Why Does Jesus Say That the Father Is Greater Than He If the Members of the Trinity Are Equal?

A common question arising around the time of Trinity Sunday is rooted in this passage from John’s Gospel:

If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I (Jn 14:28).

This is somewhat puzzling because we are taught that each Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity fully possesses the nature of God and is equally to be adored and glorified. What, then, did Jesus mean when He said, “the Father is greater than I”?

The most common (and correct) answer is that in this passage Jesus was speaking in reference to His human nature, in which He is inferior to the Father; in His divine nature He is equal to the Father. Many of the Church Fathers spoke in this way. For example,

    • St Augustine said, Let us acknowledge then the twofold substance of Christ, the divine, which is equal to the Father, and the human, which is inferior. But Christ is both together, not two, but one Christ: else the Godhead is a quaternity, not a Trinity. Wherefore He says, If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go to the Father; for human nature should exult at being thus taken up by the Only Begotten Word, and made immortal in heaven; at earth being raised to heaven, and dust sitting incorruptible at the right hand of the Father. Who, that loves Christ, will not rejoice at this, seeing, as he doth, his own nature immortal in Christ, and hoping that He Himself will be so by Christ (Quoted in the Catena Aurea at John 14:28).
    • Didymus the Blind said, When he says “greater” he indicates that his divinity can be equaled to the Father, since he is of the same substance as him, but the Father is greater because the Son accepted a body…The Son’s nature is understood to be less than that of the Father inasmuch as the Son became man (Fragments on John at 14).
    • Hilary of Poitiers said, By the birth of the Son the Father is constituted greater … in that the Son, born of the Father, after assuming an earthly body, is taken back to the glory of the Father (On the Trinity, 9:56).
    • Theodoret of Cyr had Jesus speak, saying, Sometimes therefore I, [Jesus] say that I am equal to the Father, and at other times say that the Father is greater than I. I am not contradicting myself, but I am showing that I am God and a human being … If you want to know how the Father is greater than I, I was talking from the flesh, not from the person of the Divinity (Dialogue 1:56).

Thus, the first answer is clear: As God, Jesus is equal to the Father, but as Man, He is inferior to the Father.

In a qualified way, however, it is also possible to speak of a particular greatness of the Father even within the Trinity. While all three persons of the Trinity are co-eternal, co-equal, and equally divine, the Father is the Principium Deitatis (the Source in the Deity). So, although the members of the Trinity are all equal in dignity, there are processions in the Trinity. The Father is the Principium, the Son eternally proceeds from Him and is eternally begotten by Him (Jn 8:42); the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principal (Jn 15:26).

Thus, even from the perspective of His divinity it is possible for Jesus to say, “I delight that the Father is the eternal principal of my being. Even though I have no origin in time, I do eternally proceed from Him.”

The Athanasian Creed says the following regarding these processions:

The Father is made by none, neither created nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, neither made nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, not made, nor created, nor begotten, but he proceeds from them.

St. Thomas Aquinas speaks poetically of the Trinity in the familiar hymn “Tantum Ergo”:

Genitori, Genitoque … Procedenti ab utroque … compar sit laudautio.
(To the One Who Begets, and to the Begotten One, and to the One who proceeds from them both, be equal praise.)

So, although the Persons of the Trinity are equal, the processions within the Trinity do have an order. The Father is “greater” in the very qualified sense that He is the Principium Deitatis, the Principal of the Deity, but is co-eternal and equal in dignity to the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Devotionally, Jesus may also be speaking of the Father as greater in the sense that He always does what pleases His Father. Jesus loves His Father; He’s crazy about Him. He is always talking about Him and pointing to Him. By calling the Father “greater,” Jesus says (in effect), “I look to my Father for everything. I do what I see Him doing (Jn 5:19) and what I know pleases Him (Jn 5:30). As God, we share one will; as human, my human will and His will are one. What I will to do proceeds from Him. I do what I know accords with His will.”

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Why Does Jesus Say That the Father Is Greater Than He If the Members of the Trinity Are Equal?

One and One and One Are One – A Homily for Trinity Sunday

There is an old spiritual that says, “My God is so high you can’t get over Him. He’s so low you can’t get under Him. He’s so wide you can’t get around Him. You must come in, by and through the Lamb.”

It’s not a bad way of saying that God is “other.” He is beyond what human words can describe, beyond what human thoughts can conjure. And on the Feast 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. In the Christian tradition, the word “mystery” refers (among other things) to something that is partially revealed, something much more of which remains hidden. Thus, as we ponder the Trinity, consider that although there are some things we can know by revelation, much more is beyond our understanding.

Let’s ponder the Trinity by exploring it, seeing how it is exhibited in Scripture, and observing how we, who are made in God’s image, experience it.

I. The Teaching on the Trinity Explored – Perhaps we do best to begin by quoting the Catechism, which 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 (Catechism, 253).

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.

It is our human experience that if there is only one of something and someone possesses it fully, then there is nothing left for anyone else. Yet, mysteriously, each of the three persons of the Trinity fully possesses the one and only divine nature, while remaining a distinct person.

One of the great masterpieces of the Latin Liturgy is the preface for Trinity Sunday. It compactly and clearly sets forth the Christian teaching on the Trinity. The following translation of the Latin is my own:

It is truly fitting and just, right and helpful unto salvation that we should always and everywhere give thanks to you O Holy Lord, Father almighty and eternal God: who, with your only begotten Son and the Holy Spirit are one God, one Lord: not in the oneness of a single person, but in a Trinity of one substance. For that which we believe from your revelation concerning your glory, we acknowledge of your Son and the Holy Spirit without difference or distinction. Thus, in the confession of the true and eternal Godhead there is adored a distinctness of persons, a oneness in essence, and an equality in majesty, whom the angels and archangels, the Cherubim also and the Seraphim, do not cease to daily cry out with one voice saying, Holy, Holy, Holy

Wow! A careful and clear masterpiece, but one that baffles the mind. So deep is this mystery that we had to “invent” a paradoxical word to summarize it: triune (or Trinity). Triune literally means, “three-one” (tri + unus) and “Trinity is a conflation of “Tri-unity,” meaning the “three-oneness” of God.

