Although today is Pentecost, I was overcome by the nearing solemnity of Trinity Sunday — next week! — and simply could not hold myself back. I must speak of the mysterious Trinity, the Mystery of mysteries which the Pentecostal Spirit revealed to all creation when he sprang forth into time from the secret chambers of the Eternal.
Next week’s feast of Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost as a “dogmatic feast,” meant to allow believers an opportunity to contemplatively linger a bit longer over the “crater” left behind by the impact of God: the Christ-crash theologians call the “paschal mystery.” Once the Holy Spirit is poured out, not only is the public revelation of the Holy Trinity made complete, but the life of the Trinity — as we will celebrate on Corpus Christi — is opened to those who receive that revelation in faith.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Dominica Sanctissimae Trinitatis
O mes Trois! “O my Three!”
These words, often spontaneously prayed aloud by Carmelite mystic Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, praise with intimate affection the highest mystery of our faith: the blessed Trinity. This foundational mystery of faith is the deepest secret of God. I had a systematic theology professor in grad school who, in a lecture on the Trinitarian dogma, made a memorable analogy:
Imagine if you had finally, after a very long time, mustered the courage to finally share with another person your deepest, most personal and intimate secret; a secret that touched on the core of your identity. Then imagine that this person, after hearing your words, yawned and, in a blasé tone, said, ‘So what else do you want to talk about?’ This is, I fear, how most Christians receive the divine secret that was shared with us in Jesus; a secret told at great cost to God! … if there’s nothing else you remember from this class, never ever allow yourself to think of the mystery of the Trinity without making at least a small act of gratitude and love. In other words, don’t ever consider the mysteries of faith without praying.
He then mentioned the famous story of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross when, in 1573 on Trinity Sunday, they were meeting in the convent parlor, speaking of the mystery of the indwelling of the Trinity in the soul. One of the nuns — Beatriz of Jesus — came to get Teresa only to find the two of them lifted off the ground, still speaking. My professor added, “It’s almost as if God’s sheer joy over John and Teresa’s love for His mystery moved Him to transgress the laws of gravity and pick them up like a father thrilled by his children. That’s how we are to approach this mystery. Okay, now let’s begin looking at the biblical evidence for this dogma…”
How blessed are we, O Christians, for who God is in his deepest nature has been made known to us.
Mary the Temple
We especially look to Mary, the New Eve, conceived at the dawn of the new creation, as the one first chosen to hear whispered by an Archangel God’s secret:
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. — Luke 1:35
God first spoke this mystery into the very ground of her being the instant she came into existence in her mother’s womb. The Father bathed her, by his Spirit, in the Blood of the Word-made-flesh who was — O timeless God! — yet to be conceived in her womb. Pope Pius IX worded it this way:
The Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin.
Into Mary the heavens began to pour down the Word (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11), first in her heart, her freedom, and then in her womb. Beneath the brightness of Their luminous shadow, the Trinity made all things new, beginning in her who is the new Temple in the new City of God. In her womb, divine compassion bent over human suffering and entered the valley of the shadow of death, that we might not fear.
Dead Tree of Life
God’s inner mystery — the begotten Word and proceeding Spirit — is first revealed at the moment of creation, when the divine wind rushed over the primeval waters and the divine word called all things into being. It was into the tohu wa-bohu, the “shapeless and formless” void, that God first spoke light (Genesis 1:2). Likewise, at the inception of the new creation, the Word enters as divine speech spoken into the chaotic and murky darkness of human travail where faith looks futile, hope appears hapless and love seems lifeless (John 1:1-14). In Jesus, the divine Word is nailed to the Cross.
Te, fons salutis Trinitas,
collaudet omnis spiritus:
quos per Crucis mysterium
salvas, fove per saecula. Amen.
Blest Trinity, salvation’s spring
may every soul Thy praises sing;
to those Thou grantest conquest by
the Holy Cross, rewards supply. Amen. — Vexilla Regis
On the Cross, the Word who hung the heavens, hangs; the Word, who breathed life into us “in the beginning,” gasps for breath; the Alpha and Omega, the omnipotent All-Ruler, freely succumbs to the brutality of his creation so to manifest God’s summit of power: compassionate, tender mercy. Omnipotence is wielded in meekness as the blazing Sun of Righteousness sheds on mankind healing rays.
The Father is revealed on the Cross as the Lover of enemies as he hands over his own beloved Son.
The Son is revealed on the Cross as the One who freely embraces death out of love for his enemies.
The Spirit is revealed on the Cross as the reconciling gift of Love from Father and Son lavished on their enemies.
O Trinity, secret depth of unfathomable love and Lover unto folly, you lay yourself bare before creation on the Cross in order to ransom slaves, to raise up the fallen, heal the wounded, pardon the sinner, restore the lost and allure back the faithless wife.
Why when we invoke God’s threefold Name do we sign ourselves with the Cross? Because on the Cross the Trinity fell into an eloquent silence. Revelation was complete (John 19:30), and They could say no more. On Pentecost, the Spirit’s coming adds nothing to “the word of the cross” (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18). Rather, the Spirit comes bearing the fullness of Christ’s pierced and fire-casting Heart, unleashing his Paschal treasures on creation (cf. Luke 12:49). The Spirit merely exegetes (draws out from) Christ Crucified and progressively knits us more and more firmly to the life-giving Cross, as St. John of the Cross says:
In giving us His Son, His only Word — for He possesses no other — the Father spoke everything to us at once and He has no more to say…We must then dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides. For this reason the apostle Paul said of Christ: In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labors, and unless it first receives from God very many blessings in the intellect and in the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training. All these are lesser things, disposing the soul for the lofty sanctuary of the knowledge of the mysteries of Christ: this is the highest wisdom attainable in this life. Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.
In hoc signo vinces; omnia vincit amor, “In this sign, conquer; love conquers all.”
No more words. Please join me in praying our Trinitarian Creed. It captures in serene words –does it not? — what was revealed to us at the cost of the violent death and glorious resurrection of the eternal Son. Listen here: