Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Are there three personalities in God, an "I" of the Father and an "I" of the Son and an "I" of the Holy Spirit?

In a previous article, we discussed whether it is proper to speak of two personalities in Christ – a divine personality and a human personality. We had argued that, according to the Scriptural witness and the Apostolic Tradition, there is only one “I” or ego in Christ Jesus (just as he is only one person). Indeed, if Christ can say “I” – referring to himself both in his humanity and in his divinity with the same “I”, the same ego – and if we may say that the Lord is a “he” rather than a “they”, it is hard to understand how any can believe that there are multiple egos or “I”s in Jesus.
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.


Al said...

I think your approach diminished the individualism of the persons of the Trinity.
My understanding is;
The Father has a soul, a free will, an intellect and a memory.
The Son has a soul, a free will, an intellect and a memory.
The Holy Spirit has a soul, a free will, an intellect and a memory.
Each individual of the Trinity (There are only three) possesses infinite knowledge.
Therefore they infinitely agree with each other while being separate unique Deities.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You may think that I have "diminished the individualism of the persons of the Trinity", but I know that you are a material heretic.

We cannot, we simply CANNOT, state that the three persons are "separate unique Deities" ... "Hear of Israel the Lord your God, the Lord is ONE" ... "The Father and I are ONE" ... "We believe in ONE God" ...

The Father does have an intellect and a will ... it is intellect and will of the Son, which is also the intellect and will of the Holy Spirit. For these three have only one nature and only one will and only one intellect, but they are three persons and three "I"s.

The three persons have only ONE NAME: "In THE Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" ... and though they are three persons, they are yet one God, one Power, one Deity.

I don't know whether you are Catholic ... in any case, if you belong to any form of traditional Christianity (whether Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, etc, etc) you must believe that there is only one God and one Deity.

[perhaps you are a Mormon ... in any case, if you hold to your belief, you are not a Christian but a pagan polytheist]

Captain Peabody said...

I'm not sure it is so easy to dismiss the Old Testament passages where God refers to himself as "I," especially since this includes the Divine Name itself.

It would seem to me that while each of the Divine Persons is properly an "I" of its own, there is also properly an "I" that belongs to and encompasses all three persons of the Trinity...though I suppose I'm not really saying anything too different than you are in saying the three Persons share a single will, intellect, and nature. The nature of God is at least in part expressed by the "I Am," and of course this divine nature is shared by all three persons of the Trinity. But it does seem to me that the most common form of self-address for God is the simple I, rather than we, and this, too, is perfectly proper even given the further divine revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament.

Would it be possible, then, to divide two types of "I"s here, what we might call the relational I (the I that exists in conjunction with the You, and expresses the relation and distinction of the Three Persons), and the absolute or simple I (which expresses the total unity of being and the perfect simplicity of the divine existence). The former "I" should properly be applied only to the distinct persons of the Trinity, while the latter applies to the whole Godhead both severally and together.

Does that make sense?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are correct that we ought not to be dismissive of OT passages, especially "I am who am", "I AM".

However, the "I AM" seems to refer more to the Divine Essence than to the persons.
Each "I" of the persons can say "I AM" ... so, there probably is something to your point about two expressions of "I" ... however, each "I" of the Trinity can say "I AM" (and yet there is only one God and one Divine Essence) ...

Still, if we want to understand the inner relations of the Trinity, the New Testament has to be our primary reference point ... and there it is clear that there are three "I"s.
[btw, I do appreciate that you have made a Scriptural argument; this is certainly our foundation]

Anonymous said...

I think I'm beginning to understand the theological explanation of the Trinity - Thank you. I am Catholic but was very poorly catechised BTW, so I am learning all this much later in life.

But at the risk of exposing my ignorance I need to ask what is the spiritual importance of the 3 Divine Persons? Except for the Incarnation, which you have argued could have been the Father or the Holy Spirit too, what is the significance do you think to 3 Persons?


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

When it comes to the highest Truth, to the greatest Mystery, to that Reality most precious and holy of all, i.e. to the Most Blessed Trinity, I do not think that we will have any success in trying to explain why It is what It is.

However, I will say this ... recognizing Who the Trinity is, in the three persons, everything else in created reality begins to make sense.

... You point to the question of 3 ... in the created world we see how 3 is a number of perfection ... the Lover, the Beloved, the Love ... two is contradiction, but three is communion ...

