The Trinitarian Mystery

“If any one, therefore, says to us, How then was the Son produced by the Father? we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable. Neither Valentinus, nor Marcion, nor Saturninus, nor Basilides, nor angels, nor archangels, nor principalities, nor powers [possess this knowledge], but the Father only who begot, and the Son who was begotten. Since therefore His generation is unspeakable, those who strive to set forth generations and productions cannot be in their right mind, inasmuch as they undertake to describe things which are indescribable.” -St. Irenaeus of Lyons

How, then, dare I try to make an attempt to tell of the mystery of the Trinity in my little blog, a man of little learning that I am?  I simply affirm what St. Irenaeus says; I am out of my mind. I agree with Aristotle and St. Thomas when I say that to achieve even a little knowledge of the highest things is far better than to know almost everything about worldly things.

In the prologue to Book II of St. Augustine’s de Trinitate, he confirms this saying “When men seek to know God, and bend their minds according to the capacity of human weakness to the understanding of the Trinity; learning, as they must, by experience, the wearisome difficulties of the task, whether from the sight itself of the mind striving to gaze upon light unapproachable.”

In all that will be said here and in posts to follow, we must remember that it is by faith alone that we can know of the Trinity.  Theologians past, and with good intention, have tried to prove the existence of the Trinity.  I agree with St. Thomas that this is impossible, for we can only know things by reason because of the world we experience.  That is, to use reason alone is to confine ourselves to the starting point of the created world.

God is One, and He acts as one.  We can know that God exists through reason alone, but this is reasoning from cause to effect, and in this case, we recognize a “necessary cause” for all that is contingent. We can only reason to the one cause, which is the one nature, the one essence that is the one God.  There is no way to know there is a Trinity.

“The following dissertation concerning the Trinity, as the reader ought to be informed, has been written in order to guard against the sophistries of those who disdain to begin with faith, and are deceived by a crude and perverse love of reason” (de Trinitate, Book I) says St. Augustine of his work on the Trinity.  While never disdaining reason, we will keep in mind constantly that we are contemplating the greatest of mysteries, beyond the comprehension of any finite intellect.

We can, however, know that arguments against the Trinity are not demonstrable, that is, there is no argument that can show that the Trinity is against reason. Arguments against the Trinity, like any argument against the faith, are either sophistry (simply erroneous) or otherwise merely probable (meaning that they are not the only explanation that explains the data; similar examples can be found on other issues which cannot be known through reason alone, such as whether the world is eternal or had a beginning in time, etc).

Therefore, the investigation of the mystery of the Trinity can do two things, and these are not really separate. “The manifestation of truth and the criticism of errors constitute two aspects of one theological enterprise” (Giles Emery, OP). We will see, then, that throughout our contemplation of the Trinity, we will often use the errors of non-believers and heretics alike to show forth the true doctrine of the Trinity, inasmuch as we are able.  Of course, God can never be comprehended, but we can, through effort and grace, come to some knowledge of God.  And after all, “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

‘”Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD.’ (Isaiah 1:18) We will attempt to do just that. Call me “out of my mind” if you will.

In the next post, I plan to, in summary form, lay out the basic principles of Trinitarian theology, to include

The immanent Trinity: processions, relations, persons, notions, and appropriations.

The economic Trinity: the “role” of each Person in the order of creation and of redemption, to include the missions. The understanding of the “economic Trinity,” (God as He is known and made known to us)of course, flows from the “immanent Trinity,” (God as He is eternally to Himself).


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