An incomprehensible reality

The central doctrine of the Catholic faith is the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

‘The history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the plan by which God, true and one, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, reveals Himself to men, and reconciles and unites with himself those turned away from sin’ (Vatican General Catechetical Directory).

Three distinct persons, ONE GOD

The Holy Trinity is in the strictest sense of the word a mystery of faith. It is one of those incomprehensible realities that the First Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith describes as ‘hidden in God which, unless divinely revealed, could not come to be known’.

The fact that incomprehensible realities such as the Trinity can be grasped only by faith is in no way an affront to human reason. Divine mysteries are not contrary to human reason, nor are they incompatible with rational thought. Even in our relationship with other human persons, we must fall back upon faith – a form of human faith – to know the truth of their inmost lives and their love for us. When we speak of the inner life of God, it is a life so far beyond us that we can never completely and fully comprehend its true meaning. But, through faith, we can nonetheless be aware of the truth that God tells us about himself.

Centuries ago, St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that ‘it is impossible to believe explicitly in the mystery of Christ without faith in the Trinity, for the mystery of Christ includes that the Son of God took flesh, that he renewed the world through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and again, that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit’. Obviously, we could not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and true God sent by the Father if we did not believe in the plurality of persons in one God. Neither would we be able to understand the meaning of eternal life, nor the grace that leads to it, without believing in the Trinity, for grace and eternal life are a sharing in the life of the most Holy Trinity.

The importance of the Trinity in Catholic teaching is evident from the beginning of the Church. When Christ sent the apostles forth to go and ‘make disciples of all nations’, He instructed them to baptize in the name of the Trinity:  ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matt 28:19). From the earliest centuries of the Church and in the most ancient professions of faith, we find a belief in the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Athanasian Creed which dates from the fourth century, declares: ‘No the Catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in the Trinity, and the Trinity in unity … the Father is a distinct person, the Son is a distinct person, and the Holy Spirit is a distinct person, but the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory and co-eternal majesty’.

The doctrine of the Trinity was not revealed with full clarity at the very beginning of God’s revelation to us. Only gradually, step by step, did God make known to His people the mystery of His inner life. What the New Testament teaches us is captured with clarity and reverence in the statements of the early councils of the Church that we use today: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed.

The preface for the Mass on Holy Trinity Sunday summarizes our belief in what God has told us about Himself: ‘We joyfully proclaim our faith in the mysteries of your Godhead. You have revealed your glory as the glory also of your Son and of the Holy Spirit: three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendor, yet one Lord, one God, ever to be adored in your everlasting glory’ (Roman Missal).

3 Responses to “An incomprehensible reality”


  1. 1 Feliks Wallenty, Denmark April 30, 2010 at 16:08

    The Athanasian creed gives a summary of the early Church’s teaching on the Trinity :

    We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost; but the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten; the Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten; the Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding..

    With this statement (and its precursors and subsequent attempts at refinement), the Church attempted to articulate an incredibly complex body of data and concepts into a rule of faith–a conceptual guideline to keep the faithful within the bounds of revealed information about God.
    There are many such formulations, with complex terminology and philosophical systems, and ALL of them function as declarations, not explanations.
    The data in Scripture is very, very clear: there are three individuals in the Bible who may be called YHWH without error and without blasphemy, who interact with one another and with us. These three individuals affirm, however, that there is only ONE GOD.

  2. 2 Shania April 30, 2010 at 21:00

    I understood the Trinity when I came accross this video:
    🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂

  3. 3 Tullio May 1, 2010 at 08:47

    Noi non comprendiamo né possiamo comprendere come le tre Persone divine, benché realmente distinte, sono un Dio solo: è un mistero.
    Non solo il Mistero della Santissima Trinità, ma OGNI VERITÀ DIVINA È MISTERO per la nostra ragione, perché Dio è infinitamente superiore ad ogni creatura.
    Tuttavia i Misteri divini non sono contrari alla nostra ragione, perché anch’essa è uscita dalle mani di Dio ed è fatta per conoscere la Verità. Se non arriva a comprenderla è perché è troppo debole, e non perché la Verità sia meno vera.
    Perciò, su questa terra, noi possiamo conoscere veramente Dio solo con la Fede, cioè credendo nella Sua parola. In Paradiso poi Lo comprenderemo pienamente, perché “Lo vedremo faccia a faccia”.
    Mistero è una verità superiore ma non contraria alla ragione, che crediamo perché Dio l’ha rivelata.


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