The Holy Trinity
Central Mystery of Christian Faith and Life
"In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." We say it, but do we know what we're saying; are we really aware of the awesome truth we're proclaiming? Many of our newer, more traditional priests, before they begin to pray the Mass, preface it with, "As we should begin all things, let us begin in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
What are we doing when we make the .Sign of the Cross;? We are proclaiming our belief in the Most Holy Trinity, the greatest of the revealed mysteries of Christianity." Just think about what an intricate part of our prayer life this profession of our belief in the Holy Trinity is. Before we do anything, before we begin any prayer, we make the Sign of the Cross, proclaiming our belief in the Triune God. At the beginning of the .i.Mass;, after the Sign of the Cross, our priest prays, "The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." again affirming our belief in the Trinity. So think of it, before we even get into the body of the Mass, we have proclaimed our belief in the Trinity twice.
During the Mass, when we pray the Gloria, we again profess our belief in the Trinity:
"For You alone are the Holy One,
You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen."
During the ..Nicene Creed;, which takes place after the priest's Homily, but before the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest and the people again profess their belief in the Trinity:
"We believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth.
We believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord...
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete..."
The Church teaching on the Doctrine of the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is as follows:
In God there are three Persons and one Nature (Divine). In Jesus Christ there is one Person and two natures (human and Divine).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, one of the most powerful books on our Faith, describes the Trinity as the "central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in Himself. It is therefore, the source of all the other mysteries of Faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the `hierarchy of the Truths of Faith.',"
Everything begins with the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
The Council of Nicaea; (325 A.D.), gave us the Nicene Creed which we proclaim every Sunday at Mass. This Council taught that Jesus was .i.consubstantial; with God, one in being with the Father. In that prayer, we proclaim Jesus as "the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in Being (consubstantial) with the Father."
Towards the end of the same century (381 A.D.), we were taught "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son."
These few examples we've stated are not by any means all the teachings about our belief in the Trinity. They are just the tip of the iceberg. Woven throughout the history of the Church, as well as the teachings of the Church, we find references about the Trinity. The ones we've mentioned are the most obvious, to which the lay community is exposed on a daily basis, whenever we make the Sign of the Cross.
Even before the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) which was the first Ecumenical Council, teachings on the Trinity were given us by the Early Fathers of the Church.
In the year 262 A.D., Pope Dionysius of Alexandria wrote in defense of the Trinity, and in opposition to some of the heresies which were running rampant at that time. Part of his letter is as follows:
"For he (Sabellius), in his blasphemy, says that the Son is the Father, and vice versa. But they proclaim that there are in some way three Gods, when they divide the Sacred Unity into three substances foreign to each other and completely separate.
"It is necessary, however, that the Divine Word be united with the God of the Universe; and the Holy Spirit must abide and dwell in God. Therefore the Divine Trinity must be gathered up and brought together in One, a Summit, as it were - I mean the omnipotent God of the Universe."
In the same time frame, .St. Gregory; the Miracle Worker wrote a short creed, focusing on the Trinity, to counteract the heresies which were attacking the Church. Part of that creed is as follows:
"One God, the Father of the living Word, of subsistent Wisdom and Power, and the Eternal Image. Perfect Begetter of the Perfect, Father of the only-begotten Son. One Lord, Only of Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of the Godhead, Efficient Word, Wisdom comprehending the constitution of the universe, and Power shaping all creation. Genuine Son of genuine Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal, and Eternal of Eternal. And one Holy Spirit, having substance from God and who is manifested - to men, that is - through the Son; Image of the Son, Perfect of the Perfect, Life, the cause of living; Holy Fountain; Sanctity, the Dispenser of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father Who is above all and in all, and God the Son Who is through all. Perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty neither divided nor estranged."
Not to be confused with St. Gregory the Miracle Worker is .St. Gregory of Nyssa;, who wrote the following about the Trinity:
"It is one and the same Person of the Father by Whom the Son is begotten and from Whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. Therefore and fittingly, there being One Cause of Those Whom He has caused, we boldly say there is One God, since also He co-exists with Them. For the Persons of the Godhead are separated one from another neither in time, nor place, nor will, nor practice, nor operation, nor passivity, nor any of the like things such as are perceived with men, but only in that the Father is Father and not Son, and the Son is Son and not Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son."
It is crucially important that you understand where the Truths which make up our .Deposit of Faith; come from. We're getting much of it from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which uses as resource various Ecumenical Councils down through the centuries. These are what we stand on. These Truths make up our Church.
We'd like to share insights from St. Augustine; on the Trinity:
"By the name of God, I now held the Father, who made these things, and under the name of Beginning, the Son, in Whom He made these things; and believing, as I did, my God as the Trinity, I searched further in His holy words, and to, Thy Spirit moved upon the waters. Behold the Trinity, my God, Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost, Creator of all creation."
Now, taking all of this into consideration, all that has been written about the Trinity, and how much a part of our Church It is, it's easily understandable why It has always been, from the very beginning, the subject of major attacks. The Trinity gives us strength; It gives us power over the enemy. Thus, it had to be one of the most important Truths of our Church to be denied, condemned, shoved under the carpet and destroyed at any cost.
