by Jayson M. Brunelle
Two of the most fundamental, foundational tenets or dogmas of our Catholic faith are the dogma of the Trinity and the dogma of the Incarnation. It should be stated from the outset that these truths of the faith are mysteries – that is to say, while we know that they are, we don’t quite know what they are in their fullness. For as long as we remain pilgrims on this earth, we will never be able to wrap our minds around these two most mysterious truths that lie at the very heart of our beloved faith. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the first of these mysteries, the Trinity, insofar as human reason will enable us to do so. The mystery of the Incarnation shall be explored in a future post.
The mystery of the Holy Trinity is a divinely revealed truth; that is, it is something that the human mind could never have known through deductive or inductive reasoning. While it is true that the actual term “Trinity” does not appear in Sacred Scripture, there are numerous references to the reality of the Trinity throughout both Testaments. Time and again, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are referred to. In fact, Jesus exhorts the twelve to baptize potential Christians “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This is the “Trinitarian formula” used to this day to administer the sacrament of Baptism.
We can apply human reason to this divinely revealed truth in order to better understand it. We know from the Creed that “We believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit”. Moreover, we know that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God, from true God, begotten, not made, One in being with the Father.” The Creed reveals the following about the Holy Spirit: “the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”
Thus, the Church teaches that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all true, distinct persons who share one common Divine Nature. A “person” is any being who possesses the spiritual, rational faculties of intellect and will. As far as we know, there are at least three types of persons: human persons, angelic persons and Divine Persons. The three distinct Persons of the Trinity each possess their own individual intellect and will, yet they are truly and perfectly One in nature; thus, we believe in one God, not three. How are we to understand this reality which, while not contradicting reason, does surpass reason in that it is supra-rational? The best explanation I’ve come across is this: The Father, from all eternity, begets His only Son. The Son, as eternally begotten of the Father, receives the fullness of the Father’s Divinity, and truly inherits the fullness of the Father’s attributes. Thus, the Son is true and eternal God. Now God the Father loves His Son with the fullness of His Love. The Son, likewise, reciprocates that fullness of love. Theology teaches us that love is fruitful and blossoms. The love between the Father and the Son is so real, so intense metaphysically, that it blossoms into a Third Divine Person, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, then, is the personification of the love that exists between the Father and the Son.
The life of love that exists amongst the Family of the Trinity is reflected in the human family. Just as the husband loves his wife with the fullness of his being, and the wife reciprocates that love, we might say that with the consummation of that love, the highest and most complete physical manifestation of that love in the conjugal act, there comes about the personification of that love that exists between the spouses in the form of a newly conceived child. The child personifies the love that exists between the spouses, just as the Holy Spirit personifies the love that exists between the Father and the Son. Moreover, Jesus states that once a man and woman are married, they are no longer two but one. Thus, the two, in becoming one, become three! Hence the human family is a beautiful image or reflection of the Divine Family life of the Triune God.