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Reflections: Catholic Basics Section (Holy Trinity)

The Holy Trinity

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The Holy Trinity

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The Holy Trinity

 

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The Holy Trinity

Also See: Holy Trinity (Topic Page)

"Then Jesus approached and said to them, 'All power 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'" (Mt. 28:18-20)

"After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'" (Lk. 3:21-22)

"The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name - he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you." (Our Lord Jesus Christ, Jn. 14:26)

"God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear." (Acts 2:32-33)

"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen sojourners of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, in the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification by the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ: may grace and peace be yours in abundance." (1 Pt. 1:1-2)

"If anyone denies that the Father is eternal, that the Son is eternal, and that the Holy Spirit is eternal: he is a heretic." (Council of Rome, 382 A.D.)

Q: "What do we mean by the Blessed Trinity?" A. "By the Blessed Trinity we mean, one and the same God in three Divine Persons." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Father, Son, Holy Spirit, one God, and yet have they certain things proper. One power, one deity, one splendor, one light: what one hath, another hath." (Sequence, Adam of St. Victor)

"(The Divine Substance) does not generate, nor is it generated, nor does it proceed. It is the Father who generates, the Son who is generated and the Holy Ghost who proceeds." (Fourth Lateran Council, 1215 A.D.)

"Before Christ's coming, faith in the Trinity lay hidden in the faith of the learned, but through Christ and the apostles it was shown to the world." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"The mystery of the Trinity is shown in this baptism (cf. Mt. 3:17). The Lord is baptized; the Spirit descends in shape of a dove; the voice of the Father is heard giving testimony to the Son." (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church)

Q: "Why do we make the sign of the cross?" A: "We make the sign of the cross to express two important mysteries of the Christian religion, the Blessed Trinity and the Redemption." (Baltimore Catechism)

"[I]n the Divine Persons nothing unequal or unlike should [be thought to] exist, or even be imagined to exist, since we acknowledge the essence, will and power of all to be one." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"For in the divine Trinity there is nothing dissimilar, nothing unequal; and all that can be thought about the Trinity's substance admits of no distinction whether in power, in glory, or in eternity." (Pope St. Leo I the Great, Doctor of the Church, c. 455 A.D.)

"In the Old Testament the Trinity of Persons is expressed in many ways; thus at the very outset of Genesis it is written in manifestation of the Trinity: 'Let us make man to Our image and likeness' (Genesis 1:26)." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Now in one place Christ speaks in His disciples, as here; in another, the Father; in another the Spirit of the Father speaks. These do not differ but agree together. In that one speaks, three speak, for the voice of the Trinity is one." (St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church)

"Thus there are the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and each of these individually is God, and at the same time all are one God; and each of these individually is the full substance of God, and at the same time all are one substance." (St Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 4th century A.D.)

"Thus we acknowledge the Essence and the Substance of the Three Persons to be the same in such wise that we believe that in confessing the true and eternal God we are piously and religiously to adore distinction in the Persons, unity in the Essence, and equality in the Trinity." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"[T]he union by which they are one does not obviate the distinction between their natures, nor does the distinction between their natures prevent their being one" [Theodore of Mopsuestia (a friend & fellow student of St. John Chrysostom and a bishop - although he would ultimately be condemned for Nestorianism), c. 5th century A.D.)]

"[The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit] are one God. The Three are One. This we believe, this we hold, because this we have received from the Prophets, this do the Gospels tell us, this the Apostles handed down, this the martyrs confessed by their suffering. In this we adhere to the faith even with our faculties of mind - against which if even an angel of heaven pronounce, let him be anathema." (St. Foebad of Agen, c. 357 A.D.)

"If anyone will not confess that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have one nature or substance, that they have one power and authority, that there is a consubstantial Trinity, one Deity to be adored in three subsistences or persons: let him be anathema. There is only one God and Father, from whom all things come, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and one Holy Spirit, in whom all things are." (Second Council of Constantinople)

"Man's reason cannot comprehend these three Persons, nor their distinction. In this mystery, there is no order of time, no position of place, no boundary of space. There is nought in God but God; and, besides him, there is no cause that causeth things produced. God is cause, efficient, and formal... It is beyond the power of reason or genius to speak worthily of the three Persons. I confess that I know not what divine Generation and Procession are; and yet do I believe them with undoubting faith." (Sequence, Adam of St. Victor)

"There is, however Unity and Trinity; and it was and is and will be forever: understood and adored by faith; through faith, and not through inquiry nor investigation nor demonstration. For as much as you seek, so much the more ignorant will you be; and as much as you pry into it, so much the more will it be hidden. Let God, therefore, be adored by the faithful without meddlesome calculation. Believe that God is in three Persons. How this is, is beyond explaining; for God is not to be comprehended." (St. John Damascene, Doctor of the Church)

"Even when a ray is shot forth from the sun it is a part of the whole; but the sun will be in the ray because it is a ray of the sun, not separated from its substances but extended therefrom, as light is enkindled from light... So also, that which proceeds from God is God and Son of God, and both are one. Likewise, as He is Spirit from Spirit, and God from God, He is made a second by count and in numerical sequence, but not in actual condition; for He comes forth from the source but does not separate therefrom." [Tertullian ("an excellent early Christian writer" - although he would ultimately fall into heresy), c. 197 A.D.]

"In its etymological sense, this word Trinity seems to signify the one essence of the three persons, according as trinity may mean trine-unity. But in the strict meaning of the term it rather signifies the number of persons of one essence; and on this account we cannot say that the Father is the Trinity, as He is not three persons. Yet it does not mean the relations themselves of the Persons, but rather the number of persons related to each other; and hence it is that the word in itself does not express regard to another... Trinity is taken in an absolute sense; for it signifies the threefold number of persons." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"It is impossible to believe explicitly in the mystery of Christ, without faith in the Trinity, since the mystery of Christ includes that the Son of God took flesh; that He renewed the world through the grace of the Holy Ghost; and again, that He was conceived by the Holy Ghost. Wherefore just as, before Christ, the mystery of Christ was believed explicitly by the learned, but implicitly and under a veil, so to speak, by the simple, so too was it with the mystery of the Trinity. And consequently, when once grace had been revealed, all were bound to explicit faith in the mystery of the Trinity: and all who are born again in Christ, have this bestowed on them by the invocation of the Trinity, according to Matthew 28:19 'Going therefore teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.'" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"In faithful and devout profession we declare that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as from two beginnings, but from one beginning, not from two breathings but from one breathing. 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." (Council of Lyons II, 1274 A.D.)

"In the Trinity we predicate as distinctive of the several Persons the relations that exist among them, as Father and Son, and Holy Spirit, the Gift of both. For the Father is not the Trinity, nor is the Son the Trinity, nor is the Gift the Trinity. But this distinction of Persons with respect to one another, is not to speak to them in the plural as three (in nature), but as one, namely, the Trinity itself. Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God. So too the Father is good, the Son is good, the Holy Ghost is good. Again, the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, the Holy Ghost is almighty. But that does not mean that there are three gods, three good natures, three almighty natures; but one God, who is good, almighty, the Trinity. The same form is to be followed, when there is question not of their relations to one another, but of any attribute shared by each and all in common. For in this way they are described according to their essence. In the Trinity the essence, greatness, goodness, wisdom are without difference, and so of every absolute attribute predictable of a Person in Himself or of the whole Trinity." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)

"For one to attempt to speak of God in terms more precise than He Himself has used - to undertake such a thing is to embark upon the boundless, to dare the incomprehensible. He fixed the names of His nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whatever is sought over and above this is beyond the meaning of words, beyond the limits of perception, beyond the embrace of understanding. It cannot be expressed, exhausts the meaning of the words, its impenetrable light obscures our mental perception - whatever is without limit exceeds the capacity of our understanding... He is infinite because He Himself is not contained in something else, and all else is within Him. He is always beyond location, because He is not contained; always before the ages, because time comes from Him... He transcends the realm of understanding. Outside of Him there is nothing, and it is eternally His characteristic that He shall always exist... God is invisible, unutterable, and infinite. In His presence, let a word about to be spoken remain silent; let a mind attempting to investigate, admit its weariness; let an understanding which attempts to comprehend admit its own limitation...it does not escape me that all language is powerless to give expression to the attributes which are His... But speech will surrender to the reality of His nature, and words do not express the thing as it is... Therefore, our confession of God fails because of the limitations of language; and whatever aptness there is in our words, we cannot give expression to God as He is, nor to how great He is. Perfect knowledge is this: to know God in such a way that you know you must not be ignorant of Him, while yet you cannot describe Him. We must believe in Him, we must apprehend Him, we must worship Him; and it is these acts which must stand in place of our describing Him." (St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church, 4th century A.D.)

"The sacrosanct Roman Church, founded by the voice of our Lord and Savior, firmly believes, professes, and preaches one true God omnipotent, unchangeable, and eternal, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; one in essence, three in persons; Father unborn, Son born of the Father, Holy Spirit proceeding from Father and Son; that the Father is not Son or Holy Spirit, that Son is not Father or Holy Spirit; that Holy Spirit is not Father or Son; but Father alone is Father, Son alone is Son, Holy Spirit alone is Holy Spirit. The Father alone begot the Son of His own substance; the Son alone was begotten of the Father alone; the Holy Spirit alone proceeds at the same time from the Father and Son. These three persons are one God, and not three gods, because the three have one substance, one essence, one nature, one divinity, one immensity, one eternity, and all these things are one where no opposition of relationship interferes. '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." (Pope Eugenius IV, "Cantata Domino", 1441/2 A.D.)

