The reflection on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is usually a very exceptional one for every Catholic Priest because it involves an attempt at elucidating (with limited insight) the depth of God; if you like attempting to uncover the substance of the Godhead upon which lays a great mystery. This most profound mystery of the Christian faith eludes complete comprehension by human mind alone unaided by faith. Specifically, the puzzle revolves around a crossroad: “how there can be three persons subsisting as one God?”
The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons- The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Seen in another way, it states that “God is One in essence and Three in person”. The divine arithmetic is 1+1+1= 1. This is entirely a-logical (beyond logic) because logic has no relevance here as the result will be fallacious. However in the realm of God what is humanly impossible is divinely possible, what is humanly insurmountable is divinely surmountable, what is humanly fallacious is divinely a truism. The bible actually made us understand that the Father is God (Phil.1:2), the Son is God (Titus 2:13) and that the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4). The Trinity does not tell us about three different ways of looking at God nor three different roles played by God but of three distinct persons in one God.
Attempts have been made by various people at different times to demonstrate or describe the Trinity. There are thus various descriptions and nobody can say that any of them completely understands the Trinity. Today I will be making such an attempt by using some elements of the physical and spiritual sciences to establish our understanding of the Holy Trinity. Obviously, things created bear the imprint of the creator in one way or the other.
In applying the physical sciences in demonstrating the Most Holy Trinity, we will be making use of analogies. To state the fact very well, they are mere analogies, hence they do not perfectly exhaust the mystery of the Trinity if they do then the doctrine of the Trinity will no longer be a mystery. Actually, the perfect explanation of the Trinity is the Trinity!
- EGG: Using a boiled egg we can demonstrate three aspects existing in one. A boiled egg has the outer shell, the inner albumen and the innermost yoke. We can say that the first is “egg the shell”, the second is “egg the albumen” and the third is “egg the yoke”. All these make up one egg just as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit make up one God. This analogy is still not perfect because each of the aspects cannot stand as egg like each of the persons in the Trinity could stand as God.
- MATTER: Matter has three states, solid, liquid, and gaseous. These are seen for instance in water. Hence water can manifest itself in three different forms but the same water. This analogy is also not perfect because the personalities are not merely manifestations of ONE GOD.
- LIGHT: Any colour of light is formed from three primary colours: red, green, and blue. Even the light that appears to us as white is a combination of three colours in one. This analogy is imperfect. In the Trinity, none of the personalities can function without the other. They are eternally inseparable, unlike the colours that can be separated. And each of the colours on its own cannot be said to be light.
- FORCE: In physics, force is a pull or push which makes an object with mass to change velocity. Three forces control all interactions in matter: gravitational force, the electromagnetic force and nuclear force (weak and strong). All these are manifestations of one force. I have earlier indicated that the persons in the Trinity are not mere manifestations of the Godhead.
- Atoms: An atom is the smallest indivisible particle of an element. As small as an atom is it is made up of: (1) positively charged protons, (2) negatively charged electrons and (3) the neutrons. All these exist in one atom. But unlike in the Trinity, each of them cannot be called atom.
- TIME: In the universe, time exists in three dimensions found in the past, present and future. This is still a single continuum and exists only in the present. God is timeless and this analogy is imperfect.
- SPACE: In our universe space is the three-dimensional extent in which events and things occur. In space, we have length, width, and depth. Each of them cannot, however, stand for space in isolation.
- HUMAN COMPOSITION: A single human person is made up of body, mind and spirit. These complete a single individual. Hence we reflect the Trinity in our composition. Our human composition shows our limitation but God is unlimited. This is an analogy in any case.
- LIFE ON EARTH: Life on earth can be possible only on three levels: land, sea and air. Each of the spatial habitations is just an aspect and cannot describe the whole. Furthermore, there is no equality because water, for instance, occupies more space on earth than land.
We can at this juncture move in to inquire what the spiritual sciences speak about God. Our source remains the bible. Notable the word Trinity is not used in the bible, but this does not vitiate the fact that the Trinity does exist. The word Trinity (tri-unity) was coined by Tertullian about the third century while attempting to establish the distinct persons in one God. Following the error of Arius who was teaching that Jesus Christ was created (made) by God, the Council of Nicea in 325 declared that our Lord Jesus Christ is “God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance (homoousios) with the Father.” From the scriptures, we have allusions that aptly understand the Trinity:
- Genesis 1:26: God said: “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness”. God was not referring to the angels because they do not share the same image and likeness with God and they are created, so they cannot create. They are messengers of God. Hence God the Father was referring to the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- Genesis 11: 7 : God said “Let us go down and confuse their language so that they will not understand one another” Here builders of the tower of Babel were attempting to make a name for themselves by building a tower that would reach to the heavens and God reacted through the action of the three persons in One God.
