This last week our class on early and medieval Christian history moved into overviewing the work of Cappadocian fathers, who are primarily famous for helping Christianity define its beliefs in the Trinity. The importance of the interrelatedness of the Father, Son, and Spirit cannot be overstated. In fact, the importance of the Trinity is so great that by many Christians it is assumed to be a teaching from the Bible itself. While the Trinity is derived from our apostolic faith recorded in the Scriptures, the Bible does not explain or express these statements of faith fully.
This is the work of Christian theology: to express the truths of the confessed faith in ways that are understandable. The Trinity is an example of a belief that actually defies the ability to be explained fully, and is a mystery that can only be glimpsed in general ways.
The Father is God. The Son is God. The Son is not the Father, nor is the Father the Son They are not equal gods. The Son and the Father are essentially Father and Son because they are in relation to one another. So, the Son is God because he is begotten of the Father, not in a sense of chronological order but in a sense of relational necessity and logical order.
Then the question of the Spirit became a necessary battle in the early church. Did the Spirit exist in much of the same relatedness to the Father as the Son does? The East would say, Yes, but the Spirit is not “begotten,” rather the Spirit proceeds from the Father in a parallel way as the Son is begotten. This may reveal me as a Christian from the West, but I question if this is enough. How then is the Spirit and the Son related? If the Son is all that the Father is in his begotten state, except he is the Son and not the Father, then if the Spirit proceeds from the Father then I would expect that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well.
My current conception of the Spirit’s place in the Trinity, and I’m willing to be wrong here, is that the Spirit is the fullness of the Father and Son given to one another. The Father gives his whole person to the Son, and the Son’s response, in exact reflection of the Father, is to give himself fully to the Father. What come to my mind to form this idea are verses like when Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Lk 23:45), and also when the writer of Hebrews says that King Jesus offered his death to God through the eternal Spirit. There are other verses, but it seems that the relation between the Son and the Father is the Spirit himself.
If we have the Spirit as Christians it is in our participation in the divine life by our relation to the Son, and to be in the Son means to be filled with the Spirit, and through the Spirit we are in relation to the Father. By the life of the Trinity’s interrelationship, we humans are pulled into the very life of God. This is Christian salvation: participating in the life of God.
Christianity offers unity with God, but God does not absorb us so that we disappear. The Trinity reveals that difference and unity are one within God himself! God will never make us God, but we will become godly by living in his life for eternity. The Son has become human, but his divinity did not destroy our humanity, rather it purified it so that humanity might live eternally with God. Truly, without the Trinity there can be no salvation as Christianity teaches.