If all this baffles you, good! If you were to say that you fully understood all this, I would have to call you a likely heretic. For the teaching on the Trinity, while not contrary to reason per se, does transcend it and it is surely beyond human understanding.

And now a final image before we leave our exploration stage. The picture at the upper right is from an experiment I remember doing when I was in high school. We took three projectors, each of which projected a circle: one red, one green, and one blue (the three primary colors). At the intersection of the three circles the color white appeared (see above). Mysteriously, the three primary colors are present in the color white, but only one shows forth. The analogy is not perfect (no analogy is or it wouldn’t be an analogy) for Father, Son, and Spirit do not “blend” to make God. But the analogy does manifest a mysterious “three-oneness” of the color white. Somehow in the one, three are present. (By the way, this experiment only works with light; don’t try it with paint!)

II. The Teaching on the Trinity Exhibited – Scripture also presents images of the Trinity. Interestingly enough, most of the pictures I want to present are from the Old Testament.

I’d like to point out as a disclaimer that Scripture scholars debate the meaning of the texts I am about to present; that’s what they get paid the big bucks to do. I am reading these texts as a New Testament Christian and seeing in them a doctrine that later became clear. I am not getting into a time machine and trying to understand them as a Jew from the 8th century B.C. might have. Why should I? That’s not what I am. I am reading these texts as a Christian in the light of the New Testament, as I have a perfect right to do. You, of course, are free to decide whether you think these texts really are images or hints of the Trinity. Here they are:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …” (Gen 1:26)

God speaks of himself in the plural: “Let us … our …” Some claim that this is just an instance of the “royal we” being used. Perhaps, but I see an image of the Trinity. There is one (“God said”) but there is also a plural (us, our). Right at the very beginning in Genesis there is already a hint that God is not all by himself, but rather is in a communion of love.

Elohim

In the passage above, the word used for God is אֱלֹהִ֔ים (Elohim). It is interesting to note that this word is in the plural form. From a grammatical standpoint, Elohim actually means “Gods,” but the Jewish people understood the sense of the word to be singular. This is a much debated point, however; you can read more about it from a Jewish perspective here: Elohim as Plural yet Singular.

(We have certain words like this in English, words that are plural in form but singular in meaning: news, mathematics, acoustics, etc.) My point here is not to try to understand it as a Jew from the 8th century B.C. or even as a present day Jew. Rather, I am observing with interest that one of the main words for God in the Old Testament is plural yet singular, singular yet plural. God is one yet three. I say this as a Christian observing this about one of the main titles of God. I see an image of the Trinity.

And the LORD appeared to [Abram] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said (Gen 18:1-5).

From a purely grammatical standpoint this is a very difficult passage because it switches back and forth between singular and plural references. The Lord (singular) appears to Abram, yet Abram sees three men (some have said that this is just God and two angels, but I think it is the Trinity). And then when Abram addresses “them” he says, “My Lord” (singular). The tortured grammar continues as Abram suggests that the Lord (singular) rest “yourselves” (plural) under the tree. The same thing happens in the next sentence, in which Abram wants to fetch bread so that you may refresh “yourselves” (plural) In the end, the Lord (singular) answers, but it is rendered as “So they said.” Plural, singular … which is it? Both. God is one; God is three. For me as a Christian, this is a picture of the Trinity. Because the reality of God cannot be reduced to mere words, we have here a grammatically difficult passage. But I can “see” what is going on: God is one and God is three; He is singular and He is plural.

Having come down in a cloud, the Lord stood with Moses there and proclaimed his Name, “Lord.” Thus the Lord passed before him and cried out, “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” (Exodus 34:5).

When God announces His name, He does so in a threefold way: Lord! … The Lord, the Lord. There is implicit a threefold introduction or announcement of God. Is it a coincidence or is it significant? You decide.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the Seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is 6:1-3).

God is Holy, Holy, and yet again, Holy. Some say that this is just a Jewish way of saying “very Holy,” but as Christian I see more. I see a reference to each of the three persons of the Trinity. Perfect praise here requires three “holys.” Why? Omni Trinum Perfectum (all things are perfect in threes). But why? As a Christian, I see the angels praising each of the three persons of the Trinity. God is three (Holy, holy, holy …) and yet God is one (holy is the Lord …). There are three declarations of the word “Holy.” Is it a coincidence or is it significant? You decide.

Here are three (of many) references to the Trinity in the New Testament:

        • Jesus says, The Father and I are one (Jn 10:30).
        • Jesus also says, To have seen me is to have seen the Father (Jn 14:9).
        • 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 (Matt 28:19). God is one (name) and God is three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

