It’s intimidating to stand here and preach about something that’s difficult to explain. Do people expect me to “explain” the subject of today’s feast? Am I expected to explain the Trinity? St. Augustine’s book “The Trinity”, was called by some his masterpiece. He said he spent years writing 15 books concerning the Trinity. Not even the great Augustine could thoroughly explain the Trinity… even in 15 books!
The Trinity, Father, son and Holy Spirit, titles and names are important and even necessary, because they distinguish persons, one from another, and they place us in relation to another; titles establish a certain proper relationship between persons, and they often serve to indicate a mutual exchange of goods established by this relationship. For example, for me to call Peter Reiser (my father) “aba” names the relationship of intimacy and biological dependency that exists between us, but this relationship is distinguished and would be different if I were to call him “Mr. Reiser” or “Dr. Reiser”. Titles, therefore matter, because they distinguish persons, and most significantly, establish relationships.
However, the perversion of a title occurs when a relationship is misused or abused or neglected; when titles become a source of power used to sinfully dominate another. Tragically, in these days, the title ‘officer’ given to a police officer may not immediately speak of the office “to serve and to protect” which he or she has undertaken. However, the willfulness doesn’t arise from the title itself, nor even the necessity of using it. Rather, perversity arises, as always, from the perversion of the good and the truth, from a sinful dereliction of one’s calling.
The use of titles, indeed, can remind the person of the responsibilities and duties to which they have been called. Therefore, it is not the good use of titles that ought to be rejected in our day and age but sin. Sin and the sinful abuse of titles that pervert the good relationships that they indicate are to be rejected, and that which is broken in these relationships needs to be healed… restored… redeemed.
Only God can redeem us from sin, and through grace, God heals the relationships wounded and broken by sin. Hence “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son … so that through him the world might be saved.” Jesus thus reveals the Holy Trinity to us Christians, so that we may know God more intimately, not as an abstract Deity, but personally, distinguished through the subsistent relations in God, the Blessed Trinity. Jesus thus calls us into a personal relationship with the one God who is distinguished relationally by these titles: The Father, The Son… and The Holy Spirit who proceeds from both by Love.
As St Thomas Aquinas holds: “in the divine nature three Persons subsist: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, distinguished from one another by relations only.” These titles, therefore, are necessary and important… distinguishing the persons of the Blessed Trinity, and they establish a beneficial and healing relationship, through baptism, with us and in us.
It is through the Son, the incarnate Word, that God the Father communicates divine truth to us so that we might know him. For it is through the Son, Jesus himself, the God turned into man, that we come to believe that God freely chooses to enter human history in the person of Jesus. God becomes like us and dies our human death for us. But because Jesus is God, he cannot be held back by death and rises to new life, supremely better than human experience.
It is through the Holy Spirit, the Love that proceeds from the Father and the Son, that God elevates our human nature with divine charity. Jesus announces that his Father will send the Holy Spirit to be with and in the disciples, to teach and guide them. The Spirit is the real presence of God that lives within us all, which inspires us, and it is through the Holy Spirit that our wills are healed and desire to do well, with the love for God and compassion for neighbor that Christ exemplified and teaches us.
So, wouldn’t it be enough for there to be just two persons of the Godhead? Father and son? Why three? This is not primarily a mathematical statement, rather it points towards a love which is utterly mutual and overflows, as the love of the Father and the Son overflows through the Holy Spirit. When parents have children, they learn that love overspills beyond the couple, love becomes trinitarian and is opened towards others. Otherwise our loves might become introverted and narcissistic.
The Son and the Spirit, therefore, lead us to know and love God, but not conceptually, not distantly as the deity or a guardianship but precisely as Father, as a personal “God of tenderness and compassion” who has adopted us as his own beloved children, and who makes us brothers and sisters to one another.
And that leads us to enjoy the beauty and goodness of being alive, of being related to Love himself. The grace flowing from this relationship, it’s the truth that heals and transforms all those other human relationships which we name through various titles.
The revelation of God as Triune, therefore, is not a mathematical conundrum, nor a logical puzzle, but it is a mystery even as the relationship of love between two human beings can be ‘mysterious’. In speaking of God, we are attempting to speak of the depth of infinite love and the eternity of being, that exceeds our limited human capacities.
So what’s in a title, our God is beyond a title, a definition and comprehension and yet, still has reached out to save us. Our Scriptures proclaim this consistently and quite plainly as we receive the blessing Paul gives us today, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”