Skip to comments.Sheed on the Trinity (Catholic Caucus)
Posted on 06/03/2007 6:21:43 PM PDT by Frank Sheed
One of the finest popular examinations, explanations, and defenses of the doctrine of the Trinity is found in Frank Sheed's masterful Theology and Sanity. A shorter work, A Map of Life, presents a much more concise version of some of the same material, yet with the same clarity and precision that marks Sheed's many writings:
Thus the doctrine of the Trinity, at first seen only as a sheer challenge to Faith grows steadily more luminous to the mind which accepts it and comes humbly to the study of what the Church has seen in it. This truth that the Godhead is absolutely one essence, one single concrete Something: yet that there are three Persons owning the one Nature--the one self-same identical Nature: this truth not only grows more luminous as the ideas of Person and Nature are studied, as the relation of Father and Son and the Spirit proceeding from both is meditated on; but throws a flood of light on the whole of our understanding of life.
The doctrine that in the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons truly distinct is the Supreme mystery revealed by Christ. Beyond it is no further mystery, for it deals with the innermost life of God. In a sense, man need never have been taught it apart from the Incarnation: for it is God in His unity who acts in relation to created beings, the threefold Personality being a fact of His own inner life, of His own internal activity, of that activity which remains within His own nature and does not directly affect the beings He has created. But it is a property of love that it wants not only to know but also to be known by the person loved. God loving us, wants us to know Him in His deepest and most secret life, and so gives us here upon earth a glimpse of that truth which it is man's proper destiny to spend eternity in contemplating. And, apart from that desire of God's to be known by man, the distinction of Persons has in fact a direct bearing on man's life since it was the Second Person, and not God in His threefold Personality, who became man for our salvation.
It is the supreme mystery in a double sense: it deals with the highest truth: and it is most inaccessible to the created mind. Yet certain elements of it can be grasped by us. ...
The Three Persons--the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost--each possess the one Divine nature: they do not share it: they each possess it in its totality. It is important to grasp exactly what this means. Men, we say, have one nature, in the sense that they all are human and human nature is one thing. But though Brown and I are of one nature, I cannot think with Brown's mind nor love with Brown's will. I must think with my own mind and love with my own will. So that, although in a general sense human nature is one, in the concrete each man has his own nature and acts in it. With the Three Persons of the Trinity this is not so. There is but one Divine nature, one Divine mind, one Divine will. The three Persons each use the one mind to know with, the one will to love with. For there is but the one absolute Divine nature. Thus there are not three Gods, but one God. The Christian revelation cannot allow the faintest derogation from pure monotheism. The three Persons, then, are not separate. But they are distinct. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God. But the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Holy Ghost, nor the Holy Ghost the Father.
The Problem of Life's Purpose | Another excerpt from A Map of Life
The IgnatiusInsight.com author page for Sheed
A precis of the Trinity from the book “Theology and Sanity” by Frank Sheed.
This is in the 1st Grade religion workbook that Sally and Pat were fighting over earlier today. (We distracted Pat with Greek.)
You can say it as many times as you want to, but it might as well be "Bliggle iggle iggle" for all sense it makes to the rational mind.
Unless we know the Holy Trinity through experience, everything we know about the Holy Trinity is just repetition of random words.
Can't be beat! A wonderful sermon, a wonderful God!
I was also thinking that the Sacrament of marriage can give us a small glimpse of that one nature.
Thank you for posting this, it further illuminates today’s readings.
A HUGE BUMP for Frank Sheed!!!!
Frank Sheed is a hilarious writer: "Sanity, remember, does not mean living in the same world as everyone else; it means living in the real world." You can download all of Theology and Sanity here. The Djvu version is the best.
Address:http://www.wf-f.org/TrinitySunday.html Changed:12:57 PM on Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Thanks for this! I just downloaded the text version.
You have no idea how many entire sections I have typed by hand to be used for making points on apologetics! I had hoped this was available somewhere on-line.
I think you need to read the entire book, Mrs. Tax, in order to appreciate how well he explains this.
True, the precis here is not much. However, he does the best explanation I have seen in the beginning of his book that our puny brains can handle. The Mystery of the Trinity is enough to ponder for Eternity (as St. Augustine was allegedly told by the small child attempting to empty the sea into a hole in the sand with a sea shell. Augustine laughed at him and the child told him that he would accomplish his task before Augustine understood the Trinity).
Very nice website which is now bookmarked. Thanks!
Oy. I’ll have to try the used-book listing on Amazon. But I hate paying postage!
