Snow is water, and ice is water and steam is water, and these three are one. What do you think? Does that explain the Trinity? Or try John Wesley’s image: “Tell me how it is that in this room there are three candles and only one light, and I will explain to you the mode of the divine existence.” Does that explain it? No. He meant that it was impossible to explain.
    If it is impossible to explain the mystery of the Trinity why was it revealed to us? Or why wasn’t it revealed better? asked the 19th-century satirist Samuel Butler. “If God wants to do a thing he should make his wishes sufficiently clear.”
    This assumes that the perfect fulfilment of our life is to have explanations of things. But what do we do when we have complete explanations of things? We forget about them and go on to something else! And what is the result? Our minds may be satisfied, having made a conquest of something, but the rest of our being may be empty and dissatisfied. I know several parents of exceptionally intelligent children. They have formed themselves into a support group, because they feel a daily need for such support. One of them told me about the great cost of such an imbalance of faculties in a child. She told me about his restlessness, his boredom, his anger, his coldness, his emotional immaturity, and the consequent problems for the other children and themselves. We estimate intelligence above all other gifts, but I shudder to think what kind of society would result if such children were to become the norm. In religious tradition the world has been called “the place of soul-making.” All the gifts should grow in proportion, like the fingers of your hand. That is what an ideal human being would be: someone in whom all the gifts can grow and flourish.
    If there are mysteries that the mind cannot crack, that is indeed a good thing. We have to experience them in a deeper way, with our whole being or not at all. We can easily repeat the well-worn phrases about the Trinity: three Persons in one nature. But that by itself only makes it a sort of impossible maths. If it is the ultimate mystery there must be more than that to it.
    I will leave you with the famous Memorial of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). It is his most intimate religious piece of writing. It is only a scrap of paper, which records his religious experience on one unforgettable night in 1654. It was found in the lining of his coat after his death. It conveys some impression of an experience that took him far beyond mathematics (and he was one the world’s greatest mathematicians).

“From about half past ten at night until about half past midnight,
GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob
not of the philosophers and of the learned.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
GOD of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
Your GOD will be my God.
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD.
He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have departed from him:
They have forsaken me, the fount of living water.
My God, will you leave me?
Let me not be separated from him forever.
This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified.
Let me never be separated from him.
He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel:
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Complete submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day's exercise on the earth.
May I not forget your words. Amen.

Donagh O'Shea


These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.