Trinitarian Reflection

Many say that the Trinity is complex and is some regard they are right. The concept is one that baffles the mind, and some find it unbelievable. The fact that our finite minds are not able to fully grasp it is intriguing. It makes sense really because if we can fully understand the nature of God then there is a problem. Perhaps we have made a god in our own image at that point. One we can fully understand, but in the end is false and has zero ability to save. St. Augustine said that if we understand him then he is not God. St. Thomas Aquinas says that the Trinity is one and that the Father is so because of relation to the Son.

They are still one essence though they are two persons. The same can be said about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is spirated from the Father and proceeds from the Father and the Son. Spiration is to have a relation to the principle. The Father is the first principle of all creation, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit proceeds and is spirated. Spirated is a term of temporality and eternality. Thus, the Holy Spirit is eternal with no beginning or end. This is the same principle when looking at Christ as the only begotten son of God.

Christ was begotten in the temporal sense at the incarnation. In an eternal sense he is begotten because he is the love of God. He is the Word and has always existed. The Greek term for begotten is monogenes and denotes his divinity and eternality. He is the Son of God in a very different sense than a man is a father to a son. Understanding these, not only explains the Trinity in a deeper way, but shows us divine simplicity.

The work of the Trinity is ultimately a work of love. Look around at creation and you can see the beauty and majesty of the Father’s work. Something as simple as a beautiful sunset can make a lasting impression on us. In the Son we see the person of our redemption. It is awe inspiring and hard to fathom. The second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, became man. He not only became man, but was born into humble beginnings, was tempted just like us, felt the same emotions as we do, did nothing wrong, and died on the cross for our sins. In his resurrection we see the ultimate representation of hi divinity, because without the resurrection the cross meant nothing. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father ad Son for our help and sanctification. The three work together for one cause. That is the salvation of mankind. This entity that we cannot fully fathom love us so much.

If the Trinity is not able to be fully known is it worth trying to understand? We would not be doing our duty as Christians if we did not try to do so. We do not need minds like Augustine or Aquinas to do this. Some of us may be called to do such things, but there are many things we can do. We can read scripture, pray, and read the work of the great minds in the history of the church. We can also fully surrender ourselves to the Trinity and allow the Trinity to work through us.

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Procession of Trinitarian Persons

The Trinity is a complex subject, and at times is very misunderstood. Some try to rationalize and fall into error by declaring a type Tritheism, or even Modalism. However, the persons of the Trinity are three persons of one essence. The Trinitarian Godhead is made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and all within the Trinity are two processions.
To understand this further it is helpful to define what a procession is. Within God there is a two-fold procession as was mentioned earlier. A procession is a general origin of one thing from another. There are two types of procession by which something can come. The first type of procession is known as Ad Extra. This type of procession speaks of something final springing from another. A good example of this would be a human father producing a son. From a theological perspective this is when something springs from God because God is the cause. The second procession type is Ad Intra, and this procession happens when something remains within its principal.
As previously stated, there are two typed of procession within the Trinity. It is also important to note that though different processions are present does not mean that there are different natures. Regarding this Garrigou-Lagrange state, “In the divine processions, for example, there is no diversity of nature (the nature remains numerically the same) but only a diversity of persons according to the opposition of relation” (Garrigou-Lagrange Introduction).
The Father proceeds from no one, and simply is because he has always been. The Father was never created nor begotten, but he does have the operations to know and to will (Lecture Notes). From these operations the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed respectively. To some this may seem that the Son and the Holy Spirit were somehow created? If that is the case then Church History needs to make amends with those who were condemned for heresy, but this is not the case. All are God, and it is from the Father that the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed in God (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. VII).
The Son proceeds from the Father for all eternity through generation. This type of procession we can see in several places in sacred scripture and also tradition. One such passage is John 1:18 which states, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (NRSV). Here we see the generation procession that indicates the special relationship and all-knowing nature of the Son. It is through him that we can have a knowledge of the Father. It is the Father’s principle that is being imitated, and this is because they are one essence (Garrigou-LaGrange Ch. VIII). In the tradition of the church, that is through the councils and writings of the early fathers, there is a constant teaching about the nature of Christ in relation to the Father. That teaching is that the Son is consubstantial and of the same substance of the Father, even though he is begotten. One cannot be begotten and consubstantial at the same time. The Son is the Son because he proceeds from generation.
The procession of the Holy Spirit varies from that of the Son. That is because the third person of the Trinity proceeds from the Father and the Son through spiration and as one principle (Lecture Notes). This is also seen in sacred scripture and tradition. One such verse is John 15:26 which states, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf” (NRSV). This passage shows that the Spirit proceeds from the first two, and this is supported in early church writings from St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and the Councils of Florence and Lyons.

