The Necessity of the Trinity

February 20, 2014 Length: 54:52

In this very helpful theological discourse, Fr. Thomas Hopko states that the trinitarian understanding of God is absolutely essential to the Christian faith.





As listeners to Ancient Faith Radio know, it is a conviction of the Orthodox Church — a conviction that existed from the very beginning of the Gospel, the very beginning of the Christian faith, and even prefigured before the beginning of the Christian faith with the coming of Christ to the world — about the fact that we have this conviction that the Godhead — divinity, divine reality — in order to be what it is and what the Godhead is, has to be a trinity of divine persons in exactly the interrelationship with each other that is revealed to us in the person of Christ and in the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Church.

In other words, we believe, we Orthodox Christians, ancient Christians, believe in one God and Father who is our Lord Jesus Christ’s father. We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ himself as being divine with exactly the same divinity as God the Father, and we profess and proclaim that the Holy Spirit is also divine with exactly the same divinity as God the Father and his only begotten Son, and Word, and Wisdom, and Image, and Power, and Light, and Truth, who is the second person of the Holy Trinity, the son of God incarnate as a human being from the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit.

The fact of the Trinity, we believe, is simply a fact of divine revelation. Right from the beginning of the Bible, where the biblical writer took over the myths that were prevailing in Canaan at that time and in that particular region — and so much of the Old Testament are myths taken over from the literature of the surrounding peoples of the Jews, but they are myths that are completed and fulfilled and are shown to be what they are theologically that is, in relation to God himself.

The Genesis story that begins with the two stories of the creation, definitely say that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was void, without form,” and then it says the spirit of God — the breath of God — was hovering and breathing over this primal abyss of nothingness, these waters that, according to the mythic story, are the foundational reality of creation.

The Bible is saying that the God — the Father, and his Son, and his Holy Spirit — that they are shown in that first revelation of that story in the Scripture because God the Father creates and the Holy Spirit hovers over the abyss and nothingness and then the creation is done by speech — God says, God speaks — and we know that that speaking in Hebrew language and in Hebrew meaning is not only a speech like a word, speech like I’m talking to you now, with words, but it’s an act, it’s a thing. It’s God’s thing, God’s act, and that act of God from the very beginning is an act of God through his Word and accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

And so you have lines like in the Psalms where it says that God created all things and that that creation was done, as a matter of fact, by his Word, that’s how he did it, by the activity of the Holy Spirit, who accomplishes all divine activities. The line from the Scripture, the Old Testament Psalms that speak about this goes like this:

By the word of the Lord, — the davar Yahweh — heavens were made and all their hosts — and that heavens probably means the angelic ranks and so on — by the breath of his mouth, — and breath, that’s the Hebrew word for pneuma, spirit — and God gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle and put deeps in the storehouse and all of the earth had the fear of the Lord because it was the Lord who had done these things.

But note that they’re done by the Word, and that their host is done by the breath of his mouth, which is understood to be the prefiguration of the Holy Spirit.

Now when you come to the New Testament, you have Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”, “Who do you say that I am?” and when Peter says to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Jesus Christ says to Peter, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven, and on this confession I will build my Church.” That sentence is the foundation of the trinitarian doctrine, of the doctrine of the one God and Father and the one Lord Jesus Christ and the one Holy Spirit because the doctrine of the Trinity emerges as the Church, following Scriptures and the traditions that it has received within the Church about Christ and who he is and his coming to the world and his dying on the cross — all that is shown to us always to be a trinitarian activity.

So when you answer the question “Who do you say that I am?” and we confess “You are the Son of God,” then we have to explain “What does that mean, Son of God?” and what does it mean being the Son of God, not a son of God. What does it mean, according to the Scriptures, by being the unique Son of God, the only begotten, the only one of its kind that you find in Saint John’s Gospel? And connecting this only begotten Son with the Word of God by whom and through whom all things came to be. Even Saint Paul will complete that by saying it was for the Word incarnate as Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of heaven and earth, the king of God’s kingdom, all of this was done for Christ, not only by him and through him, but for him and in him.

So the proper understanding of what it is that Christ is, the Son of God, is the foundation of the trinitarian doctrine. Then you have to try to answer the question, “How does the Holy Spirit fit into this particular picture?” because we have the scriptural witness to the Holy Spirit.

