Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
Christian Doctrine is not a series of disjointed statements. It is an organic body of religious truth, in which one dogma cannot rightly be understood save in its relation to the others, a part cannot be denied without rejecting the whole. The space and our time do not allow of lengthy explanations, hence the utility of a brief 'rational' exposition here.
"The Unity and Trinity of God"
Fr. L. Trese
O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways! (St. Paul, "Epistle to the Romans," 11.33, DRV)
None of us would care to have the task of explaining a problem in nuclear physics to a five-year-old-child. Yet the gap between a five-year-old's intelligence and the upper reaches of science are as nothing compared to the gap between the most brilliant human mind, even at its best, can grasp and understand. Since God is an infinite Being, no created intellect, however gifted, can plumb his depths.
That is why God, in revealing to us the truth about Himself, often has to be content with simply telling us what the truth is; the how of the truth is so far beyond our grasp in this life that even God doesn't try to explain it to us.
One such truth is the fact that although there is only one God, yet in that one God there are three divine Persons. In human affairs, 'nature' and 'person' are practically one and the same thing; we say that 'nature' and 'person' are 'coterminus'. If there are three persons in a room, then there are three human natures; and if there is only one human nature present, then there is only one human person. So when we try to think of God as three Persons possessing one and the same nature, we find ourselves batting our head against the ceiling.
That is why we call such truths of faith as that of the Blessed Trinity a 'mystery' of faith. We believe it is so because God says it is so; and He is all-wise and all-truthful. As to just how it can be so, we must await God's full unveiling of Himself in heaven to discover.
Theologians do of course cast some light upon the mystery for us. They explain that the distinction between the three Persons in God is based upon the relationship that exists between the three Persons. There is God the Father, Who looks into His divine mind and sees Himself as He really is, and forms a thought about Himself. You and I do the same thing, often. We turn our gaze inward, and see ourselves, and form a thought about ourselves. It is a thought which expresses itself in the silent words "Maximilian Kolbe" or "Therese Martin".
But there is this difference between our knowledge and God's knowledge of Himself: our knowledge of ourselves is imperfect, incomplete. (Our friends could tell us things about ourselves that would surprise us - not to mention what our enemies could tell us!) Yet even if we did know ourselves perfectly, even if the thought we had about ourselves as silently spoke our own name was a complete thought, a perfect reproduction, it still would be only a thought remaining inside us. The thought would have no existence of its own, no life of its own. The thought would cease to exist, even in my own mind, the minute I turned my attention to something else. The reason is that existence, or life, is not a necessary part of the picture of myself. There was a time when I did not exist at all. And I would immediately fall back into nothingness if God did not keep in existence.
But with God, things are very different. It is of the very nature of God to exist. There is no other way of thinking straight about God, except to think of Him as the Being Who never had a beginning, the Being Who always was and always will be. The only real definition we can give of God is to say, "He Who Is". That is the way, some will remember, that God described Himself to Moses: I Am Who Am.
If the thought that God has of Himself, then, is to be infinitely complete and perfect thought, it must include existence, since to exist is of the very nature of God. The image that God sees of Himself, the silent Word that He eternally speaks of Himself, must have a distinct existence of its own. It is this Living Thought which God has of Himself, this Living Word in which He perfectly expresses Himself, Whom we call God the Son. God the Father is God, knowing Himself; God the Son is the expression of God's knowledge of Himself. Thus the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is called the Son precisely because from all eternity He is generated, He is begotten, in the divine mind of the Father. He is also called the Word of God because he is the 'mental word' in which the divine mind gives utterance to the thought of Himself.
Now God the Father (God knowing Himself) and God the Son (God's knowledge of Himself) contemplate the divine nature which they possess in common. As they gaze (we speak of course in human terms), they behold in that nature all that is beautiful and good - all, in short, that commands love - to an infinite degree. And so the divine will moves in an act of infinite love - for the divine goodness and beauty. Since God's love for Himself, like God's knowledge of Himself, is of the very nature of God, it must be a Living Love. This infinitely perfect, infinitely intense, Living Love which flows eternally from the Father and the Son is He Whom we call the Holy Ghost, "proceeding from the Father and the Son." He is the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity.
God the Father is God, knowing Himself.
God the Son is the expression of God's knowledge of Himself.
God the Holy Ghost is the result of God's love for Himself.
This is the Blessed Trinity - three divine Persons in one God, one divine nature.
Here is a little illustration that may make somewhat clearer the relationship that exists between the three divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Suppose one looks upon himself in a full-length mirror. He sees there an image of himself that is perfect except for one thing: it is not a living image; it is just a reflection in the glass. But if that image were to step out of the mirror and stand beside him, living and breathing like himself - then it would be a perfect image indeed. There would not be two of them. There would be just one HIM, one human nature. There would two 'persons', but only one mind and one will, sharing the same knowledge and the same thoughts.
Then, since self-love (the right kind of self-love) is natural to an intelligent being, there would flow between him and his image an ardent love, one for the other. Now giving his fancy free rein, and think of this love as being so much a part of himself, so deeply rooted in his very nature, as to be a living, breathing reproduction of himself. This love would be a 'third person' (still only one HIM, remember, only one human nature), a third person standing between him and his image, the three of them linked hand in hand, three persons in one human nature.
Perhaps this flight of imagination may help us toward a faint understanding of the relationship that exists between the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity: God the Father 'looking at' Himself in His divine mind and beholding there the image of Himself which is so infinitely perfect that it is a living image, God the Son; and the God the Father and God the Son loving the divine nature which they possess in common with a Living Love, God the Holy Ghost. Three divine Persons, one divine nature.
If the example used does not help at all in our thinking about the Blessed Trinity, we should not let ourselves feel frustrated. We are dealing with a mystery of Faith; no one, not even the greatest theologian, can hope to really understand it in this life. At best, there will merely be varying degrees of ignorance.
Neither should we feel frustrated that there are mysteries of Faith. Only a person suffering from consummate pride of intellect would expect to understand fully the infinite, the inexhaustible depth of God's nature. Rather than resenting our human limitations, we should be moved to gratitude that God has chosen to tell us as much as he has about Himself, about His own inner nature, about His own life.
One error we must guard against in our thinking about the Blessed Trinity: we must not think of God the Father as having 'come first', God the Son a little later, and God the Holy Ghost later still. All three are equally eternal, possessing as they do one divine nature; God's thought and God's love are equally timeless with God' nature. And God the Son and God the Holy Ghost are not in any way subordinate to God the Father; one is not more powerful, nor wiser, nor greater than the other. All three possess the same infinite perfection, an equality rooted in the one divine nature which they equally possess.
However, we do attribute to the individual divine Persons certain works, certain activities that seem most suitable to the particular relationship of this or that divine Person. For example, it is to God the Father that we attribute the work of Creation, since we think of Him as the 'generator', the instigator, and starter of things, the seat of the infinite power which God possesses.
Similarly, since God the Son is the Knowledge or Wisdom of the Father, we ascribe to Him the works of wisdom; it was He Who came upon earth to make truth known to us, and to heal the breach between God and man.
Finally, since the Holy Ghost is Infinite Love, we appropriate to Him the works of love, particularly the sanctification of souls, since sanctification results from the indwelling of God's Love within the soul.
God the Father is the Creator, God the Son is the Redeemer, God the Holy Ghost is the Sanctifier. And yet what One hoes, All do; where One is, All are. That is the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity - the infinite variety in absolute unity whose beauty will ravish us in heaven.