The Beating Heart Which Drives the Whole Story of the Bible and the Church
A Deep Enough Understanding of the Primary Christian Mystery of the Holy Trinity, the One God in Three Persons Who is Love, Shows How Everything Else in the Bible – Creation to the Cross to the Church – Flows Naturally Forth from this Primary Truth Revealed to God’s Church
Internet Edition 1.2
Because a deep understanding of the primary Christian Mystery of the Holy Trinity, which defines the nature of the One God who is Love (1 John 4:8,16), is so important to the Covenant Family Theology which revolutionizes one’s Bible reading (and thus hopefully also revolutionizes one’s Christian life of love), it is important to have a central location on this website for readers to be able to learn about, study and meditate upon this primary Christian Mystery of the Trinity which is in fact the beating heart of the whole revelation of the Bible and of the ongoing life of the Church, the Body of Christ (who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Incarnate) on Earth.
Since God the Trinitarian Family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the beating heart the of the Covenant Family Theology which revolutionizes Bible reading, the excerpts are mostly from books in the Revolutionizing Your Bible Reading category of the Catalog. Thus this Trinity of Love webpage is listed under that category in the Catalog. However, the Trinity of Love, as the source of everything else in Christianity, the ultimate source of all Truth, is distinct enough that I have included links directly to this page in my lists of links to the general topics dealt with by The Institute for Promoting the Gift of Truth on this website.
The first excerpt is from The Bible’s ‘Big Picture’: Using “Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians, a shortened version of which is currently published on this website. The second excerpt is a much more in-depth and scholarly meditation on the Trinity from Love Unbounded: Tracing Salvation History from the Eternal Trinity to the New Covenant Church – Using Family Theology to Answer the Question How and Why Does Jesus’ Death Save Us?.
First Excerpt, from The Bible’s ‘Big Picture’
The Christian Family’s History starts with
The Trinitarian Family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
God Is Love in its Deepest Essence, and Love Is the Essence of Family
In the primary Christian Mystery of the Trinity the One God who is Love eternally exists in 3 Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Love is Self-Giving: From all Eternity The Father gives of Himself completely, holding nothing back, and the Son is eternally generated; the Son, as the perfect image of the Father, is also a self-giving lover and gives Himself completely in Love back to the Father; the Holy Spirit is the Love Proceeding eternally in both directions, from the Father through the Son back to the Father. All acts of love on Earth parallel the Love that God the Holy Trinity is within Himself; thus every act of love has three elements; every act of love involves: 1. a lover (someone doing the loving); 2. a beloved (the object of the lover’s love, who also is lover back to the first lover who is also beloved); and 3. the bond of love which binds them. Parenthood and childhood and the love proceeding between that binds them are within God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus human beings most display the “image of God” in the human families they form in which they learn self-giving love as God loves within the Trinitarian Family. Like within the Holy Trinity of Love, the love between a human lover and beloved is itself alive and after 9 months they may have to give it a name; the love between them forms a third new person, as love proceeding between the Father and the Son is a Divine Person called the Holy Spirit.
Love by its nature is self-giving; the super-abundant Love that the Trinitarian God is within Himself is so rich and full and overflowing that God desires to reach out and give beyond Himself in Love, He desires to expand the Trinitarian Family that He is within Himself, and thus God creates humanity (Hebrew adam), in His own image and likeness which is capable of free self-giving love, specifically intending to adopt His human creation into His own Heavenly Eternal Trinitarian Family of Love.
Adam is the first human being who represents all humanity, and all humanity is descended from Adam. Adam/humanity is first created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), from his beginning being in loving supernaturally-adopted family relationship with God which made Adam “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). Noting that later on Genesis 9:6 refers to mankind (Hebrew adam) being in the image of God only, the Early Church Fathers understood that the likeness of God was what Adam lost through his Original Sin, which Jesus Christ “the New Adam” restores to humanity redeemed in Him: the indwelling Holy Spirit of supernatural adoption into God’s Family. We are supernaturally adopted by God when His Divine Holy Spirit of Love dwells within us, meaning His own very Divine Life of Love is in us which makes us part of His Family. The loving family relationship with God Adam the Head of the Human Race was created with but lost is restored in Jesus “the New Adam,” the new Head of Humanity Redeemed in Him (though we still await the redemption of our bodies in the final resurrection, and until that Eternal Covenant era New Covenant Christians still struggle with sin – Romans 8:22,23, Romans 7:14-25). The Early Church Fathers saw the image of God which remained even after Adam’s Fall from Grace as the Eternal Spiritual Soul which distinguishes humanity from animals and makes us still capable, once redeemed in Jesus the New Adam, of living eternally with God as He intended when He created humanity.
When He created Adam/humanity for the explicit purpose of expanding His own Trinitarian Family of Love by adopting humanity into it, the God who is Love found it necessary to create mankind with free will, since free will is necessary for Love (without free will, without the free choice to love or not love, humanity would be like a robot running a program when it did nice things, and could not truly love). Free Will meant the potential for sin, which is anti-love, which is the moral choice against doing the truly loving thing in any given situation.
