One in Three and Three in One

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The Mystery of the Trinity.

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Once there was a stream on a hillside. It flowed on uninterrupted and swept aside the various obstacles it met on its way. Then the stream came to a plain. Beyond the plain was a desert. There the stream had to pause because it sank into the sand and could go no farther. Then it heard a voice say, “Only the wind can carry you over the sands.” The stream did not understand, so the voice explained: “The wind will absorb the water into vapor, and carry it over the desert and then let it fall again as rain. If you are willing, then you can be transformed.” And because the stream accepted its limits, the wind took it and carried it miles away to another hillside. Only now the little muddy stream had become a mighty river.

The whole of Christendom celebrates the mystery of the Trinity this Sunday. How can we even begin to understand something about this mystery? St. Augustine said regarding the mystery of the Trinity that, “Once you begin to count, you begin to be mistaken.”Christian faith holds that God’s essential being is constituted by the relations between the three Persons: Father, Son and Spirit. God is in his very being triune; the very essence of the one God is relational.

God is one and God is three – one has to rise above the duality of subject and object to begin to understand Trinitarian faith. The Trinity is absolute subjectivity beyond all duality. “If the Father and the Son are not two, they are not one either: the Spirit both unites and distinguishes them,” according to Raymond Panikkar’s use of advaita in Hindu philosophy to explain Trinitarian faith.

The Trinity for Christians is not a preoccupation but a spiritual necessity. It is the foundation of the building up of the faith-community, the incentive to strengthen resources and assets in order to form a healthy, flourishing and supportive environment for people, and foster a sense of solidarity and cooperation among its members. If Christians, like the stream, are willing to be transformed by this article of faith, they shall become all that they can be.

The Trinity is not a matter of mathematics
One has to transcend the separate self, go beyond the ego, in order to comprehend the plurality of oneness and the oneness of plurality. In Hindu tradition, being one and being many are not understood as true opposites and hence talk about the Ultimate must involve paradoxical statements. The understanding of the trimurti in Hindu religion, where at its most elementary level, Brahma is thetrimurti in Hindu religion, where at its most elementary level, Brahma is the Creator, Vishnu is the Sustainer, and Shiva is the Destroyer, is understood in this both/and of advaita philosophy.

In Zen philosophy, the real self is beyond the duality of the self and the non-self: zero equals infinity and infinity equals zero. A Sufi saying counsels, “You think that because you understand one, you must understand two, because one and one makes two. But you must also understand and.” Similarly, the three-fold nature of God in the Christian understanding is not numerical plurality, nor separate aspects of the divinity – it is understood in a non-dualistic way. This way of thinking is open to paradox and permanent tension. It is only in this manner that we can understand how God is one and triune.

Faith in the Trinity enables believers to be at home in paradox. One should always recognize the analogical nature of biblical and theological terminology since God is not an object among other objects in the universe. The truth about faith in the Trinity can only be grasped by holding the apparent contradiction of the paradox together, not by trying to resolve it. Personal liberation is the transcending of all illusions of duality through the dispelling of the dichotomizing mind.

Niels Bohr explained that a great truth in quantum physics is one for which the opposite is also a great truth. Reality is neither one nor many, neither separate nor unified; it is above any form of conceptual elaboration. In the same manner, only in the way of contemplation can one begin to understand how God is immanent in the wave packets of energy at the subatomic level and yet infinitely beyond the farthest galaxy in the observable universe –in other words, how God is one in three.

The social implications of God as community
As an image of the Trinity, the ecclesial community incarnates, sustains and celebrates how Father, Son and Spirit remain distinct persons but are bound in communion as one God. It enables Christians to connect more deeply with the emergent universe of which they are a part, to sense how deeply they are woven into the web of life. It teaches them how to respond to their calling to assure a sustainable future for the coming generations.

The Church baptizes believers in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. The community of faith prayed to the Father through Christ in the power of the Spirit long before it developed a theology of the Trinitarian relationships. The Father comes near to human beings through Christ who gives us the Spirit so that we may be made one in Christ and come back to the Father – that is the history of salvation made present under the symbolic events that are celebrated in the liturgy.

At the heart of the Trinity is communion as a function of the three persons. God’s inner being is relational, with each of the three persons utterly related and transparent to the other two while their subjectivities remain an infinitely radical subjectivity. God is both beyond and intimate. The personal language for the triune God makes possible our relationship to God as the I, Thou and We. Ultimately, this trinitarian faith is the origin, ground and goal of a theology of pilgrims that would make them endure the vicissitudes and absurdities of an evolving universe and give them hope.

Love of Father, Son and Spirit and love for justice, peace and the integrity of creation are intricately connected. We go to the poor not because of pity but because we have experienced the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). This compels us to share our joy and our faith in the Father, Son and Spirit with them. The celebration of this experience as expressed in faith and worship should be the basis for a Trinitarian theology for the last, the least, the lost.

Faith in the triune God should help the poor to work for the spiritual and cultural transformation of their communities. The trinitarian model seems appropriate today when reality is understood by modern science as a network of relationships, when community is understood to be the nature of reality, the ground of our being.

Trinitarian faith is essentially participative. Therefore, Trinity defines what is ultimate and what is of value in our efforts to build the world we want.
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2 Comments

  1. Wow! I was never good at math and now this complicates it even more. Thanks for the insight. The Trinity has never made sense to me but that’s God’s plan. Just believe in the three divinities as all being God and that’s all I need to do.

  2. Thank you Fr. Beltran, but do we really need the help or support of other religious perspectives to believe in the Trinity? These explanations from them make the revelation of God in the gospel sound insufficient or even sound like a critical of God for His failure to explain. If comprehension is a requirement for Faith, would it still be faith?