Skip to comments.The Concept of the Most Holy Trinity - The Relationship between the Three Persons in One God
Posted on 10/19/2007 9:51:40 AM PDT by NYer
The Concept of the Most Holy Trinity
The Relationship between the Three Persons in One God
Some doctrines perplex us more than others. Offhand, we could enumerate the following:
We assent to these dogmas (dogma, just by the way, is not a four letter word --- but rather, a formally revealed truth) although they remain mysteries, that is to say, they exceed the capacity of reason, while not conflicting with it. No logical contradiction can be adduced to discredit them; they simply lie beyond the province of our natural experience and the limitations inherent in reason (and reason has limitations: we need only ponder the concepts of infinity, infinite divisibility, and eternity to name a few).
Among these dogmas, or revealed truths, however, none quite so perplexes us as the notion of the Most Holy Trinity. That in and of itself it remains a profound mystery is profoundly true. However, because it pertains to the most central aspect of our faith as Catholics and Christians, inasmuch as it pertains to the Person and nature of God, we attempt to apprehend it in some measure, for only in knowing something, in knowing of its nature, can we begin to love it. We do not love what we do not know, and our knowing defectively or insufficiently results in our loving defectively or deficiently.
We wish to know God. We wish to know Him well. In fact, we are convinced --- and rightly so --- that the more we know about God, the more we will find to love in Him, and the more we love, the greater our own felicity ... especially when that love is requited.
Too often, in the minds of Christians, God is reduced to the Father: conceived as an elderly, avuncular figure with a great white beard Who is rather stern and quite distant; one Who is really very little involved in the trivial affairs of men, and so sent His Son instead, and the Son, of course, is less than the Father. What is more, the Son is more compassionate than this remote and rather irascible figure that more resembles Aristotle's Unmoved Mover, than a Father. We like Jesus --- although we fear His Father. In fact, for so many, Christian and pagan alike, Jesus was merely a man, perhaps a wise man, maybe even a prophet of sorts --- but not more. Well ... maybe ... but we are not quite sure how. The Holy Spirit? This faceless Spirit, whatever its nature, clearly cannot be that of a person, although He nevertheless figures largely in this mysterious narrative. Quite a conundrum.
Ask quite nearly every adult Catholic who has, over the past 40 years, suffered from the inexcusable negligence in Catechism, or CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), as we call it here in America --- a negligence that lays at the feet of the Bishops who, opting for a more visible correctitude in matters social and political, have defaulted on their primary responsibility as Teachers of the Faith in their respective dioceses --- and the answer is the same, although the inflections vary: "I really don't know", or, "it is terribly unclear to me."
Many --- perhaps most --- will reply that there are three gods, or that one is superior to the other, or existed prior to the other, or in fact, that only one is God and the others are something of the nature of demiurges or lesser gods, possessed of remarkable abilities, to be sure, but rather like us in every other way.
Saint Augustine literally wrote volumes on the subject (De Trinitate), as did Saint Thomas Aquinas and many, many, other great and learned Saints. Even the the most modest compendium using the utmost concision will, very likely, avail you little in the way of understanding the most fundamental features of this doctrine, this profound mystery --- and in failing to yield understanding in whatever measure, consequently failing to motivate love for that which is not understood.
Perhaps, then, as it is said, "a picture (in this case a diagram) is worth a thousand words". So, for the sake of those who should be teaching and do not, or are teaching and know little of what they teach --- but most of all for the children, we present you a picture --- in the shameful absence of words.
Our motivation is simple: if you do not know God, how can you love Him?
Oh ... yes, ...God does not "look like" the conceptual drawing ... and we truly fear that we are compelled to say that ...
Useful diagram thanks for posting.
If God is the Father and also the Son and Holy Ghost, why isn’t the Son also the Father or the Holy Ghost?
...Perhaps, then, as it is said, "a picture (in this case a diagram) is worth a thousand words". So, for the sake of those who should be teaching and do not, or are teaching and know little of what they teach --- but most of all for the children, we present you a picture --- in the shameful absence of words.
And the author of this piece resorts to the same; unable to explain it, he resorts to pictures. Catholic apologetics have left the laity without hope. All they know is how to appeal to the authority of the Magistrate; none seem to make an appeal to Scripture.
Apparently you did not read the entire article. How about you, Professor Alex, explain the Trinity to the ignorant.
“Catholic apologetics” would be 2000 years’ worth of endeavor. Do you really feel qualified to assert a universal negative regarding every Catholic apologist from Clement, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr to Scott Hahn? You’ve read them all?
