“God in Three Persons”
Prov. 8:22-31; Rom 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Today, the entire Catholic Church celebrates the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, what is now commonly known as TRINITY SUNDAY. This solemnity usually falls on the Sunday following Pentecost Sunday. When we talk about the doctrine of the Trinity we are really talking about that which we find impossible to fully comprehend. It is not because we think the doctrine of the Trinity is not true. In fact, we believe it firmly. Anyone who calls him/herself Christian and does not believe this doctrine, is a false Christian. The reason the issue is difficult is because the three-in-one character of God is such a profound, perplexing topic that it necessitates a level of understanding that we, humans beings, do not possess. However, we affirm the doctrine of the Trinity for two really good reasons:
- It is what the Bible teaches.
- It is what the Church has affirmed through the centuries.
- DEFINITION OF THE TRINITY
To begin with, it is good we specify that the word “TRINITY“ is not found in the Bible. But the concept of the Trinity is all over the Bible. The Concise Catholic Dictionary states: “Trinity is the dogma of the Church which maintains that God is one divine nature yet three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” God is one in essence and three in person. In other words the Bible (and the Church) affirm that there is only One God. But this God exists in three “persons”. We are saying that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. They are not three gods but only one God. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit and the Spirit is not the Father. They are distinct but one.
It is important to clarify. We are not saying there are three Gods. We are also not saying that God has three “forms” like steam, water, and ice. If we say that, then we are falling into the heresy called “modalism”. In this heresy God is pictured as moving from one “mode” to the other. However, God is the Father, Son and Spirit at the same time and at all times. We are also not saying that the three persons of the Trinity are “pieces” of God. That would means that the Father was 1/3 God, the Son 1/3 God and the Spirit 1/3 God. On the other hand, we are affirming that there is one God; this one God exists in three persons: Father, Son and Spirit at the same time.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC251) enlightens us: “In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop her own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: “substance”, “person” or “hypostasis”, “relation” and so on. In doing this, she did not submit the faith to human wisdom, but gave a new and unprecedented meaning to these terms, which from then on would be used to signify an ineffable mystery, “infinitely beyond all that we can humanly understand”.
Indeed, this sounds quite complicated. No doubt, someone has rightly said “If you try to explain the Trinity, you will lose your mind. But if you deny it, you will lose your soul.” The Trinity is hard to grasp because we have nothing like it in our existence. God is higher and beyond our world but has to be described by human words that have limits.
- EVIDENCE FOR THE TRINITY
Concerning whether the doctrine of the Trinity true, the Bible teaches several things:
- a) The Bible Affirms the Unity of God(Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:21; 1 Tim. 2:5; Jas. 2:19). The most famous and prominent declaration is part of what is called the Jewish “Shema” which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This belief is reiterated in the New Testament. For example in the letter of St. James 2:19 we read, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” There is really no debate on this point. Jewish belief has always been anchored to belief in one God – monotheism. Christians stand in that same tradition.
- b) The Bible asserts the Deity (Godliness) of the each of the Three Persons: The Bible (which strongly affirms that there is but one God) also affirms that in addition to the Father, the Son (Jesus) is divine (or God) and that the Holy Spirit is divine (or God). Sometimes the claims are bold and direct.
When talking about Jesus, the Son, St. Paul says in Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” In John 1:1-4 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Reference to this is also found in John 14:9; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13. From the book of Genesis, we learn that God’s Spirit was hovering over the waters in the act of creation (Genesis 1:2). In the Acts we read an account of Peter telling Ananias: “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4). In this passage Peter begins by saying that Ananias has lied to the Holy Spirit. At the end of the passage he says that Ananias has lied to God. The conclusion is obvious: the Holy Spirit and God are synonymous.
Sometimes the claims are implied. Not only does the Bible make claims that Jesus is God. It recognizes Jesus as possessing attributes of God.