If we could only realize that all created reality, everything in the universe, is in some fashion an expression of the Trinity ... the union of the one Nature is the cause and source of all unity in the created world ... the distinction of the three persons is the cause and source of the distinction (and diversity) in creatures ...

We have come from this Mystery and, by grace, we will return to this Mystery ... to rest in the Holy Trinity is our salvation.

The simple thought of this great Mystery, should inspire within us supernatural love.

daniel said...

Just a few comments:

It is worth noting the "I" used by the Father: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.

Secondly, it is better to avoid speaking of any relations between the three Divine persons, in the Trinity each person IS the relation.

Thirdly, while Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three persons, they may be persons in different ways, just as angels and humans are persons in different ways. The human person is an individual of a species and therefore all are related, while angels are individuals but not of the same species. Because they are only spiritual each angel is like its own species and therefore they are not "related" in the same way that humans are all part of the human family descended from Adam. This relationality of humans is one reason why humans why we image the persons of the Trinity in a way that angels don't.

So Father, Son and Holy Spirit are divine persons, but the concept of person need not apply to each in exactly the same way.

If we consider "I" from the point of view of self-concept of self, then following the line of the psychological analogy of Augustine we could see "I" as the utterance of a self-conscious person: the "word" a person generates when conscious of self. In this sense, "I" applies more appropriately to the "Word" than to the other persons.

It is interesting that the Holy Spirit does not speak in the first person in the NT, whereas Jesus does and John the Baptist is said to perceives the Father also speak in first person. It is also interesting that Jesus never addresses the Holy Spirit in the second person. In fact, his personality which he reveals precisely as Son is defined by the "You" of his Father (see Benedict XVI).

All this suggests the Father as a person, whose consciousness of self is analogous to a self-descriptive Word - "I", that is so real that it is another person generated eternally from the first person - analogous to Father and Son. The breath flowing between these persons, each saying "You-Abba" or "You-Beloved Son" is a Spirit whose personality may be closer to "He", "You" or even "We" (if the Holy Spirit is considered as the bond between Father and Son) than what we mean by our human "I".

Augustine said...

If we may speak as crudely as this, when God speaks is it God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit who communicates, or is it rather an act of the whole Trinity? Is it a matter of Speaker, Word, Voice (F-S-HS)? I'm thinking particularly of that part of Genesis you refer to when God said, 'Let us make man in our own image' - would we say that God spoke as One or would it be appropriate that speech or 'communication' be attributed to God the Father, or God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit? On a related matter if God is the communicator is it part of our being made in God's image that we are able to hear or would I be right in saying that our ability to listen and respond is a result of grace?

Also can I say I stumbled across this blog only yesterday, and I think it is a wonderful opportunity to catechise and teach, to learn and discuss. Thank you for it!

Chatto said...


thanks for tackling so difficult a subject. Could we refer to God as a 'person' as well as persons? A friend said to me that God was "the person...thing?...that knows me best." I assured her 'person' was more proper. I'm not worried about having said something heretical, just interested in your take.

Also, with the greatest respect, I think you could have been a bit more patient with Al. I know how passionate you get about defending the Truth! Deep breaths and asking questions have always worked for me ("What do you mean by 'x'?" etc). This will draw out any underlying misunderstandings or misuse of term, which can then be corrected. Keep up the good work!

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Your response to Alfred was a joy to behold.

What a rare and welcome example you set for all other Priests who may be reading you

Vincent Torley said...


I find your article rather worrying. I shall not question its orthodoxy, as the Church has not ruled on the proper usage of the term "personality" when applied to God. But if we ascribe three centers of consciousness to God then it seems we have three minds, and that's tritheism. Such a picture of God will offend our Jewish brethren. As I recall, The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its article "Trinity", addressed this very question and concluded that there is only one center of consciousness in God, but that the three persons possess this consciousness in three irreducibly distinct ways. (That said, I have to acknowledge that the Eastern Orthodox really DO seem to think of God in this way, if Rublev's famous icon of the three persons all sitting down at table together is anything to go by. Frankly, I don't like it.)

As for there being three "I's" in God, I have to say this seems bizarre. I would say that the Son is the "I" of the Father. At least, that's how Raimundo Panikkar put it in "The Trinity and the Religious Experience of Man", which I read back in the 1980s. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Wow, you really let "Al" have it, Father...for good reason, I suppose.
Anyway, the only oddity I can see in your remarks is that we have, at the beginning of Revelation, an insight into the Trinity: "let us...." Elsewhere in Genesis, you have the three visitors to Abraham (maybe he was still Abram). But, after that, God is "I." If the people were ready for the "we" of Genesis, why were they only ready for the "I" of Exodus onwards?

