The Holy Trinity
We cannot understand the Trinity.
The ways in which we talk about the Trinity are ways in which we have learned to indicate that we are dealing with a mystery which is in principle beyond us. The human mind simply cannot go there!
In the first five centuries of the Church’s life, many people tried to reduce the Trinity to something with which the human mind can cope and the response of faith has been to refuse to let the mystery which is beyond us become something understandable. The formulae which were worked out in the fourth and fifth centuries were really a way of saying what it cannot be. These formulae are reflected particularly in the Nicene Creed which is used at Mass. These formulae are really guidelines towards the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
You will notice that the words we use to speak of God are taken from our human world where we find fathers and sons and speak of a spirit of things. These we use as images to help us move towards God without reducing the utter difference that there is between God and ourselves. We have to use images to talk about things that we cannot take hold of with our minds.
These images are important because they set us on the right track and they are grounded in God’s revelation in the Scriptures. So for instance, the word ‘Father’ is important to us, because that is the word Jesus used to speak of the One who sent him and with whom he was in vital communion and communication. If we were to stop talking about the Trinity, we would be putting ourselves on a false track towards God.
These things were sorted out in the course of history, by means of deep and ongoing prayer, the gatherings of Ecumenical Councils, in thinking and study, and at times in conflict between Christians.
By Fr Frank O’Loughlin