and the Son only the Father, then the bond of love would still be self-serving between the two persons. The Father loves the Son and satisfies the Father’s need to love. The Son loving the Father is similar. For love not to be self-serving, the love created by the two (Father and Son) must transcend the two. And the only way to satisfy this requirement is to have another person of equal dignity to whom love between the two persons can be given.  When the Holy Spirit receives the love of the Father and Son, perfect charity demands the transcendence of the love of the Holy Spirit back to the Father and Son. The reciprocating love of the Godhead must be three, no more, no less. Three persons, equal but only one God.

Herein lies God’s great mystery and incredible gift to all of us.  The Trinity of three equal persons in a bond of love invites lowly creatures like ourselves to share in their perfect and eternal love. This is the only example of unconditional love often spoken about. More than the invitation to share momentarily in the love of the Trinity while still on earth, the promise of sharing that love is extended for all eternity.  

The thought of spending all eternity in the love of God as a Trinity is almost as hard to comprehend as the Trinity itself. The only response simple creatures can muster to such a great proposition is complete awe. Our worship manifests our awe and wonder, which gives us the hope that one day we will experience in heaven the perfect and all-embracing love of the Trinity forever.

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