Heresies against the Trinity date back to the beginning of the Church. But basically, they took the form of:
(1) denying the real distinction of Persons [Three persons] (.Monarchianism;, Anti-Trinitarianism and Unitarianism)
(2) denying the divinity of the Second or Third Person [Jesus and the Holy Spirit] (Subordinationism;)
(3) denying the unity of the Divine Nature (.Tritheism;).
But the biggest problem had to do with the first and second group of heresies.
We'll list only the most important heresies. But be aware that these heresies, first manifested in the early days of the Church, have been with us these many years in other forms. They've taken on new identities. They're a very strong part of .Modernism; and .New Age;, both from the Twentieth Century. As we have said many times, the enemy has not had an original thought for centuries. He takes what seems to work at any given time and expounds on it, colors it, re-packages it and gives it back to us.
These are just some of the heresies against the Trinity:
.Monarchianism; - Second Century - denied that there are Three distinct Divine Persons in one God. They taught that "God was one in Person and one in Nature."
.Modalism; - Third century - Denied the distinction between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, (making them as one Godhead)
Sabellianism; - Third Century - Christ was no different than God the Father.
.Patripassionism; - Third Century - Taught that because there was no difference between the Father and Son, the Father died in place of the Son on the Cross.
.Adoptionists; - Taught that Jesus was human, and received divine power from God the Father sometime in his life. This is being taught by many people today.
.Monophysitism; - Fifth and Sixth Centuries - Taught that there was but one nature to Jesus - Divine - contradicted the Council of Chalcedon who defined the two natures of Jesus, Divine and human.
.Monothelitism; - Seventh Century - A version of Monophysitism - taught that while Christ had two natures, He only had one will, Divine. - Condemned by the Council of Constantinople.
.Nestorianism; - Fifth Century - Taught two natures in Christ - one Divine - one human joined together voluntarily. Promoted by Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople and gathered great strength in the Eastern Church. It took until the Fifteenth Century for that heretical group to finally reconcile with the Church.
Arianism; - Fourth Century - One of the most deadly heresies the early Church had to fight. It denied the Divinity of Christ, which would of necessity, deny the Trinity and Theotokos, the title of Our Lady as the Mother of God. At one point in the late Fourth century, the battle raged, with a majority of the bishops of the world embracing the Arian heresy. .St. Athanasius; was exiled and .i.St. Jerome; stated "The whole world woke and groaned in astonishment to find itself Arian." This heresy was condemned at the .Council of Nicaea;. It was one of the reasons why the Nicene Creed was adopted, to fight the heresy of Arianism;. In all its various forms, Arianism was not stamped out in the Church until the end of the Sixth Century, over two hundred years later.
The Trinity is such an important part of the Christian structure that virtually all Protestant denominations believe in the Holy Trinity, and recite the Nicene and Apostle's Creed. They may not give it the same importance as the Catholic Church, but it is part of their Faith belief.
There are some sects and most cults who do not accept the Holy Trinity, even though Jesus invoked the Trinity as He was preparing to leave us. "Go out and baptize the whole world, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
Any sect who does not accept the .Divinity of Christ;, or proclaim Jesus as Son of God cannot believe in the Trinity or Sacred Scripture.
.St. Augustine; spent years trying to understand the mystery of the Trinity. It was during this period of many heresies which questioned the real meaning of the Trinity, that he formulated a treatise on the Trinity which was accepted by the official Church. It upheld Trinitarian theology from that time until the age of St. Thomas Aquinas, who maintained the same Truths as put forth by St. Augustine, but in a way which could be more easily understood and accepted by the Church of the Thirteenth century.
During Augustine's almost twenty years of formulating his treatise on the Trinity, he encountered a boy on the seashore, who was taking water from the sea and pouring it into the sand. Augustine asked him what he was doing. The boy explained that he was emptying the sea into the sand. When St. Augustine told him that was impossible, the boy responded, "It's easier for me to empty the sea with this seashell than for you to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity."
St. Patrick; of Ireland is known to have tried to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity to the Irish people in a simple way by showing them a shamrock. It is one flower, with three individual leaves on the one stem.
In the final analysis, there has been a controversy going on from the very beginning of the Church about this most important truth and mystery of our Faith. The enemy has tried to cause confusion which in turn would separate Christians. Down through the ages, Christians have tried to understand the mystery of the Trinity. But it is a mystery, and by the very nature of the definition, it is not necessary that we understand it, but that we accept it.
When we are welcomed into the Kingdom, we can ask Jesus, and/or any of the great theologians who have spent years of their lives pondering, trying to crack the mystery. But then it won't be a mystery anymore, because we'll be in the presence of the Holy Trinity. And we'll probably all say the same thing that .St. Thomas Aquinas; said when he stopped writing his Summa Theologiae after having had a vision of Heaven: "All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me."
The Church Teaches Page 123
General Catholic Directory #43
Catechism of the Catholic Church #234
Council of Constantinople
Faith of the Early Fathers - Vol. 1 - Page 249
Faith of the Early Fathers - Vol. 1 - Page 251
Faith of the Early Fathers - Vol. 2 - Page 51
Confessions of St. Augustine - Bk 13 - Chapter 5
Scandal of the Cross and Its Triumph, Pg. 90
Butler's Lives of the Saints Pg 711
Treasures of the Church Collection - Holy Trinity