§6. THE TRINITY.
By reason of the conception of the absolute personality, which also includes the qualitative characteristic that God is love, we must come to the conclusion that God is triune. Besides, we are led through the revelation of God’s economy to the conception of His intra-essential trinity. The following propositions have therefore generally been accepted in the Christian Church: Dens est trinus, h. e. in essentia unus, tres habet subsistendi modos, or God is triune, i. e., one in essence with three modes of subsistence; una divina essentia in tribus personis subsistis, or a divine essence subsists in three persons. There are therefore three in one and one in three or a trinity in the unity and a unity in the trinity. Apart from the clear presentation of the Trinity in the Bible, it lies in the intensive and exclusive nature of the matter that God cannot be one person in the ordinary sense, inasmuch as love demands an object. According to the two parts of the unity of God He is absolutely perfect and also self-sufficient. The world could not be the object of God’s love, for this would conflict with His perfection and also with His self-sufficiency. These essential characteristics do not imply that there are only two persons in the divine essence, but that God, who is one, subsists in three persons or three persons in one essence or three persons in one absolute personality, otherwise there would be lacking the common object of love, which at the same time unites and distinguishes.
The human reason cannot comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, and the inadequate terms of human language cannot express the content of this mystery, wherefore reason must give way to the obedience of faith, forasmuch as the doctrine of the Trinity hag a firm basis in the Word of God and finds an empirical response in the Christian consciousness. But faith contains knowledge, and the Church correctly maintains that it is her duty to set forth what can be learned concerning this important doctrine.
1. THE ORDINARY METHODS OF EXPLANATION.
a. Through the conception of the absolute personality. Man is an ego which reaches self-consciousness and self-determination in opposition to a thou. Without this relationship of duality we could not speak of personality. But the ego is not merely a relationship of duality, i. e., in opposition to a thou, there is a unity likewise, a union of the ego and the non-ego. The union is not found, however, in a person, but in the human organizations of the family, state and church.
We may also speak of a threefold ego: the substantial ego, which places itself before itself as an object, the objective ego, in which we contemplate ourselves as an object, the subjective ego, which looks upon the other as identical with itself.
Man is made in the image of God; his personality is relative and determined by something outside of himself. God is absolute and infinite, for which reason the dual relationship is found in His own essence, as well as the union which is mediated by the Spirit.
b. Through the conception of love. Love implies self-impartation between persons. Since God is a unity and absolute love. He must therefore include within Himself three persons. God must be the subject and the object of love. Between the Father and the Son there arises a reciprocal activity of divine love. The moving power or force in this reciprocal activity is common to both, the third person, contemplated and loved by both, who constitutes the uniting bond between both and saves them from losing each other, that is, each in Himself. The third person is the Spirit. As triune God is therefore an absolute personality, who in Himself lives the life of everlasting love, for which reason the characteristics of His essence are likewise trinitarian, and we may say that they are of the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. It follows that one of the persons does not possess the whole fulness of the divine essence independent of the others, but only in relation to one another does each possess the divine essence. The whole essence is in each person undivided, and this essence is the one God or the absolute personality subsisting in three relative persons. Each one of them is the absolute personality only in a special relational form. This does not imply, however, that the absolute personality is a combination of three separate persons in the ordinary sense, for the persons in the Trinity are not absolute per se, but relatively, and subsist in and through one another. From the conception of the absolute personality and also of love it is seen that the position of the Spirit in the Trinity implies an element of union and also one of separation or distinction. Emphasis must be laid on both sides of this relationship, for if the emphasis is laid on the former, then the Spirit becomes more than the Father and the Son, not to say the whole essence; if the latter is emphasized, then the position of the Spirit becomes simply a relation between the Father and the Son.
c. Through the conception of the atonement. In the experience of the atonement there is a difference between God, who is atoned, God, who atones, and God, through whom the atonement is applied.
d. By the use of analogy. Hereby are meant the general analogies that have been presented at different times. However, they do not possess any scientific value as proofs of the Trinity, and many objections could be raised against them. Among analogies of this sort may be mentioned, the root, the tree and the fruit; the sun, rays of light, and heat; length, breadth and depth in space; the past, present and future of time; the triangle with its three sides; the personal pronouns, I, thou and he; the subject, the predicate and the copula of a sentence; the noun with its three genders; the adjective with its three degrees of comparison. In the realm of man there are better analogies which still are inadequate: the family, consisting of man, wife and children; the body, soul and spirit of man; the intellect, will and emotions of the mind. These analogies simply prove that the ideas of unity and trinity are not foreign to our thought, but they cannot explain the Trinity. The analogy of man as a unit of intellect, will and emotion is probably the best, especially as we remember that we are created in the image of God, but the analogy does not explain a divine essence and the three persons.
