The MOST Theological Collection: The Living God

"VI. The Holy Trinity"


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1. Old Testament Hints: There is certainly no clear revelation of the Trinity in the OT. Some have tried to see some hints of it. The word elohim has a plural ending, yet is often used for God (it may also stand for angels or human judges). However, it usually get a singular verb. It may be a sort of plural of majesty.

There are a few places where a plural verb is used:

Gen 1. 16: "Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves." COMMENT: This could be merely the plural of majesty. However, it is introduced by a singular expression: "Elohim said."

Gen. 3. 22: "See, the man has become like one of us."-- COMMENT: Introduced by singular "Yahweh Elohim said".

Gen. 11. 7: "Come let us go down and confuse their language." COMMENT: Introduced by singular: "Yahweh said" in v. 6.

Is 6. 8: "Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?" COMMENT: Note the shift from I to our. B. De Margerie (The Christian Trinity in History, tr. E. J. Fortman, St. Bede's, Still River, 1981, p. 4) notes that these four texts come at special points in the history of humanity. He also asserts that "the OT did not yet have at its disposal a clear and distinct concept of human personality nor of person in general." (Cf. references there in note 7. Cf. also our comments earlier on nefesh).

The Fathers commonly argue from such passages as these to the Trinity. Cf. St. Augustine, Contra sermones Arianorum 16. 6. 1. PL 42. 695. St. Epiphanius in Panarion 23. 1. PG 41. 383 calls this explanation the common one. St. Gregory of Nyssa, Oratio Catechetica. III. PG 45. 17-20, suggests polytheism is a garbled likeness of the Trinity. Cf. J. Finegan, Myth & Mystery, Baker, 1991, pp. 59-60. Also the fact that the Schmidt school of anthropology asserts that the lowest primitives had one God, a Sky-Father- cf. Indo-European Dyaus-pater.

2. Mentions of the Three Persons:

a) Father. Is used only 14 times in all of OT. E.g. Exodus. 4:22-23: "And say to Pharaoh: Thus says Yahweh: Israel is my son, my firstborn. And I say to you: Let my son go, and he will serve me, but if you refuse, I will slay your son, your first born."

b) Son. It is clear that He is a Person distinct from the Father from many places in Scripture. e.g. Jn 1:18 speaks of "the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father".

c) Holy Spirit. Is spoken of as distinct from the Father and the Son, for He is given by the Father at the request of the Son; He is to take the place of Christ, He will give testimony about the Son. He comes from the Father: Jn 14:16-26. He is clearly Divine, since e.g., He scrutinizes the depth of God: 1 Cor 2:10-11. We are His temples: 1 Cor 6:19-20.

3. The Church has always taught the Trinity, from the earliest Creeds. S. Athanasius, Epist. 4 to Serapion 1. 28 (R. 782): "Let us see likewise this tradition and doctrine from the beginning, and the faith of the Catholic Church, which the Lord gave us, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers guarded... . And so the Trinity is Holy and perfect, which is recognized in the Father and Son and Holy Spirit." St. Epiphanius, Panarion 73-34: "[ The Antiocheans] confess that the Father and Son and Holy Spirit are consubstantial, three hypostases, one ousia [substance], one divinity. Such is the true faith... . which the Fathers and the Bishops gathered together in the Nicene Synod confessed."

4. There are processions within the divinity. Processions mean the origin of one Person from the other. They are immanent in the sense that all are within the one divinity. Only the Father does not proceed: hence the name of unbegotten is proper to Him. Two Greek words were often confused in the debates: agenetos = not made and agennetos = not generated. The Eunomians said the latter is the complete and proper designation of the divinity - and hence denied the divinity of the Logos and the Holy Spirit. But Chapter 1 of John's Gospel both speaks of the logos as God and as begotten.

The Son comes from the Father by way of generation - He is the Word, coming by way of intellect.