God the Holy Trinity of Love foresaw that His new human creation which He intended to live forever with Him would initially be too immature to properly manage its Free Will and hold onto the supremely great gift of the supernatural adoption of the indwelling Holy Spirit; therefore God took steps to ensure that humanity would still be God’s adopted child even if the supernatural adoption of the indwelling Holy Spirit was lost, as He knew it would be. Thus God instituted the first legal, Covenant adoption:
The 7th Day Covenant with Adam
(The Adamic Covenant)
Covenants make Families . What distinguishes a covenant from a mere legal contract is the exchange of persons (not just property or services) in a covenant family bond. The one covenant still common in our age and culture is the marriage covenant – where two parties who were not related to each other swear the covenant oath and then together form a new family. Moreover, covenants make bonds of Sacred kinship, because they are witnessed and guaranteed by the Deity by whom the covenant oath is sworn. Adam was created with the supernatural adoption of the indwelling Holy Spirit, but lost it through sin. God, foreseeing Adam’s inability to keep the gift of supernatural adoption into His Family, before Adam sinned united himself to Adam and his descendants (humanity) through a legal covenant adoption as well. This happened on the 7th Day – 7 being the number of Covenant Oath, and the Hebrew word for swearing an oath literally means “to seven oneself.” The Covenant is what made the 7th Day Holy, and the ongoing sign of the Family-making Covenant with Adam and his descendants (humanity) was the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week which marked God’s original Creation of the universe, humanity and His Covenant with humanity. God made this 7th Day Covenant with Adam/humanity so that when Adam lost the supernatural adoption of the indwelling Holy Spirit, as God knew he would, Adam and his human descendants would still be God’s children through the lesser, legal adoption of covenant – whether they remained faithful to the Covenant Father or became estranged from Him (runaways or prodigals but still His children).
© 2007, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go to the Next Page of Excerpts from The Bible’s ‘Big Picture,’ – The One Ongoing Covenant Family of God Gradually Raised to Its Maturity in Love Through a Complete Series of 7 Covenants
Go to the Beginning of Excerpts from The Bible’s ‘Big Picture’: Using “Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians
2nd Excerpt, from Love Unbounded
Introduction to Trinitarian Theology
In tracing Salvation History, the Biblical historical record begins with God Himself (“In the beginning, God”), and ends with the Living Church of Christ the New Adam being established as God’s everlasting universal (Catholic) Covenant Family, the community of the saved meant to encompass the entirety of fallen humanity descended from the first Adam (and this ending includes a vision of the completely fulfilled New Covenant Church and Bride of Christ at the end of time, celebrating the Heavenly Wedding Feast of the Lamb, to which we still look forward). This Bible is our Christian family history as the covenant family of the saved. And it starts with God – the Trinity.
There is a Western Christian tendency, shared by Roman Catholic Christians and the Protestant Christians who broke away from them in the 16th century, to focus on Jesus saving us, and certainly “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). There is nothing strictly wrong with this perspective, for of course the Incarnation of God in Christ who died to atone for our sins is the central Christian Mystery. However, the Trinity is the primary Christian Mystery, the one from which all others – including the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ, and the nature of His atonement – flows. Salvation is a Trinitarian event. The Father sent the Son in order to give us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption which makes us also sons of the Father, saved from being outside of God’s Covenant Family. This is why in the Eastern, Byzantine Divine Liturgy we sing, “we worship the Holy Trinity for having saved us.” And the Bible clearly testifies it is in fact the entire Trinity, who is after all only one God, who indwells us as Christians:
The Father and the Son:
Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)
The Holy Spirit:
Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6)
Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:24)
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16)
“God’s Unity is involved in the mystery of the Trinity just as much as the Trinity of Persons is, since the Trinity is not a Trinity of Gods, but a Trinity of Persons within the Unity of a single nature.” (Hasseveldt, 107). We must not distinguish the 3 Persons too sharply, so as to separate them, for then we have three gods, which of course was the Jewish accusation of Christian polytheism from the beginning of Christianity. Thus in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy we sing about “The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in being and undivided.” Even if, as in the Western Christian traditions, it is not our normal way of speaking, we must understand and affirm in faith that it is the Trinity, One God in Three Persons, who saved us and who indwells us.
The Trinity is a Mystery, Yet Intelligible To A Certain Degree
All of this, of course, is a Mystery. A mystery is a religious truth that is incomprehensible to the reason and knowable only through divine revelation. Not all religious truths are mysteries – some are accessible to reason. The ancient Greek philosophers were able to correctly discern many aspects of the nature of God on the basis of observation and rational, logical reflection on God’s handiwork in the created universe. The Creation we can see tells us something about the Creator we cannot see, as a work of art reveals something about the artist. Romans 1:19-20 confirms that some religious truth is so accessible, which is why those who do not have the Christian Revelation in the Bible and the Church still have “no excuse” to not believe in God and seek to know Him. Just living in God’s universe and applying the mind He gave them to it is enough for that much.