THIS is a magistrate.
THIS is the Magisterium.
It's hardly persuasive. Ask a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness just how convincing they find it. Why should anyone believe it?
I don't see the "steering wheel" as a tool of persuasion, but as a tool of explanation.
So a better question might be "Does it help to explain what we mean by 'Trinity'"?
The article is catechetical in scope, not apologetic. You need to teach your own first, before they evangelize others. As a means to that end, in conjunction with Scripture and the ecumenical councils (which treat to the subject in far greater detail, frankly, than Scripture does), the steering wheel is a very good tool. That’s all it is, a tool. Given the catechetical vacuum in the Western Catholic Church for 40+ years - a vacuum no serious Catholic will deny exists - it is a very good tool indeed.
Somewhat more satisfying and theologically rich than a steering wheel too!
This pretty much explains it:
1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;
2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
3. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.
5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.
6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.
8. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.
9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.
10. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.
11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.
12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.
13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.
14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.
15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;
16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
17. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;
18. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.
19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;
20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.
21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.
22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.
23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.
26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.
27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.
31. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.
32. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
33. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.
34. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.
35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.
36. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;
38. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead;
39. He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty;
40. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
41. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;
42. and shall give account of their own works.
43. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
44. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved
Thanks, but all I could get was that certain things ‘are’, it didn’t really explain why or how.
I understand what you mean, but I like it because it’s a very clear and powerful statement of what we believe and what we don’t believe. It’s called the Athanasian Creed, by the way.
I do not claim this is THE most accurate way to explain this mystery/seeming paradox, but it has been helpful to others. The means to understand is based in the capabilities expressed in dimensional limits: Jesus told Philip that if he/Philip saw Jesus he saw the Father because Jesus was in the Father and the Father was in Jesus. In a sense what Jesus was using was a dimensional explanation.
In a length/width/height (volume) room, there is a length which is not height but it is part of the room; there is a width that is part of the room but it is not the whole room; in a volume there are points that are within the volume, located along a length, a width, and a height, but these points are not the whole room.
If we use only one direction, we may define where along a line a point may be found. If we use two directions (length and width) we may find on a plane where a point may be found. If we have three axi of direction (length, width, height) we can locate a point first with length, then length and width, but that would place the point on a plane. To place the point in the volume we need a third number, the height, then we have the particular plane in which the point is found placed at the particular height for the location. God is the volume of the room, in a sense, but in the Holy Spirit (we could analogize as the plane in the room) there are limits to the dimensional qualities in use. Jesus is God, but while in human flesh there are limits to dimensional quality in use. But he came from Mary's womb into the air world in the same fashion He came out of the sealed tomb to some location outside without unsealing the tomb.
Never seen the ‘steering wheel’ diagram before. I like it!
Thanks for the post. Excellent.
Thanks for the post.
FWIW, I’ve found the issue of the trinity is best understood by simply recognizing God Provides.
He reveals Himself in three persons.
We don’t need to read anything more into that revelation, but simply need to comprehend bit by bit exactly what He reveals to us in each of those revelations.
God didn’t provide us with a Library of Congress and encyclopedias of quantum mechanics in order for us to understand everything in His Creation, so why would we be so arrogant as to think we would comprehend Him in a fashion we comprehend worldly things, independent of simple faith through Him?
Keep it simple. He has seen from eternity past the best way to reveal to us about His essence and nature in the fashion in which He has.
I suspect any challenge is comprehending the Trinity is better met by the wondrous awe we should instead afford Him, in simply studying what He has revealed and comprehending those aspects of the person in which He reveals Himself, instead of getting wrapped up in man made doctrines built more upon rationalism and empiricism, than first upon faith through Him.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights! That is certainly an engaging analogy.
Yes. He provides for us through each member. Visually, I have found the pretzel to be an easy way to teach the Trinity to children.
God didnt provide us with a Library of Congress and encyclopedias of quantum mechanics in order for us to understand everything in His Creation, so why would we be so arrogant as to think we would comprehend Him in a fashion we comprehend worldly things, independent of simple faith through Him?
You make an excellent point! Scientists can't explain the universe. It is indeed arrogant for man to think he can comprehend the mind of God.
Yes - three persons in one God.
Alright, K, go ahead and leave everyone scratching their heads. A little explanation goes a long way.
How can we live in the midst of a world marked by fear, hatred and violence and not be destroyed by it? When Jesus prays to his Father for his disciples, he responds to this question by saying.
"I am not asking you to remove them from the world but to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world".
