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To be clear right from the start: I have noted that some people do not believe in the doctrine of trinity, namely "three personas, one nature", but my question is not about whether the doctrine is true! It is about understanding the doctrine. Thus this is not a question of opinion.


I have heard multiple times the doctrine that Jesus, Father, and Holy Spirit are personas of God or "one God in three Divine persons" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity). According to Wikipedia:

The three persons are distinct, yet are one "substance, essence or nature". In this context, a "nature" is what one is, whereas a "person" is who one is.

But what does this mean?

Sometimes it is compared with water also having three appearances, gas, liquid and ice, but I have been told that this is an example of Modalistic Monarchianism, which, as I have been told is a heresy according to one of the large early church councils. I do not have evidence for any of that because I am recalling from memory and are happy for corrections if I got something wrong. In any case, I see that for instance at the baptism of Christ, the Father, Son and Spirit are all distinctly present and interacting. So I see how this is not like water.

Quoting https://christiantoday.com.au/news/the-trinity-is-like-waterand-other-bad-analogies.html:

Other bad analogies

If water is inadequate, there are a wide array of alternative analogies we can turn to in modern theological parlance. Eggs are one, yet comprise yolk, shell and albumen. The sun comprises the sun itself, its light and its heat.

These are likewise erroneous or even heretical. Each part of the egg make up only one portion of the whole—the yolk is not the fullness of the egg. Yet the orthodox view is that each person of the Trinity is fully divine. Similarly, light and heat are simply creations of the sun, yet it is the heresy of Arianism to claim that the Son or Spirit are mere creations of the Father.

Ok, so I see what we do not mean when talking about the trinity. But what do we mean?

In that context I am not so much looking for a good analogy, but instead of a good explanation of the terms "nature" and "person" in the context of the trinity and in order to understand the trinity.

It seems to me that if those words cannot be defined properly, there is no point in using them in the first place, because that would be the same as stringing together syllables without meaning. In that case I would prefer to say "Jesus, Father, Spirit are distinct and one at the same time and we don't know how that is possible." without introducing fancy words like "nature" or "persona". To be honest, it actually sounds misleadingly similar to "three gods", because a friend of mine and I also have the same "nature" of being human and are two different persons.

EDIT: I was asked to clarify what is unique of my question. In contrast to Are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit explicitly identified as "persons" in any writings directly associated with the Nicene Creed? I would like to get definitions of the words "persona" and "nature" and use these definitions to explain the term "three personas, one nature".

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Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one Deity. This is a matter of nature, just as we are one humanity.

But in our humanity we cannot (you and I) be a single humanity. Even if we be conjoined twins, there is only a partial unity.

  • But since God is Spirit and since 'fulness' is an attribute of divine nature, the persons of Deity are divinely one, in nature and form, in a perfection of union that is indivisible - one God.

See the First Council of Nicea. But some definitions are difficult to understand as they use terminology from outside of scripture or scriptural words (like 'hypostasis' and 'substance' and 'essence') which are not quite as scripture uses them.

What I have stated above ('unity', 'Spirit', 'fulness' and 'form' ) is in terms which are used in scripture.

I and my Father are one.[John 10:30 KJV]

God is Spirit [John 4:24, KJV]

For in him (Christ) dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. [Colossians 2:9, KJV]

... being in the form, God ... [Philippians 2:6, KJV]

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  • If we humans would be "one humanity" - wouldn't that be like having a hive mind, like the Borg in Star Trek? As a metaphor: Would that be similar to what is meant in the doctrine of trinity? If not, what is wrong with the metaphor? – Make42 Aug 17 at 14:08
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    @Make42 It is best to stay exactly with scripture and receive the words as they are given us. It is useless to approach Deity with our own apprehensions already in mind. We must receive the revelation of God as he gives it, for he alone is able to communicate it to us. – Nigel J Aug 17 at 14:10
  • Well, what one as a human does, when trying to understand something, is to relate things you hear to concept you already have and create a mental image for the new concepts. Two obvious ways of how we apply this concretely are a) that we define new words using old words, which meaning we already understand, and b) that we explain new concepts using old words and old concepts. So I am not sure what you are suggesting. – Make42 Aug 18 at 10:26
  • I hope that you do not mean that we are not to do that, for that would mean not to think and just except the words of scriptures without understanding. This would be both irrational (because it would be switching off your brain) and un-biblical, since we are called to understanding and to follow the spirit of the law and not the letter - which of course requires understanding. My original question was to ask for the respective word definitions. What I was trying to do with the Borg metaphor was to find a concept which I can relate to - which is not to say that they are identical. – Make42 Aug 18 at 10:26
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When theologians down the ages have used the word Person and Nature/Essence they have been using non-theological terms as used in their usual sense. Their intention has been to make theological matters easier to understand. They have not been using those terms in any special theological sense, else the whole purpose of using them becomes redundant. So…

A "person" is an individual human being.

