What I remember most about learning my catechism as a child is memorizing facts about why God loved me. Each year, we learned more facts. Finally, with the culmination of our initiation into the Church, we received the sacrament of Confirmation. However, before welcoming the bishop to our church, we had to memorize more facts about the doctrines of the Church.
I remember raising my hand one time during our writing and reciting the various facts. Mrs. Finnegan called on me, and I said, “I have a few questions.” She nodded her head with approval. You could hear the other students gasp as I questioned the facts. I asked, “How was it possible that Jesus could be 100% human and 100% God at the same time?” She responded, “It’s a mystery of the Church. Do you have another question?” I said, “Yes, how can we have three persons in one God? I don’t understand the Trinity.” She rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t need to understand. You just need to have faith in the mystery. So, Mr. Gavin, if you don’t have faith to believe, then maybe you aren’t ready to receive your Confirmation. Should I inform your parents?” I sheepishly shook my head no. She said, “Very well. Let’s continue.”
As an adult, I am willing to enter into the mystery of many things. The things I don’t completely understand, I find hold a certain poetic quality that may seem to live outside the realm of logic. Nevertheless, I like to work out my understanding of the world and God not only through logic but through prayer and reflection. Also, as a teacher in the oldest independent Episcopal school in the country, I like being able to provide my students with some answers to these profound questions. Consequently, I have found that analogy and metaphor, although imperfect, often provide a lens through which to view the great mysteries of Christian doctrine.
As for Christ being 100% human and 100% divine, I have discovered that the nature of Christ is not a quantitative but a qualitative reality. For example, I ask my students if they have siblings. When they respond that they do, I say, “So you are a sister, correct?” The student will nod. I add, “You are a daughter, too, I presume?” They respond affirmatively. “So what percentage are you of each?” Are you 25% sister and 75% daughter.” The student will laugh and say, “I am 100% a sister and 100% a daughter.” I then move onto the mystery of the Trinity. This is much more complicated. The imperfect analogy I use relies on nature.
I draw the following illustration to explain the basic elements of the Trinity:
I then draw the following illustration to demonstrate the three forms H2O:
These two illustrations make the point that nature itself possesses elements that are of one substance and contain three forms. I acknowledge this as a faulty analogy because the form of H2O changes due to temperature. The three persons of the Trinity remain distinct yet remain as one. As a result, the Trinity holds a mystery beyond human comprehension. Nevertheless, the analogy allows students to see how three distinct forms still share the same substance of H2O just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are of the same substance.
I acknowledge the imperfection of the analogy. Therefore, I teach them we need to embrace the mystery by contemplating the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a qualitative union not a quantitative union. The Trinity is never compartmentalized in which God stops being the Son in order to be the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is unified by one will.
The Trinity is united by one will that exists outside of time and matter while working within the boundaries of time and matter. The will of the Trinity is based on agape love. In the end, no matter how intelligent we seem to be, we need to realize that prayer and faith become the foundation by which we understand God because God is beyond any concept we can imagine.
In the end, I ask my students, “Are humans so intelligent that we can create something that even we can’t comprehend?”
The students ponder this question, and they always respond, “No.”