MONOTHEISM AND THE MYSTERY OF THE TRIUNE GOD
This synthesis of faith was not made to accord with human opinions,
but rather what was of the greatest importance was gathered from all the Scriptures, to present the
one teaching of the faith in its entirety. And just as the mustard seed contains a great number of
branches in a tiny grain, so too this summary of faith encompassed in a few words the whole knowledge
of the true religion contained in the Old and New Testaments.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem d.386AD
There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your
calling by God. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all,
through all and within all.
"We believe in One God" are the first five words of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed.(1) It is the Catholic Church's profession of faith in the unity of God that is faithfully recited at every Lord's Day celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist. Throughout the centuries the many peoples and nations and the many cultures and languages that comprise the covenant faithful of the Universal [Catholic] Church has constantly confessed this one faith, which was received from one Lord, transmitted by one Baptism through the one Holy Spirit, and given by the grace of one God. St. Irenaeus (177-202 AD) the bishop of Lyons, France who was in his youth a disciple of St. Polycarp (who was himself a disciple of St. John the Apostle) affirmed the Church's continuing commitment to one faith professed in one God: Indeed, the Church, though scattered throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, having received the faith from the apostles and their disciples..... guards this preaching and faith with care, as dwelling in but a single house, and similarly believes as if having but one soul and a single heart, and preaches, teaches, and hands on this faith with a unanimous voice, as if possessing only one mouth......For though languages differ throughout the world, the content of the Tradition is one and the same. The Churches established in Germany have no other faith or Tradition, nor do those of the Iberians, nor those of the Celts, nor those of the East, of Egypt, of Libya, nor those established at the center of the world...(the message of the Church) is true and solid, in which one and the same way of salvation appears throughout the whole world.
The profession of belief in one God is the fundamental basis of our Christian faith. We express this belief in the word monotheism, which in Greek means "one" (mono) "god" (theos). It is the belief that there is only one God who is the Creator of the universe and of all life. Not belief in "a" god but in THE GOD. The whole Nicene-Constantinople Creed speaks of God, and when it speaks of creation and man it does so in relation to God. The Nicene-Constantinople Creed clarifies the first statement of faith from the Apostles' Creed by a confession of God's oneness, a revelation made known in the sacred writings of the Old Testament. For example:
From the first revelation of God to man, His covenant people have understood that God is unique; there is only One God. Monotheism is as uncompromising in the New Testament as it was in the Old. Jesus repeated the basic Shema of the Old Covenant profession of faith from Deuteronomy 6:4-5b when He affirmed that the Lord our God is the One, only Lord whom we must love. He also affirmed that our love for Him must be uncompromising for we are commanded to love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength, in other words, with our entire, undivided self (Mark 12:29-30; Matthew 22:34 and Luke 10:25-28).
At the same time Jesus gave us to understand that He is Himself "the Lord." While teaching in the Temple Jesus said: How can the scribes maintain that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, moved by the Holy Spirit, said: 'The Lord declared to my Lord, take your seat at my right hand till I have made your enemies your footstool.' David himself calls him Lord, in what way then can he be his son? (Mark 12:35-37 quoting Psalms 110:1). In this statement Jesus was teaching what the heavenly elders revealed to St. John in Revelation 5:5, that Jesus the Messiah is not only a descendant of the great King David, but because He is the "Lord God" He came before David: Look the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed... To confess that Jesus is Lord is distinctively of Christian faith. This is not contrary to the belief in the One God, nor does believing in the Holy Spirit as "Lord and giver of life" introduce any division into the One God. Sacred Scripture supports this teaching from the lips and words of Jesus Himself:
St. Paul and other inspired New Testament writers professed the same belief in the Trinity of the Godhead by using a Trinitarian formula in many passages of their letters:
In defense of the doctrine(2) of the Holy Trinity, the Universal Church proclaimed at the fourth Lateran Council in 1215: We firmly believe and confess without reservation that there is only one true God, eternal, infinite, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, almighty, and ineffable, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons indeed, but one essence, substance or nature entirely simple.
