One, Two, Trinity
This article covers the doctrine of the Trinity.
And then there were three. They were seen in Sacred Tradition first, seen in the teaching authority of the undivided Church next, and seen in the Bible last. Which Church was that? The Roman Catholic Church.
The Three Witnesses of the Catholic Church
To the Protestants, the Bible is enough. Sola scriptura, the Scripture alone is the basis of what is good, what is pleasing, what is perfect (I’m borrowing from Romans 12). They are denying themselves what the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) refers to as ‘The splendor of truth.’ It’s a choice they have made with their Godfather, Martin Luther, starting on the Halloween of 1517 (October 31) when he nailed his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, accusing the Roman Catholic Church of ‘heresy upon heresy’ (2003, greatsite.com/). He was given a chance to recant, but he refused; he was excommunicated in 1521, or 4 years later. He was a brave man living up to his brave words. The protestor is always right.
The Protestants accept the Trinity and defend it solely by the Scripture. I don’t understand that because, from my readings, the doctrine of the Trinity is only vaguely mentioned in the Bible. The Roman Catholics have a better idea; they support that doctrine by the Bible plus Sacred Tradition plus the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. I call these The Three Witnesses of the Catholic Church.
Martin Luther would not accept the Magisterium (that is to say, the Majesty) of the Church; out of that rejection came his protest, and so the Protestant Church was born; likewise, the Eastern Orthodox would not, and they too separated from the Mother Church. They all came from the Catholic Church, while today’s Protestant churches are branches of the original Protestant branches (Catholic Answers, 1996, catholic.com/). The prodigal daughters got their Bibles from the mother; now they deny the authority of their mother to proclaim the truth. The nihil obstat (nothing obstructs) and imprimatur (let it be printed) in Catholic publications are an exercise of the teaching authority of the Church, of its exclusive role as interpreter of the truth. They always go together; indicating that the publication contains nothing objectionable in terms of faith and morals (Catholics United for the Faith, 2006, cuf.org/). The mother is always right.
The Bible itself declares the eminent value of Sacred Tradition while the Protestants deny such value. Mario Derksen (cathinsight.com/) points out that, for instance, Paul told the Thessalonians to hold fast to his preachings (2 Thessalonians 2: 15), which could not have referred to any part of the Bible because at the time of writing there was no Bible yet. The Bible is always right.
But take heart, brother Catholics. Mark Shea writes (1999, envoymagazine.com/):
Something great is happening. Many of our evangelical brothers and sisters are beginning to appreciate the ancient Catholic teaching that Sacred Scripture is the written portion, not the totality, of Sacred Tradition given us by the Apostles with the authority of Christ himself.
The Protestants are not always right; now they are beginning to understand.
They have a lot to catch up with. The Roman Catholics have long believed in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity based on three sources of truth: (1) the Bible, (2) Sacred Tradition, and (3) the Magisterium (Catholic Answers, 1996). Not necessarily in that order – in fact, as far as I know, the three are of equal importance; The Three Witnesses assert the same divine truth. For instance, ‘the Bible alone’ was not part of the belief in the early Church; it is not Sacred Tradition. Only by Sacred Tradition do we know, for instance, that John is the ‘beloved disciple’ since the identity is not mentioned in the Bible itself (Steven Kellmeyer, 2000, catholiceducation.org/). Chris Tesch points out that according to the Bible (1 Timothy 3: 15), it is the Church and not the Bible that is the ‘pillar of truth’ (1997, catscans.com/).
And now, let us discuss some details of the testimony of The Three Witnesses on the matter of the Holy Trinity.
One, Trinity from Sacred Tradition
The Doctrine of the Trinity did not originate with the Bible; it was Tertullian, one of the Church Fathers writing in the 3rd century, who first coined the term trinitas (trinity) and who, in doing that, clarified the ‘mystery of the divine economy … which of the unity makes a trinity, placing the three in order not of quality but of sequence, difference not in substance but in aspect, not in power but in manifestation’ (Cher-El L Hagensick, 2004, heraldmag.org/). Inspired, Tertullian saw three persons in one God, and that became part of Sacred Tradition.
The Bible itself several times refers to the need to cling to Apostolic Tradition, which of course is not in the Bible (Catholic Answers). The Bible is not enough!
Based on early Christian writings, Peter’s successors, the Bishops of Rome (Papa or Pope) ‘continued to exercise Peter’s ministry in the Church’ (Catholic Answers, 1996).
The Catholic text that contains the Trinity, the Nicene Creed, was formulated at the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 AD and expanded at the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381 AD to include the Holy Spirit (Ken Collins, 1995, kencollins.com/). The Nicene Creed runs thus (spurgeon.org/):
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Even the Protestants believe in the Holy Trinity and yet the concept does not come from the Bible, that is, the word ‘Trinity’ is not even in the Bible. Trinity is the witness of Sacred Tradition.
Two, Trinity from the Bible
Still, in his article on the Trinity for whose support some may be found in the Bible,’ Fr Paul Kaiparambadan writes (‘Trinity in the Bible,’ Know The Truth, 2006, Maiden Issue, San Bartholomew Parish, Malabon City, the Philippines) that the Old Testament refers to God as ‘persons’ thus (my excerpts):
Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’ (Genesis 1: 26).
The Bible says to us that there are three that bear witness in heaven, The Father, The Word, and the Holy Ghost (1 John 5: 7). The Bible reveals ‘God has a Son’ (Proverbs 30: 4, ‘who knows the name of God and the name of His Son!’
God is defined as Love in the Bible. If God is a single individual, this definition becomes invalid as He could never give and experience love. CS Lewis, the famous thinker, says: ‘If God was a single person, then, before the world was made, he was not love.’
