The Dogma of the Holy Trinity is the Foundation of Christian Life

If it is true that God loves us — indeed, that he is Love itself — then why shouldn’t he want to show himself to us?

Frans Floris I, “The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Gathering and Protecting Mankind,” 1562
Frans Floris I, “The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Gathering and Protecting Mankind,” 1562 (photo: Public Domain)

It should hardly be a matter for debate — for people of faith, that is — that the dogma of the Trinity remains thefoundational truth of the Christian life, no greater than which can be imagined. Pull the plug on the Church’s teaching about God and the whole structure comes crashing through the ceiling.

If the whole point of theology is to unpack the content of faith, bending the finite mind to an understanding of infinite mystery, then at the very heart of that inquiry stands the deepest mystery of all — namely, a God who is both One and Three.

But, of course, it has often been the subject of debate, particularly among the learned and clever, many of whom are theologians armed with pompous-sounding degrees designed to disarm the simple and childlike believer. Who would far rather listen to God than have to discourse about him. Leave me in peace, they seem to be saying to the erudite experts, in order that I might be free simply to adore God, not endlessly analyze him. Not for me the relentless dissection of the Deity, as if God were some butterfly wriggling at the end of a pin. But rather the sweet savor and delectation of simply being in his presence. All the saints in heaven would agree.

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, for instance, who, in a profound and beautiful prayer, unburdens her heart at the deepest level in order to tell God how “the desire to listen to Your Divine Word, the need to be silent is sometimes so strong that I wish not to know how to do anything else save to remain at Your feet like the Magdalen, in order to penetrate ever more deeply into that mystery of love which You came to reveal to us.” 

Or St. Anselm, the great bishop and theologian of the 12th century, who gives precise and eloquent voice to the pious instincts of countless unlettered believers, who desire but a little space in which to worship the majesty of the living God. “To see You was I conceived,” he confesses before God. “And I have yet to conceive that for which I was conceived.” 

So maybe a bit of silence before the Mystery is not such a bad thing. Adoring silence, that is. Otherwise we’d all be tempted to discourse about God as though we were equipped with powers equal to his own. Like some upstart dialectician who, to lift a line of sarcasm from St. Gregory of Nazianzen, imagines himself confronting the Deity as though he’d actually midwifed him into being. Do we really wish to trade witticisms with the great I AM WHO AM? God is not a shuttlecock to be batted back and forth across a net of our own devising.

In other words, he is not a problem waiting to be solved. A problem, moreover, for which there inevitably exists a solution awaiting only the exertions of clever folk like ourselves. Leave it to Mensa, as it were, among whose members God becomes an effortless exercise in the Higher Math. Yet God is not a puzzle anyone can figure out the moment they’ve assembled all the pieces. Besides, quoting the wise counsel of St. Gregory of Nyssa. “If all things were within our grasp, the higher power would not be beyond us.” There can be nothing so utterly beyond us if not God, most especially if he is “tri-une.” 

So what does God look like? If we can’t explain him, might it be possible to see him? Granted that God is essentially ineffable, and thus it will never be possible to crowd him into a concept, but if the gospels are right in telling us that God loves us (indeed, that he is Love itself), then why shouldn’t he want to show himself to us? Is it not the surest and most telling mark of love that the Lover longs to be known by those whom he loves? And how is that going to happen unless God were to stoop down to our level in order for us to look up and actually see him?

To become one of us, that is. And not merely by festooning his eternal perfections in human form, or even by sharing in our labor and struggle amid the usual toils of a fallen world. But to come down among us in order precisely to die. Here we bump up against the shattering truth of the kenosis of God, that only in his complete self-emptying upon the Cross, and the terrifying descent into the godforsaken depths of Hell, will it be possible to look upon the face of God. The human face of God seen in the countenance of the pierced and crucified Son of God. How slow the disciples are to get it. Young Philip, for example, insisting that Jesus only “show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Only to have Jesus turn the tables by asking him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Why can’t he see that both Father and Son are in this together, their union so overflowing with knowledge and love as to spiratethe Holy Spirit? 

Because only God can explain God. Leaving the rest of us the joy of being able to experience him. Not a bad way to spend an eternity.