"It is impossible to attain to the knowledge of the Trinity by natural reason. For...man cannot obtain the knowledge of God by natural reason except from creatures. Now creatures lead us to the knowledge of God, as effects do to their cause. Accordingly, by natural reason we can know of God that only which of necessity belongs to Him as the principle of things, and we have cited this fundamental principle in treating of God... Now, the creative power of God is common to the whole Trinity; and hence it belongs to the unity of the essence, and not to the distinction of the persons. Therefore, by natural reason we can know what belongs to the unity of the essence, but not what belongs to the distinction of the persons. Whoever, then, tries to prove the Trinity of persons by natural reason, derogates from faith in two ways. Firstly, as regards the dignity of faith itself, which consists in its being concerned with invisible things, that exceed human reason; wherefore the Apostle says that 'faith is of things that appear not' (Hebrews 11:1), and the same Apostle says also, 'We speak wisdom among the perfect, but not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world; but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery which is hidden' (1 Corinthians 2:6,7). Secondly, as regards the utility of drawing others to the faith. For when anyone in the endeavor to prove the faith brings forward reasons which are not cogent, he falls under the ridicule of the unbelievers: since they suppose that we stand upon such reasons, and that we believe on such grounds. Therefore, we must not attempt to prove what is of faith, except by authority alone, to those who receive the authority; while as regards others it suffices to prove that what faith teaches is not impossible. Hence it is said by Dionysius (De Divinis Nominibus ii): 'Whoever wholly resists the word, is far off from our philosophy; whereas if he regards the truth of the word' - i.e. 'the sacred word, we too follow this rule.'" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"First, then, the holy Roman church, founded on the words of our Lord and Savior, firmly believes, professes and preaches one true God, almighty, immutable and eternal, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one in essence, three in persons; unbegotten Father, Son begotten from the Father, Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son; the Father is only the Father, the Son is only the Son, the Holy Spirit is only the Holy Spirit. The Father alone from his substance begot the Son; the Son alone is begotten of the Father alone; the Holy Spirit alone proceeds at once from the Father and the Son. These three persons are one God not three gods, because there is one substance of the three, one essence, one nature, one Godhead, one immensity, one eternity, and everything is one where the difference of a relation does not prevent this. Because of this unity the Father is whole in the Son, whole in the Holy Spirit; the Son is whole in the Father, whole in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is whole in the Father, whole in the Son. No one of them precedes another in eternity or excels in greatness or surpasses in power. The existence of the Son from the Father is certainly eternal and without beginning, and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son is eternal and without beginning. Whatever the Father is or has, he has not from another but from himself and is principle without principle. Whatever the Son is or has, he has from the Father and is principle from principle. Whatever the Holy Spirit is or has, he has from the Father together with 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 creation but one principle. Therefore it condemns, reproves, anathematizes and declares to be outside the body of Christ, which is the Church, whoever holds opposing or contrary views. Hence it condemns Sabellius, who confused the persons and altogether removed their real distinction. It condemns the Arians, the Eunomians and the Macedonians who say that only the Father is true God and place the Son and the Holy Spirit in the order of creatures. It also condemns any others who make degrees or inequalities in the Trinity." (Council of Basel/Florence)

