The Blessed Trinity
by Rev. Roderick MacEachen
The mystery of the Blessed Trinity is a fundamental truth of Christianity. It has been revealed to us that there are three distinct persons in God. This is dogma of the divine Faith. It has been clearly taught from the days of Christ Himself.
Like many other mysteries of Faith, the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is beyond the comprehension of the human reason. It is a truth that could never have entered into the mind of man had it not been revealed by God. Though we cannot fully understand the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, we are absolutely certain that it is not opposed to reason. God who revealed this mystery also gave us reason.
It has been said that the doctrine of the blessed Trinity is a contradiction. For it teaches that three are one. It would, indeed, be a contradiction to say that three Gods are one God or that three persons are one person. Yet it is no contradiction to say that three persons are one God. It is not a contradiction to say that three distinct persons have one and the same divine nature. Though we cannot fully understand how three persons can be one and the same god, we know that this truth is not opposed to any principle of right reason.
It is enough for us to know that God has revealed the mystery of the Blessed Trinity to man. God understands His own nature. It is not for us to question how it can be. Theology, indeed, explains the doctrine of the Trinity according to the teachings of philosophy. It shows clearly that this doctrine is in accordance with the principles of right reason. However, reason can not fully investigate this sublime mystery. We naturally judge others by ourselves. We are prone to measure the divine nature by our knowledge of human nature. This faulty manner of reasoning has led many into error. Whenever men have set up their own limited reason as a criterion of super-natural truth, they have lost their Faith.
The Divine Nature is indivisible in Its essence, consciousness, knowledge, power and attributes. It is Godhead Itself. If we attempt to compare the three Divine Persons with human persons, we simply confuse the mind. God is not measured by human standards. There is nothing to which Divinity can be likened. The three Divine Persons are equal in all things. All three are co-eternal. God the Father is unbegotten from all eternity. God the Son is begotten of the Father from all eternity. God the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son from all eternity.
The Son is not a mere external manifestation of God. The Son is true God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, who became man. Nor is the Holy Ghost a mere manifestation of God in the hearts of men. The Holy Ghost is true God, the third person of the Blessed Trinity. The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is but obscurely taught in the Old Testament. The fullness of Divine Revelation had not yet been given to man. It was left for Christ to reveal this fundamental truth in all clearness. It is expressed many times in the New Testament.
Christ commanded the Apostles to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." God the Son is called the Word. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." From this it is clear that the word, God the Son, is co-eternal with God the Father. "In the beginning the Word was with God," means that God the Son is by nature inseparably united with God the Father. He is one God with Him. "The Word was God" proclaims the Divinity of the Son. The Apostle Thomas cries out to Christ: "My Lord and my God." St. Paul again and again attests Christ's Divinity: "But to the son (said God) Thy throne, O God is forever and ever"
Christ proclaims His equality with the Father; "As the Father raiseth up the dead, and giveth life, so the Son also giveth life to whom He will. . . . That all men may honor the Son as they honor the Father. He who honoreth not the son honoreth not the Father Who hath sent him."
Of the Holy Ghost, he says: "God hath sent the Spirit of His son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father."
There are no degrees of perfection in the Divine Persons. All three Divine Persons possess the divine nature in all its perfection. In one place Christ says: "I and the Father are one." Here He is speaking as God. On another occasion He says: "The Father is greater than I." Here He speaks as man. As St. Augustine says: "Such texts show that the Son is the lesser because of the form of servant; that is, because of the human nature which He assumed."
Christ said to the Apostles: "Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Here Christ clearly expresses the Unity and the Trinity of God.
"I will ask the Father," says Christ, "and He will give you another Comforter . . . when the Paraclete, the Holy ghost is come whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things." Here Christ clearly distinguishes Himself from God the Father and refers to the Holy Ghost as a distinct person whom the Father will send. When John was baptizing Christ, He saw the spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon Him, and behold a voice from Heaven saying: This My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." On Pentecost the Holy Ghost came upon the Apostles in the form of fiery tongues.
From beginning to end of the New Testament there is frequent mention of the three Divine Persons. They are always referred to as God.
It is enough for us to know that the Church, with her divine authority, has ever taught the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. "All those who before me have written about the Trinity which is God," says St. Augustine, "whom I have been able to read, have taught the same doctrine. They all teach according to the Scripture of both the Old and the New Testaments that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, by an inseparable equality of one and the same substance imply a Divine Unity. Thus there are not three gods. There is but one God. The Father begot the Son, therefore the Son is distinct from the Father. The Holy Ghost is not the Father nor the son. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of the Father and of the son, coequal with the Father and the Son and pertaining to the Unity of the Trinity."
The Apostle's Creed, which comes down from Apostolic times, professes the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty . . . and in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord . . . I believe in the Holy Ghost."
The Nicene Creed formulated at the Council of Nice, A.D. 325, defining the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, says: "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty . . . and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages; God of God, Light of Light, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father . . . and in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified."
The Athanasian Creed, which comes down from the fourth century, expresses the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity fully:
will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic
"Which Faith, except everyone do keep entire and inviolate, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
"Which Faith, except every do keep and inviolate, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
"Now the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,
"Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance;
"For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost;
"But the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holly Ghost is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
"Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost;
"The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, the Holy Ghost uncreate;
"The Father infinite, the Son infinite, and the Holy Ghost infinite.
"The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal;
"And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal:
"And also they are not three uncreates, nor three infinites; but one uncreate and one infinite.
like manner, the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost
"And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.
the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Ghost is God;
"And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
likewise, the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Ghost is Lord;
"And yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord.
"For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge each Person by himself to be God and Lord: "So we are forbidden by the Catholic religion to say there are three Gods or three Lords.
"The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten; "The Son is from the Father alone, not made nor created, but begotten; "The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son, not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding: "So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts,
"And in this Trinity there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less; but the whole three Persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal:'
"So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity is to be worshiped in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity.
"He, therefore, that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.
"Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"Now the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and man. "He is God of the substance of His father, begotten before the world; and He is man of the substance of His Mother, born in the world.
"Perfect God and perfect man; of reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;
"Equal to the Father according to His Godhead; and less than the Father according to His manhood. "Who, although He be both God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ; "Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
"He ascended into Heaven; He sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead:
"At Whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works, "And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
"This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and steadfastly, he cannot be saved.
"Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen."
"Accordingly it is impossible to worship one of the Divine Persons," says Cardinal Newman, "without worshiping the others also. In praying to the Father, we only arrive at His mysterious presence through His Son and Spirit; and in praying to the Son and Spirit, we are necessarily carried beyond them to the source of Godhead from which They are derived. We see this in the very form of many of the received addresses to the Blessed Trinity; in which without reference to the mediatorial scheme, the Son and Spirit seem, even in the view of the Divine Unity, to take a place in our thoughts between the Father and His creatures; as in the ordinary doxologies 'to the Father through the Son and by the Spirit,' or 'to the Father and Son in the unity of the Holy Ghost.'"