Certainly in the New Testament you have the recreation of the world by the Holy Spirit brooding over the barren and empty womb of the young virgin Mary and then the Holy Spirit descends upon her and the word of God that she heard and kept, by the indwelling of the Spirit fashions the Word incarnate in Mary’s own womb, and so she becomes the mother of God in human flesh, God the Word, who is divine with the same divinity as God the Father.

But still, as it says in the creed, the Word of God, the Son of God, the image of God — Jesus Christ — is God from God; he is light from light, and the God from which he is is his father, God the Father. And then the Spirit [sic] speaks about the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father, who comes forth from the Father as his breath, as his spirit, breathing and fulfilling all of God’s activities and proceeding from the Father alone but given to the world through Jesus Christ, on whom the Holy Spirit dwells humanly, to show that he is really the Son and Word of God, and in whom the Holy Spirit dwells eternally as the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father and rests in God the Son from before the foundation of the world.

So, then, we understand that creation and the whole story of creation, the drama of creation, and its understanding as given to us in Israel, in the children of Abraham — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, the Psalms — they are all testifying to this reality of the one true and living God — the Lord — of the Word of God, who is divine; of the Spirit of God, who is also divine; and God never acting except by way of his Word and by way of his Spirit. Read the Old Testament! Everything that God does and says is by his word in the Spirit.

And then in the New Testament this becomes explicit. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the voice of the Father is there bearing witness to him as his beloved Son and the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirms the truthfulness of those words. And so, the worship of Trinity is revealed, as the hymn of Theophany says in the ancient Christian Church. The hymn of the Trinity, the one God and Father acting in creation through his divine Son, who has become human of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit, and by the cooperation and activity of the Holy Spirit.

So, we can’t here today — and it’s not my point today — to speak about the trinitarian doctrine and how it developed, and how it was formulated, and how it became to be the formal dogmatic teaching of the Christian faith — our belief in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit as equally divine. That’s a fact in scripture and in the tradition of the Church, no doubt about it.

When I was a young seminarian, at one point, I said to my professor of Dogmatic Theology, whom I love and whom I often refer to, Dr. Serge Verhovskoy, and I said to him, “Prof,” —  we called him ‘Prof’ — I said, “I don’t find the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in the Bible and in the Scriptures.” And I know he looked at me with a kind of smirky twinkle, and he said, “Have you read the Scriptures, Tom?” I said, “Well, yeah, a little bit. You know what I mean.” Then he gave me a task. He said, “Get a notebook and, just in the New Testament Scriptures, go through the 27 books, which are not very long, and every time that there’s a reference to God, or Father, or Father of Jesus, put that in one column. Then, whenever there’s a mention of Jesus, Christ as God’s Son and as the Word of God and as the Lord, and everything else that’s said about him, put that in a second column. Then, in your notebook, have a third column where you write Holy Spirit or Spirit of God, or Spirit of Christ, or Spirit of the Lord, or breath of the Almighty, or whatever. And wherever you find that, write that down in the column, and then mediate on how they relate to each other and you will come up with what we call, and what came to be called by the fourth century the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one in essence and undivided; the Father and his Son and his Holy Spirit, equally divine, whose source is God the Father, and the Spirit and the Son come forth from God: the Son by way of being begotten of God before all ages, before there was any creation. And then the Holy Spirit also being with the Father and the Son from all eternity and proceeding from the Father and resting in the Son.”

That’s the claim of our faith and in the Bible — Scriptures — in the Nicene Creed, early Christian creeds — certainly until Nicaea and the seven Ecumenical Councils — and in the Church’s liturgical worship: in baptism and in chrismation and in the Holy Eucharist, and what we call today the Divine Liturgy; we see there that the one God is the father of our Lord Jesus Christ and that the Son of God is divine because he is the son of the one God and Father. And the Holy Spirit is divine with the same divinity because he also is the spirit of the living God. And as the Church Fathers will say, you can’t imagine God as revealed in the Scriptures and in the prayer of the Church except that the one God and Father is the father of Jesus. That is the one true God, by the way. And, technically speaking, in Scripture and in tradition — in liturgy, and in worship, in credal statements — the one God, in that sense, is not the Holy Trinity; the one God is the father of Jesus. But then, this one God, by his very nature, belonging to his very being as God, is never without his Son and Word and Image and Wisdom and Power and Glory, and he is never without the Holy Spirit either: they eternally exist, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and they are presented as certainly divine.