The Holy Spirit comes by procession, not by generation - otherwise He would be identified with the Son, for only the relations of origin distinguish the Three Persons one from another. (ST I. 36. 4). He comes by way of will. He is the love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father. Catechism of Council of Trent 1. 9. 7: "The Holy Spirit proceeds from the divine will as it were inflamed with love." Leo XIII, in Divinum illud (May 9, 1897), He proceeds,"from the mutual love of Father and Son." His origin is therefore in both Father and Son (cf. Filioque). The Filioque was defined by Lateran IV: DS 800; "The Father is from no one, the Son is from the Father alone, the Holy Spirit is equally from each." The definition was repeated by Council of Florence in 1439, DS 1300: "We define that this truth of faith is to be believed and received by all Christians, and so all should profess that the Holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son, and has His essence and His subsistent being from the Father and the Son together, [and] proceeds eternally as from one principle and by one spiration."

There are two forms of wording: The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son -- and: The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.

The former is most common among the Latins, but Tertullian (R 372, 375, 378) uses also the second, as does St. Hilary (R. 878). -- St. Ephrem (R 714) wrote: "The Father is the begetter and the Son begotten from His bosom, the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son." St. Epiphanius (R 1082): "[He is] Spirit of God, and Spirit of the Father and Spirit of the Son."

5. Relations: The Persons are constituted by the relations of origin: Father, begotten Son, Spirated Spirit. There is no real distinction between the divine essence and the relations, but only a virtual distinction.

6. The operations outside the Divine Nature are common to the Three Persons. Lateran IV, 1215 . DS 800: "Father and Son and Holy Spirit: three persons, but one essence, substance or nature, altogether simple. The Father is from no one, the Son from the Father alone, the Holy Spirit equally from each; without beginning, always and without end: The Father generating, the Son being born, and the Holy Spirit proceeding; [they are] consubstantial and coequal and co-omnipotent, and coeternal; one principle of all." Pius XII, Mystici Corporis: "And besides let them retain as most certain with firm mind, that in these things all are to be considered common to the Most Holy Trinity, inasmuch as they look to God as the supreme efficient cause."

7. Appropriation: Even though all things done outside the Divine Nature are common to all Three, yet we suitably appropriate certain things to certain individual persons. As a matter of fact, Scripture itself makes these appropriations, calling the Father God, Christ, the Lord. Father is Creator, Son is Redeemer, Holy Spirit is Sanctifier.

8. Missions. St. Augustine, De Trinitate 4. 20. 29: "For the Son to be sent, is to be known in his origin from the Father. In the same way, for the Holy Spirit... to be sent, is to be known in his procession from the Father."

St. Thomas, ST 1. 43. 2. 3: "Mission includes eternal procession and adds something, that is, effect within time."

De Margerie, Trinity, pp. 108-09:"If the Church ceaselessly deepens its doctrine of the Holy Spirit, must we not see here first of all a fruit of this incessant invisible mission of the Spirit of Truth to her and to each of her members, of this salvific mission by which the Father and the Son send the Spirit essentially to unveil the secret of his procession by making rational creatures participate in love." COMMENT: Recall that to love is to will good to another for the other's sake.

St. Augustine, Sermo 71. 12. 18. PL 38. 454:"The Father and the Son have willed that we enter into communion among ourselves and with them through that which is common to them, and to bind us into one by this Gift which the two possess together that is, by the Holy Spirit, God and gift of God. It is in Him in fact that we are reconciled with the Divinity and take our delight in it". That is, as De Margerie, p. 118, says, citing P. Smulders (Dictionnaire de Spiritualité ascétique et mystique, Paris, 1932- IV , 1960, 1280- 82, art. Esprit Saint): "The love by which the Father and the Son embrace and communicate with one another overflows into us, makes us love God and communicate with our brothers in the Church."

COMMENT: If we love God we will that He have the pleasure of giving to us and of seeing objective order fulfilled. If we really want that, we want it to be true not only in ourselves but in others, for His sake, and for their sake. Hence love of God and Love of neighbor are inseparable.

De Margerie, p. 154-55:"... the Son of God, the eternal Son of the eternal God, has become Son of Man so that his brothers in humanity may be able to participate at once in his eternal generation and in his eternal return toward the Father, becoming by grace filii in Filio, ex Patre et ad Patrem [sons in the Son, from the Father and to the Father like him."

9. Perichoresis: Each of the Divine Persons is in the other since each is infinite, and since each wills the supreme goodness of Supreme Being to the other -- which is the same as saying they love. It is love that makes three one. Love among human persons tends to unity, in God it simply is or produces unity.