The Adoration of the Trinity, 1511
[Ordinary of the Mass]
therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you;
and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the
This statement of our Lord's, in
which He identifies each of the Persons of the Trinity by name, is a
good example of the divine revelation of a “mystery.” And that word—
“mystery”—is a very important one in our Catholic Faith. So important
that we should take a few moments to ensure that we understand the
concept of what it means for something to be a “mystery of the Faith.”
We know, first of all that there
are some things about Almighty God that we can know through our own
natural human reason. We can know the existence of God. We can know
the essentials of the moral law. We can know something about our
relationship to our Creator. All of these can be known through human
reason. You don't have to be a Catholic to know them; not even a
Christian or a Jew. In fact, they were knowable by people even before
Judaism or Christianity existed. It is simply the usual conclusion of
thinking people that the universe had to be caused by some great power;
that men cannot run around stealing, and killing, and lying, and
stealing each other's wives; that the Creator who put so much effort
into fashioning us and our universe must care for us. Again, these
things are known through natural human reason.
There are, however, some things
that we could never know through natural reason. This is primarily
because they don't exert a direct influence on our senses and on the
things of the world. We can see motion and causality and order in
nature, and these things suggest the existence of an intelligent
God—but, for some divine things, there is no external evidence that we
can perceive. The Immaculate Conception of our Lady, or the Virginal
Conception of our Lord, for example, took place under circumstances
which were hidden from view and detection. We would have no way of
knowing that they took place unless we were told by God that they did.
So, one important element of a
mystery of the Faith, is that we would have no way of knowing it without
God's telling us about it—the process that we usually call “divine
But once we know about the
mystery, it may be possible for us to understand it completely, by the
use, again, of our natural reason. The Immaculate Conception seems to
be a good example. Once we know that it took place, it is relatively
easy for us to accept the idea that God create Mary without any stain of
original sin. That is no harder for us to understand than to understand
that Adam and Eve were created without original sin. It is relatively
understandable, but not obvious without the initial revelation.
There are also mysteries that
are not quite so comprehensible. Even after we know them, we have
trouble understanding exactly how they might be. The Virginal
Conception of Christ is probably a good example. Even after we are told
that Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, without a human father, we
are not exactly sure how such a thing could be.
Today's Mass celebrates the
Blessed Trinity, which is probably the greatest mystery of the Faith of
which we are aware. It is not detectable by any sort of natural
evidence—and even when we know of the Trinity, we are at a loss to
provide truly convincing and compelling explanations of It. Theologians
often talk about God the Father knowing Himself with an intellect so
powerful that His thought brings about the reality of His Son—and of the
mutual love of Father and Son, which is so powerful as to constitute the
third Person, the Holy Ghost.
Such explanations are okay, as
far as they go. But they are pretty much a conjecture—just a guess as
to how such a thing could be. And even if they are valid, they usually
have all sorts of loose ends. Only poorly do they explain how the
perfect Unity of God could appear to be divided, or why there
seems to be a creation of the Son and the Holy Ghost by the
Father (or by the Father and Son in the second case), when in fact all
three Persons existed from all eternity—even before space and time came
This is why we say that the
mysteries of the Faith have to be accepted on faith. Not that they are
impossible, or illogical -- for the impossible is just simply that:
impossible—and it would be a contradiction of God's nature for Him to
create something illogical. They must be accepted on faith because that
is the only way we will ever get to know any of them, and the only way
we can explain most of them.
Of course, even with things that
can be known about God through natural reason, we know that many people
simply don't bother to reason. God knows that many people don't
think—even though they are capable of doing so. And, certainly God
still loves them, and wants to be known by them. So, as part of His
overall work of redemption, He has established His Church, and through
It, He has revealed all of the things that are necessary for us to
know—and, perhaps, a few more beside.
Now, sometimes the Church is
criticized for being “dogmatic,” for telling us what we are to believe.
People very often don't like to be told. But that is the Church's major
function; Its reason for existence.
In the Divine Office today, the
Breviary, priests, and others who recite it, will read a rather lengthy
statement of beliefs about the Trinity, known as the Athanasian Creed.
It was composed in the fourth or fifth century, and sets out the
Church’s teaching on the three Persons in God and the two natures in
Christ. It begins with a statement that many modern people, even a few
Catholics, might consider outrageous:
Whoever wishes to be saved must, before all else, hold to
the Catholic Faith.
He must preserve this Faith whole and untarnished;
otherwise he shall most certainly perish forever.
But it is not really outrageous,
when we realize that this Faith is being given to us by the Author of
Salvation Himself. Most of us would consider it foolish or even
dangerous to refuse a map or the services of guide if we were taking a
trip through the jungle. We wouldn't dream of taking apart our new
automobile if we lacked the knowledge or the diagrams that would enable
us to put it back together. We would probably consider it criminal if
someone were to practice surgery -- doing amputations or
whatever—without going to medical school. We simply don't get into such
things without having some sort of means to control the
outcome—certainly, not if we can help it!
Our salvation is the same, only
more so. The outcome is infinitely more important; we are not talking
about a spoiled trip, or the price of a new car, or even an arm or a
leg; we are talking about eternity. And we do have the means to control
So, as we celebrate this Trinity
Sunday, we should first of all be conscious of the great generosity and
hospitality of Almighty God. He has taken us into His home, so to
speak, and given us a very privileged look at His own inner family life;
we should think of it as being personally introduced to the most
important royal family in the universe.
We should also be conscious of
the fact that He has given us the means to salvation. He has revealed
everything that is necessary for our salvation; even for those of us who
can't think too clearly, or don't think at all.
Both of these are acts of Love,
and we ought to respond to them as such. Our attitude should be one of
thanksgiving for so great a gift, of compliance with what God has
revealed, of interest to know as much as we can know in our mortal
state. But, above all, we should return the Love of the God who has
revealed Himself to us as Trinity in Unity, and who has given us the
road map to our eternal salvation.
And let us not forget that He
told us: “If you love Me, keep My Commandments.”