"We confess and believe the holy and ineffable Trinity, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God naturally, to be of one substance, one nature, and also of one majesty and power. And we profess that the Father, indeed, is not begotten, not created but unbegotten. For He from whom both the Son received His nativity and the Holy Spirit His procession takes His origin from no one. Therefore, He is the source and origin of all Godhead; also is the Father Himself of His own essence, He who ineffably begot the Son...from an ineffable substance; nor did He, however, beget other than what He Himself is: God God, light light, from Him, therefore, is all paternity in heaven and on earth [Eph. 3:15]. We confess also that the Son was born, but not made, from the substance of the Father without beginning before all ages, because neither the Father without the Son, nor the Son without the Father ever at any time existed. And yet not as the Son from the Father, so the Father from the Son, because the Father did not receive generation from the Son, but the Son from the Father. The Son, therefore, is God from the Father; the Father, however, is God, but not from the Son; Father indeed of the Son, not God from the Son. He, however, is Son of the Father and God from the Father. However, the Son is equal in all things to God the Father, because at no time did He either begin or cease to be born. We believe that He is of one substance with the Father... For, neither from nothing, nor from any other substance, but from the womb of the Father, that is, from His substance, we must believe that the Son was begotten or born. Therefore, the Father is eternal, and the Son is eternal. But if He always was Father, He always had a Son to whom He was Father; and by reason of this we confess that the Son was born of the Father without beginning. Neither do we call the same Son of God a part of a divided nature because of the fact that He is begotten of the Father; but we assert that the perfect Father begot the perfect Son without diminution or division, because it is a characteristic of Divinity alone not to have an unequal Son. Also, this Son is Son of God by nature, not by adoption, whom we must believe God the Father begot neither by will nor by necessity; for, neither does any necessity happen ... in God, nor does will precede wisdom. We believe also that the Holy Spirit, who is the third person in the Trinity, is God, one and equal with God the Father and the Son, of one substance, also of one nature; that He is the Spirit of both, not, however, begotten nor created but proceeding from both. We believe also that this Holy Spirit is neither unbegotten nor begotten, lest if we say unbegotten, we should affirm two Fathers, or if begotten, we should be proven to declare two Sons; He is said to be the Spirit, however, not only of the Father but at the same time of the Father and the Son. For, neither does He proceed from the Father into the Son, nor does He proceed from the Son to sanctify the creature, but He is shown to have proceeded at the same time from both, because He is acknowledged to be the love or holiness of both. Therefore, we believe that this Holy Spirit was sent by both, as the Son was sent by the Father; but He is not considered less than the Father and the Son, as the Son, on account of the body He assumed, testifies that He Himself is less than the Father and the Holy Spirit [that is, in His human nature alone]. This is the account of the Holy Trinity that has been handed down. We must call and believe it to be not triple but triune. Neither can we rightly say that in one God is the Trinity, but that one God is the Trinity. In the relative names of persons, however, the Father refers to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both, in that while relatively three persons are asserted, we yet believe they are one nature or substance. Neither as three persons, so do we predicate three substances, but one substance, however three persons. For, as He is Father, not to Himself, but to the Son; and as He is Son not to Himself but to the Fattier, similarly also the Holy Spirit refers in a relative sense not to Himself, but to the Father and to the Son, in that He is proclaimed the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Likewise when we say 'God,' no relationship is expressed, as the Father to the Son, or the Son to the Father, or the Holy Ghost to the Father and the Son, but God applies especially to Himself. For, if we are asked concerning the individual persons, we must confess that each is God. Therefore, we say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God each singly; yet there are not three Gods, but there is one God. Likewise also we say that the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, and the Holy Spirit is omnipotent, each singly; not, however, three omnipotent Gods, but one omnipotent God, as also we predicate one light and one principle. We confess and believe, therefore, that singly each person is wholly God and that all three persons are one God; they have one indivisible and equal Godhead, majesty or power, neither is it lessened in the single person, nor increased in the three persons, because it does not have anything less when each person of God is spoken of singly, nor more when all three persons are called one God... When, however, we say that the Father is the same as the Son, the Son the same as the Father, the Holy Spirit the same as the Father and the Son, it is plain that the reference is to the nature or substance by which He is God, because in substance they are one; for we are distinguishing persons, we are not dividing the Deity. We acknowledge, therefore, the Trinity in a distinction of persons; we profess unity on account of the nature or substance. Therefore, the three are one, that is, in nature, not in person. We must not, however, consider these three persons separable, since we believe that no one before the other, no one after the other, no one without the other ever existed or did anything. For, they are found inseparable both in that which they are, and in that which they do, because between the generating Father and the generated Son and the proceeding Holy Spirit we believe that there was no interval of time in which either the begetter at any time preceded the begotten, or the begotten was lacking to the begetter, or the proceeding Holy Spirit appeared after the Father or the Son. Therefore, for this reason we proclaim and believe that this Trinity is inseparable and unconfused. These three, therefore, are called persons, as our ancestors define, that they may be recognized, not that they may be separated. For, if we give attention to that which Holy Scripture says of Wisdom: 'She is the brightness of eternal light' [Wis. 7:26], as we see the splendor inhering inseparably in light, so we confess that the Son cannot be separated from the Father. Therefore, just as we do not confuse these three persons of one and inseparable nature, so do we in nowise declare them separable. Since, indeed, the Trinity itself has so deigned to show this clearly to us that even in these names by which it wished the persons to be recognized singly, it does not permit one to be understood without the other; for neither is the Father recognized without the Son, nor is the Son found without the Father. Indeed, the very relation of personal designation forbids the persons to be separated, whom, even when it does not name them together, it implies together. Moreover, no one can hear anyone of those names without being constrained to think also of another. Since, then, these three are one and the one three, there is yet remaining to each person His own property. For the Father has eternity without nativity, the Son eternity with nativity, and the Holy Spirit procession without nativity with eternity." (Council of Toledo XI, 675 A.D.)

Also See: God | Jesus Christ | Holy Spirit | Mysteries | Trinity (Topical Scripture)

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