Don’t worry: we won’t go to hell. So let’s admit it: despite hundreds, if not thousands of times making the Sign of the Cross with the words, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, most of us probably can’t even begin to understand the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, celebrated by Christians last Sunday.
It’s basic enough to believe in one God, though judging from the way many believers live, we evidently worship and devote our lives to other gods besides our Father in heaven. But for Christians (the Trinitarian kind, not the Unitarian), the Divine has three Persons totally distinct from One Another. All are God, but the Father is not the Son, and neither of the two is the Holy Spirit.
Even more obtuse, if not utterly unheard of by many, is the doctrine of Jesus Christ as the Logos or Word by which God the Father created the universe, and that the Third Person of the Trinity is the Divine Love between the First and Second Persons. This believer surmises that only a tiny fraction of Christians have even heard those ideas, since he himself encountered them only late in college at the Ateneo, after one and a half decades of Catholic education which most of the faithful never get.
Bottom line: While Christians may truly believe and adore Almighty God whenever we cross ourselves in the Trinity’s name, the great majority simply don’t have even half a clue about the theology of the Triune God. Meanwhile, Church authorities and religion teachers routinely allay concerns about the faithful’s feeble understanding by saying that the incomprehensible Trinity is part of God’s inscrutable mystery which is beyond the puny minds of men. The Infinite cannot possibly be contained in the finite, right?
Wrong. Last time this believer checked, the paramount point of Christianity, which makes it unique among religions, is the doctrine that the boundless, immortal and eternal Divine was fully embodied and totally expressed in the bounded, mortal, three-decade humanity of one Jesus of Nazareth 2,013 years ago.
The limitless heavenly Almighty embraced humanity with all our earthly limitations — that’s what two millennia of Christianity is all about. And God’s life on earth, from conception by the Holy Spirit in the Blessed Virgin Mary, to His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, showed to all people in actions and words we can all see, hear, touch and understand who God is, what He thinks and feels, how He lives and loves, and what He wants us to do so we can be blessed, happy and, yes, divine.
Indeed, the Second Person of the Trinity invites all humankind to partake of His divinity as completely contained in consecrated bread and wine in this life, and as resurrected beings basking in His heavenly presence in the next.
So let’s drop this copout reasoning that man can’t hack God’s three-in-oneness and anything else He has deigned to reveal about Himself in Scripture, saints and even sinners throughout recorded history. God became man precisely to make Himself clear and comprehensible to us in the human terms which the Creator endowed us with.
Okay, so how can puny you and me with feeble faith but even feebler theology, figure out the Blessed Trinity? Answer: by looking at the image of God in us.
Let’s take this slowly. The Book of Genesis declares: “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …’ .” Traditionally, that divine likeness is understood to be man’s capacity for reason, self-consciousness, and love. In short, the mind, heart, soul and spirit of man.
But what about the body? Can’t that also be part of the image of God in man? After all, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity had no problem assuming that form. Many ancient religions, Judaism and Christianity included, see the body as sinful, so it’s no wonder that it isn’t usually included in what’s seen as Godly in man. Indeed, the death of the body is seen as the final step to redemption.
Yet the Risen Christ still has a human body, so it can’t be all that bad. Could it be that the physical form is also part of the divine in man?
Enter the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. The Triune God, with the Father Who created the cosmos, the Son present and active in this created universe, and the Holy Spirit spurring things and beings toward the divine will—this divine essence finds echoes in the mind, body and will of man.
Like the First Person of the Trinity exists beyond the confines of the physical universe, the mind of man has an awareness that can reach well past the skin and senses of his body, imagining events and worlds never seen by his eyes, heard by his ears, touched by his hands, or walked by his feet.
But for the mind to have an impact on the world, it employs the body. For ideas and imaginings, dreams and desires, want and will to be conveyed to others and expressed in the world, these unseen inner flowerings of the human spirit must be put in words, images, sounds, and gestures created by the body.
So it is with God the Father expressing His divine creativity and will in the world through Logos, the Eternal Word, the Second Person, the Divine Power and Presence acting in the universe, and eventually taking on the human form of the created world in order to imbue humanity with divinity and impart God’s truth, will and love to all creation.
Even the human challenge of making the body follow the mind’s dictates is mirrored in the Son of God’s mission to fulfill His Father’s will on earth. In this lifelong task, the body may or may not heed the edict of the soul, just as the created world and even the Messiah has the option to disobey. That, after all, is the only way for the creature to be truly himself or itself. Even Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, expressed His wish to be spared the crucifixion: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” In embracing the Father’s will, Jesus pointed the way for humanity to bend to the Creator, and for the body to follow the soul.
What about the Holy Ghost? That was extensively discussed in the May 22 column. Suffice it to say that the Divine Love between Father and Son, which is the Trinity’s Third Person, is not unlike the principle of creation, evolution and community that continually drives everything and everyone, from subatomic particles to whole nations and the world itself, to bind together in every more complex entities: atoms, molecules, cells, flora and fauna, intelligent beings, families, communities, nations, and so on.
Some argue that this isn’t some divine spirit, but simply the action of physical and biological principles, which man has been discovering throughout history. Christians see the spirit of God moving over the chaos and creating and continually creating the universe. Take your pick.
It’s the most essential ritual and prayer in Christendom: the sign of the Cross (using the left hand in Eastern churches, and the right elsewhere), with the words, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Trinitarian phrase also graces countless rituals, from the baptism marking a person’s entry into Christianity, to the rites for the dying and the deceased, and, of course, the paramount liturgical rite, the mass.