Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
|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
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,
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
At His Baptism, the Three Persons were manifest at once:
And the "Great Commission" to evangelize and baptize is crystal clear in naming the Three Persons:
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:
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:
...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.
God is Love
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
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
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.
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
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
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]
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]
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]
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:
Go to, let US go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
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]
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:
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!].
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"]
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.
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.
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]
[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]
[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!
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
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]
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]
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?
And Thomas answered and said unto him [Jesus], My LORD and my GOD.
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
[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]
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.
[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]
[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]
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]
from the "Christian ThinkTank"