Love Explains the Trinity
User's Guide to Sunday, May 22
Sunday May 22, is Holy Trinity Sunday (Year C). Mass Readings: Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8:4-9; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
The Trinity can be hard to understand, but the Church is good at explaining hard-to-understand things.
I often turn to old litanies to understand mysteries. These prayers of the Church have a way of crystallizing doctrines.
For instance, today’s first reading quotes the wisdom of God: “When the Lord established the heavens, I was there; when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep … I was beside him as his craftsman, and I was his delight day by day.”
The litany’s poetic language sums it up, praying to the Father, “from whom are all things,” and the Son “through whom are all things,” and the Holy Spirit, “in whom are all things.”
The Church has to be very careful what it says about the Trinity, as it can very easily be misunderstood.
So will a good theologian. Pope Benedict XVI was a very careful theologian. He didn’t like the tendency to divvy up the attributes of God between the Persons of the Trinity, as if one was the Creator alone, one was the Redeemer alone and one was the Sanctifier alone.
He also didn’t like the tendency to call the Holy Spirit “love,” as if the other Persons are not love.
“The Father is love; the Son is love; the Spirit is love,” he said in his homily for the 2009 solemnity. “God is wholly and only love, the purest, infinite and eternal love. He does not live in splendid solitude, but, rather, is an inexhaustible source of life that is ceaselessly given and communicated.”
In fact, he saw love as the central defining characteristic of the Trinity and the universe the Triune God created.
The Trinity is love because God exists in relationship even in himself — and he created a universe of created things, each of which reflects that “relational” dimension of God, Benedict explained, from “our earth, the planets, the stars, the galaxies” down to “cells, atoms, elementary particles.”
The Trinity is “imprinted” on all things “because all that exists, down to the last particle, is in relation; in this way, we catch a glimpse of God as relationship and, ultimately, Creator Love.”
St. Paul says the same thing in today’s second reading: “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
For him, the Trinity is the source and end of the virtues he outlines in the reading: faith, hope and love.
For Benedict, “The strongest proof that we are made in the image of the Trinity is this: Love alone makes us happy because we live in a relationship, and we live to love and to be loved.”
Or, as one litany puts it: “Who alone is the source of love … who alone is the foundation of all relationships, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.