I realize that the actual writing of these books and their placement in the Bible is not necessarily reflective of chronology. Yet, whether we hold to the Mosaic authorship of these books or say that the stories were passed down for centuries and edited during the time of the Kings and Exile, how can we say that revelation "progressed"?

One thought I have in response to my own question is that the people, as they were intermingling with those who believed in many gods, would have been utterly misled by God continuing to reveal Himself as "we."

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have had difficulty with this question too ... when people say "God is a person", they do not mean to deny the Trinity; but it would certainly be better to say, "God is not a thing, he is three persons" ...
Still, many theologians used to us "It" (capitalized) to refer to the Trinity ...

Also, you are certainly correct about my comment to Al ...

@Al, apologies! I did not intend to offend, but only to make a quick and cogent comment. However, the brevity came off with a double helping of severity! Sorry!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Vincent Torley,
Certainly there are multiple ways of coming at this question ... if we start with psychology and modern understandings of the mind, we are likely to come to a very different conclusion than if we start with Scripture and, especially, the Gospels.

I have started with the Gospels and Sacred Scripture. You are starting from modern psychology.

The Son very clearly says "I" to the "You" of the Father, and this is an eternal "I" to an eternal "You" (John 17); as Daniel (above) pointed out, the Father says "I" to the "You" of the Son [especially, "You are my Son, this day I have begotten You"].
The Church prays, "You" to the Holy Spirit, "Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful" ...

Given the witness of Scripture and Tradition, I don't know how we can not say that there are three "I"s in the Trinity.
However, like you, I do not go so far as to say that there are three consciousnesses ... only that these three "I"s are the source and cause of all distinction of consciousnesses among human and angelic persons.

Peace! +

Anonymous said...

daniel said: "Secondly, it is better to avoid speaking of any relations between the three Divine persons, in the Trinity each person IS the relation."

Maybe I know what you mean but... The only way to distinguish between the Persons is by their relation to the others. Each Person is in every way equal to and the same as the Other. If "each Person IS the relation," have you not introduced difference into the Persons, as Persons?

Stacy Trasancos said...


I am struggling with this too, and tend to agree with Mr. Torley. It is worrying to me because - having just finished a One and Triune God course through Holy Apostles College and Seminary which relied on the teachings of Aquinas, Augustine, Holy Scripture, the Catechism and Fr. Kenneth Baker's writings - this seems to confuse what has already been developed and is professed in the Creeds.

The word "person" came from the Trinitarian debates and psychology is also derived from the same root word. It is the study of persons, body and soul. Boethius of the sixth century said that a person is a individual substance of a rational (and incommunicable) nature. (Summa Q. 29) Thus all three divine Persons possess the entire divine substance, but the substance is not a Person. It is God.

Frank Sheed explains it too in "Theology and Sanity." The Father possesses the whole nature of God as His own; the Son possesses the whole nature of God as His own; the Holy Spirit possesses the whole nature of God as His own. Since the nature of a being determines what the person is, the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. Thus "I AM" applies to all of them, and God is only one consciousness, one nature, one essence, one substance.

The Council of Florence in 1442 stated, “These three persons are one God...because the three are one substance, one essence, one nature, one divinity, one immensity, one eternity; in God everything is one and the same where there is no opposition of relation.” The Persons are the distinct relations.

I was also taught that we believe the reason for the revelation of the Trinity is so that we may have a deeper personal understanding of God, who we will never fully comprehend.

Just my thoughts. I just took this course and I took it very seriously. It changed my life. My concern is that if discussions of the Trinity stray too far from the language carefully articulated by the councils, Fathers, and theologians, it might lead others to confusion instead of deeper understanding.

But, your writing, Father, does always make me think and I really appreciate that.

Kind Regards,

Dick Landkamer said...

Adding to what Dan said about Daniel's comment, which said: "Secondly, it is better to avoid speaking of any relations between the three Divine persons, in the Trinity each person IS the relation."

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this is not correct. Rather, the relationships between the persons of the Trinity are the ONLY distinction between the persons: "The Church uses (I) the term "substance" (rendered also at times by "essence" or "nature") to designate the divine being in its unity, (II) the term "person" or "hypostasis" to designate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the real distinction among them, and (III) the term "relation" to designate the fact that their distinction lies in the relationship of each to the others" (CCC 252).

