by Mitchell Brost, Columnist
We all know of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. However, it turns out that in our Catholic faith, there’s an even holier family: the Blessed Trinity. Unfortunately, the Trinity is also the deepest mystery of our faith. It is practically unmentioned in the Bible, and not many saints have written about it. In fact, there is a story of how St. Augustine had a dream the night before he was supposed to speak about the Trinity. In the dream, he was walking on a beach, and saw a young boy digging a hole in the sand. The boy would grab a seashell, fill it up from the waves, and then pour it into the hole. Augustine approached the boy and asked him what he was doing. “I’m trying to empty the ocean into my hole,” the boy replied. When Augustine responded that that was impossible, the boy answered, “Not as impossible as you trying to explain the Holy Trinity.” Obviously, I’m no way near as intelligent or educated as St. Augustine, but I will still attempt to shine some light on the subject of the Trinity. The big focus when considering the Trinity is this: what does it mean to be Catholic?
The Trinity is mentioned rather sparingly in Scripture. While it is never explicitly spoken about, there are some significant examples: Gen. 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” Matt. 3:16-17, “And Jesus, being baptized forthwith, came out of the water; and, lo, the heavens were opened to Him; and He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon Him. And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” Matt. 28:18, “All power is given to Me in Heaven and in earth; going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Acts 5:3-4, “Ananias, why hath Satan tempted thy heart that thou shouldst lie to the Holy Ghost? . . . Thou hast not lied to men, but to God.”
Because of this lack of especial explanation in the Bible, the Trinity can be a sticky subject for Bible Christians. However, an understanding of the Trinity goes far beyond Scripture. In one of his first homilies as pope, St. John Paul II posed the most important thing for people to know in their earthly life: Who God is, and the mystery of the Holy Trinity. This statement left many taken aback, for it is not easy to understand these things. Thankfully, JPII elaborated: “God in His deepest mystery is not a solitude, not a loner, He is a family, because He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of familial love, which is the Holy Spirit.”
John Paul answered the question of Who God is. God is the most perfect family. But this does not explain the mystery of the Trinity. In this perfect family, God is first and foremost an eternal father. However, He is also eternally fathering, as we see through the miracle of life on earth. We look to our Creed for the next part. It describes Jesus as “Begotten, not made. Consubstantial with the Father.” Christ was not “created” as if He did not exist, He was born or manifested spiritually and physically as the second person of God, the second part of the Holy Trinity. He is of the same substance (consubstantial)
as God the Father. St. Anselm attempted to explain the Trinity in a similar way. He described God as seeing Himself as if in a mirror, and this self-knowledge is an eternal Thought, which is the most perfect expression of His existence. God expresses Himself through His Son, Who can also be called His Word, because God manifested Him the same way we manifest thoughts and ideas. God and His Word know each other perfectly, and are perfectly good; therefore, there is a perfect love between them. This love is the Holy Spirit. To sum it up, the Holy Trinity can be thought of as a perfect family, and as perfect love.
It is important to take a minute to reflect on how amazing it is to have perfect love as a perfect spiritual family. Scott Hahn, a brilliant Catholic speaker and author, tells a story of how he was once asked to debate the Holy Trinity with a Muslim scholar. He agreed, and at one point, he met with the scholar to go over things before the debate. Things were going amiably, until Hahn referred to God as “father,” simply by habit. According to Hahn, the scholar got visibly angry, slamming the table with his fist and telling him not to blaspheme by calling God a father. Hahn apologized, but a few minutes later, he slipped, and angered the scholar once again. After the third time, Hahn asked the scholar why it was such a big deal. The man replied that Allah is not a father, he is a master. Humans are not his children, they are his slaves. And with that, their meeting was over, and the debate was canceled. It is so easy as Christians to take for granted God’s perfect
love for us.