Now, the term God for Jesus exists a couple of times in the New Testament, but you have it there: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, he was God…all things were made by him, nothing came to be except by him.” And then the Holy Spirit, who comes from the Father, rests on the Son, is in and on Jesus, showing him humanly as the Messiah, and that same Spirit that is given to us who believe in him is just pervasive in the New Testament, and are considered to be equally divine. But the one God is God the Father.

And I think that’s important, especially for dialog with Jews and Muslims. When people say “You believe in some kind of strange triple God,” say, “No, we believe in the one God and Father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses; who is the father of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, who is begotten of this very God from before all ages, and eternally existed, as the one by whom, through whom, for whom, in him, and toward whom all things are created, together with the Holy Spirit.

So, as Saint Athanasius would say, in his letters to Serapion about the Holy Spirit, as well as in his anti-Arian writings, where he defends the true divinity of Christ and of the Son of God, we have Athanasius the Great showing the relationship between these three persons and how they are equally divine, and how they relate to each other. And the explanations of the patristic theology — and here, primarily; I think, primarily you could say Athanasius himself, the Great, the defender in Nicaea, but then his disciples who came after him, who at first did not accept his teaching, namely Basil the Great and his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and his best friend Gregory the Theologian — that in their writings and in their teachings, they taught the trinity. They used to say, “We are against polytheism, like the pagans, but we’re also against Sabellianism, like the Jews,” and they didn’t know about the Muslims, “for whom the one God and Father is the only real true God, and the Son and the Spirit are not really divine with the same divinity as God the Father.” We Orthodox Christians of ancient times say that they are.

What I want to reflect on today, because I get a lot of questions about this on the email and people wondering about the filioque and all of that kind of stuff, but I thought today that what I’d like to do is just to share with you a patristic conviction — certainly a conviction of Saint Gregory the Theologian, who has the five theological orations on the Holy Trinity that he gave in Constantinople when the great church there and the bishops there were mostly arians, and Constantine the Great, who converted, and his son, they were supporting arianism, in other words, denying the real divinity of Jesus — I’d like to share with you a conviction that they had. The conviction is this, that not only do we confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided; not only do we flee from the polytheism of those who say there are many gods, equally fleeing from the monad-theists who believe that only God the Father is the true God and the Son and the Spirit are not; not simply the explanation, but today I’d like to share with you why they said that the Godhead has to be this way, that you cannot believe in a god or God who is not having his Word and his Wisdom and his Power and all his characteristics from all eternity, and that he would express them from all eternity in another divine person, namely his Son. You can’t imagine a god who is really God, and a God who is love, not doing that.

You can’t ever say that God was without his Word; there never was when God was without his divine Word. God’s divine Word, who is also called his Son, also called his icon, his image, and also called all those names that Jesus [is] called in the Holy Scripture — and here I would make a little reference to my series on the names of Jesus Christ in Holy Scripture. There are 55 talks on 55 titles there of Jesus in the Holy Scripture. If you want to listen to those, you can add to what we’re doing today — but today our task is to say “Why does it have to be this way? Why did the saints really say it has to be this way, it cannot be different?” The Godhead, divinity, must be three divine persons in exactly the relationship and communion with each other that the Scripture testifies to about the one God and Father; his Son and Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; and the most holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, who when you lie to the Spirit or sin against the Spirit it’s a blasphemy, a blasphemy of God himself. Why does it have to be this way?

I think that it’s such a convincing teaching that — people say the Holy Trinity is such a mystery, you don’t know, accept it on faith, it’s kind of absurd — but when you get in and contemplate it as presented in the Bible and as it’s lived out in the sacramental, mystical life of the Christian church, and as it’s formulated theologically in the great creeds — and the greatest of which, for us Orthodox, is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed, which we use to this day in our divine services — and in baptism, we’re baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and as Basil says, you can’t be baptized into the name of one god and two creatures. If the Son and the Spirit are not equally divine with the Father then you have really no way of defending baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, which is the biblical formula found in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the last chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel:

Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all things that I have told you, and baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

So, that fact is there, but when we contemplate it, when we think about it, when we pray in that reality, when we celebrate the sacraments of the Church, the mysteries of faith, and all of the feast days, and everything that we have from the Bible that is understood now in the light of Christ and the Holy Spirit, we come to the conclusion that it has to be this way. Everything had to be the way it had to be: Godhead must be three divine persons in proper relationship; it must be.