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

III. The Teaching of the Trinity Experienced – 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.

    • It is clear that we are all distinct individuals. I am not you; you are not I. Yet it is also true that we are made for communion. We humans cannot exist apart from one another. Obviously we depend on our parents, through whom God made us, but even beyond that we need one another for completion.
    • Despite what the Paul Simon song says, no man is a rock or an island. There is no such thing as a self-made man. Even the private business owner needs customers, suppliers, shippers, and other middle men. He uses roads he did not build, has electricity supplied to him over lines he did not string, and speaks a language to his customers that he did not create. Further, the product he makes was likely the result of technologies and processes he did not invent. The list could go on and on.
    • We are individual, but we are social. We are one, but we are linked to many. Clearly we do not possess the kind of unity that God does, but the “three-oneness” of God echoes in us. We are one, yet we are many.
    • We have entered into perilous times where our interdependence and communal influence are under-appreciated. That attitude that prevails today is a rather extreme individualism wherein “I can do as I please.” There is a reduced sense at how our individual choices affect the whole of the community, Church or nation. That I am an individual is true, but it is also true that I live in communion with others and must respect that dimension of who I am. I exist not only for me, but for others. And what I do affects others, for good or ill.
    • The attitude that it’s none of my business what others do needs some attention. Privacy and discretion have important places in our life, but so does concern for what others think and do, the choices they make, and the effects that such things have on others. A common moral and religious vision is an important thing to cultivate. It is ultimately quite important what others think and do. We should care about fundamental things like respect for life, love, care for the poor, education, marriage, and family. Indeed, marriage and family are fundamental to community, nation, and the Church. I am one, but I am also in communion with others and they with me.
    • Finally, there is a rather remarkable conclusion that some have drawn: the best image of God in us is not a man alone, or a woman alone, but, rather, a man and a woman together in lasting a fruitful relationship we call marriage. For when God said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26), the text goes on to say, “Male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). And God says to them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). So the image of God (as God sets it forth most perfectly) is the married and fruitful couple.

We must be careful to understand that what we humans manifest sexually, God manifests spiritually. For God is neither male nor female in His essence. Thus, we may say, The First Person loves the Second Person and the Second Person loves the First Person. And so real is that love, that it bears fruit in the Third Person. In this way the married couple images God, for the husband and wife love each other and their love bears fruit in their children [1].

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

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: One and One and One Are One – A Homily for Trinity Sunday

Why Did the Second Person of the Trinity, Rather Than the Father or the Holy Spirit, Become Incarnate?

Trinity Dome. Credit: J. Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

As we await the approaching Feast of Holy Christmas, we have been pondering some of St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings on the Incarnation. Today we will consider why it was the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who became incarnate.

Most people have never even thought of this question let alone sought to answer it. God could have chosen many different ways to save us; He chose to act as He did not because it was required but because it was fitting. It falls to us to ponder, using Scripture and our own reason, why His chosen way was fitting and what we can learn from this.

As always, St. Thomas Aquinas provides rich resources for us. I present below his teaching from the Summa Theologica (part III, question 3, article 8) in bold, italics; my poor commentary appears in plain red text. St. Thomas proposed four reasons as to why it was most fitting for the Son to become incarnate.

I. First, on the part of the union; for such as are similar are fittingly united. Now the Person of the Son, Who is the Word of God, has a certain common agreement with all creatures, because the word of the craftsman, i.e. his concept, is an exemplar likeness of whatever is made by him. Hence the Word of God, Who is His eternal concept, is the exemplar likeness of all creatures. … for the craftsman by the intelligible form of his art, whereby he fashioned his handiwork, restores it when it has fallen into ruin.

When the Father created all things, He uttered a Word (i.e., Let there be light). He creates through His Word (the Logos), and the Word of God is Christ. Therefore, in speaking creation into existence by the Logos, God impresses a kind of logike (logic) on all things.

In this way the Son, the Logos, has a “certain common agreement with all creatures,” who bear something of logic or likeness to Him. If this be so, then, as St. Thomas reasons, God the Father would best repair His creation by the same Word through whom He first created it.

II. Moreover … Man is perfected in wisdom (which is his proper perfection, as he is rational) by participating the Word of God, as the disciple is instructed by receiving the word of his master. Hence it is said (Sirach 1:5): “The Word of God on high is the fountain of wisdom.” And hence for the consummate perfection of man it was fitting that the very Word of God should be personally united to human nature.

While it is true that Original Sin affected our bodily integrity, perhaps our greatest wound was the darkening of our intellect, which was (and is) our greatest gift, the distinguishing characteristic between us and brute animals. So, it is especially fitting that the Word of God, who is also the Wisdom of God, should be joined to our nature and bring healing to us in this way.

St. Paul writes, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Rom 12:2). Even human words can instruct; all the more, then, can the Word of God made Flesh enlighten and heal us. This shows forth the fittingness that the Word—the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity—should become flesh.

III. The reason of this fitness [of the Second Person becoming flesh] may [also] be taken from the end of the union, which is … the heavenly inheritance, which is bestowed only on sons, according to Romans 8:17: “If sons, heirs also.” Hence it was fitting that by Him Who is the natural Son, men should share this likeness of sonship by adoption, as the Apostle says in the same chapter (Romans 8:29): “For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son.”

In other words, because it is sons who inherit, it is fitting that He who is Son by nature should become incarnate. So shall we, conformed to His image as sons through our adoption and membership in His Body, also inherit the Kingdom and glory through the healing He effects in us.

IV. [Further], the reason for this fitness may be taken from the sin of our first parent, for which Incarnation supplied the remedy. For the first man sinned by seeking knowledge, as is plain from the words of the serpent, promising to man the knowledge of good and evil. Hence it was fitting that by the Word of true knowledge man might be led back to God, having wandered from God through an inordinate thirst for knowledge.

In grasping inordinately for the wrong kind of knowledge (the knowledge of evil) and in insisting on his own right to decide what was good and what was evil, Adam sinned. In and of itself, seeking knowledge is good; it was the object that was disordered (and thus forbidden). Because humans have this thirst to know (of itself good), all the more reason that God should offer us the true Word and Wisdom of God: the Son.

For the Word to become flesh is thus more fitting. In effect, God the Father says, “Let me offer you what you were really seeking but sought inordinately.” For this reason, the Son, who is the Word, who is Truth itself, becomes incarnate.

One and One and One Are One – A Homily for Trinity Sunday

TrinityThere is an old spiritual that says, “My God is so high you can’t get over Him. He’s so low you can’t get under Him. He’s so wide you can’t get around Him. You must come in, by and through the Lamb.”

It’s not a bad way of saying that God is “other.” He is beyond what human words can describe, beyond what human thoughts can conjure. On the Feast 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. In the Christian tradition, the word “mystery” refers to (among other things) something that is partially revealed, something much more of which remains hidden. As we ponder the Trinity, consider that although there are some things we can know by revelation, much more is beyond our understanding.

Let’s ponder the Trinity by exploring it, seeing how it is exhibited in Scripture, and observing how we, who are made in God’s image, experience it.

I. The Teaching on the Trinity Explored

Perhaps we do best to begin by quoting the Catechism, which 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 (Catechism, 253).

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.

It is our human experience that if there is only one of something, and someone possesses it fully, then there is nothing left for anyone else. Yet mysteriously, each of the three persons of the Trinity fully possesses the one and only divine nature while remaining a distinct person.

One of the great masterpieces of the Latin Liturgy is the preface for Trinity Sunday. It compactly and clearly sets forth the Christian teaching on the Trinity. The following translation of the Latin is my own:

It is truly fitting and just, right and helpful unto salvation that we should always and everywhere give thanks to you O Holy Lord, Father almighty and eternal God: who, with your only begotten Son and the Holy Spirit are one God, one Lord: not in the oneness of a single person, but in a Trinity of one substance. For that which we believe from your revelation concerning your glory, we acknowledge of your Son and the Holy Spirit without difference or distinction. Thus, in the confession of the true and eternal Godhead there is adored a distinctness of persons, a oneness in essence, and an equality in majesty, whom the angels and archangels, the Cherubim also and the Seraphim, do not cease to daily cry out with one voice saying, Holy, Holy, Holy

Wow! It’s a careful and clear masterpiece, but one that baffles the mind. So deep is this mystery that we had to “invent” a paradoxical word to summarize it: Triune (or Trinity). Triune literally means “three-one” (tri + unus), and “Trinity” is a conflation of “Tri-unity,” meaning the “three-oneness” of God.

If all of this baffles you, good! If you were to say that you fully understood all this, I would have to say you were likely a heretic. The teaching on the Trinity, while not contrary to reason per se, does transcend it and it is surely beyond human understanding.

Here is a final image before we leave our exploration stage. The picture at the upper right is from an experiment I remember doing when I was in high school. We took three projectors, each of which projected a circle: one red, one green, and one blue (the three primary colors). At the intersection of the three circles the color white appeared. Mysteriously, the three primary colors are present in the color white, but only one shows forth. The analogy is not perfect (no analogy is or it wouldn’t be an analogy) for Father, Son, and Spirit do not “blend” to make God, but it does manifest a mysterious “three-oneness” of the color white. Somehow in the one, three are present. (By the way, this experiment only works with light; don’t try it with paint!)

II. The Teaching on the Trinity Exhibited – Scripture also presents images of the Trinity. Interestingly enough, most of the ones I want to present here are from the Old Testament.

As a disclaimer, I’d like to point out that Scripture scholars debate the meaning of these texts; that’s what they get paid the big bucks to do. I am reading these texts as a New Testament Christian and seeing in them a doctrine that later became clear. I am not getting into a time machine and trying to understand them as a Jew from the 8th century B.C. might have. Why should I? That’s not what I am. I am reading these texts as a Christian in the light of the New Testament, as I have a perfect right to do. You, of course, are free to decide whether you think these texts really are images or hints of the Trinity. Here they are:

1. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …” (Gen 1:26)

God speaks of himself in the plural: “Let us … our …” Some claim that this is just an instance of the “royal we” being used. Perhaps, but I see an image of the Trinity. There is one (“God said”) but there is also a plural (us, our). Right at the very beginning in Genesis there is already a hint that God is not all by himself, but rather is in a communion of love.

2. Elohim

In the passage above, the word used for God is אֱלֹהִ֔ים (Elohim). It is interesting to note that this word is in the plural form. From a grammatical standpoint, Elohim actually means “Gods,” but the Jewish people understood the sense of the word to be singular. This is a much debated point, however. You can read more about it from a Jewish perspective here: Elohim as Plural yet Singular.

(We have certain words like this in English, words that are plural in form but singular in meaning such as news, mathematics, and acoustics.) My point here is not to try to understand it as a Jew from the 8th century B.C. or even as a present day Jew. Rather, I am observing with interest that one of the main words for God in the Old Testament is plural yet singular, singular yet plural. God is one yet three. I say this as a Christian observing this about one of the main titles of God, and I see an image of the Trinity.

3. And the LORD appeared to [Abram] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said (Gen 18:1-5).

From a purely grammatical standpoint this is a very difficult passage because it switches back and forth between singular and plural references. The Lord (singular) appears to Abram, yet Abram sees three men (some have said that this is just God and two angels, but I think it is the Trinity). Then when Abram addresses “them” he says, “My Lord” (singular). The tortured grammar continues as Abram suggests that the Lord (singular) rest “yourselves” (plural) under the tree. The same thing happens in the next sentence, in which Abram wants to fetch bread so that you may refresh “yourselves” (plural). In the end, the Lord (singular) answers, but it is rendered as “So they said.” Plural, singular … which is it? Both. God is one and God is three. For me as a Christian, this is a picture of the Trinity. Because the reality of God cannot be reduced to mere words, this is a grammatically difficult passage, but I can “see” what is going on: God is one and God is three; He is singular and He is plural.

4. Having come down in a cloud, the Lord stood with Moses there and proclaimed his Name, “Lord.” Thus the Lord passed before him and cried out, “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” (Exodus 34:5).

When God announces His name, He does so in a threefold way: Lord! … The Lord, the Lord. There is implicit a threefold introduction or announcement of God. Is it a coincidence or is it significant? You decide.