A "nature" is those common elements which define all the things (Objects) in the same group/set distinctly from Objects outside the group/set.

A series of doodles.

Doodle 1 - What is a sensible way of talking about God?

Trinitarians are all agreed: The Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God. But there are not three Gods but One God only.

Please answer the following questions:

  1. 1 + 1 + 1 =
  2. (Infinity + Infinity + Infinity) =
  3. (Infinity + Infinity + 1) =
  4. (– Infinity – Infinity) =

(Answers will be given later.)

Doodle 2 – What is the nature of a human being?

Fred: “I saw the nature of humanity this morning just up the street.”

Jake: “You mean you saw a human being, yes? Male or female?”

Fred: “No, I mean what I said. And I also saw the nature of dog, as well.”

Jake: “You mean you saw a dog and a person, surely?”

Fred: “No, I mean exactly what I said. And I also saw the nature of life.”

Jake: “I give up. When you’re making sense tell me what you saw”.

Doodle 3 – What is the essence of a square?

A University Philosophy Exam Question:

Draw in the space provided the essence of a square. Make sure it is the correct size. (Please note correct answers will get plus points but a wrong answer will get minus points towards the final mark for the paper.)

Doodle 4 – Mathematical Set Theory

  1. Draw a big circle and on the outside round the perimeter write a description of the set of “All shapes on a 2 dimensional surface”.
  2. Inside the circle just drawn draw two more circles. On the perimeter of one of the circles write “the set of all squares”. On the perimeter of the other circle write “the set of all polygons”. Inside the circle of “all polygons” draw another circle and write for the circle “the set of all regular polygon”. For each of the sets: shapes, squares, polygons and regular polygons write a definition, i.e. give four definitions in total. For the each definition refer to the definition of the circle it is within: e.g. "A regular polygon is a shape in the form of a polygon which …"; or "A square is a shape which..", etc.

Doodle 5 – To be the same, or not to be the same, that is the question.

Take three identically sized see-through Perspex acetate A4 sheets. Draw on each sheet in exactly the same place on each sheet a square of whatever size you want, but each square has exactly the same size.

Superimpose the three sheets so the squares precisely cover each other. How many squares do you see?

If a lecturer had produced some acetates with identical squares on and sealed them together, the only way you can know how many acetates there are is if you were to ask him. Right? And the only way we can know how many persons there are in the Godhead is if it is revealed to us.

Doodle 6 – And God said “Let us make man in our own image” (Genesis 1:26).

Consider two situations:

A. You see a living human being who has what looks like one body except with two heads – Is it one person or two?

B. You see a human body which looks like two joined bodies together but with only one head – Is it one person or two?

Man is made in the image of God. This also tells us that God is in the likeness of man.

Do any humans literally share the same mind with any other humans? If a (human) person does not share a mind with another person then how can they (we) be created in the image of God if God literally shares the same (Object of) mind with the other Persons in the Godhead?

The Father said “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) Speech is governed by the mind. What does it mean when we say that literally there is only one mind in the Godhead? What does it mean for passages such as this?

Dodoodle 7 – Things exist, such as people, but do “natures” exist?

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The Dodo in “Alice in Wonderland” represented the author himself. Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Dodgson. He thought it appropriate because he had a stammer. Perhaps "Dodo" was his nickname amongst his friends.

Mummy says to her little boy: “Please put away your toys, each toy in the correct box.” And then she leaves the room. Her boy has never done this before, but he is pretty smart and can read many words already. On one box is written “Lions”, on another “Monkeys”, on another “Pigeons”, etc. There are ten boxes altogether, each box for a different animal. On the smallest box is written “Dodos”.

The boy proceeds to put lions in the “Lions” box, monkeys in the “Monkeys” box, etc.

At the end all the boxes contain the correct animals, but the box marked “Dodos” is empty.

