I know that my blog already gives no shortage of attention to the Trinity. Heck, even the words “Quicumque vult” are the words which begin the Latin Athanasian Creed, the creed which defines the doctrine of the Trinity.
But considering that Trinity Sunday just passed, I simply cannot help myself and must post about the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6), the “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6:3), “Who is, Who was, and Who is to come” (Revelation 1:8), “of Whom, by Whom, and in Whom” all things exist (Romans 11:36).
Sensing a pattern of three? Something tells me that isn’t coincidental.
Let me guess for a moment: when you think “the Trinity” the words you hear are probably “one God in three persons” and the picture you see is an old man, a young man, and a dove. Is that close?
Well, you probably already knew this, but I’m going to say it anyway just in case: that is not an accurate depiction. God can’t be thought of, limited to, in terms of physical things. He is three Persons, yes, but “Person” does not mean “man” or “animal”.
What is a person? A person is someone who can know and love. Our spirits, by which we know and love, make each of us “persons”. Not our bodies. Get rid of the body and you’d still have a person, since his spiritual soul would still exist. So if a person is one who knows and loves, then God is three of these. But why? Wouldn’t it be easier to just be one person?
While I will say that, as far as I know, the Church has no dogmatically defined teaching as to the inner life of God, some of the greatest theologians have speculated something like the following, which necessitates a Trinitarian God.
As a note before I start: you’ll notice I begin with the Father and then go to the Son and finally to the Holy Spirit. But just because I present Them in that order does not mean the process is temporal. It’s an always-happening process with no beginning or end.
Here we go:
We’ll start with the fact that the Holy Trinity is a spirit. Spirits know and love, so the Trinity, the Highest Spirit, would have an inner life which involves most perfectly those two qualities, knowledge and love.
Let us look to the First Person, God the Father. Keeping in mind the spiritual act of knowing, we are aware that the Father knows Himself perfectly. There is absolutely no flaw or defect in the knowledge He has of Himself. In light of this, His self-knowledge is His perfect reflection. Because He is all-knowing, His self-knowledge is all-knowing; because He is all-good, His self-knowledge is all-good; because He is all-powerful, His self-knowledge is all-powerful; because He is infinite, His self-knowledge is infinite; because He is Lord, His self-knowledge is Lord; because He is God, His self-knowledge is God.
This self-knowledge of the Father is the Second Person, God the Word. Just as a thought in one’s mind is distinct from its thinker, so the Word must be distinct from the Father. We know at the same time, though, that thoughts exist in the nature of their thinkers, and so the Word exists with the Father’s nature: the one divine nature. You might ask why God’s self-knowledge is a person, since when you think of yourself, you only have an idea, a something rather than a someone.
The answer is that God’s self-knowledge is flawless, whereas yours or mine is flawed. When we think of ourselves, we don’t see ourselves perfectly by any means: we see ourselves as we wish we were, or we forget some piece of information in the process of knowing ourselves, etc…
But God’s self-knowledge is perfect, and because He sees Himself perfectly, His self-knowledge reflects Him so exactly that His self-knowledge can know and love (therefore making It a Person) simply because He can.
Another thing you might ask is, “Doesn’t this whole self-knowledge thing mean the Father had to come first?” Not at all: the Father has always and will always know Himself, and so the Second Person, the Word/Son, has always and will always exist, simply because the Father exists. God must be both the Father and the Son.
You might ask, too, why it is that self-knowledge can be called a Son. Well, both self-knowledge and sons are a likeness to something else. A son is like his father, and self-knowledge is like its thinker.
OK, so what about the Holy Spirit? Where does He come in?
You remember the two actions of spirit mentioned above, knowing and loving. Just as the Son exists due to eternal and infinite knowledge, so the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, exists due to eternal and infinite love. The Father loves infinitely. The Son, doing everything the Father does, also loves infinitely. They gives Themselves totally to each other, and this absolute totally a love is a third Person distinct from the other two, just as infinite knowledge is a second Person distinct from the first Person. And because the First and Second have always loved one another, the Third has always existed. And because the First and Second Persons have the one divine nature and give Themselves to one another in an act of infinite love, so too the very Love between them, the Third Person, is Himself divine in nature and therefore we have not only two, but three Who are God.
Having seen why the Son can be called a son, why is the Holy Spirit called a spirit?
The root of the word “spirit” means “breath”. Love, we know, effects breathing. The Father and the Son could be said to “sigh” and thus the Holy Spirit, Holy “Breath” as it were, proceeds forth.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
The blessings of the Trinity to you,