6-16-2019 The Most Holy Trinity
Jun 17, 2019
Trinity Sunday / OT / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
We come to Trinity Sunday, sometimes called a "preacher’s nightmare." But I’ve come to peace with it over the years. After my theological studies, and as a young priest, I thought "no one can explain the Trinity." But in later years, with a little more maturity, I thought, "Would God reveal something to us that we couldn’t understand?" And the answer is no. So, each year I give it a shot . . . and here is what I have to say this year.
I will put on my theological cap because the Trinity is "theological"—but all theology has a practical purpose: 1) to teach us about God, 2) to enhance our lives, and 3) to inspire us toward the good. I will take my cue today from a question that came to me from a young man some years ago: "Father," he said, "when we say things like ‘only begotten Son,’ ‘born of the Father before all ages,’ ‘God from God, light from light, true God from true God,’ do those words mean anything?"
In fact, those words mean everything! Our faith rises and falls on those words. People gave their lives for those words. So why are they so important, and where do they come from? That’s what I want to talk about on this Trinity Sunday.
As always, a little background is necessary. The words of the Nicene Creed that we recite come from an early church council, the Council of Nicaea, in 325 AD. The council was called at a time when a heresy called Arianism was taking over the Church.
The heresy was begun by a man named Arius, who said that Jesus is like Hercules or Achilles—a kind of demi-God, part human and part divine. And he was partially correct—and that is the danger of all heresies. What Arius got wrong was that he said that Jesus was neither fully human nor fully divine. On the other hand, Jesus was really something, the highest and greatest of God’s creation, the most perfect creature that God created.
The Arians had a slogan that said it all—and describes their downfall: "There was a time when He was not." In other words, Jesus is great, but he is less than God.
So many people were taken in by this heresy that the emperor himself—Constantine—called a council of bishops to argue the case, both sides. And they did. And the result saved the Church.
The Council of Nicaea declared Arius wrong. And every time we recite the Creed, we declare Arius wrong. Jesus is fully God and fully man. Jesus is "God from God, light from light, true God from true God." In other words, Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, is equal to the Father in every way.
To emphasize the point, the council described Jesus as the "only begotten Son of God," as "begotten, not made, consubstantial (one in being) with the Father."
When we say that Jesus is "Son of the Father," we don’t mean like a human son. Rather, Jesus is the "only ‘begotten’ Son," through whom all things were made. Jesus is the same "substance" of the Father. Consubstantial. One in being.
So, do the words of the Creed mean anything? Yes! They mean everything, because these are the words of salvation. If we had gone with Arius, Jesus would have been just another mythic person—there might even be a Marvel comic book about him! A learned society might have been dedicated to him. And Christianity would have devolved into a mere cult. Or simply died away.
As it is, Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, equal to the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit—one God, forever and ever. Amen!