Here is just a “taste” of his beautiful prose:
(iii) The function of Peter
Our Lord established His kingdom with officials through whom He could dispense His gifts of truth by way of doctrine, and of life by sacrament. The kingdom was to be in the souls of men since apart from that it could have borne no fruit; but it was not to be only in the souls of men. We must complete such phrases of Our Lord as “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” and such phrases as “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a city upon a hill.” But for the protection of the truth and the preservation of the integrity of the channels of life, Our Lord made still further provision by choosing one of the Apostles and giving him special functions. When He first called the Apostles, He said to Simon, the brother of Andrew, “Thou shalt be called Peter”—a word which means “rock.” When the end of His time upon earth was drawing near, He made clear the reason for the change of names, “Blessed art thou Simon son of Jonah; it is not flesh and blood, it is my Father in heaven that has revealed this to thee. And I tell thee this in my turn, that thou art Peter and it is upon this rock that I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shalt be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:18-19).
At the Last Supper, when the dispute arose among the Apostles as to which would have first place in His kingdom, Our Lord settled it with the words; “Simon, Simon, Satan has claimed power over you all, so He can sift you like wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; when after a while, thou has come back to me, it is for thee to be the support of thy brethern” (Lk 22:31-32).
After His Resurrection, Our Lord appears among the Apostles and three times asks Peter if he loves Him. As Peter answers each question with an affirmation of his love, Our Lord utters the three phrases: “Feed My lambs,” “Feed My lambs,” “Feed My Sheep” (Jn 21:16-17). Taking any one of these episodes, we must see that the function entrusted to Peter was very great; taking them all together, we see it is enormous. In the first, he is to be the rock upon whom the Church (which Our Lord here calls also the kingdom of heaven) is to be founded. He is to have supremacy in the kingdom, for Our Lord promised him the “keys” which are a symbol of supremacy; and he is to have a final power of regulation and discipline, for his permissions and prohibitions are to be ratified in heaven. At the Last Supper, something is made explicit which before was certainly present but implicitly. He is to safeguard the unity of the brethern, whom otherwise Satan would scatter like chaff, because by the prayer of God his own faith would not fail, would be unfailable—which brings us to the very word infallibility. The third is the richest of all. Peter is shepherd the whole flock, the little ones and the great. He is to feed them. With what food? The spirit of man needs three kinds of food and Our Lord came to provide them. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” So truth is food. “My meat is to do the Will of Him that sent Me.” So law is food. ‘The food I shall give is My flesh for the life of the world.” So sacrament is food. Peter must feed the flock with truth and law and sacrament.
Notice most particularly how in all this Our Lord, about to leave the earth, is conferring upon Peter His own special titles. Christ is the foundation (1 Cor 3:11), and He makes Peter the foundation. Christ is the key-bearer—”He bears the key of David so that none may shut when He opens, none open when He shuts” (Rev 3:7)—and He makes Peter the key-bearer. It is to Christ that the power belongs to hold these whom God has given Him, but He gives to Peter the charge of being a support to the brethern. Our Lord had said, “I am the good shepherd”—and He makes Peter to be the shepherd. All this is in line with what we have already seen about the Church as a whole. Our Lord was truthgiver and lifegiver, and the Church is to be truthgiver and lifegiver: that is to say, He will continue to give truth and life through the Church. Our Lord is rock and key-bearer and shepherd: He will continue all that each title implies through Peter. Church or Peter, it is all the same. Neither matters save as an instrument through which Christ has chosen to work.
This then was the provision Our Lord made for the souls of men that they might come to Him, be united with Him and receive His gifts till the end of time. His kingdom would grow as it moved outward and onward toward its two limiting points—all the nations of the earth and the end of time—and there would be some increase of complexity in its structure to meet new needs created by its growth. But all would be within the living framework He established upon earth—one kingdom with a smaller body of officials serving the great body of plain citizens, and among the officials one who is head over the rest and the servant of all. So the kingdom was, when the Holy Spirit descended upon it at Pentecost. So it still is. So till the end of the world it will be.
Theology and Sanity, Frank J. Sheed, ISBN 0-89870-470-7, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1993, Part III. Creation. 20. The Kingdom, (iii) The function of Peter, pp. 286-289.
Therefore there is one father, not three fathers; one son, not three sons; and one spirit, not three spirits...
I ordered “To Know Christ Jesus” (I think) from the library.
I haven’t read that one myself. Good choice. It is on my Amazon list (with 2,000 other books!).
LOL! It was the only book by Frank Sheed in the library catalog.
