Sunday Sermon for May 22, 2016, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year C

Readings: Prv 8:22-31; Rom 5:1-5; Jn 16:12-15
In the Gospel reading today our Lord tells us that everything the Father has is our Lord’s, and the Holy Spirit will take from what is our Lord’s and declare it to us. At first hearing it sounds as if there is a chronological progression as the possession of knowledge is passed from the Father, to the Son, to the Holy Spirit, and finally, to us. However, this is not the case.

When we speak about the Trinity we have to remember that everything is one, everything is identical. The only distinction that can be made in the Trinity is the distinction between the three Persons. All three are eternal which means that the Father did not create the Son and the Holy Spirit, nor was the Father present first, even for a fraction of a second, before the Son and the Holy Spirit came into existence. All three are identical which means that there is nothing lacking in any of the three Persons. All three share the same substance equally which means that there is only one mind and one will shared in equally by the three Persons, but it also means that there is only one God.

This being the case, anything that is in the mind of the Father is also known perfectly by the Son and the Holy Spirit because there is only one mind. Therefore, it is not a matter of the Son receiving something He had not had previously from the Father or the Son passing to the Holy Spirit something that the Spirit did not have before. None of the three Persons can have a thought independent of the other two. Since there is only one mind, they all have the same thought simultaneously.

This is also true of the will where one cannot make a choice independent of the other two. So when Wisdom, in the first reading, speaks about being brought forth from God before the earth was made and then finding His delight in the human race, we need to be careful to understand this correctly. We can make logical distinctions by speaking of the first, second and third Persons of the Trinity, but we cannot try to make any chronological distinctions. Logically, the Father is first, the Son is second and the Holy Spirit is Third.

In this way we can speak of the processions in the Trinity meaning that the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is the way our Lord presents things in the Gospels and it is how the Church prays in the Creed. In the created order, if one proceeds from another we would naturally say that there has to be a first, a second, and a third, meaning that one came first, followed by a second and followed again by a third. But in the divine processions this is not the case. Once again, it is logical, but not chronological.

The only thing that we can say is chronological is what happens in the created order. When the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us or pours forth the love of God into our hearts, these happen in time. Then we can say that there was something previous from which something else followed. That is God, His truth and His love were present and, at a point in time, these were given to humanity. This is both logical and chronological because it takes places in the created order.

Since God is not created, there is nothing in Him that can have a reference to time. He can intervene in time, as He did in the Incarnation and as He does when the Holy Spirit reveals something to us, but in God Himself there is no time (no seconds or minutes, not before or after, no beginning or end). God is eternally present and His knowledge and His love are identified with His Person, so He knows everything perfectly and He loves perfectly; He always has and He always will.

God was perfectly happy within Himself because the love of the three Persons is perfect. But in His charity, He wanted to share His love and His truth, so He made creatures who could know and love. These creatures are angels and human persons. Because we are the weakest of the persons (the other persons being three divine Persons and the angels) God delighted in us. Made in the image and likeness of the Trinity, we have a soul which is the principle of life, we have a mind to know the truth and we have a free will with which to love. It delights the Lord when His life (grace) is in our souls, when we are set free by the truth, and when we choose to love.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit