Archive for the ‘The Trinitarian God’ Category


Idea, Energy, Power – Dorothy Sayers

February 7, 2014
The image of Dorothy L. Sayers, the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, the great fictional detective of the 1920s and 30s, is of a moonfaced, heavily built, bespectacled elderly woman in mannish clothes. Yet she first caused a stir as a tall thin girl, nicknamed Swanny on account of her long and slender neck. The slightly gawky, enthusiastic young woman (above) had a passion for language. She also had a zest for friendship, laughter and men. She would in later life become famous for her advertising slogans ("My Goodness, my Guinness"), for her theatre and radio plays, her religious writings, her translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, and her letters. Her friend C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series of books, maintained that she was one of the great letter-writers of the 20th century.

The image of Dorothy L. Sayers, the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, the great fictional detective of the 1920s and 30s, is of a moonfaced, heavily built, bespectacled elderly woman in mannish clothes. Yet she first caused a stir as a tall thin girl, nicknamed Swanny on account of her long and slender neck. The slightly gawky, enthusiastic young woman (above) had a passion for language. She also had a zest for friendship, laughter and men. She would in later life become famous for her advertising slogans (“My Goodness, my Guinness”), for her theatre and radio plays, her religious writings, her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and her letters. Her friend C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series of books, maintained that she was one of the great letter-writers of the 20th century.

I SUPPOSE that of all Christian dogmas, the doctrine of the Trinity enjoys the greatest reputation for obscurity and remoteness from common experience. Whether the theologian extols it as the splendor of the light invisible or the skeptic derides it as a horror of great darkness, there is a general conspiracy to assume that its effect upon those who contemplate it is blindness, either by absence or excess of light.

There is some truth in the assumption, but there is also a great deal of exaggeration. God is mysterious, and so (for that matter) is the universe and one’s fellow-man and one’s self and the snail on the garden-path; but none of these is so mysterious as to correspond to nothing within human knowledge. There are, of course, some minds that cultivate mystery for mystery’s sake: with these, St. Augustine of Hippo, who was no obscurantist, deals firmly:

Holy Scripture, which suits itself to babes, has not avoided words drawn from any class of things really existing, through which, as by nourishment, our understanding might rise gradually to things divine and transcendent… . But it has drawn no words whatever, whereby to frame either figures of speech or enigmatic sayings, from things which do not exist at all. And hence it is that those who [ in disputing about God strive to transcend the whole creation] are more mischievously and emptily vain than their fellows; in that they surmise concerning God, what can neither be found in Himself nor in any creature.’
St. Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 1 Chapter 1

He proceeds, in his great treatise, to expound the doctrine analogically, using again and again the appeal to experience. He says in effect: “a Trinitarian structure of being is not a thing incomprehensible or unfamiliar to you; you know of many such within the created universe.

There is a trinity of sight, for example: the form seen, the act of vision, and the mental attention which correlates the two. These three, though separable in theory, are inseparably present whenever you use your sight. Again, every thought is an inseparable trinity of memory, understanding, and will. [cf. Eddington, Philosophy of Physical Science: "Still less is a single sensation strictly separable from the environment of emotion, memory and intellectual activity in which it occurs; nor is it strictly separable from the volition which directs attention to it and the thought which embodies sapient knowledge of it."] This is a fact of which you are quite aware; it is not the concept of a trinity-in-unity that in itself presents any insuperable difficulty to the human imagination.”

We may perhaps go so far as to assert that the Trinitarian structure of activity is mysterious to us just because it is universal — rather as the four-dimensional structure of space-time is mysterious because we cannot get outside it to look at it. The mathematician can, however, to some extent perform the intellectual feat of observing space-time from without, and we may similarly call upon the creative artist to extricate himself from his own activity far enough to examine and describe its threefold structure.

For the purpose of this examination I shall use the mind of the creative writer, both because I am more familiar with its workings than with those of other creative artists, and because I shall thus save the confusion of a great many clauses beginning with “and” and “or.” But, mutatis mutandis[Vocab: Mutatis mutandis is a Latin phrase meaning “changing [only] those things which need to be changed” or more simply “[only] the necessary changes having been made”.], what is true of the writer is true also of the painter, the musician and all workers of creative imagination in whatever form.

“The writer” is of course understood to be the ideal writer, considered when engaged in an act of artistic creation, just as, in considering the “father” we always intend the ideal parent, considered while exercising the functions of parenthood and in no other activity. It is not to be imagined that any human writer ever works with ideal perfection; in the tenth chapter of this book I shall try to point out what happens when the writer’s trinity fails too conspicuously to conform to the law of its own nature — for here, as always, there is a judgment for behavior that runs counter to the law.

Since this chapter — and indeed this whole book — is an expansion of the concluding speech of St. Michael in my play The Zeal of Thy House, it will perhaps be convenient to quote that speech here:

For every work [or act] of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.

First, [not in time, but merely in order of enumeration] there is the Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning: and this is the image of the Father.

Second, there is the Creative Energy [or Activity] begotten of that idea, working in time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Word.

Third, there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul: and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit. And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without other: and this is the image of the Trinity.

Of these clauses, the one which gives the most trouble to the hearer is that dealing with the Creative Idea. (The word is here used, not in the philosopher’s sense, in which the “Idea” tends to be equated with the “Word,” but quite simply in the sense intended by the writer when he says: “I have an idea for a book.” [Similarly, of course, "Energy" is not to be understood in the physicist's technical sense (e.g., Mass X Acceleration X Distance), or "Power" in the engineer's sense (e.g., applied force); both these words are used in the sense intended by the poet and the common man.]

The ordinary man is apt to say: “I thought you began by collecting material and working out the plot.” The confusion here is not merely over the words “first” and “begin.” In fact the “Idea” — or rather the writer’s realization of his own idea — does precede any mental or physical work upon the materials or on the course of the story within a time-series. But apart from this, the very formulation of the Idea in the writer’s mind is not the Idea itself, but its self-awareness in the Energy.

Everything that is conscious, everything that has to do with form and time, and everything that has to do with process, belongs to the working of the Energy or Activity or “Word.” The Idea, that is, cannot be said to precede the Energy in time, because (so far as that act of creation is concerned) it is the Energy that creates the time-process. This is the analogy of the theological expressions that “the Word was in the beginning with God” and was “eternally begotten of the Father.” If, that is, the act has a beginning in time at all, it is because of the presence of the Energy or Activity. The writer cannot even be conscious of his Idea except by the working of the Energy which formulates it to himself.

That being so, how can we know that the Idea itself has any real existence apart from the Energy? Very strangely; by the fact that the Energy itself is conscious of referring all its acts to an existing and complete whole. In theological terms, the Son does the will of the Father. Quite simply, every choice of an episode, or a phrase. or a word is made to conform to a pattern of the entire book, which is revealed by that choice as already existing.

This truth, which is difficult to convey in explanation, is quite clear and obvious in experience. It manifests itself plainly enough when the writer says or thinks: “That is, or is not, the right phrase” — meaning that it is a phrase which does or does not correspond to the reality of the Idea.

Further, although the book — that is, the activity of writing the book — is a process in space and time, it is known to the writer as also a complete and timeless whole, “the end in the beginning,” and this knowledge of it is with him always, while writing it and after it is finished, just as it was at the beginning. It is not changed or affected by the toils and troubles of composition, nor is the writer aware of his book as merely a succession of words and situations.

The Idea of the book is a thing-in-itself quite apart from its awareness or its manifestation in Energy, though it still remains true that it cannot be known as a thing-in-itself except as the Energy reveals it. The Idea is thus timeless and without parts or passions, though it is never seen, either by writer or reader, except in terms of time, parts and passion.

The Energy itself is an easier concept to grasp, because it is the thing of which the writer is conscious and which the reader can see when it is manifest in material form. It is dynamic — the sum and process of all the activity which brings the book into temporal and spatial existence. “All things are made by it, and without it nothing is made that has been made.” To it belongs everything that can be included under the word “passion” — feeling, thought, toil, trouble, difficulty, choice, triumph — all the accidents which attend a manifestation in time.

It is the Energy that is the creator in the sense in which the common man understands the word, because it brings about an expression in temporal form of the eternal and immutable Idea. It is, for the writer, what he means by “the writing of the book,” and it includes, though it is not confined to, the manifestation of the book in material form. We shall have more to say about it in the following chapters: for the moment, the thing I am anxious to establish is that it is something distinct from the Idea itself, though it is the only thing that can make the Idea known to itself or to others, and yet is (in the ideal creative act which we are considering) essentially identical with the Idea — “consubstantial with the Father.”

The Creative Power is the third “Person” of the writer’s trinity. It is not the same thing as the Energy (which for greater clearness I ought perhaps to have called “the Activity”), though it proceeds from the Idea and the Energy together. It is the thing which flows back to the writer from his own activity and makes him as it were, the reader of his own book.

It is also, of course, the means by which the Activity is communicated to other readers and which produces a corresponding response in them. In fact, from the reader’s point of view, it is the book. By it, they perceive the book, both as a process in time and as an eternal whole, and react to it dynamically. It is at this point we begin to understand what St. Hilary means in saying of the Trinity: “Eternity is in the Father, form in the Image and use in the Gift.”

Lastly: “these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without other.” If you were to ask a writer which is “the real book” — his Idea of it, his Activity in writing it, or its return to himself in Power, he would be at a loss to tell you, because these things are essentially inseparable. Each of them is the complete book separately; yet in the complete book all of them exist together. He can, by an act of the intellect, “distinguish the persons” but he cannot by any means “divide the substance.”

How could he? He cannot know the Idea, except by the Power interpreting his own Activity to him; he knows the Activity only as it reveals the Idea in Power; he knows the Power only as the revelation of the Idea in the Activity. All he can say is that these three are equally and eternally present in his own act of creation, and at every moment of it, whether or not the act ever becomes manifest in the form of a written and printed book. These things are not confined to the material manifestation: they exist in — they are — the creative mind itself.

I ought perhaps to emphasize this point a little. The whole complex relation that I have been trying to describe may remain entirely within the sphere of the imagination, and is there complete. The Trinity abides and works and is responsive to itself “in Heaven.” A writer may be heard to say: “My book is finished — I have only to write it”; or even, “My book is written — I have only to put it on paper.” The creative act, that is, does not depend for its fulfillment upon its manifestation in a material creation. The glib assertion that “God needs His creation as much as His creation needs Him” is not a true analogy from the mind of the human creator.

Nevertheless, it is true that the urgent desire of the creative mind is towards expression in material form. The writer, in writing his book on paper, is expressing the freedom of his own nature in accordance with the law of his being; and we argue from this that material creation expresses the nature of the Divine Imagination. We may perhaps say that creation in some form or another is necessary to the nature of God; what we cannot say is that this or any particular form of creation is necessary to Him. It is in His mind, complete, whether He writes it down or not.

To say that God depends on His creation as a poet depends on his written poem is an abuse of metaphor: the poet does nothing of the sort. To write the poem (or, of course, to give it material form in speech or song), is an act of love towards the poet’s own imaginative act and towards his fellow-beings. It is a social act; but the poet is, first and foremost, his own society, and would be none the less a poet if the means of material expression were refused by him or denied him.

I have used in this chapter, and shall use again, expressions which to persons brought up in “scientific” habits of thought may seem to be out-moded. Scientists are growing more and more chary of using any forms of speech at all. Words like “idea,” “matter,” “existence,” and their derivatives have become suspect. “Old truths have to be abandoned, general terms of everyday use which we thought to be the keys to understanding will now no longer fit the lock. Evolution, yes, but be very careful with it, for the concept is slightly rusty.

Elements … their immutability no longer exists. Causation … on the whole there is little one can do with the concept; it breaks at the slightest usage. Natural laws … certainly, but better not talk too much of absolute validity. Objectivity … it is still our duty as well as our ideal, but its perfect realization is not possible, at least not for the social sciences and the humanities.” [Huizinga: In the Shadow of Tomorrow]

This difficulty which confronts the scientists and has compelled their flight into formulae is the result of a failure to understand or accept the analogical nature of language. Men of science spend much time and effort in the attempt to disentangle words from their metaphorical and traditional associations; the attempt is bound to prove vain since it runs counter to the law of humanity.’

The confusion and difficulty are increased by the modern world’s preoccupation with the concept of progress. This concept — now rapidly becoming as precarious as those others quoted by Huizinga — imposes upon the human mind two (in the hypnotic sense) “suggestions.” The first is that any invention or creative act will necessarily tend to supersede an act of earlier date. This may be true of mechanical inventions and scientific formulae:

We may say, for example, that the power-loom has superseded the hand-loom, or that Einsteinian physics has superseded Newtonian physics, and mean something by saying so. But there is no sense whatever in which we can say that Hamlet has “superseded” the Agamemnon, or that

you who were with me in the ships at Mylae

has superseded

en la sua voluntade e nostra pace


tendebantque mantis ripae ulterioris amore.

The later in date leaves the earlier achievement unconquered and unchanged; that which was at the summit remains at the summit until the end of time.

The second suggestion is that, once an invention has been brought into being and made public by a creative act, the whole level of human understanding is raised to the level of that inventiveness. This is not true, even within its own sphere of application. The fact that every schoolboy can now use logarithms does not lift him to the intellectual level of the brain that first imagined the method of logarithmic calculation.

But the absurdity of the suggestion becomes glaringly obvious when we consider the arts. If a ruthless education in Shakespeare’s language could produce a nation of Shakespeares, every Englishman would at this moment be a dramatic genius. Actually, all that such an education can possibly do is to improve a little the general apparatus of linguistic machinery and so make the way smooth for the appearance of the still rare, still incalculable genius. Genius is, in fact, not subject to the “law” of progress, and it is beginning to be extremely doubtful whether progress is a “law” at all.

For these reasons, we need not allow ourselves to be abashed by any suggestion that the old metaphors are out of date and ought to be superseded. We have only to remember that they are, and always were, metaphors, and that they are still “living” metaphors so long as we use them to interpret direct experience. Metaphors become dead only when the metaphor is substituted for the experience, and the argument carried on in a sphere of abstraction without being at every point related to life.

In the metaphors used by the Christian creeds about the mind of the maker, the creative artist can recognize a true relation to his own experience; and it is his business to record the fact of that recognition in any further metaphor that the reader may understand and apply.


The Three Persons – Frank Sheed

October 16, 2013
The artist Joe Forkan has fun with Supper at Emmaus.

The artist Joe Forkan has fun with Supper at Emmaus. See our blog image above for the real thing by Caravaggio.

Father and Son
The heavenly Father has a Son; the Gospels tell of their relation. We must now look at it more closely.

A son is a distinct person from his father; there is no way in which a father can be his own son. But though they are distinct persons, they are like in nature — the son of a man is a man, of a lion a lion. In this solitary case, the Father’s nature is infinite; so the Son too must have an infinite nature. But there cannot be two infinite natures — one would be limited by not being the other and by not having power over the other. Therefore, since the Son has infinite nature, it must be the same identical nature as the Father’s.

This truth, that Father and Son possess the one same nature, might remain wholly dark to us if St. John had not given us another term for their relation — the second person is the Word of the first. In the first eighteen verses of his Gospel we learn that God has uttered a Word, a Word who is with God (abiding therefore, not passing in the utterance), a Word who is God; by this Word all things were made.

So God utters a word — not .framed by the mouth, of course, for God has no mouth. He is pure spirit. So it is a word in the mind of God, not sounding outwardly as our words sound, akin rather to a thought or an idea. What idea produced in God’s mind could possibly be God?

Christian thinking saw early that it could be only the idea God has of himself. The link between having a son and having an idea of oneself is that both are ways of producing likeness. Your son is like in nature to yourself; your idea of yourself bears some resemblance to you too — though it may be imperfect, for we seldom see ourselves very clearly; too many elements in us we see as we wish they were, too many we do not see at all.

Are we venturing too far if we feel that God does not have the idea for the sake of information about himself, but for the sake of companionship. However this may be, the idea that God has of himself cannot be imperfect. Whatever is in the Father must be in his idea of himself, and must be exactly the same as it is in himself. Otherwise God would have an inadequate idea of himself, which would be nonsense. Thus, because God is infinite, eternal, all-powerful, his idea of himself is infinite, eternal, all-powerful. Because God is God, his idea is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God.”

So far, the reader may feel that all this is still rather remote — full of significance, no doubt, to theologians, but not saying much to the rest of us. With the next step we take, that feeling must vanish. The Father knows and loves; so his idea knows and loves. In other words the idea is a person. Men have ideas, and any given idea is something. God’s idea of himself is not something only; it is Someone, for it can know and love.

The thinker and the idea are distinct, the one is not the other, Father and Son are two persons. But they are not separate. An idea can exist only in the mind of the thinker; it cannot, as it were, go off and start a separate life of its own. The idea is in the same identical nature; we could equally well say that the nature is in the idea, for there is nothing that the Father has which his Word, his Son, has not. “Whatsoever the Father has, that the Son has in like manner” (John 16:15). Each possesses the divine nature, but each is wholly himself, conscious of himself as himself, of the other as other.

One immediate difficulty presents itself. We can hardly help thinking of sons as younger than their fathers — so felt the painters who gave the Father a long beard, the Son a shortbeard. Is the second person younger than the first? If not, how can he be his Son? But this is another of those points where we must not argue from the image (ourselves) to the original (God). Among men, fathers are always older than sons simply because a human being cannot start generating the moment he exists; he must wait till he develops to the point where he can generate.

But God has not to wait for a certain amount of eternity to roll by before he is sufficiently developed. Eternity does not roll by; it is an abiding now; and God has all perfections in their fullness, not needing to develop. Merely by being God, he knows himself with infinite knowing power, and utters his total self-knowledge in the totally adequate idea of himself which is his co-eternal Son.

Holy Spirit
The production of a Second Person does not exhaust the infinite richness of the divine nature. Our Lord tells of a third person. There is a Spirit, to whom Our Lord will entrust his followers when he himself shall have ascended to the Father. “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you” (John 14:16). The Spirit, like the Word, is a person — he, not it. “But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things” (John 14:26).

As we have already seen, there is one huge and instant difference between God’s idea and any idea we may form. His is someone, ours is only something. With an idea which is only something, there can be no mutuality. The thinker can know it, it cannot know him; he can admire its beauty, it cannot admire his; he can love it, it cannot return his love.

But God’s idea is someone, and an infinite someone; between thinker and idea there is an infinite dialogue, an infinite interflow. Father and Son love each other, with infinite intensity. What we could not know, if it were not revealed to us, is that they unite to express their love and that the expression is a third divine person. In the Son, the Father utters his self-knowledge; in the Holy Spirit, Father and Son utter their mutual love.

Their love is infinite; its expression cannot be less. Infinite love does not express its very self finitely; it can no more produce inadequate expression than infinite knowledge can produce an inadequate idea. Each gives himself wholly to the outpouring of his love for the other, holding nothing back — indeed the very thought of holding back is ridiculous; if they give themselves at all, they can give themselves only totally — they possess nothing but their totality. The uttered love of Father and Son is infinite, lacks no perfection that they have, is God, a person, someone.

As the one great operation of spirit, knowing, produces the second person, so the other, loving, produces the third. But be careful upon this — the second proceeds from, is produced by, the first alone; but the third, the Holy Spirit, proceeds from Father and Son, as they combine to express their love. Thus in the Nicene Creed we say of him qui ex patre filioque procedit who proceeds from the Father and the Son; and in the Tantum Ergo we sing procedenti ab utroque — to him who proceeds from both.

We have seen the fitness of the names “Son” and “Word” for the second person. Why is the third called “Spirit”?

Here the word “spirit” — like the old English “ghost” — is best understood as “breath.” This is the root meaning; our ordinary word “spirit” comes from it, because spirit is invisible, as air is. It is in its root meaning that “Spirit” is the name of the third person — he is the “breath” or “breathing” of Father and Son.

That is Our Lord’s chosen name for him, and it is more than a name used merely because he has to be called something. There is some deep meaning in it. For Christ breathes upon the Apostles as he says, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit”; when the Holy Spirit descends upon them at Pentecost, there is at first the rushing of a mighty wind.

Observe that the third person is never spoken of as a Son, never said to have been begotten or generated. Theologians use the word “spirated” which is simply “breathed.” We may wonder why the third person who is the utterance of the love of Father and Son should be called their Breath.

Let us note two things. It is of universal experience that love has an effect upon the breathing; it is a simple fact that the lover’s breath comes faster. And there is a close connection between breath and life — when we stop breathing, we stop living. In the Nicene Creed the Holy Spirit is called “the Lord and giver of life.” The link between life and love is not hard to see, for love is a total self-giving, and so a giving of life.

One final reminder. We saw how the second person is within the same nature, as an idea is always within the thinker’s mind. So with the third person. The utterance of love by Father and Son fills the whole of their nature, producing another person, but still within the same identical divine nature. Try to see the nature of God wholly expressed as thinker, wholly expressed as idea, wholly expressed as lovingness.

Equality in Majesty
The truths God has revealed to us of his innermost life are not easy for us to take hold of and make our own. They do not yield much of their meaning at a first glance. I can only urge readers to go back over the last sections many times. Remember that we are making this study not to discover whether there are three persons in God (for he has revealed that there are), still less to verify it (for no effort of our mind could make it any surer than God’s own word), but simply to get more light on it and from it.

It is hardly my place to urge readers to pray for understanding. I can only state the plain fact that without prayer there will be precious little understanding. Our minds cannot take God’s inner life by storm; we shall see as much as he gives us light to see.

But while we are talking of prayer, it should be noted that there is special light to be got from the Church’s prayers, if we try to bring our new knowledge of the doctrines into saying them. The Preface of the Blessed Trinity in the Mass, for instance, is a blaze of meaning; so are the creeds and some of the great hymns, especially the Veni Sancte Spiritus and the Veni Creator. No book on doctrine will teach you as much as the Missal — provided you bring some knowledge with you. This book and books like it exist to provide the knowledge which the Missal assumes we have!

With what has gone before reread and meditated, we can go onto the completion of a first rough sketch of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity.

We have already glanced at the erroneous idea that if God has a Son, the Son must be younger; Father and Son are coeternal, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit likewise are coeternal. We must be on guard against thinking that first the Father had a Son, then Father and Son united to produce the Holy Spirit — and who knows what person may next emerge within the infinite fecundity of God? There is no question of succession, for there is no succession in eternity. The Father did not have to wait until he was old enough or mature enough to beget a Son or lonely enough to want one. He eternally is, in the plentitude of life and power. Merely by being, he knows himself with that limitless intensity of knowledge which necessarily produces the idea, the Son.

Nor must Father and Son wait while their love grows to the point where it can utter itself in a third person. Merely by being, they love with the fullness of loving-power; merely by loving thus intensely they utter their love: the Holy Spirit is as inevitable as Father and Son.

We have used the words “necessarily” and “inevitable.” They are worth a closer look. It is possible that the Son may seem less real to us because he is an idea in the mind of his Father. He is, we may feel, only a thought after all, whereas we ourselves are not simply thoughts in God’s mind; we really exist. But we exist only because God wills us to exist; if he willed us not to exist, we should cease to be.

But he cannot will the second person out of existence, any more than he willed him into existence. We must not imagine the Father feeling that it would be nice to have a son and thinking one into existence, and as liable to think him out of existence again if the humor took him. It is an exigency of the divine nature that the Father should thus know himself; simply by being himself the Father knows himself, generates the idea of himself; there is no element whatever of contingency in the existence of the second person; there is origin but no dependence. God is as necessarily Son as he is Father.

The same line of thought shows us the Holy Spirit, too, as necessarily existing. There is no difference among the three in eternity or necessity; and there is no inequality. The Father possesses the divine nature unreceived; Son and Holy Spirit possess it as received, but they possess it in its totality. They have received everything from the Father, everything. To quote again from the Preface of the Trinity:

Whatever we believe, on Thy revelation, of Thy glory, we hold the same of the Son, the same of the Holy Ghost, without any difference to separate them. So that in the affirmation of the true and eternal Godhead, we adore distinction in the Persons, oneness in the Essence, equality in majesty.

The distinction of action among the persons of the Blessed Trinity is a fact of the inner life of God. It is within the divine nature that each lives, knows, loves, as himself, distinct.

But the actions of the divine nature upon created beings — ourselves, for example — are the actions of all three persons, acting together as one principle of action. It is by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that, for example, the universe is created and sustained in being, that each individual soul is created and sanctified in grace. There is no external operation of the divine nature which is the work of one person as distinct from the others.

Yet Scripture and Liturgy are constantly attributing certain divine operations to Father or Son or Holy Spirit. In the Nicene Creed, for instance, the Father is Creator, the Son is Redeemer, the Holy Spirit is Sanctifier, giver of life. That the Son should be called Redeemer is obvious enough: he did in fact become man and die for our salvation.

But since all three Persons create, why is the Father called Creator? Since all three persons sanctify, why is the Holy Spirit called Sanctifier? Why — to use a theological term — is creation appropriated to the one, sanctification to the other?

If there is to be appropriation, of course, we can see why it is done like this; we can see, in other words, how these particular appropriations are appropriate. Within the divine nature, the Father is Origin; Son and Holy Spirit both proceed from him. Creation — by which the world originates, and by which each soul originates — is spoken of as belonging especially to the Father.

Again, within the divine nature, the Holy Spirit is Love, the utterance of the love of Father and Son. Sanctification, grace — these are gifts, and gifts are the work of love; they are appropriated to the Holy Spirit. Grace is a created gift of love; the Holy Spirit is the uncreated gift of love. By grace, Father and Son express their love for us — as eternally they express their love for each other — in the Holy Spirit.

Is there any similar appropriation to the second person? As we have noted, he is called Redeemer; but not by appropriation, since he did in fact redeem us himself; it was not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who became man and died for us, but the Son only (the Redemption was not an operation of the divine nature but of the human nature he made his own). But he has his appropriation all the same.

In the Creed, God the Father is called Creator, and we have just seen why. But in the opening of St. John’s Gospel, the second person seems to be Creator too. Creation, as a work of origination, bringing something into existence where nothing was, is appropriated to the Father.

But what was brought into existence was not a chaos; it was a universe ordered in its elements; it was a work of wisdom, therefore, and as such appropriated to the second person, the Word of God, who proceeds by the way of knowledge. The structure of the universe and all things in it, the order of the universe, is attributed especially to the Son; and when the order was brought to disorder by sin, it was the Son who became man to repair the disorder and make the new order of redeemed mankind.

But the perfect aptness of the attribution of operations to one or other person must not blind us to the reality that in all these operations all three persons are at work. Grace comes, says Our Lord, from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls; but he also says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” So it is in fact an indwelling of all three persons. Then why have appropriation at all?

In order, one may perhaps assume, to keep the distinction of the three persons ever present to our minds. If we invariably spoke of every divine operation upon us as the work of God, or the work of the three persons, we might come to feel that there was no real distinction between them at all, that Father, Son, and Spirit were simply three ways of saying the same thing.

But appropriation is a constant reminder to us that they are distinct; not only that, it reminds us of the personal character of each — that the Father is Origin, the Son proceeds by the way of Knowledge, the Holy Spirit by the way of Love.


The Trinitarian Being Of The Church 2 – Fr. John Behr

August 15, 2013
The Church, as the body of Christ and the temple of the Spirit, incarnates the presence of God in this world, and does so also as the mother of the baptized, in travail with them until their death in confession of Christ, to be raised with him, as the fulfillment of their baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist.

The Church, as the body of Christ and the temple of the Spirit, incarnates the presence of God in this world, and does so also as the mother of the baptized, in travail with them until their death in confession of Christ, to be raised with him, as the fulfillment of their baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist.


The Calling of the Church and Her Eschatological Perfection
This very high theology of the Church as the body of Christ and the temple of the Spirit must not blind us to the other Trinitarian aspect of the Church, that she is the one called by God.
As called, the Church is a response, a dynamic response growing to the fullness to which she is called. We who were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,” have been introduced into the promised covenant of Christ (Ephesians 2.12), but nevertheless “our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philemon 3.20-1).

Our prayer is that when he appears, we shall be like him (1 John 3.2). But he is still the Coming One,” to whom “the Spirit and the bride say `Come!” (Rev 22.17). As such, the Church, though scattered throughout the world, is not located on earth but in the Spirit: “Where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is there is the Church.” [Irenaeus of Lyons Against the Heresies 3.24.1]

It is within this dynamic that we can best explain such issues as “the visibility of the Church,” whether “the Church” is to be fully identified with the gathering of the baptized around the sacraments of word and Eucharist, and the all too visible failings of both the individual believers, ordained and lay, who belong to the Church, and the particular church of any given place. We are called by God to be his holy Church, and by conversion and repentance we enter into that reality, becoming the body of Christ by the grace of the Spirit; the Church is holy, not by the virtues of the individual believers, but by receiving the holy mysteries, through the hands of sinful believers.

More to the purposes of an ecumenical dialogue, it is perhaps by virtue of this dynamic that we can also best understand the claim of the Orthodox Church to be the true Church. Georges Florovsky stated this in unequivocal terms, asserting that the conviction of the Orthodox Church is that she “is in very truth the Church, i.e. the true Church and the only true Church.” [G. Florovsky, "The True Church," in idem, Ecumenism LA Doctrinal Approach, Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, 13 (Vaduz & Belmont, MA: 1989)] With this conviction, he admits, he is “compelled to regard all other Christian churches as deficient,” and so “Christian reunion is simply conversion to Orthodoxy.”

But, he continues, this is not meant to be an arrogant claim, it is not meant to be triumphalistic, for it goes hand in hand with the acknowledgement that “this does not mean that everything in the past or present state of the Orthodox Church is to be equated with the truth of God. Many things are obviously changeable; indeed, many things need improvement. The true Church is not yet the perfect Church.” Or, as he puts it elsewhere: “The Orthodox Church claims to be the Church. There is no pride and no arrogance in this claim. Indeed, it implies a heavy responsibility. Nor does it mean `perfection.’ The Church is still in pilgrimage, in travail, in via. She has her historic failures and losses, she has her own unfinished tasks and problems.” [G. Florovsky, "The Quest for Christian Unity and the Orthodox Church," in idem, Ecumenism, Collected Works, 13, p. 139-40]

Although stressing the orientation towards the eschatological perfection to which the Church is called, Florovsky himself, in his “return to the Fathers,” sought for the Christian unity in the past, the common mind that existed in the diversity of early Christianity and which has been preserved intact by the Orthodox Church: “The Orthodox Church is conscious and aware of her identity through the ages, in spite of all historic perplexities and changes. She has kept intact and immaculate the sacred heritage of the Early Church … She is aware of the identity of her teaching with the apostolic message and the tradition of the Ancient Church, even though she might have failed occasionally to convey this message to particular generations in its full splendor and in a way that carries conviction.

In a sense, the Orthodox Church is a continuation, a `survival’ of Ancient Christianity.” [Florovksy, Quest, 140] Florovsky’s insistence that ecumenical dialogue be not only an “ecumenism in space, concerned with the adjustments of the existing denominations as they are at present,” but also an “ecumenism in time,” [Florovksy, Quest, 139] thus turns out to be a return to the past: “The way out of the present confusion and into a better future is, unexpectedly, through the past. Divisions can be overcome only by a return to the common mind of the early Church. There was no uniformity, but there was a common mind.” [Florovsky, "Theological Tensions among Christians," in idem, Ecumenism, Collected Works, 13, p.13]

In what sense there was a “common mind” in Christian antiquity has become an extremely thorny question, especially since the work of Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (or at least since its translation into English). However, what was recognized as normative Christianity by the end of the second century was based (through the interplay of the “canon of truth,” a common body of Scripture, apostolic tradition, and apostolic succession) on nothing other than the proclamation of the Gospel “according to Scripture” as delivered by the apostles (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.3). [Cf. Behr, Way to Nicaea, 11-48]

It was the one Christ, proclaimed in this manner, who was then, and will always be, the uniting force for those who gather together in expectation of him as his body. The full, perfect, identity of the Church, therefore, is not something located in the ecclesial bodies and structures of the past, to be recovered by archaeology, but, as Florovsky intimates, in the future, in the eschaton, where Christ will be all in all, an orientation maintained by remaining in faithful continuity with the “faith delivered once for all to the saints” (Jude 3) regarding Christ, the coming Lord. The implications that this has for the recognition by the Orthodox Church of the ecclesial reality beyond its own bounds, is best seen from the point of view of the abiding significance of baptism as our entry into the Church and the historical practice of the Orthodox Church regarding reception of converts.