A mystery, once Divinely revealed (by God’s actions in history, as recorded in the Bible produced by God’s people, Israel and the Church, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit) can be intelligible, understandable to a certain degree, but because of the transcendent (beyond the universe) object it describes, it is necessarily beyond full human comprehension, and human reason cannot fully describe it nor could human reason predict it if it was not first revealed by God. The ultimate unknowable mystery, of course, is the nature of God in all His fullness. The Greek Philosophers identified, in the discipline of Metaphysics/Ontology, which is the solid foundation undergirding all science, some minimal truths about God’s nature which can be surely known by human reason. But God’s essential nature (as Love, and as a Trinity) is so far beyond us that it cannot be known at all except through Divine Revelation,1 and even then it cannot be fully comprehended, only accepted in faith. It makes good sense that the Ultimate Being who created our minds cannot possibly be reduced to a formula or explanation that fits inside our minds, which fully expresses what that Being is. So we must bow before the Mystery which God has revealed. There is a legend about St. Augustine, the greatest theologian of the Early Western Church, who wrote a massive 15 book work on the Trinity. St. Augustine was walking along the beach and noticed a child scooping seawater into a cup and pouring it into a bucket. He looked so intent upon this task that St. Augustine asked him, “what are you doing?” The child replied, “I’m trying to put the ocean into the bucket.” St. Augustine said, “you can’t fit the ocean into a bucket!” The child replied, “and neither can you understand the Trinity.”
Thus Saint Augustine once said, “If you comprehend it, it’s not God.” But we can know aspects of the reality of God, both those accessible to reason and those inaccessible to reason which God Himself has revealed to us because He wants to be known by His children, which give some form to the ultimate mystery, giving us a deep enough genuine understanding of God to allow us to have a genuine and fruitful and empowering relationship with Him. Theology is faith seeking understanding, which seeks to find the intelligibility of and the interconnections between the various elements of what God has revealed, so that we may better understand (and better share) the things we adhere to in faith. Indeed, at various times the Church has been forced to find the intelligibility in order to defend attacks upon its implicitly understood faith from within the Christian community (heresies). So the following approaches can only unpack the Mystery of the Trinity to a certain degree; there will always be more questions since it is the infinite depths of God who created our minds which is being described. But it will be enough, as we shall see, to show forth the intelligibility, beauty and consistency of the rest of the Christian faith. We cannot run from seeking to understand the Mystery, because our loving Father wants us to know Him as much as our abilities permit us to know and understand Him as we love Him with all our minds (Matthew 22:37). He has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and as Love: and these two revelations together allow us to very fruitfully unpack the Mystery while still bowing our limited human minds before it.
The Deepest Meaning of the Trinity: God is Love
It was St. Augustine who realized that the key to unlocking, as far as possible, the intelligibility of the Mystery of the Trinity God revealed is in the revealed Scripture which says “God is Love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The Scripture indicates that the Creator God is in fact Love in its very essence. And any expression of love always involves three elements: a person who loves, a person who is the object of love (who loves the first person back), and the bond of love between them. So the One God who is Love, is such because He exists as Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit, the Living Bond of Love between them. Lover, Beloved, and Love. God is one substantial Being, whose single reality as Love necessarily means a Trinity of Persons (who are not separate nouns so much as verbs). God is in His very own innermost being a Trinitarian community or family of Love. “The Trinity is itself a communion of Persons in the unity of a single life and a single nature…God is a communion of Persons within the unity of a single life.” (Hasseveldt, 14,17) And these Persons are in love! And they are love.
The Love God is, is a Completely Self-Giving Love
The very nature of love is self-giving. God the Father eternally gives Himself completely, holding nothing of Himself back, and so God the Son is eternally generated, the perfect Image of the Father. Being a dynamic, not a static, Image, God the Son dynamically Images the Father by likewise eternally giving Himself back to the Father, and Love, the Holy Spirit, eternally proceeds as the Bond or Living fruit of their mutual self-giving love, or indeed, is Himself the loving self-communication. Because the Persons are infinite God, they can give themselves completely without losing themselves. The Son has everything the Father has except Fatherhood, and the Father has everything the Son has except Sonship – they share one Divine Nature, one Divine essence of Infinite Divinity.
“The category of ‘relation’ is required to understand the tripersonal God who reveals himself by the relational and dynamic name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We should keep in mind throughout that the Persons are best understood as relations because they are more like verbs than nouns. There are not divine Persons who then relate; rather, the Persons are the relating” (Dauphinais & Levering, 20-21).
The First Person is the relation of “fatherhood.” In giving Himself completely in love, He gives everything He is as God to the Son, except for being the Father. In giving Himself completely in love back to the Father, the Son gives everything that He is as God, except for being the Son (because it is His relation to the Father as having received from the Father His infinite love which He gives back which makes Him the Son and not the Father). The Holy Spirit is Himself the giving, the love proceeding in both directions. A traditional Holy Spirit Rosary declares that the Holy Spirit is “the substantial Love which proceeds from the Father and the Son, uniting them in an eternal and infinite Love.”
“Nothing distinguishes the Son from the Father other than the Father-Son relation…the Holy Spirit is related to the Father and Son as ‘love proceeding’ ” So there are “three distinct relations or modes of existing within God: fatherhood, sonship, love proceeding…God the Trinity is three Persons subsisting distinctly in relation to each other in the Divine being.” (Dauphinais & Levering, 21-23).
All of this, including the term Trinity, is a way of saying that the fundamental reality behind the universe is Love. But we would not understand this if God had not revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and as Love.
The Processions of Love Within the Godhead
This section gets somewhat technical in places, and is very “deep” – necessarily so, since the Infinite Mystery of God the Trinity of Love Himself is what I am attempting to describe in some detail, following the Living Body of Christ the Church’s loving reflection and official declarations on the matter for almost 1500 years. I encourage readers to resist any temptation to “skip ahead” and instead do their best to follow along meditatively, since it is not terribly long and since the main purpose of this section is just to (hopefully) give the reader an insight into the infinite depth of self-giving love which is God’s very essence as Trinity, because this insight is what will ultimately explain the whole of the Christian faith in Trinitarian terms – this insight into the Trinity will ultimately make manifest the logic of Creation, Incarnation, and atoning crucifixion as all flowing very naturally from the fact that God is a Trinity of Persons sharing one essence of self-giving Love.
The processions within the Godhead (and how they relate to the Incarnation of God in Jesus) have been a subject of much prayerful Christian exploration within the Church in its struggle to define its Christian faith against the heretics, articulating as clearly as possible what God has Revealed about Himself to His Covenant Family the Church so that it is not misunderstood and abandoned in heresy. The First Ecumenical (worldwide) Council of the Christian Church, at Nicaea in 325 AD, clearly defined the Divinity of Jesus the Son against the Arian heretics with their sophisticated interpretation of the Bible which accepted Jesus as first and highest creature made by the Father but denied the true Divinity of Jesus. The Council’s famous Creed declared Jesus is “God from God, Light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father.” The Nicene Creed produced at this Council was completed (motivated by other heretics) at the Second Ecumenical Council, at Constantinople in 381 AD, which completed the Church’s formal definition of the Trinity (a term coined earlier by Tertullian) by also affirming the Divinity of the Holy Spirit “who proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26). The Nicene Creed as completed at Constantinople is still the standard Creed of the Christian Church used by over 75% of the world’s professed Christians. At the time it was produced, it was considered to be proof against all heresy. History would prove that the Creed only precluded all of the heresies that were known at the time. Many later Ecumenical Councils would have to be called to battle later heresies, such as the Third Ecumenical Council, at Ephesus in 431 AD, which defined the true Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ through Mary’s virgin birth, Jesus being one Person with two natures, receiving His Divine nature from His Divine Father and receiving His human nature from His human mother, making Mary “Mother of God” (cf. Luke 1:43) because she is true mother of the one person Jesus Christ, who is God, specifically God the Son, though He also has a human nature from Mary (the Nestorian heretics refused to follow the ancient Christian tradition of referring to Mary as “Mother of God” (cf. Luke 1:43) because they taught that Jesus was two persons, the normal human person Jesus, son of Mary, only “inhabited” by the Divine Person of God the Son, such that only the human Jesus had died on the Cross, and God really had not become “like us in all things save sin”). The Fourth Ecumenical Council, at Chalcedon in 451 AD, following Pope Saint Leo I’s Biblical theology, specifically defined against the Monophysite heretics that Jesus was in fact fully God and fully man, and indeed, Christ’s effective atonement for the sins of all humanity has always been seen to require this: the earlier Cappadocian Fathers  who had fought both the Arians and the Apollinarian heresy which said Jesus was God but not really human had articulated why it is vital that Jesus be not only God but truly human: “What Christ did not assume, He did not redeem.” If Jesus Christ did not assume a fully human nature, then humanity has not been redeemed by His sacrifice.
All of these Mysteries which God had revealed were articulated, as much as possible, so as to not lose the basic sense of the Revealed Mystery to heresy over the centuries. However, the Creed was not changed after the First Council of Constantinople (Second Ecumenical Council), rather, the declarations of the later Councils were “read in” to the Creed, as a constitutional amendment may be “read in” to the sense of the original Constitution’s text without actually altering the text: The formula of the Nicene Creed about the Divine Son Jesus becoming man had to be understood with the sense of “fully God and fully man” as declared very precisely in the Fourth Ecumenical Council.
So the Nicene Creed did not change, but Christians’ understanding of the truth it proclaimed developed and deepened in further centuries of loving reflection on what God had revealed (and in defending it against heretics). “When the Nicene Creed was translated into the Latin language for the Christians of the Western Roman Empire, a phrase was added by some, not to change the meaning, but rather to clarify the text, which the Latin translation did not make clear” (Huculak, 1). The Nicene Creed, composed in Greek, had said that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26). Some Western Christians added the clarifying phrase, “and the Son.” Some Eastern Christians were scandalized by this, that the Western Christians had dared to change the wording of the Creed, and they were legitimately concerned that saying the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” is open to the misinterpretation that God the Father is not the origin of all things.
The offense over changing the wording was trivial, since, after all, all of the dogmatic declarations of later Church Councils, such as “fully God and fully man,” technically added to (deepening, not changing) the meaning of the Creed though without actually changing the wording. Eastern Christians had in fact added to, deepened their understanding of the Nicene Creed’s proclamation as well, just without formally adding words to the Creed. And the common Eastern understanding included the meaning of the Western phrase “and the Son” but went farther. Eastern Christian theologians understood the Creed with the sense that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father through the Son.” This formula is superior because it includes the meaning of “and the Son” but is more specific, and specifically excludes the possible misinterpretation of “and the Son” to mean that God the Father is not the origin of all things, including the Holy Spirit within the Godhead. This formula is also more specifically Biblical:
“Jesus, speaking of his divine Sonship, testifies to his own procession from the Father: “I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me” (John 8:42), and “he who believes in me, believes not in me but in Him who sent me” (John 12:44). Jesus also speaks of the Holy Spirit’s procession: “But when the Counselor [Holy Spirit] comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me” (John 15:26; cf. 16:7). The procession of the Holy Spirit is thus from the Father through the Son.” (Dauphinais & Levering, 18, emphasis added)
So Jesus sends the Holy Spirit which He received from the Father, as indeed all that God the Son is He received from God the Father, so the Father is the origin of all things, including the Holy Spirit which “proceeds from the Father through the Son.”
