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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - What Is the Trinity?

Robert Barron - What Is the Trinity?

Robert Barron - What Is the Trinity?
TOPICS: Trinity

Peace be with you. Friends, we've come to Trinity Sunday. It's been called the preacher's nightmare. I've never believed that. I love Trinity Sunday. I love preaching on Trinity Sunday, and what I'm going to do today, I'm going to commit an act of theology; but if you can't theologize a little bit on Trinity Sunday, when can you? I know of course the Trinity remains this supreme mystery, but there are ways of getting at this mystery, ways of understanding it. Let me start this way. Being, at all levels, is communicative.

Let me say it again. Being, reality, at all levels, is communicative. In other words, things at all levels tend to make images of themselves. Think even of contemporary quantum scientists; talk about quantum entanglement, they talk about spooky action at a distance, when subatomic particles were in contact at one point, then even when they're far, far apart, they're still having a kind of influence on each other. All things are interconnected because all things tend to make images of themselves. They communicate with the reality around them. Okay, with that principle in mind, I want to turn to St. Thomas Aquinas, the great thirteenth-century theologian, who used this idea to get at the mystery of the Trinity.

Now here's how he did it. Thomas said the higher you go in the hierarchy of being, the more perfect and the more interior becomes this process of image making. So he accepted the principle that reality tends to create images of itself, but he said the higher you go in the hierarchy of being, the more perfect and the more interior this process becomes. Now, just bear with me. Let me give you some examples from Aquinas, and you'll see now where he is going with this. So we would probably say today quarks and subatomic particles, but for him in the Middle Ages, the lowest level of being would be basic physical objects like rocks. And you say well, wait a minute, a rock? How does a rock make an image of itself? How does the rock communicate?

Well, in all kinds of ways actually. Think of a rock that's been sitting in the earth for a long time. Then you pick it up; well it's created an "imago" of itself, hasn't it? An image. It's imprinted itself on the ground. Suppose I took that rock and I throw it through a window. It would create an image of itself in the fracture of the window. Or how about if I just took a mirror and I put it in front of that rock. Well, willy nilly, the rock would produce an image of itself in the mirror. Or even let's say in a little puddle of water nearby, and you see a reflection of the rock. So even at this really basic level of being, image-making is going on all the time. But now wait. The kind of image-making that's going on is very low-level.

Think of the indentation on the ground. It's hardly like a perfect replication of the rock, right? It's a little hint or indication. Think of the fracture in the window. It doesn't reproduce the rock perfectly, but it's an indication of it. Even the image in a pool of water. Well, it's a two-dimensional representation of the visual aspect of the rock, but it's hardly the totality of the rock. Okay, you get the idea. It makes an image but at a pretty low level. Okay? Let's go next level up. Plants. Vegetative being. I could take a plant and throw it through a window, I suppose, and the plant could make an impression on the ground, or it can be reflected in a pool of water, so it's like a rock in that way, but a plant is able to make an image of itself in a more perfect and more interior way. Why? Because it can send forth a seed from which this remarkable image grows up.

When you're walking through let's say a forest, you see all the great trees but there are saplings everywhere, right? Because these trees are making images of themselves. You walk through a garden and the seeds giving rise to new life all the time, images of the plants from which those seeds came. We're at a higher level of image-making. Okay, let's keep going. Above the plants we come to animals. Now an animal can make an impression in the ground. That's true. I can hold the mirror up and I can see an image of the animal, so it's like a basic physical object in that way. However, we've come to an even more remarkable level of image-making. Think of a mammal and the child, the young, gestating within the womb of its mother. It's an even more interior and even more perfect imaging of the original reality. The image-making power, in other words, is getting more intense, that's Aquinas' point, as we climb from rocks to plants to animals.

Okay, now we're ready for a quantum leap, because beyond the animals we come to human beings. Now, can we reproduce ourselves in these lower ways? Sure. I can make an impression in the ground. I can put my fist through a window. My reflection can appear in a mirror. All that's true. Moreover, human beings, we gestate our young. The mothers gestate young within them. We give rise to these remarkable physical images called babies. So sure, we can make images in that lower way. But here's the quantum difference. Human beings are able in their minds to form a nearly perfect image of themselves. What am I talking about? I'm talking about this capacity to form an interior word. My mind can know itself. It can form an image of itself. It can interrogate itself. It can become other to itself. It's very abstract, but it actually happens all the time.

