Holy Trinity in Bandon/St. John the Baptist in Port Orford
May 31st, 2015
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
What do we mean when we say that God is One? We mean that He is undivided, and indivisible. In other words, the One God cannot be added to or subtracted from. Whatever is undivided in itself, is one. When something is incapable of being divided, it is called simple. Other things are referred to as composites. God is undivided and indivisible and therefore, God is simple. God is not a composite. But what is a composite? A composite has no being so long as its parts are not united into one, and a composite receives its unity at the moment when composition sets in. So for instance, water is a composite of hydrogen and oxygen (H2O). It is not water until that composition is made. The water has no being before and it cannot be divided and still be water. This is different from the unity of the One God. God is not a composite like water. God is simple unity. But do we not believe that God is a Trinity? Doesn’t that mean three parts? Would that not make a composite? How do we say that God is simple when we can identify three parts?
First of all, we do not identify three parts because a “part” signifies “an incomplete being,
By saying that God is One, we also mean that God is unique in His being. In other words, there is no other. This is what we profess in the Creed: I believe in One God. In this we are monotheistic. God Himself has told us through the prophet Isaiah: “I am the first and the last, and therefore there is no God besides me” (Is 44:6). God, being One, is then defined as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These three persons in the One God are indivisible, because they are not parts. If God had parts, He would be a composite. No, God remains simple, not a composition, even in His three persons.
Various heresies emerged during the first centuries of Christianity as theologians struggled to figure out this quandary. The heresy of Arianism contended that God the Father was indeed uncreated but that the Son and the Holy Spirit were created by the Father and inferior to Him. The Church countered by defining that the Son is consubstantial with the Father. Consubstantial means that the Son is of the same substance as the Father. This is what we profess. The Son is begotten of the Father, but begotten from all eternity; not made, not created, not a creature. He was begotten and He is the Only-Begotten. Likewise the Holy Spirit was not made, nor created, nor begotten. Jesus is the Only-Begotten. The Holy Spirit instead proceeds. . . or spirates. He proceeds from the Father and the Son.
These three are perfectly co-equal and co-eternal. Each of the individual persons of God possesses the entire divine nature. St. Augustine wrote that each one of the divine persons has as much perfection as all three together have: “So great is the Father alone or so great is the Son alone, or so great is the Holy Spirit alone as is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together.”
I invite you to take up your bulletins and follow along with the Athanasian Creed. This is a liturgical creed of the faith attributed to St. Athanasius. He was exiled off an on as a bishop over many years because he defended the divinity of Jesus Christ against the Arian heresy. This creed is therefore, very clear in defending the divinity of Jesus Christ and asserting the equality of all three persons of the Holy Trinity in their Godhead. Historically, this was recited every Sunday in the Divine Office. Currently it is only recited once a year on Trinity Sunday, but only in certain forms of the Office. I find it to be helpful in grasping the Church’s teaching on the Holy Trinity because it is repetitive and very clear. It may take a few readings for it to settle in, so I give you the first reading here while we are together, and I invite you to just listen and follow along this first time, and then take it to your prayer time as spiritual reading or Lectio Divina.
The Athanasian Creed:
This, then, is the Catholic faith: We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without confusing the Persons or separating the substance; for indeed the Person of the Father is one, the Person of the Son another, the Person of the Holy Spirit another; but the divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, and their majesty coeternal.
As the Father is, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit; uncreated the Father, uncreated the Son, uncreated the Holy Spirit; infinite the Father, infinite the Son, infinite the Holy Spirit; eternal the Father, eternal the Son, eternal the Holy Spirit; and yet they are not three eternal beings, but one eternal; just as they are not three uncreated beings or three infinite beings, but one uncreated being. In like manner, omnipotent is the Father, omnipotent the Son, omnipotent the Holy Spirit; and yet they are not three omnipotent beings, but one omnipotent being. Therefore, the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods but one God. In the same way, the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord; yet there are not three Lords, but there is one Lord; for just as we are compelled by Christian truth to confess each Person individually as God and Lord, just so the Catholic religion forbids us to say that there are three Gods or three Lords.
The Father was not made by anyone; nor was he created or begotten; the Son is from the Father alone, neither made nor created but generated; the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son, neither made nor created nor generated, but proceeding. Therefore, there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in the Trinity, there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or lesser, but all three Persons are coequal and coeternal with each other. And so, in all things, as was said already above, both the unity in the Trinity and the Trinity in the unity must be worshipped. Let anyone therefore, who wishes to be saved think of the Trinity in this manner.
But it is necessary for eternal salvation also to believe faithfully in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The correct faith, therefore, is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God equally and man; he is God generated from the substance of the Father before all ages; and he is man born from the substance of a mother in time; perfect God and perfect man, subsisting with a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father according to divinity, less than the Father according to humanity; and while he is both God and man, nevertheless, there is but one Christ, not two; not one, however, by a transformation of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God; he is entirely one, not by a confusion of substance, but by the unity of person. For just as one man is a rational soul and flesh, just so the one Christ is God and man. He suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, from whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. At his coming, all men are to rise again with their bodies, and they will given an account of the own deeds; and those who have done good will go on to eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.
This is the Catholic faith: unless each one has believed it faithfully and firmly, he will not be saved. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
In closing, the mystery of the Holy Trinity cannot be understood or demonstrated by reason alone. The Church teaches this. The Athanasian Creed is a reasonable presentation of this teaching. We can come to understand it partially by use of our reason and intellect. But the mystery of the Holy Trinity must be known by Divine Revelation. It must be known by intellect or reason elevated by the supernatural infused virtue of faith. When we are in a state of sanctifying grace by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can come to be certain of such mysteries of the faith. But even in a state of grace, God still allows us to struggle for a greater purpose. When we come to know God personally as a beloved Friend or as the Spouse of our souls, the divine mysteries become more and more clear to our human minds. When we come to know Him, we come to understand Him. Let us seek to know Him and to understand Him and to Love Him in each of His three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.