Tuesday, May 24, 2016

There is no Obedience in the Trinity

This past Sunday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. We consider the incomprehensible Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity – three Persons in one God and one God in three Persons. Each wholly and entirely God, and yet not three Gods, but one God, one divine nature, one divine essence.

Reflecting upon the unity of the three divine Persons, we will quickly see that there is no obedience within the Trinity. The Son is not obedient to the Father, neither is the Holy Spirit obedient to the Father and the Son, but these three are bound in a perfect mutual enjoyment and love – “And the more love is one, the more it is love.” (St John of the Cross, Romances on “In the Beginning was the Word”)

St. Gregory of Nazianzus has proposed this dogma for our belief: “Above all guard for me this great deposit of faith for which I live and fight, which I want to take with me as a companion, and which makes me bear all evils and despise all pleasures: I mean the profession of faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I entrust it to you today. By it I am soon going to plunge you into water and raise you up from it. I give it to you as the companion and patron of your whole life. I give you but one divinity and power, existing one in three, and containing the three in a distinct way. Divinity without disparity of substance or nature, without superior degree that raises up or inferior degree that casts down. . . the infinite co-naturality of three infinites. Each person considered in himself is entirely God. . . the three considered together. . . I have not even begun to think of unity when the Trinity bathes me in its splendour. I have not even begun to think of the Trinity when unity grasps me. . .” (Oratio 40,41; CCC 256)

One Divine Nature, One Divine Intellect, One Divine Will

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). As the intellect and will are powers of an individual nature, we must affirm (speaking analogously) that the one divine nature necessitates only one divine intellect and one divine will.

It is not that the Father has a will, the Son another will, the Holy Spirit yet another will. Rather the will of the Father is the will of the Son and the will of the Holy Spirit, even as the nature of the Father is the nature of the Son and the nature of the Holy Spirit. Only the Person of the Father is different from the Person of the Son and from the Person of the Holy Spirit – in every other respect, these three are one.

Compared to the mystery of the Incarnation

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. For the Lord Jesus has an human intellect and an human will (even has he has an human Heart), but he also has a divine intellect and a divine will (which is the intellect and will of the Father and the Holy Spirit). Jesus has an human nature (assumed only by the Second Person of the Trinity and not shared in by the Father and the Holy Spirit), but he also has a divine nature (which is common to all three Persons of the Trinity and wholly possessed by each and by all).

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.

Therefore, no obedience

Obedience, however, is the subjection of one’s will to the will of another. For a man to be obedient is to move his will to choose that which is desired by the will of another. A soldier is obedient to his general when he chooses what his general chooses, precisely because his general chooses it. A son is obedient to his father when he subjects his personal will/choice/desire to the will/choice/desire of his father.

Therefore, obedience requires at least two wills, and where there is only one will there can be no obedience. Thus, it is clear that there can be no obedience in the Trinity – the Son cannot obey the Father, since his divine will is the very divine will of the Father; and the Holy Spirit cannot obey the Father and the Son, because his will is the very same will which is possessed by the Father and the Son.  Where there is only one single will, and one single nature, there can be no obedience – but only simple love.

The obedience of Christ in his humanity

“And whereas indeed he was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8)

We must admit that, in his humanity, our Lord Jesus Christ is obedient to the Father. Indeed, this is possible precisely because through the incarnation the Eternal Son has assumed an human nature together with an human will. This human will is subject in obedience to the Father.

It is most fruitful to realize, moreover, that the obedience which Jesus Christ in his humanity shows to the Father, he also shows to the Holy Spirit and also to himself in his divinity. If Jesus as man is obedient to the Father, this means that he subjects his human will to the divine will – but this divine will is not the will only of the Father but also of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This means that Jesus as man is obedient to himself as God, even as he is obedient to the Father and to the Holy Spirit.

However, although Jesus does obey the divine will by the subjection his human will, we must never think of an obedience within the Trinity proper. No, although the obedience of Christ is an act of a divine Person, it is an act performed from his human nature – and therefore, we must still affirm that in God and in the Trinity there is no obedience. And yet, it is true that through a marvelous condescension, one of the divine Persons has taken on an human nature so as to become obedient!

It is clear enough that this human obedience of Christ cannot be construed as introducing obedience to the inner life of the Trinity insofar as the human obedience of Jesus is an obedience offered not only to the Father, but also to the Holy Spirit and even to himself as God – In his Sacred Heart, God the Son offers a perfect act of obedience and worship to the Trinity.


Below is a sermon on the mystery of the Trinity, by Father Ryan Erlenbush (Corpus Christi Parish, Great Falls, MT)

Listen online [here]!


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