How To Explain The Trinity To A Child (And An Adult)

Picture of by Matthew Leonard
by Matthew Leonard
The Art of Catholic with Matthew Leonard

Maybe you could have done better…I freaked.

When my oldest daughter was just 3 years old, she asked a doozy of a question – at bedtime, of course: “Daddy, how is God 3 Persons, but they’re all God?”

After a short-lived panic attack, during which thoughts like, “Questions about the Trinity already? Seriously?….Perhaps I can pretend to be asleep and she’ll let it go…On the other hand, maybe she’ll get a scholarship and I won’t have to pay for college…”…raced through my mind.

Doing my best to not sound like a theological “Goodnight Moon”, I launched into a truly terrible explanation – the feebleness of which I completely blame on too many Fridays spent watching The Dukes of Hazzard, which obviously has flattened out many of my larger brain waves.

I could tell she didn’t really buy the answer. I was terrified I’d lost my daughter to skepticism before she ever even reached the age of reason.

This whole episode replayed in my mind last weekend when we celebrated Trinity Sunday. And since the Trinity is really the foundation of all of our beliefs, I figured it might be nice to at least help you avoid my mistake.

Love Creates Equality

Now, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t figured it all out. Nobody has. When discussing the Most Holy Trinity we have to acknowledge up front that there is only so much we can know about God. After all, He is infinite and we are finite (which is a LOT more of a ginormous gulf than indicated by the two measly letters that differentiate those two words).

And as my daughter so aptly pointed out, how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all equally God can be really, really confusing.

Perhaps the best (and simplest) explanation I’ve ever heard is the insight offered by St. John of the Cross. The answer, he says, revolves around love. In fact, it is love that creates the equality of the 3 Persons of the Trinity, declares the great Spanish mystic.

St. John explains that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all equally God because they give of themselves perfectly to each other. Each totally serves the other. That’s why one isn’t “better” than another. Love creates equality because it always puts the other person first. And this perfect love is perfectly displayed in the Trinity.

Us, Too!

Of course, this kind of agape – this self-giving love – is not only for God to manifest. It’s also how each of us is called to love God and each other. We’re supposed to put other’s needs in front of our own – give of ourselves wholly and completely to them, starting with God.

That’s how we live and love like Christ and don’t make ourselves “better” than anyone else. We’re all equally brothers and sisters in Christ. Living in self-giving love is how we begin to become like the three Persons of the Trinitarian family – the family for which we were ultimately made.

God bless you!


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One Response

  1. a poor human metaphor would be to explain that a man can be a dad and a husband and still be a man. he is not husband to his children and not just a man. he is not dad to his wife, but also a man and dad to their children. to the world, he is not our husband or dad but a man. as I said a poor human metaphor. The Holy Trinity is the Father, His spoken Word and His Holy Spirit of His Divine Will. In the fullness of God’s time, He made His own Word become flesh, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit of His Own Divine Will. And all three existed together from the beginning. the opening paragraph of Gen. Ch. 1: 1-6 shows the Father, His Holy Spirit moving across the waters of creation and He said, “Let there be light.” (the Word of God)

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