Western Catholic theologians should be aware that the more specific sense of this Eastern phrase is actually Catholic dogma, proclaimed at the Fourteenth and Seventeenth Ecumenical Councils of the entire Christian Church, East and West (I have read works by a couple Roman Catholic theologians using “from the Father and the Son” which clearly do not understand it with this greater precision which has dogmatic force – that is, using it the sense condemned below). Eastern Orthodox Christians no longer in Catholic Communion since 1472  should likewise be aware that they have no basis for continuing to cite the Western, Roman “and the Son” addition to the Nicene Creed as a reason for their continued division from the ancient undivided Catholic, Christian Church, since the official teaching of the Catholic (Universal) Church, Western and Eastern, in which the Eastern patriarchs, overseer/bishop/eparchs and theologians took part, is that the Western phrase “from the Father and the Son” must be understood with the Eastern sense of “from the Father through the Son.” Both the Eastern and Western mistake were officially condemned in 1274. Pope Gregory X, speaking for and “with the approval of the sacred Council,” that is, the Fourteenth Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church, the Second Council held at Lyons, in 1274, declared
“In faithful and devout profession we declare that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as from two beginnings [or principles], but from one beginning [or principle], not from two breathings [or spiration] but from one breathing [or spiration]. The most holy Roman Church, the mother and teacher of all the faithful, has up to this time professed, preached, and taught this; this she firmly holds, preaches, declares, and teaches; the unchangeable and true opinion of the orthodox Fathers and Doctors, Latin as well as Greek, holds this. But because some through ignorance of the irresistible aforesaid truth have slipped into various errors, we in our desire to close the way to errors of this kind, with the approval of the sacred Council, condemn and reject (those) who presume to deny that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son; as well as (those) who with rash boldness presume to declare that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from two beginnings, and not as from one.” (Denzinger, Ed., 460 emphasis added)
So this Council condemns the rashness and error of the Eastern (Greek) Christians who would deny the validity of the Western Christian phrase that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” due to erroneous understanding of it, and the rashness and error of the Western (Latin) Christians who would affirm the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” but erroneously understand it in a way contrary to the more precise Eastern understanding that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father through the Son.” The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, as from one principle or beginning (the Father, single origin of all things), and not as from two (the Father and the Son as separate origins). This Ecumenical Council endorses the Western formula with the Eastern meaning!
The Seventeenth Ecumenical Council at Florence in 1439 was more specific still, and specifically noted the complete and true universal (Catholic) Christian unity of East and West since “all were aiming at the same meaning in different words” (Tanner, Ed., 525). The Council record reads,
“For when Latins and Greeks came together in this Holy Synod, they all strove that, among other things, the article about the procession of the Holy Spirit should be discussed with the utmost care and assiduous investigation. Texts were produced from Divine Scriptures and many authorities of Eastern and Western holy doctors, some saying the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, other saying the procession is from the Father through the Son. All were aiming at the same meaning in different words. The Greeks asserted that when they claim that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, they do not intend to exclude the Son; but because it seemed to them that the Latins asserted that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from two principles and two spirations, they refrained from saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Latins asserted that they say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son not with the intention of excluding the Father from being the source and principle of all deity, that is of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, nor to imply that the Son does not receive from the Father, because the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, nor that they posit two principles or to spirations; but they assert that there is only one principle and a single spiration of the Holy Spirit, as they have asserted hitherto [i.e., in the 1274 council]. Since, then, one and the same meaning resulted from all this, they unanimously agreed and consented to the following holy and God-pleasing union, in the same sense in with one mind” (Tanner, Ed., 525-6, emphasis added).
Pope Eugenius IV spoke the final declaration of the 17th Ecumenical (worldwide) Council on the matter:
“In the name of the Holy Trinity, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, with the approbation of this holy general Council of Florence we define that this truth of faith be believed and accepted by all Christians, and that all likewise profess that the Holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son and has His essence and His subsistent being both from the Father and the Son, and proceeds from both eternally as from one principle and one spiration; we declare that what the holy Doctors and Fathers say, namely, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, tends to this meaning, that by this it is signified that the Son also is the cause, according to the Greeks, and according to the Latins, the principle of the subsistence of the Holy Spirit, as is the Father also. And since all that the Father has, the Father himself, in begetting, has given to His only begotten Son, with the exception of Fatherhood, the very fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, the Son himself has from the Father eternally, by whom He was begotten also eternally.” (Denzinger, Ed. 691, emphasis added)
The Holy Spirit “proceeds from both [Father and Son] eternally,” but “as from one principle [the Father]” because the love/Holy Spirit which proceeds from the Son, the Son Himself received from the Father as the single source and origin of all things. The Holy Spirit (love proceeding) eternally proceeds from the Father in eternally generating the Son, as indeed the Holy Spirit later proceeds from the Father to “overshadow” Mary in the process of making the Eternal Son Incarnate in her human flesh. The Son who receives from the Father this love proceeding which is the Holy Spirit, loves the Father back, and so the Holy Spirit (which is love proceeding) eternally proceeds from the Son back to the Father. Thus the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and through the Son back to the Father. All of this happens in timeless Eternity. So the Son is not “younger” than the Father as in human creaturely father-son relations. The Council explains the Unity of the Trinity and its Eternity, proceeding eternally from the Father as the single principle of the Godhead as follows:
“Because of this unity the Father is entire in the Son, entire in the Holy Spirit; the Son is entire in the Father, entire in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is entire in the Father, entire in the Son. No one either excels another in eternity, or exceeds in magnitude, or is superior in power. For the fact that the Son is of the Father is eternal and without beginning. And that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son is eternal and without beginning. Whatever the Father is or has, He does not have from another, but from Himself; and He is the principle without principle. Whatever the Son is or has, He has from the Father, and is the principle from a principle. Whatever the Holy Spirit is or has, He has simultaneously from the Father and the Son. But the Father and the Son are not two principles of the Holy Spirit, but one principle, just as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not three principles of the creature, but one principle.” (Denzinger, Ed. 704 emphasis added)
So in timeless Eternity the Holy Spirit proceeds “simultaneously from the Father and the Son” as the living bond of love between them, as the love each has for the other as lover and beloved. But this is the eternal result of the Father, as “the principle without principle,” origin of all, eternally begetting the Son through His self-giving love which is the Holy Spirit, eternally proceeding from the Father in eternally begetting the Son, the same Holy Spirit of love given from the Father which is eternally poured back to the Father from the Son. So the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds both from the Father and through the Son back to the Father, and is therefore the bond of love between the Father and the Son in timeless Eternity.
Jesus the Son is the perfect Image of the Father (Colossians 1:15). What is the Father? A self-giving lover. So what is the Son? A self-giving lover. And the giving of love is the Holy Spirit, the love who proceeds from the Father and proceeds from the Son (who received this love) back to the Father.
So “God is love.” The Holy Spirit completes the Trinity as love, by being the bond of love between the Father and the Son both as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father in order to beget the Son, and as the Holy Spirit continues to proceed back to the Father from the Son, who was generated, perfect image of the Father, by the initial movement of the Holy Spirit from the Father, completing the eternal circle of love. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, back to the Father through the Son, such that the Holy Spirit is the living bond of love between the Father and the Son. The underlined terms show how the Eastern Creedal formula, the Eastern explication, and the Western Creedal formula are all related!
It seems to me that all of this is most compactly expressed in the formula: the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son back to the Father. (See the attached Diagram 1: Graphical Representations Of Trinitarian Formulas). Since the 1274 Fourteenth Ecumenical Council, Eastern Christians saying the Nicene Creed in its original set form, “from the Father” or Western Christians saying the Nicene Creed with the addition, “from the Father and the Son” are both supposed to understand this with the sense of the more specific Eastern theological phrase “from the Father through the Son.” And I believe the 1439 Seventeenth Ecumenical Council’s lengthy dogmatic definitions are most simply and aptly boiled down to this phrase: “The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son back to the Father,” completing the eternal cycle of Trinitarian Love. It is this Trinitarian formula encapsulating the understanding that God is Love which will prove most fruitful for explaining the entirety of the Christian faith in Trinitarian terms.
On the Vital Significance of Trinitarian Theology for Understanding Christianity
It seems so simple to say “God is Love.” Yet all of the above is necessary to explain this. God is Love, and therefore God is a Trinity. And all of the Christian religion flows from this. This is important to understand, because this is what makes the difference between the God of Christianity and the God of Islam. In the Islamic Conception of God, Allah (God) is One; and in his Oneness he is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent, like the Christian conception of God. But this simple and absolute oneness means God is alone and cannot love. He chooses to create at whim, and his creatures, who are wholly other from him, cannot be loved by him, they can only serve him as slaves. Islam literally means submission or slavery; a Muslim is “one who submits” or a slave, whom Allah saves or damns at whim (salvation consisting of a mere creaturely paradise). But in the Christian conception of God, the One Absolute Being who necessarily exists, on whom all other existence is contingent, in His very being longs to give Himself and does so. His very eternal act of self-giving love, giving Himself completely and holding nothing of His infinite richness back, eternally generates His Son, to whom He is Father. And His very eternal act of giving love, and that of His Son, who, as His perfect Image, can do nothing else but likewise give Himself completely in love back to His Father, is itself a part of His infinite fullness within the Oneness of Himself: the Holy Spirit. God as a Trinitarian Communion of love is complete in and of Himself: He has no need to create. But because God is Love, and because love by its nature is self-giving, He desires to give Himself in love more and more, so He creates humanity, more beings like Himself, in His image, capable of love, with whom He can further share the infinite richness of the Loving Communion which He is in Himself – more beings He can give Himself to in Love, and live in loving communion with. When His creation humanity (Hebrew adam) fails to love (which is sin – the violation of God’s very nature as Love), the God who is Love cannot give up and stop loving (love never fails – 1 Corinthians 13:8). So He binds Himself in family love to sinful humanity anyway through the covenants, and after (through the covenants) patiently preparing humanity to long for and be ready to accept and keep the gift which Adam rejected, “in the fullness of time” the Eternal Father sends His Eternal Son to become a creation, fully united to a human nature, fully God and fully human, so that on the Cross in time God the Eternal Son Incarnate can do what God the Eternal Son does from all Eternity – give Himself completely in love to His Father, holding nothing back – but He does it as a human being. Humanity (Hebrew: adam) after this is raised to the level of a new humanity, a new adam to replace the old adam, the New Covenant Family in Jesus Christ the New Adam, God the Son Incarnate. Humanity (adam) united to Christ the God-man, the New Adam, who as man can love like God, and who as man already enjoys the fullness of the Trinitarian Family Communion with His Father and His Holy Spirit, is now enabled through Christ, God the Son who fully shares our own human nature, to enter the Trinitarian Family Life, the purpose for which we were created. There is a popular praise and worship song which sings, “Amazing Love! How can it be/that you my King would die for me?” Trinitarian Theology helps us to grasp just how “amazing” that Love really is, that God is in fact self-giving Love and this defines His very most intimate essence and His entire existence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Once realizing just how amazing that Love that is God really is, and that it is that urge to give Himself in love that is the foundational reality behind the very existence of the Universe and of mankind, the question becomes, “how could He not die for me?”
