The Mystery That Became a Problem
One and one and one equal one. This is the problem which have occupied the minds of many who study the Bible. How can one plus one plus one become one? How can three become one? How can the three persons of God be one God?
There is a story which some of you may have heard already about Augustine the Bishop of Hippo in Africa. One day he was walking along the shore thinking about this problem of three persons in one God. As he walked and thought about this problem he saw a child who brought water from the ocean into a hole. Curious, Augustine asked the child what he was doing. The child replied, "I am putting all the water from the ocean into this hole". Augustine commented, "But that is impossible." The child rejoined, "So it is with the problem in your mind." With that the child disappeared.
Yes, it is impossible for us to solve the problem of the Trinity, how the three become one because it is not a problem. It is a mystery. We do not solve mysteries. We only solve problems but the Trinity is not a problem. It is a mystery. Therefore it cannot be solved.
There have been many attempts of course to explain the Trinity, some by very pious persons. But in reality it cannot be understood by mere human mind. Some have compared it to an egg which is composed of three parts, the shell, the yellow nucleus and the white substance covering the nucleus, and the egg is one. But the persons of the Trinity are not parts of God, each of them is God, fully and completely God. So the comparison with the egg is not able to teach us about the Trinity.
Making the mystery of the Trinity a problem caused a problem in the Church. This resulted to one of the reasons why the Orthodox Church is not united with the Catholic Church today. There are around 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world today. There are many reasons, religious and political, which caused the Orthodox Church which is the majority Church in Russia not to remain united with our Catholic Church. The first reason mentioned by church historians has something to do with our understanding of the Trinity.
We cannot discuss this first reason here in detail. We can only give a brief reference to this matter. To put it simply the Catholic Church expressed her belief that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, as we recite it in the Mass. On the other hand the Orthodox Church expresses this belief without the phrase "and the Son" which in Latin is "filioque". The Orthodox Church says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. Period. There is no "and the Son". The Orthodox Church does not want to put this "and the Son" in their Creed or statement of Christian belief.
From the beginning the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church were united although they had different customs and different ways of saying the Mass. For example in the Orthodox Church married men can be ordained priests. So they have married priests. The Orthodox Church acknowledged the Pope as the rightful bishop of Rome. But in 1054 they began to separate from one another. And as I mentioned already one of the reasons why they separated from one another was their difference in understanding the Trinity, particularly where the Holy Spirit came from, from the Father or from the Father and the Son.
This matter is really too complicated for a homily to address to. But I have inserted it here in a homily to show that when we make a mystery a problem, like the mystery of the most Holy Trinity, we are going to be led astray in our Christian life.
The Holy Trinity is not a problem. It is a mystery. And because it is a mystery, not a problem, it is not to be solved. It is to be experienced and lived. And Jesus shows us how to live the mystery of the Trinity in our Gospel reading today.
Jesus says in the Gospel reading, "Everything that the Father has is mine". This tells us that what God the Father has is also possessed by Jesus. The godhead, the goodness, the wisdom, the power of God the Father and all the attributes that he has are all in Jesus. That is why Paul exclaimed, "He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God . . . It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him . . . ." (Colossians 1:15, 19). In the next chapter he says, "In Christ the fullness of the deity resides in bodily form". This means that Jesus is fully God, just as the Father is also fully God. We express this in our Creed saying, "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God".
Our Gospel reading ends, ". . . he (the Spirit of Truth) will take from what is mine and declare it to you". This means that what Jesus has will be taken by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will declare or announce this to us. According to our second reading the Holy Spirit pours out the love of God into our hearts.
As the Spirit pours out the love of God into our hearts he pours out God to us because as John says, God is love. Receiving this love of God and living it out is experiencing the love of the Holy Trinity. It is being immersed or baptized into the life of the Trinity. Then we live like God, we think like God, we speak like God and we work like God. This is making the mystery of the most Holy Trinity live in our hearts. We know that God the Father lives in us, that God the Son lives in us, that God the Holy Spirit lives in us. And now we know and feel that they are one because we are one with them.
For our prayer today let us pray the all too familiar Glory Be. This prayer has been with the Church since the year 380, more than one thousand six hundred years ago. It is the most familiar prayer to the Trinity. Some sources say it originated in Syria, the Roman province where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. But we pray this prayer today with the phrases from our Gospel reading. We bow our heads.
Glory be to the Father who has given all that he has to the Son;
Glory be to the Son who has all that the Father has;
Glory be to the Holy Spirit who takes what the Son has and gives this to us.