Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Most Holy Trinity

It's a Mystery, the single greatest Mystery of the Christian faith. God is One -- but three Persons? What? What are the orthodox beliefs surrounding the Trinty? Why do Christians believe that? How can a person wrap their mind around the idea that there is one God in Three Persons?

Before I get into all that, I want to stress the importance of trying to understand this Mystery! The Trinity is WHO GOD IS, it's What He is. In order for us to love someone (or Someone), we have to know whom it is we are loving. How can a bride please her Groom if she doesn't really know him? We love best when we know the object of our love. This being so, I urge all to meditate on the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.


What Christians Believe

The Athanasian Creed states,

Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all, keep the Catholic faith. For unless a person keeps this faith whole and entire, he will undoubtedly be lost forever. This is what the catholic faith teaches: we worship one God in the Trinity and the 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 Spirit.

But the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and coeternal majesty. What the Father is, the Son is, and the Holy Spirit is.

The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated. The Father is boundless, the Son is boundless, and the Holy Spirit is boundless. The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal.

Nevertheless, there are not three eternal beings, but one eternal being. So there are not three uncreated beings, nor three boundless beings, but one uncreated being and one boundless being. Likewise, the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, the Holy Spirit is omnipotent.

Yet there are not three omnipotent beings, but one omnipotent being. Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.

However, there are not three gods, but one God. The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord. However, there are not three lords, but one Lord. For as we are obliged by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person singly to be God and Lord, so too are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords.

The Father was not made, nor created, nor generated by anyone. The Son is not made, nor created, but begotten by the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is not made, nor created, nor generated, but proceeds from the Father and the Son. There is, then, one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits. In this Trinity, there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less. The entire three Persons are coeternal and coequal with one another. So that in all things, as is has been said above, the Unity is to be worshiped in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity.

He, therefore, who wishes to be saved, must believe thus about the Trinity. It is also necessary for eternal salvation that he believes steadfastly in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and man. As God, He was begotten of the substance of the Father before time; as man, He was born in time of the substance of His Mother. He is perfect God; and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh. He is equal to the Father in His divinity, but inferior to the Father in His humanity. Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ. And He is one, not because His divinity was changed into flesh, but because His humanity was assumed unto God. He is one, not by a mingling of substances, but by unity of person. As a rational soul and flesh are one man: so God and man are one Christ. He died for our salvation, descended into Hell, and rose from the dead on the third day. He ascended into Heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there He shall come to judge the living and the dead. At His coming, all men are to arise with their own bodies; and they are to give an account of their own deeds. Those who have done good deeds will go into eternal life; those who have done evil will go into the everlasting fire.

This is the Catholic faith. Everyone must believe it, firmly and steadfastly; otherwise He cannot be saved. Amen.

The Three Persons are not each a "partial God" or "aspects of God" or "manifestations of God." The Three Persons are each fully and truly 100% God in their essence and have each existed from the very beginning of time. One did not create or precede the Other. At the same time, the Three Persons are not Three separate "Gods"; they are ONE God! Later on, I will present some ways of trying to imagine this, but for now I'd like to focus on why Christians believe this.

Why Christians Believe This

We believe what we believe because we place our faith in the Church whose Sacred Scripture is replete with proofs of the Trinity!  (see relevant Scripture with commentary below) In the Old Testament, from the very first chapter of Genesis, when God says, "Let US make man in OUR image," to God's use of two different persons in Malachi 3:1, each and every Book of the Old Testament (Tanach) speaks of the triune nature of our God. Isaiah, in the 9th chapter and 6th verse of his book, very clearly predicts that the Messiah will be called "a Mighty GOD" -- and the Gospels make clear that's Who Messiah is! From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

  • He declares that He will come to be the judge of all men (Matthew 25:31). In Jewish theology the judgment of the world was a distinctively Divine, and not a Messianic, prerogative.  

  • In the parable of the wicked husbandmen, He describes Himself as the son of the householder, while the Prophets, one and all, are represented as the servants (Matthew 21:33 sqq.).  

  • He is the Lord of Angels, who execute His command (Matthew 24:31).  

