Saturday, May 20, 2006

On the Trinity

Q: Hi
I am a Catholic and have a friend who is a Jehova's Wittness. Our arguments are always centred around our religion.

The whole notion of the "Holy Trinity", seem not to founded in Biblical Scriptures. Can it be explained without the confusion that it creates in trying to understand it. Where does it really come from as it is most questioned by other Christians?

A: I'm very sorry that it has taken me so long to get back to you. I have recently taken up trucking as a career, and that makes it very difficult for me to go online, except when I get to go home every couple of months or so.

However, your question is a very important one - the central one to Christian doctrine. The devil found it fit to attack Christological and Trinitarian doctrines over the fourth and fifth centuries, causing the first permanent schism in the Church (the Coptics and Armenians).

It is good that you have stood with the Church's teaching when dealing with your friend. I am the only Catholic in my family, and I know how difficult that can be. As a Catholics, we take Our Lord at His word that He left His teaching authority to men. "As the Father sent Me, so I send you." (Jn. 20:21). "He who hears you, hears Me; he who rejects you, rejects Me. And he who rejects Me rejects Him Who sent Me." (Lk. 10:20)

Thus, Our Lord Jesus Christ passed on His teaching authority on to the Apostles. St. Paul made it clear that the Apostles handed on this authority to the bishops. “Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the Church of God, which he hath purchased with His own Blood.”(Ac. 20:28). The author of Hebrews wrote, “Obey your prelates, and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls.” (Heb. 13:17)

Clement of Rome wrote in the First Century, while the Apostle John was still alive, “Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry" (Letter to the Corinthians 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]). Ignatius also wrote in the early 2nd Century, “Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be; even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal Church.” (Epistle to the Smyrneans, 8:2). The prerogative of this duty to pass on Apostolic authority is seen even at the very begining of teh Church (Ac. 1:15-26)

It is superfluous for the moment to mention that this authority is subject to the papacy. The early Church recognized the true body of bishops as those who have an unbroken line from the Apostles.

For example, Irenaeus wrote, “The true knowledge is the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient organization of the Church throughout the whole world, and the manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of bishops, by which succession the bishops have handed down the Church which is found everywhere" (Adversus Haereses, 4:33:8). Irenaeus died in 202AD. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of John the Apostle.

“The Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with [the heretic] Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop [of Rome], Fabian, by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way" Cyupreian of Catrhage, AD 253, letters 69:3.

In Eusebius’ History of the Church, written around 338 AD, he not only emphasizes the unbroken line of bishops as having always been the proof of apostolic authority, but he actually lists the line of bishops from the Apostles to his time for the four patriarchates of that time: Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria.

The only bodies that historically have that unbroken line to this day are the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox communions. The Copts also have a legitimate claim. Every other group, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, has severed ties with Apostolic Succession, except on some alleged spiritual level. But without having the actual line of succession, they have to claim that Jesus Christ was not with His Church at some point. “Upon this rock, I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail” (Mt. 16:18). “Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Mt. 28:20).

Now for us Catholics, it is enough that the teaching authority of Christ has given us two creeds in which the doctrine of the Trinity is unmistakable.

The Creed of Nicea-Constantinople, 325 AD, completed 381AD

“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. …
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified”

The Athanasian Creed
“And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.
For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.”

Now, on the question of the Trinity, you wrote
"The whole notion of the "Holy Trinity", seem not to founded in Biblical Scriptures."

Not true. The Trinity is explicitly taught in Scripture three times.
The most explicit: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” One name, three persons. The name is symbolic for the person. Thus if I defile you by name, I sin as if I defiled you in person. This symbolism is all over the Scriptures. It will suffice for now to show you one example. St. Paul said, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Php. 2:10). Compare that to this: “I have sworn by myself [saith the Lord], the word of justice shall go out of my mouth, and shall not return: For every knee shall be bowed to me, and every tongue shall swear.” (Is. 45:23-24).

