Today is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is probably the most difficult of all of the doctrines in the Bible. Many have tried to explain it over the years, but every explanation fails to grasp its fullness.
The most famous example of an explanation is the one that St. Patrick used. He used the illustration of a shamrock--three leaves, yet one plant as a teaching aid. It is fraught with problems as illustrated in this little satirical piece https://youtu.be/KQLfgaUoQCw. It also explores other explanations like water, steam, and ice and are all separate and yet all water; and a man who is a son, husband, and father all at once; and the problems with those arguments.
The best explanation I have heard is from the Catholic apologist, Jimmy Akin. He explains that all objects are "beings" because they all exist, therefore they "be" (are). But a human being can be considered a being that consists of one person existential of that being (we have a body and a soul or spirit). A rock is a being that consists of zero persons, and God is a being that consists of three persons. Still a difficult concept, but this makes it easier for me at least to relate.
But why is belief in the Trinity so important in Christian, and especially Catholic theology? Outside of Christianity, there is no belief in the Trinity, including in Judaism. Christians find Scriptural basis for the Trinity in the Old Testament, but that is apparent only in retrospect.
Many denominations require belief in the Trinity as required for salvation. But if a person hears of Jesus and believes and is baptized, but has never even heard of the Trinity, can that person be saved? That's especially problematic for denominations that basically tell you to just say the "Sinner's Prayer" and you are saved forever, but still claim the Trinity as an "essential" Biblical truth, necessary for salvation. But in Catholicism what makes belief in the Trinity a requirement for the fullness of the faith is that the Church as an authority instituted by Christ as his earthly agent, has defined it so.
An understanding of the Trinity interweaves so well with other doctrines, it makes those doctrines so much more relevant when we can see that they are all similar expressions of Unity. Throughout the New Testament, and the gospel of John especially, Unity is a primary theme of Jesus. He wants his followers to be united together, and be united with him in common purpose, worship, and service.
All of the Sacraments are expressions of Unity of different degrees. I won't go into detailed exposition of the sacraments, but it is difficult for me to understand how anyone can fully appreciate the Trinity if they are in a non-Sacramental denominations.
- Baptism: God claims ownership of the person in the form of a familial covenant
- Confirmation: The Holy Spirit indwells the Christian
- Penance: In which the Christian expresses repentance, a desire to re-enter communion with God, and a desire to make reparations for his wrongdoing.
- Anointing of the Sick: Very similar to Penance except that it is often done in emergencies (end of life) or when facing a chronic serious illness
- Holy Orders: When the authority of the apostles is handed down to succeeding generations of priests to administer the sacraments and aid Christians in attaining Unity with Christ.
I left out two. That is because I want to detail them further.
Matrimony. Notice I did not say marriage. And I will not be drawn into the debate as to whether or not marriage is or is not appropriate for same-sex couples. That is not my purpose here. If anyone makes any comments attached to this post on either side of that debate, I will delete them. But I will use traditional terms so that I maintain consistency.
Men and women have been getting married since Adam and Eve. So why do Christians regard it as a sacrament, instituted by Jesus? Because Jesus took marriage, which already existed and elevated it. When a husband and wife make their vows to each other they become one flesh. The priest only witnesses the marriage, he does not bestow the status of husband and wife upon them. And contrary to common belief, the marital act which follows is not what makes them married, it fully completes it.
But the image of one man and one woman coming together as one flesh in Unity together for mutual benefit and the raising, nurturing, and instruction of children is one of the closest relationships that people can have that nearly mirrors the relationship of the members of the Holy Trinity to one another. The husband and wife are individuals, yet are so nearly unified together that they are considered one. Our marital relationship cannot ever be exactly like the Trinity as we, not being God, can never be exactly God-like. But it's about as close as you can get.
Next up is the Eucharist, or the Sacrament of Communion. It has much in common with Matrimony. This is the major difference between Catholics and Orthodox, who believe that the bread and the wine at communion actually BECOME the body and blood of the Lord; with the Lutherans who believe that the bread and wine CONTAIN the presence of the Lord; and most other denominations who believe that the bead and wine are merely symbols of the body and blood of the Lord.
If the Eucharist is a symbol-only it is stripped of its significance. Jesus becomes the bread and the wine in the same way that God became flesh. He came as a man, so can He come as bread. As I stated before, we humans are a unity of our fleshly being and our spiritual person. After our body dies, or spirit--our very selves are still alive and will later be reunified with our bodies at the resurrection.
As such, we are also an illustration of the Trinity. We are body and soul united as God is God, three persons, united as one. And it doesn't stop there. As Matrimony and the subsequent marital act unify a man and a woman in Christ, so Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist unify the Christian with each other and with Christ. In matrimony, a woman receives her husband into her body and the two are one. In the same way, in the Eucharist we receive Christ into our body, and we become one. This is exactly why the the Church is the BRIDE of Christ. If one believes that the Eucharist is merely symbolic, then Unity with Christ become a mere symbol also and even matrimony loses some of its luster, and Unity with other believers becomes merely a friendship-like relationship, when it is supposed to be so much more than that. (Incidentally, this is also why Catholics do not substitute grape juice for wine. Jesus used wine and came as wine. He did not come as grape juice. He could have used grape juice and chose not to do it. He chose wine, and so should we.)
One can see even in nature, that unity is a primary theme. In the way that many animals come together as men and women do. The way that small children put everything into their mouths to learn more about it. The way that people like to give hugs or shake hands, or pat one another on the back. Even, the attraction of gravity. The way that many scientists believe that one day gravity will pull all things together into a singularity that will cause another big bang. Who is to say that at the end of all things, this may be how it will happen? All things that exist coalescing into one.