Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptising them in the name of
the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.--MATT. xxviii. 19.
These words of our Lord were spoken after
the Resurrection to the eleven Apostles on a mountain in Galilee.
They are understood by the Fathers to show the unity and
trinity in God--the unity of the divine nature and the trinity of
persons. The former is indicated by the phrase "in the name,"
which is equivalent to saying that the three Divine Persons have
the same identical power and authority, and consequently the
same nature; the latter, or trinity of persons in God, is expressed
by the distinct enumeration of three different names, each of
which, having its own proper signification, cannot be confounded
with the others.
I. I believe in God the Father. 1. God is called the Father
because He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. 2. God
is called the Father of Christians in a special manner, as having
adopted us as children through grace.
3. God is called the Father in the strictest sense of the term as
having truly begotten the second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
God then has begotten us metaphorically, that is, through His
grace; but He has begotten the Second Person of the adorable
Trinity literally, that is, by a real communication of His own
substance: He is our Father by adoption; He is the Father of
the Word by nature.
II. The trinity of persons in God. 1. The word Father in
the first Article of the Creed thus brings before our minds the
distinction of persons in God. 2. In the Gospels we find
mention of the three Divine Persons: The Father who "sent"
the Son, the Son who "goes to the Father," and the "Paraclete"
or Holy Ghost whom the Son promised to send to His Church
This same trinity of persons is taught clearly and distinctly in
many other parts of the New Testament (Matt. iii. 16, 17; xxviii.
19; Luke i. 35; John xiv. 6; i John v. 7, etc.). 3. The meaning
of the mystery of the Trinity is that in one and the same divine
nature there are three distinct persons: the Father begotten of
none; the Son begotten of the Father; and the Holy Ghost
proceeding from the Father and the Son from all eternity.
III. The unity of the divine nature, I. The three Divine
Persons, though distinct, are equal in all things--they possess the
same majesty, the same eternity, the same glory, the same power
the same divine nature. Hence They are not three Gods, but one
God. 2. It is impossible that there should be many Gods for
what is supreme and most perfect must be One. 3. The oneness
of God is affirmed in many parts of Scripture (Deut. vi. 4; Exod.
xx. 3: Isa. xliv. 6, Eph. iv. 5; etc.). 4. By the Sign of the Cross
and the "Glory be to the Father," we profess our faith in the
Unity and Trinity and in the Trinity in Unity.
CONCLUSION: I. The Most Holy Trinity is a mystery, i.e., a
truth which we cannot fully understand; reason can neither
establish it, nor explain it, nor disprove it. 2. How many mysteries
are there in nature which we cannot understand. Little
wonder is it then that the nature of the infinite so far surpasses us,
when nature baffles us at every turn. Our attitude, therefore,
toward the Holy Trinity should be one of faith and adoration,
and not of curious searching. We should say with St. Paul "O
the depth of the riches, of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of
God," etc. (Rom. xi. 33). 3. By means of grace we become
temples of the Holy Trinity. 4. Let us implore God that one day
we may come to see and contemplate in heaven the adorable mystery
of the Trinity in whose name we were baptized and received
the holy Sacraments, and in whose name we hope at last peacefully
to pass from this present life into eternity. "Go forth, Christian
soul, out of this miserable world, in the name of God the Father
Almighty," etc. (Ritual).
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I
ARTICLE I OF THE CREED
THE UNITY OF GOD
From what is said on the first part of this Article it must be
confessed that there is but one God, not many Gods. For we
attribute to God supreme goodness and infinite perfection, and
it is impossible that what is supreme and most perfect could be
common to many. If a being lack any thing that constitutes
supreme perfection, it is therefore imperfect, and cannot be
endowed with the nature of God.
The unity of God is also proved from many passages of Sacred
Scripture. It is written: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, is
one Lord;"(1) again God commands: "Thou shalt not have strange
gods before me";(2) and further He often admonishes us by the
prophet: "I am the first, and I am the last, and besides me there
is no God."(3) The Apostle also expressly declares: "One Lord,
one Faith, one Baptism."(4)
It should not, however, excite our surprise if the Sacred
Scriptures sometimes give the name of God to creatures.(5) For
when they call the prophets and judges gods, they do not
speak according to the manner of the Gentiles, who, in their folly
and impiety, formed to themselves many gods; but express, by
a manner of speaking then in use, some eminent quality or
function conferred on such persons by God.
The Christian faith, therefore, believes and professes, as is
declared in the Nicene Creed in confirmation of this truth, that
God in His nature, substance and essence is one. But soaring
still higher, it so understands Him to be one that it adores unity
in trinity and trinity in unity. Of this mystery we now proceed
to speak, as it comes next in order in the Creed.
PROPRIETY OF THE WORD "FATHER" AS APPLIED TO GOD
As God is called "Father" for more reasons than one, we must
first determine the sense in which the word is used in the present
instance. Even some on whom the light of faith never shone
conceived God to be an eternal substance from whom all things
had their beginning, and by whose providence they are governed
and preserved in their order and state of existence. Since, therefore,
he to whom a family owes its origin and by whose wisdom
and authority it is governed is called a father, so on the same
principle these persons gave the name Father to God, whom they
acknowledge to be the creator and governor of the universe.
The Sacred Scriptures also, when they wish to show that to God
must be ascribed the creation of all things, supreme power and
admirable providence, make use of the same name. Thus we
read: " Is not He thy Father that hath possessed thee, and made
thee, and created thee ?"(6) And again, "Have we not all one
Father? Hath not one God created us?"(7)
GOD IN A SPECIAL MANNER IS THE "FATHER" OF CHRISTIANS
But God, particularly in the New Testament, is much more
frequently, and in some sense peculiarly called the Father of
Christians, who have not received the spirit of bondage in fear
but have received the spirit of adoption of sons of God, whereby
they cry abba, Father.(8) For "the Father hath bestowed on us that
manner of charity, that we should be called, and be the sons of
God";(9) and "if sons, heirs also, heirs, indeed, of God, and joint-
heirs with Christ,"(10) who is "the first-born amongst many
brethren," for which cause he is not ashamed to call us
brethren." " Whether, therefore, we look to the common title of
creation and Providence, or to the special one of spiritual adoption,
rightly do the faithful profess their belief that God is their
THE NAME OF "FATHER" IMPLIES PLURALITY OF PERSONS
But the pastor will teach the faithful that on hearing the word
"Father," besides the ideas already unfolded, their minds should
rise to the contemplation of more exalted mysteries. Under the
name of "Father," the divine oracles begin to unveil to us a
mysterious truth which is more abstruse and more deeply hidden
in that inaccessible light in which God dwells and which human
reason could not attain to, nor even conjecture to exist.
This name implies that in the one essence of the Godhead is
proposed to our belief, not only one person, but a distinction of
persons; for in one divine nature there are three Persons--the
Father, begotten of none; the Son, begotten of the Father before
all ages; the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the
Son from all eternity.
THE FATHER THE FIRST PERSON
Now in the one substance of the Divinity the Father is the first
Person, who with his only begotten Son, and the Holy Ghost is
one God and one Lord, not in the singularity of one person, but
in the trinity of one substance. These three Persons, since it
would be impiety to assert that they are unlike or unequal in any
thing, are understood to be distinct only in their respective
properties. For the Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten
of the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeds from both.
Thus we acknowledge the essence of the three Persons, their
substance, to be so the same, that we believe that in confessing
the true and eternal God, we are piously and religiously to adore
distinction in the Persons, unity in the Essence, and equality in
Hence when we say that the Father is the first Person, we are
not to be understood to mean that in the Trinity there is any thing
first or last, greater or less. Let no Christian be guilty of such
impiety, for Christianity proclaims the same eternity, the same
majesty of glory in the three Persons. But since the Father is
the Beginning without a beginning, we truly and unhesitatingly
affirm that He is the first Person, and as He is distinct
from the Others by His peculiar relation of paternity, so of Him
alone is it true that He begot the Son from eternity. For when
in the Creed we pronounce together the words "God" and
"Father," it intimates to us that He is God and Father from
CURIOSITY IS TO BE AVOIDED IN EXAMINING THE MYSTERY OF THE TRINITY
But since nowhere is a too curious inquiry more dangerous, or
error more fatal, than in the knowledge and exposition of this,
the most profound and difficult of mysteries, let the pastor
instruct the people religiously to retain the terms nature and
person used to express this mystery; and let the faithful know
that unity belongs to essence, and distinction to persons. But
these are truths which should not be made the subject of too
subtle inquiry, for "he who is a searcher of majesty shall be
overwhelmed by glory."(13) We should be satisfied with the
assurance which faith gives us that we have been taught these truths
by God Himself, to doubt whose word is the extreme of folly and
misery. He has said: "Teach ye all nations, baptising them in
the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Ghost";(14) and again, "there are three who give testimony in
heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these
Three are One."(15)
Let him, however, who by the divine bounty believes these
truths, constantly beseech and implore God, and the Father, who
made all things out of nothing, and orders all things sweetly, who
gave us power to become the sons of God, and who made known
to us the mystery of the Trinity--let him, I say, pray that,
admitted one day into the eternal tabernacles, he may be worthy
to see how great is the fecundity of the Father, who contemplating
and understanding Himself, begot the Son like and equal to
Himself, how a love of charity in both, entirely the same and
equal, which is the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and
the Son, connects the begetting and the begotten by an eternal
and indissoluble bond; and that thus the essence of the Trinity is
one and the distinction of the three Persons perfect.
