Christian Cyclopedia

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1. The eternal, infinite Spirit (Jn 4:24), subsisting in 3 Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is one (Dt 6:4; Is 44:6; 48:12; 1 Ti 2:5). God is also three. Plurality is indicated in Elohim (Heb. “God”), pl. form expressing not a plurality of gods, but a plurality in one God (and hence construed with the singular verb form, e.g., Gn. 1:1)

Athanasian Creed (see Ecumenical Creeds, C): “… We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Spirit uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods or three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another; but the whole three Persons are coeternal together and coequal, so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped.”

AC I 2–3: “There is one divine essence, which is called and which is truly God, and … there are three persons in this one divine essence, equal in power and alike eternal: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. All three are one divine essence, eternal, without division, without end, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, one creator and preserver of all things visible and invisible.”

2. All similes, comparisons, images, or illustrations by which men have tried to represent the doctrine of three Persons in one Godhead fail to illustrate; much less do they explain. The Trin. has been compared to fire, which is said to possess the 3 “attributes” of flame, light, and heat; but this division is highly artificial, and the comparison is altogether faulty, because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not so many attributes of God, but are, each of them, God Himself. The Trin. has been compared to the division of a human being into body, soul, and mind; but each of these constituents is not separately a human being, whereas each of the divine Persons, separately considered, is truly God (cf. Cl 2:9).

3. The doctrine of the Trin. is beyond our powers of comprehension. The difficulty does not lie in the numeral terms but in the relation of the 3 Persons to each other and the way they are united in one Godhead without being only parts of it. AC I 4: “The word is to be understood as the Fathers employed the term in this connection, not as a part or a property of another but as that which exists of itself.”

4. That the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are 3 distinct Persons is evident from Mt 3:13–17. The Father speaks; the Son is baptized; the Holy Spirit descends like a dove. Cf. Gn 1:1–3 and Ps 33:6 with Jn 1:1; Gn 48:16 with Is 63:9–10; cf. also Is 48:16.

5. These 3 Persons are equal in works, rank, and attributes. Cf. Jb 33:4; Is 9:6; Jn 5:2 3; 8:58; 1 Co 2:10–14; Eph 1:10; 3:14–16.

See also Christ Jesus; Church Year, 6, 16; Circumincession; Ecumenical Creeds; Father, God the; Fatherhood of God; Filioque Controversy; God; Holy Spirit; Perichoresis; Procession of the Holy Spirit.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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