As the Church approaches the feast of Trinity Sunday, it will be good for us to consider whether there are three personalities in God. Is there an “I” of the Father, and an “I” of the Son, and an “I” of the Holy Spirit? We know by faith that there are three persons, and this would lead us to think that there are also three “I”s.
In this study, as in our previous considerations of the personality of Jesus, we will look principally to the Sacred Scriptures. Indeed, we must admit that this primary focus on the Bible (and on the Apostolic Tradition) seems to be lacking in much of modern theology. In this respect, modern(ist) theology has lost its soul – for Scripture must be the soul of theological study.
“Personality” in theological discussion
By “personality”, I do not refer to a visible aspect of a man’s character as it impresses others (e.g. “He has a pleasant personality”), nor to the psychological consideration of a man’s organized patter of behavioral characteristics (e.g. “The diagnosis of a disordered personality”); rather, I intend “personality” as the quality of being a unique person. When I asked whether Jesus has two personalities, I pondered whether he has both a human “I” and a divine “I”. When I ask whether there are three personalities in the Trinity, I ponder whether there are three divine “I”s.
The definition of personality which I am adopting is given in numerous dictionaries (including the Random House Dictionary, the World English Dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary, Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, and others).
In fact, the etymology of the word “personality” lends itself to the definition of “the quality of being a unique person” and the immediate relation between personality and ego or “I”. “Personality” comes from the Latin personalitas and personalis – “of or relating to an individual”. The root of “person” or persona is quite clear. From the late 14th century, “personality” has been used to mean “the quality or fact of being a person.”
In this article, as in the previous, I intend to consider the relation of person to ego and to “I”: Are there three “I”s in God?
Intellect, will, and personality
Though, in God, there are three persons, yet there is only one divine intellect and one divine will (just as there is only one divine nature). Hence, we recognize a certain inverse relation between the mysteries of the Trinity and of the Incarnation: In God there are three persons but only one nature, intellect, and will; but in Christ there are two natures, intellects, and wills while there is yet only one person. From this, we ought to conclude that there is no direct or necessary relation between person and nature – three persons may be in one nature, as one person may be in two natures. Likewise, we see that neither intellect nor will constitute a person – for the one divine intellect and will is in three persons, while the two intellects and wills of Jesus are in one person.
There is no immediate or necessary relation between nature, intellect and will (on the one hand) and person (on the other). When we consider further that, in Christ Jesus, there is only one “I” and one ego (and, hence, only one personality), we recognize that there is no immediate necessary relation between nature, intellect and will (on the one hand) and personality, “I” and ego (on the other). The mere fact that Jesus has two intellects and two wills did not make him say “We”; rather, he says “I” and refers to himself in both his human and divine natures. We saw this clearly in our consideration of John 14:6, I am the way, the truth and the life.
As the two intellects of Christ do not result in him having two “I”s or two personalities, neither must we think that the one intellect in God results in him having only one “I” or one personality. However, rather than following in the speculative process of most modern theologians – a procedure which remains in the clouds and has almost nothing do with Sacred Scripture (i.e. a procedure which has no soul) – we will instead turn now to a consideration of the witness of the Sacred Text. Does the Bible lead us to conclude that God is a “We” or an “I”? According to the Scriptural account, ought we to think that there are three personalities in God?
The witness of Sacred Scripture: The Old Testament and the New
In the Old Testament, from the very beginning, God speaks in three personalities: Let us make man in our image. (Genesis 1:26) This passage has been interpreted, according to the unanimous conviction of the Fathers of the Church, as a mystical witness to the Most Holy Trinity. More than any other passage in the Old Testament, the Church Fathers believe that this passage directs us to an understanding of the mystery of the Trinity. Therefore, more than any other passage in the Old Testament, we must consider this verse in relation to our current question: Does God have one “I” or three?
Let us make man in our image. God does not say, “I shall make man in my image”; but, Let us make man in our image. God does not speak with an “I”, but with a “We”. Here we have a very strong indication that there are three personalities, egos and “I”s in God. And this carries great weight, for the Church has unhesitatingly received this text as the clearest indication of the mystery of the Trinity in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, we may look with particular care at the seventeenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. In this most intimate conversation between the Son and his Father, our Savior continually speaks of an “I” and a “You” – And now I come to thee (John 17:13); That they all may be one, as thou, Father in me, and I in thee (v.21); That they may be one, as we also are one (v.22); Just Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee (v.25).
Nor may any conclude that the “I” with which Christ speaks in John 17 is only a human “I” and not his one divine “I” – for he says, And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee (v.5). Jesus speaks with one “I”, and it is the “I” that was before the world was created, it is the “I” that was with the “You” of the Father from all eternity and which shared with the Father in the glory which is the Holy Spirit. From all eternity, the divine “I” of the Father shared with the divine “I” of the Son the divine “I” of the Holy Spirit.
A Scriptural objection
While it is true that, throughout the New Testament, the Trinity is spoken of in three “I”s, there are many times in the Old Testament where God is spoken of as a single “I”. And, although we do admit that the testimony of Genesis 1:26 is great, the overwhelming references to a single divine “I” must be accounted for in some way.
To this, I respond that the Lord revealed himself progressively and in stages throughout the former times. Thus, he often spoke as a single “I” (e.g. I, the Lord) not because he is truly only one “I”, but because the people were not yet ready for the full revelation of the Trinity.
Indeed, as a collection of persons may speak as a single corporate person when they act with one will, so too (by a great analogy) we may understand the Lord’s use of a single divine “I” in many places throughout the Old Testament. Still, especially in a mystery so great as the dogma of the Trinity, we must interpret the passages of the Old Testament in light of the revelation given in the New Testament. Therefore, the definitive Scriptural witness must be found in the New Testament (and, especially in the words of our Savior as recorded in the Gospels) – proceeding from the sure and clear revelation given by Jesus in the New Testament, we then return to the Old Testament and find the generous pedagogy of the Trinity who reveals the divine mysteries progressively according to the needs of man.
An “I” of the Father, an “I” of the Son, and an “I” of the Holy Spirit
When we speak of “I”, ego, and personality, we tend to think in terms of psychological consciousness. When it comes to the Trinity, however, it is quite difficult to know how the human notion of consciousness may apply to the three persons (and the three “I”s) of the Trinity. We have seen that, according to the Scriptural and Patristic witness, it is better to think of God as three “I”s than as one personality, but whether this also means that we should think of the Trinity as having three “consciousnesses” is not as clear.
First, we must note that the idea of consciousness is radically anthropomorphized in modern thought. The divine consciousness(es) is/are most certainly more dissimilar from than similar to human consciousness. Indeed, it may even be questionable whether we can speak of any divine consciousness at all, since the concept is so completely associated with human psychology.
Still, as whatsoever exists in the world must come from some aspect of the Trinitarian life (as the Trinity is the cause of all creation), there must be something in the Most Holy Trinity to which the human consciousness is analogous. I would submit that this is the three “I”s of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though I will not go so far as to say that there are three “consciousnesses” in the Trinity, I will say that the three “I”s, egos, and personalities in the Trinity are that to which human consciousness may be considered as analogous.