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THE TRINITY AND UNITY

Read­ing Time: 11 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Prov 8:22–31; Rom 5:1–5; John 16:12–15) ‎

It is com­monly said that the Trin­ity is a mys­tery. And it cer­tainly is…. But it is not a mys­tery veiled in dark­ness in which we can only grope and guess. It is a mys­tery in which we are giv­en to under­stand that we will nev­er know all there is of God…. It is not a mys­tery that keeps us in the dark, but a mys­tery in which we are taken by the hand and gradu­ally led into the light.”[1]

Introduction

Accord­ing to the litur­gic­al arrange­ment of the Cath­ol­ic Church, the cel­eb­ra­tion of the des­cent of the Holy Spir­it last Sunday marked the end of the Paschal peri­od and the begin­ning of the “Ordin­ary Time.” How­ever, the two Sundays after the Sunday of the Holy Spir­it are des­ig­nated as solem­nit­ies. Solem­nit­ies because they are spe­cial Sundays that call our atten­tion to cent­ral mys­ter­ies of the Cath­ol­ic faith. The Solem­nity of the Most Holy Trin­ity. This feast invites us to con­sider what we believe about God, who has revealed Him­self to us in the Trin­ity – one God in three persons.

There­fore, it is very logic­al that on this Sunday of the Most Holy Trin­ity, the apostles and all believ­ers receive the man­date to pro­claim the Good News to every angle of the uni­verse. The arrival of Jesus in Galilee (Matt 4:12) launched his mis­sion to Israel while the arrival of the dis­ciples in Galilee (Matt 28:16) launched evan­gel­iz­a­tion of the Gen­tiles. With and through his resur­rec­tion, Jesus breaks every racial-geo­graph­ic­al bar­ri­er (cf. Matt 15:24). The feast of the Most Holy Trin­ity is not an occa­sion to indulge in aca­dem­ic and abstract dis­cus­sions on trin­it­o­logy and the essence of the trin­ity. On the con­trary, it is an oppor­tun­ity for Chris­ti­ans to reflect on the com­mu­nion between God the Fath­er, God the Son, and God the Holy Spir­it. Such fel­low­ship should also reflect in our inter­ac­tions with one another.

The Dogma of the Trinity

The Trin­ity is the term employed to sig­ni­fy the cent­ral doc­trine of the Chris­ti­an reli­gion – the truth that in the unity of the God­head there are Three Per­sons, the Fath­er, the Son, and the Holy Spir­it, these Three Per­sons being truly dis­tinct one from anoth­er. Thus, in the words of the Ath­anas­i­an Creed: “the Fath­er is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spir­it is God, and yet there are not three God but one God.” In this Trin­ity of Per­sons the Son is begot­ten of the Fath­er by an etern­al gen­er­a­tion, and the Holy Spir­it pro­ceeds by an etern­al pro­ces­sion from the Fath­er and the Son. Yet, not­with­stand­ing this dif­fer­ence as to ori­gin, the Per­sons are co-etern­al and co-equal: all alike are uncre­ated and omni­po­tent. This, the Church teaches, is the rev­el­a­tion regard­ing God’s nature which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to deliv­er to the world: and which she pro­poses to man as the found­a­tion of her whole dog­mat­ic sys­tem. The Trin­ity Sunday is the first Sunday after Pente­cost, insti­tuted to hon­our the Most Holy Trin­ity. In the early Church, no spe­cial Office or day was assigned for the Holy Trin­ity. When the Arian Heresy was spread­ing, the Fath­ers of the Church pre­pared an Office with canticles, responses, a Pre­face, and hymns, to be recited on Sundays. John XXII (1316−1334) ordered the feast for the entire Church on the first Sunday after Pente­cost (From the Cath­ol­ic Encyclopaedia).

I have inser­ted the above lines to refresh our memor­ies on the dogma of the Trin­ity. As indic­ated above, since the cel­eb­ra­tion of the gift of the Holy Spir­it last Sunday marked the end of the Paschal peri­od. There­fore, it is very logic­al that on this Sunday of the Holy Trin­ity, the apostles and all believ­ers receive the assur­ance of the ever-pres­ence of God the Fath­er, God the Son, and God the Holy Spir­it in pro­claim­ing and liv­ing the Gos­pel mes­sage, and in their jour­ney to the king­dom of God.