5. In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the Seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is 6:1-3).

God is Holy, Holy, and yet again, Holy. Some say that this is just a Jewish way of saying “very Holy,” but as Christian I see more. I see a reference to each of the three persons of the Trinity. Perfect praise here requires three “holys.” Why? Omni Trinum Perfectum (all things are perfect in threes). But why? As a Christian, I see the angels praising each of the three persons of the Trinity. God is three (Holy, holy, holy …) and yet God is one (holy is the Lord …). There are three declarations of the word “Holy.” Is it a coincidence or is it significant? You decide.

6. Here are three (of many) references to the Trinity in the New Testament:

  1. Jesus says, The Father and I are one (Jn 10:30).
  2. Jesus also says, To have seen me is to have seen the Father (Jn 14:9).
  3. 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 (Matt 28:19). God is one (name) and God is three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

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

III. The Teaching of the Trinity Experienced – 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.

  • It is clear that we are all distinct individuals. I am not you; you are not I. Yet it is also true that we are made for communion. We humans cannot exist apart from one another. Obviously we depend on our parents, through whom God made us, but even beyond that we need one another for completion.
  • Despite what the Paul Simon song says, no man is a rock or an island. There is no such thing as a self-made man. Even the private business owner needs customers, suppliers, shippers, and other middlemen. He uses roads he did not build, has electricity supplied to him over lines he did not string, and speaks a language to his customers that he did not create. Further, the product he makes was likely the result of technologies and processes he did not invent. The list could go on and on.
  • We are individual, but we are social. We are one, but we are linked to many. Clearly we do not possess the kind of unity that God does, but the “three-oneness” of God echoes in us. We are one, yet we are many.
  • We have entered into perilous times where our interdependence and communal influence are under-appreciated. The attitude that prevails today is a rather extreme individualism: “I can do as I please.” There is a reduced sense of how our individual choices affect the community, Church, or nation. That I am an individual is true, but it is also true that I live in communion with others and must respect that dimension of who I am. I exist not only for me, but for others. What I do affects others, for good or ill.
  • The attitude that it’s none of my business what others do needs some attention. Privacy and discretion have important places in our life, but so does concern for what others think and do, the choices they make, and the effects that such things have on others. A common moral and religious vision is an important thing to cultivate. It is ultimately quite important what others think and do. We should care about fundamental things like respect for life, love, care for the poor, education, marriage, and family. Indeed, marriage and family are fundamental to community, nation, and the Church. I am one, but I am also in communion with others and they with me.
  • Finally, there is a rather remarkable conclusion that some have drawn: the best image of God in us is not a man alone or a woman alone, but rather a man and a woman together in the lasting and fruitful relationship we call marriage. When God said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26), the text goes on to say, “Male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). God then says to them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). So the image of God (as He sets it forth most perfectly) is the married and fruitful couple.

We must be careful to understand that what humans manifest sexually, God manifests spiritually, for God is neither male nor female in His essence. We may say that the First Person loves the Second Person and the Second Person loves the First Person. So real is that love that it bears fruit in the Third Person. In this way the married couple images God, for the husband and wife love each other and their love bears fruit in their children (See, USCCB, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan”).

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

 

Love on the Move: Of the Divine “Dance” In the Holy Trinity

There is a kind of tension in some of the imagery we use for God. On the one hand we call Him the “Unmoved Mover.” We also say that God is everywhere. If He is everywhere then there is nowhere for him to go, no need for Him to move because He is already there. Yet we also speak of “processions” in the Trinity.

St. Thomas artfully and with precision speaks of the Trinity and the two “processions” as Gentori Genitoque laus et jubilation … Procedenti abutroque compar sit laudatio (To the One who generates and to the One who is generated be praise and jubilation … To the One proceeding from them both be equal praise).

St. Thomas also points out an important difference between material procession and divine procession:

In material things, what comes forth from another is no longer in it, since it comes from it by a separation from it in essence or in space. But in God, coming forth does not arise in this way. The Son came forth eternally from the Father in such a way that the Son is still in the Father from all eternity. And so, when he is in the Father, he comes forth. And when he comes forth, he is in him, in such a way that he is always coming forth, and always in him (Commentary on John, 16:28).

So, it would seem that the Unmoved Mover, our Triune God, has processions of love within. There is a kind of dynamism of love! Of course, our feeble words fall short and our analogies are weak.

There is a beautiful Greek word used by the Church Fathers (e.g., St. John Damascene) to describe the inner life of the Trinity: perichoresis. It is a combination of two words: peri, meaning “around” and chorein, meaning “to make space.” Therefore perichoresis, literally translated, means “to make space around.” It points to the way in which someone or something makes space around itself for others or for something else.

What a picturesque word! It suggests a kind of swirling or a dance. It is close in its spelling to the Greek word for dance, choreuo, so many people refer to it as the dance of love in the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make room for one another; they “dance” about and “with” one another in a way that shows a mutual indwelling while still maintaining space for each person.

Yes, love is dynamic. There is a movement of love between the persons of the Trinity. This imagery is powerfully different than the one that most people have of the Trinity (God the Father on one throne, sitting next to His Son on another, with the Holy Spirit hovering like a dove between them). This is not wrong. Scripture speaks of thrones in Heaven and of the Father and the Son seated, but the thrones are likely more an image of authority than of inactivity.

Surely the inner life of the Trinity is more than merely being seated. It is a glorious procession of love: The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love proceeding from them both. Yes, there is a great movement, a dance of love.

To this “dance” of love, Christ draws His Bride, the Church. It is our destiny and dignity to be caught up one day to the great dance of love of the Trinity. Heaven is not a static vision of God from some distance; it is a beatific vision, an experience of love that is dynamic and moving, a dance of ecstasy.

