Rev. Fr. Anthony Okeke is the Parish Priest of Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Onireke, Satellite Town, Lagos and Chaplain, Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Nigeria (CCRN), Satellite Deanery, Lagos Archdiocese. In this interview with the Editor, LADY NETA NWOSU, he gives a vivid account of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, roles of the respective three Persons, importance of the Holy Trinity to Christians, non-belief in the Holy Trinity and its implications, relationship between the Sign of the Cross and Holy Trinity, essence of the Sign of the Cross, as well as other contemporary issues. Excerpts:
The Solemnity of the Holy Trinity is here again. Why do Christians celebrate this Feast of the Holy Trinity?
Trinity Sunday is the first Sunday after Pentecost in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Trinity Sunday is a day the Church celebrates the unity that exists between God the father, the son and the holy spirit. In its essence, is the mystery of faith and unity on and of the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
How are Catholics expected to mark this feast? Are there exceptional spiritual benefits celebrating the Feast of the Holy Trinity?
Yes, the benefits from God the Father: Chosen and adopted; the benefits from God the Son: Redeemed and forgiven; the benefits from God the Spirit: Sealed, sanctified and secured.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity states that there are three Persons in one God. Please explain why and how come God exists in three Persons?
For a clearer and lay man’s understanding, the Blessed Trinity is a mystery that can be understood with St. Anslem’s binocular of “Fides quarens intellectum”(Faith seeking understanding); comprehendible, not with the head, but with the heart. It teaches us that there are three distinct Persons in one God, sharing the same Divine Nature, coequal and co-eternal. Simply put: The Father is God but not the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son is God but not the Father and the Spirit and the Holy Spirit is God, but not the Father and the Son. One in Substance, but different in persons. However, from a lay man’s understanding, Person is derived from the Latin word,’ persona’, which means “actor’s mask” that could be likened to the role an actor plays or character in a play or movie. But we believe in this Mystery because Jesus, who is God, taught it clearly, the Evangelists recorded it, the Fathers of the Church tried to explain it, and the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople defined it as a dogma of Christian Faith.
What are the respective roles of ‘God the Father’, ‘God the Son’ and ‘God the Holy Spirit’ in the Holy Trinity?
In the history of salvation God the Father is the Creator (Gen 1:1), God the Son is the Redeemer (Jn. 3:16) and God the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier (1 Pet.1:1-2). Nevertheless, the Trinity is distinct as persons, but neither the Father, Son, nor the Holy Spirit ever exists or acts in isolation from the other two persons of God head.
What does the Holy Trinity mean to a Catholic? Why is it important to Christians?
It is the doctrine of the three persons in one God. It is important because it is a challenge to the unity of family. It refers to the divine family of God.
How can individuals and families imitate the Holy Trinity?
The Trinitarian indwelling is marked by “team” spiritedness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the history of man’s salvation, T=Together, E=Everyone, A=Achieves and M=More. We too, can achieve more than we can imagine through team-spiritedness. When all hands are on deck, we form a formidable force. (Matt.18:19-20; Amos 3:3)
Some Christians described as Non Trinitarian faith groups do not believe in the Holy Trinity. They don’t see the Holy Spirit as the third person in one God (God, the Holy Spirit), but merely an unseen power from God. They even claim that there is no mention of the Holy Trinity in the Bible. May we have your views please.
Nontrinitarianism is a form of Christianity that rejects the mainstream Christian doctrine of the Trinity – the belief that God is three distinct hypostases or persons who are coeternal, coequal, and indivisibly united in one being, or essence (from the Ancient Greek ousia). Certain religious groups that emerged during the Protestant Reformation have historically been known as anti-Trinitarian. Their theology is very incorrect. Sometimes, it’s easier to understand what we believe by stating what we don’t believe. Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects Monarchianism which believes in only one person (mono) and maintains that the Son and the Spirit subsists in the divine essence as impersonal attributes not distinct and divine Persons. Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects modalism which believes that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different names for the same God acting in different roles or manifestations (like the well-intentioned but misguided “water, vapour, ice” analogy).
Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects Arianism which denies the full deity of Christ. And finally, orthodox Trinitarianism rejects all forms of tri-theism, which teach that the three members of the Godhead are, to quote a leading Mormon apologist, “three distinct Beings, three separate Gods.” Secondly, where is the doctrine of the Trinity found in the Bible? Although the word “Trinity” is famously absent from Scripture, the theology behind the word can be found in a surprising number of verses. For starters there are verses that speak of God’s oneness (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; 1; Tim. 1:17).
Then there are the myriad of passages which demonstrate that God is Father (John 6:27, Titus 1:4). Next, we have the scores of texts which prove the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son – passages like John 1 (“the word was God”), John 8:58 (“before Abraham was born, I am”), Col. 2:9 (“in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form”), Heb. 1:3 (“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his being”), Tit. 2:13 (“our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ”); not to mention the explicit worship Christ willingly received from his disciples (Luke 24:52; John 20:28) and the charges of blasphemy leveled against him for making himself equal with God (Mark 2:7). Then we have similar texts which assume the deity of the Holy Spirit, calling Him an “eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14) and using “God” interchangeably with the “Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 3:16 and 1 Cor. 6:19; Acts 5:3-4) without a second thought.
