How often have we listened to various explanations of the Holy Trinity, read about the Holy Trinity, prayed in the name of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; and contemplated the words of the Creeds, but come away realizing that, in truth, we still have not even begun to understand what we have read and heard? And this is exactly how it should be, said Blessed John Henry Newman in his sermon, “The Mystery of the Holy Trinity.” However, since Newman suggests in the sermon how we should approach this great mystery, he gives some helpful guidance. He writes:
“ … We must not begin by saying that there are Three, and then afterwards go on to say that there is One, lest we give false notions of the nature of that One; but we must begin by laying down the great Truth that there is One God in a simple and strict sense, and then go on to speak of Three, which is the way in which the mystery was progressively revealed in Scripture.”
This is very helpful. In other words, when thinking of the Trinity, resist the inclination to think,“three” which is natural when one hears the word “trinity” – but instead of thinking “three,” think: One.
Newman then lists the many attributes which are given to the Holy Trinity within Sacred Scripture, and says that these attributes are useful for our human understanding but even so, we must be satisfied with noncomprehension of the Trinity itself. He writes further:
“That simple accuracy of statement which would harmonize all of them (the attributes of the Trinity) is beyond us, because the power of contemplating the Eternal, as He is, is beyond us. We must be content with what we can see, and use it for our practical guidance, without caring for the apparent contradiction of terms involved in our profession of it.”
Good enough. We are capable of agreeing with this line of thinking: that the human mind cannot comprehend the eternal. But then Newman goes on to explain why this incomprehensible doctrine of the Trinity, as taught and recited through the Creeds of the Catholic Church, is such a valuable aid for the Christian. In its very complexity, this mystery satisfies us. He continues:
“Christianity gives exercise to the whole mind of man, to our highest and most subtle reason, as well as to our feelings, affections, imagination, and conscience. If we find it tries us, and is too severe, whether for our reason, or our imagination, or our feelings, let us bow down in silent adoration, and submit to it each of our faculties by turn, not complain of its sublimity or its range.”
In other words, it is good for us to be thus challenged! And our response should be to bow in adoration over such an immensity of mystery. For “ … no words of man can explain, nor earthly illustration typify.”
And so on Trinity Sunday – let us not break our minds trying to comprehend this mystery. Let us hear the word “trinity” and think “one.” Let us allow our mind, heart, and soul to be filled with reverence for our incomprehensible Triune God – the One who, despite the mystery of Three in One, nevertheless became one of us, so that we might live forever with Him in heaven. And in His incomprehensible majesty and might, He patiently and humbly awaits us in all the tabernacles of the world.
Do you take time to stop at chapels and bow in adoration before this Holy One? Do you pause to recite more slowly the Glory Be, considering this marvellous truth? Let us remember often the words of this great hymn: “Holy Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty, early in the morning, our song shall rise to thee … Holy Holy Holy, merciful and mighty, God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity.”