Understanding How the Triune God is One and Three
Well. The questions this week are not for the faint of heart. There are some big words, big concepts, and some big personal properties that are going to need some explaining, and to be frank it’s not going to be the easiest thing to do in the space of this Thursday catechism helper, however, the beauty of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it is more than worth our time to take as big and as flavorful a bite as we can. The glory of God is so vast that it will take an eternity in Heaven to grasp, yet so simple that the childlike faith Christ calls us to have is more than sufficient to gain much for our day-to-day to help us as we face whatever is going on in our lives.
So, without much more ado here are the questions and answers from the Larger Catechism for today:
Q. 10. What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
A. It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity.
Q. 11. How does it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father?
A. The scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only.
Definition time. Before we move forward it would behoove us to know what “personal” and “properties” mean and why the catechism uses them together. When we talk about “personal” we are meaning a specific individual, a being that is one unto themselves, and when we speak on “properties” the focus in mind there is those things that make a person unique, minutiae like their name, place of birth, height/weight, etc… However of course in the Q/A’s we are not centering our minds on human beings, but the Divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost so when we talk about “personal properties” of the Godhead we are not thinking about those types of physical details. Even more to the point the catechism is interested in explaining how it is that the three of the “three-in-one” relate to one another without losing what makes them God. In other words, if we were to describe the Son as being anything less than the Father we have created a hierarchy within the Trinity that destroys the oneness of God. Something cannot be the same if they are different. If your eyes have glazed over don’t worry, I think mine did to, yet there is nothing more important in the Christian life than getting the Trinity right. All error and heresy has its genesis in losing emphasis on and about the personal properties of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The reason why in Q.10 there is talk about the begottens and proceedings is if God is Three in One, as He is, then we need to grasp how Jesus for instance can say “I am about my Father’s business” and mean that in both His humanity and divinity. If Christ is not wholly God in every way then He could not be a party to the covenant made with Adam, and therefore not able to fulfill it in His life.
Let’s take a break for a second and step back.
One of the things we are not saying is that there is an eternal subordination by the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son. The communication of the properties of “Fatherism”, “Sonism”, and “Holy Spiritism” is not to enshrine a pecking order within the Godhead. The great diagram by (we don’t really know) Joachim of Fiore in the 12th Century is very helpful to see what we mean here:
In that shield, which was made to help the unlearned understand the first half of the Athanasian Creed, there is a clear delineation between what we call the Economic Trinity (economic means “order of the house”, in other words who does what, how, and why) and the Immanent Trinity. More words to define. The latter means who God is in Himself, the “middle circle” of the drawing above. The former is the way God reveals Himself to us in His works. That is what Q. 11 means by how the Scriptures show us both how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each worthy of worship, which as Paul tells us in Acts 14:15 God alone is to receive.
It is not as if God modifies His appearance to do certain things at certain times. Unstable heretics have taught what is called “modalism” to, in their minds, help people understand how the LORD operates in the Bible. That’s why it is wrong to use analogies like “water is ice, liquid, and steam” to describe the Trinity, or that God is like three settings on a washing machine or whatever. To say God is like that is to basically make Him a shape-shifter and as the picture, and our catechism questions make clear (and it may be worth your while to go back and re-read the ones from last week), God is one. God is three. To deny His “oneness” as something like Tritheism does, (i.e. – God is like a three-headed dragon), or to reject His “threeness” as Modalism does is to deny both what makes God, God, and rejects what makes the Father, the Father, the Son, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit.
I’ve left myself about seventy-five words to get some practical application in here at the end, but it’s worth noting that all theology is practical, even the seemingly esoteric trees of the Trinitarian forest. Meditating on the Triune Deity helps us to understand why we can trust Him, why we can go unto Him in prayer, and why ultimately we can know with certainty that He is our God and we are His people. If the Father honors the Son, and the Son the Father, and the Holy Spirit the Father and the Son then we can know that He will do the same for those created in His image. Find rest and peace in these promises, and the understanding which comes from them in grace and love.
For more here is something worth reading:
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church