To live in the world without belonging to the world summarizes the essence of the spiritual life. The spiritual life keeps us aware that our true house is not the house of fear, in which the powers of hatred and violence rule, but the house of love, where God resides.
The house of love is beautifully expressed in this icon.
The icon of the Holy Trinity was "written" (painted) by Andrew Rublev in 1425, in memory of the great Russian saint, Sergius (1313-1392). He wanted not only to show the fruits of his own meditation on the mystery of the Holy Trinity but also to offer his fellow monks a way to keep their hearts centered in God while living in the midst of political unrest.
The more we look at this holy image with the eyes of faith, the more we come to realize that it is painted not as a lovely decoration for a convent church, nor as a helpful explanation of a difficult doctrine, but as a holy place to enter and stay within. As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among the 3 divine angels and to join them around the table. The movement from the Father toward the Son and the movement of both Son and Spirit toward the Father become a movement in which the one who prays is lifted up and held secure.
From within this holy circle, this house of love, the mystery of God is revealed to us. It is the mystery of the 3 angels who appeared at the Oak of Mamre, who ate the meal Sarah and Abraham generously offered to them and who announced the unexpected birth of Isaac (Gn 18). It is the mystery of hospitality expressed not only in Abraham's and Sarah's welcome of the 3 angels, but also in God's welcome of the aged couple into the joy of the covenant through an heir.
This angelic appearance is the prefiguration of the divine mission by which God sends us his only Son to sacrifice himself for our sins, and gives us new life through the Spirit. The tree of Mamre becomes the tree of life, the house of Abraham becomes the dwelling place of God-with-us and the mountain becomes the spiritual heights of prayer and contemplation. The lamb that Abraham offered to the angels becomes the sacrificial lamb, chosen by God before the creation of the world, led to be slaughtered on Calvary and declared worthy to break the seven seals of the scroll. This sacrificial lamb forms the center of the icon. The hands of the Father, Son and Spirit reveal in different ways its significance. The Son, in the center, points to it with two fingers, thus indicating his mission to become the sacrificial lamb, human as well as divine, through the Incarnation. The Father, on the left, encourages the Son with a blessing gesture. And the Spirit, who holds the same staff of authority as the Father and the Son, signifies by pointing to the rectangular opening in the front of the altar that this divine sacrifice is a sacrifice for the salvation of the world.
Thus, praying with this icon leads us into the mystery of God's self-revelation. It is a mystery beyond history, yet made visible through it. It is a divine mystery, yet human too. It is a joyful, sorrowful and glorious mystery transcending all human emotions, yet not leaving any human emotion untouched.
(taken from Behold the Beauty of the Lord - Praying with Icons, by Henri J. M. Nouwen. In praying with icons, they will begin to speak of the unique way in which God has chosen to love you.
I know I’m not expressing myself well on this point.
I think of it in this fashion. Through faith in Christ, I recognize that God has in eternity past considered the best way He is able to make Himself known by His Creation including man.
When He reveals Himself, and we understand He does reveal Himself as God the Father, also by God the Son, and also by God the Holy Spirit,...when He has chosen to thus reveal Himself in this fashion, then if we don’t understand it is either because we have a natural state which has strayed from Him or it is because we have scarred our thinking processes so as to wrongly influence our understanding of what He has provided.
He still provides a way in which we may have fellowship with Him, so by remaining in faith through Him, and slowly thinking about Him through these different persons, we might be able to better understand Him.
I have no criticism of the driver’s wheel model.
Instead, through faith in Him,... in all things, including our thinking of doctrine, we place ourselves in His hands so that when we view the model, He guides us in our thinking.
Likewise in study of Him by reading Scripture. I’ve found study of the Trinity to be one of the most rewarding studies as it helps us better comprehend and identify what and how He has prepared things for us from eternity past to eternity future.
In studying the Son of God as discerned from God the Father, who have the same essence, but different persons, we are provided an example of how man should think while he is in fellowship with God.
In studying the Holy Spirit, as discerned from the Son of God, we grow to understand how Divine power is provided to man for us to utilize, but again only though faith in Him, not of ourselves, but from Him, for the performance of good works. We also see how the Holy Spirit indwelling us provides the temple for the indwelling of Christ who is one with the Father.
In studying the Holy Spirit as discerned from God the Father, we also are able to discern mechanisms which exist between our communicating to God and His perfect holiness which is respected by the Holy Spirit expressing our thinking in proper inexplicable moanings to the Father.
