Here’s Why the Doctrine of the Trinity Matters

Photography © by Andy Coan

Photography © by Andy Coan

Many are ready to give a polite nod of some sort to Jesus of Nazareth. Most honor him as a great moral teacher.  Many even confess him as Savior. But the Incarnation of the Eternal God?  Second person of the Holy Trinity? God can’t be one and three at the same time.  Such a notion is at worst illogical, at best meaningless. “This was all invented by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 313 AD,” scoffs a motley crew ranging from the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the DaVinci Code.

Of course this charge has no historical leg to stand on. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote seven brief letters around 110AD in which he called Jesus “God” 16 times.

True, the word “Trinity” is not in the bible. But everywhere the New Testament refers to three distinct persons who seem to be equally divine, yet one (see 2 Cor 13:13). So over 100 years before Constantine, a Christian writer named Tertullian coined the term “Trinity” as a handy way to refer to this reality of three distinct, equal persons in one God. It stuck.

But if the doctrine of the Trinity is authentically biblical, is it relevant? Does it really matter?

If Christianity were simply a religion of keeping the law, the inner life of the lawgiver would not matter. But if Christianity is about personal relationship with God, then who God really is matters totally. Common sense tells us that some supreme being made the universe and that we owe Him homage. But that this creator is a trinity of persons who invites us to intimate friendship with Himself, we never could have guessed. We only know it because God has revealed it.

God is love, says 1 John 4:8 (see too John 3:16). If God were solitary, how could he have been love before he created the world?  Who would there have been to love? Jesus reveals a God who is eternally a community of three persons pouring themselves out in love for one another. The Father does not create the Son and then, with the Son, create the Spirit. No, the Father eternally generates the Son. And with and through the Son, this Father eternally “breathes” the Spirit as a sort of personalized sigh of love. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” That’s what the conclusion of the Glory Be really means, that the self-giving of the three divine persons did not begin at a moment in time, but was, is, and is to come.

If we are truly to “know” our God, we must know this.

But if we are ever to understand ourselves, we must also know this. For we were made in the image and likeness of God, and God is a community of self-donating love. That means that we can never be happy isolated from others, protecting ourselves from others, holding ourselves back selfishly from others. Unless we give ourselves in love, we can never be fully human. And unless we participate in the life of God’s people, we can never be truly Christian either. Because Christianity is about building up the community of divine love which is called the Church.  If God is Trinity, then there really is no place for free-lance, lone-ranger Christians.

The family, the domestic Church, is a reflection of trinitarian love – the love of husband and wife, distinct and very different persons, generates the child who is from them but is nonetheless distinct from them, indeed absolutely unique.

And that is the final point. One of the greatest treasures of Western culture is the concept of the uniqueness and dignity of the individual person. You really don’t find this idea in the ancient societies of Greece and Rome or in other great world religions, such as Islam.

The concept of the irreplaceable uniqueness of each person came into Western culture straight from the doctrine of the Trinity, three who possess the exact same divine nature but who are yet irreplaceably unique in their personhood.

The irony? As it progressively abandons the triune God, the Western world is undermining the very foundation of personal dignity, individuality, and freedom.

So yes, the Trinity does matter.

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Year A) –  Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9; Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Second Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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