  • He approves the confession of Peter when he recognizes Him, not as Messias -- a step long since taken by all the Apostles -- but explicitly as the Son of God: and He declares the knowledge due to a special revelation from the Father (Matthew 16:16-17).  

  • Finally, before Caiphas He not merely declares Himself to be the Messias, but in reply to a second and distinct question affirms His claim to be the Son of God. He is instantly declared by the high priest to be guilty of blasphemy, an offense which could not have been attached to the claim to be simply the Messias (Luke 22:66-71).

At His Baptism, the Three Persons were manifest at once:

Matthew 3:13-17
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

And the "Great Commission" to evangelize and baptize is crystal clear in naming the Three Persons:

Matthew 28:19
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The most common argument against the divinity of Christ (as opposed to His "mere" Messiah-ship) revolves around the Sh'ma (or "shema"), Deuteronomy 6:4, which reads, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" First, no Catholic doubts that God is one God! Second, the point of the verse is to emphasize that the ancient Israelites worshipped the true God as opposed to false, pagan, polytheistic gods. The text in Hebrew would read better as "Hear, O Israel: God is our God; God is One." Thirdly, the relevant Hebrew words include:

  • YHWH, singular name for the Godhead
  • Elohim, which is the plural of Eloah, or "God"
  • echad, which usually indicates a composite, such as "a flock" (singular) of geese (plural) or "a bunch" (singular) of grapes (plural)
Putting it all together we get: "Hear O Israel: YHWH (singular) is ELOHIM (plural) of us; YHWH (singular) is ECHAD (a word usually indicating a composite)."

But How Can a Man be God?

From the New Testament, some argue that Jesus wept, and ate, and slept -- how could He possibly be God? Humans can't be God! Mystery of mysteries! Jesus Himself told us He didn't expect us to easily understand (Philippians 2:6)! He took on a human nature. And He is divine, His humanity and divinity being in complete and perfect hypostasis. To believe this is not possible is sheer anthropomorphism; it is to limit God and try to "box Him in" to human understanding and daily experience. Humans can't be God? OK. But God can -- and did -- take on a human nature, just as Isaiah predicted:

Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty GOD, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

...and a man named Jesus walked out of His grave 2,000 years ago (see Shroud of Turin).

Understanding the Trinity (well, almost!)

In some ways we might not ever truly understand the Trinity, at least while we're on earth. It seems so paradoxical, so illogical to those who think of the Three Divine Persons as Three separate "Beings": 1+1+1=3? Yes! But change your operators -- 1X1X1=1! We have to loosen up our minds a little, and think in terms of Essences, not separate ontological realities. God is one Essence; He is "Being" itself. He is He Who called Himself "I AM." The Three Persons are of this same Divine Essence; they are the same Being, and are only distinct in Their relations with One Another.

But more interesting than this is one explanation of WHY God is in Three Persons -- and this is where things get good.


God is Love

Christians say all the time that "God is Love". Oh, and it's so true! And it is this understanding that can give us a foothold in our attempt to understand this Mystery because love needs an object. You can't love if there's no one (or No One) to love! The Father isn't in Heaven eternally loving Himself; He has the Son. And the Son has the Father. And they have the Spirit, Who has Them. The Godhead must be triune because:

  • God is Love;
  • Love needs an object;
  • God is self-sufficient and needs no one outside of God;
  • Love is ever creative, abundant and life-giving! From Love proceeds Love!

The Father-Monarch did not create the Son, He begat Him. He did not create the Spirit, the Spirit proceeds from Him and the Son. But all this takes place outside of time, in God's dimension: He is triune eternally, from the beginning, and is complete in Himself.

There have been many attempts to symbolize the Trinity to make God understandable to us: St. Patrick used the shamrock, some use the three states of water to show that liquid water, steam, and ice all have the same essence (H20) while being three easily-identified entities.

But perhaps the best way to symbolize and think of the Trinity is to consider the human family. The family is an icon of the Trinity, being made in the image of the God, joining together as man and wife and becoming one flesh, and helping God bring new life into the world. This reflects beautifully the endless Love that is our triune God. Distinct persons, one family... Say there's a family whose last name is Caruso: each person of the Caruso family is fully, 100% "Caruso"; not a one of them is any less or more Caruso than another member of the Caruso family, though there are the Caruso father and the Caruso mother and the Caruso children. Each of these Carusos is a different person -- but the Caruso family is ONE family.

