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The Divine Romance: The Blessed Trinity

by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    In this address given delivered on March 16, 1930, Rev. Fulton J. Sheen explains the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.
  • Larger Work:
    The Divine Romance
  • Pages: 14 - 22
  • Publisher & Date:
    Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Indiana, 1943

The burden of the last message was that man is engaged in a threefold quest, for life, truth, and love, and since he cannot find these in their fullness on this earth — because here life is mingled with death, truth with error, and love with hate — he must go out beyond the "margent of this world," out to Someone who is pure Life, pure Truth, and pure Love, which is God.

But this knowledge of God, which came from reason working on the visible things of the world, gives a very incomplete concept of Him. It is like the knowledge anyone might gain of an artist by looking at his painting. But I could look at that painting from now until the crack of doom and I would never know anything of the artist's inmost thoughts and loves, hopes and aspirations. I could know this only by a personal revelation on his part.

In like manner I can divine something of the existence of God, something of His Infinite Power, Life, and Beauty, by contemplating His universe; but I could never divine anything of His secret Thought and Love. His creation gives but dim hints of these. It was therefore only natural that man should desire further knowledge of the inner life of God, and in seeking that light should ask such questions as Plato asked four centuries before Christ:

If there is only one God, what does He think about, for if He is an intelligent being He must think of something?

If there is only one God, whom does He love? For, to be happy one must love.

These questions were hurled against the high heavens as so much brass, for there was no man to give them answer. The answer could come only from God Himself, and it came when Our Blessed Lord appeared on earth and revealed to us the inmost life of God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. This tremendous mystery, known as the mystery of the Trinity — the mystery which answers the questions of Plato, which is above reason and yet not contrary to it — with the help of revelation and analogy, I shall try to explain.

If we would answer the questions of Plato and know what God thinks about, and whom God loves, let us first ask the question of man, for man has been made to the image and likeness of God. The study of man's thoughts will tell us something about the thoughts of God.

Man thinks. He thinks a thought — a thought like Justice, Faith, Fortitude, Charity. But who has ever seen Justice? Who ever heard of Charity going out for a walk? Who knows the size, the weight, and the color of Fortitude? No one has ever seen, tasted, or touched these thoughts, and yet they are real. They are spiritual thoughts, therefore. But where did they come from? Since they are not wholly in the outside world, they must have been produced, or generated by the mind itself, not with that physical birth by which animal produces animal, but with that spiritual generation by which we produce ideas or internal words. There are other ways of begetting life, we must remember, than the mere physical ways we see in the world about us. The most chaste way that life is begotten is the way in which thoughts and ideas are born in the mind. Now some thoughts of man are banal and commonplace, trite thoughts which no man remembers; but there are also thoughts which are spirit and life. There are some thoughts of man into which man puts his very soul and his very being, all that he has been and all that he is. Such thoughts are so much the thoughts of that thinker as to carry his personality and his spirit with them, so that we can recognize them as thoughts of that person; thus we say, That is a thought of Pascal, of Bossuet, of Shakespeare, or of Dante.

Now to apply this to God. God thinks. He thinks a thought. That Thought of God does not come from the outside world; it is generated in His Spirit in a much more perfect way than the thought of Justice is generated by my spirit. The giving of life or the power of birth, I repeat, is not limited to us. In the language of Sacred Scripture: "He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, doth he not consider?" "Shall not I that make others to bring forth children, myself bring forth, saith the Lord? Shall I, that give generation to others, be barren?" Since God is an infinite Spirit, His thought will not be a mere feeble reflection but rather a thought reaching to the abyss of all things that are known and can be known. Into this thought God will put Himself so entirely that it is as living as Himself, infinite as Himself, perfect as Himself. If a human genius can put his whole personality into a thought, as we have said, in a more perfect way God is able to put so much of Himself into a thought that it is conscious of itself and is a Divine Person.

This thought of God may be called by a double name: It may be called a word, or it may be called a son — and the two are one and the same, except from different points of view.

Firstly, this thought of God is a word, as my own thought is called a word after it is pronounced. It is an internal word. But God's thought is not like ours. It is not multiple. God does not think one thought, or one word, one minute and another the next. Thoughts are not born to die, and do not die to be reborn, in the mind of God. All is present to Him at once. In Him there is only one Word. He has no need of another. That Thought or Word is infinite and equal to Himself, hence a Person unique and absolute, first-born of the spirit of God; a Word which tells what God is, a Word from which all human words have been derived, and of which created things are but merely the broken syllables or letters; a Word which is the source of all the wisdom in the world. The latest scientific discoveries, the new knowledge of the great expanse of the heavens, the sciences of biology, physics, and chemistry, the more lofty ones of metaphysics, philosophy, and theology, the knowledge of the Shepherds, and the knowledge of the Wise Men — all this knowledge has its source in the Word or the Wisdom of God.

The infinite Thought of God is called not only a Word, to indicate that He is the Wisdom of God, but is also called a Son, because He has been generated. Just as in our own human order the principle of all human generation is called the Father, so too in the Trinity the principle of the spiritual generation is called the Father and what is generated is called the Son, because it is the perfect image and resemblance of the Father. If an earthly father can transmit to his son all the nobility of his character and all the fine traits of his life, how much more so can the Heavenly Father communicate to His Eternal Son all the nobility with all the perfection and eternity of His Being.

The Father is not first, and then thinks — the Father and Son are co-eternal, for in God all is present and unchanging. Nothing is new and nothing is lost. Thus it is that the Father, contemplating His Image, His Word, His Son, can say in the ecstasy of the first and real paternity: "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten Thee." "This day" — this day of eternity, that is, the indivisible duration of being without end. "This day" in that act that will never end as it has never begun; this day — the agelessness of eternity.