e. Through the teaching of the Word of God. The presentation of the Trinity in the Bible does not aim to solve the problem for the human reason, but every one who believes that the Scriptures are the Word of God can become convinced that the doctrine of the Trinity is true. The declarations and words of the Bible are incontrovertible proofs of the divine Trinity, if it can be shown that the Scriptures clearly teach this doctrine. In the history of creation God appears as more than one person. Elohim created. When we compare this expression with John 1, where we learn that the Son of God created, then it is evident that Elohim includes both the Father and the Son. But when we also read the following passages: “By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33: 6), and also, “The spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2), then the proof is clear that Elohim in Gen. 1: 1 must imply the Father, Son and Spirit. In Gen. 1: 26 we read: “And God said, Let us make man.” This cannot be explained to mean that God spoke to angels, for this conflicts with the story of creation. It proves that the Father, Son and Spirit spoke together. The Messiah is represented as the Son of God, the servant of God: “Jehovah said unto me. Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7); “Behold, m.y servant” (Isa. 42: 1). In this connection servant is used in a higher sense, and the life-work of the Son of God is considered. In Isa. 9: 6 He is called God; also in Ps. 47: 7. The three persons of the Godhead are mentioned in Isa. 63. In Isa. 48: 16 we read: “And now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me, and his spirit.” The following passages may be cited from the New Testament: “Into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28: 19); “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1); “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Cor. 13: 14). In addition there could be cited many passages that clearly contain the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. The personality of the Holy Spirit is set forth in many places. Among these we will limit ourselves to the quotation of only one passage, where the Holy Spirit speaks and uses the first person of the pronoun: “And as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work where-unto I have called them” (Acts 13: 2) . Besides many other passages, the above quotations show clearly that the Bible contains the doctrine of the Trinity.
2. REMARKS ON TERMINOLOGY.
Since the time of Athanasius and the Gregorians the expression οὐαία has meant the divine essence common to all three persons of the Godhead. Prior to that time the use of the word was uncertain and the definition of Aristotle was accepted that an essence or being was an individual thing or an ordinary person. But the Church does not understand by essence either a general essence or substantia secunda according to Aristotle, for God is represented as an absolute personality and in the sense of a substantia prima. However, since the Church employs the expression οὐαία, or essence, it possesses a meaning, which, as John of Damascus says, is far above the ordinary conception of essence.
The expression ὑπόστασις, or person, was first used in the same sense as essence is now used, but when οὐαία came to be used to designate the divine essence, then ὑπόστασις came into general use as designating the persons in the divine essence. The expression cannot be understood in the ordinary empirical sense, so that the Father, the Son and the Spirit should be like three distinct persons.
The unity in the divine essence is numerical and not one of its kind, as in man. In man the essence in three persons is not one in number but in species. Concerning men it cannot be said that one is in the other, but Jesus says in John 14: 10: “I am in the Father.’ Furthermore, it cannot be said concerning men that where one is, there the other is also, because they are locally distinct; but the Lord says in John 8: 29: “He that hath sent me is with me; he hath not left me alone.” God is not divided into three persons, but the three persons share the divine essence indivisibly, so that each one possesses the divine essence without multiplication or division. It is therefore not a pluralitas essentialis, nor a pluralitas accidentalis, for personality is not something that is temporarily added to the divine essence, but it is a pluralitas hypostatica sen personarum. There is therefore a real distinction, but not in a human way. PHILIPPI says that above all things it is necessary to understand in what sense the Church interprets the expression person. He says in his Glaubenslehre II, pp. 145–147: “Personality is found only where self-consciousness and freedom are found, for where there is personality it manifests itself in self-consciousness and self-determination or freedom. But in itself we may say that personality is something deeper, that forms the foundation of self-consciousness and self-determination, the real inner essence which is reflected in the two forms in which it is revealed. In man, and especially when he has reached perfect spiritual development, the essence and manifestation of personality cannot be separated from each other. But what cannot be separated in reality can be distinguished in thought. The ecclesiastical terminology has been based upon the possibility of this conceptual distinction and has applied the one factor, the inner essence of the personality, the ego, or the independent form of subsistence, to mean the true, immanent distinction in the Godhead, while, on the other hand, the second factor, the revealed form of the personality, the self-consciousness and the freedom are conceived of as the predicate of the one divine essence. Therefore the three persons in the Godhead are self-conscious and free subjects, by reason of their communion in the one, self-conscious, free divine essence, which reveals itself in the three persons in distinct and independent forms of subsistence.” Therefore when on the one hand we emphasize the absolute personality, we express our antagonism in the first place to Pantheism, and in the second place to Sabellianism and Arianism together with other related theories.
Όμοουσία constitutes the predicate of all three persons. Therefore the Son and the Spirit are of the same essence as the Father. Wherefore we confess in the Athanasian Creed: “The Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. And in the Trinity none is afore, or after the other; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal.”
Although we cannot apprehend God or attempt to do it, we have the right to present what the Bible teaches. To those who believe in the Biblical statements and meditate on them, the being of God becomes more concrete. It is plain that the Bible teaches the unity of the essence of God and yet speaks of three distinctions. It is Biblically evident, therefore, that essence and persons are differently understood. The oneness of God is not the same as the unity of man, and the different persons in the Godhead are not three separate persons like three human persons. And they are not confused or mixed, because each relative person has His own consciousness by which He knows that He is not the other relative person, but He is Himself. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, neither of these two is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is Himself and not the Father or the Son, but all three know that they are one, having the same undivided essence and consequently one self-consciousness and one self-determination. Notice again what we quoted from PHILIPPI: ”The ego, or the independent form of subsistence, means the real, immanent distinction in the Godhead, while on the other hand the second factor, the revealed form of the personality, the self-consciousness and freedom (self-determination) are conceived of as the predicate of the one divine essence.” The three relative ‘egos’ or relative persons, who have a consciousness of their own, constitute one and are one self -consciousness and one self-determination, which is the same as one God or one Absolute Personality. Apparently or superficially considered it looks as if man had an advantage in possessing his own self-consciousness, but a closer view reveals the plenitude of God as trinal unity. The unity of God eternally exists as trinality, three in one and one in three. But the three persons do not exist within the one essence as the fourth. Neither does the trinitarian person exist as a part of the one essence. The three persons possess simultaneously the whole divine essence. The divine essence subsists eternally and permanently in three modes, but not successively, as the Sabellians taught. Paul speaks of “the form of God” (μορϕῆ). The divine essence subsists in, three forms, each form or relative person being the essence or substance of the others, both numerically and identically. But two or three human persons, like Peter, John and James, although having the same kind of nature, have not the same nature or substance numerically and identically, because each human person is a fractional part of the human nature. The personality of God is therefore richer than an ordinary person. God was self-sufficient before other persons were created and blessed in Himself. There is no adequate analogy to make the Trinity concrete to our vision. If a triplex mirror would produce three images of one personality containing all in each and each having its own peculiarity, this would be a mental analogy. Or if three persons could be conceived of as having the same undivided soul, it would also give an idea. In His manifestation God does not appear as one person, as we can deduce from the manifestations related in the Bible. At the Baptism of Christ there were three personal manifestations, although only the voice of the Father was heard and the Holy Ghost appeared in the form of a dove, but the Second Person of the Godhead in His incarnation was visible to all. In heaven we will see the incarnated Son of God in a glorified body. It is then evident that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit will also appear as persons in manifestation. The omnipresence of God is not affected by these manifestations, as the omnipresence of the divine essence is not local or circumscribed. From revelation or the Bible we learn that the three divine persons are objective to each other. The manifestation of God is not like a mathematical unit. There are many actions of the relative divine persons which prove their relative objectivity to each other. One divine person loves another, addresses another, is the way to another, suffers from another, sends another, glorifies another, etc. But on the other hand, on account of the unity, there are not three almighty, but one almighty, etc. If we pray to one, we pray to all the persons in the Trinity. In the Lord’s Prayer our Father is not the first person only, but the triune God, our providential Father. We cannot speak to one of the persons to the exclusion of the others. They dwell in one another and work together according to the order stated in the Economical Trinity.
Περιχώρησις implies a common and peculiar indwelling, so that the one is in the other, by which we can understand that the three persons do not subsist separately or by the side of each other. Also they are alike, so that the Father is not God in a higher sense than the Son and the Holy Ghost. As is already mentioned, the persons are absolute only in a relative sense and together constitute the absolute personality. The Son of God says: “I and the Father are one” (John 10: 30); ”Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (John 14: 11); “As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee” (John 17: 21).
But as the persons are relatively distinct, so there exists a certain order in their internal relationship and in their manifestation; for which reason they have their distinct characteristics and work.
The term incommunicabilis is therefore used to explain that that by which the one divine person is distinguished from the others cannot be transferred from the one to the other. The common name given to the characteristics that separate one person from the other is character hypostaticus.
I. The Ontological Trinity.
By this is meant the Trinity when considered from the intra-essential viewpoint. Here belong the inner characteristics or notae internae, which constitute the modus subsistendi or τρόπος ὑπάρξεως, by which the persons are distinguished from one another in their ontological relationship.
A. Actus personales or the personal acts. These are also called opera ad intra, which are divisa, divided or incommunia. They are: a) generatio (opus Patris) , that the Father from eternity begets the Son. This is therefore the Father’s opus ad intra; b) spiratio activa (opus Patris et Filii) is the opus ad intra by which the Father and the Son simultaneously as an eternal principle send forth the Holy Spirit.
Generatio and also spiratio are described especially by the following negative and positive terms: 1) non metaphorica et accidentalis et impropria, sed vera, substantialis et propria, for the generation is not metaphorical, neither is it accidental or improper, but true and substantial. The Son is the substantial image of the Father; 2) non physica, sed hyperphysica, because the natural birth of man is not a real analogy, although the expression birth is the only relatively adequate human expression that can be used to set forth the activity of the Father in producing the Son; 3) non voluntaria, sed necessaria, since the generation is not dependent upon a preceding act of the Father’s will, but was necessary and conformed to the nature of God; 4) non temporalis, sed aeterna. If the generation were not eternal, then it would have had a beginning and an end and in such case the Son would not be eternal. QUENSTEDT says therefore, that the Father from eternity begat, and always begets, and never will cease to beget His Son. Nevertheless, this generation cannot be said for this reason to be imperfect and successive, for the act of generation in the Father of the Son is considered perfect in work and constant in operation. We must divest ourselves of all thoughts of human analogies concerning conception, birth and time. Both the Father and the Son are eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal. There is an eternal communication of one and tEe same essence. The Father could not exist without the Son, nor without the Holy Spirit. However, a relative order exists among the persons, so that the Father, who has life in Himself, is named first, the Son, whom the Father begets from eternity, is the second person in the Godhead, and the Holy Spirit, who is sent forth both by the Father and the Son, is the third person. By reason of the idea of eternity, however, there is no priority, which would imply the existence of one person before the other. There is no perfect analogy to explain this primitive simultaneous existence. QUENSTEDT presents the analogy of the sun and its rays; 5) non externa, sed intima, since it is a generation that occurs within the essence of the Godhead and a perichoresis. The Son is in the bosom of the Father, according to John 1: 18.
That the Father and the Son send forth the Holy Spirit, or that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, is presented in the symbols of the Church in complete harmony with the teachings of the Word of God. If the Son did not send forth the Spirit as does the Father, then He would be less than the Father.
The internal activities in the ontological Trinity are eternal and unceasing. The personal acts as stated are two. They are the eternal generation and spiration, and when viewed in respect to the result these activities are called filiation and procession. These acts are not creative, because all the three persons are eternal and equal. The acts do not add anything to the divine essence, but modify eternally the existing eternal essence. The eternal begetting, not being like a physical conception and birth, is like a communication of the whole undivided divine essence by the Father to the Son. Some Trinitarians use the term “emanation” which may be an analogy in opera ad intra, but not in opera ad extra. When God created the world, He made a new substance from nothing and it was not an emanation of the divine essence in a gnostic sense. But the internal and eternal generation of the Son may be like an emanation of the divine essence by the activity of the Father. The Nicene Trinitarians, like Athanasius, use figures such as these: The community of the Father and the Son is like light and brightness, fountain and stream, the solar substance and the rays; and yet the sun and the brightness are not the same. The Father in begetting the Son did not exist before, because then the Son would not be eternal. The Father and Son coexisted. The same is the case in spiration. The spiration is eternal. The Father as unbegotten is not superior or older, but in the Trinitarian process of eternal existence the Father is the first in the order of process, but not in time. The eternal and internal life-movement necessarily required an originating process. In John we read: “For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5: 26). When God in His all-wisdom decided to use the terms Father and Son, it is self-evident that the Father must be first in order. A subordination of person is not a subordination of essence. The Arian and Semi-Arian sub-ordination concerns the essence and also the person. Neither should we confound the subordination of Christ in His state of humiliation with the order of persons in the Trinity. Here the question is only one of order in the Trinity. The Father must be first, the Son the second, and the Holy Spirit the third. It relates to characteristics of paternity, filiation and procession. Compare the Athanasian symbol. The three relative persons all have the same eternal essence in common, without division and with equal majesty.
In regard to the Third Person or Hypostasis He is not more spirit than the Father and the Son, The Holy Spirit is called Spirit on account of the mode in which the divine essence is communicated to Him. He is denominated Holy, because in the application of salvation He works holiness in men. He is not begotten, as in the divine eternal wisdom there should be only one Son. The difference between generation, spiration and procession is ineffable. The Father and Son spirate the Spirit and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son. By this internal process the one undivided essence is modified as the Third Hypostasis. The Spirit is called the Spirit of the Son just as of the Father. “God sent forth the Spirit of his Son” (Gal. 4: 6); “The Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1: 19). In the application of salvation we experience the Spirit in the first place and through the Spirit we know Christ and through the Son, Jesus Christ, we know the Father. In our spiritual experience the name Holy Spirit becomes clearer in the knowledge of the Father and the Son from whom the Spirit is spirated.
Among the Scripture passages that set forth the generation of the Son and the sending forth of the Spirit by the Father and Son, the following may be cited: “Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7; Heb. 1:5; 5: 5); compare other passages where the eternity of the Son is set forth: Isa. 9: 6 (everlasting Father, literally, Father of eternity); Heb. 7:3; John 8: 58; 17: 5. “And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5: 11), etc. “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, he shall bear witness of me” (John 15: 26); “He shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you” (John 16: 14); “Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9); “And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son” (Gal. 4:6).
B. Proprietates personales or the personal attributes. These attributes are based upon actus personales, but are called personal attributes because they describe the inner distinction that charaterizes each person. They are the following: paternitas or generans (generating) , in relation to the Father, filiatio or genitus (generated), in relation to the Son, and processio or procedens (going forth) in relation to the Spirit.
C. Notiones personales, or the personal characteristics. These are abstracted from the personal acts and attributes and express in the form of concepts the inner characteristics, by which the divine persons are distinguished from one another. The following are the characteristics: 1) with regard to the Father: innascibilitas (ἀγεννησια) , paternitas et spiratio activa; 2) with regard to the Son: filiatio (generatio passiva) et spiratio activa; 3) with regard to the Holy Spirit: processio et spiratio passiva.
II. The Economical Trinity.
Under this head are discussed the external characteristics or notae externae, which constitute the τρόπος ἀποκαλύψως of the persons, and by which they are distinguished from each other in their relation to the world, or in opera ad extra, which are indivisa or communia (common). These opera ad extra belong to each person of the Godhead, but in the order that is peculiar to each. Although it may be said concerning God that all things are of Him, and through Him, and unto Him, yet the following particulae discriticae are used, ὲκ of the Father, δια of the Son, and ὲν of the Holy Spirit. Opera ad extra are divided as follows:
A. Opera oeconomica or the economical acts. These are personalia and minus communia or minus indivisa.
a. The Father determined upon the redemption, which therefore includes election, and He gave the Son. “And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4: 14); “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12: 32); “He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (Rom. 8: 32).
b. The Son has performed the work of redemption, which therefore presupposes the incarnation. “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20: 28); “And the Word became flesh” (John 1: 14), etc.
c. The Holy Spirit applies reconciliation or redemption. “No man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12: 3); “God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit” (2 Thess. 2: 13), etc.
B. Opera attributiva or the attributive acts. They are communia or indivisa, and yet different acts are ascribed to each person, by which they are distinguished.
a. To the Father are ascribed creation and providence. “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?” (Mal. 2: 10); “Yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things” (1 Cor. 8:6); “He careth for you” (1 Peter 5: 7).
b. To the Son are ascribed the raising of the dead and the judgment. “The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. And he gave him authority to execute judgment, because he is the son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice” (John 5: 25–28) .
c. To the Holy Spirit is ascribed inspiration: “For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1: 21) .
4. NOTES ON THE HISTORY OF DOGMA.
The primitive Church accepted the doctrine of the Trinity, but the doctrine underwent development a little at a time and became more precisely defined by reason of the controversies that arose concerning it. During the Apologetical period the words τριάς and trinitas were used for the first time, the former by Theophilus and the latter by Tertullian. Origen taught the eternal generation of the Son. The doctrine of the Trinity was given relatively final definition during the Polemical period through the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople on account of the Arian, Macedonian and related controversies. During this time the expressions ὁμοουσία and περιχώρησις came into permanent use. The expression filioque was added to the Constantinopolitan Creed. The speculative development of the doctrine of the Trinity began at this time and continued during the Scholastic period. The controversy concerning the Holy Spirit was also continued, without resulting, however, in any special dogmatic definition. At the time of the Reformation the Trinity was deduced from the religious experience of the atonement, and there was no tendency toward speculative treatment, at any rate not so much in the Lutheran Church. During the Reformation and Protestant Scholastic period the true doctrine was established through the controversies with the Anti-Trinitarians of the time. The dogmatic terms were increased in number and more carefully defined. The modern critical period is not distinguished by the production of any dogmas, although speculative and philosophical expositions have not been wanting. Orthodox dogmatics has been compelled to combat philosophical Anti-Trinitarianism and Unitarianism in various forms. We wish now to present some special quotations and notes, which set forth the history of the dogma during the various periods.
CLEMENT OF ROME SPEAKS of the Father, Christ and the Spirit and also sets forth the unity in the economical activity. He presents the divinity and pre-existence of Christ. Ignatius confesses the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and calls Christ God. The Ebionites did not acknowledge the Trinity and denied the supernatural birth of Christ. At His baptism He received divine powers. Some Ebionites also taught that God immediately brought forth the man, who received the Messianic spirit. They likewise taught that this spirit had been present in others, such as Abraham and Moses. The Nazarenes did not deny the supernatural birth, but did not acknowledge the hypostatical pre-existence of Christ’s divine nature, holding that at baptism God, the source of all holy spirit, united Himself with the human personality of Jesus.
JUSTIN MARTYR is the first to emphasize the word generation with regard to the relationship between the Father and Son. The generation of the Son was an act of the will. It was to the Son, who was born before all creatures, that the Father said: Let us make man. He also speaks of the Spirit. THEOPHILUS OF ANTIOCH was the first to use the expression τριάς of the Trinity. He speaks of λόγος ενδίαθετος and προϕορικός and calls the Spirit σοϕια. Before we continue we must mention the three different kinds of Monarchians: the Dynamists, the Patripassians and the Modalists. The dynamistic Monarchians regarded the Father as a divine person, but considered the Son and the Spirit as divine powers. The founder of the so-called Dynamists was THEODOTUS THE TANNER, who said that Jesus was a mere man who had been endued with special divine power. THEODOTUS THE MONEY-CHANGER belonged to the same school and taught that Jesus at His birth was the recipient of special power from Logos or God. To this school also belonged ARTEMON. The most distinguished representative was PAUL OF SAMOSATA. He speaks of logos endiathetos and prophorikos, but the latter was merely an impersonal power. The power of the Logos was united with Jesus, a mere man, who nevertheless was supernaturally conceived and born of a virgin. The personality of Jesus was not determined by the Logos, but by His human nature. The Patripassians taught that the Father had become man and suffered. The most prominent representatives of this school of thought were Praxeas, Noetus and Beryllus of Bostra. BEUYLLTJS OF BOSTRA, in Arabia, held that Christ did not pre-exist as distinct from the Father, but became a separate person by incarnation. He inclined to the views of Modalism and Sabellianism. EUSEBIUS presents his view in the following way: “Beryl attempted to introduce certain new articles of faith, daring to say that our Saviour and Lord did not pre-exist according” to His own form of being before His coming among men, and that He did not possess a divinity of His own, but only that of the Father committed to Him.” — The modalistic Monarchianism was completely developed by SABELLIUS. According to his view the eternal divine unity, which admits of no distinctions, had appeared in three modes or phases of development. These were the Father, Son and Spirit. They were not persons, but personifications. First God appeared as Father, and when His work was finished He withdrew, and then appeared as Son and finally as Holy Spirit. TERTULLIAN defended the hypostatical pre-existence of the Logos and used the word Son. He also set forth the personality of the Spirit. He said, however, that the Spirit was subordinated to the Son and the Son to the Father, although he thought especially of the order and the gradation (tres non statu, sed gradu). He taught a threefold filiatio: 1) the eternal one in the mind of God, 2) the appearance at creation, and 3) the incarnation of the Son. He sought to explain the Trinity by the process of self-consciousness and also used the analogy of the root, trunk and fruit of the tree. ORIGEN taught the eternal generation of the Son, but took the position that the Son was subordinate to the Father. The Father was God in Himself, but the source of the Son’s divinity was in the Father.
DIONYSIUS OF ALEXANDRIA was led astray in the beginning and gave utterance to expressions that implied that the Father was as much a stranger to the Son as a shipbuilder to the ship, or that the Son was absolutely distinct from the Father. DIONYSIUS OF ROME opposed the former and used the term homousios to express the essential relationship between the Father and the Son. This expression was afterwards used as adequately setting forth that relationship. ARIUS said that inasmuch as the Son was born, there was a time when He was not. He was careful, however, not to use the word time; his expression was literally: There was, when the Son was not. Afterwards he said that the Son was created out of nothing, and that therefore He was not of like essence with the Father. He seems also to have considered the Spirit as less than the Son. AETIUS and EUNOMIUS developed Arianism and taught that the Son was of a different essence from the Father, and the terra έτερούσιος came into use. The Semi-Arians, such as BASIL OF ANCYRA and GEORGE OF LAODICEA, said that the Son was born of the Father and used the term όμοιούσις, wherefore they were called Homoionsians. EUSEBIUS OF CESAREA taught that the Father preceded the Son as a cause, for which reason the Son is not eternal in an absolute sense. He is not God in the highest and primary sense, but in a secondary sense. He denies the eternally unceasing generation of the Son, and looks upon the generation as having been completed in one act. The Holy Spirit was subordinate to the Father and the Son. MARCELLUS OF ANCYRA denied the hypostatical pre-existence of the Son. The man Jesus became the Son of God in this wise, that the Logos united Himself with Him. Logos was not born and was just as eternal as the Father. Before the creation of the world God was silent, but at the creation Logos appeared as drastic power, but was not personal. ATHANASIUS, who defended the divinity of Christ, taught likewise that the Spirit was of the same essence as the Father. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are three distinct modes of existence in God. Basil the GREAT said that the Father, Son and Spirit, although alike in essence, are nevertheless so distinct that the one is not the other. They are considered in and with each other. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM taught the eternal generation of the Son and the personality of the Spirit. Both GREGORY OF NAZIANSUS and GREGORY OF NYSSA taught the divinity of the three persons. The latter set forth that the idea of plurality does not belong to the essence but to the hypostases, since the essence is not divided into persons. The persons stand in the most intimate relationship to each other and constitute a unity. From this time the terms οὐσία and ύπόστυσίς came to be used to designate essence and person respectively. AUGUSTINE developed the essential unity of the Son and the Spirit with the Father. He placed the divine monad not in the person of the Father, but in the divine essence. He compared the three persons to the memory, the intellect and the will. He likewise represented the Trinity as amans, quod amatur and mutuus amor. He also uses the figure of cause, means and end. Concerning the Holy Spirit, he taught that the Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son. By reason of the authority of Augustine the expression filioque was added to the Constantinopolitan Creed at Toledo, 589. —- At Constantinople in 381 the heresy of Macedonius was rejected. MACEDONIUS taught that the Spirit was created by the Father through the Son. His disciples said that the Spirit must either be born or unborn. If He were born, then He would be either the son or the grandson of the Father; if He were unborn, then there would be two primitive essences. At the second Ecumenical Council in 381 it was decided that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, should be worshiped as the Father and the Son, and that He is like unto them in glory. — But as the Council at Toledo did not represent the Eastern Church, therefore the addition of filioque to the creed gave rise to the schism between the Eastern and the Western Catholic Church. JOHN ASKUSNAGUS and JOHN PHILOPONUS were guilty of a heresy that has been called Tritheism. The former taught that Christ had but one nature and he ascribed to each of the persons of the Trinity a distinct nature, so that there resulted three essences and three divinities. The latter considered essence as a basic concept, the persons being three individuals under this genus. DAMIANUS was accused of supporting Tetratheism, but the accusation cannot be proved. By Tetratheism is meant the subordination of the Father, Son and Spirit under the divine essence, which becomes God. MAXIMUS CONFESSOR, who prepared the way for the introduction of the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite to the “Western Church, by which Neo-Platonism exerted great influence, stated that God is incomprehensible, but a personal spirit, who is the cause and goal of the world. He says that Logos occupies a central position, and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The three persons exist in and through each other and therefore he speaks of a perichoresis.
JOHN OF DAMASCUS came under the influence of Maximus and taught as did the latter that the persons exist in and through each other and expressed this relationship by the term περιχώρησις. He ascribed unity to the Father, in whom dwelt the Logos. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and is mediated by the Son. He explained this relationship by the analogy of the sun, the rays and the light. The rays and the light proceed from the sun, but the light is mediated by the rays. The controversy concerning the Holy Spirit continued during the Scholastic period. ALUCIAN defended the position of Augustine. PHOTIUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE accused the Roman Church of heresy, because, he asserted, it introduced two primitive causes in the Trinity. RATRAMNUS defended the position of the Roman Church. At the eighth Ecumenical Greek Council, held at Constantinople in 879, every one was condemned who made any additions to the Nicseno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Some of the Greeks made the concession that the Spirit proceeded from the Father through the Son. JOHN SCOTUS ERIGENA said that God is the absolute essence without determination, and taught therefore that there was no real Trinity, but that the distinctions were mere subjective conceptions. The Father is essentia, the Son is the world of ideas or sapientia, and the Holy Spirit is vita or the realization of the ideas. He uses the analogy of the fire, rays and light. ANSELM thought of God as eternally realizing Himself through the process of self-consciousness in accordance with thesis, antithesis and synthesis. God is self-conscious Spirit as subject-object. The Father is memoria, the Son intelligentia, and the Holy Spirit is amor. He defended the view that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. He also sought to show that there is in the Trinity neither past nor future, this by analogy with the the simultaneity of the sun, its light and its heat. ROSCELLINUS said that the persons of the Godhead were tres res per se, for otherwise they would be only nominal distinctions. They were identical only in will and power. He therefore supported Tritheism. ABELARD leaned somewhat toward Sabellianism, but taught, nevertheless, that the distinctions belong not only to the development in time, but that they were found in eternity before time. The Trinity consists of power, wisdom and goodness. He originated the grammatical analogy, representing the Father as the first, the Son as the second, and the Holy Spirit as the third person of the personal pronouns; also the analogy of the seal, the material and the inscription. RICHARD OF ST. VISTOR says that power and wisdom are the essential characteristics in the essence of God, and that the Trinity is explained through the concept of love. Love also demands a condilectum. ALEXANDER OF HALES speaks of a diffusio per modum dilectionis, which expresses the procession of the Holy Spirit. THOMAS AQUINAS reaches the conception of the Trinity by reasoning from the essence of man. God thinks Himself in the Son, and in the exercise of His will He loves Himself in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, because He is loved by both. JOHN DUNS SCOTUS teaches that there is distinction in the essence of God, i. e., through the persons of the Trinity. But he does not have a clear conception of the Trinity. The Father is conceived of as memoria. The generation of the Son was an act of the free will, but nevertheless dependent upon thought. The Father generates the Son when in memory He realizes Himself as thinking. The procession of the Spirit as to its principle is in the will. He explains the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son by comparison with the light and the rays that proceed from the sun as one with it. RAYMOND OF SABUNDE compares the Father to verbum activum, the Son to verbum passivum and the Holy Spirit to verbum impersonale. MASTER ECKHART does not set forth the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but represents the mystical pantheism. God is the eternal All. God is the eternal object of His thought. The thinking of God or the self-revealing of God as the object of His thought, constitutes the eternal generation of the Son. “God speaks is equivalent to God begets.” When God contemplates Himself as an object in the Logos, His thought is all-inclusive. But all things would return into God, into unity, and this process is likewise eternal. In this process love, which is the Spirit, is the mediator. This procedure out of God and return into God is, as it were, a game which God plays with Himself.
LUTHER, who had no taste for scholastic distinctions, said that we should believe that there were three persons in the Godhead, that the persons were not to be confused, that the essence should not be divided. From the economical Trinity revealed in the Word of God he inferred the truth or reality of the ontological Trinity. He makes use of a variety of figures, such as, word, image and reflection. MELANCHTHON explained the Trinity in the first place on the basis of the religious and practical needs of man, subsequently following Augustine and others in reasoning from the nature and character of the human spirit to the divine. After the Reformation there were three anti-Trinitarian tendencies: 1) Anabaptists, such as Hetzer, Denk, and others; 2) theosophical natural philosophers, headed by Servetus; 3) Socinians, such as Paustus Socinus. MICHAEL SERVETUS accepted only an economical Trinity. God revealed Himself in a double form of revelation, the objective in the Word and the subjective in the Spirit. The three persons are diversae facies et species deitatis. The Word is the ideal world, the archetype of the world, Logos endiathetos. Through a supernatural generation this pre-existent Christ became Logos prophorikos. He is not an eternal son, inasmuch as he was only typified before. When a word is spoken there takes place an exhalation. In like manner the Holy Spirit proceeded from the word of creation, the second mode of revelation. This is the spirit of life which reaches self-consciousness in the spirit of man. FAUSTUS SOCINUS said that there is no distinction in God. Christ was a mere man. He was received into heaven before He had begun the work of His office. After the resurrection He received divine power and might. The Holy Spirit was merely a divine force. Among pantheistic mystics may be counted JACOB BOHME, who taught that the Father was all, the Son was the heart of the powers of the Father, and the Holy Spirit the principle of motion. The Father is nature, the Son the intellect of nature, and the Spirit the bond of union between the two. The Trinity has significance within the sphere of natural life, but otherwise God is all. The Arminians hold the doctrine of subordination, for which reason their conception of the Trinity is faulty.
Among the philosophers who have exercised either direct or indirect influence on the development of the dogma of the Trinity may be mentioned Leibnitz, Kant and Hegel. LEIBNITZ explained the Trinity through the process of thought. The Father is the thinking subject, the Son is the object, and the Spirit is the thought process itself. KANT sets forth the Trinity merely as a practical idea, and therefore teaches no Trinity at all. From the moral viewpoint God is considered as the law-giver, the ruler and the judge. According to the idea of the law, God must be love. The Father is therefore conceived of as the one who loves. The Son is man made morally perfect. God is Holy Spirit because love is dependent upon the agreement of man with the holy good-will of God. HEGEL said that God is a process which proceeds from one stage of development to another, but the distinctions are lost. The Son of God is the world, but the world returns to its source. As the Spirit God returns from non ego to Himself. This takes place in the spirit of man, through which God becomes conscious of Himself. The unity of God and man has been revealed in Christ. SCHLEIERMACHER criticizes the church doctrine, because he considers that it gives the Father more power and glory than the Son and the Spirit. He says that we have no knowledge of God outside the world. Christ had no pre-existence, but was the man in whom the consciousness of God had been clearly and perfectly developed. Sanctification does not have its source in the Holy Spirit, as the Church’s doctrine declares, but in the spirit of communion in the Christian Church. During the 18th and especially the 19th century Arianism, Socinianism and related tendencies have sprung up in a new form under the name of Unitarianism. Among the representatives may be mentioned James Priestly, James Freeman, James Freeman Clarke, W. E. Channing and James Martineau. These men and the Unitarians in general are the most ardent anti-Trinitarians in modern times. Within the Lutheran Church during recent times more or less confessional theologians have expressed themselves concerning the Trinity, but there has been no special development of the dogma. Among the least confessional theologians we may mention Kahnis, and among the confessional or near-confessional we would mention only Thomasius, Philippi, Martensen and Granfelt. KAHNIS says that the Son and the Spirit are divine personalities, who came into being from the Father before time and mediate the relationship of God to the world. The Father is God in the highest sense, but the Son and the Spirit are only called divine THOMASIUS says that the threefoldness of the atonement is experienced as being combined in one because it is the expression of the same gracious will. In the economical Trinity there are both distinction and union, and likewise in the ontological Trinity. The absolute personality subsists in three distinctions or persons. PHILIPPI explained the Trinity through the atonement. He speaks of God, by whom, through whom and in whom we are reconciled. Like others he reaches the ontological Trinity through the economical. Compare what has been previously quoted from Philippi’s Dogmatics. MARTENSEN proceeds from the concept of love. He seeks an analogy in the being of man, but says that the threefoldness in man, thought, will and emotion, while not corresponding, is ideal, inasmuch as man develops in relation to the world. What the world is to man, that the Son is to the Father. The Spirit mediates this relationship of love. GRANFELT holds that the Trinity cannot be explained by means of the process of self-consciousness. He speaks of the threefold ego, the substantial, the objective and the subjective. Nor can the Trinity be explained through the principle of love alone. The two methods must be combined. God, who is absolute love, is the subject and object of love. In both there is the same loving will, which, loved by both, becomes a third personality. The Father is the original and eternal principle, the Son is the original and eternal intellect, and the Holy Spirit is the original and eternal will.