BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (40) – What does Sacred Tradition say about the Blessed Trinity?

– Rev José Mario O Mandía

The things we believe do not come only from Sacred Scripture. We also know that it is important to consider what Sacred Tradition teaches us. These teachings can be found in the Fathers of the Church, in the liturgy and prayer of the Church, and in the life of the Church and of the faithful.

CHURCH FATHERS

As we have seen last time, Theophilus of Antioch (169-181) is on record as the first one who actually used the term “Trinity.” Before him, however, other Church Fathers had already made mention of the three Persons in one God. Let us just mention a few more Fathers.

Around 110 AD, Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “Be subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit…. (Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter 13).

The Didache (also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), written by an unknown author in the first century, taught, “After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water…. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Didache 7:1).

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna  “praises, glorifies, and blesses” the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit before he was martyred in 155 AD.

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) exhorted the faithful to “give thanks and praise to the only Father and Son, to the Son and Father with the Holy Spirit” (The Pedagogue III.12).

Saint Hippolytus (170-235) concludes his refutation of Noetus with the words: “To Him be glory and power with the Father and the Holy Spirit in Holy Church now and always for ever and ever. Amen” (Against Noetus 18).

LITURGY AND PRAYER

Following the command of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19), baptism was always carried out in with the Trinitarian formula, in the name of one God in three Persons.

The sign of the Cross has been used by Christians for centuries. “We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross,” wrote Tertullian around the year 200.

Saint Basil (329-379) records that when Christians lit the evening lamp, they would pray, “We praise the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit of God.”

Theodoret (393–457) described how one should bless: “This is how to bless someone with your hand and make the sign of the cross over them. Hold three fingers, as equals, together, to represent the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These are not three gods, but one God in Trinity. The names are separate, but the divinity one. The Father was never incarnate; the Son incarnate, but not created; the Holy Spirit neither incarnate nor created, but issued from the Godhead: three in a single divinity. Divinity is one force and has one honor. They receive on obeisance from all creation, both angels and people. Thus the decree for these three fingers.

“You should hold the other two fingers slightly bent, not completely straight. This is because these represent the dual nature of Christ, divine and human. God in His divinity, and human in His incarnation, yet perfect in both. The upper finger represents divinity, and the lower humanity…. This is how you must cross yourselves and give a blessing, as the holy fathers have commanded.”

Moreover, all the Professions of Faith (Creeds) from the beginning of Christianity to our times profess belief in three Persons and one God. One of the most detailed creeds that are worth looking up is the Athanasian Creed. It dates back to the 4th or 5th century.

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