Lesson 6: Two Processions and Three Persons

As we have seen, we know from the NT, from the early creeds and from the teaching of the Church that there are three Persons in one God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Two questions that naturally occur to a Christian who begins to reflect on the mystery of the Holy Trinity are: 1) Where did the three Persons come from? and 2) How are the three related to each other? The answers to these questions are not easy.

The first question touches on the origin of the three Persons. According to the Bible, the Father is the source or the originator or the first principle of all things. Absolutely everything outside of God, that is, the world and the universe and all finite things were created by the Father. We profess our belief in that every Sunday when we pray the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. But what about the internal divine life? Can we say that the Father created the Son and the Holy Spirit? No, we cannot say that, for we have already seen in a previous lecture that the Son and the Holy Spirit are co-equal to the Father in divinity.

If the Father did not create the Son and the Holy Spirit, then where did they come from? The answer to this most difficult question is to be sought in Holy Scripture, Tradition and the faith of the Church. The Church teaches in this matter that in God there are two internal divine processions. By "procession" is meant the origin of one from another. A procession in this sense can be either external or internal, depending on whether the term of the procession goes outside the principle from which it proceeds or remains within it. Thus, creatures proceed from God by external procession, but the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed by an immanent act of the Most Holy Trinity, since they belong to the internal life of God. An "internal divine procession," therefore, refers to the origin of one divine Person from another through the communication of the numerically one divine essence.

The Catholic Creeds teach us that there are two internal divine processions: the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit (which, we shall see, is called "spiration"). Consider, for example, what we profess in the Creed at Sunday Mass: "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father"; and "We believe in the Holy Spirit...who proceeds from the Father and the Son." What does this mean? It means that from all eternity the Father generates the Son, and the Father along with the Son "breathes forth" the Holy Spirit. Thus there are two internal divine processions which give rise to three divine Persons.

Why is the word "procession" (= "coming forth") used for the internal divine activity? The reason is that Jesus himself used this expression according to St. John's Gospel. Thus in 8:42 Jesus says, "I proceeded from God." In 15:26 he says that he is going to send to the Church the Holy Spirit,"the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father." Accordingly, we learn from these and similar passages that there are two internal processions in God.

It is a dogma of the Catholic faith that the second divine Person proceeds from the first divine Person by an act of generation and therefore is related to him as Son to Father. The Nicene Creed says that Jesus Christ is "the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all time." The Athanasian Creed of the fifth-sixth century says: "The Son is not made or created, but he is generated by the Father alone."

According to the NT the first and second Persons stand to each other in relationship of a true fatherhood and sonship. The characteristic biblical name for the first Person is "Father," while that of the second Person is "Son." Jesus refers to the Father as "my own Father" (John 5:18),"He called God his own Father, making himself equal with God." Jesus is spoken of as God's "own Son" (Rom. 8:32), as "the only Son of the Father" (John 1:14), as "my beloved Son" (Matt. 3:17). Thus God's only-begotten Son is distinguished from the adopted children of God, which is what we are. Jesus, however, according to Scripture, is the natural Son of God. The eternal generation of the Son from the Father is clearly expressed in Psalm 2:7 and Hebrews 1:5, "You are my Son, this day I have begotten you."

The correct understanding of "generation" here is most important. The theologians define it as the origin of a living being from a living principle of the same nature.

From the Creed at Mass we know that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son." The Athanasian Creed states: "The Holy Spirit is not made nor created nor generated, but proceeds from the Father and the Son." It is also a matter of Catholic faith that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son "as from one principle." Thus, there are not two principles of the Holy Spirit, but only one. The Second Council of Lyons in 1274 proclaimed as part of Catholic faith: "We confess that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as from two principles, but as from one."

By divine revelation and the explicit teaching of the Church, therefore, we know that in the inner life of God there are two processions and three divine Persons.

Reading Assignment

In order to understand the Church's teaching on the Trinity it is absolutely necessary to know what she says about the two processions in God. So read what St. Thomas says in the Summa Theologica I, Q. 27, a. 1-5.

Writing Assignment

In an essay of about 1000 words explain the two processions in God and show how the concept of "procession" is based on the Scriptures.


Read the articles in one or two Catholic Encyclopedias on the two divine processions.


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