The Exchange of Persons in the Trinity
The three-leaf clover used in religion classes to explain the mystery of three Divine Persons in one God does not begin to penetrate the incomparable majesty, boundless love, and total communion, which the Church in her Tradition and creeds ascribes to the Godhead.
To the early Church Fathers the idea of perichoresis (the exchange of Persons in the Trinity), was indispensable to understanding God. This sublime, metaphysical concept is central to John Paul’s Theology of the Body. The inner life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Divine Love Itself, is dimly but unmistakably reflected in the beauty of the conjugal embrace, the nuptial meaning of our bodies, and the echo of original innocence that resides in the human heart.
Before continuing, the term "person" should be defined. A person has an intellect, with which to know and a will, with which to choose. As a result, a person is always a "someone," never a "something." Animals are not persons. Their intellects are governed by instinct and they do not have free will. Only persons can freely choose.
There are three types of persons: Divine Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), angelic persons (angels), and human persons (human beings). God alone possesses the Divine Nature that is the Divine Intellect and the Divine Will. As Persons, each member of the Trinity has a Divine Intellect and a Divine Will, separate from and in accordance with each other. Christ incarnate also possesses a human intellect and a human will. Angels are persons because they know and choose, as do human beings. This is what it means to say we are made in the image and likeness of God. Our personhood images the Divine Personhood of the Trinity.
The Inner Life of the Trinity
God’s perfection is to exist. This doesn’t sound very impressive until we consider the opposite of existence. Something that exists is more perfect than the mere conceptualization of that thing. Before Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa he envisioned it in his mind. What resulted from his creative powers and artistry continues to fascinate, inspiring legions of impersonators, and bring joy to beholders. Had he not painted it his masterpiece would have disappeared along with his imagination. The Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre is superior in every way to the unrealized concept.
As the perfection of all that is, God the Father’s knowledge of Himself is perfect. The perfect self-knowledge of the Father exists. It is God the Son. Since Jesus is the perfect self-knowledge of the Father, the Person of Christ has always existed. God the Father and God the Son have no beginning and no end, a truth acknowledged in the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
The love of the Father for the Son is total. God the Father empties Himself completely, holding nothing back from the Son. The love of the Son for the Father is total. God the Son empties Himself completely, holding nothing back from the Father. The love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father exists. It is God the Holy Spirit. The love that is the exchange of Persons between Father and Son is the Life that is the Spirit, with no beginning and no end. The Creed affirms that the Third Person of the Trinity is coequal with and proceeds from the Father and the Son:
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the prophets.
The love of the Holy Spirit for the other Persons of the Trinity is total. God the Holy Spirit empties Himself completely, holding nothing back from the Father and the Son. The love of the Father and the Son for the Spirit is total. God the Father and God the Son empty themselves completely, holding nothing back from the Spirit. This exchange of Persons that is the inner life of the Trinity is the first family. Before God created the world there was only the Divine Family. But the life-giving love of the Trinity is spiritual not sexual in nature.
Mirroring the Trinity, man and woman consummate their love in marriage through a free and total self-donation of their persons in the intimacy of sexual union. Pope John Paul’s exhortation to couples that a man should give himself completely in a receiving way to his wife, and a woman should receive her husband completely in a giving way, reflects this (Something contraception prevents entirely).
Our Lord raises marriage to a sacrament. The words of Jesus confer on matrimony a dignity befitting its purpose: "…from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." (Mark 10:6-9, also Matthew 19:4-6)
Christ is referring to the first covenant, in Genesis, between man and man’s Creator. It is a marriage covenant. God’s command to Adam and Eve: "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it," calls attention to a profound truth. Only persons can know and choose. Because they know and choose persons alone can love. Only the human person is able to bring into this world another person capable of still more love. The gift of human sexuality allows married persons to grow in intimacy and holiness, give themselves more completely to their spouse, and be co-creators with God in the procreation, raising, and education of children.
In Part 3 we discuss Man and woman "in the beginning", after the Fall, and after the Resurrection; the sacrament of marriage and conjugal love.