It is the same with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit! Each is God, not One is less God than another: three Persons, one God, one Being, one Divine Essence.

This analogy of "family" has its definite limitations (there is inequality in human families, but no inequality among the Divine Persons, so please keep that in mind); nonetheless, the analogy is the best I've heard. Gloria in excélsis Deo!

Relevant Scripture

Genesis 1:26-27
And God said, Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in HIS own image, in the image of God created HE him; male and female created he them. [Note the switching back and forth between singular and plural]

Genesis 2:24
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one [Hebrew: echad, a word usually indicating a composite] flesh. [see Deuteronomy 6:4 below]

Exodus 3:14
And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM [YHWH] hath sent me unto you. [see John 8:57-58 below]

Genesis 3:22
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of US, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

Genesis 11:7
Go to, let US go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Genesis 16:7-13
And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou GOD seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? [NIV: She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." Here we have a Person being called "God" and "Lord", Who is making promises to Hagar that only God can fulfil -- and Who is referring to God in the third person]

Genesis 18:1-3
And the LORD appeared unto him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, THREE men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My LORD, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:

Genesis 32:28-30
And he [the "Angel"] said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. [Compare with Exodus 33:20: "And he [God the Father] said [to Moses], Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live." See also John 14:8-19 below. We can't see the face of God the Father -- but we can see the face of "the Angel" -- the second Person of the Trinity-- Who is God!].

Deuteronomy 6:4
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD [see Genesis 2:24 above. Note that the relevant Hebrew words include echad, usually indicating a composite, and Elohim, plural of Eloah, or "God", such that it would read, "Hear O Israel: YHWH (singular) is ELOHIM (plural) of us; YHWH (singular) is ECHAD (a word usually indicating a compound unity)". This verse, known as the Sh'ma, is meant to emphasize that God is Israel's God; the New Jewish translation translates it into English as, "the Lord our God, the Lord alone"]

Isaiah 6:8
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for US? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty GOD, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 44:6
Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. [see Revelation 1:17 below]

Isaiah 45:23
[Thus saith the Lord:] I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. [see Philippians 2:10-11 below]

Hosea 12:3-5
[Referring to Jacob wrestling with the "Angel" in Genesis 32:] In the womb he [Jacob] grasped his brother's heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there --the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is his name of renown!

Zechariah 12:10
And I [God] will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on ME, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for HIM as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

Malachi 3:1
See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before ME. Then suddenly THE LORD YOU ARE SEEKING WILL COME to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty.

Matthew 3:13-17
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Matthew 28:19
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. [note the use of the singular word "name" for the three Persons]

John 1:1-3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

John 1:18
No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. [NIV: "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." See Genesis 16:7-13, 18:1-3, 32:28-30 above]

John 8:57-58
Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM. [see Exodus 3:14 above. Jesus didn't say "Yes, my Father gave Me a vision of Abraham" or "before Abraham was, I was"; He said "before Abraham was, I AM". When Jesus said these words, his audience knew exactly what He was saying, took it as blasphemy, and wanted to kill Him]

John 14:8-19
Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?

John 20:28
And Thomas answered and said unto him [Jesus], My LORD and my GOD.

Acts 2:34-36
For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

2 Corinthians 13:14
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all

Philippians 2:6
[Jesus,] Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God [NIV: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped]

Philippians 2:10-11
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [see Isaiah 45:23 above]

1 John 5:7
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

Revelation 1:8
[Referring to God the Father:] I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty [see Isaiah 44:6 above and Revelation 1:17 below]

Revelation 1:17
[Referring to the Jesus:] And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last [see Isaiah 44:6 and Revelation 1:8 above]

Revelation 2:8
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: 'The words of the First and the Last, who died and came to life' [see Isaiah 44:6 above]

Further Reading

The Trinity from the "Christian ThinkTank"

Defense of Catholicism