And then, it must be that Jesus Christ is both divine with the same divinity as God the Father and human with same humanity that we have in order to make sense of anything in the New Testament, particularly the passion, the death, and the resurrection, and the glorification, and the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the age. This is what we confess, but it has to be this way.

Now, why? Why is it considered that it must be this way and that it is the only thing that really satisfies the human mind even? Our human, creaturely mind that cannot penetrate what God is within God’s own self, within the divinity from before the foundation of the world, but we have this revelation that is ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. When we contemplate that and understand that, and, as Athanasius would say, both theologically, in how that would be in God from all eternity, and according to the ekonomia, or economically in the incarnation and the coming of Jesus as the messiah savior and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, what we have in the New Testament.

They say that, when you think about it, it must be this way; you’re convinced that it has to be this way. Any other way doesn’t work. Any other way doesn’t satisfy the reality of things as we can understand them even with our creaturely mind that’s even a fallen mind. But once our mind that we’re supposed to love God with all our mind as well as our heart, and our soul, and our strength — our possessions — but when we love God with our mind and contemplate these things, we really see that it has to be this way.

Now, why? Because ultimate reality has to be perfect, as far as we can conceive what perfection is. Ultimate reality has to make sense of creation and all the happenings in the human race, the center event of which is the incarnation of the Son of God as a real human being, his teaching on earth, his passion, his suffering, his rejection, his death, his being raised by God the Father, his being seated at the right hand of the Father, the Holy Spirit accomplishing all these things, and then through Christ from God being poured out upon us who believe in the Gospel of Christ. It has to be this way because God is love, God is truth, God is perfect reality. God, when you contemplate God as revealed in Christ and the Spirit, in the Church, beginning with Scriptures, it’s just so convincing to the human intellect, to the human mind, it really does have to be this way. Any other way just doesn’t work, it doesn’t make sense.

As a matter of fact, this is not only the way it is factually, this is the way it has to be theoretically, and we can come to be convinced of this when we contemplate the activities of God among us creatures. And we remember that we human beings are made in the image and according to the likeness of God; we are created to know God. We are created to know God by communion with God. We are created to share in that participation in the divine life and to share in it, you might say for today, within the Holy Trinity. We are created as creatures, human beings, male and female, to have the relation to the one, true, and living God as Abba Father that Jesus Christ has on earth and that he had from all eternity within the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. We see that this is how it has to be.

And there has to be a Holy Spirit also, so that the fulness of the activity of God, both eternally, theologically, within the Godhead, as well as on earth in the life and the teachings of Jesus, how all this falls together and is true.

Now, Saint Basil the Great would say most of this is beyond us and we can’t even know it all perfectly and clearly, but what we can know, by the grace of God and our faith and the purification of our hearts and souls in our desire for truth, we can come to see, wow, this doctrine really is convincing. It’s more convincing than anything else that you can find on the face of the earth. It’s more convincing than atheism, it’s more convincing than monotheism alone, so to speak, monad-theism, unitarianism. It’s just the most convincing to the human intellect and mind as it is illumined and inspired and purified and cleansed by God the Father’s own activity in us through his Son and his Holy Spirit.

So, what do we say? We say, “The one, true, and living God has to do everything and be everything that it requires for God to be as God, as perfection.” And then we would add, “As the qualities of God that we know of are revealed to us here on earth in many and different ways, and then ultimately in the incarnation of the Son of God.”

So, we confess that God cannot be ever alone in his divinity. God all by himself would be almost a monster, just caught up in his own bliss and not sharing who and what he is with any other. Well, how could a God, who is love, and compassion, and goodness — especially goodness, Gregory of Nyssa will say — how could a good God fail to express himself divinely, in the most perfect manner that he can in sharing his divinity with another, not simply holding on to it for himself.

And here, the conclusion would be drawn, that, as a matter of fact, the God as goodness, as power, as light and truth, as everything that he is, really is constrained by his own perfection, so to speak, to beget a Son from all eternity and to express himself in the person of this Son according to his very nature as God. And that’s why the Scriptures and the saints will say you can never think about God without his Son and Word and Wisdom and Image who is incarnate on earth as Jesus Christ. You can’t imagine God without that. You can’t imagine God and his Word without the Spirit either. You just can’t imagine it.

Now, when you do imagine it, you can say this: if God is goodness and God is love, he has to have a divine expression of those truths. In other words, God as love has to have an expression of his divine love that would be perfectly the expression of God himself in all of its perfection.

