Your Trinity Sunday Sermon Notes

trinityWas there a good point (at least not a heretical point) made in the (sometimes dreaded) sermon for your Trinity Sunday Mass of Obligation?

The dogma of the Most Holy Trinity is not only a mystery, it is a really difficult mystery (…is there any other kind?).

In their zeal to help people understand, some priests go to the zoo when talking about the Trinity.   You will sometimes hear priests slip into the heresy of Modalism by suggesting that the Trinity is like water, which can be found in the forms or modes of steam, ice or water.  Others blithely channel their heresy of Partialism and assert that the Trinity is like an egg, which is composed of shell, yolk and white, three distinct parts that make a whole.  Yet others lapse into Tritheism when they compare the Trinity to three wine bottles which, though separate, contain the same wine.  Then there are the creative, but certainly heretical, proponents of Arianism who proclaim that, in the Trinity, the Father is like your planet’s yellow Sun, the Son like light the Sun produces, and the Spirit like its warmth.   There are other heresies out there too, but these are common.

A solid review of the Athanasian Creed can help you sniff out heresies (and, if you are a priest, avoid preaching them).  Here is the part of the Athanasian Creed which concerns the Trinity:

The Catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.

For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.

So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the Catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.

So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Ed the Roman says:

    Modalism was condemned, though by description, not name.

  2. KatieL56 says:

    No. The Trinity was not even mentioned. Please pray for our parish.

  3. dbonneville says:

    Today’s Daily Gospel commentary quotes St. Ephraim, Doctor of the Church, which seems to contradict what you mention about Arianism and the “sun”:

    “One only God, one only Lord, in the Trinity of their persons and unity of their nature” (Preface)

    Refrain: Blessed be the One who sends you!

    Take as your symbols: the sun for the Father,
    light for the Son,
    heat for the Holy Spirit.

    Though he is only one in being
    we see him in trinity.
    Who, indeed, can grasp the inexplicable?

    He who is unique is also multiple: one is formed of three
    and three of one –
    What great mystery! What manifest wonder!

    The sun is distinct from its shining
    even while adhering to it,
    for its ray is also sun.

    Yet no one speaks of two suns
    even though, here below,
    the sun’s ray is also sun.

    No more do we say there would be two Gods.
    Our Lord himself, is he not God?
    He is also raised above all creatures.

    Who can show how or where
    the sun’s ray and its heat are joined,
    free as they are?

    Neither separated nor confused,
    united and yet distinct,
    free but bound: O wonder!

    Who, by studying them, can master them?
    Yet do they not seem
    so simple, so uncomplicated?…

    Whereas the sun remains whole above,
    its brilliance and heat are a clear symbol
    for those of us below.

    Indeed, its shining has come down to earth
    and remains in our sight
    as though clothing our flesh.

    When our eyes close like those of the dead
    at the time of sleeping, it leaves them
    who will later awake.

    But how light penetrates the eye
    no one knows.
    Even so was it with our Lord in the womb…

    Even so, our Saviour
    put on a human body in all its weakness
    that he might come to sanctify the world.

    Yet, when the sun’s ray returns to its source,
    it has still not been separated
    from the one who gave it birth.

    It leaves its heat to those below
    as our Lord left the Holy Spirit
    to the disciples.

    Consider these images within the created world;
    as for the Three, allow yourself no doubt
    lest you be lost!

    I have clarified for you what was obscure:
    how Three form but One,
    A Trinity composing one single essence!

  4. Roy Hobbes says:

    “Was there a good point (at least not a heretical point) made in the (sometimes dreaded) sermon for your Trinity Sunday Mass of Obligation?”

    At the mass I attended, there were several good points made, all concerning the Trinity. Best point was the suggestion to go and study the Athanasian Creed.

  5. cwillia1 says:

    There are people who think that “one God” is something we can understand and that the doctrine of the Trinity is a baffling complication. But I think the opposite is true. We cannot wrap our minds around God. The Trinity is revealed to us to help us understand a few things about God that we need to know. For example, how can an eternal, unchangeable God who is a single person be love in essence? And then knowing something about the persons helps us make sense of how our salvation is accomplished. We cannot even tell the story coherently without speaking of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Without the Trinity we are left with God as Islam understands Him and a gospel reduced to gibberish.

    It is God who is a mystery and the Trinity clarifies that mystery a bit.

  6. Kent Wendler says:

    Fr. Z:

    Here is how I think of the Trinity, at least to the humanly limited extent of which I am capable.

    God must exist. If God did not exist there could be no existence of anything, (Even the dedicated atheists believe in some sort of god or “source of all”, even if they do not realize it.) Since God is the Source of all there can be no “source of God”.

    Since God is pure, transcendent BEING and the Source of all, we call God our Father. Since our Father is also pure Love, He must also be personal – a Person. Otherwise Love would make no sense.

    Since our Father is absolutely transcendent, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent; His Self-knowledge (unlike our limited human self-understanding) must also be so, necessarily even to comprising a second Person, also God, the Son of God or the Eternal Word of God.

    Since God is transcendent Love, these two Persons intrinsically and transcendently Love each other – to that this Love constitutes a third Divine Person, the Holy Spirit.

    Thus, God exists as One with three distinct Persons.

    Am I falling into any heresies here? I am not well educated in those things.

  7. Discerning Altar Boy says:

    The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God. Yet, neither is one of the others. This doesn’t make sense; we cannot ever fully understand it because it is a mystery. This this of course is ok, because, as the Baltimore Catechism says, “God made me to know Him…” We don’t have to fully understand to know Him.
    Also, the love of the trinity is roughly analogous love of a Christian family.

  8. andia says:

    Msgr spoke of the Mystery of the Trinity and how we are not expected to understand it. If we do — it’s not the Trinity.

  9. sibnao says:

    Our priest hit both points: we aren’t modalists, and we should read through the Athanasian Creed sometime this week! Also he reviewed the theology of the sign of the cross and read some great quotes from the Fathers.

    He ended by reminding everyone that we have moved out of the Easter season and into the time of Pentecost, which is for the building of the Church and making disciples of all nations, which is our baptismal call. I was “convicted,” as the Protestants say.

  10. Prayerful says:

    The priest, ordained in 1966 made quite this point during a short sermon. I’d see it as highlight. We should not really of God as being like us. That would be to His detriment. Rather we should see God as being somewhat like us. I hope didn’t garble that point.

  11. APX says:

    The priest today didn’t fall into any heresy today (as he didn’t try to explain the three persons of the Trinity).

    The mystery of the Trinity is the Love of the Trinity. Today we don’t really understand what love is. It’s not funny feelings in our stomach, or sweet consolations; it’s not a feeling at all. Love is an act of the will and the love of the Trinity is willing the good of the beloved when they’re the most disgusting, unpleasant, off-putting, repulsive, unpleasant to be around, etc, which is how we are supposed to love.

    Or something along those lines.

  12. Animadversor says:

    Apropos of what andia has commented:

    Msgr spoke of the Mystery of the Trinity and how we are not expected to understand it. If we do — it’s not the Trinity.

    I remember an anecdote I heard many years ago and which I hope may amuse. An Indian man became interested in Christianity and took it upon himself to study the doctrines of the Faith. He gave especial consideration to the doctrine of the Trinity, and after some time worked out, as he thought, using unaided human logic, a proof thereof. Excited, he presented himself to the priest at the nearest Catholic church, thinking that surely such a proof would be very welcome to him and that its discoverer would be therefore welcomed into the Church with open arms. Instead, the priest informed him that as long as he believed that he could prove logically the doctrine of the Trinity, he could not be baptized. He went away unhappy and thought about what the priest had told him, but his pride prevented him from relinquishing his belief that the doctrine of the Trinity was susceptible of a purely logical proof and that he was the first human to have discovered it. So he approached a minister of the Anglican communion and told him about his proof and about his rebuff by the Catholic priest and asked if the Anglicans, too, would send him away. He was delighted to hear the response of the minister that he might believe what he liked about the Trinity, the Anglican communion not troubling itself about its members beliefs in such matters.

  13. majuscule says:

    Father explained the Trinity in many different ways. Probably as many as I’ve ever heard.

    I have always thought that he spends a set amount of time on his homily. Today I caught him checking his watch, which I have never noticed him doing. When I commented positively on his homily after Mass he said he could have gone on and on but had to limit himself!

  14. benedetta says:

    On observing the Trinity in creation and in our sacred rites. Father referenced the Trinitarian “Glory be” prayers in the canon of the Mass prior to the 1962 omissions, as well as other ways the Trinity is encountered in the prayers of our sacred worship. Father said Mass (novus ordo) ad orientem, and communicants were permitted to receive at the altar rail whilst kneeling. A beautiful Trinity Sunday.

  15. jameeka says:

    How do we get to know a Person? They have to reveal themselves to us.

  16. JuliB says:

    Water, but with a completely new twist. Fr. focused on the number 3. He said that water was necessary for life, and called to mind that it was composed of two hydrogen and one water molecule. [Ummm…]

    God, being 3, was necessary not only for life, but all creation.

    It wasn’t a standard trinity comparison, and proclaimed that no one could accurately explain that mystery of our faith, but that the number 3 similarity was a fact worth contemplating.

  17. Facta Non Verba says:

    It was explained to us as light shining through a prism.

  18. mtmajor says:

    Visiting missionary priest opined that the mystery of the Trinity is like “the old Mass” said “in Latin no one could understand when the priest turns his back to the people.” We exited after the profession and prayer intentions. Lord God, bless our priests!

  19. JonPatrick says:

    This week away from my normal parish on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Fortunately I discovered St. Adelaide in Peabody where there is an Extraordinary Form Mass every Sunday and a beautiful one too. As a bonus, there was a baptism in the traditional form after Mass. It had been a while since I had been present at a traditional baptism and what impressed me was the exorcisms. Something we need more of in this day and age.

    The Trinity is the truth of who God is and the heart of our faith. The Holy Spirit is given to us primarily through prayer. God is love and if you love someone you want to be with them, so God wants to be with us. In the NO mass they have the reading from Exodus where God accompanies Israel. Even more for us, God sent Jesus.

    St. Alphonus Liguori exhorted people to pray, not only our vocal prayers but a heart to heart conversation with God.

  20. DMorgan says:

    One of our Deacons gave the homily. We received the water, ice, steam. He really tries to convey the mystery, but falls into the current sjw version of theology. Sad.

  21. Filipino Catholic says:

    OF-EF hybrid (OF readings, EF rubrics). The three Persons were spoken of as the ways in which God revealed Himself — the Father who creates, the Son who redeems, the Spirit who sanctifies. (Not sure if Modalism.)

    Incidentally this is the day whose proper Preface used to be the Preface for all “green” Sundays. Hearing it in English when I was accustomed to its Latin was jarring to me.

  22. Grumpy Beggar says:

    – 2 Masses (one in the morning, the other in the afternoon) in a long-term and palliative care facility.

    Father began by explaining monotheism ;what the three major monotheistic religions are. Then he asked how many Gods there are according to our Catholic faith . . . (only one person got caught saying , “three”).
    He asked why it was so difficult to try and contemplate 3 persons in one God when man is created in God’s image – progressing to the fact that the most complete image we have of God in humans is when the two aspects of his image in us -the man and the woman, are joined “wholly together” (holy matrimony); the child being the crowning glory or the fruit of the union.

    He said in conclusion that Catholics accept the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity but should expect to have some difficulty trying to understand the concept of the Holy Trinity precisely because it is a mystery . . . driving home the point with the Story of St Augustine on the Seashore Contemplating the Holy Trinity.

  23. sirlouis says:

    Reverend Father used the ice/liquid/steam thing, not saying that the Persons of the Trinity are different “phases” of God as ice/liquid/steam are different phases of water, but that it can help us to appreciate that something can be essentially one yet be in some way three. It doesn’t explain the Trinity — nothing can do that — but it can help us appreciate that what is beyond our immediate understanding (honestly, can you give a complete and valid explanation of how liquid water becomes solid matter?) may nevertheless be true.

    And he made the point that the doctrine of the Trinity is peculiarly and particularly Christian. One who does not believe in the Trinity is therefore not a Christian, even if he believes in the divinity of the Christ. So it is that our friends who are Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, should not be called Christians.

    I was distressed that the sacristan had set out green vestments and had the green antependia on the altar. Regrettably, Reverend Father did not correct the error. He retires at the end of this month and I suppose has gone into marking time mode.

  24. DcnJohnSaturus says:

    I preached.
    1. There is absolutely only one God.
    2. There are three Persons each of whom is that one God.
    3. There is no possible image or mental construct that allows us to accurately “picture” the Trinity. (Mention made of shamrocks, eggs, water/ice/steam, other heretical illustrations.)
    4. So why didn’t God just leave us worshipping the Unity (as the believing Jews did), instead of bothering our heads with all this “Trinity” stuff?
    5. Because he loves us *as persons*, as *who we are*; and — sweetest and deepest of mysteries –, he desires us to love and to know him as *who he is*, as the Persons he is.

  25. ajf1984 says:

    The Trinity was indeed the theme of the homily preached at the noon Mass at St. Josaphat Basilica in Milwaukee, although I must admit to being more distracted than usual trying to keep the kiddos in line yesterday! However, I wanted to pass along a quotation from the local Catholic radio station that played on Saturday: when we refer to the Trinity as a “mystery,” we mean that that the Triune God is “infinitely knowable,” i.e., we can never fully plumb the depths of this great reality but rather can–and should–immerse ourselves more and more into this community of Persons, and try to reflect it back (poorly though it be) in our thoughts, words, and actions.

  26. steve51b31 says:

    Not to be the nerd chemist here (which I am), but water doesn’t quite fit Athanatius creed for co-equal. Perhaps ozone(?) would be a better relational equality!

    That relationship (water) would, I am sorry to say, driven me to distraction for the remainder of the mass. That would never have been good!

  27. un-ionized says:

    sirlouis, God is always at the triple point.

  28. The Masked Chicken says:

    steve51b31 wrote:

    “Not to be the nerd chemist here (which I am), but water doesn’t quite fit Athanatius creed for co-equal. Perhaps ozone(?) would be a better relational equality!

    That relationship (water) would, I am sorry to say, driven me to distraction for the remainder of the mass. That would never have been good!”

    Ozone would have been analogous to the shamrock – three equal leaves on one stalk, so it, too has its problems. Obviously, solid, liquid, and gaseous water have the same molecule base, but different structures. One could argue that the different structures are analogous to personhood, so it does not have to be any worse ana analogy of the Trinity than ozone.

    It all depends on what attributes one isolates in order to form the analogies. St. Thomas Aquinas and a whole slew of philosophers going back at least to Aristotle in his work, The Categories, have worked on what constitutes analogical descriptions. A good historical summary may be found in the article on Analogy in Medieval Scholasticism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    Aquinas explicates his theory of analogy in three places: the Commentary on the Sentences, Book I, d. 19, q. 5, the Summa Theologica, I.I. Q 13, and the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, Art. 29 – 36. A nice review of the material in the Sentences and the Summa Theologica may be found in this blog post:

    In the S.T., Aquinas points out (I.I. Q 13, art. 5):

    I answer that, Univocal predication is impossible between God and creatures. The reason of this is that every effect which is not an adequate result of the power of the efficient cause, receives the similitude of the agent not in its full degree, but in a measure that falls short, so that what is divided and multiplied in the effects resides in the agent simply, and in the same manner; as for example the sun by exercise of its one power produces manifold and various forms in all inferior things. In the same way, as said in the preceding article, all perfections existing in creatures divided and multiplied, pre-exist in God unitedly. Thus when any term expressing perfection is applied to a creature, it signifies that perfection distinct in idea from other perfections; as, for instance, by the term “wise” applied to man, we signify some perfection distinct from a man’s essence, and distinct from his power and existence, and from all similar things; whereas when we apply to it God, we do not mean to signify anything distinct from His essence, or power, or existence. Thus also this term “wise” applied to man in some degree circumscribes and comprehends the thing signified; whereas this is not the case when it is applied to God; but it leaves the thing signified as incomprehended, and as exceeding the signification of the name. Hence it is evident that this term “wise” is not applied in the same way to God and to man. The same rule applies to other terms. Hence no name is predicated univocally of God and of creatures.

    Neither, on the other hand, are names applied to God and creatures in a purely equivocal sense, as some have said. Because if that were so, it follows that from creatures nothing could be known or demonstrated about God at all; for the reasoning would always be exposed to the fallacy of equivocation. Such a view is against the philosophers, who proved many things about God, and also against what the Apostle says: “The invisible things of God are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). Therefore it must be said that these names are said of God and creatures in an analogous sense, i.e. according to proportion.

    Now names are thus used in two ways: either according as many things are proportionate to one, thus for example “healthy” predicated of medicine and urine in relation and in proportion to health of a body, of which the former is the sign and the latter the cause: or according as one thing is proportionate to another, thus “healthy” is said of medicine and animal, since medicine is the cause of health in the animal body. And in this way some things are said of God and creatures analogically, and not in a purely equivocal nor in a purely univocal sense. For we can name God only from creatures (Article 1). Thus whatever is said of God and creatures, is said according to the relation of a creature to God as its principle and cause, wherein all perfections of things pre-exist excellently. Now this mode of community of idea is a mean between pure equivocation and simple univocation. For in analogies the idea is not, as it is in univocals, one and the same, yet it is not totally diverse as in equivocals; but a term which is thus used in a multiple sense signifies various proportions to some one thing; thus “healthy” applied to urine signifies the sign of animal health, and applied to medicine signifies the cause of the same health.

    Using modern techniques of mathematics, it is possible to refine these ideas (a task I have spent a considerable amount of time working on), but there are limitations inherent in any analogy involving God because God’s nature and ours are not comparable in any sort of direct fashion. This is the level at which trying to describe the nature of the Trinity falls apart.

    We had a mission preacher talking about the upcoming mission, so he only touched on the Trinity for a short period of time. he. essentially, said that the Trinity is not understandable and he mentioned some of the common analogies.

    The Chicken

  29. steve51b31 says:

    I appreciate greatly your summary! I don’t think that any molecular presentation could suffice but ozone was better than water for many reasons. (This line of discussion should end here!)
    I preached a simple 3 minute homiletic to the men in the Prison: above all a Mystery, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-One God. Also, anyone claiming to know, understand, and able to explain the Trinity must be avoided!

  30. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear steve51b31,

    Since you do not wish to discuss the matter further, I am content to leave it.

    The Chicken

  31. Joseph Mendes says:

    Visiting priest explained why it is logically incorrect to refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as “the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.”

  32. steve51b31 says:


    Thank you ! I saw it as a distraction from a truly worthy exchange!

    PS I always appreciate your inputs and insights! Thank you for contributing!

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