Last week we celebrated Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This Sunday we celebrate how that same Spirit, together with the Father and the Son, reveal themselves as the three persons of the one God.
There are two central beliefs in Christianity. The first is the Trinity—one God existing as three distinct persons. The second is the Incarnation—the eternal Son becoming man for our salvation. These two mysteries are the cornerstones of our faith and distinguish Christianity from other religious beliefs.
Although all Christians (Catholics and Protestants) accept these two truths of revelation, the Trinity poses a particular challenge for Protestant Christians, who accept no authority outside of the Bible. This is due to the fact that the Bible has no single chapter or verse that clearly delineates this mystery. Though the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are referred to as a group, nowhere in the Bible does it identify them as three distinct and coequal persons within the one Godhead.
Some Protestant scholars engage in theological gymnastics by drawing disparate verses from the Scriptures to demonstrate the truth of the Trinity. However, they are trying to validate what they already hold as true. That is, they do not examine the Scriptures to determine if they should believe in a Triune God. Rather, they search the Scriptures to try to explicitly confirm what they already believe. If readers who have never heard of the Trinity were to examine the Bible with fresh eyes, they would never arrive at the conclusion that the Bible teaches definitively that one God exists as three distinct persons, much less that this belief is an essential doctrine of Christianity.
As much as our separated brothers and sisters are unwilling to admit it, the reason that both Catholics and Protestants believe in the Trinity is not because it is clearly taught in the Scriptures, but because it is clearly taught in Sacred Tradition. We find the theologians of the early church clearly teaching this truth, which the apostles received from Christ. For example, in 216 A.D. Tertullian wrote:
“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation… (which) brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
This teaching, though not explicit in Scripture, is revealed implicitly within it. Even as God himself is one, so, too, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition communicate one truth. Therefore, together, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition attest to the Trinity—three in one and one in three. Praise be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and for eternity!