Knowing God Detailed Book Summary

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Title: Knowing God
Author: Frank J. Sheed

TLDR: Knowing God explores the profound mystery of the Trinity, guiding readers to a deeper understanding of God’s inner life and its implications for human existence. Frank Sheed masterfully blends Scriptural insights, philosophical reasoning, and personal reflection to illuminate the richness of this essential doctrine.

Chapter 1: Theology and Vitality

This chapter lays the foundation for Frank Sheed’s approach to understanding God by establishing the distinction between mere terms, their mental equivalents, and their vital equivalents. He argues that true theological learning is not simply memorizing formulas or relying on mental imagery but involves a deep penetration of the truths expressed by these terms, integrating them into our intellectual and existential being.

Terms and Mental Equivalents:

Frank Sheed emphasizes that theological terms, while necessary, can easily become empty shells devoid of real meaning. He illustrates this with examples like “man” in discussions about human rights, where the term often lacks a concrete understanding of what constitutes a human being. Similarly, terms like “God” and “Beatific Vision” can be used without grasping their profound theological implications. He stresses the need to move beyond the terms to their mental equivalents, actively engaging the intellect to grasp the meaning behind the words and enriching them with their intended content.

Vital Equivalents:

Sheed argues that true theological learning extends beyond intellectual comprehension to what he calls “vital equivalents.” This involves a deep personal engagement with the truths, allowing them to impact our will, emotions, and imagination. He illustrates this using the doctrine of creation “ex nihilo.” Merely memorizing the phrase “God made us of nothing” can lead to a shallow understanding or even misinterpretations. However, grasping its mental equivalent – that God, being omnipotent, created without pre-existing material – leads to a more profound realization of our total dependence on God. This realization, in turn, can impact our emotions (feeling both shattered and secure in our dependence), stimulate our imagination (seeking analogies in the created world), and influence our will (accepting our dependence and controlling our desires).

The Necessity of Faith:

While intellectual effort is essential for theological understanding, Sheed clarifies that it cannot replace faith. Faith is a gift from God, necessary for accepting and holding onto the truths of revelation. He quotes Our Lord, who said that those who obey his commands will know the truth of his doctrine (Jn 7:17). Studying theology without faith is like reading a cookbook without ever tasting the food – it remains an external exercise lacking the richness of personal experience.

Chapter 2: Mystery

This chapter delves into the concept of mystery as an essential aspect of understanding God and his revelation. Sheed acknowledges the challenges posed by mysteries, particularly the limitations of finite minds when confronting infinite truths and the apparent contradictions within revealed doctrines.

Difficulties for the Finite Mind:

Sheed identifies two levels of difficulty when encountering mysteries: the struggle to grasp the concepts themselves (like “infinite” or “eternal”) and the apparent contradictions within the doctrines (like the Trinity or the Real Presence). He cautions against two unhelpful approaches: unreflective acceptance without engaging the mind and outright rejection due to intellectual or emotional discomfort.

Embracing the Disproportion:

Sheed encourages us to engage with mysteries by acknowledging the inherent limitations of finite minds when trying to comprehend the infinite. We must embrace the “disproportion” – or even “nonproportion” – between our intellect and God’s, accepting that darkness will always surround the revealed light. Analogies like the divine Mind being an infinite ocean of light or love exploding into our universe can help us grasp this concept, but we must remember that they are ultimately inadequate. He emphasizes that the light revealed, even partially, allows us to grow in understanding, accepting the darkness not as an absence of truth but as light too strong for us currently.

Difficulties for Today:

Sheed further explores the challenges of understanding mysteries in the context of contemporary thought. He acknowledges both the positive contributions of modern science, history, anthropology, and philosophy, which can enrich our understanding of God and ourselves, and the negative aspects, particularly the prevailing secular mindset that disregards God and diminishes the sense of the sacred.

The Mysteries as Necessaries of Life:

Sheed argues that the mysteries of revelation are not simply abstract theological concepts but “necessaries of life” for everyone. He criticizes the tendency to see God as irrelevant to daily life and our personal needs. He reminds us that without a clear vision of God, we lack a sense of totality and purpose in the universe and our own lives. The mysteries provide meaning, reassurance, and a sense of belonging, addressing fundamental human needs like adoration, love, and hope.

Chapter 3: Spirit

This chapter focuses on the concept of “spirit” as an essential key to understanding God and his revelation. Sheed emphasizes the need to move beyond a mere understanding of what spirit does to grasping what spirit is, using our own spirit as both the object of study and the instrument for investigating it.

