Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, John 3:16-18
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
As the Catholic blogosphere goes wild with the latest scandal, we offer a final article on the Trinity for the Solemnity of this Sunday - we turn now to the role which the Most Holy Trinity must play in our spiritual life. Very often, while we recognize and believe that God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we do not recall how central the mystery of the Trinity is to our life of prayer. It will be good for us to examine our interior life and consider: How often do I meditate on the Trinity? Do I regularly meditate on the revelation of the Trinity which was given me in Christ? Am I utterly convinced of the love of the Most Holy Trinity, a love so great that the Son came to assume my sinful flesh and die so that I might live?
In previous articles from the past week, we have considered the Trinity per se as the central mystery of our Faith. Now, on the Solemnity, we look to the Trinity not merely as our salvation, but as the principle mystery which inspires our interior life. To this end, we must consider the love with which the Trinity sent the Son into the world. As our Savior tells us, For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whoseoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting (John 3:16).
All three divine persons created and redeemed the world
Though we often think of the Father has being the Creator of the world – and though St. Irenaeus even went so far as to claim that the Son and the Spirit are the hands of the Father who is the Creator – we must admit that all three persons of the Most Holy Trinity created the universe. God the Creator is the Most Holy Trinity. This is quite clear in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas which places the treatise on the creation of the world after the treatise on the Trinity.
Indeed, the Angelic Doctor sees the emanation of creatures from God as a reflection of the procession of persons within God – in other words, by a great analogy, creatures come forth from the Trinity as the Son and Spirit proceed from the Father. St. Thomas states, “After treating of the procession of the divine persons, we must consider the procession of creatures from God.” (ST I, q.44, prologue) It is the whole Trinity that creates the universe and, although we do speak of the Father as creating through the Word, we must admit that all three persons are God the Creator.
In this regard, we recall the wonderful hymn Veni Creator Spiritus – “Come, Creator Spirit blest. And in our souls take up thy rest. Come with thy grace and heavenly aid. To fill the hearts which thou hast made.” This hymn captures an essential point: Creation and redemption are so closely linked that the God who redeems man must likewise be the God who created him. If the Son and the Holy Spirit did not create us, then neither can they redeem us.
God the Redeemer and God the Sanctifier must likewise be God the Creator. It is for this reason that all three titles – Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier – refer not merely to each of the divine persons respectively, but also to all of them together. The Trinity created us, redeemed us, and sanctifies us.
All three persons sent the Son into the world out of love for the world
It is common for Christians to think that the Father alone sent the Son into the world – as though it was the Father’s sole prerogative and choice. However, we must admit that all three persons (including the Son) sent the Son into the world as its redeemer. Hence, when we read, God so loved the world, we must recognize that God does not refer to the Father exclusively, but includes all three divine persons. The God who so loved the world is the Most Holy Trinity, and not simply the Father alone.
However, we must admit that there is a certain fittingness to speaking of the Father as sending the Son, since the Father is the principle of the Son in the inner life of the Trinity. Likewise, there is an appropriateness to speaking of the Holy Spirit as being sent by the Father and the Son, since he proceeds from the Father and the Son from all eternity. Thus, if we ask, “Who sent the Son into the world?” We must answer in two ways: If we consider the Son as proceeding from the Father in eternity, then we say that the Father sent the Son in time. However, if we consider the Son as sent into the world, then we say that the whole Trinity sent him.
Perhaps St. Thomas speaks more clearly to this point: “It would seem that a divine person is sent only by the one whence He proceeds eternally. […] On the contrary, The Son is sent by the Holy Ghost, according to Isaiah 48:16, Now the Lord God hath sent Me and His Spirit. But the Son is not from the Holy Ghost. Therefore a divine person is sent by one from Whom He does not proceed.
“I answer that, There are different opinions on this point. Some say that the divine person is sent only by the one whence He proceeds eternally; and so, when it is said that the Son of God is sent by the Holy Ghost, this is to be explained as regards His human nature, by reason of which He was sent to preach by the Holy Ghost. Augustine, however, says (De Trin. ii, 5) that the Son is sent by Himself, and by the Holy Ghost; and the Holy Ghost is sent by Himself, and by the Son; so that to be sent in God does not apply to each person, but only to the person proceeding from another, whereas to send belongs to each person.
