29 March 2005

no shadow of turning 7

Thus far I have primarily focused upon the biblical revelation of God as we find that in the Old Testament faith of Israel. The fullness of God’s self-disclosure, however, has come to us in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ, God himself come to us in human flesh (Heb 1:1-3). Moreover, in Christ we know God to be a Trinity of divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three Persons, yet one God. Neither the Incarnation nor the Trinity run counter to what we have already heard, but rather deepen and strengthen our understanding of God as transcendent and immanent.

I will simply assume here and develop the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as that has been discerned from Holy Scripture by the church and subsequently defined in the early Councils: that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three co-equal Persons who are each exhaustively God so that they exist as one-in-being. Moreover, each of these three Persons is who he is only in relation to the other Persons, so that the existence of each both defines and is defined by the other Persons. The relationships among these divine Persons are traditionally referred to as “processions” and that is language I will be using.

This way of thinking about the Trinity can be seen from the simple terms “Father” and “Son” by which God names the first two Persons. No person is a father unless he has a child and no child is a son unless he has a father. The concepts of “father” and “son” are mutually defining and constitutive of one another. God’s revelation of himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the particular shape that revelation takes, shows us that each of the divine Persons subsists only in relation to the Others.

Thus, the Father is Father only in relation to the Son and to the Spirit so that he is constituted as “Father” in the single eternal event or act of begetting the Son and breathing out the Spirit, an eternal event of divine self-giving love, so that the Son is eternally begotten from the Father in and through the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Father lovingly gives himself over so exhaustively and without remainder in this act that this act defines the Father as Father and constitutes the Son and the Spirit as divine Persons as much as the Father.

Similarly, the Son is Son only in relation to the Father and to the Spirit so that he is constituted as “Son” in the single eternal event or act of being begotten by the Father and sending out the Spirit, an eternal event of divine self-giving love, so that the Son eternally gives to the Father in and through the Spirit by whom he was begotten. Like the giving of the Father, the self-giving return of the begotten Son to the Father in the Spirit defines the Son as Son and constitutes the Father and the Spirit as divine Persons as much as the Son.

Finally, the Spirit is Spirit only in relation to the Father and to the Son so that he is constituted as “Spirit” in the single eternal event or act of being breathed out in love by the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten and being the one in whom, proceeding from the Son, the Son completely gives himself back to the Father. Like the giving of the Father and the Son, the self-giving procession of the Spirit from the Father in the Son and from the Son returning to the Father defines the Spirit as Spirit and constitutes the Father and Son as divine Persons as much as the Spirit.

The Persons of the Trinity, then, are to be understood as relational events or acts of loving gift who are nothing more and nothing less than these eternally active relationships. As such, for instance, the Father cannot become any more the Father by doing anything further than he already eternally does in begetting the Son and breathing out the Spirit. And the same holds true for the other divine Persons, who are each already eternally who they are in their fully actualized self-giving relations of love. Thus, the personhood of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is exhaustively constituted by their respective relational acts.