The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
First Reading: Exodus 34:4-6, 8-9
Responsorial Psalm: Daniel 3:52-56
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians 13:11-13
Gospel: According to St. John 3:16-18
According to St. Thomas Aquinas there is a group of Catholic beliefs that can – at least in theory – be known by reason alone. These he calls the Preambles of Faith. For St. Thomas, one such preamble is that God exists, and he proposes his well-known Five Ways in order to show the reasonableness of such a belief. On the other hand, there are some beliefs that are beyond the realm of human reason, beliefs that can only be known through Revelation, and he calls these the Mysteries of Faith. One such mystery, and the foundation of all of the others, is that of the Most Holy Trinity.
From the beginnings of Western philosophy in Ancient Greece arguments for the existence of God were distinguished from the stories of “the gods” who populated Mount Olympus. Arguments used by St. Thomas that conclude that there must be an Unmoved Mover and an Uncaused Cause were not devised by the Angelic Doctor himself, but were taken from the works of Aristotle and were written centuries before God revealed Himself as the Incarnate Word in Jesus Christ. Belief in one God was seen by philosophically-minded Greeks to be reasonable because the arguments in favor of His existence were seen to be reasonable.
Thus with the Incarnation came not the revelation of monotheism, but of the Trinitarian nature of that monotheism. The use of reason by the Greeks could take them no further than the ability to describe God in terms of attributes like eternity, immateriality, and simplicity. There was no way that logic could help them to conclude that God is a Trinity of Persons – Three, yet One. This great Mystery of the Faith goes beyond reason, but – of necessity – does not contradict it.
In his profoundly important encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) St. John Paul, assuming that Catholicism recognizes the necessary relationship between faith and reason, points out that “faith builds upon and perfects reason,” and that we follow St. Thomas when we see that faith is reasonable: “Human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith.”
In this dual focus, the Catholic view is unique, even amidst the spectrum of Christian approaches. The rationalism of the religious left and the fideism of the religious right bring to light Chesterton’s maxim that a heresy is taking a half truth and treating it like the whole truth. The Church does not bind Herself to believing only those things that are scientifically verifiable nor does She refuse to believe that which has been determined empirically outside of divine revelation. Thus, She can believe both that the earth is over 4.5 billion years old as well as that Christ really did raise Lazarus from the dead.
To believe that faith is not reasonable or that reason can’t inform faith is to separate oneself from that intellectual path that began with the opening line of the Gospel according to St. John: “In the beginning was the Logos.” It is no mere coincidence that he used a term from Greek philosophy in order to describe a reality of Jewish theology. The tradition of apologetics (from the Greek, meaning “speaking in defense”) for which St. Justin became a martyr – and in the name of which some are still martyred today – is an essential aspect of Catholic missionary work, including religious education in Catholic schools in America.
To defend the Faith one must use reason, for without it there is no common ground with the honest and open-minded rationalist. But one must also help to draw people beyond reason to the Faith, and for that one needs the help of God, specifically the Holy Spirit – as John Paul tells us when he references the teaching of Aquinas concerning “the primacy of the wisdom which is the gift of the Holy Spirit and which opens the way to a knowledge of divine realities.”
It is eminently fitting that without the intervention of the Most Holy Trinity – not just God the Father, but the Son/Logos and the Holy Spirit as well – we could never understand or bring others to understand the reality of the Most Holy Trinity. Eminently fitting, eminently reasonable, yet eminently mysterious.