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Home > Fathers of the Church > On the Trinity > Book VII

On the Trinity (Book VII)

The question is explained, which had been deferred in the previous book, viz. that God the Father, who begot the Son, His power and wisdom, is not only the Father of power and wisdom, but also Himself power and wisdom; and similarly the Holy Spirit: yet that there are not three powers or three wisdoms, but one power and one wisdom, as there is one God and one essence. Inquiry is then made, why the Latins say one essence, three persons, in God; but the Greeks, one essence, three substances or hypostases: and both modes of expression are shown to arise from the necessities of speech, that we might have an answer to give when asked, what three, while truly confessing that there are three, viz. the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 1.— Augustine Returns to the Question, Whether Each Person of the Trinity by Itself is Wisdom. With What Difficulty, or in What Way, the Proposed Question is to Be Solved.

1. Let us now inquire more carefully, so far as God grants, into that which a little before we deferred; whether each person also in the Trinity can also by Himself and not with the other two be called God, or great, or wise, or true, or omnipotent, or just, or anything else that can be said of God, not relatively, but absolutely; or whether these things cannot be said except when the Trinity is understood. For the question is raised—because it is written, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God, — whether He is so the Father of His own wisdom and His own power, as that He is wise with that wisdom which He begot, and powerful with that power which He begot; and whether, since He is always powerful and wise, He always begot power and wisdom. For if it be so, then, as we have said, why is He not also the Father of His own greatness by which He is great, and of His own goodness by which He is good, and of His own justice by which He is just, and whatever else there is? Or if all these things are understood, although under more names than one, to be in the same wisdom and power, so that that is greatness which is power, that is goodness which is wisdom, and that again is wisdom which is power, as we have already argued; then let us remember, that when I mention any one of these, I am to be taken as if I mentioned all. It is asked, then, whether the Father also by Himself is wise, and is Himself His own wisdom itself; or whether He is wise in the same way as He speaks. For He speaks by the Word which He begot, not by the word which is uttered, and sounds, and passes away, but by the Word which was with God, and the Word was God, and all things were made by Him: by the Word which is equal to Himself, by whom He always and unchangeably utters Himself. For He is not Himself the Word, as He is not the Son nor the image. But in speaking (putting aside those words of God in time which are produced in the creature, for they sound and pass away—in speaking then) by that co-eternal Word, He is not understood singly, but with that Word itself, without whom certainly He does not speak. Is He then in such way wise as He is one who speaks, so as to be in such way wisdom, as He is the Word, and so that to be the Word is to be wisdom, that is, also to be power, so that power and wisdom and the Word may be the same, and be so called relatively as the Son and the image: and that the Father is not singly powerful or wise, but together with the power and wisdom itself which He begot (genuit); just as He is not singly one who speaks, but by that Word and together with that Word which He begot; and in like way great by that and together with that greatness, which He begot? And if He is not great by one thing, and God by another, but great by that whereby He is God, because it is not one thing to Him to be great and another to be God; it follows that neither is He God singly, but by that and together with that deity (deitas) which He begot; so that the Son is the deity of the Father, as He is the wisdom and power of the Father, and as He is the Word and image of the Father. And because it is not one thing to Him to be, another to be God, the Son is also the essence of the Father, as He is His Word and image. And hence also— except that He is the Father [the Unbegotten]— the Father is not anything unless because He has the Son; so that not only that which is meant by Father (which it is manifest He is not called relatively to Himself but to the Son, and therefore is the Father because He has the Son), but that which He is in respect to His own substance is so called, because He begot His own essence. For as He is great, only with that greatness which He begot, so also He is, only with that essence which He begot; because it is not one thing to Him to be, and another to be great. Is He therefore the Father of His own essence, in the same way as He is the Father of His own greatness, as He is the Father of His own power and wisdom? Since His greatness is the same as His power, and His essence the same as His greatness.

