Circles and Triangles and Lava and Ice, Oh My

Today is Trinity Sunday, when the Church celebrates one of its greatest mysteries. We affirm our belief in the mystery of the Trinity every time we recite the Nicene Creed. The mysteries of the Church are supernatural truths. These are realities that we know to be true, and we accept the fact that we cannot fully define them because they are above and beyond our human nature. We simply don’t have the words.

Now, we need words for definitions, but they are not so important for contemplation. Trinity Sunday is a day for us to ponder the infinite, eternal, triune God. All the mysteries of the Church, including the mystery of the Trinity, are invitations to contemplation. And a good place to begin contemplation of a mystery like the Trinity is the writings of the Church Fathers.

St. Athanasius was a deacon at the Council of Nicea in 325, where the Church met to respond to the heretical claim that Jesus was not truly the same as God the Father. Athanasius later became Bishop of Alexandria, and he spent the rest of his life defending the truth of the Holy Trinity.

Athanasius was firm on the “oneness” of God. In the Athanasian Creed it says, “the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.”

God the Father is God, God the Son is God, God the Holy Spirit is God. The three persons are all of the same substance. If you are tempted to think of the Trinity as an equilateral triangle, imagine the triangle as being a triangle that is also a circle at the same time because you cannot tell one of the three faces of the triangle from the other two because they are all one thing.

If you having some difficulty picturing a triangle that is a circle without losing its basic triangle-ness, then you are beginning to contemplate a mystery.

The Athanasian Creed is equally firm on the “three-ness” of God, for it says, “there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.” Now, when I add one (for the Father) and another (for the Son) and another (for the Holy Spirit), I get a total of Three. Which is probably why the next line in the Creed is this: “But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.”

So there is one God, and there are three persons.

The three persons are not separate but they are distinct in relation to each other.

We teach that the Son – the Word of God – is begotten of the Father. The Word proceeds from the Father while at the same time remaining in the Father. We say in the Nicene Creed, “Light from light.” When we light a candle from another candle, the light of the first candle is not lessened by the light of the second candle. But the father and the son are not two separate beings, as two candles are two beings. This begetting occurs within the inner life of the one God.

We teach that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and the infinite love between them is the breath of God, the Holy Spirit and the third person of the one God.

I mentioned the image of the light from candles, and there are other natural things used in the scripture to help us approach the mystery of the Trinity. At the baptism of the Lord, the voice of the Father comes from the heavens and the spirit of God descends like a dove. Thus we see that the fullness of the Godhead is with us whenever we sense the presence of any person of the Trinity.

There are also some natural phenomena that might help us approach these truths of the faith that are just too big for us to comprehend fully. When we see an iceberg floating in the sea, we know but cannot fully comprehend how much ice is below the surface. When we see pictures of the lava flows on the big island of Hawaii, can we really comprehend in our minds how hot it has to be to set rock on fire? We’ve all seen ice, and we’ve all seen fire, but arctic icebergs and volcanic lava serve as reminders we don’t really know the fullness of ice and fire.

What are we to do in our daily lives with a mystery like the Holy Trinity? How does it apply to us?

First, this Triune God loves us and called us to be his sons and daughters. St. Paul reminds the Roman Christians that if we are led by the Spirit of God, we receive a spirit of adoption and intimacy so we can call God the Father, “Abba” just as a young child today calls his father, “Daddy.” Our God loves us so much he became Man – the Word was made flesh – and died on the Cross for us. Our God loves us so much the breath of God is here as a Holy Comforter and Advocate to protect the Church from the assaults of the Devil. We are loved by our God, more than we can possibly imagine. And our prayers should include contemplating that love.

Second, this Triune God wants us to share his love for us with our neighbors. On the mountain in Galilee, Jesus sends out his Apostles. He tells them to “make disciples of all nations.” Our job is to share the Good News. How should we share that Good News, how do we make disciples? Probably not by trying to explain the mystery of the Trinity. All we have to do is to live a holy life, one marked by the fruits of the Holy Spirit. If we are joyful people, if we are peaceful people, if we are kind people, if we are gentle people, and if we are people of self-control, others will want whatever it is that makes us joyful, peaceful, kind, and gentle. You or I may be the first book of the Bible some other person reads. Let’s make sure they want to read the rest of the Bible.

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