Dom Benedict preached yesterday for the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Here is the text of his homily:
“Blessed be the holy Trinity and undivided Unity: we will give glory to him, because he hath shown his mercy to us!”1
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. This Feast, which always occurs on a Sunday, on the Octave (or eighth day) of Pentecost, is a kind of summary of everything which has happened, everything which we have beheld, mystically, in the Church Year so far,from Advent, through Christmas, the Epiphany, Easter, the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost.
This Sunday sums up, in fact, the entire story of the “love affair” between God and Man – from the first Sunday, the first day of the week, when the Father began his work of creation; the very same day on which the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, rose from dead, redeeming us from death; and again, the same day on which the Holy Spirit was given, in full measure, to the Church.
On this day, the Church asks us to look back over the history of our salvation, over the
thousands of years of God’s dealings with fallen and redeemed humanity, so that we may
render grateful praise to our God, chanting: “To thee be thanksgiving, O God, thanksgiving to thee, O true and sole Trinity, only and supreme Deity, holy and only Unity!”2
With Pentecost, the full revelation of God is complete. The sending of the Holy Spirit finally enabled us to recognize that the One God is, in fact, an undivided Unity of three equally divine Persons. If the Son and the Holy Spirit had not come to us to reveal this, we could not possibly have known this.
And so, from the Day of Pentecost in the year 33 until the year 2014, the Church has never ceased to proclaim this astonishing revelation. As the Venerable Pope Paul VI wrote in his “Credo of the People of God”:
We believe in one only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit … We believe that this only God
is absolutely one in His infinitely holy essence as also in all His perfections, in His
omnipotence, His infinite knowledge, His providence, His will and His love. He is He who
is, as He revealed to Moses; and He is love, as the apostle John teaches us: so that these two names, being and love, express ineffably the same divine reality of Him who has wished to make Himself known to us, and who, dwelling in light inaccessible, is in Himself above every name, above every thing and above every created intellect. God alone can give us right and full knowledge of this reality by revealing Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in whose eternal life we are by grace called to share, here below in the obscurity of faith and after death in eternal light. The mutual bonds which eternally constitute the Three Persons, who are each one and the same divine being, are the blessed inmost life of God thrice holy, infinitely beyond all that we can conceive in human measure.3
This dogma of the holy Trinity is, along with the Incarnation of the Son of God, one of the absolute pillars of our Faith. On this day, the Church sings a solemn dogmatic canticle: “Whosoever desires to be saved, above all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith … and the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.”4
It is a most basic and fundamental truth and yet it is also one of the hardest truths for human reason to accept. In fact, human reason cannot receive this truth, unaided by Revelation and the divine gift of faith.
“O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” cries out the Apostle Paul.“How incomprehensible are his judgments, and how unsearchable his ways! … For of him, and by him, and in him, are all things: to him be glory for ever!”5
The holy Fathers of the Church, who taught us how to worship the Trinity properly, and to how speak of this mystery properly, warn us against trying to comprehend, to capture, the mystery of the inner workings of the Godhead. Gregory Nazianzen compares this kind of vain curiosity to a man who insists on staring at the sun: “The more clearly and carefully they attempt to see, so much the more harm is done to thesense of sight; indeed, by looking at it for a long time the sight can be lost altogether. Thus
the sun overcomes the power of sight if one wishes to contemplate it in its entirety, and not merely in so far as it can be seen.”6
A truly wonderful story has come down to us about Saint Augustine. One day, we are told, Augustine was walking on a beach in North Africa, pondering the mystery of the Trinity. And he came upon a small boy who had dug a little hole in the sand. He had a tiny spoon in his hand, which he used to take water out of the ocean to pour into the little hole. Augustine asked the boy what he was doing. The boy answered that he was using the spoon to pour all of the water in the ocean into the little pit in the sand. Augustine, very puzzled, told the boy that this is impossible, since the ocean is so enormous while the spoon and hole are so tiny. “Yes, of course!” the boy said, “But it would be far easier to pour the entire ocean into this tiny hole than to bring the entire mystery of the Trinity into our tiny minds!” And when he had said that, the little boy disappeared, and Augustine knew that he was an Angel sent from God.7
The Church says little more about the Trinity that what is already contained in the holy Scriptures and in the Creed. God, through revelation, has already taught us exactly how he is to be understood and spoken of. There is no room here for improvement. If the Church has, throughout the centuries, expanded on the simple words of the Creed, it is only to protect the sacred mystery, to build a kind of dogmatic fence around the mystery, so that it might not be profaned by the false wisdom of the fallen human mind. This is a mystery which can only be worshipped and adored: the supreme foundation of everything that exists, before which every human intellect must ultimately surrender.
Before this mystery all human speech much either cease, or shout aloud in rapturous thanksgiving. This is why today’s Mass is preoccupied with the concept of worship, of adoration, of thanksgiving. This “reasonable service” of our worship is the fruits of the redeemed human mind, purified and illuminated by faith in divine revelation. The Trinity is not an abstract, philosophical idea. It is not a puzzle to be solved. We don’t worship intellectual puzzles; no one is baptized into an idea. We worship, we are baptized into, an eternal communion of Divine Persons, and caught up into their very life itself.
Every man and woman has an astonishing destiny: to become sacred Temples, consecrated for the worship of the presence of the Divine Persons. For the Christian, the Trinity is not an abstract theological proposition: the Trinity is real, and is closer to us than even a friend or a spouse, because Father, Son and Holy Spirit have deigned to make their home inside each of us. Every one of us were created in the image of this eternal communion of Divine Persons; and each of us is destined, every day of our lives, to grow more and more into their likeness. The presence of this Trinitarian image and likeness is what makes every human soul infinitely precious and worthy of life in this world and of eternal beatitude in the world to come. Human existence has Trinitarian structure: we are human only inasmuch as we are in relation, in communion, in a spirit of charity and service, to others, especially to every person whom God, in his wise providence, has been pleased to place in our lives. This is the purpose of human life: to grow more and more into the image and likeness of God the holy Trinity, to help others to grow in the same way, and together to worship and adore him without ceasing, both in this world and the world to come.
1 Introit of the Feast, based on Tobias xii. 6.
2 Antiphon on Magnificat, I Vespers of the Feast.
3 Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Letter “Solemni hac Liturgia”, June 30, 1968
4 The Athanasian Symbol, Quicumque vult, from Prime.
5 From the Epistle (Romans xi. 33-26).
6 PG 36.372ff (quoted in The Preacher’s Encyclopedia, Vol. II)
7 As related in the Legenda Aurea of Bl. Jacobus de Voragine (1260).