Put on your dancing shoes and get ready for the dance! Remember that to dance well we must surrender all pride and learn to dance as if no one is watching. Only the humble can really dance well, only those who can make space for the Lord and let Him lead.

I hope you will forgive the secular source, but below is an image of Christ drawing His bride to the dance.

Why Does Jesus Call the Father Greater If We Teach That the Members of the Trinity Are Equal?

blog5-23-2016Many of you know that I write the Question and Answer column for Our Sunday Visitor. Given the celebration of Trinity Sunday this past Sunday, I thought I might reproduce here on the blog a question/answer regarding the Trinity. It is a fairly common question; perhaps you have it, too. Remember that my answers in the column are required to be brief.

We read in a recent Sunday Gospel (May 1, 2016) that Jesus says that the Father is greater than He (Jn 14:28). Since we are all taught that each Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity fully possesses the nature of God, equally to be adored and glorified, what did Jesus mean by such a statement?” – Dick Smith, Carrolton, TX.

Theologically, Jesus means that the Father is the eternal source in the Trinity. All three persons of the Trinity are co-eternal, co-equal, and equally divine. But the Father is the Principium Deitatis (the Source in the Deity).

Hence, Jesus proceeds from the Father from all eternity. He is eternally begotten of the Father. In effect, Jesus is saying, “I delight that the Father is the eternal principle or source of my being, even though I have no origin in time.”

Devotionally, Jesus is saying that He always does what pleases His Father. Jesus loves His Father; He’s crazy about Him. He is always talking about Him and pointing to Him. By calling the Father greater, He says (in effect), “I look to my Father for everything. I do what I see Him doing (Jn 5:19) and what I know pleases Him (Jn 5:30). His will and mine are one. What I will to do proceeds from Him. I do what I know accords with His will.”

So although the members of the Trinity are all equal in dignity, there are processions in the Trinity, such that the Father is the source, the Son eternally proceeds from Him (Jn 8:42), and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principal (Jn 15:26).

St Thomas speaks poetically of the Trinity as follows:

Genitori, Genitoque … Procedenti ab utroque … compar sit laudautio

(To the One Who Begets, and to the Begotton One, and to the One who proceeds from them both, be equal praise.)

The Athanasian Creed says the following regarding these processions:

The Father is made by none, neither created nor begotten.

The Son is of the Father alone, neither made nor created, but begotten.

The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, not made, nor created, nor begotten, but he proceeds from them.

So although equal, processions do have an order. The Father is “greater” (as source), but is equal in dignity to Son and Holy Spirit.

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My God is So High, You Can’t Get Over Him….A Meditation of the Feast of the Holy Trinity

There is an old Spiritual that says, My God is so high, you can’t over him, he’s so low, you can’t under him, he’s so wide you can’t round him, you must come in, by and through the Lamb.

Not a bad way of saying that God is other, He is beyond what human words can tell or describe, He is beyond what human thoughts can conjure. And on the Feast 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. In the Christian tradition the word “mystery” refers to something partially revealed, much more of which lies hid. Thus, as we ponder the teaching on the Trinity, there are some things we can know by revelation, but much more is beyond our reach or understanding.

Lets ponder the Trinity by exploring it, seeing how it is exhibited in Scripture, and how we, who are made in God’s image experience it.

I. The Teaching on the Trinity Explored – Perhaps we do best to begin by quoting the Catechism which 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. (Catechism, 253).

So there is one God, and the three persons of the Trinity each possess the one Divine nature fully. The Father IS God, He is not 1/3 of God. Likewise the Son, Jesus, IS God. He is not 1/3 of God. And so too, the Holy Spirit IS God, not a mere third of God. So each of the three persons possesses the one Divine nature fully.

It is our experience that if there is only one of something, and I possess that something fully, there is nothing left for you. Yet, mysteriously each of the Three Persons fully possess the one and only Divine Nature fully while remaining distinct persons.

One of the great masterpieces of the Latin Liturgy is the preface for Trinity Sunday. The Preface, compactly, yet clearly sets for the Christian teaching on the Trinity. The following translation of the Latin is my own:

It is truly fitting and just, right and helpful unto salvation that we should always and everywhere give thanks to you O Holy Lord, Father almighty and eternal God: who, with your only begotten Son and the Holy Spirit are one God, one Lord: not in the oneness of a single person, but in a Trinity of one substance. For that which we believe from your revelation concerning your glory, we acknowledge of your Son and the Holy Spirit without difference or distinction. Thus, in the confession of the true and eternal Godhead there is adored a distinctness of persons, a oneness in essence, and an equality in majesty, whom the angels and archangels, the Cherubim also and the Seraphim, do not cease to daily cry out with one voice saying: Holy Holy, Holy….

Wowza! A careful and clear masterpiece, but one which baffles the mind as its words and phrases come forth. So deep is this mystery that we had to invent a paradoxical word to summarize it: Triune (or Trinity). “Triune” literally means, “Three-one” (tri+unus) and “Trinity is a conflation of “Tri-unity” meaning the “three-oneness” of God.

If all this baffles you, good. If you were to say, you fully understood all this, I would have to call you a heretic. For the teaching on the Trinity, while not contrary to reason per se, does transcend it.

A final picture or image, before we leave our exploration stage. The picture at the upper right is an experiment I remember doing back in High School. We took three projectors, each of which projected a circle:  One was red, another green, another blue. As we made the three circles intersect, at that intersection, was the color white (see above). Mysteriously, three colors are present there, but only one shows forth. There are three but there is one. The analogy is not perfect (no analogy is, it wouldn’t be an analogy) for Father, Son and Spirit do not “blend” to make God. But the analogy does manifest a mysterious three-oneness of the color white. Somehow in the one, three are present. (By the way, this experiment only works with light, don’t try it with paint  🙂  )

II. The Teaching on the Trinity Exhibited : Scripture too presents images and pictures of the Trinity. Interestingly enough most of  the pictures I want to present are from the Old Testament.

