In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

"On one occasion I was reflecting on the Holy Trinity, on the essence of God. I absolutely wanted to know and fathom who God is."
- Diary of St. Faustina, 30

Catholics believe in a Trinitarian God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We accept this teaching, but we can't explain it. The Trinity, like the Immaculate Conception and the True Presence in the Eucharist, is one of the great spiritual mysteries that give rise to faith via the prerequisite of hope. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, "The faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity" (232).

The word "trinity" comes from the Latin trinitas, an abstract noun meaning "three-ness." Interestingly, look as you may, you will not find the word "trinity" in the Bible. The Church learned about the Holy Trinity through revelation.

The first known use of the word comes from Theophilus, Patriarch of Antioch, who in the year 180 used it in reference to "God, His work, and His wisdom." By the 4th century, the word was being used to describe the indwelling of Three Persons in the Godhead.

Understanding through Analogies
Though we can't understand the fullness of the mystery, we can make sense of it through analogy.

Saint Patrick likened the Trinity to the shamrock, with its one stem (God) and three leaves (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Another analogy likens the Trinity to the three possible states of water as liquid, steam, and ice. Another uses personal relationships. For example, a woman who is at once a wife to her husband, a daughter to her parents, and a mother to her sons.

How important is the Trinity? The Catechism says that the Trinity "is the mystery of God in Himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them" (234). It goes on to say the history of salvation itself is synonymous with the manner in which God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveals and reconciles Himself to those of us "who turn away from sin."

Known by Revelation
The Catechism says the mystery of the Trinity is "hidden in God" and can "never be known" unless God reveals it to us (237). The good news is contained in the word "unless." That little word mean that while the mystery can't be understood because God's "inmost being as Holy Trinity ... is inaccessible to reason alone" (237), it can be known when God sees fit to reveal it, which He has.

The Church fathers came to know of the Trinity in this way. In passage 242, the Catechism speaks of the Church's apostolic tradition followed by the fathers at the first ecumenical council at Nicea in 325 and at the second council at Constantinople in 381. The councils formulated the language of the Nicene Creed, speaking of "the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father."

At Constantinople, the Church fathers also expressed their belief in "the Holy spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father." Through this statement, the Church "recognizes the Father as the source and origin of the whole divinity" (245).

The dogma of the Trinity is remarkable. As the Catechism says in 253, Christians do not believe in three Gods. They believe in one God with three persons, the "co-substantial Trinity." The three persons of God do not divide the substance of God into three, with each getting a third. Rather, each of the three persons "is God whole and entire."

The divine persons of the Trinity are distinct from one another and are relative to one another (Catechism 254). "It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds. The divine Unity is Triune." Later, we read that the entire work of God "is the common work of the three divine persons ... inseparable in what they do" (258, 267).

3-in-One Works for Oil, so why not for God?
When I was a kid, I found my analogy for the Trinity in my father's workshop. In the days before WD-40, the home handyman relied on a product called 3-in-One oil, the "Tool Kit in a Can." When my dad took out the 3-in-One out to grease the chain on my bike or silence a door hinge, I thought of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (as the Spirit was referred to in my childhood).

I reasoned that if a can could contain oil that does three things (lubricate, prevent rust, and clean), then why couldn't God contain three "Persons"? I thought of God the Father as the Lubricator. He not only made all things, but He made them to run smoothly and easily until Adam and Eve gummed the works by sinning. God the Son took away the rust of Original Sin through the gift of His life for our salvation. Through His Seven Gifts (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), the Holy Spirit cleaned the residue left on our souls and kept us clean from sin.

God's Triune Nature is Reasonable
Scripture may not contain the word "Trinity" but it does speak of a "3-in-One" God. Clues abound. For example, the Holy Bible opens with these words: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

"God" is presented in the singular. Later, when God creates human life, He is still singular but refers to Himself as in a relationship with Himself. From Genesis 1:26: "Then God said, "Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. ..."

This provides reasonableness in God's Triune nature. The pronouns ("us" and "our") illustrate the amazing point that God refers to Himself in a relationship of persons. Genesis 1:26 can't be understood in any other reasonable way. As the Catechism instructs, we aren't talking about three separate gods but one God who reveals in the language of Genesis the very understanding of His own Triune personhood.

The Triune God of mercy is a God of love, goodness, and compassion. He made us in His likeness. He gave us free will. When we abused our free will, He didn't discard us as junk but launched a plan of salvation. The unfolding of the manner in which God did this, obtained through a careful reading of the Bible, has the Trinity's "fingerprints" all over it.

Wisdom Speaking
Another curiosity of language provides an additional clue to the Trinity. In the Apostles' Creed, the Son is "begotten" (not made) from the Father, while the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from the Father and Son. The Father is neither "begotten" nor "proceeds." The Father's primacy enters into a causal relationship with His Second and Third Persons, suggesting the process by which God assumed His consubstantiality, that is, one substance within Itself. Again, refer to passages 242 through 245 of the Catechism.

A couple other instructive biblical passages are Matthew 28:19 and John 14:16-17, 23, when Jesus tell his apostles to "go and make disciples of all nations." He instructs them to baptize "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." Again, God as Jesus tells us that He is Three Persons.

In the Old Testament, we can look at the beautiful and poetic passage from Proverbs 8:22-31 that, too, lets us in on the awesome act of God assuming his Trinitarian identity. The verse quotes Wisdom itself, and it can be read as the Second Person of the Trinity speaking:

The Lord created me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of old. Ages ago, I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths, I was brought forth [recalling the phrase "begotten not made"]. When there were no springs abounding with water, before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before He had made the earth with its fields or the first dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there. When He drew a circle on the face of the deep, when He made firm the skies above, when He established the fountains of the deep, when He assigned to the sea its limit so that the waters might not transgress its command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him, like a master workman, and I was daily in His delight, rejoicing before Him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.

Bursting with Happiness and Joy
God wants the best for His creation, including hearts joyful and capable of appreciating play. From this passage in Proverbs, we learn of the delight of Creation - not black and full of fear but light and bursting with happiness and joy. We see not the stern God of anger but the merciful God in His joyfulness, elation, and triumph.

This is the type of joyfulness to which we are called through redemption in Jesus. It can produce a question as mirthful as: "Did you ever wonder how much deeper the ocean would be without sponges?" and as momentous as "Do you realize how much God truly loves you?"

It produces gratitude for the God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whose greatest expression of mercy is in how He never gave up on us and never will. We only need to love Him in return by believing in Him and allowing Him to act in us.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.

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