Indeed the relationships between the persons are different. The Son is related to the Father via the relation of sonship. The Father is related to the Son via the relation of fatherhood. These are fundamentally different relationships. Therefore, if the persons are the relationships, the persons must be fundamentally different. But if the persons are fundamentally different, how could Jesus say that the Father and I are one? (Jn 10:30). Rather, in order for the Son to be God, He must fully possess the divine nature as does the Father. The only difference that can exist between them is the manner in which the divine nature is possessed. The Father possesses it as unreceived, the Son as received from the Father, and the Holy Spirit as received from the Father and the Son.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

As I see you, you and I are really very much making the same fundamental point ... (though, apparently, you do not see it quite this way) ...

Especially your final comments about using the language which we have received from the Tradition ... this is the fundamental method I am trying to adopt and apply to this modern theological question ...

Many modern(ist) theologians speak of there being only one "I" in God, and they come to this conclusion from modern presupositions based on human psychology ... I, on the other hand, have argued that there are three "I"s in God because Scripture and Tradition constantly refer to the persons of the Trinity as three "I"s -- the Son uses "I", speaking to the "You" of his Father; the Father uses "I", speaking to the "You" of his Son; the Church speaks to the "You" of the Holy Spirit; and the whole Trinity (in the clearest portions of revelation) speaks not as a single "I" but as a "We" ...

According to our Tradition, the question of "I" is not related to nature or to intellect and will, but to person -- hence, Jesus speaks with one "I" and the Church addresses him as a single "You", even though he has two intellects, and two wills, and two natures.

Therefore, we ought not to be too surprised that the one nature, one intellect and one will of the Trinity does not necessitate that there be one "I". [because the number of "I"s is not determined by the number of natures]

As you quote from Florence, "In God everything is one and the same where there is no opposition of relation" ... but it is precisely in the "I" of the Father, and the "I" of the Son, and the "I" of the Holy Spirit that the opposition of relation is expressed in the "We" of the Trinity.

When it comes to a mystery so great we simply must use the language of the Tradition (as you have said) ... and the Gospels are clear: the "I" of the Son is distinct from the "I" of the Father; hence, there must be three "I"s in the Trinity.

In any case, thank you for your continued comments -- I hope that my explanation brings clarity to the issue, rather than confusion!

Vincent Torley said...


Thank you for your kind comments. The words of Scripture must indeed give us pause, but it seems to me they cut both ways. At Jesus baptism, the Father says, "This is my beloved Son, IN whom I am well pleased." Does "in whom I" denote a separate I? Not necessarily. John 17 does contain I-You language, but in John 8:58, Jesus says, "Before Abraham was, I am," thereby claiming to be the same "I" that spoke to Moses in the burning bush.

Perhaps our language of "I" and "you" can never do the Trinity justice.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Certainly you are correct in this statement: "Perhaps our language ... can never do the Trinity justice"!
Whatever the point of discussion, our language falls short of the infinite majesty of God.

Still, this is why I want to emphasize so strongly the importance of using the language of the Scriptures.
You (and others) are certainly correct to point out the "I AM" ... however, I would note that every time that the three persons of the Trinity speak to one another, they speak in three "I"s.
Regarding the baptism of Jesus ... it also says, "You are my beloved Son, in You I am well pleased." ... I think we must recognize a distinct "I" of the Father and another "I" of the Son.

Thus, though there are times when the Trinity speaks to creatures with a single "I" ... the three persons always adopt three "I"s when speaking among themselves ... that, in my opinion, answers the question of whether there are three personalities in God.

Thanks for your comments, and also thanks to all the others who have joined in this discussion!
Peace to all! +

A Sinner said...

I'm just not sure what the point of this question even is. Is "personality" as separate from "person" even a valid or relevant theological category?? Why wasn't it discussed for 2000 years then? I'm just not sure "personality" or "ego" is a distinct or meaningful concept, or it would at least FIRST have to be demonstrated to me that this wrinkle/nuance in reality exists separate from Person and was a legitimate theological category (in, say, a Thomistic framework) before I'd even begin to understand the importance of what's being discussed here.

daniel said...


I agree the Divine persons can be said to be related TO each other.

What I object to is the idea of a relationship between the persons, as this might add further persons to the Trinity (this was a common objection of Muslims to the Trinity).

The Catechism also avoids the phrase a phrase like "relationship between persons".
You are right that "if the persons are the relationships, the persons must be fundamentally different".

254 The divine persons are really distinct from one another. "God is one but not solitary."86 "Father", "Son", "Holy Spirit" are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: "He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son."87 They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: "It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds."88 The divine Unity is Triune.