- Eternity: (1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 1:2-3,8)
- Holiness applied to both: (Jn. 17:11; Romans 1:4; 1 Cor. 1:30)
- Immutability (Un-changeability) (Hebrews 13:8)
- Omnipotence: (Psalm 135:5-7; Matt. 28:18; Romans 15:13,17; 1 Cor. 15:24-27)
- Omnipresence: (Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:24; Matthew 28:20)
- Omniscience: (Matthew 6:8, 32; John 2:24-25; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11)
- The one who gives Spiritual Life: (Ezekiel 37:14; John 10:10; Ephesians 2:4-5)
- Creator: (Genesis 1:1-2; Psalm 104:30; John 1:3)
The Holy Spirit is often spoken of as the one who inspired the prophets who are said to be “speaking the Word of the Lord”. The Holy Spirit is called “the spirit of truth”. The Holy Spirit is also said to “search all things”. And blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is seen to be the ultimate sin against the Lord. Both the Son and the Spirit are referred to in terms that are reserved only for God.
- c) The Bible lists the persons of the Trinity Together as Equals
- Salvation (1 Peter 1:2) “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood”
- Sanctification (2 Corinthians 13:14) “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
- Christian Baptism (Matthew 28:19) “baptize in the name(singular) of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.”
From these references, we can see that that the Trinity is a logical conclusion from the teaching of Scripture.
- IMPLICATIONS OF THE TRINITY
Here, we ask ourselves what the importance of the trinity is.
- a) It Sharpens Our Understanding of God
There is a popular thought that says that God created the world because He was lonely. That is nonsense. There is perfect fellowship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is not lacking. He did not create us because of His “need”. God needs nothing! He created the world not because He needed our love but because He wanted to demonstrate His love!
The doctrine of the Trinity therefore, reminds us of God’s greatness. It also reminds us of our smallness before Him. God does not need us. We need Him! We are not free to create God in our own image. The Trinity sets the limits for human speculation. God is more than the Trinity. But not less than the Trinity.
- b) It gives us a standard by which we can separate true teaching from false teaching: In spite of the fact that the Trinity is seen as essential Christian doctrine, lots of people deny the doctrine, for instance:
- The Unitarian “Church” has rejects the notion of the Trinity. They do not see the Son or the Holy Spirit as separate and equal parts of the Godhead. In fact, they have even moved to the extent of wondering whether there even is a God.
- The Mormon Church rejects the idea that Jesus was the eternal God. They would call Him a “son of God” but in the same way that you and I might be called a son of God. They would not say Jesus was the eternal God. They proclaim that Jesus was created before the world was created and holds a special place, but He is not God.
- The Jehovah’s Witnesses ridicule the idea of the Trinity. They often say, “1+1+1 does not equal one”. But, of course that is not what the Christian is saying. It might be better to say that the Christian is saying 1 x 1 x 1= 1.
Any person or church that does not believe and affirm the Trinity is not a Christian person or church. To this effect, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 261) clearly states that “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life. God alone can make it known to us by revealing himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Therefore, when examining teachers and churches whether they are “Christian”, this is the place to start! Find out where they stand on the doctrine of the Trinity.
- c) The doctrine of the Trinity stimulates worship and godly living
What happens to us often is that we divide out lives into various compartments. We have our “religion”, we have our “work”, we have our “family” and we have our “leisure activities”. For the most part these things remain separate. That’s not the way God intended things to be.
Very often we urge people to get their priorities right by putting God first. The doctrine of the Trinity stimulates us not only to make God the first thing in our lives, but to make Him our everything. And the reason we are to do so is because of His greatness. He is different from us, greater than us, and perfectly independent from us. He loves us. He wants us to love Him back. He desires this so much that in some perplexing way, God the Son took a human form and subjected Himself to the limits of humanity and came to earth to invite us to receive His love.
On the feast of the Holy Trinity, we are called to put our faith in the Father who reached out to us, the Son who died to save us and the Spirit who is here to spur and change us. Today, we celebrate the greatness of the privileges that God has given to us. We rejoice in the vastness and depth of God’s love. This definitely leads us to a new depth of fervent worship. For the God we serve is real; he is close to us, and he is able to do much, much, more than we could ever ask or imagine. His wisdom is so far superior to our own that we cannot help but break into loud prayer: “Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.