THE BLESSED TRINITY
BY THE REV. F. X. MC GOWAN, O.S.A.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.--
MATT. xxviii. 19.
Man lost sight of the end for which he was created, and,
through sin, perished forever. Before he could recover his lost
rights, he had to be redeemed, and to receive a new consecration.
The Blessed Trinity effected this necessary work. The Son
bought our redemption, but only according to the Father's will
and with the cooperation of the Holy Ghost. It was the entire
work of the ever-blessed Three.
IN WHAT CONSISTS THE MYSTERY OF THE BLESSED TRINITY
We believe in only one God, who rules heaven and earth. It
is only the fool who says "in his heart" that there is no God.
He speaks thus, not according to the testimony of his conscience,
but in the folly of his heart. We believe also in this declaration
of the Athanasian Creed, "The Catholic faith is this: that we
worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither
confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance." The Church,
in the preface of the most Holy Trinity, makes this profession
of faith, "In the confession of the true and eternal Godhead,
distinction in Persons, unity in essence, and equality in majesty
may be adored." The mystery of the Blessed Trinity is the basis
of the Christian religion.
If Catholic teaching regarding the Trinity resolves itself briefly
into admitting three Divine Persons really distinct in numerical
unity of essence, it follows that these Persons are co-eternal
coequal, and consubstantial, that one proceeds from the other,
the Son from the Father by eternal generation; the Holy Ghost
from the Father and the Son as from one principle by simple
procession. The Father is from all eternity, and in virtue of His
fecund knowledge, traced out, so to speak, an expressive, eternal
subsisting image of Himself; the Father and the Son, in virtue
of their mutual love, produced the third Person in which are
all the essential attributes of their nature. The Son is the living
character of the Father's perfections and grandeur; the Holy
Ghost is the bond which unites the other two. Of the three
Persons, the first is as the inexhaustible source of light, the
second is as a brilliant flash from that source, and the third is as
an adorable fire which arises from the other two. No superiority
no dependence exists among the ever-blessed Three. The Father
is neither greater nor older than the Son and the Holy Ghost
and these are neither inferior nor posterior to the Father. Each
has the same authority, the same eternity, and the same majesty.
There is, among the Divine Persons, an equality of perfection,
perfect and sovereign equality. This mystery transcends our
human understanding. God is, as the Prophet declares,
"incomprehensible in thought" (Jer. xxxii. 19). "The voice is silent,"
says St. Ambrose, "not only mine, but the voice of angels."
The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is attested in both the Old
and the New Testaments, more clearly, however, in the latter. In
the Old Testament we read, in Genesis, that God, referring to
His purpose to create man, said, "Let us make man to our image"
(Gen. i. 26). The use of the plural number as shown in "Let
us make," leads us to inquire into the hidden meaning of the
text. It seems that God took counsel, but we may ask from whom
did He take it? Certainly it was not from dead matter, as
Hermogenes dreamed; nor from the angels who are His creatures,
and in whose creation, as in man's. He must also have taken
counsel; nor from other gods, as the blasphemous Julian asserted.
It is reasonable to suppose that the three Divine Persons concurred
in the creation of man and cooperated in making man the
masterpiece of their wisdom and labor. Again, after man's
creation, the Lord said, "Lo, Adam has become as one of us,"
indicating the plurality of Persons in God. We read in the book
of Psalms, "The Lord said to my Lord: sit thou at my right
hand." These words, in the explanation given by Christ and
St. Paul, refer to the Persons of the Trinity.