What are the implications of a Christian denying the Holy Trinity?
If a Christian doesn’t believe in the Trinity, then he doesn’t understand who God is. You may say the word “God” but you don’t understand His nature. Secondly, you couldn’t possibly understand who Christ is – that He is God in human flesh. The Incarnation of Christ is an essential component of the biblical gospel, as John 1:1-14 and many other biblical passages make clear. To deny the Trinity is to deny the Incarnation. And to deny the Incarnation is to wrongly understand the true gospel. If any doctrine makes Christianity Christian, then surely it is the doctrine of the Trinity. The three great ecumenical creeds—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed – are all structured around our three in one God, underlying the essential importance of Trinitarian theology. Augustine once commented about the Trinity that “in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.” In 382 AD Pope St. Damasus called a council at Rome in which he summarised the main errors up to his time. Called the Tome of Damasus, this collection of anathemas is a series of definitions on the Trinity that to this day are models of clarity. Twenty-four in number, a sample from the collection again reflects the Church’s perennial faith:
• If anyone denies that the Father is eternal, that the Son is eternal, and that the Holy Spirit is eternal: He is a heretic.
• If anyone says that the Son made flesh was not in heaven with the Father while He was on earth: He is a heretic.
• If anyone denies that the Holy Spirit has all power and knows all things, and is everywhere, just as the Father and the Son: He is a heretic.
Is the Sign of the Cross a proclamation of the Holy Trinity?
The Sign of the Cross is a profession of faith in God as He has revealed himself. It serves as an abbreviated form of the Apostles’ Creed.
When Catholics make the Sign of the Cross, they touch their foreheads, chests and both shoulders. Why do they do so? Why would they for instance, touch their foreheads as they say, ‘In the name of the Father’? And their chests and shoulders as they mention ‘And of the Son’ and ‘And of the Holy Spirit’
There are five reasons to make the Sign of the Cross
The Sign of the Cross is a profession of faith in God as He has revealed himself. It serves as an abbreviated form of the Apostles’ Creed. Touching our forehead, breast and shoulders (and in some cultures, our lips as well), we declare our belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are announcing our faith in what God has done – the creation of all things, the redemption of humanity from sin and death, and the establishment of the Church, which offers new life to all. When we sign ourselves we are making ourselves aware of God’s presence and opening ourselves to His action in our lives. That much alone would be enough to transform us spiritually, wouldn’t it? But there is much, much more.
2. A renewal of baptism.
First-century Christians began making the Sign of the Cross as a reminder and renewal of what happened to them when they were baptised. It still works the same way for us. When we sign ourselves we are declaring that in baptism we died sacramentally with Christ on the cross and rose to a new life with Him (see Rom 6:3-4 and Gal 2:20). We are asking the Lord to renew in us those baptismal graces. We are also acknowledging that baptism joined us to the Body of Christ and equipped us for our role of collaborating with the Lord in His work of rescuing all people from sin and death.
3. A mark of discipleship.
At baptism the Lord claimed us as His own by marking us with the Sign of the Cross. Now, when we sign ourselves, we are affirming our loyalty to Him. By tracing the cross on our bodies, we are denying that we belong to ourselves and declaring that we belong to Him alone (Lk 9:23). The Church Fathers used the same word for the Sign of the Cross that the ancient world employed to indicate ownership. The same word named a shepherd’s brand on his sheep, a general’s tattoo on his soldiers, a householder’s mark on his servants, and the Lord’s mark on His disciples. Signing ourselves recognizes that we are Christ’s sheep and can count on His care; His soldiers, commissioned to work with Him in advancing His kingdom on earth; and His servants, dedicated to doing whatever He tells us.
4. An acceptance of suffering.
Jesus promised us that suffering would be a normal part of a disciple’s life (see Lk 9:23-24). So when we mark our bodies with the sign, we are embracing whatever pain comes as a consequence of our faith in Christ. Making the sign is our taking up the cross and following Him (Lk 9:23). At the same time, however, it comforts us with the realization that Jesus, who endured the Crucifixion for us, now joins us in our suffering and supports us. Signing ourselves also announces another significant truth: With St. Paul, we are celebrating that our afflictions as members of the body of Christ contribute to the Lord’s saving work of perfecting the Church in holiness (see Col 1:24).
5. A two-edged move against the devil.
When the devil watched Jesus die on the cross, he mistakenly believed he had won a great victory. Instead, the Lord surprised him with an ignominious defeat (see 1 Cor. 2:8). From the first Easter morning through the present, the Sign of the Cross makes the devil cower and flee. On one level, then, making the sign is a defensive move, declaring our inviolability to the devil’s influence. But, more importantly, the sign is also an offensive weapon, helping us reclaim with Christ all that Satan lost at the cross. It announces our cooperation with Jesus in the indomitable advance of the kingdom of God against the kingdom of darkness.