“O eternal Trinity, you are a deep sea in which the more I seek the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek to know you,” wrote St. Catherine of Siena in her treatise, “On Divine Providence.” “You fill us insatiably, because the soul, before the abyss which you are, is always famished; and hungering for you, O eternal Trinity, it desires to behold truth in your light.”
I wonder: What would I have thought of that statement when I was a young fundamentalist? Growing up, my understanding of the Trinity was, in a sense, “academic” — I acknowledged that God is one nature, three persons, and so forth. But it was a belief that seemed “out there” and not closely related to my daily life. My focus was more on the person of Jesus Christ.
This imbalance, in hindsight, was largely due to a failure to appreciate the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is rather ironic considering that the first verse I memorized as a young boy was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son … ” This verse is a bedrock text for many Christians, because it is a memorable expression of the essential truth that the Son came to save us from our sins. Yet, again, my singular focus was on Jesus Christ, while the Father and the Holy Spirit remained in supportive, but distant, roles.
I had something of an “aha!” moment in my first year at an evangelical Bible college, when the energetic professor of my Christian spirituality class explained that “God does not need you! He did not need to create us!” Intellectually, I knew what he meant. But I began to slowly understand more profoundly that God is completely sufficient and perfect in himself. Through study and worship, I came to more deeply appreciate that the Triune God is not an abstract concept, but the living and personal ground of all reality — who is, so to speak, outside of all “things” and “under all things.” God is not only all-powerful and all-knowing, but also an intimate and perfect communion of three divine persons, each fully God.
God is, as he told Moses on Mount Sinai, “a merciful and gracious God,” before whom we should bow down in worship and adoration. It is striking that Moses implored God to “come along in our company,” for not only did God then guide the people through the desert to the promised land, he eventually “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). John also wrote that “while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17).
Likewise, St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians of the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” and then of the “love of God” and “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” This is one of the clearest expressions of Trinitarian faith in the New Testament, and it is spoken in the Mass as a blessing on the people. Moses had begged God to “receive us as your own”; through baptism we are made God’s own, receiving the divine gift of Trinitarian life. This partaking in the divine nature (see 2 Pt 1:4) means that we, through the Son’s saving work and the power of the Holy Spirit, are reborn as true children of the Father.
Which is why St. Catherine wrote, “Clothe me, O eternal Trinity, clothe me with yourself, so that I may pass this mortal life in true obedience and in the light of the most holy faith with which you have inebriated my soul.”
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.