Whenever you find yourself saying, "Gosh, what was I thinking yesterday? Huh? What was I doing last week"? Well, watch what's going on there. You say, "What was I thinking"? There's an I who's asking that question and then there's a kind of me who's being interrogated, right? Huh? Think even in the languages: "yo me pregunto" in Spanish, "I ask myself". Same thing in French, "je me demand". I ask myself, means "I wonder". I wonder what's going on. I ask me. There's an asker and there's an asked about. There's a kind of subject and a kind of object. But watch, watch. Do I think for a minute in this process that I've split into two beings? Do I think for a minute there's now a me and then there's some other totally alien thing out there? No, I, I am interrogating me.

The mind has made an image of itself, now listen, in a remarkably perfect and interior way. The rock we saw making an image in a really fundamental way, a basic way. Then the plants, then the animals. But now we've come to a quantum spiritual level. St. Augustine referred to this as "mens," M-E-N-S in the Latin, meaning "mind" if you want, and then he referred to the interior word as "notitia sui". Just means knowledge of one's self. The interior word by which I see a reflection of myself. You know, anyone that's ever gone through spiritual direction or counseling, or even a conversation with a friend, and you're trying to understand yourself more thoroughly, right?

There's a you who's doing the understanding, and then there's also a you who's being more thoroughly understood, right? That's "mens" and "notitia sui". The mind and its interior word. Okay, you see where Aquinas is going. We're getting more intense and more interior in this capacity to form images. Now, let's go to the very top of the hierarchy of being. The source of all things. The Creator of all things, both visible and invisible. That which is reflected necessarily at all levels of being. What we're going to find, Aquinas says, is that reality which is capable of making an image in the most perfect and the most interior way possible. And the way into this mystery, he thinks, is our human way of knowing.

In God, who is supreme and infinite intelligence, there's a "mens," right? There's a mind. The One who knows. But the mind of God is able to form a perfect image of himself, the interior word of the Father. We call this the Son, and we say the Son proceeds from the Father. You see why? Just as my interior word proceeds from my knowing, so the fundamental knowing of God gives rise to, from all eternity, an interior word. Now, what's the nature of this image? It's not like the rock that can be seen reflected in a pool. It's not just like a plant that gives rise to other plants. It's not just like a mammal that gives rise to a child. And it's not just like our minds, which are capable of this but at a very kind of low, obscure level. No, no. From all eternity, the Father generates, produces if you want, this perfect image of himself. We call that the Son.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". Just as my imaging doesn't produce two separate beings, neither does the imaging going on in God produce two separate gods, but one God in these two persons, the Father and the Son. Okay, with me so far? It's Trinity Sunday. We got one more to go, don't we? Where's the third person come from? This third act of communication. Well look, from all eternity the Father, utterly perfect, utterly sublime, gives rise to a pure image of himself. Not just a reflection, not just a two-dimensional reproduction, not just another like a child, but a perfect image.

Therefore the Son is also supremely, sublimely perfect in every way. What happens when the Father and the Son look at each other from all eternity? They necessarily fall in love. Augustine called this "amor sui". Self-love. Fulton Sheen famously said the Father and Son looking at each other and seeing their utter perfection breathe forth a kind of sigh of love. We call that breath the "spiritus sanctus," the holy breath, the Holy Spirit. We've climbed the hierarchy of being, everybody, and we've come to that which is able to communicate itself in the most perfect and the most interior way. That's the Trinitarian God, who without splitting into three is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just one last move before I stop.

You say, "Okay, that's I guess interesting abstractly, but what difference does it make for me"? Every difference in the world. Why? Because this divine life, this community that God is, wants to communicate now with us. Why does God make the world? Not out of need. God needs nothing. God does it out of a sheer generous desire to communicate his life.

And with us as human creatures, he wants us to become sharers in the very life that he is. Therefore what? God the Father so loved the world that he sent his only Son, his interior Word, all the way out to the limit of god-forsakenness, so that in the Holy Spirit, the love that they share, he could draw all things back to himself. Huh. The Trinity, which I've described very abstractly, also names what is at the very heart of the entire spiritual life and the entire history of salvation. Hope that's enough maybe for you to chew on today on this wonderfully theological feast of Trinity Sunday. And God bless you all.
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