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The Trinity: A Mystery for Eternity

On the Readings for Sunday, June 12th, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

• Prov 8:22-31
• Ps 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
• Rom 5:1-5
• Jn 16:12-15

The apologist and novelist Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) dryly noted, in an essay titled “The Dogma is the Drama,” that for many people, even more than a few Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity is, “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible.” There are likely a few Catholics who would candidly admit, “Well, the Church teaches that the Trinity is a mystery—and it’s certainly a mystery to me!”

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234). It goes on to explain that this great mystery is the most fundamental, essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith” and that it is a mystery of faith “in the strict sense”—it cannot be known except it has been revealed by God (CCC 237). A theological mystery such as the Trinity is a truth about God known only through divine revelation, not by reason or philosophy. It is like a well with no bottom from which we can drink endlessly, our minds and souls never going away thirsty.

Belief in the Trinity—one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is a distinctive mark of the Christian Faith. The first few centuries of the Church were filled with controversies and careful definitions regarding the one nature of God, the three Persons of the Trinity, and their relationship with each other. Yet the dogma of the Trinity cannot be proven in the usual sense of “proven” and “proof.” But this does not mean that the dogma of the Trinity is contrary to reason or that reason cannot be applied to understanding it to some degree (cf. CCC 154); it means that the Triune reality of God is ultimately beyond human reasoning. As St. Augustine remarked, “If you understood Him, it would not be God” (CCC 230).

Today’s readings do not use the term “Trinity,” of course, because the word doesn’t appear in Scripture. But they are some of the many texts the Church has looked to as either foreshadowing the revelation of the Trinity or giving explicit witness to it.  The reading from Proverbs is one of several Old Testament passages that describe the wisdom of God, which is often referred to as a sort of personal being or reality. Some of this language is taken up in the New Testament to refer to the Son, including St. Paul’s description of Christ as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24). Or, similarly, in a passage that bears a strong resemblance to the reading from Proverbs, the “one Lord, Jesus Christ” is described as the one “through whom all things are and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6).

While the Old Testament contains hints and suggestions, the mystery of the Trinity was revealed with the Incarnation—first at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, and then in His teachings. Jesus spoke of the intimate communion between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, included in this Solemnity’s reading from the Gospel of John. “Everything that the Father has is mine,” Jesus tells the Apostles, “for this reason I told you that he”—the Holy Spirit—“will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” The Father sends forth the Son so that, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, we might have peace with God, while the Holy Spirit pours out God’s love, all so we might be justified and made right with God.

In his great fifth century book De Trinitate (On the Trinity), St. Augustine summed up the heart of the Church’s belief in the mystery of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by simply stating, “If you see charity, you see the Trinity.” God is One and three Persons; He offers His divine life and love to those who believe in Him (CCC 257). The Trinity is not just a mystery to us, but also for us.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the June 3, 2007, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 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.

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