So here, the holy Fathers would say this: there must be a divine manifestation of God, so to speak, or revelation within the Trinity at all times, belonging to the very nature of the one God, who is love, because you can’t imagine love not sharing his perfection, not sharing his goodness, not sharing his divinity, not finding himself and fulfilling himself in the love of another, without sharing everything that he is and has with another. And so, the claim is that, as a matter of sheer fact, God the Father does do this; he shares his divinity according to his very being in the person of his Son and his Word and his Image in a perfectly divine manner that has absolutely nothing to do with creation.

And then the claim would be that this kind of activity on the part of the one, true, and living God in a divine manner cannot be satisfied by the creation of the world. Why? Because no creature can adequately and perfectly express who and what God is. There has to be a divine expression of who and what God is, an expression that is totally complete and perfect with nothing missing. And that’s why the Fathers, interpreting the Scripture, would say God has to have a Son, an Image, a Word.

A modern theologian in the Romanian Orthodox Church, a confessor for the faith, who spent most of his life in prison and wrote dogmatic theology books and translated the Philokalia and so on, his name was Father Dmitru Staniloae, he said in one of his writings, “God must have a divine expression of himself as the truth, and that expression of God, divinely expressed as the truth, is in the person of the Word of God.” And he said, “That’s why the second person of the Trinity is called the Word, because God is truth.” Then he says that this one God, who is perfect love and perfect goodness has to have a Word that is also his Son, because God is love, and love shares itself. Even the platonists understood that perfect goodness and perfect love is self-sharing. And the more perfect the love, the more we share our self, the more we give ourself, the more we can — how can you say, if you’re speaking of God, the more that he can duplicate himself.

So, the claim is, that God must have this Word, because he’s the truth. God must have this Son, because he is love. And then Father Dmitru also said, “And we can even say that the Son of God is called not only Son and Word, but he is called Image, ikona. And why is he called Image?” Father Dmitru says, “Because God is beauty.” So God is not only truth, he is not only love, he is beauty, and these are expressed in a divine manner within the trinity before the world is created. Before there was anything there was the one God as Father, his only Son, Jesus Christ, who becomes Jesus Christ on earth, and his one Holy Spirit.

Now, the teaching would be that, that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it has to be, because there must be the perfect self-expression of God. So, we would say that the Word of God, the Son of God, the Icon of God, who becomes human and brings all these realities to us by being born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, that this Son of God is divine with the same divinity as the one God, who is his Abba Father from all eternity. So the Scripture would say, and the Fathers would interpret, God cannot become the Father. He can become creation, because the creation is not a necessity to his divinity, but he cannot become Father, he has to be Father, belonging to his very essence, because he has to have a divine expression of his deity, of his divinity, and the divine expression of God’s divinity is the second person of the Holy Trinity — the Word, the Son, the Image of the Father, born of Mary as the man Jesus.

Now, that also explains, not only why there is an eternal Son and Word and Wisdom and Light and Truth of God, and there has to be, because God has to be self-expressing by his very nature, and it has to be perfect, therefore it has to be in a divine manner, which creation cannot satisfy — creatures cannot satisfy perfection of God because creatures are always inferior to God; they are creatures of God, whereas the Son and Word and Image of God is not his creature, it’s an expression of his very being, and the scriptural word mostly used is begotten. God begets him; God sends him forth in his own being as another hypostasis, another person, a different person from God the Father, nevertheless being exactly what God the Father is, but not being God, but being God’s self-expression.

Now, Gregory the Theologian says that when people question this, they can say, “Hey, hey! Wait a minute! If the second person of the Trinity that you Christians believe in is the Son and the Word and the Image of God incarnate on the earth as Jesus, but if this is who he is from all eternity and therefore what he is is God, it cannot be. Because, if he comes forth from God, if he is begotten of God, then he has to be inferior to God; if he’s God’s product, he has to be inferior to the producer. In other words, he has to be somehow subordinate, somehow less than, somehow different from what the one, true, and living God is.”

Now, Saint Gregory will say, if you hold that position, then you are, first of all — you can say very clearly, according to scriptures that you are denying the perfection of the Son of God; that you are saying God can only produce an inferior product. The only self-expression of God that is possible is a created expression. And so, the first among all the creatures is the Son, Word, and Image of God, who becomes the man Jesus, but he’s a creature; he’s made, he’s fashioned by God, he doesn’t belong to God’s very being. And here, the holy Fathers would say, following the Bible, that’s simply not what the Bible says. The Bible says God is always having his Word and his Spirit, the davar Yahweh, the ruach Yahweh are there belonging to God’s very being, and orthodox Jews would probably accept that. They would not say that the Word of God expressed in the Torah is created wisdom, or that God’s wisdom is like a created wisdom. No, it’s divine!

Now, when it’s given to us, it has to be in created form because we’re creatures, because we’re not God. But the one God can duplicate himself, express himself in another person perfectly, so that person could be exactly what he is, not being him. And that’s what we say about the Son and Word of God, the second person of the Trinity: he is everything that God the Father is, not being the Father, but being the Son. He receives everything from the Father, not only what he has, but who he is, eternally in the divine manner belonging to the very being of God himself.

And if you say that the Son of God must be less than the Father, inferior to the Father, subordinate to the Father, Saint Gregory says you are denigrating the Son of God, because is simply not that way. He is divine with the same divinity as God, his Father, and that’s why he can call him Abba Father. That’s why, in Saint John’s Gospel, when Jesus speaks about the one, true, and living God as Father — and in the entire New Testament, and in the Gospels, Jesus never refers to the one, true, and living God other than as the Father, Father, or my Father. It’s Abba to him. That’s what makes Jesus the unique Son of God.

But Gregory the Theologian goes on to say that, if you deny the full and complete and perfect divinity of the second person of the Trinity, the Logos, Word, and Image of God, who becomes the man Jesus from the Virgin Mary, then you are not only denigrating God’s Son and Word and Image; you are not only — how can you say — attacking the very divine being of the Son of God, but you are attacking the one God himself. Because, what you are saying is, God cannot express himself perfectly, divinely; he can only express himself in created form, therefore the Son and the Spirit must be creatures.

That logic is unacceptable, because you are saying that the one God and Father is not all-powerful, that he cannot do whatever he wills, and he cannot — how can you say — he’s somehow a prisoner of his own divinity that cannot be ultimately, perfectly shared. And here the Christians would say, “Oh, yes it can be perfectly shared! It’s perfectly shared in the Son of God from before the foundation of the World! The Father and the Son are co-eternally existing.” You never have the one without the other, and you certainly never have the one God without his Son, because he would be a deficient God; he would be defective. But if you say he can only have an inferior product, then you are denigrating God Almighty and saying he is not all-powerful, that he cannot, by his very nature, duplicate himself in another person, sharing completely and totally, with nothing held back, after absolutely, certainly, everything that he has is God.

Now, we Orthodox Christians say, that because he is the way he is — truth, and love, and compassion, and mercy, and self-sharing, and giving — he has a divine self-expression. And that divine self-expression is the Son of God, who exists from before the foundation of the world, and who even is the instrument and the agent by which God does his activities in creation. God creates through his Word, he redeems through his Word, he reveals himself through his Word, he shows himself, so you can see his face, in the incarnate Word, Jesus of Nazareth — when you see him, you see God. In other words, the Father and the Son are necessarily existing for the sake of divine perfection.

Then, it would be added, that the Holy Spirit is also necessary. There must be this hypostatic, personal activity in the life of God that accomplishes all things that are willed by the Father and executed and accomplished through the agency of the Son. So, God cannot be breathless, he cannot be spiritless. He is not a dead god, he’s a living God. And that life of the living God that is hypostatically Jesus Christ, eternally the Son and Word of God, because he is the life of God, he is the light of God, he is the truth of God, he is the wisdom of God, in absolutely divine form, so is the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Son. He is also the Spirit of life, the life-creating Spirit. He is the Spirit of wisdom. He is the Spirit of everything that God is. And Athanasius will argue this way in his letters to Serapion, Basil the Great will argue this way in his treatise on the Holy Spirit, that to complete the perfection of the Godhead, there must not only be a divine, eternally existing Son and Word of God, there must be a divinely and eternally existing Spirit of God.

Irenaeus called the Son and the Spirit the two hands of God from all eternity. So God is never without his Son, but he’s never without his Spirit. And he is the monarchical source of both the Son and the Spirit. The Spirit isn’t produced by a union between the Father and the Son; he is not proceeding from the Father and the Son in eternity, although he is sent by the Son in the ekonomia on earth, but the Spirit of God from all eternity is a necessity to the complete and perfect being of the one God and Father, and it is necessary to the perfection of God’s Son and Word, the second person of the Trinity, by whom, through whom, for whom, in whom, toward whom all things will be created by him and through him and he will be revealed on earth as Jesus, the Christ of Israel, the savior of the world.

So, in other words, divinity, godhood, godness, so to speak, must be Trinitarian: there have to be three hypostatic actualizations of divinity for the sake of divine perfection. There must be the personal God and Father, the one, true, and living God, the hypostasis of the Father where the Godhead is absolutely personified in the person of the one God and Father, who is the father of Jesus Christ. But that one God and Father must also be the source, he must be the divine cause of his Son in a divine manner that human minds can’t grasp, but in a manner that human minds can understand as being absolutely necessary.

In other words, if God is really God, he’s got to have a divine self-expression — not just a created one, but a divine one. And that created self-expression of the one God has to be one; there can be only one of them. There can’t be many sons of God who are divine with the same divinity as God the Father, because how, then, are they distinguished from each other? They cannot be! There can be a lot of sons of God among creatures, among human beings because we’re not perfect; there’s something lacking and limited to every single one of us human beings. But there’s nothing lacking and limited to the second person of the Holy Trinity, from all eternity, who is the divine self-expression of God in absolutely divine form, which is a necessity of God as a good and loving God.

So the God who is good and loving and all-powerful by his very nature — and the saints would say not by his will, but just by how he is, just by what divinity is — there must be a Father and a Son. And the communion, the personal inter-communion of the Father and the Son is that communion into which human beings are called by being created on the planet Earth in the image and in the likeness of God. And that is accomplished even within the divinity by the agency and the activity of the third person of the Trinity, namely the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit of every good thing that God is.

So, Father, Son, and Spirit are essential for divine perfection, and there can only be one Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can act in different ways in creatures, but, it’s got to be, as Saint Paul says in his letters, the same Spirit; there can’t be two Holy Spirits, just like there can’t be two Sons, two Images, two Logoses, because, then, they would have to differ in some way. But, if they differed in some way, they would be defective and not be God. Therefore, the one God must have one Son and one Holy Spirit that are perfect in and of themselves in accomplishing what they have to do.

Now, you can say, that the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son from all eternity is the Spirit of truth and of love that binds together the Father and the Son. That would be perfectly acceptable to say, that the Holy Spirit is that activity of the Father and the Son by which they mutually love each other, by the way from all eternity they mutually indwell each other, by the content of the relationship that they have with each other, that we as creatures were created to share, by the one God and his only begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit, from all eternity.

So there can only be one God. Many gods is nonsensical; there can’t be many gods. Gregory of Nyssa has a treatise, why we say the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is one God, not three gods; it’s only one. And Basil, Gregory of Nyssa’s brother, will say God is one by nature, not one by number. Number only applies to created reality: you can count trees, you can take a census of human beings, you can count how many dolphins were caught last year, and you can count how many stars there are in the heavens, if you have the proper equipment. But you can’t count gods; God is God. But what you can say is, I know, by experience, that the one, true God, who is love, must have a divine self-expression, and that divine self-expression is his eternal Son and Word, who comes on earth as the Lord Jesus Christ. And there’s only one of them; there can’t be many of them. And it’s not by grace, it’s by nature. It’s not by will, but it’s by the way the Godhead is. And there must be one Holy Spirit to complete the picture. As Gregory the Theologian will say, God expresses his divine self in the person of his Logos and brings that all to perfection and accomplishment — he pulls it all off, so to speak by the activity of the one Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son, and shows the Son of God to be the son of God from all eternity, together with God the Father.

So, as Gregory the Theologian also will say, “When my mind contemplates any one of the persons of the divine Trinity, I’m immediately brought into union with the other two, realizing that they all, together, constitute one unity.” That’s how it is. And so, we would also have to say, that this one, true, and living God, who does these things from all eternity, that that belongs to his very being as God.

Now, it’s interesting that neither the Bible, nor the Church tradition, nor the liturgy ever really speaks of the triune God. That’s a kind of Western Christian formulation. What the liturgical texts will speak about is the Godhead, divinity, not theos but theotis; in Slavonic, not simply Bog but bozhestvo, divineness, divine perfection. And that divine perfection has to be expressed — and the way that it is expressed, in fact — and that is by the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal breathing-forth and proceeding of the Holy Spirit, from the Father, who rests in the Son and perfects the Trinity in a perfect unity.

And that oneness of God is a oneness appropriate to God, but it’s a oneness that also reveals itself all eternity in three distinct persons or hypostases: God the Father, the source of divinity; God the Son, the perfect expression of the Father; God the Holy Spirit, the activity of the Father and the Son in personal form, that accomplishes everything. And so, when we contemplate God, we can contemplate any one of the persons of the Trinity, and the other two are immediately in the picture — they are there, they cannot be absent, they complete it. And if you contemplate the oneness of God, your mind flashes to the three hypostaes, to show how this oneness is actualized in divine manner.

So, the Church tradition will speak about a tri-hypostatic divinity, a tri-personal Godhead. But here, in Scripture — the Bible — and certainly in the creed, and certainly in the liturgy, the one God is not a unipersonal one God who is somehow Father, Son, and Spirit at one and the same time, and that these are relations within the Godhead that actually disappear in all eternity when God becomes perfectly one and transcends his own unity, as certain religious traditions would hold. That’s not acceptable to Christians.

So, what is acceptable, is the Holy Trinity. It’s the only thing that satisfies the human mind. The one, true, and living God must have divine self-expression, divine realization, and created self-expression in the form of creatures. But the Logos, Wisdom, Word of God is not a creature, and neither is the Holy Spirit, and that’s what the Fathers fought for in the fourth century, and that’s what they enshrined in the Symbol of Faith, in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed, which, by the way, says of Jesus that he is God from God, perfectly divine from perfectly divine, and that’s necessary to the very perfection of God the Father. And when it speaks of the Holy Spirit, we say, “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord” — that’s the divine name in Scripture, Yahweh — “the Lord and the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. Who, with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and is glorified.” But it’s interesting that it doesn’t use the term God for the Holy Spirit because of the confusion of what does that mean? You can say, “The Holy Spirit is God, the Son is God,” just like you would say, “Joe is man and Mary is man,” but when you say, “Joe is human and Mary is human,” then you would have to say that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are divine equally, the same way human beings are equally human in their various — what they call in Greek the tropos hyparxeos, the mode of their existential existence.

So, what we say is this: the Godhead, being absolute perfection beyond what we can fathom, and in that Godhead is the core and root of every possible creature that can be created, in created form, it somehow exists perfectly and divinely within the divine nature as God. But that divine nature as God, which belongs to the one God and Father, is divinely communicated from all eternity, beyond space and time, in the person of the Son of God, and in the person of the Holy Spirit. And then it is the divine plan that the Son of God, who is divine from all eternity, who is God from God, the true light from true light, who is begotten and not created, that this one God, for us and for our salvation, will come from heaven and be incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and become human.

And all that activity is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the giver of life, who is never called simply God until Gregory the Theologian did it in the fourth century. But neither Athanasius nor Basil in their treatises on the Holy Spirit refer to the Holy Spirit as God. It’s not scriptural to use that kind of a term, but that he is perfectly divine, that’s absolutely the teaching. The Son can be called God because he is called God in Scripture: Thomas says to him, “My Lord and my God!” The Lord and the God of me. The Prologue of John’s Gospel says, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word was theos, not ho theos, which is God the Father, but theos — divine with the same divinity as the ho theos.

So, the one God and Father, the one Lord Jesus Christ, eternally God’s Son, Word, and Image, and the one Holy Spirit, that constitutes divinity for Christians. That’s what divinity is; that’s what the Godhead is like. It’s revealed to us by God’s action in creation, fulfilled ultimately in the incarnation of his Son and Word in human form. But once that revelation is shown and given to us, and we affirm the true divinity of the Son of God and the divinity of the Holy Spirit, then we can further contemplate this and come to the conclusion and be convinced that it must be this way, it cannot be different in any way than it actually is, and actually is confessed to be by the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Christian Church, that is neither unitarian nor polytheistic, who considers a one god who is not self-expressive divinely as being some sort of monster, a god who does not create by his will as also being a selfish god who won’t share even with creatures.

But the claim is he shares in every possible way: divine, within the Trinity from before the foundation of the world, and in human, created form through the incarnation of the Son of God, who becomes a real human being, Jesus of Nazareth. That’s the Christian faith. It has to be this way, and it’s the only thing that can really satisfy the human condition, the only thing that can really even satisfy the human mind, even though we understand through a veil darkly. Our knowledge is limited, nevertheless, that knowledge is true. And a part of that truth and conviction is, the Godhead is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one in essence, undivided, existing from before the foundation and the creation of the world, being simply the way that God and the Godhead actually is.