Father Koch: The Trinity remains the great true mystery of our faith

June 2, 2023 at 2:19 p.m.
Father Koch: The Trinity remains the great true mystery of our faith
Father Koch: The Trinity remains the great true mystery of our faith

The Word

Gospel reflection for June 4, 2023 -- Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

I was recently present for a lecture where the speaker commented, “if anyone tells you that they understand the Trinity, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

My initial thought was to an extent, well St. Thomas Aquinas, Father Karl Rahner, SJ, and Duns Scotus among others, have done a pretty good job at explaining the definition of the Trinity that has been handed down through the ages -- formulated at the Councils of Nicaea, Ephesus, Constantinople (I-IV) and Chacedon -- but those are formularies of explanation that do not elicit understanding. Perhaps the best that we can do it attempt to understand the dogma itself, and leave the Trinity as such to the realm of mystery.

We are quick to explain that the Trinity is “three persons in one substance or being.” While this is a correct theological formulation, it can leave us confused. As we break down the Trinity we then begin to reflect on distinctions and differences as opposed to the mystery of God’s oneness. We must reflect on God as one more so than think of God as three. In this way, and as some other religious traditions have argued, we as Christians mask a polytheistic belief under the false claim of monotheism.

Yet that is not the case. We believe absolutely and unquestionably that God is One and there is no other God besides him. 

Jesus is God as is the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the expression of God; God’s Word present to us. As John accounts in the Gospel passage Jesus processes from God as the fullest expression of God’s love for the created order -- for humanity which stands as a pinnacle of his creation.

Fundamentally we know and proclaim that in love God created us; that God intends our goodness, and that God calls us to final union with himself. As the expression of that love -- a love which is total outpouring of self -- Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity -- becomes a human being. 

A very clear distinction is made and needs to be understood between the Incarnation of Jesus (the divine LOGOS) and the theios aner, or gods of the many polytheistic religions throughout the history of humankind.

That God should be known to humanity as a human is somehow ingrained in our human collective unconscious. It is our longing for intimacy with our creator. In the myths that developed to explain this reality the ancient imagination attributed many different aspects to their gods. They recognized the eternal struggles of humanity with right living, with an understanding of human nature itself, and in their relationship with other peoples, the world, and the universe itself. The gods took on both the best and worst of humanity. Often the gods took on human form, the shape of an animal, and occasionally some peculiar hybrid. Often the gods, such as Apollo, would change form to become someone else, usually to deceive another person. This was a metamorphosis where the god did not become the other, but only seems to be the other. 

Jesus is different. It is problematic to think of Jesus as God in “human form” or that he “assumed” our humanity, for both sound too much like the theios aner and downplay the depth and beauty of the dogma of the Incarnation. Jesus is a human person, a man, as St. Paul remarks, “in all things, but sin.” He does not morph into a human nor does he take on our humanity -- Jesus is God who literally becomes a human person, yet remains unchanged in his divinity. 

The Holy Spirit, he who processes from the love of the Father and the Son, is God continually present in and through the church, and the world, leading all to conversion, inviting  us to cooperate with him in renewing the face of the earth. 

The Trinity is one, acts as one, and yet is three distinct persons expressing the singularity of being.

This enables us to express and experience community, forged by love, and flowing from the Triunity of God into the oneness of our humanity.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.


Related Stories

Gospel reflection for June 4, 2023 -- Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

I was recently present for a lecture where the speaker commented, “if anyone tells you that they understand the Trinity, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

My initial thought was to an extent, well St. Thomas Aquinas, Father Karl Rahner, SJ, and Duns Scotus among others, have done a pretty good job at explaining the definition of the Trinity that has been handed down through the ages -- formulated at the Councils of Nicaea, Ephesus, Constantinople (I-IV) and Chacedon -- but those are formularies of explanation that do not elicit understanding. Perhaps the best that we can do it attempt to understand the dogma itself, and leave the Trinity as such to the realm of mystery.

We are quick to explain that the Trinity is “three persons in one substance or being.” While this is a correct theological formulation, it can leave us confused. As we break down the Trinity we then begin to reflect on distinctions and differences as opposed to the mystery of God’s oneness. We must reflect on God as one more so than think of God as three. In this way, and as some other religious traditions have argued, we as Christians mask a polytheistic belief under the false claim of monotheism.

Yet that is not the case. We believe absolutely and unquestionably that God is One and there is no other God besides him. 

Jesus is God as is the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the expression of God; God’s Word present to us. As John accounts in the Gospel passage Jesus processes from God as the fullest expression of God’s love for the created order -- for humanity which stands as a pinnacle of his creation.

Fundamentally we know and proclaim that in love God created us; that God intends our goodness, and that God calls us to final union with himself. As the expression of that love -- a love which is total outpouring of self -- Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity -- becomes a human being. 

A very clear distinction is made and needs to be understood between the Incarnation of Jesus (the divine LOGOS) and the theios aner, or gods of the many polytheistic religions throughout the history of humankind.

That God should be known to humanity as a human is somehow ingrained in our human collective unconscious. It is our longing for intimacy with our creator. In the myths that developed to explain this reality the ancient imagination attributed many different aspects to their gods. They recognized the eternal struggles of humanity with right living, with an understanding of human nature itself, and in their relationship with other peoples, the world, and the universe itself. The gods took on both the best and worst of humanity. Often the gods took on human form, the shape of an animal, and occasionally some peculiar hybrid. Often the gods, such as Apollo, would change form to become someone else, usually to deceive another person. This was a metamorphosis where the god did not become the other, but only seems to be the other. 

Jesus is different. It is problematic to think of Jesus as God in “human form” or that he “assumed” our humanity, for both sound too much like the theios aner and downplay the depth and beauty of the dogma of the Incarnation. Jesus is a human person, a man, as St. Paul remarks, “in all things, but sin.” He does not morph into a human nor does he take on our humanity -- Jesus is God who literally becomes a human person, yet remains unchanged in his divinity. 

The Holy Spirit, he who processes from the love of the Father and the Son, is God continually present in and through the church, and the world, leading all to conversion, inviting  us to cooperate with him in renewing the face of the earth. 

The Trinity is one, acts as one, and yet is three distinct persons expressing the singularity of being.

This enables us to express and experience community, forged by love, and flowing from the Triunity of God into the oneness of our humanity.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.

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