Baptism, Eucharist and the Boundaries of the Church
Entry into the body of Christ is through baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
“One baptism for the remission of sins” is ubiquitously included in creedal confession along with “one Church.” As the body of Christ that we are speaking of is his crucified and risen body, baptism itself is understood as sharing in his death: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6.3-5).

It is very important to observe the tenses used by Paul: if we have died with Christ in baptism, we shall rise with him. Although baptism is a specific, sacramental event, until our actual death, in witness to Christ, we must preserve our state of being baptized: “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. … So you must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6.8, 11). In other words, the “one baptism for the remission of sins” is not simply a gateway to be passed through as we enter into the “one Church,” and then left behind. Rather, the paschal dimension of baptism characterizes the totality of the Christian life, shaping and informing every aspect of it, until we are finally raised in Christ. [See especially, J. Erickson, "Baptism and the Church's Faith," in C. E Braaten and R. W. Jenson, eds., Marks of the Body of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 44-58, to which the following paragraphs are indebted.]

As Aidan Kavanagh puts it, “The whole economy of becoming a Christian, from conversion and catechesis through the Eucharist, is thus the fundamental paradigm for remaining a Christian.The paschal mystery of Jesus Christ dying and rising still among his faithful ones at Easter in baptism is what gives the Church its radical cohesion and mission, putting it at the center of a world made new.” [A. Kavanagh, The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation (New York: Peublo Publishing Company, 1978), 162-63] The “one true Church” must maintain her baptismal character until, in the eschaton, she is, as Florovsky puts it, the “perfect Church.”

It is in the Eucharist, the “banquet of the kingdom,” the event of “communion” par excellence, that Christians are given a foretaste of the Kingdom, invoking the Spirit “upon us and upon the gifts now offered,” and praying to God to “unite all of us to one another who become partakers of the one Bread and Cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit” (Liturgy of St Basil). But we must not forget that this is given to us in anticipation, as a foretaste of the Kingdom to come, not as its final realization; no eschatology can be exclusively “realized”; Christian eschatology is always already but not yet. The Church is still in via, seeking, and receiving proleptically as a gift, her perfection that is yet to be fully manifest.

Whether the sacrament of the Kingdom, already celebrated in anticipation by the Church in via, can be used to define the boundaries of the one true Church is a very serious question. This is, of course, how the “Eucharistic ecclesiology” espoused by many Orthodox theologians during the twentieth century views the matter. This has undoubtedly contributed to an increased ecclesial awareness, but it has also had a deleterious effect in two respects.

First, the “Eucharistic revival” that has accompanied such ecclesiology has emphasized participation in the Eucharist to such a point that it often overshadows, if not obscures, the perpetual baptismal dimensions of Christian life; baptism is regarded as the necessary preliminary step into body which celebrates the Eucharist.27 Taken to its extreme, this results in a community of, in John Erickson’s phrase, “Eucharisticized pagans” — members of the Church who participate in the Eucharist but do not otherwise have any consciousness of the life in death that is the Christian life in this world. [As Erickson ("Baptism," 57) puts it: "We forget that the Eucharist is but a foretaste of the kingdom, not its final realization. And then, this tendency towards a realized eschatology begins to creep from the Eucharist into other aspects of church life, so that the church qua church comes to be seen as perfect in every respect. Its dependence on Christ, and him crucified, is forgotten. We want the glory and forget the cross."]

Secondly, it results in a view that sees life outside the Orthodox Church, defined as coextensive with participation her celebration of the Eucharist, in uniformly negative terms: “The boundaries of the body of Christ depend entirely on the Eucharistic life. Outside that life, humanity is ruled by alien powers. Separation and destruction can only be averted by those who unite in Christ and prepare themselves for the joint assembly of the Eucharist.” [G. Limouris, "The Eucharist as the Sacrament of Sharing: An Orthodox Point of View," in Orthodox Visions of Ecumenism, ed. G. Limouris (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1994), 254] In this perspective, not only do the Orthodox regard themselves, rightly, as belonging to “the one true Church,” but they deny the designation “Church” to any other body gathering together in the name of Christ: outside the Orthodox Church, “humanity is ruled by alien powers.”

This approach began with Cyprian in the third century. When faced with various schisms resulting from different responses to persecution, Cyprian defined the boundaries of the Church in terms of adherence to the bishop, but the bishop understood not, as with Ignatius and Irenaeus, as the bearer of the true teaching (for the schismatic groups with whom Cyprian was dealing were perfectly orthodox in their beliefs), but rather the bishop as the bearer of apostolic authority, especially the ability to forgive sins (which is connected with the only mention of the word “church” in the Gospels; Matthew 16.18, 18.17), and ultimately with the Church herself. “You should understand that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop and whoever is not with the bishop is not in the Church” (Cyprian Ep. 66.8). The images for the Church preferred by Cyprian all emphasize the sharp boundaries of the Church and her exclusivism: “You cannot have God for your Father if you no longer have the Church for your mother. If there was any escape for one who was outside the ark of Noah, there will be as much for one who is found to be outside the Church.” [Cyprian On the Unity of the Church 6] Most famously, “outside the Church there is no salvation” (Cyprian Ep.73.2 1).

Finally, when Cyprian was faced with the issue of receiving into communion those who had been baptized in a schismatic group, Cyprian insisted that they were to be baptized (i.e. “re-baptized,” though Cyprian, naturally, does not use this term). Because of the connection between baptism and remission of sins, there can be no baptism outside of the Catholic Church, defined as adherence to the bishop who alone bears this apostolic gift: as baptism is entry into the Church, one cannot be outside the Church and yet baptized into it.

Cyprian’s position concerning (re-)baptism has been repeatedly advocated through the centuries, and, especially since Nikodemus the Hagiorite (1748-1809), is promoted by many in the Orthodox Church today. [For a critical analysis of the issue, see J. Erickson, "The Reception of Non-Orthodox into the Orthodox Church: Contemporary Practice," SVTQ 41.1 (1997), 1-17)]

But, as Florovsky points out, while Cyprian was right, theologically, to state unequivocally that the sacraments are performed only in the Church, “he defined this in hastily and too narrowly.”[G. Florovsky', "The Boundaries of the Church," in idem. Collected Works, 13, pp. 36-45, at p. 37] Moreover, as Florovsky also points out, “the practical conclusions of Cyprian have not been accepted and supported by the consciousness of the Church.” [Ibid] Cyprian’s position was an innovation,[It is noteworthy that Cyprian does not challenge the claim made at Rome that Pope Stephen's policy was in accord with the traditional practice of that Church, nor does Cyprian appeal to "tradition" to support his case: "one must not prescribe by custom, but overcome by reason" (Ep. 71.3)];and one that has not been uniformly followed by the Church.

Indeed, there are several important witnesses against it. The First Ecumenical Council, at Nicaea in 325, speaks of receiving “the pure ones,” that is, those of the Novatianist schism, by the laying-on of hands (Canon 8). Addressing the same issue several decades later, Basil, in a letter (Ep 188) which was subsequently included in the canonical corpus of the Orthodox Church, differentiated between “heretics” (who are completely broken off and alien as regards their faith, shown in the form of their “baptism,” for instance “in the Father and the Son and Montanus or Priscilla”), “schisms” (which have resulted “from some ecclesiastical reasons and questions capable of mutual remedy,” in this case regarding penance), and “paraecclesial gatherings” (“assemblies brought into being by insubordinate presbyters or bishops or by uninformed laity”).

Basil mentions Cyprian’s practice, but sides with “the ancients [who] decided to accept that baptism which in no way deviates from the faith,” so that “the ancients decided to reject completely the baptism of heretics, but to accept that of schismatics, as still being of the Church.” In other words, those baptized in the right faith, even if not in Eucharistic communion with the main body of the Church, still belong to the Church.

This is not to succumb to some kind of “branch-theory” of the Church, nor to advocate immediate Eucharistic communion with, in the paradoxical phrase, the “separated brethren.” Rather it is to place the issue in terms of the eschatological tension in which the Church exists in this world. But this does present a challenge, perhaps especially to the Orthodox, to reconsider how they view those outside their own Eucharistic community. The celebration of the Eucharist is the sacrament of the kingdom, giving a foretaste of what is already but not yet; it seems, as suggested earlier, that we should perhaps not take the character of the “perfect Church,” to use Florovsky’s expression once again, as the definition of the boundaries of the “one true Church.”

As we are to live baptismally, “considering ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” until we actually die in good faith and are raised with Christ, so also the Eucharist in which we already partake is also, in a sense ‘`not yet,” but is fulfilled in our own death and resurrection. As Irenaeus put it:

Just as the wood of the vine, planted in the earth, bore fruit in its own time, and the grain of wheat, falling into the earth and being decomposed, was raised up by the Spirit of God who sustains all, then, by wisdom, they come to the use of humans, and receiving the Word of God, become Eucharist, which is the Body and Blood of Christ; in the same way, our bodies, nourished by it, having been placed in the earth and decomposing in it, shall rise in their time, when the Word of God bestows on them the resurrection to the glory of God the Father, who secures immortality for the mortal and bountifully bestows incorruptibility on the corruptible
(Against the Heresies 5.2.3)

By receiving the Eucharist, as the wheat and the vine receive the fecundity of the Spirit, we are prepared, as we also make the fruits into the bread and wine, for the resurrection effected by the Word, at which point, just as the bread and wine receive the Word and so become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist, so also our bodies will receive immortality and incorruptibility from the Father. The paschal mystery that each baptized Christian enters by baptism is completed in their resurrection, celebrated as the Eucharist of the Father.

The Mother Church and Christian Identity
Finally, just as Paul describes himself as “in travail until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4.9), in those, that is, whom he (though this time as a father) has “begotten through the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 4.15), so also, until the day when we die in the witness (martyria) of a good confession, the Church is our mother, in travail, giving birth to sons of God. The motherhood of the Church is an ancient theme, one which has its roots in Isaiah, who, after foretelling the Passion of Christ, proclaims: “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her that is married, says the Lord” (Isaiah 54.1). Of the many ways in which this imagery has been explored, one of the most stimulating brings it directly into conjunction with the Incarnation of the Word.

According to Hippolytus, “The Word of God, being fleshless, put on the holy flesh from the holy virgin, as a bridegroom a garment, having woven it for himself in the sufferings of the cross, so that having mixed our mortal body with his own power, and having mingled the corruptible into the incorrupt- ible, and the weak with the strong, he might save perishing man.” [Hippolytus, On Christ and the Antichrist, 4; see also the extended metaphor in Antichrist 59.] God and man, announced by the prophets, “whom the Church continually bears as she teaches all nations.”

In and through the images of the Church that we have explored — the Church as the people of God, the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit — together with testimony to the life of the Church expressed in the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, we can perhaps now glimpse more fully what is meant by speaking of the Trinitarian dimensions of the Church and why it is that the Church herself was never a direct subject of theological reflection in the early centuries. The Church, as the body of Christ and the temple of the Spirit, incarnates the presence of God in this world, and does so also as the mother of the baptized, in travail with them until their death in confession of Christ, to be raised with him, as the fulfillment of their baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist.

He continues with an extended image of loom, of which the web-beam is “the passion of the Lord upon the cross,” the warp is the power of the Holy Spirit, the woof is the holy flesh woven by the Spirit, the rods are the Word and the workers are the patriarchs and prophets “who weave the fair, long, perfect tunic for Christ.” [For further use of the imagery of weaving as applied to the Incarnation, see N. Constas and M. W. Morgenstern, Proclus of Constantinople and the Cult of the Virgin in Late Antiquity, Homilies 1-5, Texts and Translations, Supplements to Vigiliae Ciristianae, 66 (Leiden: Brill, 2003).]

The flesh of the Word, received from the Virgin and “woven in the sufferings of the cross,” is woven by the patriarchs and prophets, whose actions and words proclaim the manner in which the Word became present and manifest. It is in the preaching of Jesus Christ, the proclamation of the one who died on the cross, interpreted and understood in the matrix, the womb, of Scripture, that the Word receives flesh from the virgin. The virgin in this case, Hippolytus later affirms following Revelation 12, is the Church, who will never cease “bearing from her heart the Word that is persecuted by the unbelieving in the world,” while the male child she bears is Christ, God and man, announced by the prophets, “whom the Church continually bears as she teaches all nations.”

In and through the images of the Church that we have explored — the Church as the people of God, the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit — together with testimony to the life of the Church expressed in the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, we can perhaps now glimpse more fully what is meant by speaking of the Trinitarian dimensions of the Church and why it is that the Church herself was never a direct subject of theological reflection in the early centuries. The Church, as the body of Christ and the temple of the Spirit, incarnates the presence of God in this world, and does so also as the mother of the baptized, in travail with them until their death in confession of Christ, to be raised with him, as the fulfillment of their baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist.


The Trinitarian Being Of The Church 1 – Fr. John Behr

August 14, 2013
The Trinitarian order, from the Father through the Son in the Spirit, finds its reciprocating movement in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. In a very striking passage, Gregory Palamas relates these two movements by speaking of the Spirit as "an ineffable love of the Begetter towards the ineffably begotten Word," a love which is "also possessed by the Word towards the Begetter," for the Spirit also belongs to the Son, who "rejoices together with the Father who rejoices in him," so that "the pre-eternal joy of the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit," as common to both of them, but whose existence depends upon the Father alone, from whom alone he proceeds.

The Trinitarian order, from the Father through the Son in the Spirit, finds its reciprocating movement in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. In a very striking passage, Gregory Palamas relates these two movements by speaking of the Spirit as “an ineffable love of the Begetter towards the ineffably begotten Word,” a love which is “also possessed by the Word towards the Begetter,” for the Spirit also belongs to the Son, who “rejoices together with the Father who rejoices in him,” so that “the pre-eternal joy of the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit,” as common to both of them, but whose existence depends upon the Father alone, from whom alone he proceeds.

The People of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit
Most fundamentally, the word “church,” ekklesia, means a “calling-out,” the election of a particular people from the midst of the world by God, who forms them as his own people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own people” (1 Peter 2.9). For Christians this calling is of course that of the gospel of Christ, proclaiming with the power of the Spirit the divine work wrought in and by Christ, destroying death by his death, and by his blood breaking down the dividing wall so that those “separated from Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel,” may enter into the covenant, in the one body of Christ, having access in the one Spirit to the Father (Eph 2.11-18).

The “citizenship of Israel” is defined by relation to Christ. Though a specific, “once for all,” event, the Passion of Jesus Christ — his death, resurrection and bestowal of the Spirit, as another advocate leading its into the fullness of the truth of Christ [Cf. John 14.25-26; 16.13-15. The Pentecostal bestowal of the Spirit is intimately connected with the Passion of Christ, for it is at his death, when the work of God is “fulfilled” and Christ rests on the Sabbath, that Christ “gave up the ghost” or, more literally “handed down [traditioned] the Spirit” (John 19.30).] — as preached by the apostles, `according to Scripture,” is of eternal significance and scope.

It is this gospel that was preached in advance to Abraham, so that all who respond in faith to the Word of God, as did Abraham, receive the blessings that were bestowed upon him (Galatians 3.3-14). Going further back, many of the Fathers affirmed that the creation of Adam already looks towards, and is modeled upon, the image of God, Christ Jesus (and that the world itself is impregnated with the sign of his cross), and also that the breath which Adam received, making him a “living being,” prefigures the Spirit bestowed by Christ, which renders Christians “spiritual beings.”

The Word, by which God calls forth and fashions a people for himself, is unchanging. The revelation of this mystery- hidden from all eternity both enables us to look back into the Scriptures, and creation itself, to see there an anticipatory testimonally to Christ, and also introduces the Gentiles into the covenant, for its basis is now clearly seen to be Christ himself, not race or fleshly circumcision: the Church, the new creation called into being by the cross of Christ, is the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16).

Called into being by God through his Word, Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Spirit, the Church is the body of Christ. God “has put all things under [Christ's] feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1.22-23). As “firstborn of the dead,” in whom “the whole fullness of divinity dwells bodily,” Christ is “the head of the body, the Church” (Colossians 1.18-19, 2.9). It is by holding fast to the head that “the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2.19).

The identity is complete; it is not a loose analogy or metaphor: `You are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” all, that is, who `by the one Spirit were baptized into the one body” (1 Corinthians 12.27, 13). Christians are called to be “the one body,” by living in subjection to the head, Christ, allowing his peace to rule in their hearts (Colossians 3.15).

