FEAST OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY
Father John A. Perricone
Sometimes things are so close, we can’t see them. Take the Holy Trinity, for instance. It so close to everything that constitutes reality that we fail to recognize It. The Holy Trinity surrounds us the way water surrounds a goldfish. The mystery of the Trinity possesses a double immersion in our life. The first is a natural one. The goodness of the Trinity penetrates every corner of the cosmos, everything that is real. St. Thomas elaborates: “Therefore, God is in all things by His power, inasmuch as all things are subject to His power; He is by His presence in all things, as all things are bare and open to His eyes; He is in all things by His essence, inasmuch as He is present to all as their cause of their being.” God so radiates Himself through all creation, that it prompts St. Thomas to teach that man can discover the truth of God’s existence by allowing his reason to roam about creation and recognize Him as the cause of all he surveys.
But the close scrutiny of reason can never disclose the Trinity. That is the exclusive privilege of supernatural Faith, given only by Christ’s grace. Even though a man arrives with certainty at the knowledge of God’s existence, still, the knowledge of the Trinity would be as far from him as the mastery of calculus is from a dog. Mere certitude in God’s existence, while praiseworthy, furnishes scant comfort to man’s deepest yearnings. St. Cardinal Newman’s remarks after studying St. Thomas’ Quinque Viae touches upon this: “The only problem with the argument of God as Unmoved Mover is that it leaves men unmoved.” Only love moves. Herein lay the majestic sweetness of Faith in the Trinity. Moreover, man’s participation in that Trinitarian life through grace. You see, man can marvel at God in His Creation through His actual graces, but man can only become a friend of God through sanctifying grace. We don’t make the Sign of the Cross saying, “In the name of the Creator….”. Though God is Creator, such acknowledgment leaves us strangers to God. Rather, when we pray, “In the Name of the Father…”, we arrive at the intimacy of love. St. Thomas’ treatise on the Trinity, upon which the Church depends for her infallible dogmas, is notoriously complex. To the untrained eye, almost impenetrable. But in in his Commentary on the St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he teaches us in language more accessible:
Thus St. Hilary says that ‘eternity is attributed to the Father; ‘appearance, or beauty, to the Image; and use, or ‘delight’, to the Gift.’ To the Father, Who is the beginning, eternity is attributed; to the Son, Who is called ‘Image’ (cf. Col 1:15), beauty is attributed; to the Holy Spirit, Who is the Gift, use or enjoyment is attributed. Hence our salvation consists in the stability of eternity, in the beauty of the light, and in the enjoyment of delight.
Before unpacking St. Thomas’ rich teaching on the Trinity, Chesterton again is apposite:
…There is nothing in the least liberal or akin to reform in the substitution of pure monotheism for the Trinity. The complex God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma for the intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery of a sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mohammed. The god who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king. The heart of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather around the Trinitarian idea…the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the most inmost chamber of the world. For Western religion has always felt keenly the idea of ‘it is not well for man to be alone.’…So even asceticism becomes brotherly; and the Trappist were sociable even when they were silent…For to us Trinitarians God Himself is a society…This triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; this thing that bewilder the intellect utterly quiets the heart; but out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God…who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone.
The Father is the Origin and Creator, Who brings being from nothing. But He does not dwell in isolated solitude. Not from all time, but from all eternity, He generates His Son, distinct from Himself as Person, but one and equal to Himself as God (cf. Nicene Creed, “…born of the Father, before all ages, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, By Whom all things were made.”) This part of the Mystery is not merely daunting theology, it is the everlasting blueprint of love. Persons pour out themselves to others in the selfless oblation of love, while still retaining the uniqueness of their personhood. When the world loses the force of this dogma, it freezes itself in isolation, communicates only in the language of violence and resorts to the dark arts of manipulation. The eclipse of the Sign of the Cross consigns man to a pantomime of truth, a ‘falsification of the good’, and victim to a spiral of delusions creating an Orwellian world where all the vectors of sanity vanish. Isn’t this the scenario we face today as we watch a seditious and anarchic cult hypnotize tens of thousands of Americans to occupy our streets and terrorize the innocent? It beggars the imagination to see political officials, law enforcement and even Catholic bishops kneeling before Maoist white privileged children, bored with their parents’ gated manorial existence, pleading for atonement. Tiananmen Square seems wholesome compared to this. Black Lives Matter make Huxley’s Lord of the Flies seems like Hansel and Gretel. Only a Hieronymus Bosch could do this hellish landscape justice. Chesterton is prescient here:
The great march of destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is will become a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It will become a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer…
We will be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be those who have seen and yet believed.
Into such chaos the Son executes His work. First, at the moment of creation, He bestows order on the formless reality which His Father creates (cf. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2) The Son is Wisdom, and from that Wisdom cascades the beauty of the cosmos, with its extravagant mysteries and secrets. Science, beware! Be on guard lest hubris confound your noble vocation. Though the cosmos’ layers of divine secrets are yours for the taking, their unfolding by your ever specialized tools will never exhaust their divine depths. So the Angelic Doctor: “For all the might of man’s reason, he will never be able to discover the full nature of even a fly.” Then comes the most sublime work of the Son: His Incarnation and Redemption. It is fitting that the Son be sent by the Father to repair the disorder perpetrated by man’s sin. The Son restores order, Who first designed that order. Typical of God’s infinite generosity, that restoration accomplished by His Incarnation and Redemption, is more stunning than the original order He fashioned. The Offertory of Holy Mass attests to this, when the priest prays, “Deus, qui humanae substantiae digntatem mirabiliter condidisti, et mirabilius reformasti…” (O God, in creating human nature, didst wonderfully dignify it, and still more wonderfully restored it…”).
In the womb of the Trinity the eternal love of the Father and the Son ‘spirates’ the person of the Holy Spirit. The word, ’spirates’, is a technical theological term chosen by the Church to stress movement, activity, life and dynamism. (from the Latin, spiro-to breathe). Just as our breath is the sign of life in a body, so in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the pulsating dynamism of the overflowing love of Father and Son; Their very ‘breath’. When Our Lord repeatedly promises to send the Paraclete, He is assuring us a share in this Divine power of love, without which our souls would remain inert. The work of the Holy Spirit can be compared to a musician looking at the music for a Bach concerto. The perfection of Bach lies clearly in the musical notations he wrote on the page. But remaining on the page, Bach is lifeless. Only when the musician takes up his instrument and plays does Bach come to life. Thus the relation between the grace unleashed by Christ’ Cross, and it application by the power of the Holy Spirit.
All this can be poetically expressed in the laconic, albeit deeply moving lines of St. Augustine’s De Trinitate. He defines Father, Son and Holy Spirit simply as, “Lover; Loved; Love.”
The Sign of the Cross is the prayer most emblematic of our Holy Faith, and most beloved by Catholics. When we cross ourselves we make a line in the sand. Demons watch and tremble; the world sees and is put on notice. The Sign of the Cross declares the hegemony of God. But Catholics make it in vain unless we possess the courage to tell the world that no knee should bend except to the thrice Holy God.