Article 30: Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Father John G. Hillier
Have you ever considered the fact that the word “Trinity” is found nowhere in the Sacred Scriptures. Whether we look through the Books of the Old Testament or the New, there is no place in the Bible where we come across the word “Trinity.” Yet, the belief in God as a Trinity of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a belief embraced by all mainline Christian churches, is clearly discerned from such biblical passages as Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19, John 10:30; 14:16-17; 17:11 & 21, Acts 2:32-33 and II Corinthians 13:14, to name a few.
Although Christians have maintained belief in the Holy Trinity from the earliest days of the Church, there are still certain groups that continue to identify themselves as “Christian” but clearly deny the existence of the Holy Trinity. These include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian Scientists, and the Unitarians.
Even in ancient times, various religions invoked God as Father although they did not do so within the context of the Holy Trinity. For example, the Catechism explains that “in Israel, God is called ‘Father’ inasmuch as he is Creator of the world. Even more, God is Father because of the covenant and the gift of the law to Israel, ‘his first-born son’. God is also called the Father of the king of Israel. Most especially he is ‘the Father of the poor’, of the orphaned and the widowed, who are under his loving protection” (ccc 238).
In the Catechism (ccc 239) there are several short sentences highlighting many relevant aspects about the Fatherhood of God including:
- God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority.
- God is “goodness and love; caring for all his children.”
- God’s parental tenderness is similar the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature.,
- The language of faith draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for us.
- Although human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood, God transcends the human distinction between the sexes.
- God is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard.
- No one is father as God is Father.
In the next paragraph (ccc 240), the Catechism explains that “Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard-of sense: he is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father by his relationship to his only Son who, reciprocally, is Son only in relation to his Father.” It is “for this reason,” the Catechism continues, “the apostles confess Jesus to be the [eternal] Word” (ccc 241). Then in paragraph 242 we are reminded that the Church defines Jesus, the Son, as “consubstantial” with the Father, that is, only one God with him, at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Thus we have the beginning of the Nicene Creed which we pray at Sunday Mass: “the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.”
The next 5 paragraphs of the Catechism (ccc 243-248) speak about the sending of “another Paraclete” (Advocate), the Holy Spirit (ccc 243). This is the same “Spirit of Truth” who spoke through the prophets. “The Holy Spirit is thus revealed as another Divine Person with Jesus and the Father” (ccc 243). “The sending of the person of the Spirit after Jesus’ glorification reveals in its fullness the mystery of the Holy Trinity” (ccc 244). The Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381 AD further explains: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father … With the Father and the Son, he is worshipped and glorified” (ccc 245).
The eternal origin of the Holy Spirit, a topic that has split the universal Church for centuries, is discussed in this section of the Catechism
While the Catholic Church, with the Latin tradition of the Creed, confesses that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque),” (ccc 246) the Orthodox Church embracing the Eastern tradition of the Creed, confesses that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father through the Son” (ccc 248).
Although the differences in expression between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church “does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed,” (ccc248) nonetheless, “the introduction of the “filioque” into the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed by the Latin liturgy constitutes … even today, a point of disagreement with the Orthodox Churches” (247). Thus, more than 1000 years has passed and neither Church has found a way to reconcile their differences which in fact come down to two short words: “and” ( in the case of the Catholics); “through” (in the case of the Orthodox).
The fact that the word Trinity is not present in the Bible does not change the truth about the existence of the Holy Trinity. We rely on the authoritative Word of God to affirm the truth about the Holy Trinity. This “Word of God” includes the source we call the “Sacred Scriptures” or “the Bible” but it also includes “Sacred Tradition.” That, however, is a topic for another day.