Spirit in the Old Testament:

Sheed analyzes the Old Testament understanding of “spirit,” noting their limited comprehension due to a lack of philosophical exploration. They used the word “ruah” (meaning “breath”) for God’s power, the human soul, and even God himself, but their understanding remained largely confined to the concept of an unseen and powerful force. This limited understanding, according to Sheed, contributed to their difficulty in grasping the concept of the afterlife and their ultimate rejection of Christ.

What Spirit Can Do:

Sheed explores the various operations of spirit, using our own soul as an example. He highlights its capacity for knowledge, love, and power, emphasizing the mind’s ability to transcend the limitations of the material world. He points to activities like thinking, loving, and exercising control over the body as evidence of the soul’s spiritual nature, emphasizing the immateriality of thoughts and the power of will over matter.

What Spirit Is:

Sheed defines spirit as a “being which has no parts,” contrasting it with matter, which is inherently divisible. This partless nature makes spirit spaceless, unimaginable, and therefore difficult for us to grasp. He argues that the soul’s simplicity (lack of parts) makes it more powerful and enduring than matter, with a permanent identity that cannot be destroyed by natural processes.

Spirit in the New Testament:

Sheed examines the New Testament understanding of “spirit,” noting a significant shift in emphasis. The word “pneuma” (spirit) takes center stage, used for the Holy Spirit himself, the principle of man’s higher activities, and the activity of the Holy Spirit within believers. This new understanding, influenced by developing philosophical ideas, emphasizes the spiritual nature of God and the soul, leading to a richer appreciation of the afterlife and the potential for spiritual union with God.

Making the Concept Our Own:

Sheed encourages us to actively engage with the concept of spirit, moving beyond mere intellectual assent to a deep, experiential understanding. We must train our minds to transcend the limitations of spatial thinking and embrace the idea of a partless, spaceless being. This involves combating the influence of imagination, which constantly tries to reduce spiritual reality to material terms. As we grapple with this concept, we come to appreciate the power, permanence, and unique nature of spirit as the foundation of our own being and the essence of God.

Chapter 4: Theology and Revelation

This chapter examines the relationship between theology and revelation, defining theology as “the revelation of God explored by men with God’s aid.” It explores how God reveals himself through both deeds and words, highlighting the role of the teaching Church in preserving, exploring, and spreading this revelation.

Doctrine and Impact:

Sheed emphasizes that the Church’s teaching function is not simply repeating revealed words but involves a continuous process of unveiling their deeper meaning and applying them to new situations. He acknowledges the limitations of human language in expressing divine truths, particularly the inadequacy of propositions when confronting the mystery of God. While recognizing the value of personal “impact” and experiential responses to revelation, he stresses the necessity of doctrinal statements and propositions for communicating and understanding revealed truths.

The Relation between Scripture and the Teaching Church:

Sheed clarifies the relationship between Scripture and the teaching Church, arguing that both are essential for understanding God’s revelation. While Scripture contains inspired accounts of God’s interaction with humanity and Christ’s teachings, it is not a systematic theological manual. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, plays a vital role in preserving the deposit of faith, interpreting Scripture, and clarifying doctrines as they are challenged by new situations and developing human knowledge.

Why We Accept Scripture:

Sheed addresses the question of why we accept Scripture as inspired and authoritative. He argues that while subjective experiences of Scripture’s power and beauty can be compelling, they are ultimately insufficient for establishing its unique status. The Church, with its divinely guaranteed teaching authority, provides the necessary foundation for recognizing Scripture’s inspiration and interpreting its meaning.

The Word in His Church and the Word in Scripture:

Sheed concludes by emphasizing the harmonious relationship between the Word of God in the Church and the Word of God in Scripture. Both are expressions of the same divine communication, guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church does not simply comment on Scripture verse by verse but uses it as nourishment for its teaching, drawing light from it while also illuminating its meaning through its ongoing engagement with revealed truths.

Chapter 5: The Inspiration of Scripture

This chapter delves into the concept of Scriptural inspiration, exploring how God, as the principal author, works through human writers while preserving their freedom and individuality. It also addresses the complex issue of inerrancy, acknowledging the presence of apparent errors within Scripture and exploring possible explanations.

Inspiration Defined:

Sheed traces the development of the concept of inspiration from the Old Testament, where God moved prophets to act and speak, to the New Testament, where the Holy Spirit is explicitly linked to the writing of Scripture. He examines various definitions and pronouncements of the Church, culminating in the First Vatican Council’s affirmation that Scripture, “being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their author.” He highlights the challenge of understanding how God influences human minds and wills while preserving their authentic freedom.

