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What do we mean by Trinity?

Adapted from the teaching of

Christianity at Key stage 1- Seaman and
Owen Christians believe that God is
revealed to them in three ways- God the
Father, God the Son and God the Hoy Spirit-
yet remains one God. Whilst Christianity is
one of many faiths that believe in one God
(monotheists), this belief in God as Trinity
is a distinctive feature and marks a real
difference from, for example, Judaism and
Islam. This central belief developed in the
early Church when Christians were
struggling to explain their understanding
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, that Jesus was God on the earth as a human
and of the Holy Spirit----these are words we being. Trinity or tri-unity (three as one)
use every time we pray the sign of the cross. was the term they developed to try and
Even children know them. explain the relationship between God, Jesus
Christ and the Holy Spirit. This belief in
Can you ask the following questions in Trinity was later defined in the statement of
yourselves such as: faith at the council of Nicaea in 325 A. D.

How many times do you make the sign

of the cross every day? In the explanation of what do we
mean by Trinity, it says there that God is
In making the sign of the cross, are you revealed to Seaman and Owen in three
paying attentions in reciting those names? ways- God the Father, God the Son and God
the Holy Spirit-yet remain One God.
Do you know who these persons are?
So, God is in three places at the same time?
It is the Father.
Did God break off his arm and make a new
person out of it?
Holy Spirit.
Can they hear what each other is thinking?

These three persons are called the Holy
Trinity. These three persons are different from each
other. In our belief they said that we have 1
God but there are 3 persons: God the Father,
God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We
call this the Holy Trinity. The word itself is called the Son of God. Here all three divine
never used in the Bible, but the Bible clearly Persons are distinctly mentioned: first, the
teaches us that: Son who is to be born, second, the Holy
Spirit and third the Most High, who stands
God is Father: Gen. 1:1 presents God as the in the relation of the Father to Him of whom
creator of heaven and earth, after which the it is said a few verses farther up: He shall be
whole Bible affirms that God the Father is great , and shall be called the Son of the
the sovereign Lord over the entire universe. Most High.
God is Son: John 1: 1-4 clearly teaches us Luke 3: 21-22: After all the people had been
that Jesus (the word) was with God from baptized and Jesus also had been baptized
the very beginning and was God. That all and was praying, heaven was opened and the
things where made through him. In him Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily
was life, and that life was the light of form like a dove. And a voice came from
men. heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you
God is Holy Spirit: Jesus affirms the Trinity I am well pleased.
in Matthew 28: 19 when he commissions his 2 Corinthians 13:14: St. Paul ends his letter
disciples to go and make to the Christians at Corinth with the grace
disciplesbaptizing them in the of the of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you
Spirit. all.
And yet..there is One God: One of the John 14:15-17 In His famous farewell
first scriptures the Jews would teach their discourse delivered after the last supper
children was Deuteronomy 6:4: Hear O Christ announced that He was going to the
Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Father who would ask Him to send the
So there are 3 things I want to affirm at this Paraclete. The distinction here made
point: between the three Divine Persons is as
obvious as it is real. No one can be Father
1. God is three persons, Father, Son and and the Son under the same aspect, nor can
Holy Spirit. anyone send Himself.

2. Each person is fully God. In the history of the Church no one

has been able to completely explain the
3. There is One God.
Trinity. God as God cannot be fully
The Bible does not explicitly teach the explained because the finite (us) cannot fully
doctrine of the Holy Trinity; it is rather grasp the infinite (God). That said, I want
assumed, such as: my children to grasp the mystery of the
Trinity without concluding that mystery
Luke 1:26-38: The Holy Spirit shall come implies irrational or contradictory. Often
upon thee, and the power of the Most High skeptics scoff that the claim that God is One
shall overshadow thee. And therefore also and there is a contradiction. But this is only
the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be
true if the doctrine of the Trinity claims that The belief in the Trinity is ultimately
God is One and Three in the same sense, an act of faith- and faith is a gift from God.
which it doesnt. God is not One person and Thus, the only way we believe in God as
Three persons; nor is he One God and Three Trinity is by the gift of God.namely, by
Gods. Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity the light of faith.
states that God in Three persons.
This is difficult for anyone to
understand. St. Patrick famously explained THE TRINITY IS ONE: we do not confess
the Trinity by relating God in Three Persons three Gods, but one God in three persons,
to the Shamrock. A three-leaf clover has the consubstantial Trinity. The divine
three lobes that are unique from each other persons do not share the one divinity among
but all part of the same clover or shamrock. themselves but each of them is God whole
They are three leaves, but one leaf. and entire: the Father is that which the Son
is, the Son that with the father is, the Father
and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e.
by nature one God. In the words of the
fourth Lateran Council (1215), each of the
persons is that supreme reality, viz, the
divine substance, essence or nature.

Though they differ formally, and,

when predicated of creatures, even really,
the terms essence, substance, and
nature are applied synonymously to God.
Tres quidem personae, says the fourth
Lateran Council, sed una essential,
We Christians are baptized in the
substantia seu natura simplex omnino---
name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Three Persons, it is true, but only one
Holy Spirit. The faith of all Christians rests
absolutely simple Essence, or Substance, or
on the Trinity. The mystery of the Most
Nature. The physical essence of a thing----
Holy Trinity is the central mystery of
its metaphysical essence does not concern us
Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of
here--- is the sum total of all those notes by
God in Himself. It is therefore the source of
which the thing is what it is. By substance
all the other mysteries of faith, the light that
we understand ens in se, or, in the words
enlightens them. It is the most fundamental
of St. Thomas, Being, inasmuch as this
and essential teaching in the hierarchy of
Being is by itself, in contradistinction to
the truths of faith. The whole history of
accident, which is that whose being is to be
salvation is identical with the history of the
in something else. Nature is the principle
way and the means by which the one true
of activity of a substance, or its physical
God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals
essence. We know from Divine Revelation
himself to men and reconciles and unites
that there is in the Blessed Trinity only one
with himself those who turn away from sin.
Nature in Three Hypostases, or Persons.
The dogma of the Blessed Trinity
was defined by the Council if Nicaea 325 A.
D., the ensuing Antitrinitarian controversies
which marked the period ending with the
year 381, came to a head at the Second
Ecumenical Council, which safeguarded the
doctrine against various heretical incursions.
In the precise formulation which it received
at Nicaea and Constantinople, the dogma
has come down to our time, and we can
consequently, in demonstrating it from
THE DIVINE PERSONS ARE REALLY Tradition, confine our attention to the first
DISTINCT FROM ONE ANOTHER: God four centuries of the Christian era. Since the
is one but not solitary. Father, Son, condemnation of various heretical
Holy Spirit are not simply names perversions affords the best insight into the
designating modalities of the divine being, genuine ecclesiastical Tradition, we shall
for they are really distinct from one another: preface our positive exposition by a brief
He is not the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit account of the Antitrinitarian heresies up to
he who is the Father or the Son. They are the beginning of the fifth century.
distinct from one another in their relations of
origin: It is the Father who generates the THESE ARE SOME ANTITRINITARIAN
Son who is begotten and the Holy Spirit who HERESIES AND THEIR
proceeds The Divine Unity is Triune. CONDEMNATION BY THE CHURCH


TO ONE ANOTHER: Because it does not This is an ancient heresy, the beginnings of
divide the divine unity, the real distinction which can be traced to the second century of
of the persons from one another resides the Christian Era. It is either Dynamistic
solely in the relationships which relate them Monarchianism or Patripassian. Dynamistic
from one another: In the relational names Monarchianism asserts that the Father alone
of the persons the Father is related to the is true God, and that the divine element in
Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Christ was merely a power indwelling in
Spirit to both. While they are called three him as an impersonal divine Spirit.
persons in view of their relations, we believe Patripassian Monarchianism completely
in one nature or substance. Indeed identifies the Son with the Father, asserting
everything (in them) is one where there is that the person of the Father was made flesh
no opposition of relationship. Because of and suffered on the cross. The Patripassian
that unity the Father is wholly in the Son is superior to the Dynamistic form of
and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Monarchianism in so far as it acknowledges
Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in Christ to be a manifestation of the Divine
the Son. Essence. The chief representatives of this
heresy were Theodutus of Byzantium (about
The attitude of the Church towards and there continued to propagate his errors.
Monarchianism.---the Church strenuously He was opposed by Dionysius the Great,
opposed all these heresies even before she Bishop of Alexandria, who wrote several
began to hold ecumenical councils. The dogmatic epistles in refutation of
iniquitous Theodutus of Byzantium was Sabellianism.
excommunicated by Pope Viktor I (189-

THE HERESY OF SABELLIUS: This heresy involved the Church in

many terrific conflicts. It started with an
Sabellius (about 250 A.D) was not attack on the co-equality of the Son with the
extreme Monarchianist, he recognized the Father (Arianism), and ultimately impugned
existence of a Trinity, though an imperfect the dogma of the Consubstantiality of the
one, in the Godhead. Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son
(Macedonianism, Pneumatomachians).
The Sabellian Triad is no true, real,
immanent Trinity. It is merely a modal, A. The salient tenents of Arianism are these:
external, and transitive distinction, based The Logos began His existence in time.
upon the relation of God (in whom the Consequently there was a time when the Son
Sabellians admit but one person) to the of God was not. He is not begotten out of
created universe. In other words, the Trinity the substance of the Father, but made by the
of the Sabellians is a merely external Trinity free will of the Father, out of nothing.
of manifestation not an internal one of life. Though He existed before all creatures, i.e.,
Father , Son and Holy Spirit, they argue, are before the beginning of time, the Logos does
three distinct modes by which the one not exist from everlasting, and consequently
Person of the Godhead manifests Himself, He is not God, but a creature of the Father,
and which are inter-related as body, soul and exalted indeed above all other creatures,
spirit in man, or light, warmth, and because Gods instrument in creating the
sphericity in the sun. in its role of creator it world. Therefore He is God by grace, an
is called Father, as the redeemer it is called intermediary being between God and the
the Son, and as sanctifier, enlightening and world.
regenerating the faithful, it is called Holy
Spirit. B. The heresy of Macedonius and Marathon
was an offshoot of semi-Arianism.
The attitude of the Church towards Macedonius, who was a Bishop of
Sabellius. ---- Sabellius, after having been Constantinople about 360 A.D., taught that
treated with considerate kindness by Pope the Holy Spirit is a creature of the Logos, by
Zephyrin, was finally excommunicated by whom, according to the Arian theory, all
Callistus (217-222). We know this from things were created. This completed the
Philosophoumena of St. Hippolytus (first essential subordination of the three Persons
complete edition by Miller, Oxford 1851). of the Divine Trinity, whom the heretics
After his excommunication Sabellius retired ranked as follows: A great One=the Holy
to the Lybian Pentapolis (about 257 A. D.),
Spirit, a greater one=the Logos; the greatest
of all= God the Father.

The attitude of the Church towards

Subordinationism. For the first time since
the Council of the Apostles at Jerusalem, the
infallible Chruch exercised her teaching
authority against Subordinationism of two
Ecumenical Synods, of which the first
condemned Arianism, while the second
dealth a death blow to the heresy of the

A.The first Ecumenical Council, held at

Nicaea 325 A.D., in the reign of
Constantine, solemnly rejected the heresy of
Arius. It did this in a twofold manner:
positively, by enlarging and expounding the
Apostles Creed; negatively, by
anathematizing Arius and his followers.

B.Pope Damasus, at a synod held in Rome,

380 A.D., so thoroughly repudiated the
heresy of Macedonius that the twenty-fourth
in his series of anathemas has been justly
styled a summary of the contents of all the
others, and the keystone of all previous
dogmatic formulas.

Now this is the Catholic faith: we

worship one God in the Trinity and the
Trinity in Unity, without either confusing
the persons or dividing the substance; for the
person of the Father is One, the Sons is
another, the Holy Spirits another; but the
Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
is One, their glory equal, their majesty
coeternal (Athanasian Creed; DS 75; ND
16) (CCC 266)