The other night Katie and I were having one of those important, deeply profound, life changing, heart to heart conversations. This one in particular was about who Hollywood director Judd Apatow is married to. Is it Jenna Fischer? No, Isla Fisher? At some point one of us said “Why are we discussing this, let’s just Google it and be done.” It’s Leslie Mann, if you’re wondering. Google is great for that. Often times friends or family will be sitting around having trivial conversation and a question will come up that just has to have an answer right now. So someone grabs their phone and Googles it, problem solved. I think that’s fine when dealing with trivia. But there’s also a temptation to that same “problem solved” mentality with nontrivial things. The success of the scientific method and the technologies science produces has led us to conclude that everything is merely a problem that can be solved. But not every truth has a simple summation that our intellect can grasp.
We have a beautiful word for these Truths that can’t be simply summed up or solved—mystery. I used to think calling something a mystery was a graceful way of admitting ignorance of a thing that should be understood but wasn’t. Mystery is so much more than that. A mystery is not something that can’t be known at all, it is something that can’t be known completely. The central mystery of the Catholic faith is the Most Holy Trinity. Scripture is pretty clear on four things:
The Father is God (Philippians 1:2)
Jesus is God (Titus 2:13)
The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4)
There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:4)
We first learn this truth by various analogies, though none of them are the complete truth. The temptation to apply a problem solving sort of “Google it and be done” approach to the Trinity is much older than Google. Oversimplifying the truth to make God more manageable can lead to a number of material or accidental heresies, some of which I have been guilty of believing in the past. Here’s a short list of Trinitarian heresies:
Sabellianism: God is one person, but reveals himself to us in three different ways. For example, a man is one man but also a father, a husband and an employee. However, this heresy denies the Threeness of God. Another example: H2O is water, ice and vapor.
Arianism: The belief that only the Father is truly God and that the Son and the Holy Spirit are his creations. The sun is a common example: the sun represents the Father, and the sun’s light and heat represent the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Tritheism and Partialism: Tritheism is the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are actually three gods who work as one. Partialism is the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three parts or divisions of God. A common example of partialism is the shamrock (sorry Saint Patrick). Another is an egg—one egg made of shell, yolk and white.
The mystery is that God is one nature and three distinct Persons. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit. The Son is not the Father or the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father or The Son. The three Persons share one divine substance (consubstantial). The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. I really hope that makes very little sense to you as it makes very little sense to me. Because the tension created by this mystery is beautiful.
I was one of the six people who bought a Wii U. I used it a lot when I first purchased it. It was fun to figure out its features and get new games to play on it. But then I had it all figured out and it became boring to me. It was, after all, just an object. Persons are not objects and we can’t fully know them simply by knowing about them. That would be like thinking you know someone because you know their name, favorite movie and where they see themselves in five years. The greatest aspect of being in relationship with another person is the mystery that they are so wonderfully other.
Our God is not just one Person but three Persons equal in glory, coequal in majesty. We could (and hopefully will) spend an eternity coming to share in the inner life of the Trinity and never reach its depths—never fully grasp the mystery, and never grow bored. If you’ve ever been blessed to read a book (or binge-watch a series on Netflix?) that pulled you in and totally engrossed you and you never wanted it to end then you might understand this. If you’ve ever had a deeply meaningful conversation that lasted hours but felt like minutes that’s even closer. But books and people are finite. We have to avoid the temptation to make God a problem to be solved or a question to be Googled—small and understandable. I hope this Trinity Sunday finds you diving into the reality of a God who is deeper than we can imagine, beyond comprehension and beckoning us all to enter into the perfect communion of life and love that is our God —the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
“I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”
One thought on “Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”
Great piece. Just one thing I noticed. The shamrock is the classical example of the Trinity and the official teachings of the Church on this matter. St. Patrick was a strong advocate for the Trinity and used the shamrock to explain the lofty concept to rural Irish folk. The idea is that the Trinity is like one shamrock with three points on it, each point is distinct but still part of the one shamrock. You hit the nail on the head with the egg analogy for Tritheism and Partialism.
As for a great analogy for the Church teaching on the Holy Trinity I like the example of water. You can water in the form of ice which is cold, dense and fragile. You can have water is steam form which is light, hot and can expand in spaces. And you can have water as a liquid which is heavy, wet and can change temperature. God is the H2O and the Trinity are all of the states of the water. Each has their own charm (God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit) but each is still water.
Again, great piece, God Bless!