Confused about the Trinity? Many people have struggled with this across centuries of theological thought, so library volunteer Peter Cox shares some of his thoughts and research with us.
The roles of the Logos and Spirit
The important point about the Logos or Son is not that He is the Word but what the words are actually saying. This must be the divine Plan for the universe and its parts. The core of this Plan is a gathering of all things1 and salvation for human persons2 which is, in patristic terms, union with God or deification.3 Gatherings by God must be to the fullest extent as God is infinite relative to us. The closest we can be gathered is union, but that union must preserve the distinction between God and the universe. However, ‘gathering’ includes not only the goal of union but movement towards that union. On the other hand, the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Power and Love.4 Without the attributes of the Spirit, our movement would be impossible.5 The role of the Spirit must be complimentary with that of the Logos so that they must be interdependent.
The unity of the Trinity
St Irenaeus of Lyons stated that ‘God did not stand in need of any other beings to accomplish what He had Himself determined … as if He did not possess His own hands … for with Him were always present the Logos and the Spirit.’6 If however, the Logos and Spirit were the ‘hands’ of God, the Father would be the source of their interdependent roles. Accordingly, St Athanasius stated that ‘the Father approves the work, the Son properly carries it out, and the Holy Spirit essentially completes.’7 As the Trinity act as One, we would expect them to be all divine. Scripture confirms that the Logos is God,8 in which case, we would expect the Spirit to be also divine. This was confirmed by the Council of Ephesus, 431, which stated that ‘the Spirit is no better than (the Son) nor above Him.’ All three members of the Trinity must therefore be the God of Otherness and Love. There is however the problem that, although God is divisible, He appears to be three from a point of view within time. St Maximus neatly solved the problem by stating that ‘the whole Father is entirely in the whole Son and Holy Spirit, and the whole Son is entirely in the Father and Holy Spirit, and the whole Holy Spirit is entirely in the whole Father and Son.’9
The divine energies
God must affect the universe as otherwise, He would not exist from a point of view from within time. Also, we cannot progress towards union with God without His help so it is reasonable to say He works with us. His work or energies must therefore be directed towards the universe. These energies must be divine as, if He acted in the world of time, He would lose His otherness and would not be God. As He is indivisible, He must be fully in both his essence and His energies. He therefore does not work directly within time lest He loses His otherness so that He works through the universe by means of the Spirit. Because the roles of the Logos and Spirit are interdependent in assisting us to move towards unity with us, their energies must be common. Furthermore, as the Father is the Source of both Logos and Spirit and their respective roles, His role is interdependent with those of His two ‘hands’. The work or energies of God are therefore Trinitarian. Accordingly, St Gregory of Nyssa and St Basil of Caesarea state that the members of the Trinity have an ‘identity of operations.’10 Because God is indivisible, His energies must also be indivisible. Accordingly, St Maximus stated that ‘there is only one sole energy … of God.’11 St Gregory of Nyssa summarised the situation as follows:
The Father never acts independently of the Son, nor the Son of the Spirit. Divine action … always begins from the Father, proceeds through the Son, and is completed in the Holy Spirit.12
1 Eph 1.10.
2 1 Tim 2.3-4.
3 St Maximus, Thal 61; PG 90; trans. BL-CM, p. 141: ‘salvation (is) the fullest grace of deification.’
4 2 Tim 1.7.
5 Lk 1.37.
6 St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Haer 4, 20, 1; PG 7/1, 1032; trans. ANF, Vol 1, p 487.
7 St Maximus, Thal 2; PG 90; trans. BL-CM, p. 100.
8 Jn 1.1.
9 St. Maximus, Gnost 2.1; PG 90, col. 1125A; trans. CWS-MC, p. 147-8.
10 St Gregory of Nyssa, Adv Eun 2.15; NPNF2, Vol 5, p. 132. St Basil of Caesarea, Ep 189.6; PG 32; trans. NPNF2, Vol 8, p. 231.
11 St Maximus, Amb 7.12; PG 91, col. 1076C; trans. NC-AMB1, p. 91.
12 G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London: SPCK, 1952) p. 260.