Go back to the origin of the world, pile century on century, aeon on aeon, age on age — "The Word was with God." Go back before the creation of the angels, before Michael summoned his war hosts to victory and there was a flash of archangelic spirits — even then "The Word was with God." It is that Word which St. John heard in the beginning of his Gospel, when he wrote: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). And just as my interior thoughts are not made manifest without a word, so in the language of John, that Word "Became flesh and dwelt amongst us." And that Word is no other than the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word who embraces the beginning and the end of all things, the Word who existed before creation, the Word who presided at creation as the King of the Universe, the Word made flesh at Bethlehem, the Word-made-flesh on the Cross, and the Word-made-flesh dwelling with divinity and humanity in the Eucharistic Emmanuel. The Good Friday of twenty centuries ago did not mark the end of Him, as it did not mark the beginning. It was but one of the moments of the Eternal Word of God. Jesus Christ has a pre-history — the only pre-history that is prehistory, a pre-history not to be studied in the rocks of the earth, not in the caves of man, not in the slime and dust of primeval jungles, but in the bosom of an Eternal Father; He alone brought history to history; He alone has dated all the records of human events ever since into two periods — the period before and the period after His coming, so that if we were to deny that the Word became Flesh, and that the Son of God became the Son of man, we would have to date our denial as one thousand nine hundred and thirty years after His coming.

We are not yet finished with the inner life of God, for if God is the source of all life and truth and goodness in the world, He must have a will as well as an intellect, a love as well as a thought. It is a fact of nature that every being loves its own perfection. The perfection of the eye is color, and it loves the beauty of the sun setting in the flaming monstrance of the west. The perfection of the ear is sound, and it loves the harmony of an overture of Beethoven or a sonata of Chopin. Love has two terms: He who loves and he who is loved. In love the two are reciprocal. I love and I am loved. Between me and the one I love there is a bond. It is not my love, it is not his love, it is our love — the mysterious resultant of two affections, a bond, which enchains and an embrace wherein two hearts leap with but a single joy. The Father loves the Son, the Image of His Perfection, and the Son loves the Father. Love is not only in the Father. Love is not only in the Son. There is something between them, as it were. The Father loves the Son, whom He engenders. The Son loves the Father, who engendered Him. They contemplate each other, love each other, unite in a love so powerful, so strong, and so perfect, that it forms between them a living bond. They give themselves in a love so infinite that, like the truth, which expresses itself only in the giving of a whole personality, their love can express itself in nothing less than a Person, who is Love. Love at such a stage does not speak; does not cry; does not express itself by words, nor by canticles; it expresses itself as we do in some ineffable moments, by that which indicates the very exhaustion of our giving — namely, a sigh, or a breath. And that is why the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is called the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost.

That breath of love is not a passing one like our own, but an eternal spirit. How all this is done, I know not; but I do believe on the testimony of the Word Incarnate that that Holy Spirit has been sent by God to rule His Church: "But when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will teach you all truth." And I believe that the continuous, unbroken succession of the truth communicated by Christ to His Church has survived to our own day; not because of the human organization of the Church, for that is carried on by frail vessels, but because of a profusion of the Spirit of Love over Christ's Vicar and all who belong to Christ's mystical body.

Three in one, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; three persons in one God; one in essence, distinction of persons — such is the mystery of the Trinity, such is the inner life of God. Just as I am, I know, and I love and yet am one; just as the three angles of a triangle do not make three triangles but one; just as the heat, power, and light of the sun do not make three suns, but one; just as water, air, and steam are all manifestations of the one substance; just as the form, color, and perfume of the rose do not make three roses, but one; just as our soul, our intellect, and our will do not make three substances, but one; just as one times one times one times one, does not equal three, but one — so too in some much more mysterious way, there are three Persons in God and yet only one God.

The Trinity is the answer to the questions of Plato. If there is only one God, what does He think about? He thinks an eternal thought; that is, His Eternal Son. If there is only one God, whom does He love? He loves His Son, and that mutual love is the Holy Spirit. I firmly believe that the great philosopher was fumbling about for the mystery of the Trinity, for his great mind seemed in some small way to suspect that an infinite being must have relations of thought and love and that God cannot be conceived without thought and love. But it was not until the Word became incarnate that man knew the secret of those relations and the inner life of God.

It is that mystery of the Trinity which gives the answer to those who have pictured God as an egotist God, sitting in solitary splendor before the world began, reduced to loving Himself as a selfish deity; for the Trinity is a revelation that, before creation, God enjoyed the amiable society of His three Persons, the infinite communion with Truth and the embrace of infinite Love, and hence had no need ever to go outside Himself in search of happiness. The greatest wonder of all, then, is, that being perfect and enjoying perfect happiness. He ever should have made a world. And if He did make a world, He could only have had one motive for making it. It could not add to His perfection; it could not add to His truth; it could not increase His happiness. He made a world only because He loved.

Finally, it is the mystery of the Trinity, which gives the answer to the quest for our happiness and the meaning of Heaven. Heaven is not a place where there is the mere vocal repetition of alleluias or the monotonous fingering of harps. Heaven is a place where we find the fullness of all the fine things we enjoy on this earth. Heaven is a place where we find, in their plenitude, those things which slake the thirst of hearts, satisfy the hunger of starving minds, and give rest to unrequited love. Heaven is the communion with perfect Life, perfect Truth, and perfect Love, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be all honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.


The Divine Romance

Man's Quest For God

Love's Overflow

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