Boy: “Mummy, can you help me? I don’t know what a Dodo is or what it looks like so I couldn’t put any in the box.”

Mummy: “Never mind dear. I will make it easier for you for tomorrow.”

The next day the box marked Dodos has a description of what a Dodo looks like: “Dodos. A Dodo is a bird. It has wings, but it has such small wings that it cannot fly. Full grown it is about up to Mummy’s waste. It has a slightly long neck. It does not have webbed feet, but rather it has feet like a pigeon. It has a very big beak where the top half slightly overlaps the bottom. In shape it looks a bit like a fat partridge, or a turkey, but with a stubby rear.” Mummy hoped she was describing the essence of a Dodo clearly. “O thank you Mummy! That will greatly help me. I will be able to group all the Dodos together in the Dodo box today!”

At the end of the day the little boy was more excited to put the toys away than he been to play with them. When he finally put the toys in the boxes he was disappointed to discover he still had not found any Dodos.

Boy: “Mummy, I still couldn’t find the dodos from your description.” Mummy: “Ah, my dear. Let me tell you more about dodos.

Dodos are extinct, which means that they once lived but there are no more dodos in the world today because men killed them all off to eat them. They died out many years ago.

I wrote on the box the nature of a dodo, and my description of it was correct, but the truth is you don’t have any dodos.

Anyway, I have something for you. From under the table she brought a big box wrapped in wrapping paper. Happy birthday!” The boy knew his birthday was very soon but hadn’t realized it was today! Of course it was a dodo, nearly life-size (?). His mother had sewed spectacles onto its beak, and two walking sticks held by the little wings to help keep it upright, and had cut out the webs between the claws.

End of Doodles. Answers to Doodle 1 in order: 3, Infinity, “to Infinity and beyond”, “back to infinity”. The only question that really matters is question 2.

Objects and Natures/Essences

An Object is something that exists. That might not be a correct definition, but it is mine, for the purpose for which I am writing. An Object is an objective thing. Many Objects can be seen, many cannot be seen, (eg electrons, Higgs-Boson particles, wind, and God the Father) but they are all still Objects (please excuse what sounds demeaning here).

An Essence cannot be seen. An Essence is just a description of reality. When Mummy was writing a description of a Dodo for her son she was writing the nature of a Dodo, or it’s Essence. The Essence or nature of a dodo is just a description of all the Objects which belong to the Set of all Dodos, and which sets them apart from all other Objects.

The fact that dodos no longer exist makes no difference to our ability to write about the nature or essence of dodos. Even when Dodos have ceased to exist their nature/essence continues to exist: because the Nature/Essence of a Dodo is entirely independent from the Object of a Dodo. A Nature/Essence is an abstract definition of an Object. It does not describe every detail of the Objects, merely the common and distinctive features of those Objects - common to each one within the nature, and with some of the description distinctive from all the Objects outside the set.

You cannot see any kind of nature/essence in the street. You can see an Object which fits all the criteria for a particular nature. But you are not seeing the nature, you are seeing an Object with that kind of nature.

All the sub-descriptions of a nature are all of them also nothing more than descriptions. A description of a regular polygon is the nature/essence of a regular polygon and nothing more. It is not a real thing in itself.

A nature then is nothing more nor less than a definition of all the Objects within the Set defined by that nature. It is not in itself an Object.

Summary

When theologians down the ages have used the word Person and Nature/Essence they have been using non-theological terms as used in their usual sense. Their intention has been to make theological matters easier to understand. They have not been using those terms in any special theological sense, else the whole purpose of using them becomes redundant. So…

A person is an individual human being. A nature is those common elements which define all the things (Objects) in the same group/set.

The greater complexity with God arises because of the nature of God, that definition which describes God.

Each person of the Godhead is the exact likeness of the other two. They are identical in all except their relation to each other and to their outward works of creation, preservation and salvation. Neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit went to the cross to die for sinners. The Father made the heavens and the earth but it was because the Spirit was hovering over the waters and the creation was through the Word of God which is Christ. The Father didn’t hover, nor is he the Word of God, the Spirit did not speak nor is he the Word, and the Word did not create without the Father nor the Spirit.

God is omnipresent. All the persons of the Godhead are likewise omnipresent. Even when the Son of God became incarnate he was still omnipresent.

God is omniscient. Each member of the Godhead is omniscient.