“There is some truth in both of these opinions; because when a person is described as being sent, the person Himself existing from another is designated, with the visible or invisible effect, applicable to the mission of the divine person. Thus if the sender be designated as the principle of the person sent, in this sense not each person sends, but that person only Who is the principle of that person who is sent; and thus the Son is sent only by the Father; and the Holy Ghost by the Father and the Son. If, however, the person sending is understood as the principle of the effect implied in the mission, in that sense the whole Trinity sends the person sent.” (ST I, q.43, a.8)
The Trinity and our spiritual life, an example from St. Ignatius Loyola
When we consider that the Trinity all together has loved us, created us, and redeemed us, we recognize that the three persons must play a central role in our spiritual life. Moreover, the Love of the Most Holy Trinity is the source of our interior life, since it was this Love which accomplished our redemption. St. Ignatius Loyola offers a good example of the centrality which the Trinity (and specifically the Love of the Trinity) must have in our spirituality. Considering the mystery of the Incarnation, the Saint first directs us to consider the disposition which was in the Most Holy Trinity when God chose to send his Son into the world for our redemption.
Notice that the meditation focuses not simply on the love of the Father, but on the love of the whole Trinity. Moreover, consider that St. Ignatius directs us to imagine the thoughts and conversation of the three divine persons – this is especially clear in the First Prelude, the second of the First Point, the Second Point, and the Third Point.
This meditation, taken from the first day of the second week of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, is an excellent indication of how the consideration of the Most Holy Trinity must be a central part of our spiritual life.
Prayer. The usual Preparatory Prayer.
First Prelude. The first Prelude is to bring up the narrative of the thing which I have to contemplate.
Here, it is how the Three Divine Persons looked at all the plain or circuit of all the world, full of men, and how, seeing that all were going down to Hell, it is determined in Their Eternity, that the Second Person shall become man to save the human race, and so, the fullness of times being come, They sent the Angel St. Gabriel to Our Lady.
Second Prelude. The second, a composition, seeing the place: here it will be to see the great capacity and circuit of the world, in which are so many and such different people: then likewise, in particular, the house and rooms of Our Lady in the city of Nazareth, in the Province of Galilee.
Third Prelude. The third, to ask for what I want: it will be to ask for interior knowledge of the Lord, Who for me has become man, that I may more love and follow Him.
First Point. The first Point is, to see the various persons: and first those on the surface of the earth, in such variety, in dress as in actions: some white and others black; some in peace and others in war; some weeping and others laughing; some well, others ill; some being born and others dying, etc.
2. To see and consider the Three Divine Persons, as on their royal throne or seat of Their Divine Majesty, how They look on all the surface and circuit of the earth, and all the people in such blindness, and how they are dying and going down to Hell.
3. To see Our Lady, and the Angel who is saluting her, and to reflect in order to get profit from such a sight.
Second Point. The second, to hear what the persons on the face of the earth are saying, that is, how they are talking with one another, how they swear and blaspheme, etc.; and likewise what the Divine Persons are saying, that is: "Let Us work the redemption of the Human race," etc.; and then what the Angel and Our Lady are saying; and to reflect then so as to draw profit from their words.
Third Point. The third, to look then at what the persons on the face of the earth are doing, as, for instance, killing, going to Hell etc.; likewise what the Divine Persons are doing, namely, working out the most holy Incarnation, etc.; and likewise what the Angel and Our Lady are doing, namely, the Angel doing his duty as ambassador, and Our Lady humbling herself and giving thanks to the Divine Majesty; and then to reflect in order to draw some profit from each of these things.
Colloquy. At the end a Colloquy is to be made, thinking what I ought to say to the Three Divine Persons, or to the Eternal Word incarnate, or to our Mother and Lady, asking according to what I feel in me, in order more to follow and imitate Our Lord, so lately incarnate.
I will say an OUR FATHER.