The Trinitarian interrogations

How does one recon­cile the “One God” of the Hebrew (Old) Test­a­ment with the “Three Per­sons” of the Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment? The Sh’ma of Deu­ter­o­nomy 6:4–5 is purely mono­the­ist­ic. That is, it clearly emphas­izes the sin­gu­lar­ity of God, which is also re-con­firmed and re-affirmed in the com­mand­ments (cf. Exod 20:3). This not­with­stand­ing, the Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment clearly pro­claims a Three-Per­son God­head (cf. Matt 28:19; 2Cor 13:13; John chapters 14–17). How does one deal with the ostens­ible ten­sions between the Hebrew (Old) and Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment rev­el­a­tions of the ulti­mate mys­tery of the God­head? The doc­trine of the trin­ity has been at the heart of much theo­lo­gic­al con­tro­versy. The routine objec­tion is that the doc­trine sac­ri­fices mono­the­ism to tri­the­ism. But this objec­tion thrives on mis­con­cep­tions of divine per­son­al­ity in the image of dis­par­ate, indi­vidu­al, human selves. Ration­al­ist­ic apo­lo­get­ics, pro­mot­ive of trin­it­ari­an­ism on spec­u­lat­ive rather than rev­el­a­tion­al grounds, regret­tably encour­age these mis­un­der­stand­ings. Many also resort to con­veni­ent mod­els to skirt (avoid) these prob­lems, and these, too, mis­lead rather than cla­ri­fy. Such con­veni­ent mod­els include three tones blend­ing into one chord; a single ray of light of three primary col­ours; water in the forms of ice, liquid, or steam. To be noted is that each of these mod­els are clumsy illus­tra­tions, inad­equate to com­mu­nic­ate aspects of an infin­ite God to finite human mind. How should we deal with this chal­len­ging issue? By con­fin­ing ourselves to what God, in His sov­er­eignty, has revealed to us of Him­self in His Word.

The Trinity in the Hebrew (Old) Testament

Is there any sign or men­tion of the trin­ity in the Hebrew (Old) Cov­en­ant? There is no absurdity involved when it is con­ten­ded that plur­al­ity can (and does) coex­ist with unity. For instance, the bond of mar­it­al uni­on – Adam and Eve becom­ing one flesh, 1+1=1 (cf. Gen 2:24). Begin­ning from Gen­es­is 1:1, Elo­him is a plur­al noun used with sin­gu­lar verbs. This plur­al­ity even shows up in the Eng­lish trans­la­tions in the fol­low­ing pas­sages: Gen 1:26; 3:22; and 11:7 (cf. also Eccle­si­ast­es 12: and Isa 54:5 with source texts also in the plur­al). Again, in the fam­ous vis­ion of the throne of God in Isai­ah 6, we have the scene in the holy place of the holy ones, cel­eb­rated by the ser­aph­im with veiled faces before them chant­ing Holy, Holy, Holy. The same triple declar­a­tion of Holy is also found in Rev­el­a­tion 4:8. Fur­ther­more, in Isai­ah 6:8 we also find this plur­al “Who shall go for us?” Are there instances of the doc­trine of the trin­ity in the Hebrew (Old) Test­a­ment? Let us reflect on the fol­low­ing points:

The Lord of hosts

The Hebrew (Old) Test­a­ment con­tains more than 240 occur­rences of the phrase ’āḏōnāy ṣeḇā’ȏṯ – Lord of hosts. Who is this Lord of hosts? In Isai­ah 54:5, we read “for your Maker is your hus­band, the Lord of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeem­er, the God of the whole earth he shall be called.” All sources acknow­ledge the applic­a­tion of ’āḏōnāy ṣeḇā’ȏṯ to God the Fath­er. But in John 12:41, John attrib­utes the expres­sion to Jesus. Again, in Acts 28:25, Paul attrib­utes it to the Holy Spir­it. What does this imply? It implies that all three per­sons are included.

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