Belief in God as One in Three, a Mystery
Yesterday on “Jeopardy” the contestants were asked the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, also the name of two churches in England. No one could answer. This is rather surprising since the Trinity is the foundation of Christian faith. This Sunday we will celebrate the only feast in honor of God: the feast of the Holy Trinity. Our Muslim and Jewish friends do not believe in the Trinity; we Christians do because the three Persons are revealed in the Gospels. The doctrine of one God but three Persons is the fundamental belief of our faith. It is also the most mystifying. People propose metaphors for the Trinity: the three-leaf clover, the three forms of water, and even an egg (shell, white, and yolk). This week I learned a new one—a candle. The wick is the Father, the flame is the Son, and the warmth and light that emanate from the wick and flame is the Holy Spirit.
According to a legend, as St. Augustine was walking on a beach contemplating the Trinity, he saw a boy going to the sea repeatedly to bring water in a seashell to pour into a hole in the sand. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “I’m going to pour the entire sea into this hole.” “The sea won’t fit in that hole,” St. Augustine commented. The boy said, “And neither can you fit the Trinity into your little brain.” The boy, probably an angel, vanished.
Never will our finite minds be able to comprehend our transcendent God. But we try. We think of the Trinity as an old man, a young man, and a bird. But God is much more than this. Theologians attempt to explain the unexplainable. They propose that the Son is begotten by and proceeds from God the Father as an act of the divine mind. The Father’s reflections about himself are expressed as Word, similar to the way our thoughts are expressed in words. But because God is so great, infinite, his Word, unlike ours, is a Person equal to him in divinity, namely, God the Son. The Father and Son have such an immense love for each other, that this love becomes another Person, the Holy Spirit. Of course, this all occurs simultaneously, for all three Persons have no beginning and are equal!
Rublev’s depiction of three angels who visited Abraham is the most famous Russian icon. The angels are interpreted as representing the Trinity. They form a circle. You can find more information about this icon, its symbols, and the meaning of its colors on the Internet.
We honor the Trinity each time we make the Sign of the Cross and whenever we pray the Glory Be. We are baptized in the name of the Trinity, and the three Persons dwell within us.
Moreover, we are made in the image and likeness of our triune God: the Father, who is the Creator; the Son, who is the Savior; and the Holy Spirit, who is our Helper and Guide. It follows then that we should be creative like the Father, compassionate like his Son, and serve others like the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Trinity is a community bonded together by love. This week we might strive to be more like God by being creative, compassionate, and helpful and by being more loving. We might also glorify God by praying this ancient Christian prayer called the Trisagion, meaning “thrice holy”:
Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy on us.
Which Person of the Trinity do you pray to most? Why?
Leo Tolstoy wrote one of my favorite stories. The Trinity figures in it. You might like to read it:
The Three Hermits
Once a bishop was traveling by ship. He noticed a group of people listening to a fisherman who was pointing to the sea. As the bishop drew near, everyone took off their caps and bowed. One said, “The fisherman was telling us about the hermits.” “What hermits?” asked the bishop. “And what were you pointing at?” Why, that little island over there,” answered the fisherman. “That’s where the hermits live. I met them when I was stranded on the island one night.” The bishop peered across the water but couldn’t see the island. “What are they like?” he asked.
“One is small and stooped with a long beard. He wears a priest’s cassock and is very old. He is always smiling and his face is like an angel’s. The second is taller and wears a tattered peasant coat. He too is very old with a broad beard. He is strong, but kindly and cheerful. The third has a beard that reaches to his knees. He is stern and wears only a piece of matting tied around his waist. They did everything in silence, communicating with each other by a glance.
The bishop sent for the captain and asked to be rowed ashore to meet the hermits. The captain said, “I’ve heard they are foolish fellows who understand nothing and never speak a word, any more than the fish of the sea. But when the bishop offered to pay him, the captain agreed to go back to the island and send the bishop to is in a small boat.