Now I want to say, as a disclaimer, that Scripture Scholars debate the meaning of the texts I am about to present, that’s what they get paid the big bucks to do. Let me be clear to say that I am reading these texts as a New Testament Christian and seeing in them a Doctrine that later became clear. I am not getting in a time machine and trying to understand them as a Jew from the 8th Century BC might have understood them. Why should I? That’s not what I am.  I am reading these texts as a Christian in the light of the New Testament, as I have a perfect right to do. You of course, the reader are free to decide if these texts really ARE images or hints of the Trinity from your perspective. Take them or leave them. Here they are:

1. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…  (Gen 1:26) So God speaks to himself in the plural: “let us….our.”  Some claim this is just an instance of the “Royal We” being used. Perhaps but I see an image of the Trinity. There is one (God said) but there is also a plural (us, our). Right at the very beginning in Genesis there is already a hint that God is not all by himself, but is in a communion of love.

2. Elohim?? In the quote above, the word used for God is אֱלֹהִ֔ים (Elohim). Now it is interesting that this word is in a plural form. From the view point of pure grammatical form Elohim means “Gods.”  However, the Jewish people understood the sense of the word to be singular. Now this is a much debated point and you can read something more of it from a Jewish perspective here: Elohim as Plural yet Singular. My point here is not to try and understand it as a Jew from the 8th Century BC or a Jew today might understand it. Rather, what I observing is that it is interesting that one of the main words for God in the Old Testament is plural, yet singular, singular yet plural. It is one, it  is also plural. God is one, yet he is three. I say this as a  Christian observing this about one of the main titles of God. I see an image of the Trinity.

3.  And the LORD appeared to [Abram] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.  He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth,  and said, “My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree,  while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on — since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” (Gen 18:1-5).  Now this passage from a purely grammatical point of view is very difficult since we switch back and forth  from singular references to plural. Note first that the Lord (singular) appeared to Abram. (In this case יְהוָ֔ה Yahweh  (YHWH) is the name used for God). And yet what Abram sees is three men. Some have wanted to say, this is just God and two angels. But I see the Trinity being imaged or alluded to here. And yet when Abram address “them” he says, “My Lord” (singular). The “tortured” grammar continues as Abram asks that water be fetched so that he can “wash your feet” (singular) and that the “LORD” (singular) can rest yourselves (plural). The same thing happens in the next sentence where Abram wants to fetch bread that you (singular) may refresh yourselves (plural) In the end the LORD (singular) gives answer but it is rendered: “So they said”  Plural, singular….. what is it? Both. God is one, God is three. For me, as a Christian,  this is a picture of the Trinity. Since the reality of God cannot be reduced to words we have here a grammatically difficult passage. But I “see” what is going on. God is one and God is three, he is singular and yet is plural.

4. Having come down in a cloud, the Lord stood with Moses there and proclaimed his Name, “Lord.” Thus the Lord passed before him and cried out, “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” (Exodus 34:5). Here we see that when God announces his name He does so in a threefold way: Lord!…The Lord, the Lord. There is implicit a threefold introduction or announcement of God. Coincidence or of significance? You decide.

5.  In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the Seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. (Is 6:1-3) God is Holy, Holy, and yet again, Holy. Some say this is just a Jewish way of saying “very Holy” but as Christian I see more. I see a reference to each of the Three Persons. Perfect praise here requires three “holys”, why? Omni Trinum Perfectum (all things are perfect in threes), but why? So, as a Christian I see the angels not just using the superlative but also praising each of the Three persons. God is three (Holy, Holy, Holy) and God is one, and so the text says, Holy  ”IS the Lord.” Three declarations “Holy”: Coincidence or of significance? You decide.

6. In the New Testament there are obviously many references but let me just refer to three quickly. Jesus says, The Father and I are one (Jn 10:30). He says again, To have seen me is to have seen the Father (Jn. 14:9). And, have you ever noticed that in  the baptismal formula Jesus uses is “bad” grammar? He says, Baptize them in the Name (not names as it grammatically “should” be) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). God is One (name) and God is three (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

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

III. The Teaching of the Trinity Experienced – 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.

For, it is clear that we are all distinct individuals. I am not you, you are not me. Yet it is also true that we are made for communion. Humanly we cannot exist apart from one another. Obviously we depend on our parents through whom God made us. But even beyond physical descent, we need one another for completion.

Despite what old songs say, no man is a rock or an island. There is no self-made man. Even the private business owner needs customers, suppliers and shippers, and other middle men. He uses roads he did not build, has electricity supplied to him over lines he did not string, and speaks a language to his customers and others he did not create. Further, whatever the product he makes, he is likely the heir of technologies and processes he did not invent, others before him did. And the list could go on.

We are individual, but we are social. We are one, but linked to many. Clearly we do not possess the kind of unity God does, but the three oneness of God echoes in us. We are one, yet we are many.

We have entered into perilous times where our interdependence and communal influence are under appreciated. That attitude that prevails today is a rather extreme individualism wherein “I can do as I please.” There is a reduced sense at how our individual choices affect the whole of the community, Church or nation. That I am an individual is true, but it is also true that I live in communion with others and must respect that dimension of who I am. I exist not only for me, but for others. And what I do affects others, for good or ill.

The “It’s none of my business, what others do” attitude also needs some attention. Privacy and discretion have important places in our life, but so does having concern for what others do and think, the choices they are making and the effects that such things have on others. A common moral and religious vision is an important thing to cultivate. It is ultimately important what others think and do, and we should care about fundamental things like respect for life, love, care for the poor, education, marriage and family. Indeed, marriage an family are fundamental to community, nation and the Church. I am one, but I am also in communion with others and they with me.

