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Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Triune God

Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.--MATT. xxviii. 19.

These words of our Lord were spoken after the Resurrection to the eleven Apostles on a mountain in Galilee. They are understood by the Fathers to show the unity and trinity in God--the unity of the divine nature and the trinity of persons. The former is indicated by the phrase "in the name," which is equivalent to saying that the three Divine Persons have the same identical power and authority, and consequently the same nature; the latter, or trinity of persons in God, is expressed by the distinct enumeration of three different names, each of which, having its own proper signification, cannot be confounded with the others.

I. I believe in God the Father. 1. God is called the Father because He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. 2. God is called the Father of Christians in a special manner, as having adopted us as children through grace. 3. God is called the Father in the strictest sense of the term as having truly begotten the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. God then has begotten us metaphorically, that is, through His grace; but He has begotten the Second Person of the adorable Trinity literally, that is, by a real communication of His own substance: He is our Father by adoption; He is the Father of the Word by nature.

II. The trinity of persons in God. 1. The word Father in the first Article of the Creed thus brings before our minds the distinction of persons in God. 2. In the Gospels we find mention of the three Divine Persons: The Father who "sent" the Son, the Son who "goes to the Father," and the "Paraclete" or Holy Ghost whom the Son promised to send to His Church This same trinity of persons is taught clearly and distinctly in many other parts of the New Testament (Matt. iii. 16, 17; xxviii. 19; Luke i. 35; John xiv. 6; i John v. 7, etc.). 3. The meaning of the mystery of the Trinity is that in one and the same divine nature there are three distinct persons: the Father begotten of none; the Son begotten of the Father; and the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father and the Son from all eternity.

III. The unity of the divine nature, I. The three Divine Persons, though distinct, are equal in all things--they possess the same majesty, the same eternity, the same glory, the same power the same divine nature. Hence They are not three Gods, but one God. 2. It is impossible that there should be many Gods for what is supreme and most perfect must be One. 3. The oneness of God is affirmed in many parts of Scripture (Deut. vi. 4; Exod. xx. 3: Isa. xliv. 6, Eph. iv. 5; etc.). 4. By the Sign of the Cross and the "Glory be to the Father," we profess our faith in the Unity and Trinity and in the Trinity in Unity.

CONCLUSION: I. The Most Holy Trinity is a mystery, i.e., a truth which we cannot fully understand; reason can neither establish it, nor explain it, nor disprove it. 2. How many mysteries are there in nature which we cannot understand. Little wonder is it then that the nature of the infinite so far surpasses us, when nature baffles us at every turn. Our attitude, therefore, toward the Holy Trinity should be one of faith and adoration, and not of curious searching. We should say with St. Paul "O the depth of the riches, of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God," etc. (Rom. xi. 33). 3. By means of grace we become temples of the Holy Trinity. 4. Let us implore God that one day we may come to see and contemplate in heaven the adorable mystery of the Trinity in whose name we were baptized and received the holy Sacraments, and in whose name we hope at last peacefully to pass from this present life into eternity. "Go forth, Christian soul, out of this miserable world, in the name of God the Father Almighty," etc. (Ritual).

Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I

From what is said on the first part of this Article it must be confessed that there is but one God, not many Gods. For we attribute to God supreme goodness and infinite perfection, and it is impossible that what is supreme and most perfect could be common to many. If a being lack any thing that constitutes supreme perfection, it is therefore imperfect, and cannot be endowed with the nature of God.

The unity of God is also proved from many passages of Sacred Scripture. It is written: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, is one Lord;"(1) again God commands: "Thou shalt not have strange gods before me";(2) and further He often admonishes us by the prophet: "I am the first, and I am the last, and besides me there is no God."(3) The Apostle also expressly declares: "One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism."(4)

It should not, however, excite our surprise if the Sacred Scriptures sometimes give the name of God to creatures.(5) For when they call the prophets and judges gods, they do not speak according to the manner of the Gentiles, who, in their folly and impiety, formed to themselves many gods; but express, by a manner of speaking then in use, some eminent quality or function conferred on such persons by God.

