The Blessed Trinity – Understanding by Analogy and Consequence   “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”

Newspapers in California carried a story not too long ago about a State Highway Patrol officer who received a call to rush to a nearby bridge. A distraught woman was about to jump off the bridge, more than four hundred feet above the floor of a deep gorge. The situation was more than the officer bargained for—the officer herself suffered from an extreme fear of heights. Even though it made no sense, in her own mind to approach the would-be jumper, the officer nevertheless, managed to put aside her own fears and calmly eased herself out onto the railing where the would-be jumper was perched. There, high above the rocky gorge, the two women talked for two hours, the officer offering her hope and assurance while quietly struggling with her own panic. Finally, the desperate woman agreed to come away from the railing and get help.

Today, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity. Often, Christians are criticized in believing in such things which they cannot explain or understand. But trying to understand the three divine persons in one God is like a child trying to fit the entire ocean into a small hole in the sand on the beach with a pail and shovel, as St. Augustine once found out. In other words, even if Jesus Christ came down at this moment and explained the teaching of the Blessed Trinity to us, even though His Word is perfect and true, our intellects are not, and we would not even begin to understand what Christ would be telling us. But we creatures can describe some of the attributes of the Blessed Trinity by use of analogy to help us at least, grasp the concept of a Trinitarian God. For instance, the greatest attribute of the Blessed Trinity is its unity. Conversely, disunity or division is what offends God the most, especially in the Church and in the family—the domestic church.

Another way of describing the Blessed Trinity would be to say that in the Father resides unity, in the Son resides equality, and in the Holy Ghost resides the perfect union of that unity and equality. These three qualities are all one because of the Father, all equal because of the Son, and all united because of the Holy Ghost.

Still another way of describing the Blessed Trinity would be to say that the Father dwells in our soul by faith, and Christ dwells in our soul by His Spirit, and the Holy Spirit dwells in our soul by His purities. So then, we can be called cabinets or temples of the mysterious Trinity. But this description is, of course, as understated as earth is to heaven itself, as infancy is short of adulthood, and as individual letters are lacking in comparison to sentences.

But we can still think of the Father as a spring of life, begetting the Son like a river, and the Holy Ghost like a sea, for the spring and the river and the sea are all one nature. We can also think of the Father as a root, of the Son as a branch, and of the Holy Spirit as a fruit, for the substance in these three, is one and the same. And again, we can think of the Father as the shining sun in the sky, with the Son as its rays and the Holy Ghost as its heat.

Unfortunately, the Blessed Trinity transcends by far, every analogy and example we can think of. So when you hear of the offspring of the Father, do not think of an earthly offspring. And when you hear that there is a Word, do not suppose Him to be an earthly word. And when you hear of the Holy Spirit of God, do not think of nature’s wind and breathe. Rather, hold your arguments with a simple faith alone. For the concept of the Creator is arrived at, only by analogy by His creatures.

So, another way we can approach any criticism and opposition we may face about understanding the Blessed Trinity is by way of consequence. In our first reading for today from Exodus, the Church seems to find a hint of God’s being a Trinity, for God, having come down from a cloud, repeats his name three times: “Lord, Lord, Lord.” Now a modern biblical scholar may suggest we’re stretching things a bit to find the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of subsequent Christian tradition in so thoroughly Hebrew a book as Exodus. And I’m willing to concede this point. But the threefold repetition of God’s name in today’s passage does serve as a catalyst for another analogy. Why does the number three pop up so often in the Bible? And what are the consequences of this number three?

For example, Noah, after sailing around in his ark, sends out a bird three times to see if the waters have subsided—and on the third try the bird brings back evidence of land. Again, three is the number of Noah’s sons from whom the three branches of the human race known to the Hebrew author descended. Three is also the number of the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. And three is the number of the angels who come to inform Abraham that his aged wife Sarah will have a son called “Laughter.”

Moving further into biblical history, we meet the hero Gideon who is told to reduce his huge army to a mere three hundred men (a multiple of three) before he can put the invading Midianites to flight. Then there’s the story of the boy Samuel, whom God calls in the night three times before he recognizes the voice and is anointed God’s prophet. Elijah’s history is not without some threes as well, as when he throws water three times upon the altar of sacrifice before calling down fire from heaven to impress the prophets of Baal. And as when he stretched himself three times on the body of a widow’s dead son and on the third try brought him back to life.

And there’s more! How many days was Jonah in the belly of the whale? Three! And how many were the young men thrown into the fiery furnace by wicked King Nebuchadnezzar? Three – who remained unharmed while they sang away in the company of a celestial companion?

Carrying over into the New Testament we meet the Magi, whom the medieval Church assumed to be three in number and viewed them as representing the three phases of life: youth, middle age, and old age. And do you recall how it was “on the third day” that Jesus performed his first miracle at Cana, and how after hanging three hours on the cross, it was “on the third day” that he rose from the dead? And do you remember how, when he ascended Mount Tabor, he took with him three disciples (the same three he took with him into the Garden of Gethsemane) and how Peter, seeing Jesus flanked by Elijah and Moses, wanted to put up three tabernacles there?

It was this same Peter who denied Jesus three times and was then put to the test after the Resurrection when Jesus asked him three times: “Do you love me?”  Nor is Saint Paul without a tendency to arrange things in threes, as when, at the end of his wonderful poem on love, he says, “And so there remain these three: faith, hope and love.” This finally brings me back to that other threesome whose feast we celebrate today—of whom Jesus says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

So, what can we make of all these biblical threes? One could speculate for hours and still be unsure. But one thing does stand out. In practically all the biblical episodes in which the number three occurs, something wonderful happens. Noah finds land; Abraham and Sarah have a son. A widow’s child is restored to life. A transfiguration takes place. Water is changed into wine. Jonah is regurgitated by a whale. Jesus rises from his tomb. Three young men survive a fiery furnace. And Peter learns how to say, “I love you.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it remains impossible for us to understand the Blessed Trinity, and although we can describe IT by analogy, it is more important to know why and how the Blessed Trinity reveals Himself to us. In my opening story the brave officer put herself in the very same place and the very same danger as the woman who was about to jump. And by consequence, that is what the Blessed Trinity has done in the person of Jesus Christ. In his great love for us, not only does the Blessed Trinity – all three divine persons at the same time, create, redeem and sanctify us, and not only does he reveal Himself to us, become one of us, and then remain with us forever, but the Blessed Trinity puts Himself in our place, taking on our struggles and pains, our hurts and catastrophes. God is not the detached supreme force of the cosmos, but the Father of a creation He loves deeply. God does not abandon His created to our own devices, but constantly calls us back to Himself to the point of becoming one of us in order to make us, one day, like Him. God has not removed Himself from the world He put into motion, as the Deists believe, but He continues to “breathe” new life and energy into creation through His Holy Spirit alive and dwelling in our midst, and especially in the actions of the sacraments.

So when someone ridicules you, or questions your belief in the Blessed Trinity, all you have to do is respond by pointing in faith to the crucifix, to the tabernacle, and to the confessional, and say, “Do not try to understand in order to believe, rather, believe in order to understand.”

Because God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life!

Mary, Our Lady of the Most Blessed Trinity, pray for us!


Fr. Jim

One thought on “The Blessed Trinity – Understanding by Analogy and Consequence

  1. This was a wonderful uplifting and informative piece on The Holy Trinity. This was always a difficult concept to teach to my first grade classes. I feel I have a clearer concept now.

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