God is omnipotent. God is perfect. God has an eternal plan. In each and all these and every other way the Persons of the Godhead are identical with the exception given above.

But to say that God has the same Object of mind which the three persons of the Godhead share between them is not only a denial of man being created in the image of God (no humans share one Object called mind between them), but is a category error also: a nature of a thing is merely a definition of the Objects within a set containing all the Objects within that set.

Each Person in the Godhead then has an Object called mind. They have three separate minds: but like the acetate drawings of squares you might have no idea there was more than one unless you were told.

We have been told, because

A) We are in God's image, and each Person in the Godhead is God. And we, none of us share the same Object called mind between us.

B) the scriptures are full of distinctions between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, such as in Genesis 1:1-3. Not distinctions of their abilities or any variation in their perfections, but distinctions in their operation towards their creation, and distinctions between each other: one is the Father, one is the Son, and one is the Holy Spirit. Theologians have called them persons: therefore they must be like us, having our own faculty of mind, will, knowledge, etc. They do not share any of their faculties, but they are in perfect agreement in each faculty, because the three are one God.

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  • Love your doodles! Re doodle #1 (and being a complete dunce when it comes to maths) how does the example 1 x 1x 1 work out? – Lesley Sep 3 at 11:42
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    @Lesley - thank you for your kind comments. 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. It might be useful when trying to argue for 3 persons making 1 God: I just prefer infinite + infinite + infinite = infinite because each person of the Godhead is infinite in all things so the question is a very appropriate response when Unitarians such as JWs ask "Since when did 1 + 1 + 1 equal 1?" Every blessing to you, Andrew – Andrew Shanks Sep 3 at 18:16
  • How is it, then, that we "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16) which is different from being like-minded as in Phil 2:5? – Mike Borden 2 days ago
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God's eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen by all and so we are without excuse in knowing God exists as the one self-existent being.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. - Romans 1:18-20

This is like seeing a sculpture and knowing that someone sculpted it. If I supposed that "David" had just happened or had somehow always been I would be without excuse and likely deliberate in my ignorance.

I can study the sculpture David and learn some things from it about the sculptor. I can perhaps find other works of the same artist. I can learn that he is masterful at his craft, fluent in many mediums, careful and precise in his work. I can know that he was a human being but I cannot know him intimately as a person.

If I could live with Michelangelo and interact with him daily I could hear what he says and see what he does and how he does it and thus over time put together an intimate knowledge of who he is as a person. In relationship to his creations I can know of him. In relationship to his person I can know him.

The Trinity is how God can be known intimately and personally. The Father is who He is, the Son is what he says, and the Spirit is what/how He does. Because God is infinite, He is infinitely all three in unity and infinitely each of the three distinctly. Thus it is reasonable to claim that Jesus (the Word) is God and the Father is God but Jesus is not the Father, etc.

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The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct from each other. The distinction of the Trinity is primarily taught by their immanent relations (the relationship they had within their one nature outside from creation): 'The Father begat the Son', 'The Son is begotten from the Father', and 'the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son (or the Father alone).'

Calling them 'persons' ( persona in Latin) is meant also to explain their distinction. A person is a rational entity, one who exists with the capacity to reason and is self-aware (possesses a mind) and is aware of other selves (social).

Yahweh is one being (Latin: essentia) which means that there exists only one independent God known as Yahweh. ("I am who I am" Exodus 3:14 LXX). In this one divine being exists not only one self but three selves ( = three divine persons) which is different from one human being that is normally one person only.

Three human persons who possess the same nature are three human beings. Ergo, they are three men.

The three divine persons who possess the same nature (homoousios) are one being. Ergo, they are one God.

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  • Defining a person as a "rational being" confuses rather than clarifies the topic – eques Aug 19 at 16:49
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The triune nature of God involves the Perfection...of the Lord of heaven availing Himself in Creation in a way that imperfect, sinful man can 'know' Him. That is the single greatest purpose of the Bible: "...you will know that I am Lord..." Imperfection would be totally destroyed by Perfection unless Perfection 'restrained' Itself by Mercy and Grace. The transcendent idea of The God of heaven 'pulling back' to make room for something 'not God', Creation, is involved in the Hebrew term 'tzimtzum'. Do a web search, there is much information concerning this transcendence. 'Fear of the Lord' is at the same time fright and reverence....