In the New Testament we find several passages clearly defining
the plurality of Persons in God. This doctrine was revealed at
the baptism of Christ. The voice of the Father was heard saying,
"This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. iii.
17), and the Holy Ghost descended as a dove upon the Son.
"The Trinity," says St. Maximus, "reveals itself to man, the
Father is heard in the voice, the Son is manifested in man, the
Holy Ghost is discerned in the dove." St. Thomas says that the
Trinity also appeared in Christ's Transfiguration: the Father in
voice, the Son in man, and the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud.
Before His ascension into heaven, Christ, in clear and unmistakable
language, commanded His Apostles to preach His faith
to all nations, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." It was a precise commandment,
a distinct oracle, if ever there were one, a revelation of one
God in three Persons. The use of the conjunction and distinguishes
the three Persons, while the words, in the name,
designate a common efficiency, power, authority, and therefore a
common nature in these Persons.
We have also the celebrated text of St. John, "There are three
who give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the
Holy Ghost. And these three are one" (i John v. 7). Many
have impugned the authentic character of this passage, but as it
is found in the oldest versions of the Bible and referred to by the
most ancient writers, the contention of anti-Trinitarians is of no
weight. Tradition is equally in favor of the doctrine of the
Trinity. When we read of St. Athanasius, the learned theologian
of the Church, of St. Augustine, the light of doctors, and of St.
John Chrysostom, the golden-tongued orator of the Eastern
Church, all proclaiming their belief in the august mystery, how
rash must we consider those men who either deny this tremendous
and time-honored article of faith or who foolishly seek to bring it
under the light of reason. God's light is "inaccessible," and He
makes "darkness his covert" (Ps. xvii. 12).
This doctrine was generally believed until the coming of the
religious and political revolution of the sixteenth century. To be
sure, there was opposition to it from the days of the Apostles, but
it amounted to nothing, being, like many another heresy, only a
passing cloud. There are many anti-Trinitarians in our days,
such as the Unitarians, the Rationalists, and the latest sectarians,
the Christian Scientists. They contend on the principle that what
they can not see nor understand they do not believe. Men who
advance such a proposition are illogical and inconsistent. There
are hundreds of mysteries in nature, unfathomable realities, to
which these very men pin the faith of their minds. They can not,
even with all the helps of science, tell what light, electricity, or
magnetism is. They can not explain by what art the spider
weaves its web, and they are at a similar disadvantage regarding
many things about the nature of the winds, the tides, and the
heavenly bodies. If man's mind can not sound the depths of
natural mysteries with which it is in constant touch, is it
supposable that it can fathom the deep and hidden mystery of the
Blessed Trinity? It is impossible for me to hold in my hand
the firmament above me, because my hand is smaller than the
heavens; so it is impossible for man's mind, whose knowledge is
scant and limited, to grasp the eternal and immense mystery of
the Trinity. We believe the testimony of man in respect to
natural things; ought we not believe God's testimony concerning
heavenly things? "If we receive," says the Apostle, "the testimony
of men, the testimony of God is greater" (i John v. 9).
Let us not seek to penetrate the veil of the Trinity, but believe;
for the Wise man tells us, "He that is a searcher of majesty shall
be overwhelmed by glory" (Prov. xxv. 27). Let us rather praise
often the most Holy Trinity in the familiar and beautiful doxology,
"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy
WHAT WE OWE TO THE THREE DIVINE PERSONS
If we can not comprehend the deep mystery of the Holy
Trinity, we may at least offer it our homage and adoration. St.
Thomas Aquinas tells us, "It is impossible to come to a knowledge
of the Trinity by natural reason," but we may say in the love of
our hearts with the Church, "Our hopes, our salvation, our honor,
O Blessed Trinity" ( Ant. II. Noct. Off Trinity). What prevents
us from loving, honoring, and adoring one God in three Divine
Persons? Because we can not drink all the water of the well,
may we not partake of as much as is needful for us? We can not
look with fixed gaze upon the sun, but we may use its light for
our needs. The light of the Blessed Trinity is inaccessible to our
poor human vision, but we may venerate and honor the source
whence it flows, and unite with the angels who ever sing its
praises, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, who
is, and who is to come!" (Apoc. iv. 8).
