Explaining the Trinity

November 29, 2012

Francis: Dad, what is this doctrine of the trinity? How is it that God is one but three persons? So do we have one God or three gods?

Daddy: Wow, you have so many questions! Maybe we should answer it one by one.

Francis: Ok, well I have a friend who is a Jehovah Witness and he asked me these things. I told him that it is a mystery of God, so I can’t explain it. Do we have to understand this trinity or can we just brush it off? It seems to me that it is for the theologian to explain it and not us ordinary people.

Daddy: It is true that it is a mystery. God is always bigger than us and we won’t be able to comprehend him completely. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t understand it or should not explain it to other people.

Francis: But like you said, God is bigger, how can we understand it?

Daddy: Maybe because God chose to reveal it to us? On our own effort, it might not be possible to comprehend it. But because God reveals it to us, then he helps us to understand this mystery though within our many limitations.

Francis: So we can explain the trinity to other people?

Daddy: In a way, yes. But that doesn’t mean that the other people will accept it.

Francis: why not?

Daddy: Because this involves faith. Faith is the light that helps us to understand it. It will be difficult if the person does not have faith in Jesus. St. Augustine said, “I believe in order to understand, and understand the better to believe”. There is this interlink between faith and understanding.

Francis: So, how should I explain the trinity to my friend?

Daddy: We can start with this question: What do you know about God?

Francis: Well, God is love.

Daddy: True. And love is a relationship isn’t it?

Francis: Yes.

Daddy: Don’t you agree, then, that a relationship always involves at least two persons?

Francis: Well, I suppose so. It doesn’t really make sense to have a relationship with self. We have a relationship with other people.

Daddy: If God is love, and love is a relationship, and a relationship must at least involves two persons, then doesn’t it make sense that our God must at least involves two persons?

Francis: ehm. Ok. But I thought the trinity is three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?

Daddy: Yes it is. What we say was that a relationship must at least involves two persons. We did not say it is only two persons. And that is what Jesus reveals to us. God the Father loves the Son eternally and gives himself fully to the Son. And Jesus, the Son, receives that loves and loves the Father back in return eternally, so he gives himself fully to the Father. This love between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son eternally.

Francis: If the Holy Spirit is that love relationship between the Father and the Son, why did we say that the Holy Spirit is a person? A relationship is not a person right? It is just a relationship between persons.

Daddy: Not necessarily. Maybe our ultimate destiny as a person is to be a relationship.

Francis: Ha?

Daddy: Never mind. I will explain it some other time. Well, a simple analogy is this, my love to your mom does indeed expresses itself in another person. That is you! You are the fruit of the love between your dad and your mom. And that love, which is the relationship between two persons, has its own existence. And it is clearly seen in you. You have your own characters and personality. But you are not just the fruit of our love, you also sustain our love.

Francis: Does it mean that the Holy Spirit is the fruit of Father and the Son? Is He created by the Father and the Son?

Daddy: No, no. I think this is where the analogy fails. In our analogy, there was a moment in time when I have not loved your mother yet. Similarly with her. There was time when she did not love me, and only then she loved me. But this is not the case with God. God the Father eternally loves the Son. There has never been a moment when God the Father did not love the Son, and vice versa. Their love is eternal. So the Holy Spirit is eternal.

Francis: So the analogy is not true.

Daddy: The analogy explains it in a certain sense, but every analogy does not explain things exactly. It will fail at some point. That’s why it is called analogy. But in a certain sense, the analogy does help. Maybe in our analogy, the child, which is the fruit of the love between the parents, points more to the Church. Just as the love of the Father and the Son flows out to creation and gives birth to the Church. So it is the love of the parents is the one that gives birth to the child. But it doesn’t mean that the love of the parents does not exist when the child was not born yet. Similarly, it does not mean that the Holy Spirit does not exist when the Church was not born yet.

Francis: Maybe, that’s why on the day of Pentecost, we celebrate the birthday of the Church?

Daddy: Exactly. On the day of the Pentecost. The Spirit is poured out and gives birth to the Church, just as the love of the parents gives life to the child. The church is dead without the Holy Spirit, just as the child is dead without the love and the life that flows from the parents. And that is why in our creed we say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It flows out from the Father and the Son. I think this is an important characteristic of love. Love always flows out.

Francis: Love always flows out?

Daddy: Yes, love always flows out. It is always giving out. The Father gives himself to the Son, and the Son gives himself to the Father. And their love, which is the Holy Spirit, flows out to creation.

Francis: Ok, but then, doesn’t it mean that we have three gods?

Daddy: Nope. Remember you said that God is love?

Francis: Yes.

Daddy: There is only One Love between the Father and the Son. And that one Love is the one that is poured out into creation and gives birth to the Church. There is only one Love. So there is only one God, because God is love.

Francis: But then, does it mean that the Holy Spirit, which is The Love, is the One God? but not the Father and the Son?

Daddy: The love between the Father and the Son does not exist if there is no Father and Son. If I say to your Mom, “Love”. She would be confused and ask me “what do you mean?”. It has meaning only if I say “I love you”. Love does not exist on its own. It exists only with the “I” and the “You”. There is no love if there are no lovers. So the Holy Spirit does not exist if there is no God the Father and God the Son.

Francis: I noticed that there are three words in that one sentence “I love you”.

Daddy: You are right. Three in one, indeed.

Francis: I see. But aren’t we just playing with words?

Daddy: There is nothing wrong with words. Words can have meanings, reasons, and logic. In fact, the bible said, “in the beginning was the Word”.

Francis: But are you sure this is biblical, Dad?

Daddy: Yes, I am sure. What was the first question that I asked you?

Francis: What do you know about God?

Daddy: What was your answer?

Francis: God is love.

Daddy: Right. Google those words, and you will find it in the Bible.

Francis: Ok. But then don’t you think that we as ordinary Christians do not need to know all these? That all these are for the theologians to discuss and debate?

Daddy: Well, I believe we need to know this. Because Jesus told us to Love God above all else. And you can’t love someone whom you do not know. And still, I believe, that the doctrine of the Trinity, reveals to us not just about God, but also about our calling and vocation as human persons.

Francis: What do you mean?

Daddy: Maybe we should discuss it some other time. It’s rather late.

Francis: ok, I will chase you for this.

Daddy: My pleasure.

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Benedict XVI Catecheses in the Year of Faith

November 1, 2012
  1. On a new series in the year of Faith (18th October 2012)
  2. On the nature of faith (24th October 2012)
  3. On the ecclesial nature of faith (31st October 2012)
  4. On the desire for God (8th November 2012)
  5. On the knowledge of God (14th November 2012)
  6. On the splendor of God’s truth (21st November 2012)
  7. On bearing witness to the Christian faith (28th November 2012)
  8. On the beauty of God’s plan of salvation (5th December 2012)
  9. On the unfolding of God self-revelation (12 December 2012)
  10. On the faith of Mary, the virgin mother of God (19th December 2012)
  11. On the identity of Jesus (2nd January 2013)
  12. On the incarnation (9th January 2013)
  13. On Christ as the mediator between God and man (16th January 2013)
  14. On Abraham’s faith (23rd January 2013)
  15. On the Almighty Father (30th January 2013)