The transcendent distinction of the Lord of heaven and the Lord of Creation is important in understanding the 'Trinity'. The Lord of heaven is Holy, and Glorious, worthy of every blessing...; and the Lord of Creation suffers every insult.... Why? In Isaiah chapter 6, Isaiah is observing the Lord, Adonai, and the LORD, Yahweh, and the plural God, Elohim, in heaven.... And the angels are saying "Holy, Holy, Holy..." and the place is filled with Glory, and Isaiah says "...woe! is me...I am (a sinner)..., (I don't belong here)" And his sins are atoned for, in heaven.... Isaiah has a conversation with Adonai and He asks "...who will go for Us...?" In John chapter 12 verse 41, John says that Isaiah "...saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him." And in chapter 17 verses 1 through 5 Jesus prays: "...Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began." Jesus is Adonai Yahweh incarnate. Therein, He is the Creator...(Colossians 1:15-20)the Light of the world; the day one Light of Creation, become flesh....

Yahweh, Lord of heaven is One with God.... Yahweh, LORD of Creation is: our Shepherd (Ps 23:1 Yahweh-raah), Provider (Ge 22:14 Yahweh-jirah), Righteousness (Je 23:6, Yahweh-tzidkenu), Peace (Jd 6:24 Yahweh-shalom), Salvation (Ex 15:2 Yahweh-yesha).... The Perfection of the Father in heaven...arrays Himself to Creation like a rainbow. Therein every facet of His Holiness avails Itself to the acuity of man. And we can be holy even as He is Holy (Le 19:2). He has Created eyeballs that can bring together the 'colors' of Creation, and a brain that can make sense of It; and a heart that can value It; and feet that can navigate It; and a soul that can 'know that He is Lord', and agree with Him, love Him; or not....

The idea of the rainbow array is implicated in the Rainbow Covenant of Genesis 9, and the image of God in Ezekiel 1:27-28, and the Rainbow references in Revelation. Therein, the incarnate God is plural, not by multiplication, God #1, #2, #3, but rather by division. The incarnate array of the Lord has a common denominator - Holiness; and the reciprocal is magnitude.

The incarnate Lord is both the substance and the essence of Creation....

The Spirit of the LORD, Yahweh, speaks to us as Wisdom in Proverbs chapter 8. She was the first thing 'brought forth' by the LORD; not Created; not made. Wisdom participated with God in Creation; was arrayed to Creation, and delighted in it. Wisdom possess knowledge (v12) and fear of the Lord (v13), council and understanding and power (v14). Isaiah 11, speaking of Jesus, says: v2 "The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord." Revelation speaks of the Seven-fold Spirit of God.

Both Adonai-Yahweh and the Spirit are involved in Creation, with the LORD of heaven.

When a blinding bright light arrays itself as a rainbow, the light itself is not diminished, rather divided in a luminary sense that can be perceived.... In that sense, Adonai-Yahweh-Spirit are One with the Father yet availed to Creation, to man's en-Light-enment.... Therein Jesus says "...the Father and I are One..." and "...I do nothing that I haven't received from my Father..." Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. He is the subatomic energy, the Light, of Creation; Omnipotent, all powerful; Omnipresent.... He is Wise; Omniscient... He is at the same time the Holy God of heaven and the servant God of Creation.... The confounding idea of the 'Trinity' should not be so much about the 'how' of the thing as the 'Why' of the thing. Who are you that you can even consider the marvels of Him who loves you...and gave Himself for you!? Is the transcendent God good and worthy of blessings? or is He not...?

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. Proverbs 25:2

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What does it mean that Jesus, Father, and Holy Spirit are of the same nature but different personae?

First of all, God is a trinity. That is, God is three divine persons, in one divine being. Each person within the Sacred Trinity are equally three Divine Persons and are not three separate personae. Personae is a rather poor term to employ for the Three Divine Persons.

A persona (plural personae or personas), according to the context, either is the public image of one's personality, or is the social role that one adopts, or is a fictional character. The word derives from Latin, where it originally referred to a theatrical mask. On the social web, users develop virtual personas as online identities. In fan fiction and in online stories, the personas may especially reflect the authors' self-insertion.

The three persons are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We profess in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Church uses the word spirate to describe this phenomenon of God the Holy Spirit proceeding from God the Father, and God the Son. "He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and in one spiration." In other words the Holy Spirit proceeds, or spirates, from one beginning, not from two, even though He proceeds from God the Father and God the Son.

