The holy trinity
The holy trinity
SYMBOLS representing the idea of the Holy Trinity were not so common in the early days of Christianity as one might expect. Our Lord Himself taught clearly the fact that there are Three Persons. In His last words to His disciples He said, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." -- St. Matthew 28, 19. The names of the Three Persons occur frequently throughout the New Testament, and in the liturgical formulae of the early Church.

Although the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was taken for granted by the early believers in the primitive Church, the word "Trinity" did not come into use for some time. Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, is thought by some to have been the first to use the term, although the best authorities nowadays usually credit the first use of the word to Tertullian, who flourished at the beginning of the third century.

The names of the Three Persons are found in Christian inscriptions from the very beginning, but such inscriptions usually state the belief of the primitive Church in the Three Persons, with no attempt at a symbolical portrayal of the mystery. One early inscription reads, "In Nomine Sanctae Trinitatis" Trinitatis," that is, In the name of the Holy Trinity. Another reads, "Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti", or "Of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit". Yet another tomb erected to the memory of an early member of the Christian Church bears an inscription which reads, "Quintilianus Homo Del Confirmans Trinitatem Amans Castitatem Respuens Mundum," meaning "Quintilianus, a man of God, holding firmly to the Trinity, loving chastity, renouncing the world."

An early symbol of the Blessed Trinity is to be found on a tomb in the cemetery of St. Priscilla, and contains the palm branch of martyrdom and of victory, together with two symbols of the Son of God, and the equilateral triangle of the Holy Trinity.

It seems that the earliest Christians hesitated to express so profound a mystery as that of the Trinity in the form of symbols. With the coming of fierce controversies in the early Church, where it was necessary to defend the doctrine of the Trinity against false teachers both within the Church and outside of it, certain definite symbols were developed. What Christians had always believed was now expressed in graphic form.

Bibliography: Church Symbolism: An Explanation of the More Important Symbols of the Old and New Testament, the Primitive, the Mediaeval and the Modern Church. Contributors: F. R. Webber - author. Publisher: J. H. Jansen. Place of Publication: Cleveland, OH. Publication Year: 1938

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