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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Gospel Reflection for June 4, 2023 - John 3:16-18
For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.
For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him.
He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18 DRA)
In this Gospel reflection for the great Feast of the Holy Trinity, the central mystery of the Christian faith, I would like to list and explore a few intriguing facts about the Trinity and the Church's teaching on Him. Although made explicit through the revelation of Christ in the Gospel, the term and doctrine of the Trinity occupied the early centuries of the Church, alongside the nature of the Incarnation of Christ, both of which were frequently challenged by heretics such as Arius. Today, the Church enjoys twenty centuries of beautiful theological meditation on the Trinity, and I would like to share a few points which I found particularly fascinating in my own studies.
1. The Trinity is hierarchical.
While the Persons of the Trinity are equally and fully divine as one God, there exists a kind of priority or primacy in eternal origin within the Trinity. The Father, who is "the principle without principle" according to the Council of Florence, is the source and origin of the Trinity - not in time, since there is no change in God, but eternally within the divine life of the Trinity. The Son and Holy Ghost are distinguished not by essence but by origin within the Trinity: "It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds." (Fourth Lateran Council)
2. The Trinity is one.
God is not a divine essence that is merely “shared” by three Persons. Rather, each Person is wholly and consubstantially God: "The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e., by nature one God." (Council of Toledo XI) The Persons are distinguished by opposition, by what attributes, according to their origins, differentiate them from one another within the one divine essence; beyond this, "everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship." "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three principles of creation but one principle." (Council of Florence) As St. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, "Divinity without superior degree that raises up or inferior degree that casts down… the infinite co-naturality of three infinities. Each person considered in himself is entirely God." The Son is the Word, the exact image of God; the Spirit is the love of God between the Father and the Son; each procession is distinct but, within God, is wholly God, not more or less so, thus constituting one Holy Trinity.
3. The Trinity is missionary.
God is not static, despite the image which His eternity and simplicity may give us. He is pure actuality, the active perfection of "to be," ipsum esse subsistens, I AM. As such, the divine Persons are not idle; with their eternal interrelationships of origination and procession, with the Father begetting the Son and the Spirit proceeding through spiration from the Father through the Son, the Father also sends His Son and Spirit on missions of love. From all eternity, God wills to share in the participation of His divine life through charitable gratuity and infinite generosity to others. This is the final end of all Creation, as the self-reflecting sacramental artistry of God's handiwork, and the goal of the divine missions. It is through these divine missions that God progressively revealed Himself as Trinity, culminating in the New Testament: "It is above all the divine missions of the Son's Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit that show forth the properties of the divine persons." These missions constitute the doctrine of the divine economy: "The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God's creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 258, 260)
The mystery of the Trinity is infinite as God is infinite and is the greatest joy of man's desiring and contemplation. May this feast day remind us of the familial, loving nature of God and of the ineffable gift of His revelation which we receive through the Church, the heart of all evangelization and the hope of all striving.