Mystery of ‘Three in One’

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By Arnold Van Vugt

The Living Spirit

Thursday, June 26, 2014


COMMERCIAL business industry has invented the three in one sachet containing, for instance, coffee, milk and sugar powder mixed in one. These are three different substances mixed together. By analogy we may use this concept when we speak of the Holy Trinity.

We celebrated the Feast of the Holy Trinity in the Catholic Church last June 15. Other Christian Churches, like the UCCP or the Pentecostal Church may have celebrated the feast on the same day but clearly all Christian Churches, including the Catholic Church have different outlooks on the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.

I came across an interesting book about the Holy Trinity. The author is Sarah Coakley, a Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University. Coakley touches in her book on the problem of the major Christian Churches today who are in crisis over sexuality, whether concerning gender roles and ordination, or homosexuality. The traditional doctrine of the Holy Trinity is often regarded as irrelevant; contemplative prayer and ascetism are marginal to the lives of most Christians. Coakley’s fascinating book suggests how we may begin to recover a unified vision on the Holy Trinity.

I remember, during my childhood, a religious teacher in my school tried to explain to us the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. She had three different matches which she lighted one by one and then she held them together so that it produced one flame. Then the teacher said: there are three persons in one God. For me, this was a beautiful illustration of what the Holy Trinity is. Later on, when I was in the seminary and I studied philosophy and theology, I learned more about the concept of person. What is a person and how does this relate to the Holy Trinity? Renowned theologians like Thomas Aquinas and St. Agustin discussed this problem by speaking about the intellect and the heart of the human being. What appealed to me most is what St. Agustin says about the heart: ‘the human heart is restless until it rests in God.’ Then the human being and God become one and the same.

When I came to the Philippines I gave some religious instruction to the children in the church during Flores de Mayo. Then in my broken Bisaya I asked the children, actually it was a trick question: pila man ang Dyos? And some promptly shouted: tulo. Of course, for children a three in one God is a strange idea.

But then I used also the symbol of the three matches and one flame, and everybody smiled.

Professor Coakley gives some fascinating ideas about the human being or the human person. According to her, perhaps the most disputed issue in contemporary society is gender difference. Is this dictated by society or by genes? If men and women are by nature different, how can we be equal? Coakley believes that we should “neither deny the difference of male and female, nor submit to rigid conceptions of that difference. The Spirit cracks open the human heart, and propels us towards a new understanding of the relationship between male and female. We are caught up in the triune love which is God.”

The old religious monasteries and orders were close to comprehend the Mystery of the Trinity, the Mystery of the Three in One. They emphasize the fullness of the Holy Spirit which includes the fullness of the Godhead. The Catholic Church today may stress the institutional unity and insist on doctrinal orthodoxy, thereby subverting the unity of the Godhead. The same may be the case in Christian sects. Pope Francis who is a Religious himself and the Bishop of Rome is trying to reduce the structures of control so that the Holy Spirit can move the Church in unexpected directions.

[Email: nolvanvugt@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on June 26, 2014.

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