Finally there is a rather remarkable conclusion that some have drawn, that  the best image of God in us is not a man alone, or a woman alone, but, rather, a man and a woman together in lasting a fruitful relationship we call marriage. For, when God said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26) the text goes on to say, “Male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). And God says to them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). So the image of God (as God sets it forth most perfectly) is the married and fruitful couple.

Here of course we must be careful to understand that what we manifest sexually, God manifests spiritually. For God is not male or female in His essence. Thus, we may say, The First Person loves the Second Person, and the Second Person loves the First Person. And so real is that love that it bears fruit in the Third Person. In this way the married couple images God, for the husband loves his wife and the wife loves her husband, and their love bears fruit in their children. [1]

So, today 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.

Images of the Trinity

God in the Light –  Back in High School we did an experiment in science class wherein we took three slide projectors (more common in those days) and shined three circles on the wall, one Red, one Blue, one Green. As we brought the three circles together on the wall (like the diagram at right), lo and behold, at the intersection the color was white. Somehow, in the one color (white) three colors were mysteriously present. I saw one but knew there were three. (By the way, don’t try it with paint, it only works with light).  It was one but it was three. I saw it but it was still mysterious. In later years, I thought, “This is something of an image of the Trinity: One God yet three persons mysteriously present. One, yet three.”

Ex ore infantium – Not long ago, one of my nephews was showing his smarts when he suddenly declared to his father and my brother, “Hey Dad, you’re a father, and you’re a son, and you’re a brother.” Hmm….thought I, an image of the Trinity. I know, you may say it’s dangerously close to modalism. But it really isn’t modalism, for while my brother is a father he does not cease being a son. While he is my brother he does not cease to be a father. He does not switch modes, he is one at all times and yet three at all times. Not a perfect analogy, no analogy is perfect, otherwise it would not be an analogy. But here too is a glimpse of the Trinity.

Scripture too presents images and pictures of the Trinity. Interestingly enough most of  the pictures I want to present are from the Old Testament. Now I want to say, as a disclaimer, that Scripture Scholars debate the meaning of the texts I am about to present, that’s what they get paid the big bucks to do. Let me be clear to say that I am reading these texts as a New Testament Christian and seeing in them a Doctrine that later became clear. I am not getting in a time machine and trying to understand them as a Jew from the 8th Century BC might have understood them. Why should I? That’s not what I am. Further that is not my job and what I get paid the big bucks to do. I am reading these texts as a Christian in the light of the New Testament, as I have a perfect right to do. You of course, the reader are free to decide if these texts really ARE images or hints of the Trinity from your perspective. Take them or leave them. Here they are:

1.Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…  (Gen 1:26) So God speaks to himself in the plural: “let us….our.”  Some claim this is just an instance of the “Royal We” being used. Perhaps but I see an image of the Trinity. There is one (God said) but there is a plural (us, our). Right at the very beginning in Genesis there is already a hint that God is not all by himself but is in a communion of love.

2. Elohim?? In the quote above, the word used for God is Elohim. Now it is interesting that this word is in a plural form. From the view point of pure grammatical form Elohim means “Gods.”  However, the Jewish people understood the sense of the word to be singular. Now this is a much debated point and you can read something more of it from a Jewish perspective here: Elohim as Plural yet Singular. My point here is not to try and understand it as a Jew from the 8th Century BC or a Jew today might understand it. Rather, what I observing is that it is interesting that one of the main words for God in the Old Testament is plural, yet singular, singular yet plural. It is one, it  is plural. God is one, yet he is three. I say this as a  Christian observing this about one of the main titles of God. I see an image of the Trinity.

3. And the LORD appeared to [Abram] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.  He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth,  and said, “My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree,  while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on — since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”   (Gen 18:1-5).  Now this passage from a purely grammatical point of view is very difficult since we switch back and forth  from singular references to plural. Note first that the Lord (singular) appeared to Abram. (In this case Yahweh  (YHWH) is the name used for God). And yet what Abram sees is three men. Some have wanted to say, this is just God and two angels. But I see the Trinity being imaged or alluded to here. And yet when Abram address “them” he says, “My Lord” (singular). The “tortured” grammar continues as Abram asks that water be fetched so that he can “wash your feet (singular) and that the “LORD” (singular)can  rest yourselves (plural). The same thing happens in the next sentence where Abram wants to fetch bread that you (singular) may refresh yourselves (plural)   In the end the LORD (singular) gives answer but it is rendered: “So they said.”  Plural, singular….. what is it? Both. God is one, God is three. For me, as a Christian,  this is a picture of the Trinity. Since the reality of God cannot be reduced to words we have here a grammatically difficult passage. But I “see” what is going on. God is one and God is three, he is singular and yet is plural.

4.  In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. (Is 6:1-3)  God is Holy, Holy and yet again, Holy. Some say this is just a Jewish way of saying “very Holy” but as Christian I see more. I see a reference to each of the Three Persons. Perfect praise here requires three “holys”, why? Omni Trinum Perfectum (all things are perfect in threes) why? So, as a Christian I see the angels not just using the superlative but also praising each of the Three persons. God is thee (Holy, Holy, Holy) and God is one and so the text says, Holy  “IS the Lord.”

5. In the New Testament there are obviously many references but let me just refer to three quickly. Jesus says, The Father and I are one (Jn 10:30). He says again, To have seen me is to have seen the Father (Jn. 14:9). And, have you ever noticed that in  the baptismal formula Jesus uses is “bad” grammar? He says, Baptize them in the Name (not names as it grammatically “should” be) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). God is One (name) and God is three (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

Feel free to add to this list of  images for the Trinity, both biblical and natural.

This video is longish (22 Minutes) but the priests interviewed present a lot of good material.