"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments and how unsearchable His ways!"(1)
Of all of the things taught by our Lord during His public life on earth, probably the most difficult of all was the concept that Jesus Christ could be "one with the Father." His most difficult statements -- those that came close to getting Him killed, and ultimately did bring about His crucifixion -- are those in which it was clear that He was God, the Son of God. Statements like "Before Abraham came to be, I am" or "he who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him," or the simple "thou hast said it," in response to the High Priest's question as to whether or not He was "the Christ, the Son of God."(2)
None of this is surprising, and in some degree we can understand the reluctance of the Jewish people to accept His claims, because their forefathers, the Jews of the Old Testament had been trained over the centuries to know that there is only one God. Indeed, this belief in the single, all powerful, Creator of all things is what distinguished them from the pagan neighbors as God's chosen people. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one!"(3) It is hard to fault the Jews for not understanding that is one, relative to the multitude of false gods, who are in reality nothing more than demons.(4)
It is only in the New Testament that God reveals Himself, and makes it known that this Divine Unity exists in a Trinity of Persons. It is only when we hear our Lord identifying Himself with the Father, or speaking about sending the Holy Ghost after His ascension, that we come to know this Trinity -- only when we see "the Spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon [Jesus in the Jordan]. And a voice from heaven say[ing] 'This is My beloved Son.'"(5) Only with such revelations do we come to know the existence of the Trinity.
And, even with the benefit of revelation, we are generally at loss to explain how such a thing could be possible. God Himself told us, so it must be true, but that doesn't mean that we are capable of understanding it in any great detail. It is, as we say, a mystery.
Yet, man a curious creature -- always wanting to know and understand the things he comes across -- always trying to pry open the mysteries he encounters with the tool of his mind. God is eternal, he knows, and so must be the Trinity. St.ÿJohn's Gospel speaks of the Second Person being there with the First at the time of creation, and even in the Old Testament we hear in the account of the creation that "the Spirit of God moved over the waters" -- so all three Persons must have existed before creation.(6)
Saint Augustine made an interesting attempt at trying to explain the relationship of the three Persons, knowing fully well that they were eternal, and that there was no question of "before and after," and certainly none of "superior and inferior." Augustine proposed this explanation: Man (he said) was made in the image and likeness of God -- and man has two clearly defined powers -- the intellect, by which he knows things, and the will, by which he desires things -- if man is in God's image, then God must have these powers as well. Augustine then continues: In the nothingness before the creation of material space and time, God knows Himself, and the intellect with which God knows Himself is so powerful that it gives rise to an idea of Himself lacking in no detail -- so perfect that it has real existence -- an existence that we refer to as the Word, or the Logos, the Second Person, or simply God the Son. Note that a word expresses an idea, which is why the Gospel is able to refer to the Son of God as the Word.
Augustine takes this a step further: The First and Second persons consider each other -- they are moved by their mutual perfection to love one another with an infinite act of the divine will. That act of the divine will, just like the act of the divine intellect, is so perfect that it has real existence -- and we refer to that existence as the Third Person, or the Holy Spirit, or more commonly in English, the Holy Ghost.
And, remember, Augustine was not talking about Father creating the Son, or the Two creating the Holy Ghost. Even before his time, in reciting the Creed attributed to Saint Athanasius, it was common to speak of each person as "uncreated," each as "infinite," and each as "eternal" -- but not three "uncreateds," not three "infinities," and not three "eternals" -- but rather One Eternal Uncreated Infinite God.
"The Father was made by no one, being neither created nor begotten.
"The Son is from the Father alone, although not created nor made, but begotten.
"The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son, although neither made nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
"There is no "before" or "after", no "greater" or "less"; for all three Persons are co-eternal and co-equal."(7)
But, again, even the best minds of the Church are poorly equipped to explain the mysteries of God. We can read the works of such men with interest and edification, but ultimately we must be content to accept the knowledge of this mystery as a gift of God, who loves us enough to favor us with this glimpse of His own private existence. As we prayed in the Collect this morning, we can thank God for the gift of the true Faith; we can adore Him in the glory of His Trinity and in the grandeur of His Unity; and we can ask Him to let this Faith strengthen us in facing the difficulties of life.
"Holy God, Mighty God, God Immortal be adored."