When the bishop was taken to the island, he was met by the three hermits standing hand-in-hand on the shore. The bishop said to them, “I am called to keep and teach Christ’s flock. I wanted to see you and to do what I can to teach you also. Tell me, how do you pray?”
The oldest replied, “Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.” All three then chanted, “Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.” “Ah, you have heard something of the Trinity,” said the bishop, “but you do not pray right. I will teach you the way God in Scripture tells us to pray.” He taught them that God the Son had come to Earth to save us. He said, “This is how the Savior taught us to pray. Repeat after me, ‘Our Father.’ “The three repeated, “Our Father.” The bishop said “Who are in heaven.” The second hermit couldn’t say this line properly; and the oldest one, who had no teeth, mumbled indistinctly. The bishop stayed all day, teaching the prayer, sometimes saying a word a hundred times. The middle hermit was the first to say the prayer alone. He repeated it until the others learned it.
When the moon appeared, the bishops rose to return to the ship. The hermits bowed low to him. As the bishop was rowed back to the ship, he could hear the hermits loudly repeating the Lord’s Prayer.
Back on the ship the bishop watched the island fade away. After dark, he sat at the stern thinking of the good old men and how pleased they were to learn the Lord’s Prayer. He thanked God for sending him to teach them. Suddenly, across the sea he saw something white and shining coming closer and closer. “What is it?” he asked the helmsman. But as he said this, he realized that it was the three hermits. They were gliding upon the water all gleaming white and approaching the ship as quickly as though it were not moving. The steersman yelled in terror, “O Lord! They’re running on the water as though it were dry land!”
The hermits overtook the boat and addressed the bishop all three at once: “We have forgotten your teaching. When we stopped saying it, a word dropped out, and then another, and now it has all gone to pieces. Teach us again.” The bishop leaned over the ship’s side and said, “Your own prayer will reach the Lord. Pray for us sinners.” And he bowed low before the old men. They turned and went back across the sea. All that night a bright light shone where they were lost to sight.
Okay, I haven’t read all 200+ post of yours, but this one is the best! I’ll be staring at the ceiling tonight thinking about the different descriptions of the Trinity.
Oh, a priest gave a homily on the question you asked. He said people tend to pray to the Father or the Son, but rarely the Holy Spirit. He suggested praying to the Holy Spirit because He wasn’t as busy and your prayers would get answered sooner. I laughed. But now I pray for guidance more than ever.
I have to remember your priest’s comment and pass it on. I began praying to the Holy Spirit in earnest after a priest said that he was surprised that as a writer I didn’t pray to the Holy Spirit. Now I look to the Holy Spirit for inspiration whenever I need an idea as I’m writing a book.
Thank you Sister. When teaching the Trinity to our RCIA participants, it is so difficult to try to explain and sometimes the haven’t yet bought into having faith in the face of mystery. I will give them your reflection to assist them. Bless you.
Great, Marilyn. I’m glad my reflection is of use to you. Thank you for working with the RCIA!
Kathleen, I really enjoyed this reflection. I found the line of the Bishop which was sincere and humble. Marvelous idea for respecting others and their ways. Sr. Jm
Yes, the Bishop’s comment is a lesson for all. You made me think of how we need to incorporate the religious customs of others as we evangelize in other countries.
Like Mark, I really enjoyed this post, and I loved reading the story. This post really resonated with me as well. Next semester, I will have to take a class simply titled “The Trinity.” I’m greatly looking forward to it and trying to prepare by reading some books ahead of time.
I usually pray to Christ because I feel closest to him, I think. I think many people do because of the Incarnation. Christ was a flesh-and-blood man as well as God, so it makes him more accessible, easier to relate to, I guess.
Thank you for the enlightening post and the wonderful Tolstoy story, Sister!
Gabrielle, I bet most people pray mostly to Jesus for the reason you gave. Enjoy your course on the Trinity. Yesterday I ran across another way to think of the Trinity: Giver, Given, Giving.