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Posted December 12, 2012

Book: Trinity 101: Father, Son, Holy Spirit
Author: James L. Papandrea
Liguori Press. Liguori, Missouri, 2012. pp. 143

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Trinity 101 guides readers to explore and consider the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, on of Christianity's most important doctrines. Author Papandrea begins with an overview of how the Trinity is revealed in Scripture and then takes the reader on a tour of the historical development of the doctrine.

Papandrea discusses the major heresies that sparked debate in the early Church and explains, line by line, the Nicene Creed, including the word "consubstantial." He takes an intangible concept, that of three persons in one, and makes it real for Catholics today, inspiring them to participate more fully in the life of the Holy Trinity.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father

This line is also meant to be an anti-Arian statement. Christ was not created, not even before the rest of creation. Based on what the third-century theologians had written, the majority of the bishops at Nicaea reasoned that the one who is begotten (the Son) must have the same divine and uncreated nature as the one who begets (the Father). The fact that the Son is begotten of the Father means that the Son's existence is generated from the Father's, but not in the sense that the Father existed first without the Son. Thus the Son is eternally generated, not created at some point before creation.

The word consubstantial may be new to some people. Some translations of the Creed have said, "one in being with the Father." But sometimes this has been misunderstood as though it implies that the Father and the Son are one and the same, which is not the case. The phrase "one in being" is an English translation of the Greek word homoousios which literally means, of the same essence. This is the same as when Tertullian said that the Father and Son (and the Holy Spirit) share the same divine substance. Therefore when the Greek word is translated into English via Latin, it becomes consubstantial --- same substance as the Source of generation. As a shortcut you can remember that consubstantial means two things: same divinity and same eternity. In other words, the Son is the same divinity as the Father and is also coeternal with the Father. Because there is only one God, there can be only one divinity, so the divinity of the Son is the divinity of the Father. And since divinity must be eternal, the equal divinity means the Father and Son are also equally eternal in both the past and the future.

This is related to the concept of divine simplicity, which says that divinity is indivisible. As I have noted, God does not have "parts" because anything with parts can be broken down into its parts and thus decay. Thus it is not appropriate to speak of the three persons of the Trinity as three "parts" of God or to say that the Son is "part" of God. It is true that the Son is God and that the Son is not all there is to God, yet to use the word "part" or "parts" would imply that the three persons of the Trinity are each one third of the Divine, which is of course not the case. Each of the three persons of the Trinity is fully God (Divine). Therefore, divine simplicity requires that God be one, and that the Father and Son (and the Spirit) be the same divinity, since any being that is not the same divinity as the Father would not be God at all. So all three persons of the Trinity are the same divine substance. The concept of consubstantiality, then, affirms the ontological (essential) unity between Father and Son while admitting to a certain distinction, since one would not describe a thing as "of the same essence" as itself.

The Greek word homoousios (consubstantial) actually caused a bit of a controversy itself when it was used in the Creed. The problem was that the word is not found in Scripture. The Arians argued the word should not be used for that reason, however the majority of the bishops finally accepted the word as the best way to interpret the biblical witness to the Trinity. In the end, it was the only term the bishops of the council could find that would describe the relationship of the Son to the Father without being vague enough also to allow an Arian interpretation. Thus Scripture alone was not enough, since both the Arians and the orthodox were reading the same Scriptures but coming to very different interpretations. In the Creed, then, the bishops implicitly decided that the Church had to go beyond Scripture to interpret Scripture. Therefore, the Creed became part of our tradition, which helps us interpret Scripture.

It is important to note that later Church councils would affirm that the Son (in his human nature) is also consubstantial with humanity. The fact that he is consubstantial with both the Trinity and humanity is what allows him to be the mediator and reconciler of God and humanity. In fact, the doctrine of communication idiomatum affirms that the union of Christ's divine and human natures allows each nature to communicate or share, the idiomatic properties of the other nature. This means that by virtue of the union of divine and human in the person of Christ, his divine nature was able to be glorified. And since Christ's human nature is consubstantial with all of humanity, our human nature can be glorified through identification with him. This does not mean that his divine nature suffered, but it does mean that God can understand what it's like to be us. The fact is that the point of contact of the human and divine natures in the person of Christ is the very nexus of communion between humanity and God.

Table of Contents:

The Trinity and scripture

The doctrine of the Trinity

The Nicene Creed

Analogies for the Trinity

Epilogue: Devotion to the Trinity

Recommended readings for further study