On the Feast of the Holy Trinity

The British author and translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dorothy Sayers, once wrote a spoof catechism based upon what most people really know of their Faith. When she came to the doctrine of the Trinity she has this question and answer:

Q. What is the doctrine of the Trinity?

A. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole damned thing incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult — nothing to do with daily life or ethics.

Given that Sayers died in 1957, and that catechesis since that time has gone far down hill, I would think her parody is still spot-on in our day. The modern man has little patience for mysteries. After all, they don’t fit into a television sound bite, a text message, a Facebook status, or a “tweet” on Twitter.

The Mystery. Today, the greatest pure mystery of our faith meets us in the liturgical cycle: the Mystery of the One True God who is Three Persons. This is not a dry academic abstraction or a riddle meant to torture our minds. It is, rather, a truth about the very intimate life of the Eternal God — a truth that God lovingly revealed to us, His creatures. He revealed it to us so that we can enter into loving communion with the Three Persons and, so doing, be sanctified here and saved hereafter.

We are all baptized in the name of the Trinity; we begin and end our prayers in the name of the Trinity, profess our Faith in the name of the Trinity, and wish to spend our eternity with the Blessed Trinity. It behooves us, then, to get to know the Three so that we may love Them now and forever.

Epistle. Today’s Epistle brings into relief the impossibility of fully comprehending this absolute Mystery: St. Paul ecstatically exclaims. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments and how unsearchable His ways!” Here, he is praising God’s bounty, His providence, and His omniscience — realities we cannot fathom. Then, the Apostle goes on to ask three rhetorical questions: “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counsellor? Or who has first given to Him that recompense should be made him?” This is as if to say “Who knows what God knows?” “Who has ever had to give God advice?” And “Who has ever given God something first as if to merit a reward from God?” For none of us can offer anything to God “first.” We receive His gifts before we can offer Him anything.

The Trinity. Then, St. Paul finishes with this profession: “For from Him, and by Him, and in Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.” There, with St. Augustine — and the Church’s Liturgy — we see the Blessed Trinity.

God’s essence deeper yet. This Epistle only speaks of God’s activities. These are enough to make St. Paul marvel. But what of God in Himself? What of His Essence? What is He? What is the ceaseless activity of God’s intimate inner life? These are far deeper mysteries. But these two things are connected: What God is in Eternity and what He does in time. It is by His acts in time that we learn of His essence.

Intra / Extra. Theologians speak of the Trinity ad intra and the Trinity ad extra; The “Ontological Trinity” and the “Economic Trinity.” Another way to say this is: God-in-Himself and God-acting-in-creation. Let us use this Epistle to see how it is that God’s acts in creation lead us to consider His essence. St. Paul says “For from Him, and by Him, and in Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.”

Creation. I will go in reverse order, and consider the Trinity working outside Himself, ad extra. Let us first consider creation: God the Father created all that is. He did so through the Son, His creative Word. As St. John says of the Word, “through him all things were made and without him was made nothing that was made” (John 1:3). There we have the first two parts of St. Paul’s formula: “For from Him and through him…. are all things.” But God the Holy Ghost, who is coeternal with the Father and the Son, was there in creation, too, for the “Spirit of God moved over the waters” (Gen. 1:2).

Redemption. Next, we can consider Redemption. The order of Redemption is like a new creation. It therefore reflects creation: It is God who redeems us, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Father institutes the work of redemption by sending His Son. The Son dies for our salvation, and the Holy Ghost comes to complete the work of the Son, for He received of the Son just as the Son received of the Father.

Acts Ad Extra. In all the Acts of the Blessed Trinity in creation, all Three Persons act together, but they don’t act as one monad. They act with their distinct Personalities. In other words, they act as a Trinity.

Eternity. These activities of the Blessed Trinity ad extra, working in His creation, tell us much about the Trinity in Itself, about the Trinity ad intra. “For from Him, and through Him, and unto Him are all things.” The order in which we name the Persons, and the way in which I have described their activities presumes something. The Father begins to act; He acts through the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. The Father is the Origin without Origin. The Son proceeds from the Father as His Thought, His Idea, His Divine Self-Knowledge, His Word. These two Persons beholding each other love each other perfectly and that mutual love is the Third Person, who terminates the processions in the Trinity, finishing them off so to speak, just as He finishes off the work of the Son in the Church.

Being, Knowing, Loving. Note that being comes first, knowing comes second, and loving comes third. Without being there can be no knowledge and without knowledge there can be no love.

Our Response. I spoke of the creation and the Redemption and how these reflect God’s being in eternity. Now I would like to indicate something of our response to all this. For the “depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God” are something that we have received in an abundance. What, then, is our response? It is one of sheer adoration. And how do we do that? The Mass does it for us and gives us the patterns we need to adore the Trinity in spirit and in truth. We are not pure spirits. We are flesh and blood. The Word became man so that we could touch God and learn from human lips what it is to be divine and to understand something of our heavenly homeland. It’s hard for us to dwell too long on these profound mysteries, but I will give one thought from the Mass. As flesh-and-blood members of Christ’s Mystical Body, we participate in His Sacrifice, the ultimate act of adoration. The words of the Minor elevation show us how through, with, and in Christ — that is, as His Mystical Members — we adore the Trinity:

Per ipsum, et cum ipso et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti, in unitate Spiritus Sancti, omnis honor et Gloria. Per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen

Through him, and with him, and in him, is to thee, God the Father almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory world without end. Amen