The Blessed Trinity is the central mystery and doctrine of the Christian Faith. In fact, it is more than a doctrine, which simply means teaching or belief; it is a dogma, a truth revealed by God, which must be believed by the faithful if they are to consider themselves Christian – Catholic.
Some people see mystery as a bolted door beyond which we may never penetrate. They maintain we simply have to believe what the Church tells us is behind this door without ever being able to see it or understand it.
Others, and that includes me, see mystery as a wide open door inviting all to enter. Though we will never grasp all we see because it is infinite and incomprehensible, we are invited as much as we are able to participate in the mystery, to feast on it, to gaze upon it, to praise and worship it.
What is the Church’s teaching about the Trinity? To put it in a nutshell, it is the doctrine that in the unity of the Godhead, or more simply, in God, there are three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and that these three Persons are truly distinct one from another, and yet there is only one God.
As St. Athanasius puts it: the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.
In this Trinity of Persons the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son. So there is a difference in the origin of the Persons but they are co-eternal and co-equal, un-created and omnipotent.
Co-eternal means they all existed from all time. Even though the Father begets the Son he does so eternally. In other words, there never was a time when the Father existed without the Son. This is true also for the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son. There never was a time when the Holy Spirit wasn’t.
Co-equal has to do with the fact that none of the persons is greater than the other. They are all equal in everything.
Uncreated means what it says, none of the Persons was created. Sometimes people ask ‘Who made God?’ And the answer is always ‘No one.’
Omnipotent means the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are almighty.
What the Church teaches in regard to the mystery of the Blessed Trinity is called revelation. This means that it did not originate with us here on earth but it was revealed to us by God. Revelation always comes down to us from God, we could never have arrived at these truths unless they had been revealed to us. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to reveal the truth of the Blessed Trinity to the world and, for the Church, it has become the foundation of her entire faith.
In Scripture the word trinity does not appear. Theophilus of Antioch, about 180 A.D. speaks of ‘the Trinity of God [the Father], His Word and His Wisdom’ but, of course, the term may have been in use before his time.
The evidence for the dogma of the Trinity is everywhere in the New Testament and some scholars even suggest it is in the Old Testament. In any case Jesus gradually made it known to his disciples.
He began by teaching them to recognize him as the Eternal Son of God, and that God was his Father in an entirely unique way. Have you ever realized for example that Jesus always referred to God as: ‘my Father’ and ‘your Father’ – he always made a distinction? Even when he taught the Our Father to his followers he said, when, you pray say ‘Our Father’.
When Jesus had established himself as the Son of his Father in a way we could not claim, he began to promise that the Father would send another Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, in his place. After his resurrection, he revealed the doctrine very clearly when he commanded them to: go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18).
I will conclude with a lovely word from Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. In November 1904, her Carmelite community was renewing their vows and Elizabeth suddenly felt drawn back to her cell where she wrote the following Act of Self-Offering. She wrote: O my God, Trinity whom I adore! Help me to become utterly forgetful of self, that I may bury myself in You, as changeless and as calm as though my soul were already in eternity . . . O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, Infinite Solitude, Immensity wherein I lose myself! I yield myself to you as your prey. Bury yourself in me that I may be buried in You, until I depart to contemplate in Your light the abyss of your greatness!