Part 2 – God the Father – Week 6

Part 2 – God the Father – Week 6

After having explained the meaning of Christian belief in God as Father, as Almighty, and as Creator, Ratzinger turns his attention to the mystery of the Trinity. ‘How did the Church come up with this complicated doctrine?’, he asks. And doesn’t the formula ‘One God in Three Persons’ actually seem like little more than an exaggeratedly complicated and sophisticated exercise of intellectual hair-splitting that in the end is merely the invention of man, merely his attempt to pierce the unknowable mystery of God? In reality, he then answers, the doctrine of the Trinity is based on the fact that the Church dares to take the revelation she has received as a gift in freedom and love seriously. She has the courage to accept – while in humility still knowing that she will never understand this mystery completely – that what has been given to her in the experience of Israel and in Christ is not just an image or reflection of God that keeps man a prisoner in a world of mere images and reflections, but the reality of God Himself. She has the courage to say: God has revealed Himself to me and I take His word and deed in history seriously. God has told me that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… and I believe!


“Our previous reflections have brought us to the point at which the Christian confession of faith in the one God passes over by a kind of inner necessity to the confession of faith in the triune God. On the other hand we cannot overlook the fact that we are now touching a realm in which Christian theology must be more aware of its limits than it has often been in the past; a realm in which any false forthrightness in the attempt to gain too precise a knowledge is bound to end in disastrous foolishness; a realm in which only the humble admission of ignorance can be true knowledge and only wondering attendance before the incomprehensible mystery can be the right confession of faith in God. Love is always mysterium – more than one can reckon or grasp by subsequent reckoning. Love itself – the uncreated, eternal God – must therefore be in the highest degree a mystery – “the” mysterium itself. […]

[Nonetheless,] the doctrine of the Trinity did not arise out of speculation about God, out of an attempt by philosophical thinking to explain to itself what the fount of all being was like; it developed out of the effort to digest historical experiences. The biblical faith was concerned at first – in the Old Covenant – with God, who was encountered as the Father of Israel, the Father of the peoples, the Creator of the world and its Lord. In the formative period of the New Testament comes a completely unexpected event in which God shows himself from a hitherto unknown side: in Jesus Christ one meets a man who at the same time knows and professes himself to be the Son of God. One finds God in the shape of the ambassador who is completely God and not some kind of intermediary being, yet with us says to God “Father”. The result is a curious paradox: on the one hand this man calls God his Father and speaks to him as to someone else facing him; if this is not to be a piece of empty theatricality but truth, which alone befits God, then Christ must be someone other than this Father to whom he speaks and to whom we speak. But on the other hand he is himself the real proximity of God coming to meet us, God’s mediation to us, and that precisely because he himself is God as man, in human form and nature, God-with-us (“Emmanuel”). His mediation would indeed basically cancel itself out and become a separation instead of a mediation if he were someone other than God, if he were an intermediate being. He would then be guiding us not towards God but away from him. It thus turns out that as mediator he is God himself and “man himself” – both with equal reality and totality. But this means that God meets me here, not as Father, but as Son and as my brother, whereby – both incomprehensibly and quite comprehensibly – a duality appears in God: God as “I” and “You” in one.

This new experience of God is followed finally by a third, the experience of the Spirit, the presence of God in us, in our innermost being. And again it turns out that this “Spirit” is not simply identical either with the Father or the Son, nor yet a third thing erected between God and us; it is the manner in which God gives himself to us, in which he enters into us, so that he is in man, yet in the midst of this “indwelling” is infinitely above him.

We can thus observe that the Christian faith first comes to deal with God in this triple shape in the course of its historical development, as a matter of sheer fact. It is clear that it had to begin straightway to consider how these different pieces of data were to be reconciled with each other. It had to ask itself how these three forms of historical encounter with God were related to the reality proper of God himself. Is the triplicity of the form in which God is experienced perhaps only his historical mask, in which he approaches man in different roles yet always as the One? Does this triplicity only tell us something about man and the various modes of his relationship to God, or does it shed light on what God is like in himself? […] The point at issue here is whether man in his relations with God is only dealing with the reflections of his own consciousness or whether it is given to him to reach out beyond himself and to encounter God himself. In either case the consequences are far-reaching. If the first hypothesis is true, then prayer too is only an occupation of man with himself; there are no more grounds for worship proper than there are for prayers of petition. […]

Let us anticipate the answer. […] God is as he shows himself; God does not show himself in a way in which he is not. On this assertion rests the Christian relation with God; in it is grounded the doctrine of the Trinity; indeed, it is this doctrine.”


Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 [20002], 162-165.



How does the doctrine of the Trinity affect me in my daily Christian life, in my life of prayer and in my relations with others? Do I relate to God as my Father… do I speak to Him, trust in Him, and obey Him as my Father, knowing that He wants the best for me? Do I see in Jesus the face of the Father, my Lord and my brother in whom and with whom I can speak to the Father? Do I realize that I am a temple of the Holy Spirit, that God lives in me through grace? Do I try to actively listen to the promptings of Holy Spirit in my heart?

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