Albrecht Durer—Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
[Ordinary of the Mass]
Almighty and everlasting God, Thou who
hast given to Thy servants the true faith they adore Thee in the glory of
Thy Trinity, and in the grandeur of Thy Unity; may the firmness of this
belief strengthen us in the face of life's difficulties. Through our
Lord....(Collect of the Trinity Sunday)
This morning, those of us who recite
the Divine Office according to the traditional Roman Breviary read a
statement of beliefs about the Holy Trinity known as the Athanasian Creed.
It is named for Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, whom I mentioned to you a
few weeks ago as one of the great saints that seem to arise when the
Catholic Faith is in danger. You may recall that Athanasius was the Faith's
champion against the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of our Lord
Jesus Christ. Athanasius may or may not have been the author of the Creed,
but it reflects his correct understanding of the relationship between the
three Divine Persons of the Trinity.
I just love Athanasius' political
incorrectness. He starts out with a statement of fact based on objective
truth—there is no room for the “dialogue” so common with Modernist
Whoever wishes to be saved must, before all else,
adhere to the Catholic Faith.
He must preserve this Faith whole and untarnished;
otherwise he shall most certainly perish forever.
Now this is the Catholic Faith: that we worship one
God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity;
Neither confusing the Persons nor distinguishing the
I won't read the entire Creed to
you, but he goes on to say that while the Persons of the Trinity are
distinct, they are all equally God. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are
distinct Persons, but they are all equally glorious, majestic, uncreated,
infinite, eternal, and almighty. There are not three gods, but rather one
God in three Divine Persons.
Athanasius explains the relationship
between the Persons. It is very important to understand that in considering
these Persons there is no “before” and no “after.” Indeed, there was no
such thing as “time” until the triune God created the universe, for “time”
is meaningless without the three dimensions of the material universe.
Athanasius and other Fathers of the
early Church do, however, speak of the generation of the Second and Third
Persons by the First:
The Father was made by no one, being neither created
The Son is from the Father alone, though not created
or made, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son, though
neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
What is it that Athanasius means by
“begetting” and “proceeding”? Saint Augustine proposes that the Father
knows Himself from all eternity, with a knowledge so powerful and real that
He begets the Second Person, sometimes identified as the Λόγος or the Word
of God. The Word or the Second Person is essentially the Father's knowledge
of Himself—so powerful is this knowledge that it assumes a reality of its
own, begotten within the one substance of God.
And then, according to Augustine,
the Father and the Son, love each other with a love that is so powerful and
real that the third Person, the Holy Ghost proceeds from them, possessing
Himself the same divine substance as the other Two. All three Persons are
equally God, and since all of this took place before the creation of space
and time, there is no question of “before” or “after.”
After setting forth the Catholic
teaching on the Trinity, Saint Athanasius continues:
This is what everyone who wishes to be saved must
hold regarding the Blessed Trinity.
But for his eternal salvation, he must also believe
according to the true Faith in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus
Athanasius explains that Jesus
Christ is true God and true man:
Begotten of the substance of the Father before the
world began; born in the world of the substance of His Mother.
Equal to the Father in divinity; less than the Father
with respect to His humanity.
And, although He is God and man, still He is only one
Christ, not two.
One, not by any turning of the divinity into flesh,
but by the taking up of humanity into God.
Athanasius has a few words about our Lord's death,
resurrection, and ascension, as well as the resurrection of all men in time
for the general judgment. He ends as politically incorrect as he began:
Those who have done good shall go into eternal life,
while those who have done evil shall go into eternal fire.
This is the Catholic Faith, and anyone who does not
believe it fully and firmly cannot be saved.