Albrect Durer 1511 – from Wikipedia Commons
Up until a month ago I had never really contemplated the Holy Trinity. It was one of those things all Christians believed and even though it was a mystery I didn’t doubt it was true. Then I found myself reading the comment section of someone I follow on Instagram–I know, I thought it was only about posting pictures of your cute baby or dog too– on this very topic. It made me really think about my beliefs regarding the Trinity and how I didn’t really have a deep understanding of it, other than the somewhat childish explanation using a clover that is so often used to describe it.
Some of the main points people were arguing included things like;
“The word trinity isn’t in the Bible!”
“The trinity was made up in the 5th century by Constantine to unite the pagans.”
“Scripture a, b & c are proof that the trinity is false.”
To the first point yes, the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible, but either is the word Bible. In fact, we don’t even see Jesus once talk about how Christians need to follow the Bible or a verse showing us that he gave instructions to his apostles to write everything down and adhere to it alone. Instead, we find this verse from Paul on the topic,
“stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).
But, I get why the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses and Oneness Pentecostals used it here, because there are many Christians who believe in the Bible alone and thus it can be easy to persuade them that this fundamental Christian belief is wrong. I never got a response when I pointed out that neither the words Bible or Trinity can be found in Scripture, or where we were instructed to only follow the Bible alone, instead I was met with a confused response saying that they did not understand how it was a contradiction to believe in the Bible but deny the Trinity and use the argument “the word Trinity isn’t even in the Bible!”…
The second main point that I saw repeatedly being made in the comment section was how it was invented by Constantine in the 4th century. Again, this to someone historically illiterate and unfortunately is many in this day and age, would seem impressive and persuasive, except it isn’t the whole truth. They of course are referencing the Council of Nicea in the 4th century and Constantine was there and helped unify the Christian Church. This council is not where the word Trinity was made up, however, no we see it appear in written form much earlier in 181 AD by Theophilus of Antioch–this predates the council of Nicea by a couple hundred years–. Yet, this isn’t crucial to the debate at hand rather the most important point is that the council was DEFENDING the Trinity and not creating it. The Arians had been dividing Christianity with their heresy for years and the Church seeked to come up with an agreed upon definition so that they could educate the faithful and stay truthful to the gospel. That is why we say the Nicene creed to this day at Mass on Sundays. So that all Christians can memorize and take to heart the fundamental beliefs of the Christian.
Lastly, while there are many examples in Scripture that support the Trinity, it can become nearly impossible to get anywhere slinging Scripture verses back and forth, largely because many people believe that they can interpret the Bible for themselves. I found myself in this situation and we were getting nowhere. However, through attempting the process of showing the Trinity in the Scriptures I became better educated and even more convinced than I already was. The exercise was worth the effort, at least for me and perhaps lurkers who were reading the discussion as well.
But, I think we can get somewhere if we resort back to the history. What did the early Christians believe? Shouldn’t we interpret the Scriptures in the same way as those who actually walked and talked with Jesus? The early Christians believed in the Trinity. We know this because they were killed for it.
Acts 7:54-60 The Stoning of Stephen
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Martyrdom of St Stephen by Giorgio Vasari – 1560. From Wikiart
Why was Stephen stoned to death? He was killed because he believed Jesus was literally God. And, since Christians are monotheistic we can’t mean that Stephen died for the belief in multiple gods, because that would go against the first commandment. The only logical explanation is to believe in the Trinity and I think the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it so well:
The dogma of the Holy Trinity
253 The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”.83 The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God.”84 In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), “Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature.”85
254 The divine persons are really distinct from one another. “God is one but not solitary.”86 “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.”87 They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.”88 The divine Unity is Triune.
255 The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: “In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance.”89 Indeed “everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship.”90 “Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son.”91
It is hard to believe or to wrap our heads around the Trinity, but it is the only logical explanation for the Christian to profess. To deny it would be to deny being Christian. One last thing, and I think this attests to the power of God working in our lives when we seek to know, is that this debate came about the same time in the Liturgical calendar as Trinity Sunday. Just last Sunday when we were listening to the readings and it was so abundantly clear that the Trinity is truth. I was so very appreciative to see and hear the Trinity coming through the readings at Mass in a way I had never really appreciated before. I was very thankful for this discussion on Instagram and for God guiding me towards, not just the truth, but for really educating me on that truth.