Three Persons, not Three People
Written by Fr. Dale Minor - Reclaim Ministry - Rutland, OH
“The Doctrine of the Trinity is the central Christian dogma that the One God exists in Three Persons, (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and one substance. It is a mystery in the strict sense, in that it can neither be known by reason apart from revelation, nor demonstrated by reason after it has been revealed, but it is not incompatible with the principles of rational thought.” (from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1977)
Sunday, May 30, is Trinity Sunday on the calendar of the Church. Its purpose is to emphasize the importance of the Trinity of God for all believers and to promote understanding of this doctrine among Christians. That it is defined as being a mystery assigns the responsibility to accept it by faith in God and to honor the early theologians who spent decades seeking an understanding and arriving at a statement of faith similar to that above. The primary work of defining this doctrine was accomplished at the Councils of Nicaea in 325AD and of Constantinople in 381. And the Western Church began celebrating Trinity Sunday as early as 1334AD. So this is no late addition to the Church nor is it denominational. Instead it is basic to all true expressions of the Christian experience.
There is not space in a brief commentary such as this to identify all of the scripture and tradition which led to our current understanding of the Holy Trinity, nor do I claim to be an authority on the matter. Rather I tackle this subject because I believe it important for Christians to consider and offer just a few comments and references in hopes that it will pique your interests and cause you to delve deeper into the truth of this doctrine and come to realize how it affects your own relationship with God.
Even as the word Trinity is not to be found in the Bible, the “trinitarian formula” is. One very familiar verse is that called “The Great Commission,” Matthew 28:19; “Go, make disciples of nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” And St. Paul ended his second letter to the Corinthian church with; “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” There are several similar references in the New Testament but, even from the earliest days, it was declared to all that there is only one God. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Dt. 6:4) Also from the Old Testament, in Genesis 18:1 we read that “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth trees of Mamre,” and in verse 2 it says that “he saw three men standing there.” Not three lords, but one Lord. Add to this the beginnings of everything, Genesis 1, “In the beginning God,” He was first over everything, uncreated and eternal. In verse 2 we learn that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” and then from John 1 it is declared that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things that were made through Him.” And beginning at verse 14 we learn that this Word of God “became flesh and dwelt among us,” as Jesus Son of God. All three present from the beginning.
The evidence of scripture is undeniable in proclaiming that the Lord exists in three persons while at the same time is One God, that is having a single divine nature. The use of the words person and nature are important, for nature speaks to “what” God is, while person defines “who” God is. And we need to know both.
To conclude, I offer some simple thoughts which may help you wrap your mind around the concept of the Trinity: There are three persons, not three people. They are one in nature and thus inseparable. They can be distinct in their interaction with humans, yet they remain One. Each is always God; therefore, each is never not God!
Is this easy to understand? Definitely not. After all by the definition offered at the beginning of this letter, it is a mystery. And as a friend and mentor has said on many occasions, “My definition of a mystery? It’s a mystery.” Go forth his day being blessed by the Father, and by the Son, and by the Holy Spirit!
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