Three in One?
This post is the special request of our reader Eric – Thank you for your request!
The Question: Can you possibly explain the concept of the Trinity to someone who is not a Catholic? I’ve never quite understood why it is necessary for God to have three faces. Why can’t there just be one God with everyone else being servants of God?
The Answer: The first thing that must be pointed out in any discussion on the Trinity is the fact that the Triune nature of God is a mystery. We can only make feeble attempts at poor analogies to understand His mysteries. Because of the topic, any explanation I offer will not be adequate. We know, though, that God is Truth Itself, and as such, cannot deceive or be deceived. We believe these things about Him because He Himself revealed them, and this is how He chose to reveal Himself to us. All I can do is offer my humble understanding of a mystery that cannot be understood.
In the Person of the Trinity, we’re taught that there is more than just three ‘faces,’ rather, there are three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet one God. In many old paintings, when the Blessed Trinity was depicted (right), they would each have the same face, to show that they are perfectly united with the other. St. Patrick, whose memorial we celebrate on the 17th of this month, taught the Irish people the doctrine of the Trinity using a three-leaf clover. Holding it up, he showed the people how there are three distinct leaves, and yet it is only one plant.
Why it is necessary for God to be three Persons perfectly united in One God, though? God is perfect relationship. Bl. John Paul the II showed us in his work “Love and Responsibility” that God the Father and God the Son are participating in a continual giving and receiving of love with each other, and it is this flow between the two from which comes the Holy Spirit. Because we are created in the image of a relational God, we must have relationships to each other to survive. Stories like Robinson Crusoe are so remarkable because he survived with no relationship to another human for many chapters of the book. We need each other! We’re designed to give ourselves as a gift to others. A married man and woman, religious sister, or priest embody this most effectively, but even single men and women are each called to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters in whatever way Christ calls.
So if one took Jesus Christ apart from the Blessed Trinity, would He still be God? Well yes and no. Yes, in that Jesus is perfectly God. No, in that you cannot separate them! It’s not possible! Jesus Himself said that “I and the Father are one and the same,” and “He who seems Me, sees the Father.” (Not to confuse the doctrine teaching us that each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity is distinct from the others – Jesus spoke often of having been sent from the Father. Again, it’s a mystery!) Christ also promised that He would be with us always, and not leave us orphans when He returned to His Heavenly Father. He accomplishes this is a few ways… First, the gift of His very Flesh and Blood to be our nourishment in the Holy Eucharist! Second, the gift of the Holy Spirit sent to the 12 Apostles and His Blessed Mother at Pentecost, giving the leaders of the Church the ability to lead us as Christ Himself. (Note here: The Apostles didn’t just run out after the Resurrection and start preaching! They were too scared! It was only after the decent of the Holy Spirit that they had the courage to go out and teach! This Spirit was so fully in them, they didn’t hesitate to die a martyr’s death for the sake of Jesus Christ.)
So why the Trinity? Only God knows. Pondering His mysteries, though, is a very fruitful exercise for the believer. Ultimately, the Trinity is not about understanding, but about love. We can love something we don’t understand (small children loving their parents). As we dig deeper into this particular mystery, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten our minds and draw our hearts ever-deeper into the perfect Love and Truth of God!
Does this answer your question?