Belief in the Trinity: Revelation or Myth?

By 10:10 AM

One of the central mysteries of our faith as Catholics and other Christians is the belief that there is only One God who is Triune in Person.  The Trinity: We believe in One God, the Father Almighty. We believe in One Lord, Jesus Christ.  We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.

That God is One is found both in the Old Testament Revelation, the writings of the Jewish people, and in the New Testament Revelation, the writings of the followers of Christ.  The oneness of God has been the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church from its beginning, the Day of Pentecost, into the present moment.

That God is triune in person is the revelation that comes to us from Jesus through the apostles, the Fathers of the Church and, finally, the Magisterium of the Church.

Because ancient peoples believed in the multiplicity of gods, for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to begin to accept that there is only one God was a unique and long process.  Even after they acknowledged this truth through their covenant with God, they still reverted back to worshipping different gods.  Again and again, God would send the prophets to bring them back to the truth of his uniqueness as God, but in time they slipped back into idolatry.

Then, once they truly professed that God was one and there was no other God, their understanding was stretched by Jesus the Messiah.  Knowing where the people were in their belief, he gradually led them to the truth that he was truly man and truly God. For the Jews this was blasphemy.  As a result, they sought and obtained his crucifixion by the Romans.

But the evidence in the New Testament writings of the Apostles, the initial witnesses, is clear.  Let me cite a few:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….  And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”(Jn 1:1,14)

“I and the Father are one.” (Jn 10:30 )

“He who has seen me has seen the Father…I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (Jn 14:9; 11)

“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.”(Jn 14:26)

Thomas’s profession of faith after the resurrection of Jesus: “My Lord and my God.”(Jn20:28) “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 Cor 13:14)

Initially, the Apostles and Jewish converts to Christ had a hard time verbalizing what they knew in faith.  Even though the term “Trinity” is not found as such in the New Testament writings, the concept was present.  As the early Church continued to be taught by the Holy Spirit, like a rose bud, the fullness of the truth of the Trinity began to unfold.

Irenaeus who lived at the end of the 2nd century stated: “For the Church, although dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and from their disciples the faith in one God, the Father Almighty... and in one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit" (Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).

As far as we can tell the first time the term “Trinity” was used was by Tertullian in the early part of the third century.  Building on the concept of “person” from the Greeks, he wrote that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were one in essence but not one in person, as each is a distinct person.

Then in 325 the Council of Nicea formally stated as a matter of revealed faith that there is One God who is Triune in Person: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Council was convened to counteract the heretical teaching of Arius, known as Arianism, which taught that Jesus was not divine but a creature. The Council of Nicea formulated what is now known as the Nicene Creed, which has for centuries and is even today recited in Mass as our profession of faith.

From the time of Christ and the apostles till today, the Church has believed in the mystery of the Trinity, even though it took time for the clear formulation to be developed.

Among Christians today, the belief of the Trinity is practically universal.  Obviously, the believers in the Jewish religion do not subscribe to this.  Nor do those who follow Islam or other Eastern religions.  In the Western world, the Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons and Unitarians do not adhere to a Trinitarian belief in God.

The Trinity is a mystery of revelation from God. When human beings try to understand this mystery they apply categories that are limited. The famous story that St. Augustine writes concerning the Trinity is applicable here.

One day, it is said, that Augustine was trying to understand the mystery of the Trinity with his human intelligence alone. He happened to be walking on the Mediterranean seashore. He noticed a little boy digging a hole in the sand and going to the water’s edge to fill a large shell with water and pouring the water into the hole. He did this a number of times. As fast as he poured the water in the hole, the water disappeared. Augustine watched with amusement and asked the boy what was he trying to do?  The boy responded that he was trying to empty the sea into the hole.  To this the learned man said that it was an impossible task for the hole is so small and the sea is so vast.  To which the boy said that so it was with understanding the Trinity: the mystery is beyond the limited capability of our human mind.

In faith we believe and profess the mystery of the Oneness of God who is three equal but distinct Persons related to each other in the unity of their divine life and love.

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