Archbishop why a Trinity? Why not just one God?
The Holy Trinity is central to our faith. As the Catechism says: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith’” (CCC #234).
So we begin exploring the Trinity by an understanding of its significance and its impact on the structure of our mind and thinking. Our God is a Trinity! Yet as you have heard me say many times now, the deepest truth is explored in paradox.
The Trinity is the paradox of all paradoxes. For our God is at the same time One. We do not have three Gods: we have one God in three persons. Again, the Catechism states: “Christians are baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: not in their names, for there is only one God, the almighty Father, his only Son, and the Holy Spirit: the Most Holy Trinity” (CCC #233).
To answer the question I will introduce some journalistic questions—Who, What, Where and Why.
Yes, God is a Who! A person! In fact, three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. St John Paul II, in his text, The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World (1986), says: “It is a characteristic of the text of John that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are clearly called Persons, the first distinct from the second and the third, and each of them from one another. Jesus speaks of the Spirit-Counsellor, using several times the personal pronoun ‘he’; and at the same time, throughout the farewell discourse, he reveals the bonds which unite the Father, the Son and the Paraclete to one another… Thus, the Father sends the Holy Spirit in the power of his Fatherhood, as he has sent the Son; but at the same time he sends him in the power of the Redemption accomplished by Christ—and in this sense Holy Spirit is sent also by the Son: ‘I will send him to you’” (8).
Our God is three persons, yet undivided. Each person is distinct in character and personality.
There are many scripture texts that speak to there being one God. In Deuteronomy 4:39, we read: “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” In I Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” See also Ephesians 4:4–6.
As we say the Nicene Creed, we affirm that we believe in one God, Father almighty, One Lord, His only-begotten son and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from Father and Son. Each is equal in every way and none is greater or lesser than the other two. No single person of the Trinity is greater or less than the Trinity itself. Yes, it is a mystery.
The best sources for understanding the Trinity are the Bible, icons and the catechisms of the Church. In the Old Testament there are many Trinitarian references. Genesis 1:1–3: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Here we meet God as Creator, the Spirit and the Word—“God said”. So we begin with Trinity.
In the visit of the three angels to Abraham (Gen 18:1–8), the Russian artist Andrei Rublev saw the prototype of the Trinity. His icon is the most famous depiction of the Trinity and is in itself a work of theology. In Russia when there were debates about the Trinity, theologians referred to Rublev’s work. I have already spoken to many references in the New Testament that speak to Trinity.
The evangelist tells us that God is love and those who abide in love, abide in God and God in them (1 Jn 4:16). If God is love then there needs to be three persons. Love needs both a subject and an object—distinct persons. The Godhead is the fount and wellspring of love. It is the eternal council. The Father holds nothing for himself but gives all to Son and Holy Spirit (Jn 16:15–16). Son and Spirit likewise give all to the others. This is perfect love and the heavenly model of love to which marriage and religious life aspire.
Because God is love, God is Three, God is One. Love is the bond of unity, much as we speak in marriage of the two becoming one. In the Trinity this oneness is perfect because the love is perfect. This is why unity is nearly a sacrament in our Church and why the Church is a sacrament of unity.
In his encyclical Christifideles Laici St John Paul II says: “The communion of Christians with Jesus has the communion of God as Trinity, namely, the unity of the Son to the Father in the gift of the Holy Spirit, as its model and source, and is itself the means to achieve this communion: united to the Son in the Spirit’s bond of love, Christians are united to the Father” (18).
Key Message: The Holy Trinity is the mystery of all mysteries, it is the mystery of God, the mystery of love and thus reveals the highest call to the human.
Action Step: Jesus promises that the Father, Son and Spirit will make their home in the disciple, if we love. Pray and ask the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to open your heart to this love, to give you consciousness of their indwelling presence.
Scripture: Jn 14:15–24