God is Trinity
The central mystery of Christian faith and life is the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching of the Catholic Church — the truth above all truths. There is only one God, yet in God, there are Three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All three Divine Persons are one in Being, sharing one Divine Essence. The word Trinity literally means “the unity of three.”
The best analogy for the Three Persons of the Trinity is the example of the sun. The sun is the source for both light and heat. Light emanates from the sun, while heat proceeds from the sun, through the light. In the same way, God the Father is the eternal Source. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father, through the Son.
In reality, the Mystery of the Trinity is beyond all human reasoning and understanding. If God Himself did not reveal this truth, it could never be known.
Why is it so important to believe that God is One, yet Three? Would it not be easier to simply believe in One God, as the Jews and Muslims do? Certainly it would be easier. So, why then believe in God as Trinity? The answer is simple. Belief in the Trinity affirms that God is Love. He is not a single person, a self-contained unit, ego-centric, loving Himself alone. True and authentic love cannot exist in isolation, but presupposes the other.
God is triunity: a communion of three equal Persons, each one dwelling in the other two, in an unceasing movement of mutual love. In Greek, this perfect circle of love is called perichoresis, which literally means “to go around, rotate, to give way.” Within God, there is an unceasing movement of self-giving and receiving. Each Person is a total self-gift to the others and receives the others as a total gift. They interpenerate one another, while maintaining their own identity. All three Persons share one life, one essence, one nature. Each Person is fully and completely God. Not one is less God than the others.
This then explains why in the beginning, there was only God. He is the ONE-WHO-IS, a perfect circle of Love, without any inner compulsion or necessity to create. All creation will flow from this perfect circle of love, as a free act of His Divine Will. God the Father will create through His Son, and through the Holy Spirit.
In the icon above, the three Persons of the Trinity are symbolically portrayed in the form of angels. The three share one Throne, one Essence. The Father is on the left, the Son is in the middle, and the Holy Spirit is on the right. The outline of their bodies form a perfect circle, a symbol of their eternal unity and love; and one chalice, a symbol of the eternal Divine Life they share together.
God is the Creator
In the beginning, there was only God, perfect in every way. He had no inner necessity or compulsion to create. He did so simply out of His love, by an act of His free will. God created everything out of nothing. He continues to govern and sustain all things.
God created two different worlds. First, He created the invisible spiritual world. Then, He created the visible physical world (our universe).
In the invisible world, which we refer to as heaven, God created angels, also known as bodiless spirits. These are pure spirits, immortal, with great intelligence, knowledge, and free will. They are living mirrors or reflections of God’s glory and light. God created a great multitude of angels, which are divided into nine ranks or choirs: the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; the Powers, Dominions, and Authorities; the Principalities, Archangels and Angels. The Catholic Church believes that God appoints a guardian angel to every human being.
In the visible world, which is also referred to as earth, God created living creatures of all kinds. In the end, He created man in His own image and likeness, as the crown of His visible creation. Each human being is a composite of two essential parts: the material body and an immortal spiritual soul. God created the first human pair and placed them in Paradise, the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:7-23). It was a place of innocence, where they lived in close friendship with God.
To make it possible for angels and human beings to know God, to love Him and to serve Him freely, God bestowed upon them the gift of a free will — the freedom to choose God or to reject Him. This freedom makes it possible to love; to be a self-gift to God and to others.
In the heavenly realm, one of the spiritual beings chose to defy God. His name was Lucifer, which in Latin means “light-bearer.” In his rebellion, many others followed him. These became fallen angels, also known as demons or evil spirits. Lucifer became Satan (from the Hebrew, “the accuser”). Having sinned against God, these evil spirits lost their original beauty and could no longer reflect God’s glory and light. They became darkness. They fell from heaven and were cast into hell, a place of darkness prepared for them.
In the earthly realm, the first man and woman were also tested. Satan came to them in the form of a serpent and deceived them. In their pride and desire to become equal with God, they chose to disobey Him and partook of the forbidden tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-7). They lost their garments of light, the gift of sanctifying grace. From them we have inherited a fallen human nature, darkened and weakened. We are all born with the consequences of their sin: separation from God, a clouded mind, a weakened will, the inclination towards evil, the experience of pain and suffering, and the final separation of the soul from the body at death.
After the fall, Adam and Eve entered into the world as we know it, subject to death and the dominion of the Evil One. At death, the body returns to the earth, from which it was taken (Genesis 2:7; 3:19), and the immortal soul remains imprisoned in the abode of the dead, known as Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek.
However, God in His infinite mercy promised to send a Saviour, who would be born of a special woman. In the garden of Eden, the Lord God said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman (the Virgin Mary), and between your seed and her seed; He (her Son) shall crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).
God Reveals Himself
Over the course of human history, God chose to reveal Himself, and to make know to us His Divine Plan.
God’s Revelation took place gradually, in stages, through many people, over a long period of time. He spoke to His chosen servants, whom we call prophets. They proclaimed His word, and announced the salvation that was to come; and God worked miracles throught them. He also gave us His commandments and His laws, to teach us to live a blameless life.
God’s revelations were recorded by inspired prophets, teachers and writers. These sacred writings formed the Bible, (from the Greek word Biblia, which means “books’), which we refer to as Holy Scripture. Some of God’s revelations were passed on orally and by other means. We refer to this as Holy Tradition.
