Jesus Christ reveals the Trinity

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 19 August 1987, the Holy Father reflected on how Jesus, in His relationship to God the Father revealed the divine communion of the Trinity. 

The core of the catecheses concerning Jesus Christ rests on the central theme of revelation—Jesus Christ, the man born of the Virgin Mary, is the Son of God. The Gospels and the other books of the New Testament pinpoint this fundamental Christian truth, which we have sought in the preceding catecheses to illustrate by investigating its various aspects. This testimony of the Gospels is reflected in the Church's solemn teaching in the Councils, which is expressed in the creeds, (first of all the Nicene-Constantinopolitan). Likewise, it is also expressed in the Church's constant ordinary teaching, in the liturgy, in prayer and the spiritual life which she promotes and directs.

The truth concerning Jesus Christ, Son of God, constitutes the self-revelation of God, the keynote of the doctrine which unveils the inexpressible mystery of one God in the Blessed Trinity. According to the Letter to the Hebrews, when God, "in our own time...has spoken to us through his Son" (Heb 1:2), he revealed the reality of his personal life—that life wherein he remains an absolute unity in the divinity, while at the same time it is the Trinity, the divine communion of the three Persons. The Son, "who came from the Father and entered the world" (cf. Jn 16:28) testified directly to this communion. The Son alone testified, none other. The Old Testament, when God "spoke through the prophets" (Heb 1:1), knew nothing of this personal mystery of God. Undoubtedly, certain elements of the Old Testament revelation constituted a preparation for what we have in the Gospels. Nevertheless, only the Son was capable of introducing us to this mystery. Since "no one has seen God," no one knew the mystery of his inner life. The Son alone knew it. "It is only the Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (Jn 1:18).

1.  Gospel events and words referring to the Trinity

In the course of the preceding catecheses it was possible to consider the principal aspects of this revelation, thereby affording us the opportunity to contemplate with complete clarity the truth about the divine sonship of Jesus Christ. As we now conclude this cycle of meditations, it is helpful to recall some of the salient events in which we find revealed the mystery of the Father and of the Holy Spirit, together with the truth concerning the divine sonship of the Son of Man—the Son of Mary.

The first in chronological order is the moment of the annunciation at Nazareth. According to the angel, he who would be born of the Virgin is the Son of the Most High, the Son of God. In these words God is revealed as Father, and the Son of God is presented as the person who would be born through the work of the Holy Spirit. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you" (Lk 1:35). Thus, the annunciation narrative contains the Trinitarian mystery—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This mystery is also present in the theophany during the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, when the Father by means of a voice from above, testified to the Son as being "the beloved." The voice was accompanied by the Spirit "descending like a dove and coming down on him" (Mt 3:16). This theophany is not unlike a "visual" confirmation of the words of the prophet Isaiah, to which Jesus referred at Nazareth as he began his messianic activity. "The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me; he has sent me" (Lk 4:18; cf. Is 61:1).

In the development of his mission we find the words which Jesus himself used to introduce his listeners to the mystery of the divine Trinity. In particular there is that joyous declaration noted in Matthew's Gospel (cf. 11:25-27) as also in St. Luke (cf. 10:21-22). We refer to it as joyous since we read in the text of St. Luke: "It was then that, filled with joy by the Holy Spirit" (Lk 10:21), Jesus said, "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for this is what it has pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son wishes to reveal him" (Mt 11:25-27).

In consequence of this "exultation of Jesus in the Holy Spirit" we are introduced into the "profundity of God"—into those profound depths which the Spirit alone can plumb—that inner unity of the life of God, that inscrutable communion of Persons.

The words used by Matthew and Luke harmonize perfectly with the various affirmations of Jesus which we find in the Gospel of St. John, as we have already seen in our preceding catecheses. Supreme among such affirmations is that assertion of Jesus which pinpoints his unity with the Father: "The Father and I are one" (Jn 10:30). This concept is repeated and developed in the priestly prayer (cf. Jn 17), and especially throughout the discourse of Jesus in the upper room as he prepared his apostles for his departure that would take place in the course of the paschal events.

It is precisely here, in the light of this departure, that Jesus pronounced in a definitive manner, those words which reveal the mystery of the Holy Spirit and his relationship to the Father and the Son. Christ who said, "I am in the Father and the Father is in me" also announced to the apostles the coming of the Holy Spirit whom he asserted is "the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father" (Jn 15:26). Jesus added that he will "pray to the Father" that this Spirit of truth be conferred on the disciples so that he will remain with them forever as "Consoler" (cf. Jn 14:16). He assured the apostles that "the Father will send the Spirit in my name" (cf. Jn 14:26), and "he will be my witness" (cf. Jn 15:26). All this will be verified, Jesus concluded, following his departure during the paschal events, through the passion and resurrection: "If I do go I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7).

2.  The Consoler, the Spirit of Truth

"On that day you will know that I am in the Father" Jesus declared yet again, implying that through the work of the Holy Spirit the mystery of the unity of the Father and the Son will be fully clarified. "I in the Father—and the Father in me." Such a mystery can be fully illustrated only by the "Spirit who scrutinizes the hidden things of God" (cf. 1 Cor 2:10), where, in the communion of Persons the unity of the divine life of God is constituted. In this way also the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son in relation to the believers and the Church is illuminated by the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus stated: "On the day (when the apostles will receive the Spirit of truth), you will know (not only) that I am in the Father (but also that) you (are) in me and I am in you" (Jn 14:20). For this reason the Incarnation is the foundation of our divine sonship through Christ; it is the basis of the mystery of the Church as the body of Christ.

It is important to point out that the Incarnation, even if it refers directly to the Son, is the work of the One and Triune God (cf. Fourth Lateran Council). This is already testified by the message of the annunciation (cf. Lk 1:26-38). Furthermore, by his teaching, Jesus has proposed for our consideration "vistas closed to human reason" (as we read in Gaudium et Spes, 24)—those of the inner life of the one God in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Finally, having fulfilled his messianic mission, in departing from his apostles on the fortieth day after the resurrection, Jesus completed in every detail that which he had announced. "As the Father has sent me I also send you" (Jn 20:21). He told them: "Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). In these concluding words of the Gospel prior to the beginning of the Church's evangelizing mission in the world, Jesus Christ gave her the supreme truth of his revelation—the indivisible unity of the Trinity.

From that time forward the Church has raised her voice in adoration and amazement, but always with profound emotion, in unison with John the evangelist at the conclusion of the prologue of the Fourth Gospel: "No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (Jn 1:18).