How, then, can we replicate or partake in this perfect love? The first step is to love God as perfectly as we can. To become part of the fam, we gotta love the fam. To love someone is to desire to know them better. We need to ask to know God better. To assist with knowing Him better, we need to shift our focus about how we relate to God. Most people, myself included, simply focus on what God has done. It is time to reflect on why God has done these things. In addition, don’t focus on what we’ve been saved from, but what we’ve been saved for. The answer, of course, is that we’ve been saved so that we can share in Christ’s eternal sonship. Once we reflect on these things and better understand them, we can be adopted into the holiest of families.
And speaking of families, a knowledge and appreciation for the Holy Trinity will help us understand more about ourselves here on earth. One of the most important understandings we derive from the Trinity is the sanctity of marriage. Look at Genesis 1:26 again. Notice the plural pronouns: “Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness.” No, God is not schizophrenic. One thing this does is indicate the Holy Trinity. However, on a deeper level, it ties in with God’s blessing to be fruitful and multiply. In the process of doing this, we form our own tri-unity (trinity) – the father, the mother, and the child that is conceived from their love. The marital act physically embodies these words of God, “Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness.” We accomplish this through the genes, traits, and physical appearances we pass on to our children. This is so much more than just an animal instinct to prolong the existence of our species! The human family is an image of the most perfect family ever, the Holy Trinity. Men, do you want to be God-like? Fulfill your duty as a father by providing for and protecting your wife and children. Women, do you want to be God-like? Fulfill your duty as a mother, by nurturing and bringing up your children in communion with your husband. As Father John Laux says in his book Chief Truths of the Faith, “Still, we attribute the works of omnipotence, especially the creation, to the Father; the works of wisdom, and particularly the Redemption, to the Son; and the works of love, especially sanctification, to the Holy Spirit.” In addition, the family is an image of the relationship of the Church. God the Father protects His Bride, the Church, who nurtures and educates the children. As St. Cyprien said, “You can’t have God as your Father if you don’t want the Church as your Mother.”
In conclusion, there are several important things to remember when it comes to understanding the Trinity and how it relates to us. Pray to God to know Him better, because once we know Him, we can love Him even more perfectly. Reflect not so much on what God has done, but more on why He has done those things. This will also help us to love Him more perfectly. Finally, understand the sanctity of the family and of human sexuality. Sex is literally the most God-like thing humans can partake in. Therefore, describing it as “great” or “amazing” trivializes it, for sex is truly holy, blessed, and sacred within marriage. Without the Trinity, Catholicism as we know it would not exist. For without the Trinity, how could we pray? Without the Trinity, how could we be baptized, or participate in any of the sacraments? Without the Trinity’s perfect example of family and love, how could we love? What would we have to hope for without the hope of adoption into God’s perfect family, the Trinity? Therefore, to understand and appreciate the Trinity is not only what it is to be Catholic, but what it is to be human. The Trinity is the deepest, most obscure mystery of our Faith. It is also the most important part of our entire lives, whether we realize it or not. Let’s not ignore it.
This article was written by Columnist Mitchell Brost
Chief Truths of the Faith by Father John Laux, M.A., copyright 1934 Benizger
Brothers, New York; copyright 1990 by TAN Books
God’s Family and Ours: The Church and the Trinity talk by Dr. Scott Hahn,
copyright 2017 by Augustine Institute
For more information on this subject, check out Simon Falk’s video:
Despite Church teaching, I disagree that human families are a reflection of the Holy Trinity – husband/wife/child(ren). For that to be true, that first requires a basic binitarian framework that then creates a 2-parents/1-child paradigm. But since the Three Persons are coeternal and there is nothing “sexual” about God’s unity within himself, it’s a poor corollary. And since there are no marriages in heaven, these relational roles dissolve upon death. If sex, which is necessary for procreation, is truly the most God-like of acts, why is this contradicted by the Church’s reverence for virginity, chastity, and austerity as the highest virtues on one’s spiritual path? I think deep down the Church KNOWS that sex is not the nature of true love. Marriage vows (promises) exist for a reason – because the human heart is fickle, attraction between couples wanes, and sexual infidelity is ruinous. Mother Mary, though wedded, was a virgin It just doesn’t add up. In other words, the Holy Trinity remains a mystery and our theology further obfuscates it……