In this “Compendium Clip,” I would like to look at, in more detail, the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which is the central truth of the Catholic faith. Indeed the Creed itself is organized around the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
First, since the Blessed Trinity is the most central mystery of the faith we cannot understand Christianity without it. To become a Christian one must be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And so, the Trinity is the source of all the other mysteries of faith; this also means that it is the greatest and highest mystery of faith which no human being could have discovered by the power of his own reason. Even in Israel’s faith during the time of the Old Testament there were only small traces that the one God is a Trinitarian being. It wasn’t until the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit that this mystery became fully known.
And so, let’s begin by looking at what Jesus revealed to us about the Father and the Holy Spirit. First, he revealed that God is indeed “Father” not only in the sense that he created the universe and mankind but above all he is Father because he eternally begets the Son, that is, the eternal Word of God. We see this, for example, when we hear in John’s gospel, “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known” (Jn. 1:18). So the only Son who is eternally begotten the bosom of the Father has revealed God the Father to us. This means that Jesus has shown that God in his very nature is Father and Son, which is why he could say, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30). Yet, Jesus also revealed to us the Holy Spirit who is the third person of the Most Blessed Trinity. He too is fully God and equal with the Father and the Son. For example, we learn from the scriptures that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” (Jn. 15:26) meaning that the Father, who is the origin of the Trinitarian life, is the principle and source of the Holy Spirit. Yet the Holy Spirit also proceeds or comes forth from the Son, which is why Jesus said in the gospel of John that the Father would send the Holy Spirit in His, the Son’s, name (cf. Jn. 14:26).
Now since all of this can be very challenging to understand I would like to offer an analogy that St. John Paul II used to illustrate the dynamic of the Trinity’s inner life. It deals with the family who is created in the image of God and so in some way reflects God. In marital love a husband gives himself so entirely to his wife who receives that gift, and who equally gives herself so completely to her husband that they truly become one. When this happens their mutual giving culminates in a love so great that it gives rise to a person, that is, their daughter or son. Now this is a reflection of what happens in the Trinity: here the Father gives himself so completely to the Son that the Father and Son are truly one. But also, the Son in turn gives himself entirely back to the Father, so that from this mutual and perfect self-giving of the Father and Son there comes a love that is so intense that it is truly another person, the Holy Spirit. This helps explain why God in his very nature is an eternal exchange of love.
But now let’s look at how the Church precisely expresses her Trinitarian faith, which God revealed. We believe in only One God in whom there are three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This means that each person is truly God because each person fully possesses the divine nature but it also means that each person is really distinct from the others, so the Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Holy Spirit. Indeed the identity of each person in the Trinity is known only in relation to the others. For example, the Father is the Father because he eternally generates the Son and again the Holy Spirit is known only in relation to the Father and the Son since he eternally proceeds from both of them. So each person is truly distinct precisely because of his relation to the others. Nevertheless, since the three divine persons are inseparable in their one substance they are also inseparable in their activity. So although the action of creation is especially attributed to the Father, it is God who creates. The same is true for the action of redemption: although it is rightly attributed especially to the Son it is God who redeems. And finally, while sanctification is particularly attributed to the Holy Spirit it is again God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who sanctifies.
So, to summarize, the Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christianity and it was revealed fully by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It means that the one God is a Trinity of persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each of whom are known in relationship to the others in the loving unity of their one divine nature.
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