255 The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: "In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance."89 Indeed "everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship."90 "Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son."91

Michelangelo said...

Thank you, Abba Reginaldus! I'm heading off on retreat with a bunch of other lay Carmelites, and I'll contemplate your good demonstration of the Trinity.

We can say Our Lord Jesus loves His Father in distinction to the "love He has for Himself", and therefore, I agree with you that he is (has) a separate ego, since we become who we are meant to be, and we know ourselves through loving God, and conforming our will to His. You are a courageous Priest! God bless, Father.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
If you are inclined to ignore the whole question as a suspicious category of modernist theology ... I am certainly sympathetic!

I do not bring it up in order to defend the use of modern terms like "personality" and "ego" -- rather, the reason I wrote the article is principally to respond to the modern question.
Personally, I don't like the terms ... however, my point in this article is to say that, if these modern theologians want to talk about whether or not there are three "I"s in God, then they had been start with the Scriptures ... and, if we look to the Bible, we see that the persons speak to each other with three "I"s.

Moreover, the whole point of the article (on a categorical level) was to bring the modern question of "personality" back into the classical discussion of "person".

In other words, the only reason this article is relevant (as far as I am concerned) is because so many modernists are invoking non-scriptural, anthropomorphic, psychological frameworks for discussing the Trinity -- I am trying to fight against this tendency! +

Keith Kenney said...


I rather enjoyed both your use of scripture and tradition as the foundation to plumb the depths of modern language about persons and their analogous use when speaking about the Most Holy Trinity. I think that it is precisely this modern use of the words person, personality, etc., that introduce so much confusion for the modern reader trying to understand the dogmatic statements of the Church on the Most Holy Trinity. It is actually necessary in our modern age to return to scriptural use, to historically study the philology and meaning of the terms of the holy councils in order to divest ourselves of modern errors and even adjustments in meaning given to words like person.

For example: neither prosopon or persona had any ontological content in their original languages. Hence the famous anathema of Nicaea I that condemned anyone who says that the Son is a different hyptostasis or ousia than the Father. It is not until later that in the working out of how to correctly speak concerning the Most Holy Trinity that hypostasis (substance) moved from a word used synonymously with ousia (essence) to a connection with prosopon / persona. This change in the normal useage of the words involved to a theological meaning is what gives person its ontological content. This was a huge leap forward in our ability to express our faith.

To understand the uses of these words it is necessary to return to the historical meaning of the councils given to us in tradition and verified by the magisterium. It is also necessary to above all return to the scriptural sources about which the creed is a synthesis for a proper reading. Only within this context can we engage modern thought, which I think you have done admirably in your excursus on the theological meaning of "I".

In cordibus Iesu et Mariae.

Seraphim said...


Your article seemed problematicly skewed on the side of tritheism to me as well.

The most profound theologian I have ever read was the Romanian theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae. In volume 1 of his "Systematic Theology" (published in English under the name "The Experience of God" - it's faddish among American converts to Orthodoxy like the editors to have a beef with any sort of systematization), Fr. Staniloae says that the persons of the Trinity only see their "I" in each other, because of the perfect and completely total self-giving love they have for each other. This preserves both the distinctness of the persons of the Trinity (as Chesterton pointed out, we can only love if there is a hypostatic distinction between the lover and beloved - a truly pantheistic mystic cannot experience divine love) and their complete unity, and seems to me to be the best and most profound solution to the question.

In Christ,


4Christ said...

If we take the whole scripture in view and know that God does not change(Malachi 3:6) Then God has always been the Father, Word/Son, and Holy Ghost and these three spake as the I AM alone and beside me there is no God. Since the three is referred to as a Himself, a me, an I; then whatever personalities we see in the NT must of necessity be derived from the same source who is singular in person. God is not an IT. He is personal and reveals Himself to be singular in person as well as reveals Himself to be Father, Son, ahd Holy Ghost. The incarnation is the ONLY think that changed from the OT to the NT. We don't see the Word conversing with the Father from eternity, etc. The incarnation of God's Word (who is God) caused a different role for the Son to fulfill that we just don't see pre-incarnation. Jesus therefore in his person took on a human personality and added it to his divine nature. That my friends is the mystery, not really how three are one, but how Jesus is God and man at the same time.

This argument doesn't go far from what Sabellian might have taught. The Oneness of God is very important as is knowing the distinction that God has with Father, Son, and Spirit.

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