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According to Catholicism, did Moses, and especially the Jewish people during his time, know that God is triune?

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St. Thomas Aquinas explains this in his question on "Whether it is necessary for salvation to believe explicitly in the Trinity?" (Summa Theologica II-II q. 2 a. 8):

before Christ, the mystery of Christ was believed explicitly by the learned, but implicitly and under a veil, so to speak, by the simple, so too was it with the mystery of the Trinity.

Moses was certainly among "the learned".


My Catholic scriptural scholar friend wrote me:

Moses was indeed instructed in the mystical science and (literally) hieroglyphic [ἱερός = sacred, holy] sign-ification of the tetragrammatic but Trinitarian Name of the only true God, יהוה (Y-H-W-H).

The inspired description of the divine essence as relationality was given him to know in the properly heard revelation recorded in Exodus 3:14: “I’m being/I’m/I shall be who I’m being/I’m/I shall be” → an a-temporal ACTIVE present: אֶהְיֶה.

Thus, St. Moses did know, albeit in the mystical darkness of the cloud on Mount Sinai, that Y-H-W-H is He whose essence is to be itself (ipsum esse) as relation; He, that is, whose essence is to be relation to Himself—i.e. of knowing and loving Himself. Verse 14 tells us who this God is in terms of His essence, which is ‘to be’ itself as r-e-l-a-t-i-o-n → which the specific Hebraic relative pronoun is clearly intended to emphasize, אֲשֶׁר, as it connects (and thereby also differentiates) the mirroring/symmetrical clauses אֶהְיֶה (“I’m being/I’m/I shall be”) grammatically designating God’s indivisible esse:

“I’m being/I’m/I shall be [אֶהְיֶה] who [אֲשֶׁר] I’m being/I’m/I shall be [אֶהְיֶה].”

St. Abraham knew the triune God under a certain mystical mode of His blessed revelation (a true visitation and vision, see Gen 18:2), as he was visited by “three men” (אֲנָשִׁים), i.e. three subsisting personalities who are the One divine essence, whom he unmistakably addressed as: “My Lord…” (Gen 18:3).

He was the recipient of other revelations of the triune God (as were Moses and other holy Patriarchs), having seen and rejoiced in the day of the Only-Begotten Son (John 8:56) → in other words (dixit St. Thomas in the section and § you referenced to [above]), in mysterio Christi.


Also (ibid.):

In the Old Testament the Trinity of Persons is expressed in many ways; thus at the very outset of Genesis it is written in manifestation of the Trinity: "Let us* make man to Our* image and likeness" (Gn. 1:26).

*"Us" and "our" are first-person plural; ∴, there are multiple Divine Persons.

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    How is anything in this answer anything other than opinion? A darkness of a cloud that made God's name to mean a trinity, that no one knew about, or recorded seeing? Using the Hebrew language to translate into a different context (“I’m being/I’m/I shall be”). Referring to a verse in Genesis as saying "three subsisting personalities who are the One divine essence". The verse does not say that at all.
    – david
    Sep 2, 2017 at 12:07
  • Does Tommy give any reasons why he believes his (admittedly impressive) intellect has deduced the belief quoted from him, which is an empirical, historical claim? Sep 27 at 3:36
  • Reading over Aquinas' article you linked, I'm pretty sure that the Church has clarified since that explicit belief is not strictly necessary, but implicit belief is sufficient so long as one is invincibly ignorant (the best example being, imo, any pre-Christ Jew). I'm not sure how Moses would have belief in the Trinity unless it were revealed to him, and if it were revealed to him, why he chose not to share that bit of information with the rest of the Israelites.
    – jaredad7
    Sep 30 at 15:19
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No, Catholicism does not assert that Moses believed in the Trinity as such, although obviously he believed in the One God, and if that One God is Trinitarian in nature, he believed in the Trinity in an indirect, obscured sense.

As the Catholic Encyclopedia article The Blessed Trinity summarizes in the section 'Proof of Doctrine from Scripture, B. Old Testament',

"The matter seems to be correctly summed up by Epiphanius, when he says: "The One Godhead is above all declared by Moses, and the twofold personality (of Father and Son ) is strenuously asserted by the Prophets. The Trinity is made known by the Gospel" ("Haer.", lxxiv)."

However,

"The early Fathers were persuaded that indications of the doctrine of the Trinity must exist in the Old Testament and they found such indications in not a few passages. Many of them not merely believed that the Prophets had testified of it, they held that it had been made known even to the Patriarchs."

That some early Church Fathers believed something does not mean the Catholic Church holds it. As the article goes on to say,

"But in others of the Fathers is found what would appear to be the sounder view, that no distinct intimation of the doctrine was given under the Old Covenant."

Continuing,

"Some of these, however, admitted that a knowledge of the mystery was granted to the Prophets and saints of the Old Dispensation (Epiphanius, "Haer.", viii, 5; Cyril of Alexandria, "Con. Julian.," I). [...] Yet it seems that the Gospel revelation was needed to render the full meaning of the passages clear. Even these exalted titles did not lead the Jews to recognize that the Saviour to come was to be none other than God Himself."

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Moses recognized the incomprehensiblity of God in this life. He knew of the UNITY of God but that unity is many many things in the history of thought about God It does not in any way exclude a Trinity of Persons. The Catholic definition is " the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead"

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Moses believed in the Trinity. The real question is when he came to that belief. In the story of the Transfiguration, we hear this:

30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:30-31)

About the nature and depth of the relationship between Moses and God, we have this:

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent. (Exodus 33:11)

Then later in Deuteronomy 34:

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

We know that God told Daniel and the Apostle John things that were not to be shared with the world but instead be sealed up. We can infer that Moses knew God in a way that no one else did and that at least by the time of the Transfiguration Moses knew of the triune nature of God, if not during his prior life.

In the above quotes, the key phrase is about his departure. Since God told Moses things plainly - not in parables as he did with the disciples and many other prophets - then he told him plainly about his departure, which consists in:

  • Crucifixion and death as a sacrifice
  • Resurrection
  • Ascension into Heaven

Those events identify Jesus as divine.

In Exodus through Deuteronomy, Moses was called four times. Each calling was significant and was attended by an important new revelation. There were five main sacrifices, five Books of Moses and other reasons suggest that there ought to have been five callings, the last for fulfillment, a great harvest, entry into the Promised land and peace. Moses died before the fifth call. The Transfiguration was his fifth call, when Moses finally entered the Promised Land, setting foot on the Holy mountain, at last inside the borders of Israel. Surely this meeting of Jesus and Moses would be the greatest, when Jesus would bestow knowledge beyond what he had already received.

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  • I don't see how this answers the question, myself. You have offered no evidence regarding the Trinity. You have simply inferred that Moses believed what you believe. (I, personally, believe in the Trinity, but this answer does not answer the question asked.) Had you quoted Genesis 1:1, I would not have down-voted. [Edit Nor have you related this answer to Catholicism.]
    – Nigel J
    Sep 29 at 11:41
  • I assume a simple syllogism. Moses knew God better than anyone else. I know that God is triune in nature (and that is an important thing). Therefore Moses knows that God is Triune. Sep 29 at 18:36
  • @PaulChernoch The question is about Catholicism. Can you find a Catholic source for your assertions? Sep 29 at 21:08

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