As members of his body, they depend for their life and being upon their head, and also upon one another: “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12.5). The grace given to each is for the benefit of the one body, so that everything is to be done in love for the building up of the one body (1 Corinthians 12-13).

The subsequent reflection devoted to identity of the one body, the body of Christ assumed by the Word who now dwells in those who have “put on Christ,” is so vast and profound that it is impossible to treat it here. But as it is also not satisfactory to pass it by in silence, one example must suffice. The identity of body is the central nexus in the classic work On the Incarnation by Athanasius, integrating Trinitarian theology, Christology, ecclesiology and soteriology.

As he puts it: “For being over all, the Word of God, by offering his own temple and his bodily instrument as a substitute for all, naturally fulfilled the debt by his death; and, as being united to all by the like [body], the incorruptible Son of God naturally clothed all with incorruption by the promise concerning the resurrection; and now no longer does the actual corruption in death hold ground against humans, because of the Word dwelling in them through the one body” (Inc. 9).

The Word clothed himself with our body, so that he might conquer death by offering his body to death, and so that we might now be clothed with his incorruption through the identity of the one body. It is very striking that when treating the Resurrection of Christ, Athanasius makes no mention of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ to the disciples as described in the gospels: that Christ is alive and his own, proper body raised, is shown by the fact that those who have “put on the faith of the Cross,” as he put on our body, “so despise death that they willingly encounter it and become witness for the Resurrection the Savior accomplished against it” (Inc. 27-28).

The presentation of Christian theology, characteristic of many textbooks, as a collection of discrete realms — Trinity, Incarnation, Passion, Soteriology, Ecclesiology — only serves to obscure the vitality of such a vision.

As a body, the Church also has a structure, a variety of members with a variety of gifts and ministries. From the earliest times, the congregation gathered around the bishop, together with his presbvters and deacons; so intrinsic were these to the structure of the body, that Ignatius asserts that without these three orders, the community cannot be called a “Church” (Letter to the Trallians 3.1).

That there is only one Christ means that there can only be one Eucharist, one altar and one bishop (Letter to the Philadelphians 4). However, for all the importance given to the clergy, and especially the bishop, their roles are historically and geographically specific; as it is often pointed out, the Church of God is also always the Church of a particular place, gathering together all Christians (e ri -ro av’ d, 1 Corinthians 11.20).

On the other hand, the significance of the apostles, upon whose proclamation the Church is based, is universal and eternal, and so, in the typologies that Ignatius proposes, they always appear on the divine side. [Cf. Behr, Way to Nicaea, 82. For Ignatius the bishop, deacon and presbyters image the Father, Christ and the apostles respectively (Letter to the Trallians 3.1; Letter to the Magnesians 6.1) Only with Cyprian are the apostles considered to be the first bishops and the bishops, in turn, the successors of the apostles.] The changing understanding of the ordained ministry through history need not detain us here, what is important for the present purposes is the essential role that they have in the constitution of the Church.

Yet their essential role should not be overstated, it is not by virtue of being gathered around the bishop that a community is the church, but by virtue of Christ himself; as Ignatius puts it, in words which are often misquoted: “whenever the bishop appears, let the congregation be present, just as wherever Christ is, there is the catholic Church” (Letter to the Smrynaeans 8). It is Christ who makes the congregation to be his body, the Church, and so when Ignatius writes his letters, he does so to the whole community; not to the bishop, warning them to “be deaf when anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Trallians 9).

Finally, it is “by the one Spirit that we are baptized into the one body” (1 Corinthians 12.13), and so it is as “a holy temple in the Lord” that we are fashioned into a “dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2.21-22). Those in whom the Spirit of God dwells are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3.16). The Spirit is bestowed through Christ, so that it is as the Spirit of Christ that we receive the Spirit of the Father (cf. Romans 8.9-11). But it is also the Spirit who enables us to recognize Christ, to call him Lord, that is, the one spoken of in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 12.3), and who unites us to Christ, making us to be one body with him, as a bride to her spouse (as in the imagery of Ephesians 5), so that “the Spirit and the bride say ‘Come!” (Revelations 22.17), and who enables those united in one body with Christ to call on God as Abba, Father (Galatians 4.6; Romans 8.15-16).

It is in “the communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13.13) that Christians have their unity as the one body of Christ; they are to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” so that “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4.3-6).

All of these images describe the activity of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the divine economy of salvation. Yet they are not merely “economic” activities different from the “immanent” relations of the Father, Son and Spirit, “missions” as distinct from “processions.”

As debate concerning Trinitarian theology intensified during the fourth century and beyond, discussion inevitably became more abstract but its content remained constant. As the Cappadocians in the fourth century were keen to emphasize, we only know God from his activities, as he reveals himself, and what he reveals of himself is what he is.

The crucified Jesus Christ “designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1.4), of whom it is said “You are my Son, today have I begotten you” (Acts 13.33; Psalms 2.7), is the same one about whom, when the Spirit rested upon him at his baptism, the Father declared “You are my Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3.17, Mark 1.11; in Luke 3.22, ancient variants have the “begotten you” of Psalms 2.7), and who was conceived in the womb of the Virgin by the Holy Spirit, the Power of the Most High (Matthew 1.20, Luke 1.35) — this is the one who is eternally, or better, timelessly, begotten from the Father; not, as Arius would have it, begotten as a discrete event in a quasi-temporality before the aeons, and before which God was not Father.

Likewise, the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, is bestowed upon Christians by Christ, as the Spirit of Christ, and so it is affirmed that while the Son is begotten directly from the Father, the Spirit derives from the Father “by that which is directly from the first cause, so that the attribute of being Only-begotten abides unambiguously in the Son, while the Spirit is without doubt derived from the Father, the intermediacy of the Son safeguarding his character of being the Only-begotten and not excluding the Spirit from his natural relation to the Father.” [Gregory of Nyssa To Abinbius (GNO 3.1, p.56).]

Later Byzantine theology, especially that of Gregory of Cyprus and Gregory Palamas in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, develops these points by differentiating between the “procession” of the Holy Spirit from the Father, by which the Spirit derives his subsistence and existence, and the “manifestation” or “shining forth” of the Spirit though the Son, a relation which is not only temporal but eternal. [Cf. D. Staniloae, "Trinitarian Relations and the Life of the Church," chapter 1 in idem, Theology and the Church (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1980), 11-44.]

The Spirit who proceeds from the Father rests upon the Son; the activity which is depicted at every key moment in the apostolic presentation of Christ manifests, and provides the basis for our understanding of, the eternal relation between Father, Son and Spirit. But the Spirit does not simply rest upon the Son as a termination, for, as we have seen, it is always through the Spirit that Christ is shown to be the Son of God, through the Spirit that he is begotten, raised, and revealed, and through the Spirit that Christians are led to Christ, incorporated into his body and so have access to the Father.

The Trinitarian order, from the Father through the Son in the Spirit, finds its reciprocating movement in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. In a very striking passage, Gregory Palamas relates these two movements by speaking of the Spirit as “an ineffable love of the Begetter towards the ineffably begotten Word,” a love which is “also possessed by the Word towards the Begetter,” for the Spirit also belongs to the Son, who “rejoices together with the Father who rejoices in him,” so that “the pre-eternal joy of the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit,” as common to both of them, but whose existence depends upon the Father alone, from whom alone he proceeds. [Gregory Palamas, The One Hundred and Fitly Chapters, chapter 36; on this aspect of Palamas' theology, and its connection to Augustine, cf. R. Flogaus, "Palamas and Barlaam Revisited: A Reassessment of East and West in the Hesychast Controversy of 14th Century Byzantium," SVTQ 42.1 (1998), 1-32]

That the Spirit is “manifested” through the Son, not only in the temporal realm, but eternally, means that the distinction between “procession” and “manifestation” does not correspond to a distinction, often made, between intra-Trinitarian “processions” and in the Spirit. The Church is not just a communion of persons in relation, but the body of Christ giving thanks to the Father in the Spirit.


The Trinitarian Being Of The Church Introduction – Fr. John Behr

August 13, 2013
The actions of God are differentiated but not divided: it is the one God, the Father, who calls the Church into being as the body of Christ indwelt by the Holy Spirit; and, in return, the Church is conceived in terms of communion, but communion with God, as the body of his Son, anointed with his Spirit, and so calling upon God as Abba, Father.

The actions of God are differentiated but not divided: it is the one God, the Father, who calls the Church into being as the body of Christ indwelt by the Holy Spirit; and, in return, the Church is conceived in terms of communion, but communion with God, as the body of his Son, anointed with his Spirit, and so calling upon God as Abba, Father.

The relationship between Trinitarian theology and ecclesiology has been much discussed in recent decades. It is an intriguing subject, and perhaps an odd juxtaposition. It has often been noted that although a confession of faith in “one Church” is included in most ancient creeds along with “one baptism,” the Church herself is seldom directly reflected upon; the person of Jesus Christ, his relation to the Father and the Spirit, was endlessly discussed, and the subject of a great many conciliar statements, but not the Church or ecclesiology more generally.

The question of ecclesiology, it is often said, is our modern problem, one (at least for the Orthodox) provoked by the ecumenical encounter of the twentieth century. One fruit of this encounter is the realization of the Trinitarian dimensions of the Church herself, so providing continuity with the theological reflection of earlier ages and grounding the Church in the Trinity.

Following in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, ecumenical dialogue in recent decades has emphasized the connection between the Trinity and the Church largely through the exploration of what is commonly referred to as “communion ecclesiology.”Koinonia, “communion,” was the theme of the Canberra Assembly of the WCC in 1991, and also at the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order in Santiago de Compostela in 1993. In this approach, the koinonia of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the very being of God, is taken as the paradigm of the koinonia that constitutes the being of the ecclesial body, the Church.

As Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) put it in his address to the meeting at Santiago de Compostela: “The Church as a communion reflects God’s being as communion in the way this communion will be revealed fully in the Kingdom.” [Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, "The Church as Communion," SVTQ 38.1 (1994): 3-16, at p.8] Such communion ecclesiology readily dovetails with the “Eucharistic” ecclesiology espoused by many Orthodox during the twentieth century: it is in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the event of communion par excellence, that the Church realizes her true being, manifesting already, here and now, the Kingdom which is yet to come. Although, as Metropolitan John continues, “Koinonia is an eschatological gift,” the fullness of this eschatological gift is nevertheless already given, received, or tasted, in the celebration of the Eucharist.

Painted in these admittedly rather broad strokes, the oddity of juxtaposing the Trinity and the Church can be seen. What is said of the Church is certainly based upon what is said of the Trinity, but the effect of speaking in this manner, paradoxically, is that the Church is separated from God, as a distinct entity reflecting the divine being. Another way of putting this, using terms which are themselves problematic, would be to say that communion ecclesiology sees the Church as parallel to the “immanent Trinity”: it is the three Persons in communion, the one God as a relational being, that the Church is said to “reflect.” This results in a horizontal notion of communion, or perhaps better parallel “communions,” without being clear about how the two intersect.

Metropolitan John is very careful to specify that the koinonia in question “derives not from sociological experience, nor from ethics, but from faith.[ "The Church as Communion," p.5] We do not, that is, start from our notions of what “communion” might mean in our human experience of relating to others, and then project this upon the Trinity. Rather, we must begin from faith, for “we believe in a God who is in his very being koinonia … God is Trinitarian; he is a relational being by definition; a non-Trinitarian God is not koinonia in his very being. Ecclesiology must be based on Trinitarian theology if it is to be an ecclesiology of communion.” .["The Church as Communion," p.6]

However, only after stating the principles of Trinitarian koinonia does Metropolitan John affirm, as a second point, that “koinonia is decisive also in our understanding of the person of Christ. Here the right synthesis between Christology and Pneumatology becomes extremely important.”  He rightly emphasizes (correcting V. Lossky) that the `economy of the Son” cannot be separated from “the economy of the Spirit,” that is, both that the work of (or the “relation to”) the Spirit is constitutive for the person of Christ and that there is no work of the Spirit distinct from that of Christ. [Cf. J. Zizioulas, Ijeingas Communion (Cresrwood, NY: SVS Press, 1985), 124-25. A point already noted by Lossky, who observes that “In speaking of three hypostases we are already making an improper abstraction: if we wanted to generalize and make a concept of the ‘divine hypostasis,’ we would have to say that the only common definition possible would be the impossibility of any common definition of the three hypostases.” (In the Image and Likeness of God [Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1975], 113);]

Nevertheless, besides the very serious question concerning the appropriateness of characterizing the Trinity as a communion of three Persons, this approach does not adequately take into account the “economic” reality in which all Trinitarian theology is grounded and in terms of which the Scriptures describe the Church. Christology and Pneumatology may have been synthesized, but Trinitarian theology is still considered as a realm apart. Although Metropolitan John emphasizes that “the Church is not a sort of Platonic `image’ of the Trinity; she is communion in the sense of being the people of God, Israel, and the `Body of Christ,” this is followed, in the next sentence but one, with the affirmation that “the Church as communion reflects God’s being as communion.” [Metropolitan John, "Church as Communion," p8, my emphasis]

Despite the tantalizing mention of the Church as the “Body of Christ,” we are left with a communion of three divine Persons and the image of this in the communion that is the Church, whose structure, authority, mission, tradition and sacraments (especially, of course, the Eucharist, [Cf. Metropolitan John, "Church as Communion. p15: "Baptism, Chrismation or Confirmation, and the rest of the sacramental life, are all given in view of the Eucharist. Communion in these sacraments may be described as 'partial' or anticipatory communion, calling for its fulfillment in the Eucharist."] a point to which I will return) are correspondingly “relational.”

We have the Trinity and the Church, the three primary scriptural images for the Church — that is, the Church as the people of God, the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit – offer us, as suggested by Bruce Marshall, a way of looking at the Trinitarian being of the Church in a way that integrates the Church directly and intimately to the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. [Bruce D. Marshall, "The Holy Trinity and the Mystery of the Church: Toward a Lutheran/Orthodox Common Statement," paper presented to the North American Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue, May 2002.]

Moreover, each of these images links the Church in a particular way to one member of the Holy Trinity without undermining the basic Cappadocian point, that the actions of God are differentiated but not divided: it is the one God, the Father, who calls the Church into being as the body of Christ indwelt by the Holy Spirit; and, in return, the Church is conceived in terms of communion, but communion with God, as the body of his Son, anointed with his Spirit, and so calling upon God as Abba, Father.

I would like to begin with the basic content of these images, and then continue by suggesting how Trinitarian theology, as expounded in the fourth century and beyond, directs us to combine these various images, as different aspects of the single mystery that is the Church.

Following this I will offer some further considerations regarding the calling of the Church and her eschatological perfection, and concerning baptism (with which the Church is invariably connected in creedal formulations) as the foundational sacrament of the Church, and the implications this has for the question of the boundaries of the Church, and lastly how, as the place where the human being is born again through baptism, the Church can also be considered as our mother, in which each Christian puts on the identity of Christ.


Objections To Simplicity 2 – Brian Davies

July 18, 2013
Many of the dissenters here deny that God is simple in the sense that Aquinas thinks that he is. Why so? Could it he that they are mesmerized by the formula "God is a person"? I suspect that many of them are, and that by God is a person they mean that God is an invisible being (like Descartes's "I"), very like a human one, though lacking a body. If that is what they do mean, however, they are seriously out of step with what might be called the traditional Jewish/Islamic/Christian concept of God. If that is what they mean, perhaps we might also ask them if there is any reason at all to believe that God exists? You and I, corporeal things, things the essence of which does not guarantee our existence, things able to change in various ways as time goes on, things with attributes that come and go, are all, surely, things which raise the question, "And how come they exist at all?" The doctrine of divine simplicity is part of a complicated answer to this question.

Many of the dissenters here deny that God is simple in the sense that Aquinas thinks that he is. Why so? Could it he that they are mesmerized by the formula “God is a person”? I suspect that many of them are, and that by God is a person they mean that God is an invisible being (like Descartes’s “I”), very like a human one, though lacking a body. If that is what they do mean, however, they are seriously out of step with what might be called the traditional Jewish/Islamic/Christian concept of God. If that is what they mean, perhaps we might also ask them if there is any reason at all to believe that God exists? You and I, corporeal things, things the essence of which does not guarantee our existence, things able to change in various ways as time goes on, things with attributes that come and go, are all, surely, things which raise the question, “And how come they exist at all?” The doctrine of divine simplicity is part of a complicated answer to this question.

