I’m thinking of a certain object. Let’s see if you can guess what it is. Don’t shout out your answer, just think about it. I bet none of you knows what this object is, so I need to give you some clues.
- This object is a child’s toy.
- This object moves.
- This object couldn’t move if it was missing one of its parts.
- This object wouldn’t be called the same thing if it was missing one of its parts.
- This object has something in common with the Holy Trinity.
Now, maybe some of you have guessed what this object is. I’m thinking of a tricycle! A tricycle is one toy that moves as one toy. It has three wheels, by definition, and if you took away a wheel, it would be a very strange-looking and malfunctioning bicycle. Now, what does that have to do with the Holy Trinity? Well, it is an analogy for the Holy Trinity. An imperfect analogy, sure. But as with all analogies, it takes something easy to comprehend and then uses it to explain something difficult to comprehend. The Holy Trinity, of course, is certainly the most difficult reality to comprehend. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s try to understand the Holy Trinity!
The dogma of the Holy Trinity, we know, is to believe that God is three and God is one… at the same time. It is, perhaps normal to think of God as one. After all, we even begin the Creed by saying, “I believe in one God.” But then, we immediately start speaking of the three persons: “The Father Almighty… one Lord Jesus Christ… the Holy Spirit.” When Christians say the name of God, we are invoking, in fact, The Holy Trinity.
It is perfectly fitting to think of God as one. After all, there is only one divine nature. This divine nature, as part of the definition of being divine, is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. If there were more than one divine nature, that is, more than one god, then each god would have some of the power, some of the knowledge, and some of the goodness. And this would immediately make them demi-gods, or “sorta gods.” You see, in this hypothetical situation, if god A had some of the power, and god B had some of the power, then god A would not have all of the power. And that would mean he is less than a god, because, as we have said, to be god means to be almighty. So, there can be only one true God.
And yet, we come across this curious figure by the name of Jesus. Jesus, by his words and by his actions, showed himself to be divine. He claimed to be the Son of God, and he proved it. Now, how can this be? Is he some sort of lesser, demi-god? Like a “mighty god,” but not an “almighty god?” Well, as we have said, there cannot be one god with some of the power, while another god claims to have all of the power. So this is impossible. Who, then, is this Jesus? This is quite the theological quandary.
If Jesus is the Son of God, as he proved, then he is made of the same stuff as the Father-God. Think of it this way: if I make a statue of myself out of wood or stone, the statue will bear my image. It will look like me. But a statue, of course, is not made of the same stuff as me. It is not flesh and bone, it does not have a soul. But if, on the other hand, I beget children, then those children would have my image and likeness—they would be made of the same stuff as me.
This is why we say that Jesus was the only-begotten Son. That is, he is consubstantial with the Father—made of the same stuff. And what is that stuff? The divine nature. The ONE divine nature. In other words, unity/oneness is one of the aspects of God.
Even further, Jesus promised that he and the Father would send an Advocate, a Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. We just commemorated the sending of the Holy Spirit last week. That Holy Spirit is the presence of God within each of us, and so, the Holy Spirit also is God.
Now we have a real puzzle on our hands. God must be one, or he wouldn’t be God. But God has manifested himself in three ways. So how do we solve this math problem? I know! He changes forms! Transformer god! But no, no, no! This is not right either. Because if he changes from Father into Son, into Holy Spirit, then two of them can’t exist at the same time. But we know that they do. In the gospels, we see Jesus praying to the Father all the time. We hear Jesus say that the Father will send the Spirit, and we hear him say that he himself will send the Spirit. At the baptism of Jesus, we hear the voice of the Father from the Heavens and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove. All three at once. So this “transformer god” does not work either.
We would be tempted, at this point, to throw up our hands and say, “I don’t know! It’s a mystery!” And sure, it’s a mystery. But as with all mystery stories, whether it’s Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, or Scooby-Doo, the mystery wants to be solved. We can’t help but look for the answer.
The early Church wrestled with this mystery for years. After nearly three centuries of debate, they finally came together in a city called Nicaea and settled on a vocabulary to talk about this mystery. Here is what they determined.
Our God is one divine nature, and he has revealed himself to us in three persons:
- The Father, who is known mostly for his creative capacity and governance of the universe
- The Son, who is known as the beloved, who became incarnate as Jesus Christ, and who extended the love of the Holy Trinity to mankind
- The Holy Spirit, who is known as the Advocate, the very presence of God who dwells within each believer, and who empowers us with manifold gifts.
Each person of the Trinity is God. Not 1/3 God, but 100% God. Each of them is God, and together, they are God. And yet, the Father is not the Son—they are distinct persons. The Son is not the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father. (This is the meaning of the diagram that is printed on your bulletin this week.) The Father did not become incarnate, nor did the Holy Spirit. The Father did not descend upon Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit did not die on a cross. The Son did not create the universe, but it was thru him that the Father created the universe.
But, lest we separate the Holy Trinity into three gods according to their functions, we also must say that the three persons of the Holy Trinity always work together. They cannot do otherwise. They share the same divine will, and so they always act together.
It’s not exactly the sort of solution you can find at the end of an algebra equation. It doesn’t carry the neat and tidy certainty of the Pythagorean Theorem. It is a mystery that draws us in, curiously, until we can just reach out a finger and touch the mystery. Yet, we will never grasp this mystery and hold it in our hands. It is a beautiful mystery, one to be adored and praised, not one to be contained and put on a shelf, or captured and put under a microscope. The Holy Trinity, the great Ineffable Mystery, speaks to that part of us that desires the infinite. It satisfies our infinite longing for love, for beauty, for truth, for goodness, for unity. It is the only Mystery worthy of being called God.
This is the Holy Trinity. This is our God. This is the God in whose threefold name you have been baptized, as the Lord commanded his Apostles to do. We invoke the name of the Holy Trinity at the beginning and the end of Mass. We start our prayers by invoking the Holy Trinity. We speak to the persons of the Holy Trinity just like we speak to human persons. He is infinitely close to us, and infinitely high above us.
Each time you make the sign of the cross, recognize the Ineffable Mystery that you proclaim. Praise his goodness, adore his beauty, contemplate his truth, rest in his unity. He is our God, let us love him with all that we are.