First Reading: Pro 8:22-31; Psalm: 8 R. v. 2a; Second Reading: Rom 5:1-5; Gospel: Jn 16:12-15
REALISING OUR TRUE INDENTITY IN THE TRINITY
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Among all Sundays in the Church’s liturgical calendar, today is the only day that the Church ventures to reflect solely on the mystery whereupon her faith is centred. It is a venture for the reason that we dare to reflect on what is beyond our grasp. What we cannot completely comprehend yet have to believe. I am talking about the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Reflecting on this mystery is a daring exercise, in view of the fact that in attempting to talk about God, we might end up falling short in our explanation which of course does not completely exhaust who God is. So by way of introduction, it is apt that we first admit our inadequacies in trying to sufficiently explain who God is. Secondly, since God has no lexicon, register or terminology accessible to mere mortals to perfectly describe his nature as God without error, we therefore dare to use anthropological terms, terms applicable to you and me to reflect on the person of God.
Saint Augustine was one of the saints who in his in-depth search to understanding the Trinity encountered a boy angel who told him that his little brain was too small to contain the knowledge of the Trinity. We know the rest of the story. When St Augustine concluded his search, he came to this conclusion: “This Trinity is indivisible, and the three persons of it are one substance, and that there are not three Gods but one God; and this they so know that it is better understood by them than we are by ourselves” (Augustine: The City of God Book 11, chapter 29). From the concluding statement in this excerpt drawn from St Augustine’s ‘City of God’, we can see Augustine’s admittance of a limited knowledge of the Trinity. Notwithstanding, we shall from this excerpt reflect on the following highlighted words: “Substance”, “Person”, and “Indivisibility”.
What is Substance? Firstly, substance is an invisible reality. Secondly, it exists eternally on its own and depends on no other thing for its existence. Thirdly, it is the basic foundation of all things. A very simple but insufficient example of substance is the reality ‘Humanity’. We cannot see or touch it as an entity. But we know that ‘humanity’ exists and that it is the conglomeration of distinct human beings on earth that we can see and touch. But ‘humanity’ as an entity is not something tangible. ‘Humanity’ therefore can be seen as a unifying substance for the numerous distinct human persons on the earth planet. So this understanding of the singularity of substance can be adopted to explain the monotheistic nature of the Trinity.
What do we mean by Person? Every human being is a person but human beings are not the same. This shows our distinctiveness or individuality. I am not you, and you are not me. So when we talk of the three persons in one substance, we mean that the Father is not the Son, and that the Son is not the Father, neither is the Father nor the Son, the Spirit; and that the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. But all three persons exist as one substance.
By indivisibility, we mean that we do not have three Gods. Although there are three divine Persons, but of One divine nature. ‘This means that the divine Persons are inseparable in what they do. But within the single divine operation each shows forth what is proper to him in the Trinity, especially in the divine missions of the Son’s incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (CCC 267). This might sound confusing because in creation we see the work of the Father. On the cross we see the work of the Son. And at Pentecost, the work of the Holy Spirit was very expressive. But we cannot divide their unity with these instances because in the operation of each, is the work of the three.
Summarily, the Trinity is One because though they are three Persons but of one substance, essence, or nature. The divine Persons do not share this one divine nature among themselves for that would mean three Gods. But each of them is God in one divine nature. Now, we must be very careful here. We should not fall into the error of conceiving each of these divine Persons as existing independently in a solitary sense but in one nature. Their existence is one. The distinction in them is in their relationship which relates them to one another. It is in view of their relations that they are called three persons but their nature as One is unchanging.
Ok. Enough of these abstractions. Enough of talking about God as though He is disconnected from concrete life situations. Human life is a product of a relationship. Ordinarily, every relationship involves two or more persons who though are united by one single course but continually perpetuate their individuality or distinctiveness. The uniqueness of each individual in a relationship is felt regardless of what binds them together. When a man and woman are joined together in marriage, they are considered one and not two because of the single reality ‘Love’ that binds them together. And God is Love (1Jn 4:16). In the relationship of each couple, we see two distinct persons expressing their individuality but in essence are one. So this understanding of love binding two or more persons together can help us better understand the mystery of the Trinity. But we must still admit that this is an imperfect example. We should also take note that the singular action of God in the Trinitarian command “Let us make man in our own image and likeness” (Gen 1:26), continues in the procreative activity of conjugal love.
Can we now see that our existence stems from the relational activity of the Trinity? Man was created by the divine Trinitarian expression “Let us.” And as creatures of the God who is relational in character, man continues this procreative activity of God through marital fecundity. So, every human person is a product of relational activity. And this intrinsically makes us a relational being.
Jesus’ reference to the Father and the Spirit of truth in the gospel resonates the relational character of the Trinity. And his declaration that the Spirit will speak not of his own but only whatever he hears goes without saying the indivisibility in the Trinitarian relationship. Jesus fully expressed his relational character as God in the manner in which he preached the gospel. He was not a loner but a sociable person. By this, he further accentuated that inherent sociable trait in man, inviting us to do the same. ‘Nemo dat quod non habet’ (you cannot give what you don’t have). Conversely, you can only give what you have. In God, we have received that relational character to live together as one.
Our uniqueness or differences is what create the attractive drive to relationship. If we were all created as one gender, with the same facial appearance, height, skin pigmentation, genetic makeup and behavioural trait, attraction or relationship becomes impossible. God created us differently to sustain our relational character and to enrich the world with our distinctive personalities and ideas. So when we isolate ourselves from communal responsibilities or cut off ourselves completely from relating with people, we are not fully living out our personhood. When we boycott our civic responsibilities like exercising our franchise and being law abiding, we are not fulfilling our telos as God’s creatures. It is through our constructive cooperation and relationship that we can improve our world that God created and found it very good.
It is the goal of the Trinity also that genuine love should unite every family. In fact, the sacramental union of man and woman in marriage implies they are ready to promote in their family the love in the Trinity. So when a parent fails to promote and enhance genuine love in the family, this means defiance to the ultimate plan of God. Wherever we find ourselves, be it in school, workplace, family or Church, we should animate that relational character of the Trinity in us by relating with one another in love. It is in doing this that we can fully realise our identity and make God present and alive in our world.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Most Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, deepen our faith in you and help us realise our true identity revealed in the mystery of your one Godhead. Amen.