Inspiration Existentially Various:

Sheed emphasizes the existential variety of inspiration, arguing that while the essence of inspiration is God ensuring that what he wants written is written, its manifestation varies depending on the subject matter, the writer, and the intended audience. He rejects simplistic analogies that reduce inspiration to God dictating words or using writers as mere instruments. He stresses that God chose specific individuals, with their unique talents and limitations, to contribute their personalities and styles to the inspired texts.

The Problem of Inerrancy:

Sheed acknowledges the presence of apparent errors within Scripture, ranging from discrepancies in historical details to unfulfilled prophecies. He cautions against simply dismissing these discrepancies as irrelevant or unimportant. While recognizing the distinction between what a writer explicitly affirms and what he assumes as background or framework, he acknowledges the complexity of this distinction and the ongoing debate surrounding it. He points to the Church’s teaching that the entire work of Scripture is inspired, suggesting that God’s authorship encompasses even the elements that seem erroneous from a human perspective.

When the Writer Writes More Than He Knows:

Sheed explores the concept of “sensus plenior,” the fuller meaning present in Scripture that may have been unknown to the original writer. He suggests that God, in inspiring writers, could guide their minds to express truths that would only be fully revealed later. This could involve illuminating their minds to grasp truths beyond their natural understanding or subtly shaping their words to accommodate future revelations. He highlights the dynamic nature of language, arguing that words, once uttered, acquire a life of their own, potentially carrying meanings beyond the speaker’s initial intention.

Special Problems of Old Testament Inspiration:

Sheed addresses the unique challenges of understanding Old Testament inspiration. He acknowledges the vast historical and cultural differences between the Old Testament writers and ourselves, emphasizing the need for careful scholarship and theological guidance to bridge this gap. He also points to the development of religious understanding within the Old Testament itself, with later writers building upon and sometimes correcting earlier ideas. He stresses that Christ’s revelation brings a new perspective to the Old Testament, fulfilling its prophecies and deepening our understanding of its teachings.

Chapter 6: Scripture in the Church

This chapter focuses on the vital role of the Church in guiding our understanding and use of Scripture. Sheed argues that while Scripture is a precious gift from God, reading it effectively requires assistance from qualified teachers, particularly the teaching Church, to navigate its complexities and avoid misinterpretations.

Guidance in Reading Scripture We Must Have:

Sheed outlines the various challenges of reading Scripture without guidance, including the need for historical and cultural knowledge, understanding Semitic ways of thinking and speaking, and navigating the diverse literary genres and theological perspectives within its books. He cautions against approaching Scripture in a state of “pious coma,” emphasizing the importance of actively engaging with its meaning. He emphasizes that Scripture, while inspired, is not self-interpreting, requiring external aids for comprehension.

Doctrine and Scripture Not Simply Different Arrangements of the Same Material:

Sheed clarifies the relationship between Church doctrine and Scripture, arguing that they are not simply different presentations of the same material. Both are approaches to the same divine reality, each illuminating the other but not always perfectly aligning in every detail. While the Church’s teaching is grounded in Scripture, it also draws upon its own lived experience, the insights of theologians and saints, and the ongoing development of human knowledge. He criticizes attempts to force Scripture to prove specific doctrines or ignore its complexities in favor of simplistic interpretations.

The Unfolding of Revelation:

Sheed explores the concept of the unfolding of revelation, arguing that the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles was not a static code but a living seed meant to grow and develop. He describes the ongoing process of deepening understanding through the Church’s lived experience, the insights of theologians and saints, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This unfolding can involve both logical deductions from revealed truths and organic developments based on the Church’s growing awareness of the implications of its faith.

The Two Testaments Need Each Other but Not Equally:

Sheed discusses the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, arguing that both are essential for a complete understanding of God’s revelation. While the New Testament fulfills the promises and prophecies of the Old, reading the Old Testament in light of the New deepens our appreciation of God’s plan of salvation and its gradual unfolding throughout history. He cautions against beginning with the Old Testament and working forward, emphasizing that Christ is the true starting point for understanding both Testaments.

Reading Scripture for Vital Equivalents:

Sheed concludes by emphasizing the importance of reading Scripture not simply for intellectual understanding but for its “vital equivalents,” allowing its truths to impact our emotions, imagination, and will. He encourages us to return to Scripture regularly, seeking its nourishment and allowing its powerful imagery and narratives to deepen our relationship with God.

