The Holy Trinity may be beyond our understanding, but not beyond faith

Tim Irwin

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity/May 27

Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39-40; Psalm 33:4-5,6,9,18-19,20,22; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20

Christianity is a religion of mysteries and foremost among them is the one we celebrate this week, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Christians profess that the Triune God is Love. Not just that God acts in loving ways. Rather, love, the commitment to the good of the other, constitutes the Divine. The mystery of Trinity makes sense if God is Love.

To love requires a beloved. If God is Love, who is the beloved — the person to whom the commitment is made? God, the Father, eternally begot the Son. The Love of the Father for the Son is perfect, complete, and eternal. In response, the Love of the Son for the Father is perfect, complete, and eternal. That Love being perfect, complete, and eternal proceeds from the Father and the Son — the Person of the Holy Spirit. Perfect Love is creative and life-giving, a very good description of God.

The mysteries of the Holy Faith prove to be a barrier for many people. Our scientific, rationally based notion of truth makes matters of faith difficult to accept. In what might be the height of hubris, some people simply dismiss what they don’t understand. Certainly, the Church does not call us to be irrational, but it does call us to be transrational.


When we reason we use categories in order to understand something. It works well when applied to a material thing like a chair — a place to sit. Thus, it would seem irrational if someone invented a chair that could not be used as a seat. It’s when our thoughts turn to things spiritual, like the mysteries of the faith, that categories fail.

During a family vacation to the beach, my son, then age 5, ran into the surf with a little bucket. After repeated tries, I asked him what he was doing. He told me he was trying to catch a wave in his bucket, but all he got was water. Trying to put a mystery of the Holy Faith in a category is a lot like trying to catch a wave in a bucket.

So where does that leave us? The family dog may serve as an example. One of my cousins has a cute little long-haired miniature dachshund named Natty. Clearly, she understands some of what people say and do, but a good deal of our world doesn’t seem to make sense to her. Natty recognizes her name. Mercifully, she knows to bark when nature calls.

On the other hand, she doesn’t seem to have any notion as to how the legal system works or the nature of the free market. And she is perfectly happy in her ignorance. Unlike so many people who dismiss what they can’t understand, Natty just lives her life feeling the joy and contentment that comes from being loved.

It’s a pretty good analogy for how we could approach the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. We will have no better luck at piercing this mystery of the Holy Faith, then the family dog will have trying to pierce the mystery of the human condition. Let us leave our hubris at home this Sunday and go to the Holy Mass realizing that One God in Three Divine Persons transcends humanity’s understanding and always will. The Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is beyond our understanding, but not our capacity to believe. Maybe that’s why it’s called a mystery of faith?

Maybe our best bet is to live our lives feeling the joy and contentment that comes from being loved by the Triune God.

Tim Irwin teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria.

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