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#00, accessed November 27, 2018.

Mission of Divine Persons

When discussing the Trinity, we can see that the three persons are of the same essence and One God.  In the Nicean creed we profess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  This mission of divine persons can be seen directly in their processions.  Through this mission of procession, we can see their unity and equality.  Through this unity and equality is their ultimate end of the redemption of mankind (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. XVII).

Mission involves the sending of someone from another and is made up of being send from a specific destination, to a specific destination, and a link between the two.  To process in mission from one is an implication of equality.  In the military troops are sent forth to another region.  They do not represent themselves, but the nation to whom they belong.  If they do something wrong, it is as if the whole nation has done something wrong.  Though this may not be the best example, especially regarding the Trinity, it makes the point that the procession of divine persons is equal to the sender.  They are worth no less than the one doing the sending.

In the persons of the Trinity the Father is not able to be sent, but the Son and the Holy Spirit can be.  The divine persons being sent do not cease to be where they are or where they are going.  They have always existed and will continue to be.  They are God and thus are omnipresent and omniscient.  This procession in mission is done for the purpose of our very sanctification.

 

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#00, accessed December 12, 2018

Filioque: Why The Disagreement?

The Orthodox and Catholic churches are the oldest in Christendom.  They have many things in common, and there are some things that are disagreed on.  The churches both have valid Apostolic Succession and valid sacraments.  In fact, both observe the seven sacraments instituted by Christ, and carried on by the Apostles.  A couple items that are disagreed on are the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff, and a phrase in the Nicean creed that is known as the filioque clause.  What is the filioque, and what is the objection to it by the Orthodox church?  In this paper these questions will be answered along with the Catholic response.

The western church (i.e. Catholic) uses a phrase in the creed that contains the words “and the Son” (Catholic Answers).  These three words have been one of the causes of schism between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.  This differs from the Orthodox usage that states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son (Catholic Answers).  The Orthodox position is that the filioque was an invention of the 9th century and was erroneously added to the historic creed that was ratified in Constantinople in 381 A.D. (Tim Staples).  Matthew 10:20 is also used as justification against the filioque.  That passage of scripture states, “for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:20 NRSV).  The Orthodox position also states that the filioque denies that the Father is first principle among all things.  Denying that the Father is the first principle of life is to confuse the persons of the Trinity (Tim Staples).

This is a controversy that has brewed since 1054 when the first schism between the Eastern and Western churches occurred.  The schism was briefly reconciled in 1439 at the Council of Florence but was brief (William Saunders).  The Catholic church today, as it did back then, answered the question of the filioque in several ways.  The first objection is that the filioque was erroneously added to the creed in the ninth century.  To answer this, we must look at the creed as promulgated at the Council of Constantinople in 381.  In the Greek the Creed states, “who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified” (William Saunders).  This is the Orthodox position, and coincidentally is also what we say in the creed at every mass.  When the creed was translated into Latin the filioque was added.  Church Fathers at the time stated that the two said the same thing.  Though the wording may be different, both uphold Trinitarian dogma and many theologians, on both sides, now say the two is a matter of semantics.

Another objection raised was regarding Matthew 10:20 which says the Spirit proceeds from the Father.  The Catholic church agrees with this verse wholeheartedly, but also considers other verses in holy writ.  There are many verses such as Galatians 4:6 uphold the filioque.  This passage states, “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:6 NRSV).  One verse says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and another states that He proceeds from the Son.  All three Trinitarian persons are distinctly mentioned, and The Father and the Son are described as sending the paraclete (Preuss 104) Which one is it?  When we take all passages into account, we see the answer in the wording of the filioque.  Affirming that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son in no way undermines the first principle nature of the Father.  It simply affirms scripture and reaffirms this principle.

