JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Holy Trinity.

141. The entire dogmatic portion of this book is a development of the Apostles' Creed, and of its amplification, the Nicene Creed. Now these Creeds are, in the main, expositions of the doctrines concerning the Holy Trinity: "I believe in God the Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, . . . in the Holy Ghost . . . . Many truths, therefore, with regard to the Blessed Trinity need not be dwelt on in this chapter, since they are explained in other parts of this volume. There is another Creed, called the Athanasian (n. 122), which deals more exclusively, and far more copiously, with the special subject now before us. It is in part as follows: "The Catholic faith is this: that we honor one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor separating the Substance. For one is the Person of the Father, another that of the Son, another that of the Holy Ghost. But of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost the Divinity is one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, such the Holy Ghost. The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Ghost is uncreated. . . . The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God; . . . and yet there are not three Gods, but there is one God. . . . The Father is not made by any one, nor created, nor born. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but born. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son, not made, nor created, nor born, but proceeding."

In this clear exposition of the Catholic faith the salient points are four -- 1. That there is a real distinction between the three Persons, for the Creed says: "One is the Person of the Father, another that of the Son, another that of the Holy Ghost." 2. That there is no real distinction between any of the Persons and their Divine Nature, or that each of the Persons is God, whole and entire; therefore that each of the Persons has all the Divine attributes in their fulness. For "of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost the Divinity (that is the Divine Nature) is one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, such the Holy Ghost". 3. That, nevertheless there are not three Gods, but there is one God. 4. That the distinctions existing between the Persons are connected with the origin of each of Them, as will he explained farther on (n. 147).

142. In all these doctrines there is much mystery. For a mystery is a truth which we cannot comprehend when we express it in a sentence we know or believe that the predicate belongs to tile subject, but we do not understand how or why it belongs to it. Thus we cannot understand how the one individual Nature of God subsists in three Persons. In the case of men, each man is a person, having his own individual nature distinct from the individual natures of other men, so that there are always as many men as there are human persons. But the three Divine Persons are not three Gods, and this is a great mystery to us. Reason by itself cannot prove it; but we accept it on the authority of God's word. Still reason cannot disprove it either. For while it would be against reason to say that three persons are one person, or that there are three Persons and yet not three Persons; it is no contradiction to say that three Persons have one Nature and are one God. For nature and persons are very distinct objects of thought. A nature, or essence, is the sum total of the characteristic perfections which make a being what it is, as distinguished from all beings of a different species. Thus the Nature of God is the union of all perfections to the exclusion of all imperfections. But a person is an individual substance which is a principle of action in a rational nature; thus God the Father begets God the Son. Now there is no contradiction in saying that the same individual Substance is a triple Principle, the three Principles in God having the same perfections in common. Each possesses them all in their fulness, or infinity; yet Each possesses those perfections in His Own peculiar way. Still how this is remains a mystery.

The chief points to be proved regarding the Blessed Trinity are these -- 1. That the three Persons are really distinct from one another; 2. That they are perfectly equal to one another; 3. That they are not three Gods.

143. The last point, the unity of God, has already been demonstrated (n. 134). To prove the other two points we must have recourse to the teachings of Scripture and Tradition.

The revelation of the Blessed Trinity was not necessary in the Old Testament, which insisted chiefly on the unity of God, in order to prevent the Jews from falling into idolatry, as did all the nations around them. Still this great mystery was not unknown to all the Chosen People, as is apparent from references to it in the Psalms, the Book of Wisdom, and other portions of the Ancient Scriptures. The second Psalm in particular speaks of the Father and the Son: "The Lord hath said to Me, 'Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee', etc." So does the 109th Psalm: "From the womb before the day-star I begot Thee". Both these Psalms and others are shown by St. Paul to refer to Christ (Hebr. I).

But in the New Testament we find the Trinity of Persons in God most clearly revealed. In fact, without this knowledge the leading doctrines of Christianity, -- the Incarnation, the Atonement, the mission of the Holy Ghost, and His work of sanctification, -- would be unintelligible. We select some of these texts: 1. At the Annunciation, the Angel said: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; and therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of the Most High" (Luke I, 35). 2. At the Baptism of Christ, when He entered on His public life, St. John "saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him; and behold a voice from Heaven saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'." (Matt. III, 16-17.) 3. In the discourse of Christ after the Last Supper, He said: "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever, the Spirit of Truth" (Jo. XIV, 16). 4. After His Resurrection: "I ascend to your Father and to My Father, to My God and to your God" (Jo. XX, 17); "Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matt. XXVIII, 19).

In these texts we are told clearly of three Principles of intelligent action, three Persons, called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. These are seen to be distinct from one another, as is clear from these words in particular: "I will ask the Father, and He will send you another Paraclete, . . . the Spirit of Truth". For there is evidently a real distinction between the Person who asks and the Person of whom He asks, between the Person who sends the the One who is sent. 2. All the three are God, for that the Father is God is directly stated by Christ when He says: "I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God." Besides, it is not disputed that the Father is God. The Divinity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost will be proved in connection with the refutation of the heresies which deny it (nn. 144-145).

144. Seeing that this mystery is the very groundwork of the Christian revelation, we are not surprised to find that the powers of darkness assailed it directly in the early Church through a variety of heresies. God's providence, drawing good out of evil, arranged that these great truths were soon explicitly defined.

First, Arius denied that Christ was God, perfectly equal to the Father. But St. John had written his Gospel for the purpose of inculcating this very doctrine. He begins thus: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"; and adds: "And the Word was made Flesh". Therefore, He who became Flesh was God. His Gospel abounds in clear statements of Christ's Divinity; for instance, it narrates how St. Thomas adored the Saviour with the words, "My Lord and my God" (XX, 28). St. Paul teaches the same; he says distinctly that Christ "is above all things, God blessed forever" (Rom. IX, 6. -- See n. 186). The writings of nearly all the Fathers of the second and third centuries are replete with such teachings. The first General Council, held at Nice, in 325, condemned Arius, and defined that Christ was "the Son of God, only begotten of the Father; God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; by whom all things are made, both the things in Heaven and in earth".

Arianism was patronized by several Emperors, and disturbed the Church for many generations. It infected the Eastern and Western Goths, spread through Thrace, Burgundy, and upper Italy; Spain, Africa, and parts of Asia. Spain was restored to Catholicity under her King Hermenegild, in and after 584; France under Clovis a century earlier; but in Africa the heresy lingered until all its Christianity was swept away by the Mahometan conquest.

After the Council of Nice, the Semi-Arians strove to substitute for the word "consubstantial" (homoousios) a word differing from it by only one letter (homoiousios), but which meant "of similar substance", not "of the same substance". They also were of course condemned and like cut off branches withered away. Unitarianism today is a revival of Arianism: it admits the Divinity of God the Father alone, and denies the Blessed Trinity; many Protestants in various sects share this error with it (n. 361).

As Man, Christ is, of course, a Creature; and as such He said, "The Father is greater than I" (Jo. XIV, 28). If it be objected against the dogma of Christ's Divinity that St. Paul calls Him "the first-born of every creature" we answer with St. Ambrose that he calls Him "born" not "created". St. Paul adds words which make the matter evident; for he writes: "In whom were all things created; for all things were created by Him" (Col. I, 16). If all things were created by Him, then He was not created.

145. Macedonius, Bishop of Constantinople, who opposed the Divinity of the Holy Ghost, was condemned by Pope St. Damasus, in 378, and by the second General Council, which met at Constantinople in 381. The Creed adopted at Nice contained these words, and (1 believe) in the Holy Ghost". The second Council added "The Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father; who, together with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified, who spake by the Prophets". In the Acts of the Apostles the Holy Ghost is called God: "Peter said: Ananias, why has Satan tempted thy heart, that thou shouldst lie to the Holy Ghost? . . . Thou hast lied, not to men, hut to God (V, 3-4). In the formula of Baptism, He is put on all equality with the Father and the Son.

146. The Council of Constantinople just quoted had said, "Who proceedeth from the Father," and had not added "and the Son"; there was at the time no question raised on this matter. St. Epiphanius, in his Creed, about the same time, calls the Holy Ghost the "Paraclete, uncreated, who proceedeth from the Father, and receiveth from the Son" (Ancor. n. 121). And Christ had said "When the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send from the Father", etc. (Jo. XV, 26). Now, in the case of a Divine Person, being "sent" implies procession from the Sender; thus the Father is said to send the Son and the Holy Spirit (Rom. VIII, 3); this is the traditional interpretation. In fact, the Eastern Doctors, when interrogated by their Western brethren, answered in the words of St. Epiphanius, thus admitting, implicitly at least, the Catholic doctrine as now expressed. In the West it was soon explicitly stated by the insertion of the word Filioqoe, "and of the Son", in the Nicene Creed. This practice was begun at an early date in Spain, to oppose the Arians there, it was gradually extended throughout the West, till the supreme Pontiff, probably about the year 1015, gave it his formal approbation. But long before this Photius, about 870, found in the insertion of the word "Filioque" a pretext for beginning the Greek schism (n. 82). The dogma was afterwards accepted by the Greek deputies to the second Council of Lyons, in 1274, and by those to the Council of Florence, in 1439; but on both occasions the acceptance was only temporary, lasting only as long as their submission to the Holy See.

147. We have said before (n. 142) that, while the three Persons in God have Each the same perfections, Each of Them possesses those perfections in His own peculiar way. We have also remarked (n. 141) that the distinction between the Persons is connected with the origin of Each. We must now explain this matter more fully. God the Father possesses His Nature, or perfections, from His own source, without deriving them from another Person; while the Son and the Holy Ghost have the same Divine Nature, but not of Their own source. For the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one Principle. To get some insight into a subject so full of mystery, we shall do well to bear in mind that we are created to the image of God. This image is, of course, in our soul, in fact in the highest powers of our soul, our intellect and our will. Our intellectual life consists in the exercise of these powers. So too the life of God consists in the exercise of His intellect and will.

Now the intellect works by forming within itself an image, or likeness, of its objects. Thus God the Father, understanding His infinite Nature perfectly, forms from eternity within Himself a perfect likeness of Himself. This image, being all perfect, is not a mere accident, as thought is in us, but a Person, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Because produced by the intellect, the second Person is called "the Word", or, "Wisdom". Generation consists in producing a being like in nature to the parent. Because therefore the first Person communicates His Nature to the second by way of likeness, or image, of Himself, He is said to generate the second, and is called Father, "Of whom all paternity in Heaven and earth is named" (Eph. III, 15); and the second Person is begotten, or born, of the Father, and is called Son.

As the intellect forms an image of the object known, so the will aspires after, or loves, the good. Thus God the Father from eternity loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father with an infinite love. Thus mutual love of the Two, being infinitely perfect, is a Person, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is properly called Spirit, because He proceeds by way of love, by which the will aspires to the object loved; and Holy Spirit, because "holy" means "belonging specially to God". The Holy Spirit is thus seen to proceed from the Father and the Son as from one Principle, which is their mutual love.

148. From these considerations it appears that the Persons in God are distinct from one another by the relations of origin between Them, but not by any perfections of their Nature. They are not merely different views taken of God, as the Sabellian heretics taught; but the distinction among Them is real, founded in the very life of God. Theologians have given special names to every thing that we can to some extent understand about the Blessed Trinity. Besides the terms which we have already explained, -- namely Nature, Person, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Paternity, Sonship, or Filiation, -- they use the word Spiration to indicate the aspiring, or loving, by which the Father and the Son unitedly produce the Holy Ghost; and the word Procession to denote the fact that the Holy Ghost is thus produced by the Father and the Son, or proceeds from the Two together. The union of the Divine Persons with one another is so intimate, that they are said to be in one another "I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me" says Christ (Jo. X, 38); this union is styled Circumincession.

The term appropriation remains to be explained. As all perfections are common to the three Persons, so too all Their actions towards creatures are common to Them; for these proceed from Their intellect amid will, which are perfections of Their common Nature. Still, because paternity is peculiar to the Father, therefore creation, adoption of sons, and all that bears some resemblance to paternity is by us attributed, or appropriated to the Father. So too the works of wisdom are appropriated to the Son; and the works of love, chiefly sanctification, to the Holy Ghost. But the Incarnation and Redemption are more than appropriated to the Son; they belong to Him strictly, because He, and not the other Persons has assumed our nature and was redeemed us in His human nature.

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