May 18, 2016

The Inner Life of the Most Holy Trinity is an Exchange of Persons

By Matthew Coffin

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is May 22nd. The Divine Family that is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. The mystery of the Trinity is the life that dwells in us and sustains us.
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"God in his deepest mystery is not a solitude but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family which is love."

— St. John Paul II

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 Trinity.

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 Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
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,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who 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.

12 comments :

Mary Irving said...

I respectfully suggest that the article contains an error in the sentence: "As Persons, each member of the Trinity has a Divine Intellect and a Divine Will, separate from and in accordance with each other." The author seems to imply that each of the Three Divine Persons has a separate intellect and a separate will. However, there is only one divine Intellect and one Divine Will which of the Three totally possesses. The Three Persons are distinct from each other but not separate. They are in each other.

Mary Irving said...

I respectfully suggest that the article contains an error in the sentence: "As Persons, each member of the Trinity has a Divine Intellect and a Divine Will, separate from and in accordance with each other." The author seems to imply that each of the Three Divine Persons has a separate intellect and a separate will. However, there is only one divine Intellect and one Divine Will which of the Three totally possesses. The Three Persons are distinct from each other but not separate. They are in each other.

Jim Dobbins said...

You said: "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."
This confuses the incarnated person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is a Divine Person with both a Divine nature and a human nature. He is not a Divine Person and also a human person.
You also said: "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."
St. John tells us God is Love, and we know God is also infinite. Before creation, God was all that existed. Being Love, love always has an object. The object of God's love is Himself. Because God is infinite, His infinite love for Himself is personified, and personified as the Logos (Son). The personified Son loves the Father infinitely because He is God, and, as Christ said in the gospel, "The Father and I are One." The infinite Love the Father and Son have for each other is personified as the Holy Spirit. God is therefore a family within Himself and is always in generation. In philosophy it is said that God is always "in act" and therefore God's nature is always in generation. The fact that God is Love and is Infinite means God must be Trinity an d can only be Trinity. Because Love always has an object, and that object was Self, this gives rise to the three personifications as described above. There cannot be a fourth Person because a fourth Person could not add anything more to the relationships within the Trinity. So why us? God created us because He willed to share His Love and Trinitarian Life and chose humans as that object. He did not have to for He is complete within Himself, but He willed to do so. He has destined us to share in the life of the Trinity, something we cannot comprehend now, and so St. John tells us that now we are children of God; what we will be then we do not know, but we will see God as He is. And St. Paul says the mind of man has not conceived of what God has in store for those who love Him.

Mary Irving said...

John, you're confusing nature and person. Jesus is only one Person - a divine Person - the Word of God. However, He has two natures: a divine nature and a human nature. Person is who you are. Nature is what you are. Jesus is both God and man. This was firmly defined by the Council of Nicea in the fourth century.

However, as I noted in my comment above, I agree that the statement was confusing. There is only one Divine Nature (i.e. one Divine Intellect and one divine Will).

There's a great book by Frank Sheed entitled "Theology and Sanity" which explains the difference between person and nature beautifully. I'm sure you could find a copy at Amazon.com

eternalvisionfarmer said...

You said, " Christ incarnate also possesses a human intellect and a human will." Question: If God the Father is infinite, how can there be something that Jesus possesses that God the Father does not possess also?
If God the Father and God the Son share infinitely everything they each have, without loss of their individuallity, (John 17:10, "Everything of yours is mine, and everything of mine is yours") does this not mean that God the Son is eternally sharing His human nature with God the Father?
What does the Catholic Church officially teach, and where does it teach it, that Jesus is not eternally, infinitely sharing His human nature with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit?
Just as in John 17:11-12, the Church teaches, "Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them". Does this not prove that God the Father gave Jesus God the Father's Name, "Jesus" so that they share everything infinitely, even their name, without loss of individuallity?

eternalvisionfarmer said...

You said, " Christ incarnate also possesses a human intellect and a human will." Question: If God the Father is infinite, how can there be something that Jesus possesses that God the Father does not possess also?
If God the Father and God the Son share infinitely everything they each have, without loss of their individuallity, (John 17:10, "Everything of yours is mine, and everything of mine is yours") does this not mean that God the Son is eternally sharing His human nature with God the Father?
What does the Catholic Church officially teach, and where does it teach it, that Jesus is not eternally, infinitely sharing His human nature with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit?
Just as in John 17:11-12, the Church teaches, "Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them". Does this not prove that God the Father gave Jesus God the Father's Name, "Jesus" so that they share everything infinitely, even their name, without loss of individuallity?

vjtorley said...

I'd like to make a couple of quick comments.

1. Mary Irving is right: there is only one Divine Intellect and one Divine Will. The Catechism makes this clear:

http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=648002

St. Thomas Aquinas also speaks of "the Divine mind," not minds.

2. Eternalvisionfarmer asked: " If God the Father is infinite, how can there be something that Jesus possesses that God the Father does not possess also?"

We can explain this by bearing in mind the distinction between "who" and "what." What was it that assumed Jesus' human nature? Answer: God. Who was it that assumed Jesus' human nature? Answer: God the Son.

Some modern theologians (e.g. Karl Rahner) have suggested that only God the Son was capable of becoming incarnate, because the Son is the self-expression or Logos of the Father. Sine Jesus is God's revelation of Himself, the Divine Person who possesses (or assumes) Jesus' human nature is God the Son.

Mary Irving said...