The Christian faith, therefore, believes and professes, as is declared in the Nicene Creed in confirmation of this truth, that God in His nature, substance and essence is one. But soaring still higher, it so understands Him to be one that it adores unity in trinity and trinity in unity. Of this mystery we now proceed to speak, as it comes next in order in the Creed.


As God is called "Father" for more reasons than one, we must first determine the sense in which the word is used in the present instance. Even some on whom the light of faith never shone conceived God to be an eternal substance from whom all things had their beginning, and by whose providence they are governed and preserved in their order and state of existence. Since, therefore, he to whom a family owes its origin and by whose wisdom and authority it is governed is called a father, so on the same principle these persons gave the name Father to God, whom they acknowledge to be the creator and governor of the universe. The Sacred Scriptures also, when they wish to show that to God must be ascribed the creation of all things, supreme power and admirable providence, make use of the same name. Thus we read: " Is not He thy Father that hath possessed thee, and made thee, and created thee ?"(6) And again, "Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us?"(7)


But God, particularly in the New Testament, is much more frequently, and in some sense peculiarly called the Father of Christians, who have not received the spirit of bondage in fear but have received the spirit of adoption of sons of God, whereby they cry abba, Father.(8) For "the Father hath bestowed on us that manner of charity, that we should be called, and be the sons of God";(9) and "if sons, heirs also, heirs, indeed, of God, and joint- heirs with Christ,"(10) who is "the first-born amongst many brethren," for which cause he is not ashamed to call us brethren." " Whether, therefore, we look to the common title of creation and Providence, or to the special one of spiritual adoption, rightly do the faithful profess their belief that God is their Father.


But the pastor will teach the faithful that on hearing the word "Father," besides the ideas already unfolded, their minds should rise to the contemplation of more exalted mysteries. Under the name of "Father," the divine oracles begin to unveil to us a mysterious truth which is more abstruse and more deeply hidden in that inaccessible light in which God dwells and which human reason could not attain to, nor even conjecture to exist.

This name implies that in the one essence of the Godhead is proposed to our belief, not only one person, but a distinction of persons; for in one divine nature there are three Persons--the Father, begotten of none; the Son, begotten of the Father before all ages; the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son from all eternity.


Now in the one substance of the Divinity the Father is the first Person, who with his only begotten Son, and the Holy Ghost is one God and one Lord, not in the singularity of one person, but in the trinity of one substance. These three Persons, since it would be impiety to assert that they are unlike or unequal in any thing, are understood to be distinct only in their respective properties. For the Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeds from both. Thus we acknowledge the essence of the three Persons, their substance, to be so the same, that we believe that in confessing the true and eternal God, we are piously and religiously to adore distinction in the Persons, unity in the Essence, and equality in the Trinity.

Hence when we say that the Father is the first Person, we are not to be understood to mean that in the Trinity there is any thing first or last, greater or less. Let no Christian be guilty of such impiety, for Christianity proclaims the same eternity, the same majesty of glory in the three Persons. But since the Father is the Beginning without a beginning, we truly and unhesitatingly affirm that He is the first Person, and as He is distinct from the Others by His peculiar relation of paternity, so of Him alone is it true that He begot the Son from eternity. For when in the Creed we pronounce together the words "God" and "Father," it intimates to us that He is God and Father from eternity.


But since nowhere is a too curious inquiry more dangerous, or error more fatal, than in the knowledge and exposition of this, the most profound and difficult of mysteries, let the pastor instruct the people religiously to retain the terms nature and person used to express this mystery; and let the faithful know that unity belongs to essence, and distinction to persons. But these are truths which should not be made the subject of too subtle inquiry, for "he who is a searcher of majesty shall be overwhelmed by glory."(13) We should be satisfied with the assurance which faith gives us that we have been taught these truths by God Himself, to doubt whose word is the extreme of folly and misery. He has said: "Teach ye all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost";(14) and again, "there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these Three are One."(15)

Let him, however, who by the divine bounty believes these truths, constantly beseech and implore God, and the Father, who made all things out of nothing, and orders all things sweetly, who gave us power to become the sons of God, and who made known to us the mystery of the Trinity--let him, I say, pray that, admitted one day into the eternal tabernacles, he may be worthy to see how great is the fecundity of the Father, who contemplating and understanding Himself, begot the Son like and equal to Himself, how a love of charity in both, entirely the same and equal, which is the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, connects the begetting and the begotten by an eternal and indissoluble bond; and that thus the essence of the Trinity is one and the distinction of the three Persons perfect.

