Appreciating the Three Persons
Sunday, June 12, 2022 (Trinity Sunday)
by Fr. David M. Knight
View today's Mass readings: Proverbs 8:22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
What difference would it make in your life — that is, in your choices — if there were not three Persons in God? Suppose there were only two? Which Person would you leave out if the choice were up to you? Which one do you “use” the least?
Christians are united with the Jews and the Muslims in believing that God is One — one and unique. We differ from them both in believing that God is three Persons in one divine Nature. That is something we learned only from Jesus Christ. Why is it Good News? How does your lifestyle make that particular truth of the Good News visible? Is it glaringly evident in the way you live?
The Entrance Antiphon praises and thanks “God the Father, and his only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit” because “he has shown us that he loves us.” Are you conscious of how God shows his love for you in different ways in each Person? How do you vibrate when the presider at Mass proclaims in the Introductory Rites: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God (the Father), and communion in the Holy Spirit be with you all”?
The World’s “Logos”
In Proverbs 8:22-31 “Wisdom” is speaking. Christian devotion has identified “Wisdom” with Jesus, whom John calls the “Word” (in Greek Logos, which means “intelligibility”) of God. And therein hangs a tale.
The widespread denial of God as Logos has rendered the world unintelligible to those whose education includes little or no understanding of metaphysics. Fr. Michael Buckley, S.J., has well demonstrated that our faith in God does not depend on philosophical demonstration. He calls us to a “new recognition of the intellectual significance of religious experience.” Nevertheless, without a basic metaphysics it is difficult to find any logic in the universe. Without the Logos of God, there really is no ultimate intelligibility, no logos, in geology, biology, anthropology, etc. All is pure chance (see Denying and Disclosing God, Yale Univ. Press, 2004).
In a Greek satirical play, two workmen digging a ditch are discussing the sophistry of intellectuals. One finally declares, “I am a fool: I call a spade a spade!” What does it take to do that?
Anyone can see that a spade works for digging. Some animals “use tools” on that level of perception. But it takes an intellectual judgment to conclude that someone actually shaped this object for that purpose. Only then can you call a spade a spade.
We perceive the truth (intelligibility, logos) of a being when we see that it “would make sense” if understood as intentionally put together the way it is for some purpose or way of functioning which gives the key to the inter-relationship of all its parts and lets us see them as a single whole. We perceive the goodness of a being by recognizing that this purpose is desirable, gives it a raison d’être. But we don’t know the being as a being until, in a free act of choice, we judge that it is one: that the design we perceive is actually intended, and that the being actually does exist as a single whole for the purpose that rules its design. We make this judgment in a "word" of knowledge, giving a “name” to what we see and “breathing it out,” exclaiming: “A spade!” “A tree!” “A human being!” “Beer!’
Modern sophists are not capable of making the judgment that things in this world much more complicated in design than a spade are actually intended to function as they do. So they cannot logically claim to know what they are. Anyone who cannot call a tree a tree — meaning that it was intentionally formed to function as it does — is intellectually inconsistent in calling a spade a spade. The reasoning process is the same.
Technology tells us how things work. And we excel at that. But only metaphysics (the “study of being” that examines the meaning of being itself) can tell us what things are.
Our mistake is to think that an understanding of process can explain a product. We know a lot about the process of evolution, for example, which tells us how things developed. But knowing how a thing developed does not tell us what it is. We can’t call a spade a spade without judging that someone intended it to be one. The truth is, we can’t say what anything actually is (as distinct from how it works) without making the same kind of judgment.
Technology can tell us, for example, how the human body works, and something about how it got here, but nothing at all about what it is. That depends on another branch of science, metaphysics, which studies the logos, the intelligibility of being as such. On a pre-scientific level this is present in most people by common sense. But in many it has been expurgated by an astigmatic education. These are the ‘educated fools” who restrict all certitude to technology. For them, anyone who calls a tree a tree is a fool (See “Relativism: The Central Problem for Faith Today,” a talk given by Joseph Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI, to the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops’ Conference of Latin America in Guadalajara, Mexico, May, 1996).
The Spirit of Truth
John 16:12-15 tells us that only through the gift of the Spirit can we know God as he is in himself as distinct from deducing some of his attributes through intellectual analysis of created reality.
Jesus said it: “No one knows [can know] the Son except the Father, [or] the Father except the Son.” When he added, “and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” his underlying, necessary assumption was that if we receive this knowledge, it means “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” To know the Father we have to become the Son by being incorporated into the body and life of Jesus by Baptism. Only God can know God as he is. For the same reason, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” What the Logos is to knowledge of God by reason, the Spirit is to knowledge of God by faith-inspired love. Only through faith and love — the gift of sharing in God’s own act of knowing and loving — can we truly know the Father or the Son. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Matthew 11:27; and see Luke 10:22. Galatians 4:6.; 1Corinthians 12:3).
The Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of love.” God can only be known by those who love. To those who refused to believe in him Jesus said, “I know you do not have the love of God in you.” When there seems to be an obstacle to faith. — in us or others —we should ask about love, both for God and other people. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (John 5:42; 1John 4:7-8).
Romans 5:1-5 tells us this love “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” who “proceeds from the Father and the Son” (Nicene Creed). And it is through Jesus the Son that we have been “brought into peace” with the Father. We are saved by the three Persons acting in harmony.
The Father, perceiving the truth of his own Being, has been exclaiming “God!” from all eternity. This “Word” of knowledge is the Son. And the Father and Son affirm God’s goodness in a mutual act of love which is the Holy Spirit. God is three and so are we. By intellect we are like the Logos: we perceive intelligibility. By memory we are like the Father. We affirm truth and goodness and say, “Let it be!” and in our consciousness it is.
And by will we are like the Spirit: in us the Good, the True and the Beautiful are present in love.
In the Opening Prayer we prayed, “One God, three Persons, be near to the people formed in your image.” All our knowing and loving is an experience of being in the image of the Father, Son and Spirit. We know God and ourselves by being and doing what God does: knowing truth and loving goodness in creative “words” of knowledge.
Insight: Does the above help you to understand your likeness to the Trinity?
Initiative: When you make the “Sign of the Cross,” consciously address each Person.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry