Bishop Richard: Why Trinitarian language is so important to our faith

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This mosaic depicts the Trinity in traditional terms. Interestingly, the Holy Spirit is portrayed not as a male person but as a dove. Photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn
This mosaic depicts the Trinity in traditional terms. Interestingly, the Holy Spirit is portrayed not as a male person but as a dove. Photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

In God we live, move and exist (Acts 17:28). Our very existence is willed by God and we are called to share in the Divine Life of the Blessed Trinity.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life (Catechism, no. 261), and we were created to enter into the perfect unity of God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The love we have for others exists because God first loved us (1 Jn 4:19), the Source of all Love.

The very centre of our faith is a calling to a life lived in intimate union with the Blessed Trinity – a communion of Persons Whose Love for us gives life, faith, hope, love and deep meaning to every moment of every day for each human person – living, dead or yet to come.

“I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

“I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The words we use every day when we make the Sign of the Cross, they book-end so-to-speak all our prayers, are also the same words used to confer baptism, to administer the sacraments, to profess our faith, to consecrate a person or place of worship – are the very words given to us by God Himself, to express the very life of the Most Holy Trinity, which is the very deposit of faith we profess in all we do as members of the Church.

These words, “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Spirit” mean something.

They are not abstract concepts, ideas or words conjured up to impose, as claimed by some, a patriarchal regime.

Rather, they reveal the very essence of Truth, the life of God Himself as a communion of Persons, and proclaim a part of the Mystery of the Trinity.

These words mean something – they contain truth, reveal it and point towards something greater.

Girl makes sign of the Cross.
A girl blesses herself, beginning in the name of the Father. But altering prayers to the Trinity to make them more inclusive is a mistake.

The Trinity is the very deposit of faith which we profess.

The Athanasian creed, as cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church very clearly states: “Now this is the Catholic Faith: we worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son’s is another, the Holy Spirit’s another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.”

The names of the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity have been repeatedly designated throughout the New Testament and in the Tradition of the Church from its earliest days.

These names designate the relationship proper to each Person of the Trinity, that is, they proclaim how each Person is distinctly related to the other Persons in the Trinity: “the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another.”

That is, “the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father and the Holy Spirit to both.”

If we believe that the words of Scripture are the inspired word of God, the very Word of God, and He has given us this very specific language to speak about the Trinity, then our authority to intend to change this – by mere avoidance of being politically incorrect – has no bearing.

We cannot change God, no matter how good our intentions might be – He changes us.

One example of the importance of using the correct terminology when referring to the Trinity regards the validity of Baptism.

Baptism conferred in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit conforms to the command of the Lord found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).

Substituting other names in place of the distinct names given to each Person in the Trinity actually invalidates the conferral of the Sacrament.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expressed: “any Baptism is invalid when it does not contain the invocation of the Most Holy Trinity, with the distinct expression of the three Persons with their respective names.”

The words used to confer the Sacrament of Baptism “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” express our Trinitarian faith – any other formulae cannot do this, and therefore if this is altered, our faith in the Trinity is undermined.

Trinitarian faith calls for careful precision of language. And our faith in the Trinity must also call for careful precision and safeguarding so that the very Mystery which we profess daily is never undermined.

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