Opening the Word: Mystery of the Trinity

English writer Dorothy Sayers once observed that for many Christians, the dogma of the Trinity is a mystery: “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible” — it is “something put in by theologians” that has “nothing to do with daily life or ethics.” Sayers, writing 60 years ago, was lamenting how few Christians seem to comprehend that the Holy Trinity is the greatest mystery of the Faith and therefore deserves — demands! — our attention and contemplation. “It is the dogma,” she insisted, “that is the drama ...”

The Catechism states: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself” (No. 234). There is a temptation, I suspect, to hazily hold that the Trinity is just one way of describing God, as if asserting the Trinity is a clever but ultimately abstract exercise. Such an approach sees “mystery” as the inability to know anything at all, whereas the authentic, orthodox perspective is that the mystery is both knowable — in the most intimate way possible — and unable to be fully known.

“From the beginning,” the Catechism further notes, “the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church’s living faith, principally by means of baptism” (No. 249). The Great Commission, heard in today’s Gospel, makes the connection evident. The disciples are instructed by Jesus to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit ...” Not in the “names” but in the “name” — for God is indeed one, as revealed to Moses, and he is three divine persons: “The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire ...” (No. 253). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct from one another but are perfectly one; the distinction between each “resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another” (No 255).

Creation itself is an overflow of the divine love: “God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness ...” (CCC, No. 293). God, having made man in his image and likeness, has brought about a new creation by conquering sin and destroying death, offering each of us his divine — that is, trinitarian — life. This is the radical truth proclaimed by St. Paul to the Christians in Rome:

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’”

Jesus revealed the Father, and the Father, in turn, glorified the Son; the Son then sent the Holy Spirit, who gives witness to the Son and glorifies the Father. The Father so loved the world, wrote St. John, that he sent his only begotten Son so that we might have everlasting life; the Son died on the cross for the sins of the world and revealed the heart of authentic love: perfect gift of life and self. The Holy Spirit, finally, fills and transforms those baptized into Christ.

What of us? We follow the Son so we can better know the Father; we grow in the Holy Spirit so we can love the Son more deeply; we embrace the Father so we can become more fully conformed to his will. Such is the heart of the mystery of faith — the dogma and drama of the Trinity!

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.