Map of Life - Lesson 8


Map of Life: Chp 8 The Mystery of the Trinity

Map of Life: Contents
Catechsim Series 1: 
Catechism Series 2: Trinity
Catechism: Q25-30
Aquinas 101: The Triune GodThe Persons of the TrinityThe Missions of the Trinity
Summa Theologica: 1aq27-q32
Companion to the Summa: Chp 7 The Inner Life of God
Random articles: Sermon on the Trinity

Ite Missa Est:


Truth - The Mystery of the Blessed Trinity

  1. Recap:

    Introduction: Just as we need a geographical map to know where we are, and how to get to where we want to go in the world, we also need a map of life to know where we are in relation to everything else in life, and how to get to our ultimate goal in life. This map of life is given to us by God through Divine Revelation which is preserved, interpreted and transmitted through the Catholic Church.

    Chapter 1:  Just as we must have faith in the geographical map-maker at the start of a journey, we must have faith in life's map-maker at the start of our journey through life. The map of life tells us

          (a) what man is (a creature composed of body and soul, in the image and likeness of God by the possession of an intellect and a will),

          (b) where he is destined (his finality: supernatural union with God).

    Chapter 2:  We also need an law of life so that we might attain the goal indicated on the map of life. This law comprises the physical law (for all material creatures) and the spiritual law (for intelligent creatures). Some spiritual laws are natural to man (eg. the ten commandments), some are divinely revealed in Scripture or Tradition (e.g. the laws of the sacraments). Some spiritual laws form the basis of man-made laws such as canon laws or civil laws. 

    Chapter 3: The "X" that marks the spot on the map of life is heaven, where our highest faculties (intellect and will) are perfected by a perfect knowledge and love of God, which is only possible with supernatural grace (also called supernatural life, sanctifyfing grace and habitual grace).

    Chapter 4: Adam was created with the means of attaining heaven, but lost supernatural grace, virtues and gifts when he committed the sin of disobedience. It was the first sin of the first man and condemned humanity to a fallen state whereby every man was henceforth conceived in the state of Original Sin. The map of life became blurred to humanity, the path was either lost or impassible, and "X" was unattainable without supernatural help.

    Chapter 5: God then entered into His creation so that man might (a) know the truth about God, and (b) know the law by which he might attain God, and (c) be sanctified by the supernatural life necessary for union with God. He enacted the objective redemption by which the gates of heaven were opened once again.

    Chapter 6: The Catholic Church was founded by Christ to continue His mission after he had ascended into heaven. It's mission is to teach the truth, uphold the law (both natural and divine), and sanctify souls by the sacraments. Like a living being comprising body and soul, the Church has physical body which is its human hierarchy of members on earth, and a spiritual soul which is the Mystical Body of Christ (or some say that the soul of the Church is the Holy Ghost, but this is a matter of attribution). A soul must be a spiritually living member of the Church to benefit from the Redemptive work of Christ.

    Chapter 7: Christ established the Church to teach, govern and sanctify. In its teaching office it teaches with God's authority and has the protection of God so that it will never teach error. We say that the Church teaches infallibly. The official teaching of the Church is expressed in official documents which are known as Acts of the Magisterium. A Catholic assents to the truth of the Teaching Church, not because he agrees, or it seems reasonable, but because it is backed by the authority of God.

  2. Definition of mystery

    Definition of mystery: Something about which we cannot know everything.

    Truths taught by the Church include many mysteries: finality of man, law, Blessed Trinity, Creation, Grace, Redemption, Mystical Body, Sacraments, Heaven & Hell etc.

    Necessarily there is mystery when we talk about God, because God is infinite in His perfections and we are finite in our comprehension.

  3. Division of mystery

    In two ways can a thing be a mystery:

    - By our ignorance, which is then removed once the mystery is revealed. For example, the ignorance about the fact that there are three Persons in one God is removed once we are told this truth by our catechism.

    - By our inability to comprehend what is revealed. This incomprehension will remain for those truths beyond our capacity to understand. For example, no-one can understand how there can be three Persons in one God. In this way, the Trinity will always remain a mystery.

