Understanding the Trinity
Trinitarian theology sheds light on theology itself, theology’s relationship with science and finally epistemology. Well what exactly is The Trinity? A legend about St. Augustine helps answer that question.
There is an old story about St. Augustine who, when walking down the beach, spotted a child attempting with a bucket to move all the water from the ocean into a small hole he dug in the sand. When St. Augustine instructed the child on the impossibility of his attempt, the child quickly retorted by reminding him of the equally impossible attempt to completely explain The Trinity in human terms. St. Augustine, who was writing about the Trinity at the time, blinked and the boy had disappeared. We can conclude that the boy was probably an angel sent by God to help put things in perspective for Augustine.
Let we, who live in an age dominated by an appeal to science which we hear is supposedly opposed to faith, also put our beliefs in perspective. It is true to say that there is no experiment that can verify God as Trinity. Outside of our appeal to reason, which is the means through which we can declare the existence of God, we can not other than through divine revelation know that God is one being and three persons. This is to say that humanity needed Jesus to come along and teach us about the reality of God as Trinity. We wouldn’t have been able to arrive at this conclusion if it weren’t for God teaching it to us.
Proper perspective regarding the Trinity also points back to the very definition of the field of theology, which is not as opposed to science as modern society may think. Thomas Aquinas, in fact, says the opposite. Theology is not unreasonable or circular, but is the usage of reason based on the premises of faith. How do we know this? Because Jesus came to save all, salvation must be accessible to all. Theology without the usage of reason, which is a faculty shared by all mankind, would be just another academic subject and not something that taught us about the reality of ourselves and God. So Christ came along, taught us that God was Trinity, and we the early church in turn spent centuries debating and coming to a further understanding of what that means. But to put things into perspective for a moment, let us remember than even after centuries of church theology, we can harken back to the boy on the beach who reminded us that we will never be able to completely understand what God as Trinity means.
So what is the “text-book” definition of our God as Trinity? The Trinity is three persons and one being/nature. I would expand upon this definition, but do not have the required space. My aim today was simply to give context to our belief system in order to spur you onto further investigation. And besides -The Trinity is, as the Catechism tells us, the central mystery of our faith. I will, however, point you to a website that does a good job of summarizing our beliefs about The Trinity: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/12-things-to-know-and-share-about-the-holy-trinity.
By Ryan Bilodeau