Let’s face it, we have trouble understanding and explaining the Trinity.
Sometimes we try to explain the Trinity with simple analogies.
For example, the Trinity is like water found in three different forms: liquid, solid, and gas. Or, you might use the analogy of a man can being husband, father, and employer.
But seeing God as one, without distinguishing the Persons, and as appearing in three different modes of existence is the heresy called modalism.
Perhaps then we could say the Trinity is like the sun in the sky. In this analogy you have the sun, the light from the sun, and the heat generated by the light.
However, this also fails because the light and the heat come into existence out of the sun. This is the ancient heresy of Arianism, which asserted the Son and the Spirit are separate creations of the Father who existed before them.
Perhaps the Holy Trinity is just too hard to explain…it’s a mystery, right?
While simple analogies do fail, it is possible to understand some basic truths about the Trinity. In fact, here are five surprising truths you might not know, but need to learn, about the Trinity.
1. The Trinity is the central mystery of our faith
Far from some obscure and impractical belief, the Catechism reminds us, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life” (CCC 261).
This is the most fundamental and essential teaching of our faith (CCC 234). Everything God does is the common work of the three divine persons.
Every aspect of our faith is touched by this mystery.
2. Human families are an image of the Trinity
When God created man and women in the “image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27) this truth highlights a dual unity of the human couple who image the relations between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The central idea of these relations is the eternal self-giving love exchanged between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the one Holy Trinity. In this sense the human family is an image of the Trinity.
Pope Francis reminds us:
“The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man and a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Amoris Laetitia, 29).
3. You can understand mysteries
Saying the Trinity is a mystery doesn’t mean it’s impossible to understand, but that’s what most people think the word ‘mystery’ means.
A mystery is a truth that can only be understand because God revealed it. There is no natural way to discover the Trinity. We only know it because God has revealed it.
As the Catechism put this:
“The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the ‘mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God’” (CCC 237).
The depths of who God truly is are beyond our human grasp. However, even if we can’t know everything about this truth, we can know, and understand, some of it.
4. God is one
God is one.
“We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the ‘consubstantial Trinity’” (CCC 253).
We cannot avoid the special terminology without risking error. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have one divine substance, essence or nature. They are consubstantial.
5. God is three…distinct persons
There are three distinct divine persons in the Godhead.
They are not simply different forms or “modalities” of one God but are really “distinct from one another in their relations of origin: ‘It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds’” (CCC 254).
Yet these origins do not begin in time. The Son is eternally begotten and the Spirit eternally proceeds.
The divine persons may be understood relative to one another. The divine unity cannot be divided, the distinction of their persons resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another.
Although inseparable in what they are, and in what they do, each person “shows forth what is proper to him in the Trinity, especially in the divine missions of the Son’s Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 267).
The Most Holy Trinity reveals the eternal self-giving love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The other mysteries of our faith such as the Paschal mystery and the Sacraments flow from this central mystery. They are all a witness to His divine love and these exist to bring us into communion with Him.
This coming week, as we reflect on this great mystery, let each of us think about this truth when we make the sign of the cross (CCC 2166).
Make an effort to ‘cross yourself’ slowly and thoughtfully this week, in honor of the Most Holy Trinity.
Image: Clover leaves background by Africa Studio via Adobe Stock, Standard license