The Trinity: Three Persons in One Nature | Frank Sheed | From Theology and Sanity | Ignatius Insight
The notion is unfortunately widespread that the mystery of the Blessed Trinity is a mystery of mathematics, that is to say, of how one can equal three. The plain Christian accepts the doctrine of the Trinity; the "advanced" Christian rejects it; but too often what is being accepted by the one and rejected by the other is that one equals three. The believer argues that God has said it, therefore it must be true; the rejecter argues it cannot be true, therefore God has not said it. A learned non-Catholic divine, being asked if he believed in the Trinity, answered, "I must confess that the arithmetical aspect of the Deity does not greatly interest me"; and if the learned can think that there is some question of arithmetic involved, the ordinary person can hardly be expected to know any better.
(i) Importance of the doctrine of the Trinity
Consider what happens when a believer in the doctrine is suddenly called upon to explain it — and note that unless he is forced to, he will not talk about it at all: there is no likelihood of his being so much in love with the principal doctrine of his Faith that he will want to tell people about it. Anyhow, here he is: he has been challenged, and must say something. The dialogue runs something like this:
Believer: "Well, you see, there are three persons in one nature."
Questioner: "Tell me more."
Believer: "Well, there is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit."
Questioner: "Ah, I see, three gods."
Believer (shocked): "Oh, no! Only one God."
Questioner: "But you said three: you called the Father God, which is one; and you called the Son God, which makes two; and you called the Holy Spirit God, which makes three."
Here the dialogue form breaks down. From the believer's mouth there emerges what can only be called a soup of words, sentences that begin and do not end, words that change into something else halfway. This goes on for a longer or shorter time. But finally there comes something like: "Thus, you see, three is one and one is three." The questioner not unnaturally retorts that three is not one nor one three. Then comes the believer's great moment. With his eyes fairly gleaming he cries: "Ah, that is the mystery. You have to have faith."
Now it is true that the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is a mystery, and that we can know it only by faith. But what we have just been hearing is not the mystery of the Trinity; it is not the mystery of anything, it is wretched nonsense. It may be heroic faith to believe it, like the man who
Wished there were four of 'emor it may be total intellectual unconcern - God has revealed certain things about Himself, we accept the fact that He has done so, but find in ourselves no particular inclination to follow it up. God has told us that He is three persons in one Divine nature, and we say "Quite so", and proceed to think of other matters - last week's Retreat or next week's Confession or Lent or Lourdes or the Church's social teaching or foreign missions. All these are vital things, but compared with God Himself, they are as nothing: and the Trinity is God Himself. These other things must be thought about, but to think about them exclusively and about the Trinity not at all is plain folly. And not only folly, but a kind of insensitiveness, almost a callousness, to the love of God. For the doctrine of the Trinity is the inner, the innermost, life of God, His profoundest secret. He did not have to reveal it to us. We could have been saved without knowing that ultimate truth. In the strictest sense it is His business, not ours. He revealed it to us because He loves men and so wants not only to be served by them but truly known. The revelation of the Trinity was in one sense an even more certain proof than Calvary that God loves mankind. To accept it politely and think no more of it is an insensitiveness beyond comprehension in those who quite certainly love God: as many certainly do who could give no better statement of the doctrine than the believer in the dialogue we have just been considering.
That he might believe more of 'em