The Mystery of the Blessed Trinity
Saint Patrick and the Three Leafed Clover
This story is probably apocryphal, but it is said that Saint Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, used a three-leafed clover to teach people about the Most Blessed Trinity. The clover itself has only one stem, just as our Catholic faith teaches us that there is only one God. Just as from its single stem the clover has three leaves, so does our one God hold three Divine Persons.
What Is the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity?
The Most Blessed Trinity, or the Holy Trinity, is the central - core - belief (or doctrine) of the Roman Catholic faith. It is the belief that God is One Being and that there are three Divine Persons in that One: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (also called the Holy Ghost by some Catholics). This is the deepest mystery of the Catholic faith and we Catholics believe it was revealed to us by God Himself.
Michelangelo Buonarroti's "The Creation of Adam" fresco
The Holy Trinity
Why Did God Reveal the Mystery of the Holy Trinity?
In Isaiah 55:8-9, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah revealed to all humankind that God is a deep mystery:
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
However, God chose to reveal Himself to humans, His creation. God revealed to us that there is only One God. At first, He revealed Himself to the Israelites, His Chosen People; we know this from the Sacred Scripture in the Old Testament of the Bible:
"Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone." (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Through His Son, Jesus Christ, God revealed more about Himself to us. Through Jesus, God let us know that in the One Being there are three Divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God has revealed Himself to us because He loves us infinitely, beyond measure, and He wants us to know Him as He truly is; God wants us to know as much about God as we can so that we can, if we so choose, return His love for us.
Detail of God's face from Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam"
Jesus Chasing the Merchants from the Temple
God the Father
Jesus revealed God the Father to us by his constant references to his Father, even calling God the Father by that name. For example, the New Testament Gospel of John describes the scene where Jesus became angry with the money lenders at the Temple in Jerusalem and drove them away, shouting, "Take these out of here and stop making my Father's house a market place!" (John 2:16)
God is the Creator of everything that is good in the world. He created everything we see, out of nothing. God shares His Truth about creation with us in the very first book of the Bible, in Genesis of the Old Testament. In fact, the very first line of the Bible says, “In the beginning…God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
As Roman Catholics, we believe that God created human beings in His own image (even though we cannot really know what God, our Creator, our Father, looks like). Michelangelo’s famous fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel shows the artist’s conception of what God the Father looks like and how He created Adam, the first human being, bringing to life the words from Genesis, verse 1, line 26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’” (Genesis 1:26) As Roman Catholics, we believe that God created world out of sheer love and that every person is created in the image of God (and that our souls are the reflection of God).
We call this faith in God’s love Divine Providence; this means that God always cares for us, gives us what we need, out of His great love. Jesus showed us this Truth about His Father in the way Jesus treated every person he met, from every walk of life.
Saint Joseph and the Baby Jesus
Jesus Christ, the Son of God
As Roman Catholics, we believe that God the Father sent Jesus down to earth in order to reveal Himself fully to us. This doctrine of our faith is called the Incarnation of the Son of God. The word incarnation comes from the Latin and means “to be invested with bodily nature and form; to be made flesh.” The doctrine itself states our belief that Jesus is both divine and human in nature; that is, His divine nature is joined to human form but not affected by the stain of original sin that we mortal human beings carry in our souls. In fact, we believe that God sent Jesus to us in human form so that we could accept His truth, the knowledge of God and of the Kingdom of Heaven, in order to redeem us from the original sin that we inherited from Adam and Eve’s choice. Basically, like every good parent, God sent Jesus to teach us how to make good choices, how to live up to our better natures.
The name Jesus itself tells the world what we Catholics believe about Him. Jesus Is a Hebrew name (remember, Jesus was Jewish!) that means “God saves.” A central part of our Roman Catholic faith is that Jesus came down from Heaven in order to save us; He is our Savior (a title all Christians use for Jesus). The Bible tells us that an angel of God came to Joseph, Jesus’ foster father, in a dream and said, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Jesus also teaches us that He is the Son of God, equal to the Father. The Gospel of John relates a conversation between Philip, one of the Apostles, and Jesus. Philip told Jesus that it would be enough for Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus replied, "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?" (John 14:-9-10) This is also what we Catholics mean when we recite the part of the Nicene Creed that states "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father." The word consubstantial comes from the Latin. Con means "with" and substantial means "essence" or "substance." In other words, in the Nicene Creed (or our Profession of Faith), we Catholics are saying that we believe that Jesus, the Son of God, the second Divine Person of the Holy Trinity, is made of the same stuff of (therefore is equal to) God the Father.
The Bible also tells us that, when Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin, John the Baptist, the skies opened up, the Holy Spirit came down upon him in the form of a dove and God the Father spoke, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:16-17) God, therefore, made it known publicly that Jesus Christ was sent by Him, was his Son and was Him.
Tiffany's Descent of the Holy Spirit
God the Holy Spirit
Before His death and Resurrection, at the Last Supper, Jesus promised the Apostles that they would not be alone; He promised to send a third Divine Person, the Holy Spirit (sometimes also called the Holy Ghost). The Holy Spirit, of course, pre-existed, pre-dated Jesus' time on earth, as did God the Father and Jesus Himself, before becoming man. However, the Holy Spirit manifested itself as a gift from Jesus, from God, on the Jewish holiday of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus' Resurrection. At the Last Supper, Jesus had told the Apostles that the Spirit He would send would enlighten, guide, and strengthen them in their mission to spread the good news about Jesus (in other words, their mission to evangelize the Jewish and Gentile world). On Pentecost, the Apostles were meeting secretly (because, as followers of the crucified Christ, they were considered outlaws by the religious law of the time) in a locked room when they heard a strong, gusting wind. Then, they saw a ball of fire come toward them, separate and hang over each one of them. They all began to speak in different languages, thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit, which helped them be able to proclaim the news of Jesus' life and death, of God's eternal love and salvation, in the languages of the peoples they were to convert. (Based on the Acts of the Apostles)