Fr. Leo Pabayo .
ST. Augustine did not claim that we can fully understand God as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. For that matter, we cannot fully understand the other mysteries and articles of the faith. But we can have some understanding of them. And it is right for us to seek to understand them in so far as we can because this bolsters our faith and helps us practice our faith in intelligent ways.
The phrase, “Holy Trinity” is not found in the Bible. But we can I think construe that the Old Testament already had references about God as Father, as Spirit and as Son.
The phrase “Holy Trinity” however was coined by the early Christian thinkers after after the time of the apostles. Some of the other phrases that were coined along with it were “Three Persons and One God,” “2 natures in Jesus Christ” “Consubstantial with the Father,” Begotten not made” and many more. They coined the phrases in their writings to make the Gospel’s and St. Paul ’s letters on God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit understandable in the language of Greek Christians who had been schooled in the Greek philosophy.
The Greeks had their own philosophy, their way of understanding and explaining the meaning of life that was different from the Jews. They had their own, categories, mental constructs, concepts, explanation about reality, etc…that were highly sophisticated. These were generally different from the way the writers of the Bible thought.
The early Christian teachers adopted these mental constructs, concepts, etc., of the Greeks in trying to make the Greek world, which included Rome and its satellites, understand the truth of the teachings of the Gospel. They meant to lead them to faith in Jesus Christ through their way of thinking and speaking.
They succeeded in doing so. There was born a new way of talking about the truths revealed in the Bible. This new way of expressing the faith enriched the Christians’ understanding of their faith in that Greek culture. It also enriched the Greek culture itself.
This Hellenic or Greek way of thinking and talking about God as Father, son and Holy Spirit, has also been handed down to us. That is why we have come to speak of God as the Holy Trinity, as Three Persons in One God, Jesus as having two natures, etc.. At Mass we pray, “May we come to share in His Divinity Who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.” They have also in certain ways enriched our understanding of our faith.
But some of the ways of speaking about the faith which was good for the Hellenic culture can be confusing to people today, especially in Asia . It seems that the phrase “Holy Trinity” is one of them.
It may be best today to start off again from the Gospel talk about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and think about it in a way that the contemporary mind can appreciate and in a way that is also nourishing to the heart. In other words, to talk about it in away that helps us grow in love of God and neighbor. This is what many contemporary theologians are doing. We can learn from them.
(Fr. Leo Pabayo is a member of the Society of Jesus.)