BY THE REV. F. X. MC GOWAN, O.S.A. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.-- MATT. xxviii. 19.
Man lost sight of the end for which he was created, and, through sin, perished forever. Before he could recover his lost rights, he had to be redeemed, and to receive a new consecration. The Blessed Trinity effected this necessary work. The Son bought our redemption, but only according to the Father's will and with the cooperation of the Holy Ghost. It was the entire work of the ever-blessed Three.


We believe in only one God, who rules heaven and earth. It is only the fool who says "in his heart" that there is no God. He speaks thus, not according to the testimony of his conscience, but in the folly of his heart. We believe also in this declaration of the Athanasian Creed, "The Catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance." The Church, in the preface of the most Holy Trinity, makes this profession of faith, "In the confession of the true and eternal Godhead, distinction in Persons, unity in essence, and equality in majesty may be adored." The mystery of the Blessed Trinity is the basis of the Christian religion.

If Catholic teaching regarding the Trinity resolves itself briefly into admitting three Divine Persons really distinct in numerical unity of essence, it follows that these Persons are co-eternal coequal, and consubstantial, that one proceeds from the other, the Son from the Father by eternal generation; the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son as from one principle by simple procession. The Father is from all eternity, and in virtue of His fecund knowledge, traced out, so to speak, an expressive, eternal subsisting image of Himself; the Father and the Son, in virtue of their mutual love, produced the third Person in which are all the essential attributes of their nature. The Son is the living character of the Father's perfections and grandeur; the Holy Ghost is the bond which unites the other two. Of the three Persons, the first is as the inexhaustible source of light, the second is as a brilliant flash from that source, and the third is as an adorable fire which arises from the other two. No superiority no dependence exists among the ever-blessed Three. The Father is neither greater nor older than the Son and the Holy Ghost and these are neither inferior nor posterior to the Father. Each has the same authority, the same eternity, and the same majesty. There is, among the Divine Persons, an equality of perfection, perfect and sovereign equality. This mystery transcends our human understanding. God is, as the Prophet declares, "incomprehensible in thought" (Jer. xxxii. 19). "The voice is silent," says St. Ambrose, "not only mine, but the voice of angels."

The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is attested in both the Old and the New Testaments, more clearly, however, in the latter. In the Old Testament we read, in Genesis, that God, referring to His purpose to create man, said, "Let us make man to our image" (Gen. i. 26). The use of the plural number as shown in "Let us make," leads us to inquire into the hidden meaning of the text. It seems that God took counsel, but we may ask from whom did He take it? Certainly it was not from dead matter, as Hermogenes dreamed; nor from the angels who are His creatures, and in whose creation, as in man's. He must also have taken counsel; nor from other gods, as the blasphemous Julian asserted. It is reasonable to suppose that the three Divine Persons concurred in the creation of man and cooperated in making man the masterpiece of their wisdom and labor. Again, after man's creation, the Lord said, "Lo, Adam has become as one of us," indicating the plurality of Persons in God. We read in the book of Psalms, "The Lord said to my Lord: sit thou at my right hand." These words, in the explanation given by Christ and St. Paul, refer to the Persons of the Trinity.

