June 5, 2020
Studies show that Catholics are the least catechized of the major faiths, but that is not to say they don’t have a desire to learn. Many Catholics, particularly younger Catholics, hunger for a better understanding of their faith. The Trinity is a tough theological concept to tackle, but the people in the pew today will be eager to hear something that makes sense and brings practical meaning to a belief they know is essential to their faith.
Exploring the word, God of possibilities
SAINT PAUL OFFERS a wonderful prism through which to consider the Trinity: the grace of Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. To begin at the natural top of this triangle, many scripture texts support the revelation of divine love. God is memorably defined by this central attribute in 1 John 4:16. When God originally introduces divinity to humanity in the story of Moses, God claims only “I AM”: pure existence. But John, mystically viewing eternity through the lens of Christology, goes further. I AM LOVE, he declares in God’s name.
It’s easy to see how he gets from one to the other. If Jesus and his Father are one, and God so loves the world as to surrender the Divine Son, then the pure existence of God is surely perfect love. Who or what else could make such a sacrifice? Although God doesn’t claim to be “love” in today’s story from the Book of Exodus, the Lord does announce the Divine Nature as mercy, grace, kindness, and fidelity—not inconsistent qualities but an aggregate of love’s facets. In fact, Moses, knowing full well that he travels with a wicked band of stiff-necked people, only dares to invite God to join their company because he understands that a Lord who pardons sin is a God of love.
We move next to the traditional third point of the triangle: the fellowship of the Spirit. If “God’s in his heaven” and Jesus is the Word made flesh who came to earth, where does that leave the Spirit? A roving force of possibility, we might say. Jesus speaks of the Advocate as one that is sent (John 14:26) and says also that the Spirit comes and goes and blows where it wills (John 3:8). It makes sense not merely to speak of the movement of the Spirit but to perceive the Spirit as divine power in motion. The Spirit’s origin is in God but is sent by the Father in the name of the Son, according to Jesus. To share in the Spirit’s “fellowship” is to participate in this moveable feast of holy Presence.
Finally, we come to the grace of Jesus. Paul begins his Trinity here because it’s only through the incarnation of the Son that we know about his loving Father and companioning Spirit. Grace, however, is one of those religious words we all use and rarely define. We know we shouldn’t leave home without it but we’re not always sure what it is. In Hebrew, it means “favor,” as to be in one’s (especially God’s) “good graces.” In the New Testament, the epitome of grace is expressed in John 3:16. The God who rescues us by whatever means necessary emphatically reveals divine favor in Christ Jesus. May such grace, love, and fellowship be with us always!
Three for one
While the Trinity is perhaps the Christian doctrine, it’s also one of the hardest to explain. Over the centuries people have used everything from sunbeams to shamrocks to try to describe how three “Persons”–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–can be one God. Oceans of theological ink have been spilled on the topic; Saint Augustine of Hippo’s De trinitate alone runs to 15 books. Not surprisingly, the Trinity is an official “mystery”: above reason but not contrary to it. Faith and revelation are also required.
Of course, the Trinity is present throughout scripture, but the Bible does not use the term. That honor goes first to one Theophilus of Antioch, around 180 A.D., and a lot of what Christians believe about the Trinity was battled over in those early centuries of the church. Much was at stake: What people said about the relationship between the Persons was connected to how they defined each of them. So to get the Trinity right you had to get things like the divinity of Jesus right.
Behind all the theology, though, is one word: love. The love within God, the love God has for the world, and the divine love in which we, too, have a share.
Rev. Edward C. Domme, Pastor
811 Guaymas Place NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
Parish Office (505)256-9818