The Catholic Church also uses the word consubstantial to describe the relationship of the Holy Spirit, indeed all the members of the Trinity, with one another. "Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them2". The word "consubtantial" comes from the Latin consubstantialem, of one essence or substance. This is a translation of the Greek homoousion, from homos, same, and ousia, essence. The Latin word for consubstantial is also used in the Nicene Creed we say at Mass to describe the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, and is currently translated as "one in being".

The Catechism of the Catholic Church may help shed some light on this subject. Although somewhat long, it is quite clear in explaining the Holy Trinity as being one God in three persons.

234 The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith". The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men "and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin".

235 This paragraph expounds briefly (I) how the mystery of the Blessed Trinity was revealed, (II) how the Church has articulated the doctrine of the faith regarding this mystery, and (III) how, by the divine missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit, God the Father fulfills the "plan of his loving goodness" of creation, redemption and sanctification.

236 The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). "Theology" refers to the mystery of God's inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and "economy" to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life. Through the oikonomia the theologia is revealed to us; but conversely, the theologia illuminates the whole oikonomia. God's works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.

237 The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the "mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God". To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel's faith before the Incarnation of God's Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit.

239 By calling God "Father", the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood,62 which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.

240 Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard-of sense: he is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father in relation to his only Son, who is eternally Son only in relation to his Father: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

241 For this reason the apostles confess Jesus to be the Word: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"; as "the image of the invisible God"; as the "radiance of the glory of God and the very stamp of his nature".

242 Following this apostolic tradition, the Church confessed at the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (325) that the Son is "consubstantial" with the Father, that is, one only God with him. The second ecumenical council, held at Constantinople in 381, kept this expression in its formulation of the Nicene Creed and confessed "the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father".

243 Before his Passover, Jesus announced the sending of "another Paraclete" (Advocate), the Holy Spirit. At work since creation, having previously "spoken through the prophets", the Spirit will now be with and in the disciples, to teach them and guide them "into all the truth". The Holy Spirit is thus revealed as another divine person with Jesus and the Father.

244 The eternal origin of the Holy Spirit is revealed in his mission in time. The Spirit is sent to the apostles and to the Church both by the Father in the name of the Son, and by the Son in person, once he had returned to the Father.The sending of the person of the Spirit after Jesus' glorification reveals in its fullness the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

245 The apostolic faith concerning the Spirit was confessed by the second ecumenical council at Constantinople (381): "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father." By this confession, the Church recognizes the Father as "the source and origin of the whole divinity". But the eternal origin of the Spirit is not unconnected with the Son's origin: "The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is God, one and equal with the Father and the Son, of the same substance and also of the same nature. . . Yet he is not called the Spirit of the Father alone,. . . but the Spirit of both the Father and the Son.” The Creed of the Church from the Council of Constantinople confesses: "With the Father and the Son, he is worshipped and glorified."

246 The Latin tradition of the Creed confesses that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque)". The Council of Florence in 1438 explains: "The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has his nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration. . . . And, since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son."

St. Augustine of Hippo also tells us that the Holy Spirit is the love between God the Father and God the Son. He insists that the Holy Spirit is love itself. He reasons: "...if there be among the gifts of God none greater than love, and there is no greater gift of God than the Holy Spirit, what follows more naturally than that He is Himself love, who is called both God and of God?" St. Augustine goes so far as to say that we can use "Love" as a proper name for the Holy Spirit. "... the Spirit also is given Love as a proper name, even though the Father and the Son are Love as well in a general sense".

  1. As, then, we call the only Word of God specially by the name of Wisdom, although universally both the Holy Spirit and the Father Himself is wisdom; so the Holy Spirit is specially called by the name of Love, although universally both the Father and the Son are love. - On the Trinity (Book XV) St. Augustine
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Christianity, like Islam and Judaism is a monotheistic religion. This means that it declares that there is only one God, that is a single unitary divine principle.

However, in Christianity unlike Islam and Judaism there are three divine principles. The Father (the Godhead), the Son (Christ) and the Holy Spirit.

The tension arises from resolving this with the self-declared monotheism. In the Catholic tradition the accepted formula after the Council of Nicea is the trinitarian formula.

This designates three 'persons' and hence distinct from each other but whilst being cosubstantial, that of the same substance. Substance is a philosophical term deriving from Ancient Greek philosophy and is the primary sense in which being is to be understood. So to say that three 'persons' are cosubstantial, is to say that they have the same being, that is to say that they are fundamentally the same being.

This was established in the Nicene Creed of 325 AD. This was then clarified by the Cappodocian Fathers of Turkey when the formula of 'three hypostases in one ousia' came to be accepted as the 'epitome of orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.' Whilst ousia is Latin for substance as described above; here, the term hypostases was borrowed from the neo-Platonists who argued that behind phenomenal reality there were higher spiritual essences - or hypostases. For Plotinus, a Hellenic philosopher living in Roman Egypt, these are the Soul, the Intellect and the One. Notably, there is a trinitarian conception here. However, in the trinitarian formula of orthodox Christianity they are enfolded into the One to avoid tritheism - that is to avoid the accusation of three gods, and so polytheism.

In this sense they resolve the tension between the three divine principles of Christianity and its single immanent divine principle.

Islam of course resolves the tension by denying the divinity of Christ (whilst affirming his prophethood), in the sense of being cosubstantial with God (and nor is there any mention of the Holy Spirit). Whilst the Arian Heresy, denies it partly by affirming Christ was begotten in time and hence at some time 'was not' (and so could not be cosubstantial) but whilst affirming his divinity.

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    You've just substituted the word "principle" for "person(a)", but haven't actually explained what it really means. – curiousdannii Aug 31 at 4:42
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You, me and Fred are three different people.

But you me and Fred are all human - we share the same nature.

But you me and Fred are different in our characters, desires, life-history and genetic makeup.

Now God the Son, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are three different "people". They each have their own will, own understanding, own likes and dislikes.

But each one of these three people is perfect in all respects. It turns out their wills, though uniquely their own because they are people in their own right is also actually identical to the wills of the other two. In fact, because each one is perfect in knowledge, in understanding, in power, in ability, in loves and hates, infinite in all things, you can say "Whatever the Father wills, the Son also wills and the Holy Spirit wills" "Whatever the Father can do, the Son can do, and the Holy Spirit can do".

In all that makes each one a person there is absolutely no difference in their characters or abilities because they all share the same perfections of Godhead. So whereas humans differ one from another in personality and ability, the persons in the Godhead, because they are each one perfect, cannot possibly differ.

The perfection of Godhead belongs with each one of them, and therefore they must be the same One God in three persons.

If others see my mistakes in underestimating the three in one nature of the Godhead then know this is a bit of a rushed answer (sorry). Please let me know and I will update, or simply point to your comments or remove altogether.

If the Bible said there are four persons in the Godhead we would believe that. But the Bible says "Go ye therefore and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" Matthew 28:19.

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    @Nigel J - Three perfect persons, but how do you distinguish them? If you were not told they were three different persons, how would you have any idea that there were three and not one? Each one is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, & has exactly the same will as the other two and is exactly the same in every respect except mutual relationship. The Father sends the Son, the Son dies for sinners, the Holy Spirit applies the work of the Son, in agreement with the Father to the elect. They are not gods because of their personhood, but because of their nature - they have the Divine Nature. – Andrew Shanks Aug 17 at 20:17
  • The bible makes some statements about the nature of Deity. These can be considered axioms of a logical system, somewhat like Euclid's axiom that parallel lines never meet. You seem to have stated a theorem about relationships among the three persons. While possibly not disprovable, it is not provable either. We dare not claim we know. I sense wrongness here, in that the three persons are distinct but not separate, and I think your statements may contradict that. – Bit Chaser Aug 18 at 1:13
  • The traditional Chalcedonian/Dyothelitist view is that actually the persons don't have their own wills and minds, but each share the one divine will and one divine mind. – curiousdannii Aug 18 at 1:54
  • @Bit Chaser - Thanks for your comments: but am I really saying they are separate? What I am saying is they share the same infinite thoughts, the same infinite wills, they are each one omnipresent, etc. and are the same in everything (except mutual relationship and role in salvation). How can I be really saying they are separate in any meaningful sense? I want to emphasise how we might see them more easily as three distinct persons. Then I wanted to show how those 3 are one. – Andrew Shanks Aug 18 at 14:50
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    @curiousdannii - But surely that is exactly what I said. [Except when we talk of sharing a cake between 3 people we break it up into 3. I didn't say that or if you thought I did, I certainly didn't mean it. Each One has all of the divine will and all of the divine mind.] – Andrew Shanks Aug 18 at 14:54

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