Trinity: the heart of our faith
Today is Trinity Sunday which the Church always celebrates on the Sunday after Pentecost. The doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of our faith (Catechism of the Catholic Church #234). There is one God and three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When you think about it, the Trinity really is the central mystery of our Faith. What happens at the beginning of your Christian life when you’re baptised? The priest pours water on your head while saying, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Each time we come into church we dip our fingers into the Holy Water stoup and make the Sign of the Cross which is Trinitarian. We begin Mass with the Sign of the Cross and the priest blesses in the name of the Trinity at the end of Mass. Some of the prayers at Mass conclude with a Trinitarian formula. So the Trinity really is the core of our devotional life. Whereas many other mysteries of the Faith tell us about what God has done for us, like the Holy Eucharist, the Crucifixion or the Resurrection, the doctrine of the Trinity tells us Who God is. But it is a mystery that we will never fully understand.
The great St Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century was writing a treatise on the Trinity (De Trinitate). One day as he was walking along the seashore contemplating, he saw a little child running backwards and forwards from the sea to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a shell to carry water from the large ocean and pour it into a small hole that he had dug in the sand. Augustine came up to him and asked him what he was doing. “I’m trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied. “What?” said Augustine. “The hole cannot contain all that water.” The boy stood up, looked him in the eyes and said, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.” Augustine was so struck by the reply he glanced away for a moment in thought, and when he looked back the child had vanished. Some people think the boy was an angel while others that it was the Christ Child Himself who came to remind Augustine of the limits of human understanding in relation to the great mysteries of our Faith.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery, but this doesn’t mean we can’t have some understanding of it. Human reason alone would never have come up with the idea of three Persons in one God. We could quite naturally conclude that there must be a Supreme Being Who created everything that exists, but we would never imagine that this God is actually a Trinity of three Divine Persons. This truth can only be known because God Himself revealed it to us. When we say there are three Persons in the Trinity, this does not mean that there are three gods. There is one God. The Father is different from the Son because He is a different Person, but He doesn’t have a different being because He has the same nature. For this reason, each Person of the Trinity is equally all knowing, all powerful, eternal and absolutely perfect. All three are fully God.
It’s not easy to live our faith in today’s world. But God our Father makes it possible, JESUS our Saviour shows us how, and the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier gives us the strength and grace we need to respond in obedient faith.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC