By Prof. Michael Ogunu
The Holy Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion; the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These Three Persons being truly distinct from another. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (200), “There is only one God: ‘The Christian faith confesses that God is one in nature, substance and essence’”. Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet, there are not three Gods but one God”. In this Trinity of Persons, the Son is begotten of the Father by an eternal generation and the Holy Spirit proceeds by an eternal procession from the Father and the Son. Yet, notwithstanding this difference as to origin, the Persons are co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent.
This, the Church teaches, is the revelation regarding God’s nature which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to deliver to the world: and which she proposes to man as the foundation of her whole dogmatic system. In Scripture, there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together. The first creed in which it appears is that of Origen’s pupil, Gregory Thaumaturgus. In his Ekthesis tes pisteos composed between 260 and 270, he writes:
There is therefore nothing created, nothing subject to another in the Trinity: nor is there anything that has been added as though it once had not existed, but had entered afterwards: therefore, the Father has never been without the Son, nor the Son without the Spirit: and this same Trinity is immutable and unalterable forever (P.G., X, 986). It is true that the word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture, but the outlines of the doctrine can be seen indirectly through passages that teach the absolute unity of God and the divine sonship of Christ. We see the Trinity revealed gradually, indirectly, and in various ways (cf. Hebrews 10:1) through the many references to God’s unity and transcendence as well as the episodes that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church have regarded as “theophanies” (i.e. mysterious appearances of one or more persons of the Trinity) in the Old Testament in passages such as Genesis 1:26 (God here speaks of Himself in the plural form), Genesis 3:22, 11:27; Genesis 16:7-13; Exodus 3:2-14 (where we discover God using two names or titles for Himself: Elohim and Yahweh; these names seem to imply one who sends and one who is sent, corresponding to the Trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit), Psalm 2:7; Psalm 109:1-3; Isaiah 7:14 (Emmanuel is the name for the miraculously conceived child of a virgin; it means “God is with us”), 9:6; Isaiah 11:2; 35:4; Proverbs 8:22-31; Wisdom 7:22-28; Wisdom 8:3-8; Ezekiel 11:5; Ezekiel 36:27; Joel 2:26; and Malachi 3:1. Perhaps, the most striking of the Bible’s explicitly Trinitarian passages is Matthew 28:18-19: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
The evidence from the Gospels culminates, as shown above, in the baptismal commission of Matthew 28:20. He revealed the doctrine in explicit terms, bidding them “go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18). The force of this passage is decisive. That “the Father” and “the Son” are distinct Persons: the terms themselves are mutually exclusive. The mention of the Holy Spirit in the same series, the names being connected one with the other by the conjunctions “and . . . and” is evidence that we have here a Third Person co-ordinate with the Father and the Son, and excludes altogether the supposition that the Apostles understood the Holy Spirit not as a distinct Person, but as God viewed in His action on creatures. The phrase “in the name” (eis to onoma) affirms alike the Godhead of the Persons and their unity of nature. Among the Jews and in the Apostolic Church, the Divine name was representative of God. He who had a right to use it was invested with vast authority: for He wielded the supernatural powers of Him whose name He employed. It is incredible that the phrase “in the name” should be here employed, to all the Persons mentioned equally Divine.
Moreover, the use of the singular, “name”, and not the plural, shows that these Three Persons are that One Omnipotent God in whom the Apostles believed. Indeed, the unity of God is so fundamental a tenet alike of the Hebrew and of the Christian religion, and is affirmed in such countless passages of the Old and New Testaments, that any explanation inconsistent with this doctrine would altogether be inadmissible.
The supernatural appearance at the baptism of Christ is often cited as an explicit revelation of Trinitarian doctrine, given at the very commencement of the Ministry. The Evangelists see in it a manifestation of the Three Divine Persons. St. John’s testimony is yet more explicit than that of the Synoptists. He expressly asserts that the very purpose of his Gospel is to establish the Divinity of Jesus Christ (John 20:31). In the prologue, he identifies Him with the Word, the only-begotten of the Father, Who from all eternity exists with God, Who is God (John 1:1-18).
The immanence of the Son in the Father and of the Father in the Son is declared in Christ’s words to St. Philip: “Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?” (14:10), and in other passages no less explicit (14:7; 16:15; 17:21). The oneness of Their power and Their action is affirmed: “Whatever He [the Father] does, the Son also does in like manner” (5:19, cf. 10:38); and to the Son no less than to the Father belongs the Divine attribute of conferring life on whom He will (5:21). In 10:29, Christ expressly teaches His unity of essence with the Father: “That which my Father hath given me, is greater than all . . . I and the Father are one”. The words, “That which my Father hath given me”, can, having regard to the context, have no other meaning than the Divine Name, possessed in its fullness by the Son as by the Father.
Rationalist critics lay great stress upon the text: “The Father is greater than I” (14:28). They argue that this suffices to establish that the author of the Gospel held subordinationist views, and they expound in this sense certain texts in which the Son declares His dependence on the Father (5:19; 8:28). In point of the fact that the doctrine of the Incarnation involves that, in regard of His Human Nature, the Son should be less than the Father, no argument against Catholic doctrine can, therefore, be drawn from this text. So too, the passages referring to the dependence of the Son upon the Father do but express what is essential to Trinitarian dogma, namely, that the Father is the supreme source from Whom the Divine Nature and perfections flow to the Son.
In the remaining New Testament writings, numerous passages attest how clear and definite the belief of the Apostolic Church in the three Divine Persons was. Thus, in 2 Corinthians 13:13, St. Paul writes: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you”. Here, the construction shows that the Apostle is speaking of three distinct Persons. Moreover, since the names God and Holy Spirit are alike Divine names, it follows that Jesus Christ is also regarded as a Divine Person. Also, in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11: “There are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord: and there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all [of them] in all [persons]”. (Cf. also Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2-3)
In this regard, the teaching of the New Testament regarding Christ and the Holy Spirit is free from all ambiguity. In reference to Christ, the Apostles employ modes of speech which, to men brought up in the Hebrew faith, necessarily signified belief in His Divinity. Such, for instance, is the use of the Doxology in reference to Him. The Doxology, “To Him be glory for ever and ever” (cf. 1 Chronicles 16:38; 29:11; Psalm 103:31; 28:2), is an expression of praise offered to God alone.
In the New Testament, we find it addressed not alone to God the Father, but to Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 4:18; 2 Peter 3:18; Revelation 1:6; Hebrews 13:20-21), and to God the Father and Christ in conjunction (Revelations 5:13, 7:10). The various elements of the Trinitarian doctrine are all expressly taught in the New Testament.
The Divinity of the Three Persons is asserted or implied in passages too numerous to count. The unity of essence is not merely postulated by the strict monotheism of men nurtured in the religion of Israel, to whom “subordinate deities” would have been unthinkable; but, it is, as we have seen, involved in the baptismal commission of Matthew 28:19, and, in regard to the Father and the Son, expressly asserted in John 10:38.
That the Persons are co-eternal and co-equal is a mere corollary of this. In regard to the Divine processions, the doctrine of the first procession is contained in the very terms ‘Father’ and ‘Son’: the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and Son is taught in the discourse of the Lord reported by St. John (14-17)
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