Trinity Is a School of Relations
Gospel Commentary for Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, MAY 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Why do Christians believe in the Trinity? Is it not hard enough to believe that God exists without having to add the puzzle about God being “one and three?”
There are some today who would not be upset if we dropped the Trinity. For one thing, they would say, it would help dialogue with the Jews and Muslims, who profess faith in a God who is strictly one.
The answer is that Christians believe that God is triune because they believe that God is love! If God is love, then he must love someone. There is no such thing as love of nothing, a love that is not directed at anyone. So we ask: Who is it that God loves so that he is defined as love?
A first answer might be that God loves us! But men have only existed for a few million years. Who did God love before that? God could not have begun to love at a certain point in time because God cannot change.
Another answer might be that before he loved us, he loved the cosmos, the universe. But the universe has only existed for a few billion years. Who did God love before that so that he was defined as love? We cannot say that God loved himself because self-love is not love, but egoism, or, as the psychologists say, narcissism.
How does Christian revelation answer this question? God is love in himself, before time, because there is eternally in him a Son, the Word, whom he loves from an infinite love which is the Holy Spirit.
In every love there are always three realities or subjects: one who loves, one who is loved and the love that unites them. Where God is understood as absolute power, there is no need for there to be more than one person, for power can be exercised quite well by one person; but if God is understood as absolute love, then it cannot be this way.
Theology has used the term “nature” or “substance” to indicate unity in God and it has used the term “person” to indicate a distinction. Because of this we say that our God is one God in three persons. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is not a regression, a compromise between monotheism and polytheism. On the contrary, it is a step forward for the human mind that could only be brought about by God.
The contemplation of the Trinity can have an important impact on our human life. The life of the Trinity is a mystery of relation. The divine persons are defined in theology as “subsistent relations.” This means that the divine persons do not “have” relations, but rather “are” relations. We human beings have relations -- of son to father, of wife to husband, etc. -- but we are not constituted by those relations; we also exist outside and without them. It is not this way with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We know that happiness and unhappiness on earth depend in large part upon the quality of our relationships. The Trinity reveals the secret to good relationships. Love, in its different forms, is what makes relationships beautiful, free and gratifying. Here we see how important it is that God be seen primarily as love and not as power: love gives, power dominates.
That which poisons a relationship is the will to dominate another person, to possess or use that person instead of welcoming and giving ourselves to him or her.
It should be added that the Christian God is one and three! This, therefore, is also the feast of the unity of God, not just God as Trinity. We Christians believe “in one God,” but the unity that we believe in is unity of nature not of number. It resembles more the unity of the family than that of the individual, more the unity of the cell than that of the atom.
The first reading presents us the biblical God as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness.” This is the principal trait that the God of the Bible, the God of Islam and the God (or rather the religion) of Buddhism have in common, and which provides the best basis for dialogue and cooperation among the great religions.
Every sura of the Quran begins with the following invocation: “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” In Buddhism, which does not know a personal, creator God, the basis is anthropological and cosmic: Man must be merciful on account of the solidarity and responsibility that binds him to all living things.
The holy wars of the past and the religious terrorism of the present are a betrayal and not an apologia of one’s faith. How can one kill in the name of a God that one continues to proclaim as “the Merciful” and “the Compassionate”?
This is the most urgent task of interreligious dialogue that believers in all religions must pursue for the sake of peace and for the good of humanity.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are Exodus 34:4b-6.8-9; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18.