Trinity: An Explosion of Self-Gift

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

The Trinity is a doctrine that remains a puzzle for many. The whole “three Persons in one God” thing is a bit mystifying. Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub? A committee of 3?

Michael Himes in his The Mystery of Faith suggests that the best statement of the Trinity is found in the First Letter of John, when it says that “God is love.” Himes explains:

The Greek word for “love” used in this statement is agape…Agape is a very peculiar kind of love. It is a love which is completely centered on the one loved. It is centered on the other. To avoid confusing it with other meanings of “love” in English, I prefer to translate it as “self-gift.” So, according to 1 John 4:8 and 16, God is perfect self-gift, total giving of self to the other….

Some three centuries after the Fourth Gospel and the First Letter of John were written, Saint Augustine wrote that, while the language of “Father,” “Son” and “Spirit” is certainly present in the New Testament (Matthew 28:19), he did not find it the most helpful terminology for teaching about the Trinity. In his great work On the Trinity he examines other sets of terms. The best language he comes up with – and I think this is wonderful language – is to speak of God as Love, Beloved, and the Love between them. From all eternity God is the Love who gives Godself away perfectly; and the Beloved who accepts being loved and returns it perfectly; and the Love, the endless, perfect bond of mutual self-gift uniting the Lover and Beloved. From all eternity God is an enormous explosion of agape, self-gift, and it is that self-gift which grounds all that exists.

That understanding of the Trinity, of course, has implications. It is not enough to simply assert belief in the Trinity.

The God in whose image we are created is the triune God who is love. If we are to live in accordance with the God in whose image we are created, if we are to be like God, we are called to agapic love.

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