Some philosophers reject the conclusion that God is simple. Why so? Here are a few notable lines of argument and some comments on them from Davies – a continuation from the previous post (where you can find A and B). The original post on Simplicity is the one before yesterdays.


(C) God Cannot Be Existence

As we have seen, Aquinas’s teaching on God’s simplicity includes the claim that there is no distinction in God of essence (essentia) and existence (esse), a point he sometimes makes by saying that God is ipsum esse subsistens (subsisting existence itself). [Cf. Summa Theologiae, Ia, 11,4] Yet is such a suggestion even coherent? Many would say that it is not since it displays deep confusion when it comes to the meaning of the word “exists.”

Take, for example, the late C. J. F. Williams. According to him, to say, for example, “Readers of Aquinas exist” is not to tell us anything about any particular reader of Aquinas. It is to tell us that “_ is a reader of Aquinas” is truly affirmable of something or other. Or, in Williams’s language (which echoes what we find in the writings of Immanuel Kant), “existence” or “being” is not a property of individuals. [Cf. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, A592-602.] According to Williams, to say of some individual or thing that it exists is unintelligible.

With this thought in mind, he savages Aquinas on simplicity. Williams argues that what Aquinas writes on this topic wrongly presupposes that existing is a property of individuals, and then, ludicrously, identifies this property with God in an attempt to tell us what God is. [C. J. F. Williams, "Being," in A Companion to the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip L. Quinn and Charles Taliaferro (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997).] The idea here is that Aquinas has no business saying that God creates by bringing it about that various individuals exist, and that he has no business identifying God with a property of existence had by these individuals.

One of Williams’s main arguments for the view that it is nonsense to ascribe existence to an individual holds that if existence were attributable to individuals, then we could never (as we surely can) consistently say things like “Readers of Aquinas do not exist.” Why not? Because, says Williams, if existence were intelligibly attributable to individuals, to say, for example, that readers of Aquinas do not exist would be to say that they lack a certain property, and to say this is implicitly to assert that they exist. In other words, according to Williams, if existence is a property of individuals, then statements such as “Readers of Aquinas do not exist” is true only if it is false.

This argument, however, wrongly assumes that negative existential assertions (such as “Readers of Aquinas do not exist”) have to be taken as presupposing the existence of their subjects and to be denying something of them. To say that readers of Aquinas do not exist is not to suppose that existing readers of Aquinas lack a property of some kind. It is to deny that anything can be truly said to be a reader of Aquinas.

Williams also argues for his position by claiming that sentences ascribing existence to individuals are ones for which we have no use “outside philosophy.” [C. J. F. Williams, What Is Existence? (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 198,), 79 ff.] He means that we just do not normally say things such as “I exist” or “New York exists.” This also seems to be a poor line of argument. People would, doubtless, be puzzled were I to accost them and assert “I exist.” They would probably be equally puzzled if, out of the blue, I announce “New York exists.” But would anyone seriously take me to be talking nonsense were I to say, for example, “The great pyramid at Giza exists, but the Colossus of Rhodes does not,” or “You and I exist, but we won’t if a giant meteorite hits the earth”?

Contrary to what Williams suggests, “exists,” as affirmed of individuals, is hardly some esoteric piece of philosophical baggage. To be sure (and this is something of which Aquinas was acutely aware)) what it is for one thing to exist might he different from what it is for something else to exist. For Smokey to exist is for him to be a cat. For me to exist is for me to be a human being. For a cabbage to exist is for it to be (what else?)) a cabbage. Cats, humans, and cabbages are obviously things of different kinds, but individual examples of these kinds can surely, and as individuals, be sensibly thought of as existing.

Williams, I presume, would reply that it still makes no sense to say, in reply to the question “What is God?” that God is existence (or something like that). However, to repeat what is obviously my mantra in this chapter, Aquinas’s account of divine simplicity is not offered as an account of what God is. It is offered as an account of what God cannot be.

When saying that there is no distinction in God of essence and existence, Aquinas is asserting that, whatever God is, he cannot be something the existence of which is derived. And why does he say this? Because he thinks that there are things the existence of which does not derive from what they are (their essence), things which, therefore, have to be caused by what is distinct from them when it comes to essence and existence. Drawing on the biblical and patristic tradition, and thinking that nothing we take to be part of the universe exists by nature, Aquinas concludes that “God” is the obvious word to use so as to name what accounts for anything other than “it” existing. And why should he not?

(D) A Simple God Cannot Be Free

Let us suppose (as many have denied) that people have freedom of choice (at least sometimes). In that case, presumably, when they do such and such freely they are also freely not doing something or other. Suppose that I am free to brush my teeth before going to bed. Then, it would seem, I am also free not to brush my teeth. Freedom of choice seems bound up with the notion of different courses of action.

Not only that; it seems bound up with different ways in which an agent can be described. If I choose to go to bed without brushing my teeth, then I would be different from what I would be had I chosen to brush my teeth. For one thing, I would be someone who had made a decision not to brush his teeth, and someone who chose to brush his teeth would not be that.

With this line of thinking in mind, it has been suggested that the doctrine of divine simplicity should be rejected since God is free to create or not to create, and that he is free to create worlds of many different kinds. The argument goes like this:

(a) God has freedom to create or not to create;

(b) God is free to create different kinds of worlds;

(c) if (a) and (b) are true, then God could be different from what he is;

(d) but if God could be different from what he is, then he cannot he simple, for to say that God is simple is to say that he and his nature are changelessly one and the same, which is to say that God cannot be different from what he changelessly is.

This argument is sometimes advanced using the notion of a “contingent property.” When Smokey has had a good meal, he is not hungry. When I forget to feed him, he becomes hungry. We might put this by saying that being full or being hungry are contingent properties of Smokey. And we might add that many of Smokey’s properties are not contingent since they are properties he has to have in order to exist at all. Since he is a cat, he is a mammal and, so some philosophers would say, being a mammal is a necessary property of Smokey.

Now, so it is sometimes said, according to the doctrine of divine simplicity God has no contingent properties. Yet God must have contingent properties if he is free to create or not to create, and if he is free to create worlds of different kinds. Why? Because, without ceasing to be God, he is different from how he could be. If he had not chosen to create, he would have been different from what he is given that he chose to create. If he had chosen to create a world without cats, he would be different from what he is given that he has created cats. And so on.

The merit of this argument lies, I think, in the fact that freedom and difference (or freedom and contingent properties) do come together when we are thinking of people. I (and my teeth) would have come to be different from what I was last night had I chosen not to brush my teeth. In addition, my ending up with brushed teeth last night would have left me being what I did not have to be considered as what I am by nature (that is, human).

The problem with the argument, however, lies in the fact that if God is, in Aquinas’s sense, the Creator of the universe, then he cannot he thought of as something able to be different from what he is, and he cannot be thought of as having contingent properties. When Aquinas speaks of the created order he is thinking about everything involved in a world of being and becoming.

So he resists the suggestion that God is to be thought of as a being who comes (or could come) to be different in some way as time goes by. For him, such a being would simply be part of the spatio-temporal universe, not that which accounts for anything having esse.

Aquinas certainly wants to assert that

(a) God is free to create or not create, and

(b) God does not have to create a world just like ours.

By (a), however, he means that God’s nature does not compel him to create, that he is not forced into creating given what he essentially is. He also means that there could be nothing distinct from God which, so to speak, pushes him into creating. Given what we are by nature (human) we cannot but sometimes urinate, or breathe. According to Aquinas, however, divinity has no need of creatures and does not come with an in-built compulsion to create (if it did, thinks Aquinas, then it would, contrary to fact, make no sense to say of any creature that it might not exist). As for (b), Aquinas’s meaning here is just that, logically speaking, lots of things that do not exist could exist, and that they would exist only if God made them to be.

I live in the USA. Could I live in Russia? There seems to be no logical impossibility in the suggestion that I might be living in Russia. So, thinks Aquinas, the world could be different in that I could live in Russia rather than in the USA. But he takes this point to mean no more than that there is no logical impossibility when it comes to my living in Russia.

Applying all of this to the objection to divine simplicity now in question, it seems fair to observe that, for Aquinas, to say that God is free to create or not create, or that he is free to create a world different from what we find ourselves in, is not to suggest that God might be different from what he essentially is, or that he might acquire “contingent properties.”

Aquinas’s “God is free to create” is a comment on what God is not. God is not something whose nature forces him to create. It is also a comment on what exists in the world and on what can be thought to exist without logical contradiction. An objector to Aquinas on simplicity might reply, “But if God had not created Smokey, he would be different from what he is now.” But why suppose that God creating or not creating Smokey makes for any difference in God? To suppose that it might would be to think of God as a spatio-temporal individual who is modified as he lives his life and makes these choices rather than those choices.

If Aquinas’s approach to the notion of creation is right, however, to think of God in that way is just not to think of God. For, so Aquinas would say (and here note the following negations), God is not part of space and time, is not (in a serious sense) an individual, and does not live a life consisting of many changes.

Given arguments of Aquinas that I have noted above, it seems to me that Aquinas would be right to say all this, and that it suffices as a response to the claim that God’s freedom to create, and his freedom to create what does not actually exist, entails that God cannot he said to be what he changelessly is (as the doctrine of divine simplicity says that he can). If we had lived our lives differently, then we would be different from what we are now. But why suppose that the Creator of the universe is something with a life history which could have taken a different course?

Overall Conclusion To Simplicity Posts

In David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) Demea says to Cleanthes that he would rather he a “mystic” than an “anthropomorphite.” Cleanthes insists on thinking of God as very much like a human being. Demea resists this approach and, at one point, takes it to be incompatible with “that perfect immutability and simplicity, which all true theists ascribe to the Deity.” [David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1947), 159]

It seems obvious to me that in this debate Aquinas would have sided with Demea against Cleanthes, for (like other classical defenders of the doctrine of divine simplicity) Aquinas thinks that, if there is a God who creates, if there is one who makes to be all that exists (apart from itself), one who exists by nature, then there have to be radical differences between God and creatures, some of which Aquinas tries to document when teaching that God is simple. Aquinas reasons that we cannot think of God as being something material and changeable. We cannot think of him as being one of a kind of which there could he others. And we cannot think of him as owing his existence to anything.

One might resist these conclusions (which, I repeat, do not amount to a “description” of God) by appealing to what the Bible says. After all, it sometimes speaks of God as though he were a material individual belonging to some kind (a father, a husband who has been cheated on, a woman in labor, a judge, and so on). Medieval theologians always take such ways of speaking to be exercises in metaphor. Many contemporary theologians would agree with them, though many of them do not. Many of them (the dissenters here) deny that God is simple in the sense that Aquinas thinks that he is. Why so?

Could it he that they are mesmerized by the formula “God is a person”? I suspect that many of them are, and that by God is a person they mean that God is an invisible being (like Descartes’s “I”), very like a human one, though lacking a body. If that is what they do mean, however, they are seriously out of step with what might be called the traditional Jewish/Islamic/Christian concept of God.

If that is what they mean, perhaps we might also ask them if there is any reason at all to believe that God exists? You and I, corporeal things, things the essence of which does not guarantee our existence, things able to change in various ways as time goes on, things with attributes that come and go, are all, surely, things which raise the question, “And how come they exist at all?” The doctrine of divine simplicity is part of a complicated answer to this question.


The Trinity 2 — Ronald J. Feenstra

June 26, 2013
The doctrine of the Trinity, which is the specifically Christian way of speaking about God, summarizes what it means to participate in the life of God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit. We cannot enter into the divine life without also entering into a life of love and communion with others.

The doctrine of the Trinity, which is the specifically Christian way of speaking about God, summarizes what it means to participate in the life of God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit. We cannot enter into the divine life without also entering into a life of love and communion with others.

Ronald Feenstra’s area of professional training and teaching is systematic and philosophical theology. He earned his Ph.D. at Yale; his dissertation topic was Pre-existence, Kenosis, and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. He taught theology at Marquette University for eight years before coming to Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to teaching, he oversees the Ph.D. program, which is designed to attract students from diverse backgrounds and to encourage students to pursue a scholarship that wrestles with the theological issues of the day.


Medieval Thought
Western thought on the Trinity in the Middle Ages was influenced by Boethius (ca. 480—ca. 524), who defines a person as the “individual substance of a rational nature,” which he takes to be equivalent to the Greek term hypostasis.
[Boethius, The Theological Tractates and The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. H. F. Stewart, E. K. Rand, and S. J. Tester, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1973, 85-87]

But in his treatise on the Trinity, Boethius speaks of divine persons as “predicates of relation. [Boethius, The Theological Tractates and The Consolation of Philosophy, 27] Medieval Western thought also bears evidence of influence from the Cappadocians. For example, Anselm of Canterbury (ca. 1033-1109) echoes Gregory of Nyssa when he asks, “For in what way can those who do not yet understand how several specifically human beings are one human being understand in the most hidden and highest nature how several persons, each of whom is complete God, are one God.” [Anselm of Canterbury, "On the Incarnation of the Word," in The Major Works, ed. B. Davies and G. R. Evans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, 237] Like Gregory of Nyssa, Anselm considers the union of several human persons constituting one humanity to reflect the union of three divine persons constituting one God.

Differences over the doctrine of the Trinity became a significant point of contention in the eleventh-century schism between Eastern and Western Christianity. Although the Nicene-Chalcedonian Creed of 381 says that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father,” by the fifth and sixth centuries, under the influence of Augustine’s thought, Western Christian thinkers held that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque).[ J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 3rd ed. (New York: Longman, 1972), 358-59]

Asserting the Spirit’s procession from the Son as well as the Father had become an important means for Western theologians to affirm the Son’s full equality with the Father. In contrast, Eastern Christian thinkers held that “the Spirit proceeded from the Father through the Son,” but insisted that “the Father was the source or fountain-head of Deity.” [Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 359]

For the East, “there could be no procession also from the Son, for whatever was common to two hypostases had to be common to all three, and then the Holy Spirit would proceed also from himself. [Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700), vol. 2 of The Christian Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 194] Although the Church of Rome for a time resisted tampering with the creed, eventually it added the filioque, thereby provoking a dispute with the East. [Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 366-67]

By the thirteenth century, using Boethius’s definition of person as well as his understanding of divine persons as relations, Thomas Aquinas says, “a divine person signifies a relation as subsisting… and such a relation is a hypostasis subsisting in the divine nature, although in truth that which subsists in the divine nature is the divine nature itself.”[ Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, rev. ed., trans. the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Bengizer, 1948, I, Q. 29, a. 4.]

So Aquinas adds “heft” to Boethius’ concept by defining a Trinitarian person as a subsistent relation. Aquinas sees his position as occupying a middle ground between two opposite errors: Arianism and Sabellianism. To avoid Arianism, Aquinas speaks of a distinction between divine persons, but not of a separation or division; to avoid Sabellianism, he rejects both the phrase “the only God,” since “Deity is common to several,” and also the word “solitary,” “lest we take away the society of the three persons. ” [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, Q. 31, a. 2]

Reflecting Western views, Aquinas holds that, if the Spirit did not proceed from the Son as well as from the Father, he could not be distinguished from the Son, since his relation to the Father would he identical to the Son’s relation to the Father. [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, Q. 36, a. 2]

Recent Proposals
The renaissance in work on the Trinity that began in the twentieth century in many ways is a response to the thought of the nineteenth-century theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, who considers the Trinity only in the conclusion of his major work, The Christian Faith. Schleiermacher gives several reasons for putting the doctrine of the Trinity in what is essentially an appendix to this theology.

First, based on his method of working from an analysis of the religious consciousness, Schleiermacher argues that this consciousness could never give rise to “the assumption of an eternal distinction in the Supreme Being.” [Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1928), 739] Raising an issue that would become important in twentieth-century theology, Schleiermacher adds, “we have no formula for the being of God in Himself as distinct from the being of God in the world.” [Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, 748]

Second, he finds the church’s doctrine inconsistent, affirming the equality of the persons while also making the Father superior to the other two persons. Finally, on the grounds that the Protestant Reformation offered no new treatment of this doctrine, but left the church vacillating between Tritheism and Unitarianism, he sees a doctrine due for “reconstruction.” [Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, 742-49]

The “reconstruction” of the doctrine of the Trinity began in the first half of the twentieth century, initiated by Karl Barth but joined in by theologians of every theological and confessional stripe, including Karl Rahner, Leonard Hodgson, Jurgen Moltmann, Leonardo Boff, Catherine LaCugna, and John Zizioulas. In recent years, Christian philosophers as well as theologians have addressed important issues in the doctrine of the Trinity.