Chapter 7: The Experience of God

This chapter explores the concept of “experience” in relation to God, contrasting the ordinary experience of God in daily life with the mystical experience of direct contact. It examines different forms of mysticism, particularly Indian mysticism and Christian mysticism, analyzing their assumptions, interpretations, and implications for understanding God.

The Basic Mystical Experience:

Sheed describes the basic mystical experience as an overwhelming awareness of contact with a transcendent, supremely real being, often accompanied by a sense of merging with this reality and a loss of individual identity. He argues that this experience, while subjective, can provide a powerful confirmation of what we know by revelation about God’s existence and our dependence on him. However, he stresses that the interpretation of this experience is not inherent to the experience itself but is shaped by the individual’s pre-existing theological or philosophical framework.

Indian Mysticism:

Sheed examines Indian mysticism, which focuses on Brahman, an Impersonal Absolute considered the ground of all existence. He analyzes their emphasis on the Absolute’s unknowability, its lack of attributes and differentiation, and the eventual reabsorption of individual selves into this impersonal Ground. He suggests that while Indian mystics may have genuinely contacted the Ultimate Reality, their interpretation was limited by their philosophical framework, which denied personality and individual permanence.

Dionysius the Areopagite:

Sheed analyzes the mystical theology of Dionysius the Areopagite, a Neoplatonist Christian writer who influenced many Christian mystics. He explores Dionysius’ concept of the Super-Essence, an Ultimate Reality beyond God, characterized by absolute negativity and transcendence. He examines Dionysius’ struggles to reconcile the Trinity with this impersonal Absolute, noting his tendency to emphasize the unknowability and unsayability of God.

Christian Mysticism:

Sheed contrasts Christian mysticism with Indian mysticism, emphasizing the difference in starting point. While Indian mystics begin with an abstract concept of the Absolute, Christian mystics ground their experience in the living God revealed in Christ. This difference shapes both the experience itself and its interpretation. Christian mystics tend to experience God as personal, loving, and intimately involved in their lives. Their mystical union is not a merging with an impersonal void but a deeper connection with the God they already know through faith and sacraments.

God in Himself

Chapter 8: The God of Both Testaments

This chapter explores the concept of God as presented in both the Old and New Testaments, highlighting the continuities and developments in understanding. Sheed analyzes the Old Testament revelation of Yahweh as the one true God, his attributes, and his relationship with Israel. He then examines how Christ Our Lord confirms and deepens this revelation, emphasizing the personal nature of God, his love, and his desire for union with humanity.

“Thou Shalt Love the Lord Thy God”:

Sheed begins by reminding us of the first commandment – to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Lk 10:27). He challenges us to reflect on the depth of our love for God, emphasizing that true love involves a desire for union and knowledge of the beloved. He highlights the inadequacy of loving God merely for what he does for us, arguing that true love is grounded in appreciating God for who he is.


Sheed examines the Old Testament revelation of God, starting with the name Yahweh, revealed to Moses. He explores the various interpretations of the phrase “I am who am” (Ex 3:14), concluding that it ultimately points to God as the Self-Existent Being, the one who owes his existence to no other. He analyzes the significance of names in the Old Testament, emphasizing that God’s name, Yahweh, embodies his very essence and reality.

Religion before the Exile:

Sheed traces the development of the Israelites’ understanding of Yahweh, noting their gradual transition from a belief in Yahweh’s superiority to other gods to a full-fledged monotheism. He highlights the challenges they faced in maintaining their fidelity to Yahweh amidst the temptations of pagan worship, citing examples like Solomon’s building temples to foreign gods.

Monotheism in Possession:

Sheed examines the emergence of a more mature monotheism after the Babylonian exile, with prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah emphatically proclaiming Yahweh as the one true God and dismissing all other deities as nonexistent. He explores the Israelites’ understanding of God’s transcendence, his creation of the universe, and his unique relationship with Israel as his chosen people.

The New Testament Shows Us the Same God:

Sheed demonstrates how Christ Our Lord confirms and deepens the Old Testament revelation of God. He cites Christ’s use of the phrase “I am” in reference to himself, linking it to his divine nature and eternal existence. He examines Christ’s teachings about God, highlighting his oneness, his goodness, his perfection, his omnipotence, his omniscience, and his love. He emphasizes that Christ does not present a new God but clarifies and reveals more fully the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Chapter 9: God and Philosophy

This chapter explores the relationship between God and philosophy, acknowledging both the potential contributions of philosophical inquiry and its inherent limitations when confronting the infinite mystery of God. Sheed emphasizes the primacy of revelation and the need to use philosophy as a tool for deepening our understanding of revealed truths rather than a substitute for it.

