Catholic Classroom: The Most Holy Trinity
Question: Do Catholics believe in three Gods?
One of the most important doctrines of the Catholic faith (described by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “the central mystery of Christian faith and life”) is that of the Most Holy Trinity. We celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity yesterday. As Catholics, we believe in one God revealed as three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a mystery that we accept on faith, but that we cannot fully understand as human beings. Because of this lack of full understanding, some people think that Catholics believe in three Gods. However, the mystery of the Trinity shows that God is one essence, and that we thus believe in one true God.
In the Nicene Creed, we profess that we believe in Jesus Christ, “consubstantial with the Father.” Jesus is of the same substance as the Father. Yet, at the same time, he is begotten by the Father—a relationship that is an act of generation outside of time. The fact that the Father begets the Son means that they must be different persons. At the same time, they are of the same essence, and they are both God.
Later in the Creed, we profess our faith in the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.” The Holy Spirit, then, is equally God with the Father and the Son while proceeding from them. Some theologians have described the Holy Spirit as the love that exists between the Father and the Son. That love, in its divinity, becomes the third person of the Trinity, which explains why we can say that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
We believe, then, that God is the divine being of the unity of the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are not separate Gods, as they are of the same essence and can never be separate from one another; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit exist in equal omnipotence outside of time.
It is not possible to understand the fullness of this mystery of the Trinity. We pray that we may nevertheless accept its truth, with the grace of knowing that God dwells in us.