John 15: 26: ‘But when the Comforter comes, whom I will send unto you, from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of me.’
The Holy Spirit is explicitly called God in the Bible as a Divine Person in union with the Father and the Son. 2 Corinthians 3: 17-18 – ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’
Peter called the Holy Spirit God. Acts 5: 3ff – ‘Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money … What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’
There is a beautiful verse from 1 Corinthians that Fr Paul points out by which StPaul explains the mystery of what we now refer to as the Holy Trinity. The verse runs thus:
There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord;
there are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
In the Old Testament, the creation of woman from man reflects, and for now we see, darkly, the Trinity thus (Colin Donovan STL, EWTN.com/):
The collective term man, for example, is both a philosophically and theologically appropriate term for the human race. Just as there is a certain precedence within the Trinity, by which the Father is God, the Son is God by generation and the Holy Spirit is God by spiration, Sacred Scripture reveals that an image of this Trinity of equal Persons in God is reflected in the creation of woman from man. Adam (which means man) is a man, Eve is a man (since she shares his nature), and each of their descendants is a man. This expresses equality, NOT inequality as feminists claim.
Three, Trinity from the Magisterium
The Magisterium is the teaching authority of the Catholic Church represented by the Pope and expressed most completely in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or the Apostolic Constitution (it is available online at vatican.va/). The catechism teaches that:
The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the ‘mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God.’ To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s son and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
The doctrines of the Trinity and the divine/human nature of Christ were the main dogmas recognized by the councils of the undivided Church during the first millennium (White Robed Monks of St Benedict, 2000, whiterobedmonks.org/). This is the teaching authority of the undivided Church.
In his book An Essay On The Development Of Christian Doctrine, John Henry Cardinal Newman discusses how it is that (John Shepard, 2005, northforest.org/):
Both Protestants and Catholics admit that doctrine has developed over the centuries. Even those Protestants who claim that they follow the exact teachings of the apostolic church (should be able to recognize) at least two obvious developments:
There was no canon of New Testament Scripture in the apostolic era; it developed over time.
The major Christian doctrines (such as the Trinity) are not merely restatements of Bible verses. These doctrines were discussed by the Church Fathers over hundreds of years, and were finally formulated at various Church Councils. These doctrinal statements are in words not literally copied from the Bible.
The image shown on this webpage is Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s painting of ‘Pope St Clement Adoring The Trinity’ (Jeff Dugan, 2002, arttoheartweb.com/). In the painting, Pope Clement I (also known as Clement of Rome), is shown praying before a vision of the Holy Trinity. The Pope is the first of the ‘Apostolic Fathers’ and his feast is celebrated 23 November; and according to Tertullian, writing in 199 AD, ‘the Roman Church claimed that Clement was ordained by St Peter’ and that St Jerome says that in his time ‘most of the Latins’ knew or believed that ‘Clement was the immediate successor of the Apostle’ (Women for Faith & Family, 1999, wf-f.org/). Sacred Tradition mixed in with the Magisterium. Any questions?
The teaching authority of the Catholic Church is like this, as John Salza explains to David, apparently a Protestant, in an Internet dialogue (2006, scripturecatholic.com/):
The Bible didn’t just fall out of the sky. God did not give us (the books that make the Bible and) an inspired table of contents. There were 50 different ‘gospels’ floating around Judea during the first centuries of the Church. It took an authority to determine what was inspired and what was not inspired. God gave this authority to the Church, just like He gave the same Church the authority to define the dogmas of God and Christ which even you believe (the Trinity, dogmas on Christology).
In our time, the Beloved John Paul II ‘showed his great honor and love for the Holy Trinity as Pope by dedicating 3 consecutive years to the Holy Trinity, in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, as follows (The Work of God, theworkofgod.org/):
1997, dedicated to Jesus Christ (faith)
1998, dedicated to the Holy Spirit (hope)
1999, dedicated to God the Father (charity).
Teaching that Faith plus Hope plus Charity merging and emerging as one reflects the Holy Trinity, that’s John Paul II exercising the teaching authority of the Church.
Not only the Catholics but the Protestants also believe in the Trinity. Now, there is a danger in that, as Bob Stanley explains (1995, columbia.edu/):
Some people will say, ‘If it is not in the Bible, I will not believe it.’ Ask them if they believe in the Holy Trinity. If they say ‘yes, of course,’ then say, ‘OK. then find the word ‘Trinity’ in the Bible.’ They can’t find it because that word is not in the Bible. How then can anyone who believes in the Holy Trinity say, ‘Sola Scriptura (only the Bible)?’
That is why we need the Church as authority. Since the word ‘Trinity’ itself is not found in the Bible, all the more reason to turn to a teaching authority that has existed since the beginning of our time.
Without a teaching authority, who will interpret the Bible? The Pontifical Biblical Commission reports to John Paul II (PBC, 1993, bible-researcher.com/):
The patristic and conciliar teaching about the Trinity expresses the fuller sense of the teaching of the New Testament regarding God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In fact, the Protestants do have a teaching authority whom they turn to for interpreting the Bible, and everyone knows him; his name is Everybody. Each one of them is the infallible interpreter of truth. Each one of them is a Pope all by himself, declaring himself the Pope of his church, declaring his interpretation better or more truthful than the others, and the members of his church believe him.
No nihil obstat and no imprimatur here, but I do declare. The Bible and Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium are The Three Holy Witnesses of the Catholic Church, for those who do think the past is part of the answer to the problems of the present. Father & Son & Holy Spirit: The Holy Trinity for all those who do not think highly of themselves.