The Holy Trinity: Mystery, Knowledge, Love

Today, Trinity Sunday, is the first Solemnity of the second portion of Ordinary Time (I think so anyway – I am never sure whether Pentecost is included, or instead seen as the end of Eastertide, or both!), and one that recalls us to the very essence of God Himself. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in the epilogue to his book Values in a Time of Upheaval, it is unique amongst the great feasts of the Church for this very reason:

The feast of the Most Holy Trinity is unlike the other great feasts of the Church’s year, such as Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, or Pentecost. On those days, we celebrate God’s mighty deeds in history: his Incarnation, his Resurrection, the sending of the Spirit and, with that, the birth of the Church. On the feast of the Trinity, we are not celebrating one of the events by which something of God becomes visible to us. We are quite simply celebrating God himself. We rejoice that God exists, and we give thanks that he is as he is and that we are permitted to know him and love him because he knows us, loves us, and has shown himself to us.

from Values in a Time of Upheaval (2006), p.161, Ignatius Press.

            Whilst our knowledge of God as triune comes from His acts within history, today’s feast is a celebration of the fact that what was revealed to us through the Incarnation and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church is something that is true eternally of God – God did not become a Trinity when the Son assumed human nature; He always was thus, and always will be. In the dogma of the Holy Trinity, the essential mystery of God is revealed to us, yet His being is not contained by the dogma – it is the perfect example of how the defined contours of dogma and doctrine act to both ensure us of the validity of the revelation, and also to preserve the mystery of what is revealed.

The Trinity is thus a symbol of the knowable and unknowable – the One who reveals Himself to us is the same One who can never be fully understood. The knowledge we receive from God about Himself is sure knowledge, by which we cannot be deceived, but it only serves to deepen our appreciation for how far God exceeds our expectations, and is infinitely more than we can or could ever have imagined. This is evident in the first Old Testament reading for today, from Exodus (34:4b-6, 8-9), where we read that:

…he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hands two tables of stone. And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.’ (vv.4-5)

This passage speaks of God coming near to man (Moses in this case) and revealing Himself to us. He ‘stood with him there’ and proclaimed His name – that is, His character, ‘a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (v.6), so that His people would know it for sure. God desires to come close to us and show us who He is – something shown to an even greater extent in today’s Gospel reading (John 3:16-18):

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

The Father sent the Son into the world, into our midst, so that we might know Him even more fully, know Him as He truly is, and therefore embrace His offer of salvation. To be saved by God we must first know who He is, and in Jesus, and through the meditations of His Church guided by the Spirit, we receive the revelation that within God there is a community of persons – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – who exist in an eternal pattern of mutual, self-giving love. At the heart of ultimate reality, God in Himself is love and community, personhood and gift. As Pope Benedict continues in his book, to know that this – not matter, or energy, or impersonal forces – is the basis for all that exists, the final word as it were, is a very heartening thing to know:

The face of Jesus is the face of God. That is what God looks like. Jesus, who suffered for us and forgave his enemies while dying on the cross, shows us how God is. This eye does not threaten us: it rescues us…

…God is three, and God is one: he is not eternal solitude but the eternal love that is the basis of the relationships between the three Persons and the foundation of all being and life. The unity that this love creates – the Trinitarian unity – is a higher unity than the unity of the building blocks of matter that are indivisible on their lowest level.

Values in a Time of Upheaval, pp.163, 165-166.

Jesus comes to us as the only Son of the Father (Matthew 11:27), whom He claims equality with (John 10:30), and He sends us the Holy Spirit, who is also part of the same life and same mode of being as both Father and Son (John 16:12-15). Over the years, the Church, guided by that same Spirit, came to appreciate the implications of this revelation, and were led to understand that God is, as Pope Benedict writes, ‘not eternal solitude but the eternal love that is the…foundation of all being and life’. In a world often full of powers that seek to degrade man’s image, and that is rife with uncertainty, it is the greatest comfort to know that not only are we never alone, but behind everything is an eternal fountain of life and love, to which we can always turn.

As (one version of) the Minor Doxology says: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


3 thoughts on “The Holy Trinity: Mystery, Knowledge, Love

  1. Dear Sir, I took the liberty to criticize your writing on and welcome you to give a reaction if you want.

    To me those things which are so clear and you seem to have noticed you seem to mix with a doctrine you have taken over from man and not as such from what you could find in the Holy Scriptures itself.

    You yourself agree it was God His son who was sent in this world though you still want us to believe it was God Himself who came down?

    You probably know that a ‘ eternal fountain of life and love” is something which does not stop? In case Jesus is God than you have to agree he did not die; But historically it is proven that the Nazarene Jew, Christians consider to be the Christos or Christ, really died. It is just that what Jesus also showed to his disciples after he had been taken out of three days in hell (the grave). Being taken out of the dead by his Father, the Only One God, Jesus showed his wounds, letting the apostles feel that he was a man of flesh, blood and bones and not a spirit. God is an eternal Spirit and as such has no beginning, no mother who brought him into life, no end, never to die and always going to be the Most High.

    Jesus was lower than angels and was made higher later, being made a High Priest for God and a mediator between God and man.
    In case Jesus is God how can he abandon himself and how can he mediate between himself and hand over that what is already from him?

    • Dear Marcus,

      Many thanks for taking the time to reply to my post on the Holy Trinity, but to be honest I hadn’t really meant for my post to be a defence of the dogma, rather just a meditation on it, so it is interesting that you should have felt the need to criticise it in this way. Nevertheless, I am honoured that you felt the need to do so.

      In reading through your reply above, and the one you posted on your own site, I get the sense that somehow you think that the orthodox doctrine of Jesus being fully God and fully man is not implied in Scripture, and that for God to reveal Himself in this way would be lacking in clarity, leaving too much to mystery.

      Conversely, I would argue that it is the very nature of God to be beyond our comprehension, but that in Christ He has given us as full a revelation of His being as we can possibly understand. Of course God wants us to know Him – I am not sure how you got the impression that I don’t think this – and this is why He sent His only-begotten Son to us to reveal His nature. The claims made by Christ in the Gospels to divinity, as well as the clearly human nature displayed there, both have to be done justice to, which is what the Nicene-Chalcedonian definition does.

      Also, in your article, you claim that I get this idea by “selling out” and taking it on authority from the Church. Well, this leads us to the main problem here – there are myriad interpretations of the Bible – yours being one of them, and a very late, idiosyncratic one at that – and we need a voice to guide us in this interpretation. Jesus did not write a thing – He commissioned the Apostles to preach and teach in His name, giving them the authority to do so (i.e.; He founded a Church). The Church then wrote, preserved, transmitted, and canonised the books of Scripture.

      You only have it on the Church’s authority that these books are of at all of God. He did not wish these things to be left up to individuals to work out for themselves, but sent His Spirit to guide the Church so that we would not be left orphans in this regard. Your approach is of course characteristic of the novel Protestant doctrine of private interpretation, and the strange reading (which, I’m sorry, does not do justice to all the scriptural data) you have come up with is evidence of where private interpretation can lead to. Personally I prefer to go with the authority of the Church on this one, as well as the testimony of centuries of Christians who have agreed with the dogmas of Trinity and Incarnation, and who have used them as the foundation of their faith.

      If you want a more systematic approach to this topic from myself, than I have written an earlier post, which is more explicitly theological rather than devotional. It is not exhaustive, as it focuses on a particular set of passages from Scripture, but it may make my position a little clearer:

      God bless you

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