A Concise Treatise on the Trinity for Young People

Douglas P. McManaman
Copyright © 2014 by Douglas P. McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

The central mystery of the Christian faith is that God is a Trinity of Persons. What follows is an attempt to make some sense out of this incomprehensible mystery.

Human beings are persons, from the Latin per sona ("through sound"). The word calls attention to the sounds of words, or the phenomenon of language. In other words, a person is a communicator, that is, one who speaks. We communicate words, which are signs of interior words or ideas. In order to communicate, which is to enter into a kind of communion, there needs to be an 'other'; and of course there are others. It is not an accident that there are others, for the human person would be incomplete without others. In other words, without others, he would be a communicator whose nature requires community in order to be fulfilled, yet there would be no 'others' around him with whom to communicate; there would be no one to receive his words. That would amount to an incoherent or irrational state of affairs, just as an animal that hungers in a universe without food would constitute an incoherent state of affairs.

And so a person is radically social. Others are the answer to his nature as a person, just as food answers to the hunger of an animal. An individual man is one because he is a being, just as every being is one insofar as it exists; but the human person yearns to be more than one (more than to merely exist), and he becomes more than one through knowledge and love - we desire to know, and the mind expands and becomes what it knows in an immaterial way, and when we love another as another self, we become that 'other' without ceasing to be ourselves. The human person exists to know and to love.

Now God is supremely personal (supremely intelligent). He is one, because His nature is to exist (He revealed Himself to Moses as "I Am Who Am"). But God is pre-eminently personal; He is not isolated, not lonely, not needy, and not incomplete. In Himself, however, there is that which answers to his personal (communal) nature, all within Him. He is a community of Persons; He speaks his own interior Word, which is Himself, and He loves what He speaks, and what He speaks loves the speaker. That love as well is Himself. Thus, God is a plurality and a unity; He is a unity of being, and a plurality of Persons.

You and I have been created in the image and likeness of God, and so if God is a Trinity of Persons, there ought to be an image of the Trinity within us, however imperfect that image. And there is; for I am aware of myself through my interior words (I know myself when knowing something outside myself), and I too speak to or converse with myself, as I am doing right now. So there is a sense in which I am two (not literally, of course); moreover, I love what I know (myself). One difference between this "human" trinity and the divine Trinity is that I am a finite being, and so I am not sufficient unto myself. What I mean to say is I have an infinite desire, an infinite thirst; nothing in the created universe brings rest to my restless heart. God, however, is infinite, and He alone answers to my desire. God has indeed created others for me to meet on my path, to love, and to experience being loved by them; and to be loved by them is a delight, but it does not quench my infinite thirst for love. Ultimately, God has created me for Himself.

Let's explore further this idea of God as a sufficient community within Himself. God knows all things in knowing Himself, but for us, it is the complete reverse: we know ourselves through knowing things other than ourselves. He contains within Himself all things, because He is pure Being Itself, and outside of being itself is nothing (or non-being). So there is a sense in which everything that exists is encompassed by Him, like the ocean encompasses all that is in it, or the atmosphere encompasses all that is in it, etc. In knowing Himself and His own will, He knows all things, because all things that exist do so on account of His will, and they are what they are (i.e., an oak tree, human being, blade of grass, etc.) by virtue of His understanding. But He does not need them, because He lacks nothing.

Now His Word is uttered by Him, and that Word is not something created; rather, it is identical to Him. If it is Him (divine), then His Word is eternal. Now you and I have parts (hands and feet, eyes, ears, etc.), and there are many aspects to ourselves (habits, various powers like seeing, imagining, moving, etc.) because we are not entirely simple, we are not pure being itself. But God is pure Being Itself, and so His Word is Himself, distinct from Him, uttered by Him, and loved by Him, and He is loved in return by His Word. That love is intelligent, personal, and identical to Himself.

So, God loves what He knows, His Word, because His Word is God, and God is pure goodness itself, and thus supremely loveable; but that love is also Himself, since He is entirely simple. The First Person who utters the eternal Word is the Father (the origin), the Second Person is the Word spoken, or the Son of the Father, and the Third Person is the Holy Spirit, the Love between the Father and the Son. Thus, God is a community of Persons, never lonely, and never in need.

So why does God reveal Himself to others? The same reason we reveal ourselves to others: to bring others into communion with us, that is, to enter into a relationship with them. Why does God reveal Himself as a Trinity of Persons? That we may enter into relationship with Him, that is, enter into the supreme joy of that eternal community.

But man naturally comes to know things through sensation; for all knowledge begins in sensation. We naturally know material things, and so God became man (flesh) that He may be intimately known by us in a way that is congruent with our material nature, that we may enter into His inner life, the inner life of the Trinity.