What is the dogma of the Holy Trinity?
The Holy 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. There is one being, with one nature and there are Three Persons.
We know this from the two sources of Revelation
- First Jesus taught his disciples to recognise in Himself the Eternal Son of God: As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love: as I also have kept my Father's commandments and do abide in his love. (Jn15:9-10)
- When His ministry was drawing to a close, He promised that the Father would send them another Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, in His place: But when the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me. (Jn15:26)
- Finally after the resurrection, He revealed the doctrine in explicit terms, bidding them: Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. (Mt 28:19-20)
- The first baptismal formula, using the words of Christ himself, clearly express the Godhead of the Three Persons.
- The doxologies from the earliest writings of the Fathers indicate clearly the doctrine of the Trinity which is in the now universal form: Glory be to the Father..
- The battle against the Arian heresy in the fourth century caused the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to be perfectly defined (Council of Nicea 325) …but never understood FOR IT IS A MYSTERY.
The Mystery is enunciated most clearly in the Athanasian Creed
The Athanasian Creed is attributed to St Athanasius on account of his defence of the dogma of the Trinity at the Council of Nicea in the year 325. It is thought to have been writtten in the late 5th century in southern Gaul. The first half of the creed speaks of the most Holy Trinity in very clear terms. It is divided here to facilitate understanding.
- Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this:
Distinction of Persons, but unity of Essence
- That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.
- For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost.
- But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost.
Attributes of the Essence are attributes of the Persons
- The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated.
- The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited.
- The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal.
- And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.
- So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty.
- So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.
- So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord.
- For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords.
Distinction of the Persons
- The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding.
- So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
Unity of the Essence
- And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.
Not a conundrum of mathematics
It is important to understand that the mystery of the Holy Trinity is not a counundrum of mathematics where we are expected to believe that God is both three and one in the same way. Precision is vitally important when we explore this greatest of mysteries which is nothing less than a window into the intimate life of the Godhead. It has been revealed to us that three distinct Persons possess the same Divine Nature. We must understand the terms:
- Only rational beings are persons. A stone or a plant or even a well-loved dog cannot be a person.
- It is that which makes a rational being who he is.
- It is the that which is responsible for the actions of a rational being. It is John who thinks, it is Paul who runs etc.
- All beings have a nature.
- It is that which makes a being what it is,
- It is that by which a being acts. A man can reason because he has human nature.
In the Holy Trinity the three persons are distinct, but they possess the same unique, infinite nature. That which determines what each of the Persons is, is the the same. That by which each of the Persons acts is the same.
Why is this mystery revealed to us?
It is a mystery revealed to us to draw us into the Godhead. It is in the nature of a lover to wish to be known by the object of his love. By the revelation of the Holy Trinity, the three Persons who are God make themselves known to us, by the light of the supernatural virtue of Faith, so that we might love Them Who are Love, Who are self-giving, Who are infinitely loveable. The three Persons invite us to a devotion to each of them seperately and all of them together so that every attribute of the Godhead might be loved: the Paternity of the Father, the fraternity and sacrificial love of the Son and the shared supernatural life of the Holy Ghost.
On this Trinity Sunday let us take up this invitation. Look to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model. She who was the daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son and the spouse of the Holy Ghost shows us how to draw from this inexhaustible spring of the knowledge of God.