Works Cited

Catholic Answers.  Filioquehttps://www.catholic.com/tract/filioque, accessed December 1, 2018.

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#00, accessed November 27, 2018.

Preuss, David.  The Divine Trinity:  A Dogmatic Treatise, https://archive.org/details/divinetrinityad00pohlgoog/page/n114, accessed November 28, 2018.

Saunders, William.  The Wording of the Nicene Creed.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/FILIOQUE.HTM, accessed November 30, 2018.

Staples, Tim.  The Filioque Controversy.  https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=9277, accessed November 29, 2018.

Aquinas and the Concept of Relations

When it comes to the concept of relation there is some clarification that must first take place.  To the everyday person, relation means someone to whom you are related.  At the base level this is correct, but philosophically it goes a little deeper.  This is especially true when discussing relations in connection with the Trinity.  St. Thomas Aquinas’s concept of relations included paternity and filiation (Garrigou-Lagrange Introduction).

Paternity and filiation, of course, ae completely different things.  A man can at the same time be a father and a son.  He is father to a child, and a child, or offspring to someone else.  He is not able to be both to the same person.  The idea here is that paternal relation delineates a distinction between persons.  In the Trinity the Son is not able to be the Father because the Father is paternal.  It shows a distinction between the two, and though they are of the same substance they are separate.  Regarding this concept Aquinas states, “Thus the Father has communicable being, but He is a distinct person by the paternity, which is opposed to filiation; similarly, active spiration is opposed to passive spiration” (Garrigou-Lagrange Introduction).

If paternity denotes the relationship of the Father and Son, then what is filiation?  Paternity is a term that applies to fatherhood and filiation is a term that implies sonship.  This was a key point in Aquinas’s opposition to the Scotists.  The Son is distinguished from the Father through filiation alone, but within God paternity and filiation are personal properties (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. XIV).  In filiation the Son has all the perfections from all eternity that the Father has.  This is done through generation and it is perfect based on relation.

One objection to the idea of filiation is the fact that Jesus said that the Father was greater than he (John 14:28).  Is not Jesus saying that he is somehow less than the Father?  That is what those wo object to the Trinity would have you believe?  Jesus says this because he lacks the relation of paternity.  This is something that is wholly unique to the Father.  They are the same essence and paternity in the Father in filiation in the Son (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. XIV).  Divine filiation is not less than, or somehow subordinate, to paternity.  If that were the case then the Son would lack perfection, and that would not make him divine.  To think that way would lead us into many of the Christological heresies that the Church had already dealt with.  Regarding this Aquinas writes, “Thus divine filiation is not less perfect than divine paternity, just as in the triangle either angle at the base is not less perfect than the angle at the apex” (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. XIV).

Regarding paternity, Aquinas answered an objection that stated that divine persons were brought about by active and passive origins (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. XIV).  Generation is active and active generation is something that comes from the Father.  This is a relation of Paternity and the very act refers to the Son.  This does not change the existence of the Son or modify it in some way.  They are still the same essence, but in relation to one another one is paternal.

In Conclusion, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote many things that advanced our understanding of the Trinity.  His explanation from scripture and philosophy helped elaborate on earlier work done on the Trinity by St, Augustine.  It is important to understand the distinctions between paternity and filiation, because to misunderstand can lead to error in discussing the Trinity.

 

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#05, accessed November 13, 2018

The Trinity and Knowability

The Trinity is a mystery that is dogma and must be believed for one to call themselves a Christian.  This is a leap of faith, because though we know it is true, we are not able to understand everything about it.  Do we need to understand everything about it in order to believe?  Some would say that to believe we must have absolute knowledge of the subject.  To not have this knowability is a contradiction in eyes of many.

There are many things that we have knowledge of, but we do not know absolutely.  The medical field is constantly changing and filled with new advances, but just a few decades ago the damage of cigarettes on the human body was not well known.  Is this a contradiction in the medical field?  Do we not adhere to the advice of our doctor because we do not have an absolute knowledge of his field?  To have that line of thinking borders on insanity.

There is no tension between the trinity and its knowability.  The Trinity was revealed very slowly in scripture because to reveal it right away would lead Israel into Tritheism.  They simply would not have understood it.  The members of the Trinity were together at one time at the baptism of Christ, and Christ mentioned all three.  For those who have issues believing the Trinity, St. Augustine asks a very interesting question.  Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead though you have never seen anyone else do the same (Augustine 7.5)?  We love the Lord Jesus though we have never seen him, and we love the other members of the Trinity as well.  We see the handiwork of the Trinity all around us.  The Trinity is one God with three persons, and we love them because they are God.  It does take an element of faith like most things in life.  That illumination that faith provides assists in understanding it a bit more.  If we fully understand everything there is to know about God, then he ceases being God.

 

Works Cited

Augustine of Hippo. Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130101.htm&gt;, accessed November 11, 2018.

The Need for Formal Formulation of Trinitarian Dogma

In the early church many were attempting to understand the divinity of Christ, and in extension the Holy Trinity.  Today, we have the benefit of the Church correcting false ideas.  However, when these ideas were formulated there was not a dogmatic decree regarding the Trinity though the dogma had been taught in the earliest days of the church.  The heresies of Monarchianism, Sabellianism, Subordinationism, and Arianism required that the church formally formulate the Trinitarian doctrine.

Dynamic Monarchianism taught that the Father was true God, and that Christ was a man who was indwelled with a divine spirit (Preuss 126).  Patripassian Monarchianism takes it a step further by acknowledging Christ as divine but does not go far enough as the two are not of the same substance.  Sabellianism, or Modalism as it is also called, taught that God manifested himself in different modes and that there was only one person of the Godhead.  In short, God was made up of one person (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch.5).  Arianism denied the divinity of Christ and taught that He was a creation of the Father (Lecture Notes), and this was also the Arian view of the Holy Spirit.  In that regard, he was subordinate to the Father.  The heresies mentioned all have elements of subordinationism, because in various respects the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is lowered.

With these heresies being taught the souls of the faithful were at risk.  The church rightly saw that an attack on the persons of the Trinity was a salvific issue.  Afterall, if Christ was not fully divine then his sacrifice on the cross meant little or nothing.  The church responded to the heresies, and formally defined the Trinity at the Council of Nicea in 325.

 

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#05, accessed November 13, 2018.

Preuss, Arthur. The Divine Trinity.  https://archive.org/details/divinetrinityad00pohlgoog, accessed November 12, 2018.

Why Are There 27 Books In The New Testament?

There are many things that may come to an individual’s mind when it comes to sacred scripture.  Some may ask why there are so many translations.  Some may wonder if the Bible as we know it fell from the sky at Pentecost.  However many have questions on how we have the books we have.  For sure it was long and arduous process, but it was one guided by the Holy Spirit and the church.

One rule that was used to determine inclusion of the twenty seven books was linkage to an Apostle, or apostolic origin.  In the first three centuries after the church started there were many books bearing the name of various Apostles.  As an example there was the Gospel of Thomas, Luke, Peter, and the proto gospel of James.  In addition to these there were several hundred Acts and Apocalypses.  Some of these writings were spurious and contradicted the Gospel being preached by the church.

Apostolic origin does not mean that it has to be written by an apostle, but that an Apostle “stands behind writing in such a way that the essential teaching is preserved within it (Nichols, page 104).”  This would explain why the Gospel of Luke was included in the canon.  Great care was made to ensure that writings had apostolic backing, and if they did not they were denied canonical status.

Another rule that was used in determining if a book was worthy of the canon was its conformity to the faith of the church.  Would a collection of Holy writings from any religion be deemed authoritative if they contradicted each other?  The answer to the question is obvious.  The church used great care in determining that the twenty seven books in the canon were in compliance with what the church taught.

The church was able to do this by utilizing the oral tradition that was handed down from the Apostles.  As a Nichols documents “around 190 a bishop in Antioch stopped people from using the Gospel of Peter on the grounds that its author did not regard the human body of Jesus as real (Nichols, page 104).”  The church teaches that Christ was a real person, divine, and bled on the cross.  This writing taught that Christ was a spirit that entered into a man that was being crucified.  There were many writings like this floating around, and since they did not pass the test of orthodoxy they were not included in the canon.

Thirdly the writing had to be valued by the church that was respected for its own Apostolic origin (Nichols, page 104).  Perfect examples of this are the Epistles of Saint Paul.  There is little doubt that these writings are his for he states at the end of letters that he wrote them with his own hand.  Also he wrote them to churches that he started and they knew him very well.  These churches preserved these letters and read them in their liturgies.

Using these three criteria, the fathers of the church started to develop the New Testament.  The letters of Paul were among the first to be recognized in 90 ad and were being assembled in small collections.  The four Gospels were decided on around the year 200.  There were various canons proposed, but the Pauline letters and the four gospels seemed to have staying power.  Other books such as Revelation and Hebrews were battled over.  Some areas of the church accepted them and others did not.  There were also books with no apostolic link that were considered such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Clements letter to the Corinthians.  However they did not meet the criteria previously discussed and were denied canonical status. Through many debates and hefty quarrels we know that the canon was final by the end of the fourth century (Nichols, Page 105).

 

References

Nichols, Aiden. The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

St. Augustine and the Trinity

The Trinity is a doctrine that some have had issue with since the earliest days of Christianity.  The great church father, St. Augustine, was not immune to having to deal with Christological heresies.  Though the heresies are Christological, they deal with the Trinity because Christ is the second person of the Trinity.  If a there is a false understanding of who Christ is, then there is a false understanding of what the Trinity is.  In discussing these various heresies, St. Augustine wrote treatise titled On the Trinity.  This has become known as one of his most difficult works and it took him sixteen years to complete (Augnet 2135).  His work is gift to all of us and shows various arguments supporting the equality of divine persons against Christological heresies.

In chapter one, St. Augustine warns the reader of those who commit heresy through the misuse of reason.  They fall into error by misinterpreting the sacred text through crude love of reason (Augustine Ch.1).  By doing so they miss the point of the text and somehow twist scripture to mean something it does not intend.  In all fairness, this is still something that happens today regarding the Trinity.  In chapter five, Augustine speaks of the unity of the divine persons.  He does this specifically by describing how the three persons are one, how they have individua work, and yet work together.  Augustine states in regard to their work, “Father does some things, the Son other things, and the Holy Spirit yet others” (Augustine Ch.5.8).  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of both the Father and the Son and was not begotten.  Just like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit has no beginning or end.

In Chapter six Augustine seems to be teaching against a type of modalism that was going around.  Some were saying that God was not immortal because he changed into the Son and Holy Spirit through time, or that somehow Christ was less that the Father.  Augustine brilliantly answers with scripture.  This is still a method that is effective today.  He quotes John 1:1 to show that Christ has always existed, and that the scriptures call Him God (Augustine Ch. 6.9).  He then alludes to the baptism of Christ in Matthew chapter 3 to show the unity and equality of the three.  Jesus is present, it was the Father’s voice that spoke, and it was the Holy Spirit that was present in the dove.  This shows that they all exist at the same time, in unity, equality, and that it is not one form changing to another.

In proving his case of equality among the Trinitarian persons, St. Augustine looks to 1 Corinthians 8:6 which states, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (NRSV).  This verse affirms the divinity of Christ by mentioning him in the same sentence as God.  Notice also how all things exist through the Father and the Son?  Each person of the Trinity has a clause, or duty, assigned.  One is not more important than the other, but they all work together for our redemption and salvation (Augustine 6.12).

Some may say that the verse mentioned above makes sense, but what of the Holy Spirit?  In Chapter 6, St. Augustine goes to great lengths to show that the Holy Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son.  The Holy Spirit is not something that had a point of origin.  In other words, he is not a creature that had a beginning and that will have an ultimate end.  The Holy Spirit is equal, coeternal, and of the same essence.  Regarding the Holy Spirit St. Paul writes in Philippians 3:3, “For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh” (NRSV).  Also in 1 Corinthians 6:9, St. Paul specifically mentions that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  We serve, worship, and ask the Holy Spirit for things just as we would the Father and the Son.  That is because they are coequal and God.

Image result for augustine and the trinity

Works Cited

Augustine. On the Trinity From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130101.htm&gt;, accessed October 14, 2018.

Augustinians Australia. http://www.augnet.org/en/works-of-augustine/writings-of-augustine/2135-on-the-trinity/, accessed October 14, 2018.

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