The Love God Is, Is Family (and Covenant)
After our necessarily lengthy discussion of the processions of love within the Godhead (it took God’s New Covenant Family the Universal (Catholic) Church of East and West over 1400 years of loving reflection upon the revealed Mystery of the Trinity to define it that clearly, after all), it was good to end with a brief overview of the direction we are now going, in considering the question of substitutionary atonement within the framework of Trinitarian and Covenant Family theology which has now been firmly established. Now it remains to flesh out the rest of the story. God did not reveal His Trinitarian nature to us as Lover, Beloved and Love. He used family terms of Father and Son – and a Spirit of love. Is not love the essence of what binds a family? Is not the relationship of parenthood and childhood the most naturally loving relationship we know? As a father of four (now six) children, I can testify that my children were generated from me giving myself in love – they were generated in self-giving love (on the part of my dear bride and myself), we as parents love them automatically with our whole beings, and being generated, they return the love we have lavished upon them to us. As parents and children we are bound together in love as a family. We know we were created “in the image of God.” We know that God is Love, and a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God has revealed His inner being in terms of parenthood and childhood and the bond of love which binds them. So God is a family. To borrow yet another idea from my former professor, the famous Biblical Theologian Scott Hahn, we cannot even say that God is “like a family” – for we are God’s image. God is a family – and my family, the Baptistes, are like a family, we are the image of the primordial family which is God. I cannot say that I am a father, and God is like a father. Within the Trinitarian Family, God the Father is a father, the very primordial essence of fatherhood (“the Father from whom all fatherhood is named” – Ephesians 3:14-15), and I, Peter William John Baptiste, am only like a father. Within humanity, made in the image of God, the essence of love is most displayed in families. God is Love. And God is Family. This is why I wrote in the introduction that the covenants (including and especially the New Covenant) had to be understood in family terms, and family itself had to be understood in Trinitarian terms. The covenants are family bonds, and God the Trinity is a family. So making covenants is part of God’s very nature. When we enter a covTenant with God, especially the New Covenant which we enter through the New Covenant oath of Baptism which joins us to Christ as His Bride, the Church, we enter God’s family and share in His Trinitarian Family Life. The Church is a communion of persons, and a family, just like the Trinity, because we are the Trinity’s family. Thus we are adopted as sons and daughters of God the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate, sealed with the Holy Spirit of love who is the Love that binds the family6 – that binds us to each other and to the Father and the Son and even the Father and the Son to each other. The Holy Spirit of God’s love proceeding is the Grace we receive from God, because Grace is nothing other than the Life of God shared with us (and remember, it is the entire Trinity who indwells us, “makes His home with us” (John 14:23). The Trinity and Family and Covenant cannot be separated.
“Because of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity…God himself is now described as a structure of Trinitarian relationship… when it is said of man that he is the image of God, it indicates that he is the being designed for being-in-relation, that he seeks throughout all his relationships the one relationship which is the ground of his being. In that case, covenant would be the answer to man’s being made in the image of God. In it would shine forth who and what we ourselves are, and who God is. For him who is wholly relation, the covenant would not be something extraneous to history, standing apart from his being, but a revelation of his very self, “the splendor of his countenance.” (Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), The New Covenant, 140)
© 2005, 2006 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
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On My Journey of Discovery of the Trinity
When I was a devout Evangelical Protestant Christian seeking to best understand the Trinitarian God I loved, from Evangelical sources including my Church leaders, I was only able to find helpful but ultimately superficial insight regarding the “three-in-one” aspect of the great mystery of the Trinity. “Understanding the Trinity” consisted of noting that one finger has three parts or segments; one plant has three parts (roots, stem, leaves); a juicy cherry pie in the pan can be sliced into three pieces but underneath the crust it is still one gooey mass – and the three Persons in the one God are like that. This is helpful but it really does not say much about the essence of God the Holy Trinity that we may know and love our God all the more, that we may enter more deeply into the Mystery of who God is and be all the more transformed by that experience. When I became a Catholic Christian, I found that the Catholic Church (which had the accumulated wisdom of 2000 years of Christian reflection upon the mystery of the Trinity which the much younger Protestant churches had largely cut themselves off from when they left the Catholic Church) had far greater and deeper and more wonderful insights into the nature of God the Holy Trinity. Such as: God is Love – and therefore God is a Trinity, since Love always has three elements (a lover, a beloved, and the bond of love which binds them) – God is Love, in its deepest essence, and therefore God must exist as a Trinity of Love! Also (which should be obvious), God in Himself is a Trinitarian Family, since God is Father (parenthood), Son (childhood) and Holy Spirit (the Bond of Love which binds family together). It is a fairly common insight that love is the essence of family – but this is because human families are made in the “image of God” the Trinitarian Family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and God is love! While my adult research into the Trinity as an Evangelical Christian even at Bible College did not give me much more than the above “God is three yet one like a juicy cherry pie cut into three but one underneath,” as a Catholic Christian I came across a children’s picture book which was loaded with much deeper insights into the Trinity, including
“This Trinity, these three persons in one God, teaches us how to be a Church. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. The Spirit is the love that binds the Father and the Son. Now that we are baptized into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we are invited to be so filled with the Spirit of love that we become one with the Father and the Son, and with each other. Thus, the Trinity is not only a mystery in which we believe; it is also a family of love that we enter when we are baptized.” (Quoted from The Holy Trinity by Rev. Jude Winkler, OFM Conv., a St. Joseph Picture Book published by the Catholic Book Publishing Co., © 1999).
