The Holy Trinity
The Holy Trinity refers to the three natures of God: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Spirit. This does not however mean that there are three Gods. There is only one God manifesting in three forms. How did this come to be, however?
To understand this concept of the triune God one must begin by going back 2000 years, we must even go further back by another 1500 years. Christianity is often viewed as a polytheism by its detractors, but it is not really so if one understands this concept which was not understood for so long. The reason there is so much criticism of Christianity as regards this concept from other religions is because the leadership itself has not until this very day resolved this issue.
By 1500 B. C., religious civilisation had gone so far in many cultures that the concept of the one God had penetrated. Many peoples, apart from the Jews had come to divine the true one invisible God and this was where the understanding of God remained for another 1500 years. Mention was first made of the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2 when it was said that the “Spirit of God was moving upon the face of the waters.” Not much thought was given to this statement until the church fathers began deliberating about the nature of God more than 1000 years later. This was the very first indication of another Personality outside of God but closely associated with Him.
This reference to the “Spirit of God” and many other references in the Old Testament and also, the many references by Jesus Himself to the “Spirit”, “Counsellor” and so on set the early fathers thinking that there could be a separate Personality involved here. Indeed as early as the 2nd century, Irenaeus of Lyons described the Holy Spirit and Jesus as “the two hands of God” by whom He worked both creation and redemption. Probably inadvertently Irenaeus gave us a hint of what could be the functions of these other Parts of God. He meant that through the Holy Spirit, God worked creation and through Jesus He worked redemption.
A full discussion of the personality of the Holy spirit is beyond the scope of this discussion but it suffices to say that by the 2nd century the Holy Spirit began to be recognised as a separate Personality different from Jesus and God the Father but closely associated with these Two.
Another issue which plagued the early fathers of the church was that of consubstantiality. Is the Holy Spirit consubstantial with God? Is He of the same essence as God? The same problem of consubstantiality in the case of Jesus almost split the Church in the 4th century when it led to numerous heretical doctrines, notable among which was that of Arius who denied the possibility of Jesus being of the same Essence as God. These issues of the existence of the Holy Trinity and the consubstantiality of Jesus and the Holy Spirit were resolved in the various ecumenical councils held respectively at Nicaea in 325 AD, Constantinople 381 A.D., Ephesus A. D. 431, and Chalcedon in 451 A. D.
The word Trinity (trinitas) was coined in the 3rd century by Tertullian who wrote extensively on the issue. Origen, another Christian father carried the doctrine further but these two did not assign full consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with God. At the council of Nicaea, the conclusion was only an affirmation of their belief in the Holy Spirit but not a full acceptance of His consubstantiation. At Constantinople, further ground was yielded but until now the issue has not been fully resolved and still forms the major area of division between the eastern and western churches.
St. Augustine in his book, “On the Trinity” concluded that the Holy Spirit is the mutual love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father and that the Holy Spirit derived from both the Father and the Son. He said further that the Holy Spirit is a gift to humanity from the Father and the Son. This explanation still did not clarify the function of the Holy Spirit and how He came about. People, however, know or sense that He exists, but whether He is a separate personality and what His role is, is still a mystery.
The issues of the full Divinity of Jesus and also of His full humanity aroused more controversy and bitter wrangling than that of the Holy Spirit. The problem was how to explain the nature of Jesus. Apparently Jesus was human, He had come to us in a human form, He had hungered, thirsted, wearied and did all else expected of normal human beings with the exceptions of the miracles He performed. But how could He also be God? With heretical views spreading, something had to be done. The councils of Nicaea and Constantinople were set up and the majority of the Bishops rallied behind Bishop Athanasius in affirming that Jesus was consubstantial with the Father in contradistinction to the views of Arius and his followers who maintained that Jesus could not be consubstantial and that He was a creature.
Arius and his supporters were expelled and the Nicene creed was passed which affirmed the consubstantiality of Jesus with God. The dual nature of Jesus, however, still needed to be explained, or at least His human nature. It was clear enough that He was Divine based on what He had said of Himself and of being one with the Father. The nature of these bishops’ religious experiences and their intuitions also helped in arriving at this conclusion. How was His human nature to be explained, however?
The solution to this riddle was finally given by Pope Leo 1 in 451 A. D. at the council of Chalcedon when he declared: “one person in two natures.” His Divinity did not invalidate the fact that He was human in the way He appeared to us and lived. As far as the fathers were concerned, His miracles, His conduct and His Words were evidence that He was Divine but this did not detract from the fact that He was also fully human in His attitude, appearance and so on, hence “one person in two natures.” This formula led to a sigh of relief and the bishops could go to their parishes, satisfied that they had solved a problem that had plagued theology for centuries.
Having considered how the doctrine of the Holy Trinity came about, what remains is to explain what it means. We know that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit exist but how are they related to each other and why should there be a Trinity in the first place? An explanation which leaves no gaps in our understanding is what we should look for. We know that Jesus came from the Father, but how was that achieved, how was He able to be in human form and at the same time be Divine? How was it that He could be in “two natures”? What was the miracle of His coming to this earth? And the Holy Spirit? How are we to understand Him? What is His origin, His function? Is He of the same nature as God? Is He personal? Is He truly the mutual love of the Father for the Son and vice versa?
God was One but when creation had to come into existence He severed a Part of Himself and placed It to work in creation so that the latter could come into being and continue to exist. This Part was sent out with the Fiat “Let there be Light.” With this Fiat, a Part of God was placed beyond the border of the immediate vicinity of God so that this Part could radiate and illuminate the void from there. Without the Light being consciously placed at this outpost through an Act of Will of God, it would have been impossible for Creation to come into being because this Light is the Power for the existence and sustenance of Creation.
This Part, which God anchored at the outpost of His immediate vicinity is what is referred to in the Bible as the “Spirit”, which was “moving upon the face of the waters.” At the beginning therefore, God sent out his Spirit so that this Spirit could be the anchor through which Creation and all that is in it could come to be and exist. God’s Spirit therefore, is that Part of Him which creates. That Part of Him concerned with the beginning and maintenance of the Creations. That Part of Him is like one of His arms concerned with a particular activity which in this case is creating. This Part of God is the Holy Spirit, personal in His working, in His creating but at the same time firmly linked to God. The Spirit of God therefore is the third personality in the Holy Trinity and has generally become known as the Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to Him as the “Spirit”, the “Counsellor”, as “He” the Spirit of Truth, which indicates that He is personal. The necessity of the coming into being of Creation therefore led God to become two-fold.
How did He become three-fold then? When mankind drew away from God and the way back to Him could no longer be found, God as an Act of Mercy severed a small Part of Himself as a gift of Love to mankind to incarnate as Jesus on earth so that we as human beings could have direct access to the Holy Word and also receive power through the One who had incarnated. This will receive further elaboration later. With the birth of Jesus therefore, He became three-fold, Jesus being the Love of God.