In the first volume of his Church Dogmatics, Barth develops the doctrine of the Trinity from his analysis of the event of divine revelation. In the event of revelation, says Barth, “God, the Revealer, is identical with His act in revelation and also identical with its effect” — a threefold reality that Barth describes as “Revealer, Revelation, and Revealedness.” [Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/1, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975, 295-96.] Barth argues that the term “person” has a different meaning in modern thought than it did in the patristic and medieval periods, having acquired “the attribute of self-consciousness.” [Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/1, 357]

As a result, speaking of three divine persons based on this new concept of person, with the Trinity composed of “three independently thinking and willing subjects,” seems inescapably tritheist; but speaking of divine “persons” as if the modern concept of personality did not exist is obsolete and unintelligible today. Therefore, replacing the term “person” with “mode (or way) of being,” Barth restates the doctrine of the Trinity as follows: “the one God, i.e. the one Lord, the one personal God, is what He is not just in one mode but … in the mode of the Father, in the mode of the Son, and in the mode of the Holy Ghost.” [Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/1, 357-59]

Barth argues that this is not modalism, since he does not hold that the three modes are manifestations foreign to God’s essence. Rather, just as “fatherhood is an eternal mode of being of the divine essence,” so too Jesus Christ “does not first become God’s Son or Word” and the Holy Spirit “does not first become the… Spirit of God, in the event of revelation. ” [Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/1, 382, 390, 414, 466] For Barth, then, “Down to the very depths of deity…as the ultimate thing that is to be said about God,” God is Father, Son, and Spirit. [Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/1, 414]

One question at the heart of the doctrine of the Trinity has especially vexed contemporary theologians: how can we move from God’s presence and action in Jesus Christ and the Spirit that is, the divine “economy”) to speaking of what God is in himself? Defending a position similar to Barth’s, Karl Rahner states a thesis, sometimes called “Rahner’s rule,” that has become axiomatic for many: “The ‘economic’ Trinity is the ‘immanent’ Trinity and the ‘immanent’ Trinity is the ‘economic’ Trinity.” [Karl Rahner, The Trinity, trans. J. Donceel (New York: Seabury, 1974), 22.] Catherine LaCugna notes one implication of this identification of the economic and immanent Trinity: “God has given Godself to us in Jesus Christ and the Spirit, and this self-revelation or self-communication is nothing less than what God is as God. Creation, redemption, and consummation are thus anchored in God’s eternity.” [Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1991), 209]

In contrast to Barth and Rahner, who favor unipersonal models, Jurgen Moltmann defends a social view of the Trinity. Moltmann argues that, if there is just one divine subject, “then the three Persons are bound to be degraded to modes of being, or modes of subsistence, of the one identical subject,” which would not merely revive “Sabellian modalism,” but also “transfer the subjectivity of action to a deity concealed ‘behind’ the three Persons.” [Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, trans. M. Kohl (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 198,), 139] He argues that, on Barth’s view, the “one divine personality” must be ascribed either to the Father or, like Sabellius, to “a subject for whom all three Trinitarian persons are objective.” [Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 143]

On Moltmann’s view, “The unity of the divine tri-unity lies in the union of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, not in their numerical unity. It lies in their fellowship, not in the identity of a single subject.” [Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 95] Then, based on Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John 17:21, Moltmann concludes that, since the disciples are not only to have fellowship with one another that resembles the union of the Son and the Father, but also to have “fellowship with God and, beyond that, a fellowship in God,” the unity of the Trinity implies the soteriological uniting of creation in God. [Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 95-96]

Among recent scholars, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. and Brian Leftow represent two main ways of understanding the Trinity. Plantinga develops and defends a social Trinitarian view. He presents the Trinity as “a divine, transcendent society or community of three fully personal and fully divine entities: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” who are unified by sharing the divine essence and by “their joint redemptive purpose, revelation, and work.”

On this view, each member is “a distinct person, but scarcely an individual or separate or independent person,” who has “penetrating, inside knowledge of the other as other, but as co-other, loved other, fellow.” [Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. "Social Trinity and Tritheism," in Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement: Philosophical and Theological Essays, ed. R. J. Feenstra and C. Plantinga, Jr. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 27-28.]

Plantinga argues that this does not constitute tritheism on the grounds that important strands in the Christian tradition speak of three distinct persons. The pluralist Christian heresy is Aryanism, which posits “three ontologically graded distinct persons”; whereas social Trinitarianism does not affirm three autonomous or independent persons. [Plantinga, Social Trinity and Tritheism, 32-37]

Leftow articulates and defends “Latin Trinitarianism.” Employing the concept of a trope as “an individualized case of an attribute,” he notes that, although Cain and Abel “had the same nature, they had distinct tropes of that nature,” such that when Abel’s humanity perished, Cain’s did not. Leftow argues that “both Father and Son instance the divine nature (deity),” but, unlike Cain and Abel, “they have but one trope of deity between them.” [Brian Leftow, "A Latin Trinity," Faith and Philosophy 21 (2004):305]

Recognizing that this view seems to suggest that there is just one divine person, Leftow imagines a situation in which time-travel allows three distinct segments of one person’s life to appear simultaneously (to us) as three persons side-by-side. Analogously, “God’s life runs in three streams,” with God as Father in one, as Son in another, and as Spirit in the third.

Leftow argues that this account avoids Modalism because it can affirm a “Trinity of Being” by saying that “the Persons’ distinction is an eternal, necessary, non-successive and intrinsic feature of God’s life, one which would be there even if there were no creatures,” and because, although “the God who is the Father is crucified,” he is crucified “at the point in His life at which He is not the Father, but the Son.” [Leftow, "A Latin Trinity," 307, 319, 327]

Another recent debate focuses on whether the functional subordination of the Son to the Father and the Spirit to the Son has implications for other theological issues such as the inner life of the triune God or the relations between men and women. Some have argued, for instance, that just as the Son is eternally subordinate, yet equal, to the Father, so too women are permanently subordinate, yet equal, to men.

Others reject this claim, either by rejecting the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, or by rejecting the application of Father — Son subordination to male — female roles. [Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006); Craig S. Keener, "Is Subordination Within the Trinity Really Heresy? A Study of John 5:18 in Context," Trinity Journal 20NS (1999): 39-51]

Although the doctrine of the Trinity has generated much theological and philosophical discussion, this distinctive Christian doctrine has important implications for the Christian life: “The doctrine of the Trinity, which is the specifically Christian way of speaking about God, summarizes what it means to participate in the life of God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit.” [LaCugna, God for Us, I.] As LaCugna observes, we cannot enter into the divine life without also entering into “a life of love and communion with others.” [LaCugna, God for Us, 382]


The Trinity (Part 1) — Ronald J. Feenstra

June 25, 2013
“God is love,” John said. It means that the entire life of God, the interplay of the Persons -- the generation of the Son by the Father, the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son -- is the giving and receiving of love. Everything that happens is because of that mutual, radical, life-creating love.

“God is love,” John said. It means that the entire life of God, the interplay of the Persons — the generation of the Son by the Father, the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son — is the giving and receiving of love. Everything that happens is because of that mutual, radical, life-creating love.

Ronald Feenstra’s area of professional training and teaching is systematic and philosophical theology. He earned his Ph.D. at Yale; his dissertation topic was Pre-existence, Kenosis, and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. He taught theology at Marquette University for eight years before coming to Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to teaching, he oversees the Ph.D. program, which is designed to attract students from diverse backgrounds and to encourage students to pursue a scholarship that wrestles with the theological issues of the day.


The doctrine of the Trinity is not only central to Christianity but one of its most distinctive teachings. Although the term “Trinity” never appears in the Christian Bible, Christians believe the doctrine to be grounded in Scripture.

The doctrine developed during the first few centuries of Christianity, as early Christians began to reflect on Jesus’ teachings, the writings of the apostles, the sacred writings that Christians came to call the Old Testament, and Christian practices such as worshiping Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Given the difficulties surrounding the doctrine, debates and disagreements inevitably arose, leading to a need for church councils to set agreed-upon teachings.

Within the boundaries set by the conciliar decisions, Christians have discussed important issues related to the Trinity, including what a person is, what natures and substances are, and whether the Trinity has implications for the claim that humans are created in the image of God. Since the early twentieth century, Christians of various traditions have paid renewed attention to the doctrine of the Trinity.

Biblical Grounding
How can someone affirm one of the central teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures — that there is but one God, Yahweh (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29) – and at the same time regard Jesus not only as Messiah (Christ) and Son of God, but also as God? If the Son is God (John 1:1), then what is the relationship between the Father and the Son? Is this in any way compatible with monotheism? Is God’s Holy Spirit also a distinct divine agent, as Scripture seems to suggest? Although the New Testament includes brief glimpses into the relationship between Father and Son, as in Jesus’ prayer to the Father (John 17:1-26), or among Father, Son, and Spirit, as in Jesus’ farewell discourses (John 14-16), it leaves many unanswered questions regarding these persons and relationships.

Nevertheless, the New Testament’s ascription of divine titles and functions to the Father and the Son offers significant grounds for Trinity doctrine. The New Testament identifies God as one, as Father, or as God and Father: “one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:6; cf. Romans. 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8: 4-6). Yet at the same time, it speaks of Jesus Christ as Lord (Acts 7:59; Rom. 10:9; 1 Corinthians 8:6, 16:22; Philemon. 2:11) and as God (John 1:1-2, 18; John 20:28). It also appears that early Christian worship spoke of Jesus Christ as Lord and God. The New Testament describes Jesus Christ as performing the divine functions of receiving prayer, and of creating, saving, and judging (Acts 7:59-60; Revelations 22:20; Colossians 1:16; John 3:16-17; John 5:21-27).

Biblical descriptions of Jesus Christ’s relationship to God the Father also raise important and complicated issues. On the one hand, the New Testament describes Jesus as having existed with the Father prior to his birth and as the “exact imprint” of God’s being (John 8:58; John 17:5; Hebrews. 1:2-3). On the other hand, the New Testament suggests Jesus’ subordination to the Father as the one sent by the Father and as one who will be subordinate to the Father at the eschaton (John 5:30; John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Although the Son, like the Father, has life in himself and deserves the same honor as the Father, nevertheless the Son can do nothing by himself, but only what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19-27).

The complexity of biblical descriptions of Jesus Christ can be seen in a single passage that describes Jesus as “the firstborn of all creation” (suggesting creaturely subordination) and also as the one who is “before all things” and in whom “all things in heaven and on earth were created,” and “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:15-20). Passages such as these contributed to early Christians’ struggle to understand and articulate Jesus Christ’s status and relationship to the Father.

The New Testament’s comments about the Spirit also lend support to the doctrine of the Trinity. Although some references to the Spirit might not suggest that the Spirit is personal, other passages do seem to imply that the Spirit is a person. Thus, according to the Gospels, Jesus describes the Spirit as guiding his disciples’ speech when they are brought to trial (Mark 13: 11) and as one against whom blasphemy is not forgivable — and by implication as one against whom blasphemy can be committed (Mark 3:29; Matt. 12:31; Luke 12:10).

The New Testament does not clarify the relationship between the work of the Spirit and the work of Christ. Jesus promises his disciples that when he leaves them, he will send the Spirit, who will be their advocate (John 16:7). But he sometimes speaks of himself and sometimes of the Spirit as coming to his disciples after he leaves them (John 14: 18, 26).

Paul speaks of both the Spirit and Christ dwelling in and making intercession for believers (Romans 8:9-11, 26-27, 34). Paul even seems to identify Christ and the Spirit: “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

Given the ambiguous biblical evidence regarding whether the Spirit is personal, as well as suggestions that the Spirit may be the ascended Christ, one might have thought that Christians would seriously debate whether there are two or three divine agents or persons. The lack of such a debate follows from such biblical accounts as the story of Jesus’ baptism, at which three divine figures are present: Jesus as the one being baptized, the Spirit as one who descends on him, and the Father as a voice from heaven speaking of Jesus as “my Son” (Mark 1:9-11; Matt. 3:16-17; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34).

The New Testament also includes triadic statements such as the baptismal formula (“baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” [Matthew 28:19]) and the closing benediction of Second Corinthians (“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Corinthians 13:14]). Other passages also include threefold references to Father (sometimes simply called God), Son, and Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2). Taken together, the descriptions of Jesus’ baptism and these triadic statements suggest that Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct in certain functions, yet equal in status. These passages do not, however, clarify the relationships among the three.

So the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is rooted in biblical affirmations of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Spirit as well key triadic texts. Still, the New Testament’s lack of clarity about the relationships among the three, especially given statements that suggest both the Son’s equality with and his subordination to the Father, left important issues to be resolved by the early church.

The Early Church
Early Christians began to reflect on how their commitment to monotheism fit with Jesus’ teachings and the writings of the apostles, as well as with their practice of worshiping Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In the second century, Christian Apologists such as Justin Martyr and Theophilus spoke about the unity of God, the divine preexistence of the Logos, and the Triad (trias) of Father, Word, and Wisdom [Eugene Fortman, The Triune God: A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982), 50-51;J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 3rd ed. (New York: Longman, 1978, 109.]

By the third century, two currents of thought developed. One current, known as monarchians and largely associated with Rome in the West, thought the emphasis on threeness threatened divine unity. Their belief in the oneness of God and the deity of Christ led the modalistic monarchians (notably, Sabellius) to speak of God as one being who appears first as Father and then as Son in the work of creation and redemption.

The other current, initially associated with Alexandria in the East, emphasized the divine threeness. Origen of Alexandria spoke of Father, Son, and Spirit as three persons or hypostases, distinct eternally and not just as manifested in their work. Origen also spoke of the Son and Spirit as possessing divine characteristics derivatively from the Father and therefore as subordinate to the Father. [Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 109-10, 121-22, 129-32]

At the beginning of the fourth century, amid a lack of agreement over how to think or speak about the divine threeness and oneness, Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, provoked the church into resolving some central issues. Arius proposed that God the Father is the unique, transcendent, unoriginate source of everything that exists, including the Son, who was created out of nothing by the Father’s will or decision and therefore had a beginning. He also held that, as a finite being whose essence was dissimilar to the Father’s, the Word or Son “can neither see nor know the Father perfectly and accurately.” His followers spoke of the divine Triad as three hypostases who did not share the same essence or nature. [R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-381 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1989), 143-44; Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 227-29.]

Arius’ proposals generated much controversy, prompting the emperor to call the council of Nicaea in 325. This council composed a creed that affirms belief in “one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, … begotten not made, of one substance [homoousion] with the Father” and anathematizes those who “assert that the Son of God is from a different hypostasis or substance” than the Father. [Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 232.] Nicaea apparently used the term homoousion at least in part because the Arians found it unacceptable, but without clarifying what the terms homoousion and hypostasis meant.[ Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, 18 1-202; Christopher Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, 160-7 2.]

For example, does the term ousia refer to an individual thing or entity (primary substance) or does it refer to an essence or substance common to several individuals (secondary substance)? As the debate took shape in succeeding decades, affirming “three hypostases” as distinct but consubstantial persons became accepted despite concerns by some Western theologians that it suggested three hypostases that were alien from one another and thus three gods. Debate during this period also clarified the Spirit’s status as fully divine and equal with the Father and Son (such that some referred to the Spirit as homoousion with the Father and the Son) [Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 253-63.]

The Council of Constantinople (381) issued a new creed, sometimes known as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, both reaffirming and revising important teachings of Nicaea. It drops Nicaea’s anathemas (including the anathema against saying the Son is of a different hypostasis than the Father) and it adds to Nicaea’s mere mention of the Holy Spirit by affirming that the Spirit is Lord and life-giver, proceeds from the Father, is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and the Son, and spoke by the prophets. [Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, 816-19]

The following year, a group of bishops in Constantinople wrote a synodical letter summarizing the true faith as belief in “one divinity, power, and substance of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit; and in their equal honor, dignity, and co-eternal majesty; in three most perfect hypostases or three perfect prosopa. [Fortman, The Triune God, 85]

The major figures engaged in the fourth-century discussions included Athanasius of Alexandria (ca. 296-373) and the Cappadocians – Basil of Caesarea (ca. 330-379), Gregory of Nazianzus (329/30-389/90), and Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 330-ca. 395). The Cappadocians spoke of the Trinity as three divine hypostases sharing one divine ousia and therefore as homoousios with one another. [Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity, 162] Accordingly, Gregory of Nyssa describes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being analogous to Peter, James, and John, who share one human nature yet are three distinct persons.

Recognizing that some might accuse him of holding to three gods, Gregory offers two responses. His first response is based on his own Platonism: just as three persons who share divinity are one God, so, too, three persons who share humanity should be called “one human,” although we customarily abuse the language by speaking of “many humans. [Gregory of Nyssa, "On 'Not Three Gods': To Ablabius," in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, second series, ed. P. Schaff and H. Wace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 5979), 5:33, 336.]

His second response appeals to the unity of operations or works of God as ground for the unity of the three divine persons as one God. The Father does not do anything by himself “in which the Son does not work conjointly”; nor does the Son have “any special operation apart from the Holy Spirit”; and therefore the “unity existing in the action” of the three divine persons prevents speaking in the plural of three gods. [Gregory of Nyssa, "On 'Not Three Gods," 334-35] In sum, Gregory argues, “The Father is God: the Son is God: and yet by the same proclamation God is One, because no difference either of nature or of operation is contemplated in the Godhead. [Gregory, "On 'Not Three Gods," 336] The views of Gregory and the other Cappadocians have been especially influential in Eastern Christian thought and in recent discussions of the Trinity.

In the Western church, Augustine’s theology of the Trinity, like his work on many other topics, has been enormously influential. Like the Cappadocians, Augustine emphasizes the unity of will and work of Father, Son, and Spirit, who have “but one will and are indivisible in their working.” .[Augustine, The Trinity, trans., with an introduction and notes, by E. Hill (New York: New City Press, 1991), II.9, 103] Similarly, Augustine rejects any suggestion that the sending of the Son and Spirit implies “any inequality or disparity or dissimilarity of substance between the divine persons.” [Augustine, The Trinity, IV.32, 176-77]

Augustine’s discussion of the Trinity is influenced by his understanding of divine simplicity. Noting the difficulty of translating concepts from Greek to Latin theology, he says that the Greek formula of one ousia, three hypostases sounds to him as if it means one being, three substances, so he prefers to speak of one being or substance, three persons. [Augustine, The Trinity, V.10, VII.10-11, 196, 227-29]

Augustine’s differences with the Cappadocians over terminology are expressed in his discussion of analogies for the Trinity. Augustine rejects the three human analogy, noting both the disanalogy that other humans could emerge with the same nature and that, if the image of the Trinity is realized in three human beings, then humans would not have been in God’s image until there was a man, woman, and their child. [Augustine, The Trinity, VII.11, XII.5-9, 229-30, 324-27]

He offers instead a variety of psychological or unipersonal analogies for the Trinity. Therefore, when someone loves, the triad of the human mind, its self-knowledge, and its love is an image of the one substance of the Trinity. Alternatively, a person is one mind or substance, yet with a distinct memory, understanding, and will. [Augustine, The Trinity, IX.2-18, X.17-18, 271-82, 298-99.]

Still, Augustine does not completely avoid social analogies; and he sharply qualifies his commitment to unipersonal analogies for the Trinity. In discussing Jesus’ claim that he and the Father are one (John 10:30) and his prayer that his disciples will be one as he and the Father are one (John 17:22), Augustine employs a social analogy: “just as Father and Son are one not only by equality of substance but also by identity of will, so these men. . . might be one not only by being of the same nature, but also by being bound in the fellowship of the same love.” [Augustine, The Trinity, IV.12, 161]

Then, in the concluding book of his work on the Trinity, Augustine notes that all images of the Trinity are inadequate: “So the trinity as a thing in itself is quite different from the image of the trinity in another thing.” In particular, both social and psychological analogies ultimately falter: “while a triad of men cannot he called a man, that triad is called, and is, one God…. Nor is that triad like this image, man, which is one person having those three things; on the contrary, it is three persons, the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father and the Spirit of the Father and the Son.” [Augustine, The Trinity, XV.42-43,428]

Augustine and the Cappadocians share broad areas of agreement on the Trinity as well as commitment to the language of the NiceneConstantinopolitan Creed. Still, the differences between them mark out two distinct streams of Christian thought on the Trinity: one primarily associated with Western Christianity and the other primarily with Eastern Christianity.


Reading Selections from Trinity Spermatiké (1.1-1.4) by Giorgio Buccellati

May 22, 2013
We are, in other words, conditioned by the identity of the object towards which we tend. If so, it stands to reason to say that, God being the Trinity, every human relation to the divine sphere is “intentionally” Trinitarian . But how? You are drawn to these daffodils and they are part of a universal apprehension of the divine: in other words, the divine commands our attention, our intention. Reduced to its most universal common denominator, such intentionality is found in facing that which we cannot control but which de facto conditions, and limits, us. The recognition of such uncontrollable external conditions is and has ever been an objective factor in the life of every single human being.

We are, in other words, conditioned by the identity of the object towards which we tend. If so, it stands to reason to say that, God being the Trinity, every human relation to the divine sphere is “intentionally” Trinitarian. But how? You are drawn to these daffodils and they are part of a universal apprehension of the divine: in other words, the divine commands our attention, our intention. Reduced to its most universal common denominator, such intentionality is found in facing that which we cannot control but which de facto conditions, and limits, us. The recognition of such uncontrollable external conditions is and has ever been an objective factor in the life of every single human being.

GIORGIO BUCCELLATI is the director of IIMAS — The International Institute for Mesopotamian Studies, co-director of the Mozan/Urkesh Archaeological Project, director of the Mesopotamian Lab of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, and Professor Emeritus of the Ancient Near East and of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. This is all part of a much larger piece that has most recently been published in Communio and is available here. In these sections Professor Buccellati contrasts the monotheistic Trinity with polytheism and the significance of both, how they contrast and complement each other.


“The Trinity is inevitably present in seed form wherever God is sensed.”

Non chiederci la parola che squadri da ogni lato l’animo nostro inform: …

Don’t ask of us the word that might our shapeless soul squarely and neatly frame.


The Central Concept
One way to approach the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is to explore the experience through which the reality behind the dogma came to be apprehended in the New Testament; and that the Old Testament experience of Yahweh, already essentially Trinitarian, was as if a catechumenate that ultimately made such apprehension possible.

By way of contrast, I have also argued that the polytheistic stance towards the divine is essentially non-Trinitarian, because it emphasizes the aspect of control and ownership vis-à-vis the monotheistic stance that sees an interpersonal sharing within the absolute as fully real without implying fragmentation.

I will argue here for a converse point of view that will complement the considerations made in the second paper. While a pagan, or polytheistic ethos is indeed essentially non-Trinitarian in the articulation of its sensibilities and thought processes, it cannot, at the same time, escape from the deeper Trinitarian dimension of the divine reality.

A Polytheistic Opposition
The explicit polytheistic opposition to a monotheistic dimension is dramatically complemented, in my view, by a deeper, inescapable apprehension of what is ultimately the only proper configuration of the divine, i.e., the Trinity. The Trinity is inevitably present in seed form wherever God is sensed.

The Church Fathers spoke of a lógos spermatikós referring to the inevitability of Christ being present as seed in the human experience of the divine even when not so recognized explicitly. But recognizing the Logos as seed implies, inevitably, a seed-like Trinitarian apprehension — a Trinity spermatiké. The equivalent Latin term, semina verbi, “the seeds of the word” is also central to the understanding of the commonalities among world religions. We should then ask: what, if any, is the difference between the Old Testament catechumenate and such a veiled polytheistic perception of the Trinity?

And in turn, how does the fuller disclosure, as offered by Jesus, impact our human experience of divine reality? In other words, how is our basic human confrontation with God enriched as a result of being, through Christ, more explicitly Trinitarian?The thrust of this article aims to give an answer to this question.

Monotheism and Trinitarianism
Semantically, it would appear sufficient to say that Trinitarian is not three-theism: the three persons are not three gods. But there is a more subtle conceptual dimension that may easily hide behind the semantic veneer. It emerges when, in a converse (vocab: All S is P, the converse is All P is S) sort of way, monotheism comes to be understood as “one-theistic”: there is only one god, but with the emphasis on the numerability of the “one.” He is still subject of counting.

This means that conceptually he is seen as one in a series of units, a series that belongs to a broad set where everything is numerable. “One-theism” is not very different from henotheism, a term which refers to the process of rarefaction whereby pre-eminence is given to a single deity out of a pantheon of many, to the point where the other gods almost disappear. In such a perspective, the characteristic of oneness remains one of superiority rather than of utter otherness.

It is such utter otherness that is, instead, the hallmark of monotheism. Oneness means, in this case, a one that is not so much above a multitude of other ones as it is, rather, wholly set apart. The semantic trap to which I was alluding lies in assuming that the one is opposed to the many. Where polytheism admits many deities, monotheism is assumed to admit one.

It comes down to a matter of scale: the one is of the same order as the many, except that it is numerically limited. But it is a trap. The insight of monotheism lies in proposing an altogether different scale, a different plane of reality where, we might say, one is opposed to one. The “one” of polytheism is a mononumerical set, but remains a set within a series of numerical sets. The “one” of monotheism is outside any such series of sets.

Metábasis Eis Állo Génos
The notion of transcendence refers to just such an understanding. The monotheistic God transcends human concepts in the way described by Kierkegaard as a metábasis eis állo génos, a “rising to another genus,” using language borrowed from Aristotle. The “other genus” is not something higher within the same range. It is rather a distinct range altogether. Nor is it a truly parallel order of being, because it is wholly outside our concept of order, related to ours only analogically.

If we take seriously transcendence as metábasis, and parallelism as analogia entis, then the point made above, about the importance of considering the oneness of God outside of any notion of numerical sets, will become clearer. So will, also, the realization that there is no contrast between monotheism and Trinitarianism. The Trinity is not a set any more than the One God is a set.

We may think of the Trinity as the inner articulation of the altogether different order of being which we call absolute. An excessive conceptual reliance on the notion of oneness may easily work against the very impetus of monotheism, as if the reductiveness of the single count could give us control on transcendence, as if transcendence could in effect be imprisoned in the immanent function of the numeric concept.

“Understanding” God
If transcendence implies transference to an altogether different plane of reality, an állo génos, then how is it possible for humans to rise to this other level, how does the metábasis (vocab: a passing from one thing to another; transition.) take place? In particular, within our present context, what kind of basic human understanding is possible of the Trinitarian mystery?

Is the Trinitarian állo génos (other kind) so alien that there are no footholds in normal human experience on which to stand in order to reach for some kind of plain and simple human comprehension? Are we called to love what we can- not possibly understand? But if our love is to be genuine, how can it not be human, how can it be directed to what is alien to experience, to understanding?

These considerations are valid for any attempt to reach the divine sphere, but they are especially pertinent when reflecting on the Trinity. If revelation is seen as merely the acquisition of information, then we may develop the wrong feeling that knowing about the Trinity means that we can “explain” God. But we would be wrong in equating understanding with explanation.

Understanding = An Inner Disposition Of Love
Understanding does not mean explicating in the sense of dissecting, analyzing, breaking down a composite into its constituent parts. In the traditional sense of wisdom, understanding means to apprehend the whole as meaningful apart from, or rather beyond, its being the sum of its components. When reflecting on the Trinity, we must, accordingly, relate to the mystery as a whole, without the tacit pretense that by describing it as a triadic sum we have exhausted its inner significance. Knowing about the Trinity is not a call to acquire and exchange information, it is not an explanation. It is, rather, a call to develop a relationship.

Ultimately, this means that “understanding” the Trinity entails an inner disposition of love. We cannot love without understanding the target of our love, nor can we understand without the inner thrust of a full and genuine human love. Not, however, as though love were an irrational feeling. True, it would be a sad day when we could “explain” why we love someone, for explanation would entail love as a necessary consequence.

But it would also be a sad day when we felt love to be irrational, i.e., wholly divorced from reason. Rather than in conflict, love and reason are in a mutual relationship of harmony, and it is through reason that we, lovers, “understand” our beloved.

The Role of Apologetics
It is in fact valid to say that explanation plays a propaedeutic [vocab: (of an area of study) Serving as a preliminary instruction or as an introduction to further study.] role in nurturing understanding, hence love. We cannot convince someone, through argument, that he or she must love someone else. On the other hand, arguments can direct the inner movement of souls to where, beyond the dissecting arguments, the whole explodes in its own clarity.

Analogously, no amount of analytical criticism can force you to enjoy a poem or a painting; but the same criticism can predispose your sensitivity so that it is trained to accept modalities and styles that might at first have seemed alien. It is in this sense that we can bridge the gap between positive and negative theology, by seeing the first as preparing the ground for the second, by seeing argument and explanation shaping our consciousness and preparing it for the explosion of understanding.

Knowing And Understanding
There is an analogous distinction between knowing and understanding. “Knowing” relates to capturing information, “understanding” to an inner disposition of apprehension and readiness. Thus it is that when we seek to do the will of God, we do not properly seek explicit orders or a clarification of situations, wherein we are told do A rather than B.

Explicit Divine Requests
Explicit divine requests are the exception. Consider the three fiats (vocab: a command or act of will that creates something without or as if without further effort):

  1. Only the first is Mary’s response to an explicit “word”: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum (Luke 1:38).
  2. The second is the Our Father, where we are asked to accept a will that does not necessarily translate into any explicit word: fiat voluntas tua (Matthew 6:10).
  3. The third is Jesus’ own Our Father, when, in the agony at Gethsemane, he contrasts his own instinctive desire to avoid the Passion with the will of the Father that the Passion should take place, a will that is perceived but is not confirmed as an articulate command: fiat voluntas tua (Matthew 26:42) | non mea voluntas sed tua fiat (Luke 22:42).

A Christian Epistemology I
This last fiat is especially tragic and meaningful. It is preceded, in each of the two gospel narratives, by an if-clause that projects uncertainty. Jesus does not seem to “know” for sure what the Father’s will is: “Father, if it is possible, let this chalice go away from me — except, not as I wish, but as you do… . If this cannot go away unless I drink it, let your will take place” (Matthew 26:39.42); “Father, if you wish, remove from me this chalice — except, not my will, but let yours take place” (Luke 22:42).

It seems as though part of the agony is the obscurity that involves uncertainty about the Father’s precise intentions. Jesus’ surrender is more important, it would appear, than his acceptance of any specific marching orders. The will of the Father is not information to be articulated in words that one can “know,” but rather a creative power to be adhered to with understanding. The if-qualifications of the last fiat do not seem resolved as, in his agony, Jesus cries from the height the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 | Mark 15:34). No direct answer is forthcoming. No explicit explanation. No spoken word of comfort. Instead, the final understanding of the Father’s will comes to the dying Jesus, extraordinarily, through a fellow human being: one of the two men who have been crucified alongside him — Dismas, as tradition calls him.

There is a startling dimension to this episode (Luke 23:39–43), one that can nurture much awed reflection. Think about it: Jesus finds the strength to accept his final collapse (Luke 23:46) through the unexpected support of an unknown criminal. It is, mark well, the lowliest human on the social scale, one who had never received anything from Jesus, one whose name was unknown to even the few bystanders (Dismas being a later appellation).

It is this very man who is called to give the Father’s answer to the Son, to give Jesus the courage to die. Remember: Jesus had been asking for help from the three apostles he took near him at Gethsemane, and they fell asleep; there, he had asked the Father for direction, and had met with silence; as he is led to the summit of the skull, he sees his closest friends disappear (except for his mother and a young disciple), and it is the outsiders who then begin to rally around his loneliness.

In this darkness we can see how Jesus’ own fiat, his “understanding” of the Father’s will, is not rooted in the acquisition of a specific, overt, articulate command that might confirm his mission, but in his fundamental posture of availability and openness, ready to accept whatever sign may come his way. Any source, even the most unexpected, may be the effective conduit to an understanding of what we are to be available for. For Jesus, it was, first, a foreigner along the way (Simon of Cyrene, Matthew 27:32 | Mark 15:21 | Luke 23:26), and then, at the top, an unnamed confessed criminal.

Jesus lives a profoundly human situation as he seeks through uncertainty the will of the Father.