The other two texts: “And there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one.” (1Jn. 5:7) The other: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Lk. 1:35). The Holy Spirit conceives the Son of the Father in the womb of the Blessed Mother. One cannot give what he does not have. If the Holy Ghost does not have Divinity to give, He cannot form the Son of Almighty God.

"Can it be explained without the confusion that it creates in trying to understand it."

The simpler the explanation, the better, as the Angels in Heaven cannot comprehend Divinity. Other than taking Our Lord at His Word, I would leave it at this level: God in His internal Life is three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. God’s Persons in relation to creation - angels, men, animals, plants, minerals - can only be understood as one, because He acts only in His Divinity. Divinity cannot be separated, because there can only be one primal Force which created, moves, and sustains the universe. If more than one Divine force can be accepted, then we cannot account for the order in creation, because there would be a multiplicity of wills, which must conflict at some point. Besides, the Bible says (and the Church teaches) that there is and can only be one God.

The ONLY reason we can speak of God as three Divine Persons at all is if it has been revealed. We can understand a great deal about God without revelation, but this must be revealed, as it has been, by one who has been given this revelation by God Himself. And, of course, it was God Himself (Christ Our Lord) who revealed this.

And the only purpose for this revelation is if we can participate in the interior life of the Blessed Trinity. Although it was certain that men such as Moses and David lived in faith, they did not participate in the interior life of God until Our Lord Jesus Christ opened Heaven at His Ascension. “And I saw a strong angel, proclaiming with a loud voice: Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man was able, neither in heaven, nor on earth, nor under the earth, to open the book, nor to look on it. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open the book, nor to see it. And one of the ancients said to me: Weep not; behold the lion of the tribe of Juda, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” (Rev. 5:2-5).

This Divine Life of God was taught in the Scriptures: “Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (Jn. 17:3). “As all things of his divine power which appertain to life and godliness, are given us, through the knowledge of him who hath called us by his own proper glory and virtue. By whom he hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature” (2Pe. 1:3-4).

Because through the Redemptive Work of our Savior Jesus Christ, we can, even in this life, enter into the interior life of the Trinity, we must be revealed the interior life we can enter into. This was not promised before. That explains Our Lord saying, “Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” This is because although John the Baptist was a man of great stature and holiness, he did not enjoy the interior life of God here on earth. Unworthy men such as myself may be far exceeded in sanctity by St. John the Baptist, but Our Lord indicates here the dignity of our baptism and of the state of sanctifying grace.

"Where does it really come from as it is most questioned by other Christians?"

Tell whoever told you this that it is a lie. Most Christians say and hold to the Nicene Creed. First, there are one billion Catholics. Then, there are about three hundred million Orthodox. Of the three hundred or so million protestants, the vast majority accept the doctrine of the Trinity. I was a protestant at one time. We said the Nicene Creed every week. One of our graduates said the Athanasian Creed by heart during service.

Second, let me give you the first line of the Athanasian Creed: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith; which Faith, except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” We are not free to deviate one iota from the Church’s teaching. “Without faith, one cannot please God” (Heb. 11:6). We cannot pick and choose which teachings we accept from the Church. To do so would make us the arbiters of God’s truth, not God. This is not faith. If someone questions the doctrine of the Trinity or any other doctrine of the Church, he places himself outside the Fold. At this point, their salvation is between them and God. It is our duties as Catholics (no matter how unworthy) to correct them.

The doctrine of the Trinity was revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ to His Apostles. We have that in the Scriptures, and in the belief of the Church for two thousand years.

“For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God’s plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit" (Letter to the Ephesians, 18:2; AD 108).

... the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent persons, who are yet distinct one from another. These three are, one essence, not one person, as it is said, ‘I and my Father are one’ [John 10:30], in respect of unity of being not singularity of number" (Tertulian, Adversus Praxeas, 25, AD 200).

I hope this helps you. Stay close to your Rosary.


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