The Mystery of the Holy Trinity
Why do Christians believe in the Trinity? Is this idea really taught in scripture, or is it a man-made idea that arose at a much later time? Does it even make sense? On this edition of White Horse Inn, the hosts will explore the mysterious nature of God’s self-revelation, namely that he is one in essence, and three in person.
“‘Father, God, I just thank you for your love and dying on the cross to save us and for coming again one day.’ I’ve heard a lot of prayers like this one by Christians who affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity. But here’s an instance, not just of doctrine shaping doxology, but the other way around. Our prayers both said and sung shape our beliefs. So what’s wrong with that prayer? Well, it assumes that God is one person. It confuses the Son in that instance, but we also often confuse the Holy Spirit with the Father. It fails to follow the grain of the biblical drama in which all good gifts come from the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.Michael Horton
“The Father gave his Son, but it’s the Son who gave his life for us, and it’s the Holy Spirit who indwells us. The three persons are engaged in every work together but differently according to the unique characteristics of each person. Whether in the work of creation, providence or redemption, the Father is always the source. The Son is always the mediator and the Spirit is always the one at work within the world and within us to bring that work to completion. What do you mean when you say God? Do you think and pray and worship in a Trinitarian way? And what difference does it make anyway? Is the doctrine of the Trinity biblical much less essential to the Christian faith? That’s what we’re going to be talking about.”
TERM TO LEARN
The Trinity is not merely one doctrine among others; besides being proclaimed in Word and sacrament, this article of faith structures all the faith and practice of Christianity: our theology, liturgies, hymns, and lives. It is clear enough from Scripture that the persons of the Godhead are persons-in-relation. It is not simply that begetting, being begotten, and being spirated are essential to their identity, but that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are essential to each other’s identity.
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity (from Latin trinitas “triad”) defines God as three consubstantial persons, or hypostases: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; “one God in three persons”. The three persons are distinct, yet are one “substance, essence or nature.” In this context, a “nature” is that which can be said of something, while a “person” is the acting agent, of whom one is. Along with their unity in essence an activities, each is an unsubstitutable person who lives and acts differently. This difference never provokes opposition, but love, because each person has something different to bring to the intratrinitarian relationship and extratrinitarian works. The Father not only knows his fatherhood from the Son; his person as such is defined by this other who addresses him. Much different from human personhood, the first person’s being the Father of the Son is a necessary rather than contingent aspect of his existence. Precisely because each person is different (i.e., possesses incommunicable properties), each knows himself in and through the other. Not even the Father knows himself as Father apart from the Son through the Spirit.
According to Herman Bavinck, “in the doctrine of the Trinity beats the heart of the whole of revelation of God for the redemption of humanity.” As the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, “our God is above us, before us and within us.” We believe in one God who is one in essence and three in persons. As the Fourth Lateran Council declared, “it is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.” While distinct from one another in their relations of origin and in their relations with one another, they are all three co-eternal and co-essential. There is neither first nor last; for they are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy co-equal, and consubstantial, and “each is God, whole and entire.” The works of creation and redemption are operations common to all three persons, in which each shows forth what is proper to him in the Trinity, so that all things are “from the Father”, “through the Son” and “in the Holy Spirit.” Cf. WCF II; BC 8; Nicene and Athanasian Creed
(Adapted from Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, pp 273-306)
More from this Series: The Attributes of God
- The Mystery of the Holy Trinity Listen Now ›
- The Holiness & Transcendence of God Listen Now ›
- The Sovereignty of God Listen Now ›
- The Justice & Mercy of God Listen Now ›