Whoever remains in love remains in God and God remains in him. (1 Jn 16)
At the moment of our baptism, the three Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity took our soul as their abode, and we became living temples of the Living God: Do you not know that you are the temple of God? (1 Cor 3:16) Thanks to this divine indwelling, we enjoy an immense intimacy with God, even greater than that of a man with his best friend (Leo XIII, Divinum Illud Munus, 9).
How can we explain this truth, which is at the foundation of our life as christians?
First of all, we must note that God is present in every creature: The Spirit of the Lord fills the universe (Wis 1,7). St. Thomas Aquinas explains to us that God is present in every creature in three ways: by His power, because every creature is subject to him; by His presence, because all things are bare and open to his eyes; and by His essence, because God is the cause of their being (S. Th. I, q. 8, a. 3). The latter - presence by essence - is worth taking note of: God is Being itself by essence, and he communicates being to all creatures, creating them and conserving them in existence. By giving them existence, God gives creatures a participation in what He is by essence. Now, since there is nothing more intimate and profound in every creature than their very existence, we can say that God is truly present in every creature in an intimate way1.
However, this intimacy of God with every creature is not sufficient to explain the presence of God in the baptized. We have seen above that God is in every creature by his power: communicating his being to them, and moving them in their activities. In every act of every creature, the creature is sustained by the power of God.
The baptized, however, having received sanctifying grace, are capable of operations or activities that are, properly speaking, theological and deified: these activities exceed man's natural capacity, and they attain God himself (In I Sent., dist. 37, expositio textus). To exercise these activities, man needs to be supported by the power of God in a very special way: for this, we can say that God dwells especially in the souls of the saints, and that their souls are filled with the presence of God (De rationibus fidei, c. 6). What are these theological activities? These are the two activities by which our intelligence and our will are divinized: the theological knowledge of faith, and the theological love of charity. God exercises his power by giving us the theological virtues of faith and charity, and by moving us to perform the acts of these virtues2.
God is not present in the soul of every Christian only to the extent that his activities are sustained by him: through faith and charity, God is present in the baptized as the known is in the one who knows, and the beloved in the one who loves (S. . Th. I, q. 43, a. 3).
Each time I know something, this object somehow becomes present to me in my intelligence. If I know an elephant, this elephant is present in me: evidently, I am not speaking about a physical presence as such, but an intentional presence, a word, which renders this reality present in us as intelligible3.
Likewise, love produces a certain presence of the beloved in the will of the one who loves. If Romeo falls in love with Juliet, Juliet is somehow present in Romeo, as a certain inclination towards her, a vital force that pushes the lover towards the beloved4: love for Juliet produces in Romeo a certain impression of love (cf. S. Th. I, q. 37, a. 1).
Thanks to faith and charity, man knows and loves God. It is not a question of merely natural knowledge and love of God — certainly possible and of great value — but of supernatural knowledge and love, deified by grace. Of course, man can come to know God inasmuch as He is the First Cause of all things. However, this knowledge does not reach the reality of God itself: this happens only with the theological knowledge of faith. Faith and charity make us attain God in himself5.
This indwelling of God in the soul of the baptized finds its structure in the intimate life of the Most Holy Trinity itself.
The Holy Spirit, the first Gift of the Most High6, gives us grace at the moment of baptism. This grace gives us faith, which perfects our intellect, making us know God, the First Truth. This perfection of intelligence is attributed to the Son, as the Word uttered by the Father, in which all Divine Wisdom is expressed.
This knowledge that perfects our intelligence is not dry, cold knowledge. No, it is a knowledge that breaks forth in love: the love of charity, which makes us friends of God (cf. S. Th. I, q. 43, a. 5, ad 2). This love is attributed to the Holy Spirit, who is Uncreated and Eternal Love, the love of the Father and the Son.
From eternity, the Word is generated by the Father.Similarly, in time, the Father sends the Son who dwells in our soul: the Father has sent me ... (Jn 20:21). Dwelling in our soul, the Son manifests the Father to us, communicating to us his doctrine, and leads us to the Father.
From eternity, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Now, the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son into our hearts: the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name (Jn 14:17). Dwelling in our soul as love, the Holy Spirit leads us to the Son, granting us an even more intimate knowledge of Him and his teaching. Consider the way that someone can be known by a stranger, and the way he is known by a friend. The difference is great, and the difference comes from the love of friendship between them. The Holy Spirit ignites in our hearts the love of God, which brings us to know him not as a stranger, but a beloved friend.
Thus, the presence of the Son and the Holy Spirit in the intimacy of our souls is like a continuation of the eternal processions in the intimacy of the Trinity: the Son as the Word, the Holy Spirit as Love7. Similarly, the knowledge and love of God make us similar to Him, makes us his living images, precisely because the Holy Trinity is an intimate communion of knowledge and love8.
The presence of God in us, therefore, is a dynamic one: love and knowledge nourish each other, grow, and move us towards an ever deeper union with God. The Son perfects our intellect with theological knowledge: a knowledge that breaks out in the love of the Holy Spirit; love that leads us to the Son, towards an ever deeper knowledge of the divine mysteries, knowledge that always bursts into a more intense love; all in a journey towards God the Father. Continually growing in faith and charity, our spiritual life will find its fulfillment in heaven, where we will contemplate God as He is: the knowledge of faith will give way to the full loving vision of the Most Holy Trinity.
We have all received the gifts of faith and charity at our baptism, and with these, God truly gave himself to us. Should we not then honor this divine guest by living ever more intimately in communion with him? The way to union is none other than that of faith and charity once again: a way open to all. As we grow in the life of grace and perform acts greater acts of the theological virtues, the divine life becomes more and more intense in us9.
Let us seek, therefore, to grow ever in our union with our divine guest, living always in his sweet presence:
O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to You as Your prey. Bury Yourself in me that I may bury myself in You until I depart to contemplate in Your light the abyss of Your greatness. Amen (Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity)
We have tried in these few words to explain a truly great mystery: The Divine Trinity in us. In the end, it is a mystery that is difficult to explain with words, because it is a mystery that must be lived. As St. Thomas wrote, commenting on the Gospel according to St. John (ch. 1, lect. 15, n. 292):
"In the mystical sense, he says, Come and see, because the dwelling of God, whether of glory or grace, cannot be known except by experience: for it cannot be explained in words… And so he says, Come and see: Come, by believing and working; and see, by experiencing and understanding."
br. Jean-Gabriel Pophillat, O.P.
St. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
1 Gilles Emery, Présence de Dieu et union à Dieu, Paris (Parole et Silence), 2017. 64. cf. S. Th. I, q. 8, a. 1.
2 ibid. 71.
3 cfr. Guy Mansini, “Development of the Development of Doctrine”, in Angelicum, 93 (2016). 807.
4 Jean-Pierre Torrell, Tommaso d’Aquino: Maestro Spirituale, Roma (Città Nuova), 1998. 108.
5 Gilles Emery, La Théologie Trinitaire de Saint Thomas d'Aquin, Paris (Editions du Cerf), 2004. 451.
6 cfr. The hymn Veni Creator Spiritus
7 Bernard Blankenhorn, The Mystery of Union with God: Dionysian Mysticism in Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, Washington DC (Catholic University of America Press), 2015. 251.
8 cfr. Torrell, Tommaso d’Aquino. 109.
9 Emery, La Théologie Trinitaire. 455-456.