Revelation and the Philosophers:

Sheed acknowledges the value of philosophical insights in enriching our understanding of God. He cites examples like Augustine’s use of Plato and Aquinas’ integration of Aristotle into Christian theology. He emphasizes that while philosophy can offer valuable tools and concepts, it must always be subservient to revelation.

How Can the Finite Know the Infinite?:

Sheed addresses the fundamental challenge of how finite minds can grasp the infinite reality of God. He critiques the approach of emphasizing God’s unknowability, arguing that while God transcends our full comprehension, the revelation in Christ provides a starting point for positive knowledge. He analyzes the use of negative language in theology, arguing that terms like “infinite” and “eternal” are not simply negations but affirmations of God’s surpassing reality.

God Is Not Infinite Indifference:

Sheed explores the apparent contradiction between the philosophical concept of God’s immutability and the Scriptural portrayal of God responding emotionally to human actions. He argues that both perspectives ultimately encounter the limitations of human language when confronting the infinite. While God transcends our categories of emotion and change, he is also a loving God who cares deeply for his creation.

Chapter 10: “The Son Shall Reveal Him”

This chapter focuses on Christ’s promise to reveal the Father, highlighting the newness and depth of this revelation. Sheed explores the limitations of the Old Testament understanding of God, emphasizing their lack of insight into God’s inner life and the inadequacy of creation as the sole object of God’s infinite love. He then delves into the mystery of the Trinity, revealed by Christ, as the answer to these questions, revealing the fullness of God’s self-knowledge, love, and eternal communion.

“No One Knows…”:

Sheed begins by examining Christ’s declaration that “no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son, and one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Lk 10:22; Mt 11:27). He emphasizes the unparalleled nature of this revelation, exceeding anything known to the prophets and saints of the Old Testament.

The Innermost Life of God:

Sheed explores the limitations of the Old Testament understanding of God, noting their focus on God’s actions in history and their lack of insight into God’s own inner life. He argues that while the Israelites grasped God’s transcendence, they struggled to comprehend his eternal self-existence and the object of his infinite love.

Love Seeks Understanding:

Sheed emphasizes the human desire to know God, not simply out of obedience or fear but out of love. He argues that true love seeks understanding, wanting to know the beloved as fully as possible. This desire for knowledge, he suggests, is rooted in our creation in God’s image, reflecting his own desire to be known and loved by his creatures.

Chapter 11: The Trinity in the Church’s Teaching

This chapter presents the doctrine of the Trinity as taught by the Church, using philosophical concepts to clarify its meaning and address potential misunderstandings. Sheed explains the concepts of “person” and “nature,” exploring the processions of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and emphasizing the oneness of God in three distinct Persons.

The Word Who Is Son:

Sheed analyzes the concept of the Word (Logos) as presented in John’s Gospel, emphasizing that this Word is not simply an abstract concept but a divine Person, the Son of God. He explores the meaning of God conceiving an Idea of himself, arguing that this Idea must be totally adequate to the Original, possessing all divine perfections in their fullness. He explains how this leads to the concept of the Son as eternally begotten of the Father, equal in all things yet distinct in Person.

The Holy Spirit:

Sheed examines the revelation of the Holy Spirit, highlighting his role in Christ’s life and ministry and his distinct personality. He explores the concept of the Holy Spirit as “breathed forth” (spirated) by the Father and the Son, linking this procession to the mutual love of the first two Persons. He argues that this love, being infinite, must express itself infinitely, producing a third divine Person who is the embodiment of their love.

One God:

Sheed addresses the challenge of understanding how three Persons can be one God. He clarifies the concepts of “person” and “nature” as used by the Church, explaining how each Person possesses the divine nature in its entirety yet subsists distinctly. He emphasizes that the divine nature is not multiplied by three but is identically possessed by each Person, resulting in one God, not three. He explores the concept of “perichoresis” (mutual indwelling), a dynamic interpenetration of the three Persons within the one divine being.