- Genesis 18: 1-2: God appeared to Abraham at the sacred tree of Mamre. As Abraham was sitting at the entrance during the hottest part of the day, he looked up and saw three men. God came to Abraham in the Trinitarian form.
- Isaiah 6:3: Holy, Holy Holy is the Lord Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory. Note the three times “Holy” “IS” the Lord nor “ARE” the Lords.
- Isaiah 45:5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me, there is no God.
- Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
- MARK 1: 10-11: As soon as Jesus came out of the water he saw the heaven open and the Spirit coming down on him like a dove and a voice came from heaven “You are my dear son I am pleased with you”.
- 2nd Cor. 13:13: St Paul says “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ the Love of God and The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’
Some people (in the manner of Arianism) would argue that Jesus Christ is not God. And we reply through the bible.
- Isaiah 9: 6: “Unto us a child is born to us a son is given. And he will be our ruler. He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace..”
- John 1:1: “In the beginning was the WORD, the WORD was with God and the WORD was God. Verse 14 says “and the WORD was made flesh and he dwelt among us”.
- John 8:58: Jesus said “Before Abraham I AM” We remember this I AM in Exodus 3:14 as the name God told Moses that is the name he should tell the people if the ask him who sent him.
- Philippians 2:6-8: “Though he was in the form of God Jesus did not count on his equality with God, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death,…” Jesus is God but when he came to the earth he lived us humans in humility and for our salvation.
We also establish that the Holy Spirit is God against those who are doubtful in the manner of Macedonians and Pnuematomachians:
Genesis 1:2: “The spirit was moving over the face of the deep” This was before God began active creation. The Holy Spirit has been with the Godhead from eternity. Hence the Holy Spirit is God.
- Isaiah 61: 1: “The Spirit of God is upon me. He has chosen me and sent me to bring good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, announce release to captives and free those in prison”. It is God who chooses and sends. Hence the Holy Spirit is here depicted as God.
- John 16: 13: “The Spirit will reveal the truth about God”. Only God can reveal Himself to us. Therefore the Holy Spirit is here depicted as God.
With all these and more we have sufficiently, comprehensively, and painstakingly established that there are three divine persons in one God; the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.
At this juncture it will be good to ask what we are able to learn from the Trinitarian union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. From the Trinity we learn
1) Unity in diversity: They are three distinct persons yet they are one in essence. We are distinct individuals from various backgrounds, levels, ideas and dispositions. However we are united in one Christian community. Our diversity should be at the service of a functional unity because as Paul would say in Christ our diversities give way to unity.
2) Community in functionality: There is no time the Father works without the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is why you will hear the Father saying twice “Let us”. Our Lord Jesus would also attest that he does whatever he sees the Father doing. We should learn to work together as members of the same community. No one is an Island. We need each other for growth and development.
3) Equality in personality: In the Godhead there is absolute equality given the fact that they have one essence. Within our human experience we all share in one humanity but often we notice that we keep creating unjustifiable barriers of inequality between the “haves” and the “have nots”. Often some people see others as less human than they are. From the Trinity we learn to see ourselves as equals sharing the common gift of life given to us by God.
4) Sharing with and helping one another: Wherever the Father is the Son and the Holy Spirit will also be found; this applies to each of the persons of the Trinity. There is an eternal sharing and helping relationship between the Persons of the Trinity. If we recognize the fact that we are created in the image and likeness of God we should also reflect this quality of the Trinity.
5) Faith and Trust: There is absolute faith and trust among the persons of the Trinity. If we reflect on the cry of Jesus on the Cross “My Lord my Lord why has thou forsaken me” we can see that there had always been that faith and trust in their function and this situation looked unusual. Yes the Father “forsook” the Son at Golgotha so that we can be found and rescued
6) Keeping to our positions in life: Each of the persons of the Trinity has an allocated function and position which He does in union with others. There has never been a time one Person assumes the position of another or attempts to usurp another’s position. This is and should be instructive for us. Someone had defined humility as knowing one’s position and keeping it.
May the exemplary life of the Trinity permeate our lives so that we can become what God wants us to become. Happy Trinity Sunday.