  4. Properties of mystery

    A revealed truth cannot be contradictory, because truth cannot be contradictory. Examples of apparent contradictions:

    - Jesus Christ is God. God has one nature. Jesus Christ has two natures.

    - No Person of the Trinity has anything that another Person hasn't got. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity has a human nature unlike the other two Persons.

    - God is infinitely merciful. God will not forgive all sins.

    Apparent contradictions may result from 

    (a) error about what is revealed (ignorance), which can be easily corrected or 

    (b) miscomprehension by either attempting to comprehend the incomprehensible, or by error in comprehension.

    A revealed mystery is an inexhaustible well of matter for meditation.

  5. The Blessed Trinity

    The principle mystery of the faith revealed by Christ because it concerns the Being and nature of God. It is also the most beyond our reason.

    Definition: The Holy/Blessed Trinity is the term used to express the central doctrine on the Christian religion: the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, these Three Persons being truly distinct from one another.

    In brief: In God there is one Essence (Being), one Nature, and three Persons.

    - Essence: that which is

    - Nature: that by which a thing acts

    - Person: that which acts with a rational nature

  6. The Trinity as a Mystery

    St. Thomas Aquinas says: It is impossible to attain to the knowledge of the Trinity by natural reason. For, as above explained (I:12:4 and I:12:12), man cannot obtain the knowledge of God by natural reason except from creatures. Now creatures lead us to the knowledge of God, as effects do to their cause. Accordingly, by natural reason we can know of God that only which of necessity belongs to Him as the principle of things, and we have cited this fundamental principle in treating of God as above (I:12:12). Now, the creative power of God is common to the whole Trinity; and hence it belongs to the unity of the essence, and not to the distinction of the persons. Therefore, by natural reason we can know what belongs to the unity of the essence, but not what belongs to the distinction of the persons. (1aQ32a1).

    Usually in nature, there is a unity of essence, nature and person: a man is one essence, with a human nature, and is one person, but in the Trinity there are three Persons acting by one nature and constituting one Being. We cannot comprehend this because we have nothing to compare it to. All Three persons share the same Intellect and Will, because they all possess the same unique Divine Nature. They are distinguished as distinct subsistent relations within the Godhead.

  7. Doing our best to understand the Blessed Trinity

    A simple attempt to conceive of the Three Persons as follows:

    God is Actus Purus

    God is not a being Who sometimes is dormant and sometimes is in action, because, if He were, He would not always possess the perfection of action. Just as a musician is the perfect musician when he is playing music, God is God when He is acting or in action. But unlike a musician, God is not distinguishable from His action; He is not a being who can act and can cease to act, because if He were, the perfection which is His action would be other than the perfection which is His essence. There, in effect, would be a perfection outside of the essence of God.

    No, unlike any creature, God IS HIS ACTION. He is pure action, Actus Purus.

    God loves Himself

    God who is the Supreme Being infinite in all His perfections, naturally loves Himself. He loves goodness and He is Goodness, pure Goodness. (For us, mere creatures, we do the same but often loving what is not perfect in ourselves. Loving a perfection that we do not possess, or loving a perfection for our own ends). When God loves Himself, as He has done for all eternity, we can understand the distinction of the three Persons in the phrase "I LOVE MYSELF":

    the “I” is the Father who is the act of thinking the most perfect thought. As an infinite act the Father is God.

    - the “Myself” is the image of the Father, the most perfect thought, (the thought of the act of thinking) which, because it is a perfect image is the same as the Father i.e God, and, as it is being generated by the Father, it is the Son

    - and just as two people love each other because of the perfections they possess, the Father and the Son cannot not but love each other. And the act of love that exists between them, being an infinite act is also God, this infinite act is the Holy Ghost.

    These three words: I, LOVE and MYSELF are a key to lifting the corner of the veil which covers the Blessed Trinity.

    There are no impossible mathematics here, there is nothing against reason but only beyond reason. But by believing the mystery with the gift of faith, by probing it to the limits of our reason, by contemplating the mystery in our prayers and meditations and by disposing ourselves to receiving the gift of understanding we can begin to lift the veil over this mystery in hopeful anticipation of it vanishing entirely as we alight upon the shores of eternity.