Reply to eternalvisionfaarmer:
I don’t know if the Church has ever officially declared on the question of God the Father and human nature. This is the answer Thomas Aquinas gives in the Summa: (You can find it on http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4003.htm)
I answer that, As was said above (2, 5, ad 1), by the union of the soul and body in Christ neither a new person is made nor a new hypostasis, but one human nature is assumed to the Divine Person or hypostasis, which, indeed, does not take place by the power of the human nature, but by the power of the Divine Person. Now such is the characteristic of the Divine Persons that one does not exclude another from communicating in the same nature, but only in the same Person. Hence, since in the mystery of Incarnation "the whole reason of the deed is the power of the doer," as Augustine says (Ep. ad Volusianum cxxxvii), we must judge of it in regard to the quality of the Divine Person assuming, and not according to the quality of the human nature assumed. Therefore it is not impossible that two or three Divine Persons should assume one human nature, but it would be impossible for them to assume one human hypostasis or person; thus Anselm says in the book De Concep. Virg. (Cur Deus Homo ii, 9), that "several Persons cannot assume one and the same man to unity of Person."
Perhaps more helpful is a statement by St. Gregory of Nyssa: “The Hands of the Word of God are stretched out to us when we are out of our depth, buffeted and lost in speculation. Grasped firmly in His Hands, we shall be without fear….”

eternalvisionfarmer said...

I agree with the Church's statement of faith that God the Son assumed human nature at a certain point in time as seen by men and thereby revealed, in time to mankind, another part of the eternally changeless God the Son, and in essence is eternally doing so as everything God does is being done eternally in one single, infinite, always in the present tense action(from God's perspective). I do not see where you have addressed the question: If God the Son is eternally, infinitely, sharing, with the Father, everything that is God the Son's, then does this not prove that God the Son is eternally sharing His human Nature with God the Father?
As I quoted yesterday, John 17:10, "Everything of yours is mine, and everything of mine is yours" and from yesterday's readings John 16:15, "Everything that the Father has is mine."
The mystery is that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit share everything infinitely, eternally, doing all they do in the perfect present tense, all at once from their viewpoint. Therefore the Name "JESUS" is the Name of each and contains all (CCC 2666) and when we pray the Name "JESUS" (CCC 2668) we become aware of their presence in us, as they are eternally present everywhere because they are infinite and there can be no place where they are not present if they are truly infinite. But it is still a mystery as to how they share everything infinitely and are still Three Divine Persons.

Mary Irving said...

In reply to eternal vision farmer: You are right! It is a MYSTERY. I have reservations about your statement:"Therefore the Name "JESUS" is the Name of each ...." I re-read CCC2666 and I don't see that statement. I think we're bogged down in trying to understand the infinite while using (and thinking in) human language. I may be wrong, but I don't think you can apply the Name of Jesus to the Father and to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Name given to the one Person who is both God and man. I suggest: 1)reading Aquinas' comment on the question as I mentioned above,(You can see the whole article by going to http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4003.htm) 2) reading Frank Sheed's book, THEOLOGY AND SANITY, 3) thinking about St. Gregory of Nyssa's statement which I quoted above and 4) talking this over humbly with Jesus. Ask Him to help you understand what He wants you to understand and be resigned to accept in faith the teaching of the Church if you don't. If you want to discuss this further, please email me at irving.mary02@yahoo.com

eternalvisionfarmer said...

To Mary Irving: Thank you for the thoughts and the web reference.
As to the Name "JESUS" being the name of each Divine person, The CCC at 2666 says "the Name Jesus contains all" and St. Thomas Aquinas says somewhere that we can know with a certitude of Faith that which must follow from what God has revealed through the official Magisterial teachings of the Church. How do we know absolutely that something MUST FOLLOW from what the Church does teach officially?
My answer: By assuming (as a starting position) that the point under consideration is actually FALSE: If that starting position absolutely requires an official teaching of the Church to ALSO BE FALSE, then we can know that the original point under consideration CANNOT BE FALSE BECAUSE THAT REQUIRES AN OFFICIAL TEACHING OF THE CHURCH TO BE FALSE ALSO AND THIS CANNOT BE ACCORDING TO OUR FAITH.
The Church teaches that the Name "JESUS" contains all. Therefore, I say, it contains the name of the Father and the Name of the Holy Spirit. ASSUME it does not contain those names. Then it does not contain all and the Teaching of the Church in CCC at 2666 is false. This cannot be according to our faith and therefore the Name Jesus contains the Name of the Father and the Name of the Holy Spirit. BUT, we baptize all in the ONE NAME of the Father, The Son, and the HOLY Spirit. They have only ONE NAME. Three DIVINE Persons with ONE NATURE AND THEREFORE ONLY ONE NAME. This Name must be "JESUS" because the Church Teaches the Name "JESUS" contains all.
The mystery, the truth taught by the God through His Church, is that they have ONE NAME, they share everything infinitely, YET they are Three Divine persons. If they do not share EVERYTHING, INFINITELY, then one has something the others do not have, one is infinite, the others are less than infinite: NOT POSSIBLE ACCORDING TO THE CHURCH.
Another line of thought:
When God the Father thinks of God the Son' Name, JESUS, God the Father thinks about everything that God the SON IS, SHARES with HIM, DOES, THINKS throughout all time and space, everything, which is infinite because God the Son is infinite. Therefore there can be nothing more for the Father to think about (God the Father's Name) therefore the Name of the Son must include, in the "mind" "thought" of God the Father) the name of the Father, which must also be infinite because when God the Son thinks of the Name of the Father (Which the Father gave the Son, John 17:11-12) The Son thinks of everything the Father IS, SHARES with HIM, DOES, THINKS throughout all time and space, everything, which is infinite.

Jerry Rhino said...

Do we not acknowledge that the statement,"who proceeds from the Father and the Son" is a point of contention with our Greek Orthodox brothers? Filioque problems are well documented all over the internet.