Lesson 4: The Son and the Holy Spirit

We have just considered the fatherhood of God in the previous lecture. For most of us it is not difficult to think of God the Father in personal terms. Over the centuries a number of heresies have denied or questioned that the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct Persons who are not identified with the Father. Others have asserted that they are indeed distinct persons, but that they are not divine Persons. According to these heretics, the Son and the Holy Spirit are creatures of the Father. So there was a time when they did not exist -- they are not eternal.

What do you think about this? Are the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit really divine Persons, distinct from the Father, but subsisting in the same divine essence? Are you able to pray convincingly to all three Persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to be always aware that you are praying to the one God?

What is the teaching of the Catholic Church on this matter? The Church teaches that there are three Persons in one God. This means that the Son and the Holy Spirit are Persons distinct from the Father, but that they are God just as he is God, since they are united in the same divine essence or being. In order to illustrate this, St. Patrick used a shamrock as a simple model -- it is one leaf with three protrusions; the same idea is also expressed by a triangle -- one figure with three points.

For scriptural confirmation of this belief we turn first to St. John's Gospel. In the Prologue (1:1-18), John writes about the Word of God: "In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God." According to John, the Word is not an attribute or power of God; the Word is a Person. This is indicated by stating that "the Word was with God." He also says that the Word "came to his own domain" (v. 11) and that "the Word became flesh." Both of these expressions can refer only to a Person, not to some divine attribute..

The Word is not only God, but is also a different Person from God the Father. This follows from the fact that the Word was "with God," and also from the identification of the Word with the only-begotten Son of the Father in verse 14: "We saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father."

John also says, "And the Word was God." This means that the Word is divine. The true deity of the Word is also implied by certain divine attributes given to him. John ascribes creation to him: "Through him all things came to be" (v. 3), and eternity: "In the beginning was the Word." In addition to St. John's Prologue, many other passages from the Bible could be cited to prove the personality and divinity of the Son of God, who is Jesus the Lord.

It is also an essential part of Catholic belief that the Holy Spirit is a real Person and not just another name for some of the activities of God the Father. This is shown by the Trinitarian formula of Baptism, "...in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). In this very important text the Holy Spirit is ranked on the same level with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is also given the personal title of "Paraclete," which means helper, or representative or advocate (John 14:16, 26; 15:26). In addition, personal qualities are ascribed to the Holy Spirit, such as teaching the truth (John 16:13) and installing bishops (Acts 20:28).

The Holy Spirit is not just a real divine Person; he is also distinct from the Father and the Son. This is proved by the Trinitarian formula of Baptism cited above. It is also indicated by the appearance of the Holy Spirit at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan under the special symbol of a dove (Matt. 3:16-17). Moreover, in his discourse at the Last Supper Jesus distinguishes between the Holy Spirit, as one who is sent, and the Father and the Son who send him (John 14:16, 26; 15:26).

The Holy Spirit is also a divine Person, co-equal with God the Father and God the Son. For proof of this we again turn to the Trinitarian formula of Baptism in which the Holy Spirit is mentioned as equal to the Father and to the Son who are truly God. Another proof of the divinity of the Holy Spirit is the fact that the NT ascribed divine attributes to him. The Holy Spirit, according to Scripture, possesses the fullness of knowledge: he teaches all truth (John 16:13) and searches the innermost secrets of God (1 Cor. 2:10). The divine power of the Holy Spirit is revealed in the Incarnation of the Son of God (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:20) and in the miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2:2-4).

The biblical teaching of three Persons in one God can be reconciled with the same biblical doctrine of the oneness of the divine nature only if the three divine Persons subsist in one single nature or being. The numerical unity of the divine being is indicated in the Trinitarian formulas (esp. Matt. 28:19). Jesus explicitly declared the numerical unity of his divine nature with that of the Father when he said in John 10:30, "The Father and I are one." The same idea is expressed in John 14:9 when Jesus says to Philip, "He who has seen me has seen the Father."

In order to express the numerical unity of the essence of God, the Church says that the Son and the Holy Spirit are "one in being with the Father" or "consubstantial with the Father." The Greek word for this idea is "homoousion" which means "having the same substance." What the Father is in divinity, that is what the Son and the Holy Spirit are also. This expression was made normative and a test of orthodoxy for all time by the First Council of Nicaea in 325.

A final word. I realize that some of the ideas and expression connected with the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity are difficult to understand the first time you hear them. A careful study of the early creeds mentioned previously will help in this regard.

The biblical texts cited in this lesson are all important and should be studied carefully in order to attain a better understanding of the distinctness of the three Persons in the Trinity, their divinity, and their consubstantiality. The most important ones are:

-- Matt. 28:19 = mission to baptize

-- Matt. 3:16-17 = theophany at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river

-- John 14:16, 26; 15:26 = the sending of the Holy Spirit

-- 1 Cor. 12:4-6 = distribution of charisms attributed to all three Persons

-- 2 Cor. 13:13 = invocation of the three Persons

Reading Assignment

Read the article on the Holy Trinity in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. 14; or in the original Catholic Encyclopedia (1909). 

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, QQ. 34, 35 and 36.

Writing Assignment

Write a three page essay giving the theological evidence from Holy Scripture and from the Magisterium of the Church that the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct Persons and that they are divine.


Read Book III of St. Augustine's De Trinitate (On the Holy Trinity). 


Purchase This Course                               << Previous               Next >>                                   Return to Top