One and One and One Are One

User’s Guide to the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Gersam Turri, ‘The Glory of the Holy Trinity,’ ca. 1928, ceiling fresco in the Santuario del Santissimo Crocifisso in Como, Italy
Gersam Turri, ‘The Glory of the Holy Trinity,’ ca. 1928, ceiling fresco in the Santuario del Santissimo Crocifisso in Como, Italy (photo: Public Domain)

Sunday, May 26, is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Mass readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Psalm 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20.

God is beyond what human words can describe, or human thoughts can conjure. And on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we do well to remember that we are pondering a mystery that cannot fit in our minds. A mystery, though, is not something wholly unknown. The Catechism, says, “The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons: [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit]. … The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God, whole and entire” (253). So while not contrary to reason per se, it does transcend it and it is surely beyond human understanding.

So there is one God, and each of the three Persons of the Trinity possesses the one divine nature fully. The Father is God. He is not one-third of God. Likewise, the Son, Jesus, is God. He is not one-third of God. And the Holy Spirit is God, not merely one-third of God. So deep is this mystery that we had to “invent” a paradoxical word to summarize it. Triune literally means “three-one” (tri + unus), and “Trinity is a conflation of “Tri-unity,” meaning the “three-oneness” of God.

Scripture also hints at the mystery of God’s Trinity. In the opening pages, God speaks to himself in the plural: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …” (Genesis 1:26). A Hebrew word used in reference of God in much of the Old Testament is plural in form but singular in meaning: Elohim is literally “Gods” but was understood to mean only “God” in a similar way that “news” in English is plural in form but treated as a singular noun. Further, when the Lord appeared to Abram, the text says that “three men stood before him.” Even still, Abram addresses, “My Lord” (Genesis 18:1-2). And when God announces his name to Moses, he does it in a threefold way: Lord! … The Lord, the Lord. (See Exodus 34:5.) Jesus says, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). 

Have you ever noticed that, in the baptismal formula, Jesus uses “bad” grammar? He says, “Baptize them in the name [not ‘names’ plural] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). God is one (the Lord) and God is three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). 

Thus Scripture exhibits the teaching of the Trinity, going back even to the beginning.

And we, who are made in the image and likeness of God, ought to experience something of the mystery of the Trinity within us. And sure enough, we do. We are all distinct individuals, yet it is also true that we are part of one human family. We humans cannot exist apart from one another. We need one another for existence and completion. 

Our interdependence and communal influence are under-appreciated today, but it remains true that I exist not only for me, but for others. And what I do affects others, for good or ill. Privacy and discretion have important places in our life, but so does concern for the choices we and others make and the effects that such things have on others. A common moral and religious vision is an important thing to cultivate. 

So, as we extol the great mystery of the Trinity, we look not merely outward and upward to understand, but also inward to discover that mystery at work in us, who are made in the image and likeness of God.

Corpus Christi Procession

June Holy Days and the Top News Headlines (June 18)

June brings summer sun and often vacation fun. For the Church it is packed full of important feasts, from Pentecost to Trinity Sunday to Corpus Christi and many in between. Register columnist John Grondelski helps us raise our hearts and minds to that which matters most — union with God — as we contemplate June’s holy days. Then Jeannette DeMelo and Matthew Bunson look at today’s headlines in an Editors’ Corner.