The Triune God

How often have we made the sign of the Cross and invoked the name of the triune God without thinking about what we were doing? In its original meaning, each time we perform this action, our baptism is renewed. We take on our lips the words through which we were made Christians, and we consciously accept into our personal life something that was bestowed on us in baptism without any active contribution or reflection on our part. On that occasion, water was poured over us, and the following words were spoken: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The Church makes a man a Christian by pronouncing the name of the triune God. In this way, she has expressed since the very beginning what she considers the most decisive element of the Christian existence, namely, faith in the triune God. This disappoints us. It is so far removed from our life. It is so useless and so incomprehensible. . . .What does it mean in our daily life in this world of ours?

Has the Church perhaps gone one step too far here? Ought we not rather leave something so great and inaccessible as God in his inaccessibility? Can something like the Trinity have any real meaning for us? . . .[I]f this proposition had nothing to say to us, it would not have been revealed. And, as a matter of fact, it could be clothed in human language only because it had already penetrated human thinking and living to some extent.

Let us begin at the point where God himself began. He calls himself Father. Human fatherhood can give us an inkling of what God is; but where fatherhood no longer exists, where genuine fatherhood is no longer experienced as a phenomenon that goes beyond the biological dimension to embrace a human and intellectual sphere as well, it becomes meaningless to speak of God the Father.

Where human fatherhood disappears, it is no longer possible to speak and think of God. It is not God who is dead; what is dead (at least to a large extent) is the precondition in man that makes it possible for God to live in the world. The crisis of fatherhood that we are experiencing today is a basic aspect of the crisis that threatens mankind as a whole.

The biblical Father is not a heavenly duplicate of human fatherhood. Rather, he posits something new: he is the divine critique of human fatherhood. God establishes his own criterion.


Without Jesus, we do not know what “Father” truly is. This becomes visible in his prayer, which is the foundation of his being. A Jesus who was not continuously absorbed in the Father and was not in continuous intimate communication with him would be a completely different being from the Jesus of the Bible, the real Jesus of history. . . .

To follow Jesus means looking at the world with the eyes of God and living accordingly. Jesus shows us what it means to lead the whole of one’s life on the basis of the affirmation that “God is.” Jesus shows us what it means to give genuine priority to the first table of the Ten Commandments. He gave this center a meaning, and he revealed what this center is. . . .

The answer is that it is just as essential to the Father to say “Son” as it is essential to the Son to say “Father.” Without this address, the Father, too, would not be the same. Jesus does not merely touch him from the outside; he belongs to the divinity of God, as Son. Before the world was made, God is already the love of Father and Son. He can become our Father and the criterion of all fatherhood precisely because he himself is Father from eternity. In Jesus’ prayer, the inner life of God becomes visible to us: we see how God himself is. Faith in the triune God is nothing other than the exposition of what takes place in Jesus’ prayer. In his prayer, the Trinity is revealed.

The Father and the Son do not become one in such a way that they dissolve into each other. They remain distinct from each other, since love has its basis in a “vis-à-vis” that is not abolished. . . .They are one in virtue of the fact that their love is fruitful, that it goes beyond them. In the third Person in whom they give themselves to each other, in the Gift, they are themselves, and they are one. . . .The unity that this reveals is the Trinity.

Accordingly, becoming a Christian means sharing in Jesus’ prayer, entering into the model provided by his life, that is, the model of his prayer. Becoming a Christian means saying “Father” with Jesus and, thus, becoming a child, God’s son – God – in the unity of the Spirit, who allows us to be ourselves and precisely in this way draws us into the unity of God. Being a Christian means looking at the world from this central point, which gives us freedom, hope, decisiveness, and consolation. . . .

This means that we must learn anew to take God as our starting point when we seek to understand the Christian existence. This existence is belief in his love and faith that he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – for it is only thus that the affirmation that he is “love” becomes meaningful. If he is not love in himself, he is not love at all. But if he is love in himself, he must be “I” and “Thou”, and this means that he must be triune. Let us ask him to open our eyes so that he becomes once again the basis of our understanding of the Christian existence, for in this way we shall understand ourselves anew and renew mankind.



*Image: The Trinity by Jusepe de Ribera, c. 1635 [Museo del Prado, Madrid]

Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) was elected on April 19, 2005. He resigned on February 28, 2013, the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years. Pope Emeritus Benedict lived in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican until his death on December 31, 2022