The Doctrine that Changes Everything

By Christian Bergmann

The second thing that changed everything for me when it came to understanding the meaning and significance of the Trinity was this: through baptism, our day to day life is now lived in participation with the Triune God. Everything about the Christian spiritual life, from beginning to end, is a participation in the life of the Trinity.

The Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches have this idea of theosis, which refers to a kind of “deification”. The idea is this: fundamental to God’s plan of salvation is a transformative process by which He elevates and restores creation to take part in His own life. Salvation is not simply about “going to heaven when we die”, as if going to Church is a kind of after-life insurance. Salvation is about entering into communion with God and through that communion becoming “like God”. Saint Peter puts it like this: through God’s salvation we have become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Or, as Jesus puts it: “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Communion with God begins now. Eternal life begins now.

This communion with God begins with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, God makes us a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). He so transforms us that we are now a new creature. Not only that, but the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, now dwells within us, makes His home in us, and we are now “temples of the holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). What this means is that right now, this moment, and every moment of our Christian life, we live in communion with the Triune God; we live in participation with the life of the Trinity. We are not simply aspiring towards heaven; heaven has already made its home in us and is drawing us to ever deeper union with God.

If we spent time meditating on this point, reflecting on the reality that we now dwell in the Trinitarian life and the Trinitarian life now dwells in us, it will help us see anew everything about the life of the Church.

We can begin to see that the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are not simply entry points into a human institution, or a club, but are means of entering into the life of the Trinity, which is the life of the Church.

We can see that the Mass becomes, not simply a gathering of like-minded people, but a people drawn by the Spirit to participate in Jesus’ worship of the Father. More than that, the prayers of the Mass become, not simply us praying – as adequate as our prayers might be – but Jesus praying through us. This is why we make the sign of the cross before and after Mass: it is in the recognition that this entire event is a Trinitarian event, and we are entering into the life of the Trinity in a singular and unique and unsurpassable way. It is also the privileged means by which our life in the Trinity is nourished and fed.

We can see that the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing are actually a means of restoring us to communion with God, spiritually and bodily, as we are either blessed or absolved “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.

We can see that the Sacraments of Service, in Marriage and Ordination, become a unique means by which people become Christ for others and lead us in worship of the Father, who created heaven and earth and sustains us from moment to moment.

Without the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Church becomes just another religious institution, one among many. It becomes just another social club for those who are interested.

But with the Trinity, we can see everything in a new light. We can see that our life begins and ends with this mystery, and without this mystery, we are nothing. No matter where we find ourselves in life, I hope we can always find ourselves conscious of this reality, that from moment to moment we live in the mystery of the Trinity and have been taken up into that mystery already.