Holy Trinity and Personal Identity
One of the great contributions of our current culture is how much importance we put on seeking to understand identity. Now, of course there are some bumps in the road and some erroneous theories, but it is good to uncover the truth about our own identity.
Getting to know the Trinity can help us better understand our own identity.
What do we know about the Blessed Trinity? It can feel like we know nothing.
The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the "mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God". To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel's faith before the Incarnation of God's Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 237)
The Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church have discussed it for centuries.
Five points of Trinitarian Theology
There are about five things that we know about the Blessed Trinity. In the early Church, discussion on the finer points of theology was so popular that even the people on the street were aware of some of the finer points that were being discussed at ecumenical councils such as Nicea and Constantinople. You could have done a “man on the street” interview and asked for the bishops representing the Arian position at the Council of Nicea as today someone might ask the name of the current Vice President.
As mentioned above, the Trinity is a huge mystery of our faith. This means that it is a truth that we cannot fully grasp by our own human understanding. We can summarize what we know in five points.
There are four relations. There is the relation from the Father to the Son, called “Generation.” There is the relation of the Son to the Father, called “Filiation.” Then there is the “active spiration” of the Father and the Son towards the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit receives this and moves towards the Father and Son in a “passive spiration.” Three of these relations are so real, that they are persons. But that gets us to the next point of doctrine.
There are three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are truly distinct, and we are best able to pick up on their distinctiveness in their relationship to each other. This mirrors and pre-figures the difference that we experience in our families. A father is always a father, but especially when he is with his children. A wife is always a wife, but especially in relation to her husband. It is important to respect the differences. As the French say, “vive la difference.”
There are two processions: filiation of the Son and active spiration of the Holy Spirit. There was much debate about the active spiration of the Holy Spirit. Does it originate in both the Father and the Son, or only in the Father. In our Western tradition, we have decided that he proceeds from both. This is the famous “filioque” debate which was finally resolved in 1014 thanks to the German King Henry II.
There is but one God. How can he be one and three? If you figure it out, you are probably mistaken. Saint Augustine said famously that “si comprehenderis, non est Deus.” If you fully comprehend, you are not thinking about God. He is a mystery, something we cannot fully understand with our reason. We must rely on faith.
This leads us to our last point of Trinitarian theology: there are no proofs. We know these things through faith, because we trust the authority of Church Magisterium.
The New Age Risk of Confusion
It is good to have a solid trinitarian theology to combat some of the major errors of our time. Some theologians even try to reduce prayer to something New Age. Fr. Thomas Keating removes the difference between the individual and God, the supremely “other.”
The beginning of the spiritual journey is the realization that there is a Higher Power or God, or to make it as easy as possible for everybody, that there is an Other; Capital O. Second step: to try to become the Other; still a Capital O. And finally, the realization that there IS no other; you and the Other are One. Always have been, always will be. You just think that you aren’t. (Keating, 2008)
But he is mistaken. We will never receive so much enlightenment that we become God or begin to realize that we ourselves are God. When we think this, we are mistaken and are risking our own sanity.
Trinitarian Theology and Gender Ideology
It can also help us navigate the murky waters of gender ideology. As we were speaking before about the relation of the persons of the Trinity, a “relation” implies a connection with something “other.” We cannot have a relationship with ourselves. And many of the greatest human relationships will be helped by the “otherness” that is achieved by the complementarity of a marriage between man and woman.
In terms of theology, who you are is rooted in who God is. And the one God is three persons. God is the Father constantly communing with the Son in the power of the Spirit. God is a being who communes with himself. In a sense too high to articulate, God is always speaking with himself, always conversing, always expressing, and sharing in unbound fellowship. That’s simply who God is. The constantly conversing God defines us. We are creatures made for communion. (Hibbs, 2022)
We are called to communion. Just as the Trinity reveals to us the mystery of communion, we find it within ourself and in our natural desire to enter into relationship with those around us.
The more we understand who God is, the better we are able to understand man, and the more we are able to navigate our relationships.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
369 Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. "Being man" or "being woman" is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator. Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity "in the image of God". In their "being-man" and "being-woman", they reflect the Creator's wisdom and goodness.
Our souls are created by God and without biological sex. Our biological sex is determined by the body that the soul “animates,” provided by the act of procreation of the parents of the child. Biological sex is one of the ways that the body manifests the person. It cannot be ignored, without risking great peril. Part of being human is to have a biological sex which is determined by our bodies, not our feelings.
So many people are suffering because they are unsure about their personal identity. Perhaps, delving deeper into the mystery of the Trinity can help them unlock the key to their own hearts and help them know who they are: beloved sons and daughters of God.
Hibbs, P.T. (2022). You are They: Human Identity and the Trinity. Wesminster Magazine. https://wm.wts.edu/content/you-are-they-human-identity-and-the-trinity
Keating, T. (2008). “You and the Other (with a Capital O). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd2LPjpd9As