In the New Testament we find several passages clearly defining the plurality of Persons in God. This doctrine was revealed at the baptism of Christ. The voice of the Father was heard saying, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. iii. 17), and the Holy Ghost descended as a dove upon the Son. "The Trinity," says St. Maximus, "reveals itself to man, the Father is heard in the voice, the Son is manifested in man, the Holy Ghost is discerned in the dove." St. Thomas says that the Trinity also appeared in Christ's Transfiguration: the Father in voice, the Son in man, and the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud. Before His ascension into heaven, Christ, in clear and unmistakable language, commanded His Apostles to preach His faith to all nations, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." It was a precise commandment, a distinct oracle, if ever there were one, a revelation of one God in three Persons. The use of the conjunction and distinguishes the three Persons, while the words, in the name, designate a common efficiency, power, authority, and therefore a common nature in these Persons.

We have also the celebrated text of St. John, "There are three who give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one" (i John v. 7). Many have impugned the authentic character of this passage, but as it is found in the oldest versions of the Bible and referred to by the most ancient writers, the contention of anti-Trinitarians is of no weight. Tradition is equally in favor of the doctrine of the Trinity. When we read of St. Athanasius, the learned theologian of the Church, of St. Augustine, the light of doctors, and of St. John Chrysostom, the golden-tongued orator of the Eastern Church, all proclaiming their belief in the august mystery, how rash must we consider those men who either deny this tremendous and time-honored article of faith or who foolishly seek to bring it under the light of reason. God's light is "inaccessible," and He makes "darkness his covert" (Ps. xvii. 12).

This doctrine was generally believed until the coming of the religious and political revolution of the sixteenth century. To be sure, there was opposition to it from the days of the Apostles, but it amounted to nothing, being, like many another heresy, only a passing cloud. There are many anti-Trinitarians in our days, such as the Unitarians, the Rationalists, and the latest sectarians, the Christian Scientists. They contend on the principle that what they can not see nor understand they do not believe. Men who advance such a proposition are illogical and inconsistent. There are hundreds of mysteries in nature, unfathomable realities, to which these very men pin the faith of their minds. They can not, even with all the helps of science, tell what light, electricity, or magnetism is. They can not explain by what art the spider weaves its web, and they are at a similar disadvantage regarding many things about the nature of the winds, the tides, and the heavenly bodies. If man's mind can not sound the depths of natural mysteries with which it is in constant touch, is it supposable that it can fathom the deep and hidden mystery of the Blessed Trinity? It is impossible for me to hold in my hand the firmament above me, because my hand is smaller than the heavens; so it is impossible for man's mind, whose knowledge is scant and limited, to grasp the eternal and immense mystery of the Trinity. We believe the testimony of man in respect to natural things; ought we not believe God's testimony concerning heavenly things? "If we receive," says the Apostle, "the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater" (i John v. 9). Let us not seek to penetrate the veil of the Trinity, but believe; for the Wise man tells us, "He that is a searcher of majesty shall be overwhelmed by glory" (Prov. xxv. 27). Let us rather praise often the most Holy Trinity in the familiar and beautiful doxology, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost."


If we can not comprehend the deep mystery of the Holy Trinity, we may at least offer it our homage and adoration. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, "It is impossible to come to a knowledge of the Trinity by natural reason," but we may say in the love of our hearts with the Church, "Our hopes, our salvation, our honor, O Blessed Trinity" ( Ant. II. Noct. Off Trinity). What prevents us from loving, honoring, and adoring one God in three Divine Persons? Because we can not drink all the water of the well, may we not partake of as much as is needful for us? We can not look with fixed gaze upon the sun, but we may use its light for our needs. The light of the Blessed Trinity is inaccessible to our poor human vision, but we may venerate and honor the source whence it flows, and unite with the angels who ever sing its praises, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, who is, and who is to come!" (Apoc. iv. 8).

1. We owe the Blessed Trinity the homage of grateful love. When we were nothing, the Triune God infused into our common clay a soul made to "His image and likeness." What do we not owe the Almighty Father, who has given us life and preserved us, who has provided for our wants and even guaranteed us our pleasures? No one loves like a father, none so compassionate as he; yet as Tertullian says, "No one is so much a Father as the Almighty Father." What do we not owe the Beloved Son, who came from His throne of glory to abase Himself to our lowly state, to live a life of persecution and suffering, and to die a slave's death that we might recover heaven? His was the greatest sacrifice the world has ever seen. What do we not owe the Holy Ghost, who enlightened us when we were blind, who upheld us when we were weak, who encouraged us when we were timid, Who brought us back to the fold when we had strayed from it, and who forgave us when we had sinned? Everywhere His solicitude has followed us, everywhere His voice has appealed to us. Verily He has been our truest, most faithful, and loving friend. We recall in thought the day of our baptism, when we were carried helpless to the sacred font. Sponsors voiced the vows that were to be the guiding principles of our life; the saving water effaced the stain of sin, and the grace of God restored the image of the divinity disfigured by Adam's fault. What happiness was breathed into our souls! The Father adopted each one of us as His child, the Son embraced us as His brother, and the Holy Ghost chose us for His temple. Could the Triune God have done more for us ? And when in later days we lost our baptismal innocence and lost again our happy privileges, did not the Father, in His mercy, apply the blood of His Son's atonement to our sinful souls, and the Holy Ghost move us to sorrow and repentance? Yes, we have abundant reason to be thankful to the Holy Trinity for its love and mercy toward us; we have forcible reason to love and honor the ever-blessed Three and to offer them the best homage and sincerest worship of our lowly hearts. Well may we repeat the prophet's praise, "Let all the earth adore thee, and sing to thee: let it sing a psalm to thy name" (Ps. Ixv. 4).

2. We owe, with our love, the Blessed Trinity our sincere confidence. Notwithstanding all the benefits which the Trinity has showered so plenteously upon us. God desires to add even more favors. He has mainly in view our eternal salvation, and to that end refers all that He does in our behalf. God wills that all men should one day be gathered like ripe wheat in His eternal harvest home. He wishes us to be near Him, to be beside Him. The Father so desires because we resemble Him and are His image; the Son, because He sees in us the price of His precious Blood; and the Holy Ghost, because we are His living sanctuary. Are not these great motives to excite our confidence, to make us ever trustful of God's kindness toward us? The Blessed Trinity ushers us into the life of grace, and speeds us with its blessing on our passage to the other world. We are baptized in its adorable Name, and Mother Church bids us to depart for the Church triumphant in the same blessed Name. Though demons may attempt to assail us they fear the holy Name, and it thus dissipates our fears and strengthens our confidence at the dread hour of death. There is, however, an earthly trinity which sinful men worship with all the zeal and love that belong to the Holy Trinity in heaven. They substitute these idols of depraved minds for the ever-blessed Three. St. John tells us what is this trinity, "The concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life." Men forget the Triune God, and worship their passions, honors, and self-excellence. They are filled with worldly wisdom, and run after wealth, honor, and pride. St. Paul tells us, "The wisdom of the flesh is an enemy to God" (Rom. viii. 7). Let us not follow its dictates, but love God and trust in Him. St. Paul also teaches us what we must do to insure the friendship of the Holy Trinity. "Be zealous," he says, "for the better gifts" (i Cor. xii. 31).

You have received faith and hope and love in your Baptism; you must now begin a nobler life. "Be zealous for the better gifts." Love the Triune God more earnestly, obey His commandments more eagerly, trust to His care more lovingly. This is service worthy the angels, and it will bring us all the happy privilege, after life here has ended, of living and reigning in heaven with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

1.Deut. vi. 4. 2.Exod. xx. 3. 3.Is. xliv. 6; xlviii. is. 4.Eph. iv. 5.
5.Ps. Ixxxi. i; Exod. xxii. 28; i Cor. viii. 5.
6. Deut. xxxil. 6. 7. Mal. ii. 10. 8. Rom. viii. 15.
9. I John iii. I.
10. Rom. viii. 17.
11 Rom. viii. 29.
12 Heb. ii. ii,
13.Prov. xxv. 27.
14.Matt. xxviii. 19. 15. John v. 7.

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