The Triune nature of God is a mystery revealed to the Church through God the Son, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. The word "Trinity" is not found in Sacred Scripture, yet the Triune nature of God was hidden in the Holy Spirit inspired writings of the Old Testament(3) and revealed to the Apostles by Jesus Christ in the New Testament when, after His Resurrection and before His Ascension, Jesus instructed His disciples the baptize believers using the Trinitarian formula: "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit": Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you (Matthew 28:18-19). Jesus' statement in this passage refers to the oneness of God as well as the unique relationship of "threeness" that is the Most Holy Trinity. The command is to baptize in "the name," singular, of the three Persons of the unity that is the Most Holy Trinity. This is the same profession of belief in the Trinity that Christians confess when making the Sign of the Cross and saying: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
The dogma (truth) of the Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and the dogma that, above all others, makes the Christian faith unique among world religions (CCC 232, 234, 237, and 261). There are three crucial elements that make up the dogma of the Trinity:
Some Christians tend to ignore the differentiation's within the godhead, either by treating only the Father or the Father and the Son as God and ignoring the Holy Spirit altogether, or by treating the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as though they were God in identically the same way. How do you respond to the Holy Trinity? What is the relationship between the sacred Persons of the Most Holy Trinity?
The Patriarchal Hierarchy of the Trinity
When the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send to you
from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my
For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to
you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
Jesus said: I and the Father are one (Jn 10:30), and I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him (Jn 14:6-7). And, Jesus also said: He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? (Jn 14:10a). Each of these statements affirms Jesus' unity and equality with God the Father. However, Jesus also said:
Also see the two quotations above concerning Jesus' relationship with the Holy Spirit.
How do were reconcile what appears to be a contradiction between these various statements? Some professing Christian communities that do not have the teaching authority of the Catholic Church have either misconstrued these conflicting statements to assume that Jesus was lacking divinity (i.e., Christian Scientists), or that there were three gods with unequal power (i.e., Mormonism and the Jehovah Witnesses reject the doctrine of the Trinity)? The answer to what appears to be conflicting statements by Jesus lies in our understanding of the patriarchal hierarchy of the Most Holy Trinity - not only in the sense of God's perfect unity and equality but also in the sense of the missions of the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity and in the procession of the Godhead in the formula statement Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19, telling us to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - in that order.
When we respond to the three Persons of the godhead as though the three persons are God in identically the same way, we are failing to appreciate the hierarchical character of the Trinity. Hierarchy has two meanings. The first comes from two Greek words hieros and archein. Hieros means "sacred" and archein meaning "to rule or order." The word hierarchy in this sense then means "a sacred rule or order." The Trinity is a hierarchy in the sense of the mission of sacred order for three reasons:
Each of the Persons is distinct and different from the other two Persons and each Person, in a different way, relates to the other two Persons: Each Person is unique or singular and "Each relation is different from the other two; indeed, each relation is unique because each Person enjoys a different way of relating to the other two Persons and to the divine substance itself" (Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, "Trinity," page 683).
The Father possesses the divine substance in himself, the Son as received from the Father, the Holy Spirit as received from the Father and the Son (Jn 14:26; 16:13-14). Each of the Persons fully possesses the divine substance, but each does so in a different way. Each Person also enjoys a unique relationship with the other two Persons by virtue of the fact that each is defined by his specific relation. The relation of the Father is different from both the relation of the Son and the relation of the Holy Spirit. This means that the three Persons, though inseparable, are not interchangeable or identical. The Father does only those things appropriate to Fatherhood, the Son those things appropriate to Sonship, and the Holy Spirit those things appropriate to spiration. The Father, therefore, does not do anything specifically bound up with Sonship or spiration, the Son does not do anything specifically bound up with Fatherhood or spiration, and the Holy Spirit's mission is not directed toward anything specifically bound up with Fatherhood or Sonship (CCC 258). For example, the Father always commands, sends, and gives to the Son. The Son always obeys, is sent, and receives from the Father. The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to teach and to guide.
