Holy Trinity Sunday 2014
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. [1 John 4:8]
A friend once asked me if I thought Islam believed in the same God as Christianity does. The answer is not a simple one, and I answered, yes and no. Yes, Islam believes in the same God as we do in that Islam worships the God of Abraham, the one true God, just as Judaism and Christians do. But the answer has to be immediately qualified, since neither Islam or Judaism believe in the Triune God as we Christians do, that is, that God is truly only one God, one divine being, but this one God also exists as three distinct divine persons. Things become ever more mysterious when the Church declares that each of the three Divine persons is fully identical with that one divine substance, without in any way dividing the divine being into three Gods. Both Judaism and Islam deny the truth of the Holy Trinity because they both deny that Jesus Christ is truly God, God the Son who is distinct from God the Father but never divided, and they both deny that the Holy Spirit is a Divine person distinct from but never separated from the other two. Thus we Christians profess that the full truth about God is that God is three Persons in one only God.
Some Christians today seem to think that this Trinitarianism is a meaningless difference in comparison to the monotheism that we confess with Islam and Judaism. What does all this obscure doctrine matter so long as we are united in the belief in one God? However, their very question – “what difference does it make?” actually implies that such broad-minded “Christians” no longer really understand or no longer really believe that Jesus is God and thus no longer believe that Christianity is the fulfillment of all religions. If it makes no real difference whether one believes in the Holy Trinity, that could only be because that doctrine is not a doctrine or is not true. But such a stance actually implies that Jesus is in fact a Jewish heresiarch, a teacher of heresy, teaching his followers a false notion of God.
Now this is exactly what orthodox Jews think about Jesus, while Islam seems to claim that Jesus in fact never taught these things, and that they were simply false words put in Jesus’ mouth by later disciples. So for Muslim teachers, while Christians are polytheists, Jesus was just a holy man, who never thought or taught such a doctrine.
Of course to suggest that the doctrine of the Trinity can be bypassed for the sake of religious tolerance and harmony is simply to suggest that Christianity should cease to exist as a religion, let alone as the true religion. This Trinitarian doctrine of God is not only taught by Jesus, and by His Church from the beginning, but it is a doctrine inextricably linked to the truth of the Incarnation itself. Sidestep the doctrine of the Trinity, and you must sidestep the doctrine that Jesus is truly the Son God. Thus the dialogue between Christianity and other religions would be over; for there would remain nothing of real significance distinct about Christianity that would justify its existence. That is why today so many liberal minded Christian theologians and laity, who want to set dogmatic truths like the Trinity aside, have ended up abandoning Christianity. It was the logical consequence of their dogmatic relativism and loss of faith.
The foundational dogmas of Christianity are the Incarnation, the Triune God, the redemptive sacrifice of Christ and His resurrection. These dogmas give us a unique understanding of God and man, and without any one of them, that overall dogmatic vision is lost. Thus the Trinity is the ultimate truth about God, just as the Incarnation and redemption provide the ultimate truth about man and redemption.
The world’s other great monotheistic religions, Judaism and Islam, find this doctrine of the Holy Trinity to be the great stumbling block for progress in religious dialogue and harmonious tolerance. Christianity alone teaches the full truth that the one God is a Trinity of Persons. The rest of the religious world either believes in the existence of one Divine Being who is one Divine person – Allah for Islam, Yahweh for Judaism – or believes in a whole pantheon of Gods, such as in Hinduism; or in some great impersonal spirit that is one with the material world, such as the great pantheistic religions of the world, including most of our native American religions.
Christianity alone professes her faith in the one God in a totally unheard of doctrine. There is indeed only one true God, the God who first revealed Himself to Abraham and his children, the God who created everything that exists outside of Himself; the God whose providence directs all creation to fulfill it’s appointed purpose. However this one true God has revealed the greater mystery of the Divine Being, that the one God is also three distinct divine persons, three distinct subjects, each of whom wholly possesses the one Divine nature, without causing any division in the oneness of the Divine being. There are not three Gods, but one. There is not one Divine person, but three divine persons, all of whom possess the one same divine nature in it’s totality.
Why is this truth so important for us men to know? We know of this mystery of the Divine Trinity of Persons in the one God only because God has revealed this truth, and God has revealed this truth only because we have been created and called to share in that very intra-Trinitarian life and love, as the purpose of our existence and the happiness we are created to enjoy.
Moreover, this doctrine reveals not only that God is three persons in one divine nature, but more importantly that, as St. John teaches, God is love. God is not simply the almighty who created everything and rules it by that same power. God is a communion persons whose inner life (which is the Divine Nature) is love. This cannot be sustained where there is no communion of Persons in the Godhead. What an unsuspected truth, that the almighty God is also Infinite Love, and that love is the very source of this creation and the true reason for God creating man in the first place. Man is made for love, which means not only that man’s life on earth is perfected by love, but that man’s life in the next world is to be perfected in Love, that is, in God who is Love.
But what difference does this dogma make in our daily lives, we might ask? This truth about God sheds light not only the world to come, but the world we live in today. For instance, from this truth about God we learn what love is. Jesus, according to Paul said “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” We see this fact first and foremost in God, where love consists in pure giving; God does not need to receive anything because God is Love, a communion of infinite love. God lacks no perfection. Now, if we are truly made in the image of this God, as Genesis teaches, then we too were made for love, and not just any natural form of love, but for the love of God which is pure self-giving. In this divine love alone do we find our true happiness, what we were made for, the blessedness which is God’s, and which is God, for God is love.
Likewise, we learn from the Trinitarian being of God much about marriage in which two persons are united in a new unity of their beings. What married couples who truly love each other desire, and wish truly to become, that is, to become perfectly one without ceasing to be themselves, is a reality found perfectly only in God. God alone is perfect community, perfect unity, in which three persons are perfectly themselves while perfectly one in their being. Marriage, then, is both a preparation for and a sign of the truth of the Divine unity and community of Persons, and thus to become what it is it must be built upon that mystery.
The world does not believe in the mystery of the Triune God, and so it cannot model human life on that truth nor share in the communion of life and love that is God’s life and love. God has so intensely desired that the world share in this mystery of His life and love, that the Father sent His only Son, as we heard today from St. John, so that we might believe in Him, and thus believe in the Triune God who made us and who went to such lengths to redeem us. In rejecting belief in the Son, the world condemns itself to endless divisions and fratricide. But for those who do believe, there is the hope not only Eternal Life in the world to come, but already a foretaste of the Triune Mystery of God in this world, in the life of Grace, in the communion of the family and in the Communion of Saints.
This is what it means to lead a Christian life. It is literally a life in the Trinity already here in this world. It is a life where human forms of love are perfected by God’s own Love, and where the human person can find happiness and fulfillment not so much in being loved as in the pure act of loving others, of giving their very selves, so they can find themselves by love. If modern man often finds life meaningless, it is because the Trinity and Divine Love are simply not the critical principle or focus of his self-understanding. When modern man rediscovers the true God, he will once again understand his true self. And when he does that, he will understand why it is more blessed to give than to receive, and why unless a man loses himself, in love, he will never find himself.