This article was originally published in the Fall ’06 issue of Revisions, Sex is Good.
Sex, an imitation of the Trinity? Is this hideously sacrilegious? or is it part of a deliriously beautiful divine mystery? Yet no matter how crazy it sounds, it is true: the act of sex—the physical bond of union between a man and a woman in the body-and-soul relationship of marriage—mirrors the inner life of the Blessed Trinity.
Furthermore, we know that in our friendship with Christ, to mirror him is to live in him and to have him live in us: “I live, now not I, but Christ within me” (Galatians 2:20). So it is with sex, mirroring the Trinity. Sex is not only obedience to God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1: 28); sex is an imitation of, and therefore participation in, the life of God.
Our knowledge of the Trinity is part of the Revelation given by Christ. The Gospels have recorded many of Christ’s references to His Father and the Holy Spirit, and this firm and absolute doctrine of the Trinity was laid down in the Apostles’ Creed. Many ancient theologians have pondered the instances where Christ refers to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and have tackled this topic of the Christian faith, not in order to comprehend it entirely, for that feat is beyond man’s ability, but to understand it better through reason, which is not only possible but which is an essential part of living the Christian faith.
Much of the Christian understanding about the Trinity comes from St. Thomas Aquinas, who contemplated this glorious mystery and tried to grasp it a little more clearly, so that our awe for the Trinity might be even greater and our love for God even deeper. Aquinas articulated a beautiful analogy that helps us to understand the inner life of the Trinity, which in turn reveals how sex is an imitation of it.
In the trinity there is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. the Son of God is also the Word of God, for we read in St. John’s Gospel that “in the beginning there was the Word… and the Word was made flesh” (John 1: 1, 14). But what is the Word? For human beings, a word is first a concept, an idea of knowledge that is formed in the mind and which is given shape when it is uttered. The Word of God, by analogy, is the knowledge of God. Since God is one, all his knowledge and being is held within this one complete and eternal Word. We also know that the most characterizing attribute of God is his Being (that is, the fact that he is), and that from him all other things borrow their being. Thus the Word of God also is, and has his own being. He is the Son of God “begotten not made, one in being with the father” (Nicene Creed). The Father and the Son face each other, completely wrapped up in love for the other. This bond of Love, which exists between the father and the Son, is also a Person. The Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son” (Nicene Creed) is this Love, and thus is Love itself: “God is Love” (1 John 4: 8).
With this image of the inner life of the Trinity as a guide, we can start to see how sex is a participation in this Trinitarian Life. The man and the woman, united as one, equal in dignity but distinct as persons, are spiritually joined together forever by the grace given in marriage. Sex is the consummation of that spiritual union. In fact, marriage is not technically valid unless the couple has sex. Thus body and soul are both joined, “the two become one flesh” (Mark 10:8), and their pathways to heaven are linked in the most intimate way possible on earth. Sex is the act of this true, romantic, holy, sacred love (a love which comes from God). Through sex, two persons face each other, entirely occupied by loving that other, thereby mirroring the relationship between the Father and the Son. And the love that binds man and woman can be the beginning of a new person—a human child—just as in the Trinity the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Love that binds the Father and the Son. This human child is, in a way, the incarnation of the love between a man and a woman.
When sex is looked at in this way, we see that it is a sacred, a divinely serious and responsible act, that imitates God in his most intimate life. Sex is an imitation of the Love that is God, a Love that creates. Yes, sex is good, even in the divine sense of the word! When a couple embraces each other, open to new life and with God as their witness, they participate in a profound union that echoes into eternity.