We discover how God the Son nor the Holy Spirit, doesn’t know the day or hour of His second coming, yet He is still God. If this appears to be contradictory, that sense is a manifestation that somewhere in our past thinking we have improperly perceived His true nature, because He Himself has revealed to us something about Himself in a perfect fashion. He is not a God of confusion, but has blessed us with His revelation of what He actually is to our scarred minds.
It's even more wondrous when through faith in Him, with our limited faculties, He who indwells us is able to reveal the unlimited by the very simple lines of His Word.
I try not to apply physical laws/logic to God. Thank you for the explanation.
So, needing to start somewhere...voila...the "Steering Wheel" catechetical tool is presented for their edification! St. Patrick used the shamrock, we 21st Century types can appeal to more familiar objects in our culture, such as this well-known automobile part.
Indeed. Thank you for that insight!
Because that which is known of God is manifest among them, for God did manifest [it] to them, for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world, by the things made being understood, are plainly seen, both His eternal power and Godhead -- to their being inexcusable;
“So, needing to start somewhere...voila...the “Steering Wheel” catechetical tool is presented for their edification! St. Patrick used the shamrock, we 21st Century types can appeal to more familiar objects in our culture, such as this well-known automobile part.”
That’s just pandering to a fallen and abysmally stupid (not uneducated...stupid!) age! I prefer NYer’s closing comment above:
“In praying with icons, they will begin to speak of the unique way in which God has chosen to love you.”
But first, it is incumbent on us to get these folks to abandon their skepticism, and that means getting to them in ways that they have some chance of understanding based on what they already know. Our time is unique in the number and kind of secular enticements, readily available via mass media, that the Church must contend against. Moreover, what is perceived as "rationality" is itslf often embraced as an enticement in its own right, at least in the self-congratulatory style we often see around us (Christopher Hitchens comes immediately to mind). We already made the mistake of simply being "relevant" in teaching through the culture, where ew quickly watered down theology to feel-goodism and a rationalization of all sorts of irrational behavior (witness the SPI fiasco in San Franciso, for example). We're too far removed (due to our own fault) from traditional catechetics to simply return to them instantaneously and without recourse to ancillary methods). Two generations of potential catechists do not know the faith well themselves, and cannot teach that way alone. Integrating a more "flow-chart," diagrammatic approach may be a good way to get the ball rolling in the West, at least until something resembling Christendom has been restored here.
Ethereal spirituality (even when authentic) is largely lost on the hard-edged, hyper-pragmatic, skeptical agnostics who pervade our western culture. St. Paul advised a diet of spiritual milk before the neophytes take to spiritual meat. Well, the milk of diagramming spiritual truths may be quite useful to this generation while they are spiritual infants, when they start teething in a spiritual way, we can introduce the chopped meat, and beyond that: the great day will dawn when we can introduce icons and other artistic expressions to coexist with the mystical writings of the saints! But, for many, for us to simply launch at them with a perceived tenuous tone is to simply lose them immediately. Hook 'em any way you can, so long as it can be integrated with a higher understanding of orthodoxy when the time is appropriate. I fail to see how employing such aids as the "steering wheel" with the likes of our contemporary unchurched cannot be integrated with traditional methods of teaching the Faith to achieve that end.
I’m sure that is what you believe, but our beliefs differ.
how do you read Isaiah 60:16 ?shalom b'shem Yahshua
Wonderful! Too many Catholics (and I might add Protestants) have forgotten the Holy Spirit. We need to put the words, “Holy Spirit” back into our vocabulary!
Onward, Holy Spirit, lead us!
“I fail to see how employing such aids as the “steering wheel” with the likes of our contemporary unchurched cannot be integrated with traditional methods of teaching the Faith to achieve that end.”
Perhaps such methods can be used. In the GOA right now there is something of a debate raging about what methods to use for catechesis. Interestingly, it is the modernists and “liberals” (sort if a meaningless term when applied to Orthodox, I know!)who seem positive about those methods. The conservatives are not at all enamored of them. Here’s the thing, its the traditional, very conservative (but English speaking) Orthodox parishes which are growing with converts arriving and secularized Orthodox returning to the fold while the liberal places (and the hyper ethnic parishes outside of Greek “ghettos”) are dying on the vine.
In my parish the Yankee converts seem to take to icons from the first day they walk into the temple. I suppose many of them had read about icons before they ever come to church, but a number have told me that it was the experience of icons “in real life” in a parish church which brought them out of protestantism or whatever and into The Church.
Emphasis added by me here.
I don’t think it’s possible to be offended on an anonymous web forum, but thanks.
I never gave it much thought. How do you read it?