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The Trinity: The Mystery that answers our deepest questions and longings

On the Readings for Sunday, May 30, 2021, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Detail from "Trinity" (Троица) by Andrei Rublev, c.1410 []

• Dt 4:32-34, 39-40
• Psa 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22
• Rom 8:14-17
• Mt 28:16-20

The popular television show “Unsolved Mysteries,” was a documentary-styled program pursuing answers to crimes and strange events that had yet to be solved and explained. As the saying goes, everyone loves a good mystery, as evidenced by the success of that show and the popularity of so many movies, books, and television programs about solving mysteries and crimes.

The Trinity is also a mystery, but not the sort that needs to be solved, or can be solved. The popular apologist Frank J. Sheed (1897-1981), author of the classic work, Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press), explained that a theological mystery is not a puzzle, nor is it “something that we can know nothing about: it is only something that the mind cannot wholly know.” The mystery of the Trinity is beyond our understanding precisely because God is so beyond man, who is limited and finite.

Sheed used the analogy of an endless art gallery into which the visitor walks deeper and deeper—never reaching the end but finding the visit to be completely satisfying. Sheed also describes “a Mystery” as “an invitation to the mind.” The Trinity, in fact, is an invitation, not only to the mind but to every hidden part and deep longing of man.

Although the Trinity was not revealed until after the Incarnation, there are tiny hints in the Old Testament. Before God revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he established that he is the one, holy, and personal Creator. The Israelites were surrounded by pagan tribes and groups believing in any number of gods. Many of those gods were bound to specific places and had only a capricious interest in the well-being of man.

Moses asked the Israelites, in today’s reading from Deuteronomy, “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation …?” The one, true God spoke to Moses and the people, and he formed a covenantal people for the good of the world. The significance of these two actions cannot be overstated; they are essential acts that ultimately lead to God speaking to man through the Word—the second person of the Trinity—and establishing a people of God, the Church, through a new and everlasting covenant.

That covenant, rooted in the Father’s love, the Son’s sacrifice, and the power of the Holy Spirit, is intensely familial, relational, and loving. We have received, St. Paul told the Christians in Rome, “a Spirit of adoption,” by which we are made sons of God who are able to cry, “Abba, Father!” This gift of sonship is to be shared with the entire world. “Go, therefore,” Jesus told his apostles as he commissioned them to be his spokesmen, “and make disciples of all nations.” And how are disciples made? By being baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and by following the rules of the family of God, the Church.

One of the most puzzling, even perverse, falsehoods of our age is the notion that the Christian belief in the Trinity somehow makes God too specific and exact, and that spiritual growth and enlightenment is best reached by speaking of God in vague and abstract ways. This is like saying that a child is harmed by personally knowing his two parents, and that he would better off believing any one of millions of adults just might be his father or mother.

The fear of so many, at the heart of it, is that an encounter with the true and living God will change them; it will require a transformation in what they do and think—and in who they are. That, of course, is true. But accepting the invitation of the Trinitarian mystery is not about solving God, but recognizing that the answers to our deepest questions are found within that mystery.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the June 7, 2009, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. The Most Holy Trinity
    “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    In past times a Quickening (The first known movement of the fetus within the uterus) was an acceptance of a new life (Creation). Those born anew of the Holy Spirit do not fully understand the time and place (Whereof) of that birth as initially He enlightens our minds with the ‘sound’ of His living Word given within the Gospels (True knowledge God) while quickening/moving our hearts into obedient, truthful tender compassionate ones as we are gradually been transformed into a New Creation.

    While the Holy Spirit prompts us to cry out Father! With His beloved Son as His Holy Spirit inspired/gave His Beloved Son the pray which glorifies His Name as we are taught to say in Unity of Purpose.

    “Our Father, who art in heaven
    Hallowed be thy name
    thy kingdom (Grace via The Holy Spirit) come (Then)
    thy will, (Will) be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven….etc

    While we can reflect on these Words “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, (Spirit) living in me, who is doing his work”
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. God is three persons one nature one substance and one essence.We are one person with a nature that has three distinctions mind ,heart and soul We where created this way so we could receive by God’s Grace in its entirety Father Son and Holy Spirit..”. “The infinite conaturality of three infinites “

  3. Rublev’s Trinity may be everyone’s favorite. Olson’s criticism of those who consider Trinitarian doctrine too exacting of an incomprehensible God is the wisdom of the bereft. Islam pictures an intricate circular symbol beautiful in appearance as indicative the incomprehensible God. Incarnation of the Word pulverizes Islam’s lovely decorative symbol. Mirror of the Father, Christ, both present to us through the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit. Adopted as Paul says inspiring us interiorly to call him Father. Life is changed through the one God’s beautiful Trinitarian presence, though only insofar as perfection of what exists in our nature. A recreated new image so to speak, a miraculous light to the world of the Eternal Light.

  4. A leap of faith? We were born in the image and likeness of God. Humans are driven by images. We develop important imagines from our mind’s eye. Seeing Jesus as only a white man.

    I believe that God is all loving and a powerful man image, like his portrayal depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. God is a white bearded man reaching for mankind for “his” salvation.

    When our loving Jesus was born of Mary he took on the image of man. A man for all seasons. Powerful, yet loving deity. A true miracle of mankind.

    We say in Latin “pater filius et spiritus sanctus. The father son and holy spirit”. When I was a young man in the church we said “holy ghost”. The change was thought to be English language many synonym translations.

    My faith is imbedded, but my need to examine mythology remains.

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