Chapter 12: The Trinity in the New Testament (1)

This chapter explores the presentation of the Trinity in the New Testament, emphasizing the presence of both duality and triplicity in the language used to describe God. Sheed analyzes specific texts from John’s Gospel, the Pauline Epistles, and the Acts of the Apostles, demonstrating how the early Christians understood and expressed their belief in the one God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Two Persons:

Sheed begins by examining texts that highlight the duality within the Godhead, focusing on the relationship between the Father and the Son. He analyzes Christ’s declaration about the unique mutual knowledge of Father and Son, emphasizing their equality and distinction. He also explores the Prologue of John’s Gospel, highlighting the presentation of the Word (Logos) as both with God and God, creator of all things, and ultimately incarnate in Jesus Christ.

Three Persons:

Sheed examines the presence of triplicity in the New Testament, highlighting the frequent use of three terms to describe God. He analyzes the role of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s life and ministry, his distinct personality, and his divinity. He explores Christ’s command to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, emphasizing the singularity of the “name” as indicating their shared divine nature. He also examines various Trinitarian formulas found in the Pauline Epistles, demonstrating how Paul assumed and applied the doctrine of the Trinity in his writings.

Chapter 13: The Trinity in the New Testament (2)

This chapter addresses the challenges of interpreting the New Testament and understanding its presentation of the Trinity. Sheed explores both subjective factors, like the reader’s pre-existing beliefs and philosophical assumptions, and objective factors, like the complexities of Scriptural language and the limitations of historical reconstruction. He also analyzes the “functional theology” approach of scholars like Oscar Cullmann, examining its strengths and weaknesses.

The Mind We Bring to Scripture:

Sheed highlights the subjective factors that can influence our interpretation of Scripture, emphasizing the need for self-awareness and critical thinking. He cautions against both “mysteriophobia” (rejecting mystery outright) and “mysteriophilia” (embracing an overly vague and unknowable concept of God). He stresses that our pre-existing beliefs and philosophical assumptions inevitably shape our reading of Scripture, urging us to be mindful of these biases and engage with texts critically.

Problems of Terminology:

Sheed explores the objective challenges of interpreting Scripture, focusing on the complexities of language and the development of theological concepts. He argues that the early Christians, while possessing the core truths of the Trinity, were still grappling with finding adequate terminology to express this mystery. He analyzes the use of terms like “Lord” (Kyrios) and “Son of Man,” highlighting the fluidity of their meaning and the challenge of distinguishing between references to Christ’s divinity and humanity.

A Very Different Reading:

Sheed examines the “functional theology” approach of scholars like Oscar Cullmann, which emphasizes God’s actions in history rather than his inner being. He acknowledges the presence of texts that focus on God’s function, but argues that even these passages ultimately reveal something about God’s nature. He criticizes attempts to limit Scripture to purely functional statements, arguing that they ignore the inherent connection between being and action.

Reconstructing the Original Revelation:

Sheed concludes by emphasizing the limitations of historical reconstruction and the challenge of definitively proving the Church’s doctrine of the Trinity from Scripture alone. He acknowledges the variety of interpretations and theological systems proposed by scholars, arguing that while the Catholic doctrine harmonizes well with Scripture, it ultimately rests on the authority of the Church’s divinely guaranteed teaching.

Chapter 14: The Trinity and Us

This chapter explores the implications of the Trinity for understanding ourselves and our relationship with God. Sheed emphasizes the vital connection between knowing the Trinity and knowing ourselves, arguing that this doctrine reveals not only the inner life of God but also the blueprint for human personhood and community. He also highlights the practical and spiritual benefits of embracing this doctrine, urging us to move beyond mere intellectual assent to a deep, personal relationship with the triune God.

Mental Equivalents:

Sheed encourages us to actively engage with the doctrine of the Trinity, seeking its “mental equivalents” and moving beyond mere acceptance of the formula. He emphasizes the importance of philosophical precision, clarifying the concepts of “person” and “nature” and exploring the processions of the Son and the Holy Spirit. He criticizes simplistic analogies that reduce the Trinity to material objects or obscure its inherent mystery.

Vital Equivalents:

Sheed argues that truly understanding the Trinity involves a “vital response,” allowing the doctrine to impact our emotions, imagination, and will. He describes his own journey from intellectual comprehension to a deep, personal engagement with the doctrine, emphasizing the transformative power of this truth. He highlights the joy and excitement of knowing God as Trinity, a God of infinite love and communion.


Sheed concludes by emphasizing the profound significance of the Trinity for understanding God, ourselves, and our relationship with him. This doctrine, while challenging, offers a glimpse into the inner life of God and reveals the model for human personhood and community. Embracing the Trinity, he argues, is not simply a matter of intellectual assent but an invitation to a deeper, richer relationship with the God who is love.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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