THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE OBVIOUS
Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
We do not reveal ourselves to those we do not love. And we reveal ourselves in proportion to our love. In what has been called the greatest proof of God’s love for us, God has revealed His intimate personal life to us in the revelation of the Trinity. He revealed the Trinity to us gradually and progressively according to our capacity and need. The Old Testament is explicitly and emphatically monotheistic. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” (Deut. 6:4) The New Testament is also monotheistic. But it is explicitly and emphatically Trinitarian.
All three Persons of the Trinity are present in five key scenes in the Gospel. At the Annunciation the archangel Gabriel tells Mary, “...the Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and the One to be born shall be called the Son of God.” At the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan “…the Spirit of God descended upon Him in the form of a dove. And behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’” During his Discourse after the Last Supper Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever...The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things.” Nailed to the cross on Calvary, Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” And then before the Ascension he told his disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The doctrine of the Trinity was refined and solemnly defined in the first four Councils of the Church and has been professed in the Creed and at the Mass for centuries. The doctrine of the Trinity states that there is only one God as the Old Testament reveals. But in this one God there are three Divine Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three Divine Persons are equal but distinct. The Father is not the Son. And the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. But they share equally in one Divine Nature. Christianity like Judaism is monotheistic. But unlike Judaism the one Christian God is Trinitarian.
The Trinity is a strict mystery. It is a mystery that we could never arrive at by reason alone. Once we know it by faith, we still cannot understand how it is possible. In our own experience there are numerically as many human natures as there are human persons. But in God there are three Divine Persons but only one Divine Nature. The Trinity is above reason but it is not against reason. It does not involve a contradiction. Person and nature are two different things. Person answers the question who. Who is it? Is it John, Mary, Peter? Nature answers the question what. What is it? Is it a rock, a plant, an animal, a human being?
Our response to God is not understanding, but awe, not comprehension but faith, hope and love. It is true that knowledge precedes faith; we cannot love what we do not know. But it is in loving that we really get to know the person. So the way to understanding of the Trinity is to love the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We often use symbols to represent the Trinity. We are all familiar with the example of a three leaf clover. There are three different leaves but only one clover. An equilateral triangle is also used as a symbol of the Trinity because there are three equal sides but only one triangle. These symbols seem to make the Trinity intelligible. But the comprehension is only apparent. If we understand it we don’t understand it. It is a strict mystery. We shouldn’t be surprised at this. We do not understand ourselves or any other human person. What kind of God would this be if God could be understood by humans?
Because we cannot fully understand the Trinity we tend to shy away from speaking about it. The fear is unwarranted. Frank Sheed, who was the leader of the street-corner speakers of the Catholic Evidence Guild in England, said that in the beginning of their apostolate they avoided the doctrine of the Trinity. They were convinced that they could not express it adequately and that the crowds would not respond to it. They were talking to a non-captive audience who would walk away if they were not interested. But they had to face up to the fact that if they avoided speaking about the Trinity they would not be offering their hearers the Christian God. So with fear and trembling they began to speak about the Trinity. And to their great surprise they discovered that the crowds were fascinated by it.
And well should they be fascinated because what God has revealed to us about the Trinity is of supreme importance to us. First of all, the Trinity gives us the answer to the most important question we want to know. Is God compassionate and merciful, or unforgiving and vengeful? The Second Person of the Trinity is the answer. God is as He is in Jesus. Jesus is the human expression of God. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. And the Son so loved us that He gave His life for us. And the Father and the Son sent us the Holy Spirit who is the Personification of love.
Without the Trinity we cannot understand Christianity. The Trinity is the source and the explanation of all the other mysteries of Christianity. What would Christmas, Easter and Pentecost mean if there were no Trinity? All the prayers of the Mass are addressed to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. The Mass begins with the Trinity in the sign of the cross and the greeting: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. And the Mass ends with the Trinity: “May Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
The Trinity is also a model for us. We are made in the image and likeness of the Trinity. We can learn a lot about ourselves and about the way we should live by contemplating the Trinity. First of all, the Trinity is a community of Persons. There is no “rugged individualism” in the Trinity. There are three equal Persons living together in community.
There should be no “rugged individualism" in Christianity either. We are essentially social beings. We are mutually interdependent. This is evident in the very beginning and in the end of life. The newborn infant left to itself dies. The very old person left to himself dies. And in between the entrance and the exit we are still dependent on one another. In fact, it is through our relationships with one another that we identify ourselves, grow and become the person God has given us the potential to become.
In the Trinity this relationship is one of love. The Trinity is a community of love. Love should also be the outstanding characteristic of the Christian community. We all have the need to love and be loved. Love is creative and therapeutic. It heals both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.
That is why Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
In the Trinity there is unity in diversity. In the Christian community there should also be unity in diversity. Each person is unique. But we share a common origin, common nature, and common destiny. It is this great diversity that gives praise and glory to God. Unfortunately, for us it is a source of fear, suspicion and hatred. How devastating to the community is this unreasonable demand for uniformity. What a dull world it would be if everyone were alike. Christian community begins by accepting this diversity and not by trying to change anyone. The word catholic means universal. It means unity in diversity. It means people living together in love and peace, sharing openly and deeply without fear. People knowing that they are accepted and loved for them selves, and that they do not have to hide their weaknesses or pretend to be better or wiser than they are. In necessary things they have unity, in doubtful things they have liberty, but in all things they have charity.
The Trinity is not only the model for our lives it is the goal of our lives. The Trinity gives us something to look forward to. The next life will not be like the summer reruns on the TV, just a repeat of this “rat race.” “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to imagine what God has prepared for those who love Him.” In this life the consummation of love is in union. And so will it be in the next life. In the next life the consummation of love will be in union, not with a creature, but with the Creator, with the Trinity. You can let your imagination run wild and never come close to the reality.
to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the
beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Alleluia!
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