Maybe I’ll try to get “Theology and Sanity” on an interlibrary loan. They got me “Three Guys From Miami Cook Cuban” from somewhere over in western NC.
Thanks so much. I've heard Catholic Answers praise his explanation of the Trinity often, and the Trinity is the central mystery of our faith, yet I still haven't bought the book. Sometimes I don't know what I'm thinking. I'll have to try the download.
My copy from Ignatius was to be “underlined ONLY where it is important.”
I think the book has about 240 words NOT underlined! Some sections have “stars” at critical paragraphs; some have “double stars.”
I think I just have to read it cover to cover again this summer. Sigh...
I have five sons, not three sons, and quite a few spirits. There’s the very destructive Cub Scout Spirit, for example, and the Spirit of South African Pinotage Grapes.
But only one father, and it’s his birthday.
I love your spirits. Mine come from California, however.
We often find Californian spirits here, too. We have a 10K race on Saturday, so we won’t be imbibing for a few days. Sigh.
Hey, it’s MY birthday too!
Does your church have a library. We have been reorganizing ours and it should open for an open house either the first of July or the first of September. (Probably the September — Because we haven’t even gotten to cataloguing the tapes!)
No, we don’t. We are so small. We have only a few hundred parishioners.
There is a huge K of C Council nearby which has a lending library for its members. I have given entire shopping bags of magazines in the past (This Rock; Inside the Vatican; Homiletics and Pastoral Review; Chronicles; etc.). That is the best deal around.
The Djvu versions of books are good. You can cut and paste from them too. WinDjview is a small program and djvu books tend to be smaller than pdfs. Try it.
157. The solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost. With the growth of devotion to the mystery of God in His Unity and Trinity, John XXII extended the feast of the Holy Trinity to the entire Latin Church in 1334. During the middle ages, especially during the carolingian period, devotion to the Blessed Trinity was a highly important feature of private devotion and inspired several liturgical expressions. These events were influential in the development of certain pious exercises.
In the present context, it would not appear appropriate to mention specific pious exercises connected with popular devotion to the Blessed Trinity, "the central mystery of the faith and of the Christian life"165. It sufficies to recall that every genuine form of popular piety must necessarily refer to God, "the all-powerful Father, His only begotten Son and the Holy Spirit"166. Such is the mystery of God, as revealed in Christ and through him. Such have been his manifestations in salvation history. The history of salvation "is the history of the revelation of the one true God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who reconciles and unites to Himself those who have been freed from sin" 167.
Numerous pious exercises have a Trinitarian character or dimension. Most of them begin with the sign of the cross "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", the same formula with which the disciples of Jesus are baptized (cf. Mt 28, 19), thereby beginning a life of intimacy with the God, as sons of the Father, brothers of Jesus, and temples of the Holy Spirit. Other pious exercises use formulas similar to those found in the Liturgy of the Hours and begin by giving "Glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit". Some pious exercises end with a blessing given in the name of the three divine Persons. Many of the prayers used in these pious exercises follow the typical liturgical form and are addressed to the "Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit", and conserve doxological formulas taken from the Liturgy.
158. Worship, as has been said in the first part of this Directory, is the dialogue of God with man through Christ in the Holy Spirit168. A Trinitarian orientation is therefore an essential element in popular piety. It should be clear to the faithful that all pious exercises in honour of the Blessed Virgin May, and of the Angels and Saints have the Father as their final end, from Whom all thing come and to Whom all things return; the incarnate, dead and resurrected Son is the only mediator (1Tim 2,5) apart from whom access to the Father is impossible (cf. John 14,6); the Holy Spirit is the only source of grace and sanctification. It is important to avoid any concept of "divinity" which is abstract from the three Divine Persons.
159. Together with the little doxology (Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit....) and the great doxology (Glory be to God in the highest), pious exercises addressed directly to the Most Blessed Trinity often include formulas such as the biblical Trisagion (Holy, Holy, Holy) and also its liturgical form (Holy God, Holy Strong One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us), especially in the Eastern Churches, in some Western countries as well as among numerous religious orders and congregations.
The liturgical Trisagion is inspired by liturgical hymns and its biblical counterpart. Here mention could be made of the Sanctus used in the celebration of the Mass, the Te Deum, the improperia of Good Friday's veneration of the Cross, all of which are derived from Isaiah 6, 3 and Apocalypses 4, 8. The Trisagion is a pious exercise in which the faithful, united with the Angels, continually glorify God, the Holy, Powerful and Immortal One, while using expressions of praise drawn from Scripture and the Liturgy.