1. We owe the Blessed Trinity the homage of grateful love.
When we were nothing, the Triune God infused into our common
clay a soul made to "His image and likeness." What do we not
owe the Almighty Father, who has given us life and preserved
us, who has provided for our wants and even guaranteed us our
pleasures? No one loves like a father, none so compassionate as
he; yet as Tertullian says, "No one is so much a Father as the
Almighty Father." What do we not owe the Beloved Son, who
came from His throne of glory to abase Himself to our lowly
state, to live a life of persecution and suffering, and to die a
slave's death that we might recover heaven? His was the greatest
sacrifice the world has ever seen. What do we not owe the Holy
Ghost, who enlightened us when we were blind, who upheld us
when we were weak, who encouraged us when we were timid,
Who brought us back to the fold when we had strayed from it,
and who forgave us when we had sinned? Everywhere His
solicitude has followed us, everywhere His voice has appealed to
us. Verily He has been our truest, most faithful, and loving
friend. We recall in thought the day of our baptism, when we
were carried helpless to the sacred font. Sponsors voiced the
vows that were to be the guiding principles of our life; the
saving water effaced the stain of sin, and the grace of God
restored the image of the divinity disfigured by Adam's fault.
What happiness was breathed into our souls! The Father adopted
each one of us as His child, the Son embraced us as His brother,
and the Holy Ghost chose us for His temple. Could the Triune
God have done more for us ? And when in later days we lost our
baptismal innocence and lost again our happy privileges, did not
the Father, in His mercy, apply the blood of His Son's atonement
to our sinful souls, and the Holy Ghost move us to sorrow and
repentance? Yes, we have abundant reason to be thankful to the
Holy Trinity for its love and mercy toward us; we have forcible
reason to love and honor the ever-blessed Three and to offer them
the best homage and sincerest worship of our lowly hearts. Well
may we repeat the prophet's praise, "Let all the earth adore thee,
and sing to thee: let it sing a psalm to thy name" (Ps. Ixv. 4).
2. We owe, with our love, the Blessed Trinity our sincere confidence.
Notwithstanding all the benefits which the Trinity has
showered so plenteously upon us. God desires to add even more
favors. He has mainly in view our eternal salvation, and to that
end refers all that He does in our behalf. God wills that all men
should one day be gathered like ripe wheat in His eternal harvest
home. He wishes us to be near Him, to be beside Him. The
Father so desires because we resemble Him and are His image;
the Son, because He sees in us the price of His precious Blood;
and the Holy Ghost, because we are His living sanctuary. Are
not these great motives to excite our confidence, to make us ever
trustful of God's kindness toward us? The Blessed Trinity
ushers us into the life of grace, and speeds us with its blessing on
our passage to the other world. We are baptized in its adorable
Name, and Mother Church bids us to depart for the Church
triumphant in the same blessed Name. Though demons may
attempt to assail us they fear the holy Name, and it thus dissipates
our fears and strengthens our confidence at the dread hour of
death. There is, however, an earthly trinity which sinful men
worship with all the zeal and love that belong to the Holy Trinity
in heaven. They substitute these idols of depraved minds for the
ever-blessed Three. St. John tells us what is this trinity, "The
concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the
pride of life." Men forget the Triune God, and worship their
passions, honors, and self-excellence. They are filled with
worldly wisdom, and run after wealth, honor, and pride. St.
Paul tells us, "The wisdom of the flesh is an enemy to God"
(Rom. viii. 7). Let us not follow its dictates, but love God and
trust in Him. St. Paul also teaches us what we must do to insure
the friendship of the Holy Trinity. "Be zealous," he says, "for
the better gifts" (i Cor. xii. 31).
You have received faith and hope and love in your Baptism;
you must now begin a nobler life. "Be zealous for the better
gifts." Love the Triune God more earnestly, obey His commandments
more eagerly, trust to His care more lovingly. This
is service worthy the angels, and it will bring us all the happy
privilege, after life here has ended, of living and reigning in
heaven with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
1.Deut. vi. 4. 2.Exod. xx. 3. 3.Is. xliv. 6; xlviii. is. 4.Eph. iv. 5.
5.Ps. Ixxxi. i; Exod. xxii. 28; i Cor. viii. 5.
6. Deut. xxxil. 6. 7. Mal. ii. 10. 8. Rom. viii. 15.
9. I John iii. I.
10. Rom. viii. 17.
11 Rom. viii. 29.
12 Heb. ii. ii,
13.Prov. xxv. 27.
14.Matt. xxviii. 19. 15. John v. 7.