A Christian Epistemology II
So did his mother when facing the behavior of her adolescent son. Having found him in the Temple after an anguished search, and having heard his explanation as to why he had not alerted them regarding his whereabouts, we are told that Mary and Joseph “did not comprehend the spoken (explanation) (ou sunē’kan tò rē’ma)

[In the Annunciation, the “word” to which Mary assents is lógos in Greek. The term used here instead is rē’ma, which has more the connotation of “saying, speech, statement,” hence “explanation” and then even “event, fact.” The same term is used in the plural in what follows immediately in the text, where it is said that Mary pondered in depth “all the spoken (events) (pánta tà  rē’mata).”] which he had spoken to them” (Luke 2:50).

But reflect on it they did, after the fact, and intensely so: “His mother was watching-and-guarding-through-and-through (dietē’rei) in her heart all the spoken (events) (pánta tà rē’mata)” (Luke 2:51). She accepts and basically understands her son even when, offered an explanation, she does not fully comprehend it. At the root, and in a nutshell, this is the Christian epistemology, particularly when facing the Trinity.

It is also, in a way, the common Trinitarian epistemology, i.e., the non-Christian confrontation with the Trinity. The central question we are asking here concerns precisely the way in which, however veiled, the Trinity may be sensed outside of the framework unveiled through the Incarnation of the Logos. If even in the wake of that revelation our “understanding” is at once piercing and obscure; if even Mary and Joseph “did not comprehend the explanation” explicitly offered by Jesus; how then do the countless humans who are not privy to the same revelation face the inescapably Trinitarian dimension of the divine?

The phenomenological concept of “intentionality” is helpful in this respect. On the analogy of planets held in orbit by the pull of their sun, so are we tending towards objects that exert their attraction regardless of how explicit our perception of their precise identity may or may not be. We are, in other words, conditioned by the identity of the object towards which we tend. If so, it stands to reason to say that, God being the Trinity, every human relation to the divine sphere is “intentionally” Trinitarian . But how?

There is, in the first place, a universal apprehension of the divine: in other words, the divine commands our attention, our intention. Reduced to its most universal common denominator, such intentionality is found in facing that which we cannot control but which de facto conditions, and limits, us. The recognition of such uncontrollable external conditions is and has ever been an objective factor in the life of every single human being.

There is, however, a fundamental difference in how we articulate our perception of this reality, a difference that comes down to two basic alternatives. Common to both is the realization that we can progressively gain an ever greater measure of control over what could not previously be controlled — for instance, control of the outer spaces through astronomy, of disease through medicine, of our own remote past through paleontology and archaeology.

Peculiar to the first mode of thought is the belief that this “progress” is, itself, unconditional. In other words, nothing will ultimately condition progress because progress will achieve full ultimate control on whatever external conditions seem to limit us now (see in the next installment, 4.3).

Peculiar to the second mode of thought is instead the belief that there is an ultimate “beyondness” that conditions us in ways that escape all possibility of control on our part. The intentional aspect is the same: in both cases the existence of conditioning factors that cannot be controlled is undeniable, and un-denied. The difference is in the perceptual resolution, both positions being a matter of belief.

We either believe, in the polytheistic frame of mind (the first mode of thought), that full ultimate accretion is possible (there is an ultimate explanation of everything, the last bit of which will come from the ultimate accumulation of all previous knowledge). Or else we believe, in the monotheistic frame of mind (the other mode of thought), that accretion is itself conditioned, that our own ability of control is framed by uncontrollable conditions. Neither belief can be demonstrated. But both are the result of an objective, “intentional” confrontation with a reality which we experience: a conditioning that is beyond our control.

The point I wish to stress in this context is that there is a Trinitarian dimension even to the polytheistic perception of the “beyondness.” Therein humans face, “intentionally,” a dynamics at work in the divine reality, through the very paradox of progress understood as the ultimate goal. The paradox lies in the notion that a never ending progress may in some way end. Progress entails the capturing, along the line, of fragments of a dynamic absolute, yet progress will, by necessity, come to an end when there are no more fragments — at which point the dynamics ends.

The paradox, then, is in the belief that stasis is the final outcome of forward movement, that this dynamics can be seized — do we not, in fact, gradually appropriate an ever greater share of the universal progress? In this light, the death of god appears in an even more tragic light: at the very moment that we appropriate the dynamics of the absolute, we nullify the absolute. The death of god (as in Nietzsche) is the final stasis: what we presume to kill is, in reality, the dynamics of the absolute. We kill, in fact, that veiled perception of a Trinitarian reality wherein we saw the absolute as endowed with an inner vitality and particularity. The death of god is, in fact, the abrogation of the Trinitarian dimension within the absolute.


The God of Jesus Christ III — by Jean Daniélou

March 16, 2012

The Holy Spirit 1750 by Corrado Giaquinto

In this concluding piece of his meditation on the God of Jesus Christ. Cardinal Jean Daniélou brings together the theology of the Holy Spirit that we find in the Old and New Testaments. A tour de force, a companion piece of which you can find here (The God of the Philosophers).


It is first of all in the order of creation that the activity of the Spirit is revealed. It is the Creator Spiritus; and indeed it makes its first appearance in verse 2 of Genesis: “The spirit (ruah) of God was stirring above the waters.” The image is that of the eagle beating the air above its nest to make the eaglets fly. So the Spirit of God arouses creation from nothingness. This theme appears again and again in the Old Testament:

If he were to take back his spirit to himself,
withdraw to himself his breath,
All flesh would perish together,
and man would return to the dust
Job 34:14-15.

The liturgy takes this up, applying it justly to the cosmos renewed by grace, in the verse that the Psalms apply to the first creation:

When you send forth your spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
Psalms 103(104):30

The action of the Spirit is later revealed in history. It is to be exercised in two ways: first it is the Spirit of Yahweh who seizes upon certain people to arouse them by superhuman power to the accomplishment of certain great works of God. This appears especially in the Book of Judges, which refers to the conquest of Canaan. “The Spirit of the Lord enveloped Gideon, and he blew the horn” (Judges, 6:34); thus he aroused the courage of the troops and led them to victory. It was the same Spirit that “came upon” Samson, giving him strength to rend a young lion with his bare hands, and to slay thirty men single-handedly (Judges, 14:6-19), to break, “as flax that is consumed by fire”, the new cords that bound his arms, and then, armed with the jawbone of a donkey, to slay a thousand Philistines (Judges 15:14-15).

Elsewhere the Spirit gives certain men knowledge of God’s plan. We say in the Creed, “He has spoken through the prophets.” The prophet is he to whom the Holy Spirit shows the secret of his ways. It is the Holy Spirit alone who fathoms the depths of God and shows us his mystery. In other words, the Holy Spirit leads history through his anointed and explains it through his prophets; but it is he who is here the primal cause.

We should have to quote all the prophets at this point. Thus David: “The Spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me: and his word by my tongue” (2 Sam [2 Kings] 23:2). Thus Ezekiel: “The spirit entered into me … and he set me upon my feet: and I heard him speaking to me” (Ezek 2:2). The Second Epistle of Peter recalls this doctrine: “Holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1:21).

Pagan antiquity also had a doctrine of prophecy and divination, but among the Ancients divination was based on another phenomenon; it was connected with the idea of pneuma; but it is a question here of a material breath, emanating from the earth, which in trances enters into the diviner, puts him in relation with unknown cosmic forces, and enables him to perceive connections that escape ordinary consciousness.

Verbeke gives a useful account of this process: “The power to predict coming events is allied to universal sympathy, to the interdependence of cosmic events; all the happenings of the cosmos are elements in a great whole, among which there is continual interaction. However, all men are not able to discover these secret connections. Yet there are certain privileged men who can attain divinatory enthusiasm.” [La Doctrine du Pneuma, p. 529] We see here the difference between the two conceptions: for pagan thought, it is a matter of hidden energies in the cosmos that must be tapped; in the biblical perspective the action of ruah raises man above his nature, bringing him into the world of God.

This action of the Spirit, which directs sacred history, is to appear in all its fullness in the third stage of the magnalia of God, that of the Incarnation. It is the Holy Spirit that is the agent here. The archangel Gabriel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee”;[ Luke Ch.35] and in Matthew: “Before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 1:18] At the Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove, to inaugurate his public life and his prophetic ministry: “And Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the desert.” [Luke 4:1] Jesus applies to himself the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord … hath anointed me”, [Luke 4:18] and “I cast out devils by the Spirit of God.” [Matthew 12:28]

Thus the Incarnation opened a new age in the history of the world, that in which the Holy Spirit was plenteously spread abroad through the manhood of Jesus. After the Ascension, the Spirit that was in him was communicated to the Church, which is his Body. This outpouring of the Spirit took place on the day of Pentecost: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting…. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak with divers tongues.” [Acts 2:2, 4]

The result of this descent of the Spirit is twofold. On the one hand, it aroused the Apostles, those weak men who had been scattered on Good Friday, with a new, superhuman power. They went forth now to bear witness, to perform the great acts of God. There came upon them a divine power whereby they spoke with authority, and with an effect beyond that of human words; they performed miracles, they converted hearts.

But all these facts that continue the action of the Spirit in the Old Testament only translate this action in an outward manner; for the new event of Pentecost is the coming of the Spirit into souls, to communicate to them the new life, that of grace. As the Spirit at the beginning brooded upon the waters, arousing in them biological life, so now the Holy Spirit performs a new act of creation, that of the spiritual life in the strict sense of the word. This life is superior to the forces of nature and intellect, for it shares in the life of God himself. The chief text here is that of the Epistle to the Romans: “You have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba” (Father). [Romans 8:15] Only the Holy Spirit can permit us to know in faith “the deep things of God”. [1 Corinthians 2:10]

In this new activity, which is that of the creation of the cosmos of grace, the Holy Spirit is revealed with greater clarity. First it appears as divine; it is the Holy Spirit, that is, its function is, strictly speaking, the divinization of the soul; it brings us into the sphere of God, and that is the whole purpose of Christianity. Already, from the beginning, it has appeared to us as performing works beyond the power of man. But here it appears as performing a work that is strictly holy and divinizing. Henceforth, the nature of ruah is revealed in this way. It is truly a divine force working in history to achieve the transfiguration of the world and the edification of the Body of Christ. The Spirit is the living, working soul of the Church, edifying the mystical Christ through the centuries.

But a further aspect, of hidden origin, now makes its appearance: this is the personal character of the Spirit. It is not only a question of an impersonal power, as the Old Testament might lead us to suppose. Christ presents the Spirit as a new intercessor and puts it on the same level as himself — and his own personality is beyond question. The Acts attribute to it personal activity; it bears witness, it teaches, it feels sorrow at unfaithfulness, it dwells in the soul; it is thus a personal presence, a presence more intimately concerned with man than the general presence of God in creation, and even connected with the nature of grace. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 3:16). Thus man is fully entitled to pray,

Veni Creator Spiritus,
Mentes tuorum visita.

We began by discussing the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the cosmos; then we saw how it operated in history, and finally in the world of grace. In this way it is revealed in all its reality, as God and as a Person. But elsewhere we have seen that the Word was also revealed to us as God and as a Person. Before them, the Father appeared to us as the original principle, he also being both God and a Person. Thus, little by little, the mystery has been unveiled before us of a God in whom there are Three Persons. This result is obtained by studying the evidence presented by the facts recorded in the Old and New Testaments.

But now comes the final question — that of the relationships between these Persons. For we see that, before they are revealed in nature and history, they exist eternally in God. Therefore there must be eternal relationships between them. These relationships are to be seen reflected in the mirror of the missions of the Trinity. It will be the task of theologians — and St. John is their leader — to begin with the biblical data that have an essential bearing on the activity of the Three Persons in time, and to try to contemplate and express their eternal relationships. Thus theology will rise toward primordial reality, shrouded in darkness and forbidden to human sight, but accessible to man’s understanding through its activity in the world.

The life of the Trinity is a perfect unity. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are but a single God. “I and the Father are one”, says Christ in St. John (10:30). This implies the joint possession of the same single divine nature: “All things whatsoever the Father hath, are mine” (John 16:1 5). For “the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things which himself doth” (John 5:20). He communicates to the Son the life that is his: “For as the Father hath life in himself, so he hath given to the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). And as he has the power of judgment, he “bath given him power to do judgment” (John:27). Thus Christ can say of the Father, “All my things are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10). This perfect unity is the pattern and source of all unity: “That they may be one, as we also are one” (John 17:22).

However, this union is not the communication by the Father of a life that he first possessed alone. As Pere Lebreton has written, St. John insists on the eternal character of this union and on the perfect mutuality that it implies. He expresses this through the doctrine of the immanence of the divine Persons in one another, which implies their eternal coexistence: “I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (John, 14:10). And Christ continues, “The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, he doth the works. Believe you not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” (John 14:10-11).

This mutual immanence of the Persons is the seal of their coeternity. It constitutes the insurmountable barrier between the doctrine of the Trinity and any philosophy of emanation. It makes the Trinity of Persons constitute the very being of God, and not a secondary feature in the unity of nature.

It follows from this that the Son was perfectly with the Father; he who knows him knows the Father in him in his perfect likeness, since there is nothing that distinguishes the Father except the being of the Son. This is the meaning of Christ’s reply to Philip, who asked Him, “Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Christ replies, “Have I been so long a time with you; and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also” (John 14:8-9). Accordingly, he that honors the Father honors the Son also (John 5:23). Conversely, the Jews reject Christ “because they have not known the Father, nor me” (John 16:3). “He who honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father” (John 5:23); and “what things soever he doth, these the Son also doth in like manner” (John 5:19).

But this unique Godhead, the object of a unique worship, is possessed by each Person according to his distinguishing property. This node of possession is what formally constitutes him as a Person, since this alone is proper to him. The Son is he who is begotten by the Father. Throughout St. John’s Gospel, this generation is expressed by the dependence of the Son in relation to the Father, which implies no inferiority, but only a certain order: “Amen, amen, I say unto you, the Son cannot do anything of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doth, these the Son also doth in like manner” (John 5:19).

As Pere Lebreton again points out, it is not a question here of the human actions of Christ, but of his eternal, divine activity. [Origines du dogme de la Trinite, 1, 523] Similarly this eternal preexistence of the Word “in the beginning with God” was stated in the Prologue. St. John returns to this theme in his Gospel, when he reports Christ as speaking of “the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee” (John 17:5).

Just as the Son is the One God with the Father, so is he with the Spirit. As the Son perfectly knows the Father, “For the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God…. So the things also that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2: 10-11). But its own character is that it possesses this fullness of the divine Being by receiving it both from the Father and the Son. On the one hand, St. John tells us that the Spirit “proceedeth from the Father” (John 15:26) and is “the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26). But elsewhere St. John shows us the Spirit as a river of living water whose source is in the Son: “He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

Similarly, in most cases, the Spirit is presented as proceeding both from the Father and the Son. This appears in a series of texts that are seldom brought together, describing the mysterious counsels of the Three Persons during the ten days that separate the Ascension of Christ from the outpouring of the Spirit — texts that are full of a silence like that which preceded the creation of the world.

But these passages enable us to glimpse something of that “hidden mystery accomplished in the silence of God”. The only begotten Son, raised to the right hand of the Father in his glorified humanity, prays to the Father that “he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). The equivalence of these two Comforters already signifies that they belong to the same nature. Elsewhere, we have already seen that the Spirit can only be given by the Father, from whom it proceeds, but not without the mediation of the Son.

Thus the Spirit is sent by the Father, but in the Name of the Son — and this is a new term, referring to its twofold procession: “But the Paraclete … the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26). We may note here that the Father is always present as the origin, but the Son is always associated with him, in a procession resembling the mission of the Spirit, and this makes it clear that the Spirit proceeds from both these Persons, but according to the proper nature of each of them.

Another text, not this time from St. John, describes the Pentecost itself as the sending of the Spirit by the Son, in dependence on the Father: “Being exalted therefore by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this which you see and hear” (Acts 2:3 3).

But the words of Christ in St. John’s Gospel already announced this outpouring of the Spirit in its twofold relationship with the Father and the Son: “When the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me” (15:26). We return again and again to this twofold dependence and this order in dependence, whose primary origin is always hidden in the Father, though it is nevertheless the Son who is immediately responsible for sending the Spirit. This order of mission is a reflection of that of possession.

So it is with justice that, in the vision that we have been quoting and which dominates the Johannine writings, the Spirit is presented in the eternal outpouring of its existence and not merely in its Pentecostal descent, which is the created reflection of the “a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1).


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