God Became Man
When the fullness of time had come, God the Son, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, came down from heaven and became a man. This is called the Mystery of the Incarnation. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God the Son became incarnate within the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, without a human father. He was born of her, while she remained a pure virgin in conceiving Him and giving birth to Him, and for ever after. At His birth, He was given the name Jesus, which means “God saves.” He is fully God, and fully man.
Jesus is one true Saviour, promised by God (Genesis 3:15) and foretold by all the prophets. He is the Christ (Christos in Greek) or the Messiah (in Hebrew), which means “The Anointed One.” Through Him, God the Father has revealed Himself and spoken to us.
Jesus suffered, died, and was buried
Jesus took upon Himself the sins of the whole world. He carried them to the cross, and freely offered Himself to God the Father as a perfect sacrifice of love, in atonement for all our sins, once and for all.
By dying on the cross, Jesus opened to us the doors of God’s infinite mercy. The forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal life, comes as a free gift, not earned, but to be accepted with faith and loving obedience. “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).
The body of Jesus was taken down from the cross, wrapped in a linen shroud, and with aromatic spices, it was placed in a tomb that was sealed with a stone. There, it remained incorrupt. Jesus was buried on a Friday. His body rested in the tomb on the Sabbath day (Saturday).
He descended into Hades
After His death on the cross, Christ’s soul descended into Hades, the abode of the dead, in order to free all the souls of the righteous, beginning with Adam and Eve, who were held captive by the bonds of sin, death and the dominion of the Evil One.
Jesus Rose from the Dead
On the third day, Sunday, which was the first day of the week, Jesus arose from the dead by His own power, never to die again. His resurrected body was completely healed, transfigured and glorified. It was luminous, immortal, and incorrupt. Only the wounds from the nails and the lance remained, as a confirmation that it was the same body that had suffered crucifixion and death, and to acknowledge Christ’s triumph over death.
During the forty days that followed, Jesus appeared to His apostles and to more than five hundred disciples. On the mountain in Galilee, He said to His disciples: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
He ascended into Heaven
After forty days, in the presence of His disciples and many witnesses, Jesus ascended into heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father. As Jesus ascended on high, “He led a host of captives” (Ephesians 4:8). He entered into heaven together will the souls of the righteous that He had delivered from Hades.
The Holy Spirit Descends Upon the Church
The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son. Everything that the Father does, He does through the Son and through the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son. Jesus said, “When the Parakletos comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, Who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness to Me” (John 15:26).
The Greek word Parakletos is difficult to translate. It means: Advocate, Counsellor, Comforter, Intercessor, and Defender. The Spirit is all of these things, and more. He is the “Spirit of Truth,” Who guides the Church “into all the truth” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus, brings to remembrance His words. He makes Jesus present and all that He has done for us. Just as the Son has revealed to us the Father, so the Holy Spirit reveals to us the Son, making Him present to us.
As promised, the Holy Spirit descended in power upon the apostles and the Church on Pentecost day (fifty days after the Resurrection); and the visible Church on earth was born. The people who had gathered said to Peter and the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter replied: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:37-39). “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). Baptism is necessary for salvation.
Jesus Established One Church
Jesus established one Church, as one Body. As the Head of His Church and the Shepherd of His flock, Jesus entrusted the governance of His Church to His apostles, under the leadership of the apostle Peter. Each successor of Peter would become the chief pastor among all pastors of the Church (John 20:15-17). As the successor of the Apostle Peter, the Bishop of Rome is “the Vicar of Christ and the Pastor of the Universal Church on earth.”
The apostles were the first bishops of the Church. Jesus gave them the authority to consecrate new bishops (episkopoi, “overseers”) as their successors, priests (presbyteroi, “elders”), and deacons (in Greek, diakonoi, “those who serve”). These three orders of priesthood — bishops, presbyters and deacons — are entrusted with the responsiblity of governing the Church, teaching the faith, and sanctifying the people.
The Church is “holy,” because God the Father purifies her and makes her “holy,” through His Beloved Son and the action of the Holy Spirit. This “holiness” shines through the teaching of the Church, her works of mercy, her mission to evangelize, and through the many examples of those who lead holy lives.
The Church is “catholic,” which means “universal.” She is not limited by time or space, teaching all nations and maintaining all the truths of the Christian faith in their fullness. Within the one Catholic Church, there exist several self-governing particular Churches, who are in communion with one another.
The Church is “apostolic,” having received its mission and authority from Christ and His holy Apostles, with uniterrupted succession, from bishop to bishop.
The Church is “orthodox,” which means “right or true in its teaching and worship of God.”
The Church is a “Communion of Saints.” As one body, it includes the glorious Church in heaven; the militant Church on earth, and the suffering Church in purgatory.
Jesus Will Return in Glory
At the end of this age, the Lord Jesus Christ will return in glory and power, with all the angelic hosts. He will return as the righteous Judge of all.
When the trumpet sounds, the dead with arise and stand before Christ for the Final Judgment. The righteous will go their eternal reward in heaven, glorified in body and soul. Those who rejected God and never repented shall be separated and sent into the outer darkness of hell, a place prepared for Satan and all the fallen angels.
The Final Age
The final age, the kingdom of God, will come in its fullness. The world as we know it will pass away. All creation will be freed from all corruption, transfigured, and glorified. “A new heaven and earth” will be revealed (Revelation 21:1). The “New Jerusalem” will descend from heaven, and become the eternal dwelling place of God among His people (Revelations 21:2).