God is the deepest subject of reflection, and to try to understand His nature strains our minds. But Blessed Newman, in his sermon on the “Mystery of the Holy Trinity,” reminds us that Christianity, “gives exercise to the whole man,” our reason included, and we are to press on in using it to its full capacity. In the first part of this reflection, we examined Newman’s thoughts on the Unity of God. In this second part, we examine the Trinity of God.
Newman offers two illustrations (not parallels) of the Trinity built on the ground of our understanding of his Unity. The first illustration uses our understanding of the attributes of God. We see God as having love and wisdom, for example. Yet, we know that God does not have these qualities, but that God is Love and God is Wisdom. But we wouldn’t say that love and wisdom are the same. Furthermore, Newman says:
“…as God is Wisdom or Love, so is Wisdom or Love in and with God, and whatever God is. Is God eternal? so is His wisdom. Is He unchangeable? so is His wisdom. Is He uncreated, infinite, almighty, all-holy? His wisdom has these characteristics also. Since God has no parts or passions, whatever is really of or from God, is all that He is.”
Similarly, God is Three Persons Who are distinct, just as the attributes of God are distinct; and these Three Persons are One, just as there is no division of attributes in God.
In the second illustration, Newman asks us to use our imagination. He asks us to imagine how a man – who has eyes and arms and ears and many different parts – would look if he became spiritual: “A spiritual body might possibly be all eye, all ear, all arm, all heart; yet not as if all these were confused together, but because a spirit has no parts in extension, and is what it is all at once.” Similarly, God is One like the spiritual body, and Three – not simply in name or attribute – but distinct in the way that the “root of a tree is from its branches.”
From the words of the Old Testament, it is clear that God is not simply One, and this even gained the attention of Jewish believers before Christ, Newman says. We get a sense of this even from the human body, which has many parts but is one. But this will take us only so far, for many of the allusions to the Trinity have no earthly analogy. For example, what are we to make of “And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2)?
We can only conclude what the Church declares, though our minds are unequipped to make plain what is a mystery. Newman summarizes those truths expressed in the Athanasian Creed:
“Thus God subsists in Three Persons, from everlasting to everlasting; first, God is the Father, next God is the Son, next God is the Holy Ghost; and the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Holy Ghost, nor the Holy Ghost the Father. And God is Each of these Three, and nothing else; that is, He is either the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Ghost. Moreover, God is as wholly and entirely God in the Person of the Father, as though there were no Son and Spirit; as entirely in that of the Son, as though there were no Spirit and Father; as entirely in that of the Spirit, as though there were no Father and Son. And the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Ghost God, while there is but one God; and that without any inequality, because there is but One God, and He is without parts or degrees; though how it is that that same Adorable Essence, indivisible, and numerically One, should subsist perfectly and wholly in Each of Three Persons, no words of man can explain, nor earthly illustration typify.”
We are rightly stunned into silence after these lofty thoughts. It is not the silence of confusion, but the silence of bowing before the mystery of God, and of being with Him and in Him Who is not ours to comprehend but to adore.