Catholic children can know this much about the Trinity; in my Catholic Masters-level theological studies I was given a magnificent theological foundation from which I came to understand that the entirety of the Bible and the Christian faith can be understood as flowing naturally and logically from who God is as a Trinity of Love. A solid understanding of the Trinity explains everything God has done from Creation to Incarnation to Redemption as what God would naturally do because of who God is. See my book-length essay Love Unbounded: Tracing Salvation History from the Eternal Trinity to the New Covenant Church – Using Family Theology to Answer the Question How and Why Does Jesus’ Death Save Us? (also see Volume I’s Chapter 4 on Family Theology). I am deeply grateful to my Evangelical Protestant upbringing for introducing me to Jesus and teaching me to love God (who is a Trinity) with great passion, a passion that some Catholic Christians lack, but I needed to come back to the Christian tradition Protestant Christianity left behind in order to enter most deeply into the traditional fundamentals of Christianity I still believed in as a Protestant.
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1 There are, in fact, “fingerprints” of the Trinity all over His created universe, but not enough that human reason unaided by Divine Revelation could assert with certainty that God exists as a Trinity. Divine Revelation makes certain things which at most could be a reasonable guess using reason alone. Still, the fingerprints of the Trinity do show up in observing the universe he made: the natural sciences are full of observations of the universe which come in threes – for example, matter comes in three forms (solid, liquid, gas). Light, which the Bible uses as a metaphor for God, “God is Light” (1 John 1:5), is a natural mystery to scientists because in different contexts and under different observational conditions it behaves as if it is a wave, as if it is a particle, and as if it is a beam, or all three at once. So which is it? Scientists can speak of sound waves and particles of matter, but cannot simply define Light. Light is one thing we observe every day, yet mysteriously this one thing expresses itself in three distinct ways at once – like the God who created it is one God who exists as a Trinity.
2Saint Basil the Great, his brother Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and his friend Saint Gregory of Nanzianzen.
3There is a common misconception that the year 1054 AD marks the first Great Schism of Christianity, between the Eastern and Western Churches. But the event of this date (the personal mutual excommunication of the pope (Patriarch of Rome) and the Patriarch of Constantinople, not of the ancient Christian Sister Churches under their authority) only marks an extreme example of the strained East-West relations which had resulted from both sides gradually losing sight of their First Millenium unity in diversity and starting to judge each other’s faith as different because they expressed it differently (even though these same differences in practical and theological faith expression had been held in peaceful Christian brotherhood for so many centuries). The One Christian Church of this period was still One Church seeking healing of its wounded unity, the source of which (in cultural prejudice) it was failing to identify in order to heal completely. Long after 1054 the Russian Orthodox Church still sought the pope’s approval for canonizing saints, and there were many such indications of unity despite the culturally-based tensions and indications of disunity. Most importantly the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs, overseer/bishop/eparchs and theologians had participated directly in almost all of the first 17 Ecumenical Councils of the Universal (Catholic) Church, to the 1439 Ecumenical Council of Florence – not just the first 7 Ecumenical Councils those Eastern Orthodox Churches no longer in Catholic (Universal Christian) Communion currently accept as binding. The Eastern Orthodox Churches as a Church body completely independent of the Catholic (Universal) Church, the Roman Catholic Sister Church, and the universal overseer/bishop the pope did not exist until after the Muslims (who conquered Constantinople/Byzantium in 1453) forced the separation in 1472. It was Eastern Catholic Christians in communion with the Western Church and the pope who fell to the Muslims in 1453, and so the true date of the Great Schism which produced 2 completely independent Christian Churches out of the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” of the ancient Nicene Creed is 1472. For many more details see So That The World May Believe Volume III, Chapter 5.
6Even in the Old Testament preparatory family covenants, Abraham received a “family visit” from the Trinity in the form of 3 men who predicted Isaac’s birth and the continuation of the Abrahamic Covenant family (Genesis 18).