The three Persons of the Trinity are ordered to one another by virtue of their relationship to each other: The Father is the relation of paternity because He is ordered to the Son as Father. The Son is the relation of filiation because he is ordered to the Father as Son. The Holy Spirit is the relation of passive spiration because he is spirated by the Father and the Son and ordered to them accordingly. The three Persons are defined as "Persons" by their relationship to one another, a relationship eternally rooted in the two-fold procession of the Son from the Father and the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son (CCC 246). They exist not only in distinction from one another but also within one another.
Pope Benedict (J. Ratzinger) makes this point in Introduction to Christianity, when he writes: "In St. John's gospel Christ says of himself: 'The Son can do nothing of his own accord' (5:19, 30)... On the face of it, a contradiction arises when the same Christ says of himself in St. John: 'I and the Father are one' (10:30). But anyone who looks more closely will see at once that in reality the two statements are complementary. In that Jesus is called "Son" and is thereby made relative to the Father, and in that Christology is ratified as a statement of relation, the automatic result is the total reference of Christ back to the Father. Precisely because he does not stand in himself, he stands in him [the Father], constantly one with him" (page 133).
The three Persons of the Trinity are totally dependent on one another: Although each possesses the fullness of the divine substance, each is not and cannot be God except in relationship to the other two. Each is incomplete without the unity of the other two. This means that while it is proper to say, for example, that the Father is God, but it is not proper to say that God is just the Father.
But in another sense the word archein, formed from the root of the Greek word arche, can mean "first," or "beginning," or "priority." Therefore, hierarchy in the sense of patriarchy also means "sacred origin." Because the three Persons of the Trinity are coequal and coeternal, we cannot speak of the Trinity as having a temporal beginning. But we can speak of an ontological beginning or source of the Trinity. That source is the Father, who begets the Son and who, together with the Son, spirates the Holy Spirit, but who himself is unbegotten or ingenerate. It is for this reason that we can speak of the Father as the source of everything, including the Trinity itself for He is, as the Church Fathers (the successors of the Apostles) pointed out, the "un-originated origin." God the Father therefore has priority within the procession of the Most Holy Trinity, which is why He is always designated as the FIRST Person of the Trinity and which also enables us to understand why Jesus (the Second Person) tells us that "the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28)
Summing up we can make seven statements in an attempt to grasp the great mystery that is the dogma (truth) of the Most Holy Trinity with the dogma (truth) of the Oneness of God:
To God be the glory - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - forever! Amen!
1. The original Nicene Creed was composed by the bishops of the universal Church in 325 AD at Nicaea. At the Council of Nicaea the Church fathers confronted Arianism, a heresy that denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and therefore denied belief in the Trinitarian unity of God. At least 220 bishops from across Christendom signed the creed that affirmed the divinity of Christ. The Nicene Creed began with the statement: We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father; God from God, light from light, true God from true God; begotten, not created, consubstantial [Greek = Homo ousion] with the Father. The first Nicene Creed was relatively short and ended with the phrase and in the Holy Spirit. This creed was amended in 381 AD at the first ecumenical Council of Constantinople, and the result was the creed the Church recites as its profession of faith, the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. The additions to the Nicene Creed helped to clarify the dogma of the Trinity by adding more about the person of Christ, omitting the phrase "from the substance of the Father," including more about the Holy Spirit, adding the articles on the Church, on baptism, the resurrection, and eternal life. The first creed also included anathemas against Arianism which were dropped in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed.
2. Catholic Dictionary, John A. Hardon, S. J., page 117: Doctrine is any truth taught by the Church as necessary for acceptance by the faithful. The truth may be either formally revealed (as the Real Presence), or a theological conclusion (as the canonization of a saint), or part of the natural law (as the sinfulness of contraception). In any case, what makes it doctrine is that the Church authority teaches that it is to be believed. This teaching may be done either solemnly in ex cathedra pronouncements or ordinarily in the perennial exercise of the Church's Magisterium or teaching authority. Dogmas are those doctrines which the Church proposes for belief as formally revealed by God. (Etym. Latin: doctrina, teaching).
3. There are several passages in the Old Testament that hint at the Triune nature of God. A few of those passages are listed below:
Michal Hunt © On the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, 1991, revised 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved