The Relationship of the Persons in the Godhead – Their Nature

Where several things exist, there inevitably exists a relationship also. In the Godhead there are three beings, three persons, three distinct substances (hypostases) which in essence are one.

The three divine persons, when considered as one, have no relationship whatsoever, for a monad is self-subsistent. Yet, when differentiated as three individual beings, they have a relationship with one another. The three are joined and bound to one another and therefore have a relationship.

Thus the existence of the divine persons in common essence must be distinguished from their existence as individual beings. Their existence as essence is one-single, undivided, and perfect. Consequently, this essence has no relationship with any other essences, for no other essence exists which could be its equal. That which exists eternally has no relationship with the non-existent, for the non-existent has no existence as an essence.

When we consider the relationship of the eternal God with the essence of that which has come into existence, the universe, we say that the essence of God is related to the essence of the universe just as the finished product is related to the manufacturer, or creation to the creator. However, this relationship occurs within time only, and is not eternal, because before the universe received its individual being, its existence was only possible and probable. It was non-existent, and as something non-existent, it had no relationship with the eternal God.

Consequently, the eternal relationship, that among the individual beings in the Godhead, is one thing, while the temporal relationship is another. No eternal relationship exists between the essence of God and any other essence, because no other eternal essence exists except God. Among the three eternal persons and individual beings in the Godhead, eternal relationships do exist, but these are permanent and unchangeable relationships based upon substance (hypostasis) and person, but not upon essence.

The reason for this is both profound and elementary: If the relationships were based upon essence and not upon substance (hypostasis) and person, it would be taken for granted that the three persons were not persons, but three essences differentiated from one another, and therefore three distinct gods, each of a separate and different existence, intelligence, and life. But if there were three essences and the three gods were not of the same essence, but of completely different essences and natures, perhaps disagreeing and in discord, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity would be false.

It would be false for it would resemble the doctrine of polytheism which Christ came to earth to abrogate and expel through teaching of the true doctrine of monotheism. Previously we stated that there are three persons in the one essence of the Godhead -three individual beings, but not three distinct essences. There are three beings of the same essence and nature; in essence and nature they are neither different nor differentiated.

They may be differentiated in their individual beings, but not in their essence. Differentiation by individual being or substantial (hypostatic) difference is one thing, but differentiation by essence or essential difference is quite another.

Differentiation by individual beings presupposes the coexistence of several co-essential persons in one essence. However, differentiation by essence presuppose the co-existence of several essences distinguished by the diverse nature of those essences. It follows, then, that characteristics and differences of essence are wholly distinct from characteristics and differences of person, individuality, and substance (hypostasis).

Each man is a substance (hypostasis), a single personality, and each man is known and distinguished from other men by personal characteristics. But if we consider all of mankind under the general term man, we witness a co-existence of individual beings and persons in one essence, the essence of mankind.

In parallel fashion, there are three persons, three individuals in the Godhead – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But they are three persons in one essence, differentiated by the personal characteristics of each.

Many persons have concluded erroneously, without proper knowledge and judgment, that through its doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Orthodoxy teaches – of all things in the world – the polytheism of primitive times! They attack Orthodoxy for allegedly introducing polytheism into the world – despite the orthos logos which testifies to the existence of one perfect God.

The truth, of course, is that Orthodoxy, as a revelation of God, confronted the polytheism of the ancient world and confounded it. Indeed, Orthodoxy alone teaches the truth concerning God, declaring that God is singular in essence, but a triad in persons.

Polytheism propagated the co-existence of many gods with various essences at conflict with one another – the very prototypes of moral chaos, strifes, disputes, and wars. Antithetically and truthfully, Orthodoxy never taught the coexistence of many essences or of many gods differentiated by individual essences and wrangling among themselves – the precursors of moral chaos and anarchy – but rather proclaimed the co-existence of three equal persons in one Godhead, differentiated by individual qualities, but one and the same in essence.

The three divine persons in the true Godhead possess identical qualities, the same essence, the same nature, the same will, and are the very prototypes of true love, peace, concord, moral order, unity, and harmony. Oppositely, it is qualities such as discord, hatred, and hostile attitudes from which spring the wars and battles which resulted from polytheism and its host of gods.

But thanks be unto God almighty, concord, affection, true love, and a harmonious attitude from which spring peace, discipline, and a happy and blessed life, are the attributes of the three persons in the Godhead, whose eternal co-existence was revealed to us by the blessed Theanthropos, our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Gospel. To this, right reason also adds its testimony.

The relationship which exists among the three persons in the Godhead is expressed by the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the names of the three substantial (hypostatic) realities in the Godhead. Eternally, the Father begets an eternal Son, a like essence from His essence, identical, mirroring Him in His whole essence and nature. In that He is the perfect offspring of the Father, the Son has the being of the Father, and everything that is of the Father passes to the Son, not to be taken away from Him for He is equal with the Father, very God of very God.

The relationship of the Son to the Father is determined by His generation from the Father which is eternal and outside time, even as the Son is eternal and timeless. The terms to beget and to be begotten also define the eternal relationship which exists between the Father, who is the effective or procreative cause of the Son, and the Son, who is begotten eternally from the Father, and eternally mirrors and represents God the Father. Thus the generation of the Son from the Father is eternal, and thus His relationship with the Father is also eternal.

The terms to beget and to be begotten denote the eternal generation of the Son. For this reason it is only for the eternal relationship which exists between the Father and the Son that this definition is used to signify the eternal generation of the Logos from the Father, and to distinguish it from His relationship with creation, to which the term to make refers.

This is why the Creed accepted the word beget as signifying the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son, and made a distinction between this and the word make which refers to the relationship of God with creation and all created things. The Son, it affirmed, was “begotten of His Father before all worlds” and was “begotten, not made,” as the heretic Arius so blasphemously asserted. The eternal generation of the Son affects both essence and nature. because the Son took the essence and nature of the Father before all worlds and possesses them eternally.

Although the creation of the world is an act of God’s free will, it is a work capable of existing or of not existing. But the Son is not capable of not existing, because not even the Father is unable to exist. Therefore, the Son exists inevitably because it is possible for Him not to exist. The relationship between Father and Son is the same, eternal and inevitable, because the existence of the Father is impossible without the Son, and the existence of the Son is impossible without the Father. The relationship between them is the eternal, perfect, inevitable generation in which exist the Father, unbegotten yet begetting, and the Son, begotten, the icon and mirror of the Father.

The Holy Spirit is an eternal existence, an eternal personality, and consequently has a relationship with the Father and the Son that is eternal. His relationship with the Father is expressed by the terms proceeding and projecting, which are different from begetting and begotten. The Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father alone, just as the Son is begotten eternally of the Father alone. Procession and generation are theological terms which signify the relationship between the Father and the Holy Spirit, and between the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit neither is begotten of the Father nor is created. If He had been begotten, He would have been a Son; if He had been created, He would have been a creature. He is sent forth and projected by the Father alone: everlasting and eternal, proceeding, of the same essence as the Father and the Son, perfect love, binding the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father. He is thus the everlasting bond of the eternal love of the Father which rests eternally upon His only begotten Son whom He called His beloved Son: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5).

This is the relationship by nature, not by morality, between the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the Father who is supreme, for He is the root and the effective cause according to the relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit, which already has been explained. However, there also exist relationships by character and disposition among the three persons. These are eternal relationships, dependent upon their free will, and preserved by them unchanged and inviolate, because it is impossible for the most perfect essence, the Holy Trinity, which is perfect by nature, to be imperfect in character or way of life, or in its relationships in this sphere.

The relationship by nature and the relationship by character which exist among the three persons in the Godhead will be explained next. This will be done by means of the truths of nature and by means of natural examples and parallels.

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