2. This discussion has arisen from that which is written, that Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Wherefore our discourse is compressed into these narrow limits, while we desire to speak things unspeakable; that either we must say that Christ is not the power of God and the wisdom of God, and so shamelessly and impiously resist the apostle; or we must acknowledge that Christ is indeed the power of God and the wisdom of God, but that His Father is not the Father of His own power and wisdom, which is not less impious; for so neither will He be the Father of Christ, because Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God; or that the Father is not powerful with His own power, or wise with His own wisdom: and who shall dare to say this? Or yet, again, that we must understand, that in the Father it is one thing to be, another thing to be wise, so that He is not by that by which He is wise: a thing usually understood of the soul, which is at some times unwise, at others wise; as being by nature changeable, and not absolutely and perfectly simple. Or, again, that the Father is not anything in respect to His own substance; and that not only that He is the Father, but that He is, is said relatively to the Son. How then can the Son be of the same essence as the Father, seeing that the Father, in respect to Himself, is neither His own essence, nor is at all in respect to Himself, but even His essence is in relation to the Son? But, on the contrary, much more is He of one and the same essence, since the Father and Son are one and the same essence; seeing that the Father has His being itself not in respect to Himself, but to the Son, which essence He begot, and by which essence He is whatever He is. Therefore neither [person] is in respect to Himself alone; and both exist relatively the one to the other. Or is the Father alone not called Father of himself, but whatever He is called, is called relatively to the Son, but the Son is predicated of in reference to Himself? And if it be so, what is predicated of Him in reference to Himself? Is it His essence itself? But the Son is the essence of the Father, as He is the power and wisdom of the Father, as He is the Word of the Father, and the image of the Father. Or if the Son is called essence in reference to Himself, but the Father is not essence, but the begetter of the essence, and is not in respect to Himself, but is by that very essence which He begot; as He is great by that greatness which He begot: therefore the Son is also called greatness in respect to Himself; therefore He is also called, in like manner, power, and wisdom, and word, and image. But what can be more absurd than that He should be called image in respect to Himself? Or if image and word are not the very same with power and wisdom, but the former are spoken relatively, and the latter in respect to self, not to another; then we get to this, that the Father is not wise with that wisdom which He begot, because He Himself cannot be spoken relatively to it, and it cannot be spoken relatively to Him. For all things which are said relatively are said reciprocally; therefore it remains that even in essence the Son is spoken of relatively to the Father. But from this is educed a most unexpected sense: that essence itself is not essence, or at least that, when it is called essence, not essence but something relative is intimated. As when we speak of a master, essence is not intimated, but a relative which has reference to a slave; but when we speak of a man, or any such thing which is said in respect to self not to something else, then essence is intimated. Therefore when a man is called a master, man himself is essence, but he is called master relatively; for he is called man in respect to himself, but master in respect to his slave. But in regard to the point from which we started, if essence itself is spoken relatively, essence itself is not essence. Add further, that all essence which is spoken of relatively, is also something, although the relation be taken away; as e.g. in the case of a man who is a master, and a man who is a slave, and a horse that is a beast of burden, and money that is a pledge, the man, and the horse, and the money are spoken in respect to themselves, and are substances or essences; but master, and slave, and beast of burden, and pledge, are spoken relatively to something. But if there were not a man, that is, some substance, there would be none who could be called relatively a master; and if there were no horse having a certain essence, there would be nothing that could be called relatively a beast of burden; so if money were not some kind of substance, it could not be called relatively a pledge. Wherefore, if the Father also is not something in respect to Himself then there is no one at all that can be spoken of relatively to something. For it is not as it is with color. The color of a thing is referred to the thing colored, and color is not spoken at all in reference to substance, but is always of something that is colored; but that thing of which it is the color, even if it is referred to color in respect to its being colored, is yet, in respect to its being a body, spoken of in respect to substance. But in no way may we think, in like manner, that the Father cannot be called anything in respect to His own substance, but that whatever He is called, He is called in relation to the Son; while the same Son is spoken of both in respect to His own substance and in relation to the Father, when He is called great greatness, and powerful power, plainly in respect to Himself, and the greatness and power of the great and powerful Father, by which the Father is great and powerful. It is not so; but both are substance, and both are one substance. And as it is absurd to say that whiteness is not white, so is it absurd to say that wisdom is not wise; and as whiteness is called white in respect to itself, so also wisdom is called wise in respect to itself. But the whiteness of a body is not an essence, since the body itself is the essence, and that is a quality of it; and hence also a body is said from that quality to be white, to which body to be is not the same thing as to be white. For the form in it is one thing, and the color another; and both are not in themselves, but in a certain bulk, which bulk is neither form nor color, but is formed and colored. True wisdom is both wise, and wise in itself. And since in the case of every soul that becomes wise by partaking of wisdom, if it again becomes foolish, yet wisdom in itself remains; nor when that soul was changed into folly is the wisdom likewise so changed; therefore wisdom is not in him who becomes wise by it, in the same manner as whiteness is in the body which is by it made white. For when the body has been changed into another color, that whiteness will not remain, but will altogether cease to be. But if the Father who begot wisdom is also made wise by it, and to be is not to Him the same as to be wise, then the Son is His quality, not His offspring; and there will no longer be absolute simplicity in the Godhead. But far be it from being so, since in truth in the Godhead is absolutely simple essence, and therefore to be is there the same as to be wise. But if to be is there the same as to be wise, then the Father is not wise by that wisdom which He begot; otherwise He did not beget it, but it begot Him. For what else do we say when we say, that to Him to be is the same as to be wise, unless that He is by that whereby He is wise? Wherefore, that which is the cause to Him of being wise, is itself also the cause to Him that He is; and accordingly, if the wisdom which He begot is the cause to Him of being wise, it is also the cause to Him that He is; and this cannot be the case, except either by begetting or by creating Him. But no one ever said in any sense that wisdom is either the begetter or the creator of the Father; for what could be more senseless? Therefore both the Father Himself is wisdom, and the Son is in such way called the wisdom of the Father, as He is called the light of the Father; that is, that in the same manner as light from light, and yet both one light, so we are to understand wisdom of wisdom, and yet both one wisdom; and therefore also one essence, since, in God, to be, is the same as to be wise. For what to be wise is to wisdom, and to be able is to power, and to be eternal is to eternity, and to be just to justice, and to be great to greatness, that being itself is to essence. And since in the Divine simplicity, to be wise is nothing else than to be, therefore wisdom there is the same as essence.

Chapter 2.— The Father and the Son are Together One Wisdom, as One Essence, Although Not Together One Word.

3. Therefore the Father and the Son together are one essence, and one greatness, and one truth, and one wisdom. But the Father and Son both together are not one Word, because both together are not one Son. For as the Son is referred to the Father, and is not so called in respect to Himself, so also the Word is referred to him whose Word it is, when it is called the Word. Since He is the Son in that He is the Word, and He is the Word in that He is the Son. Inasmuch, therefore, as the Father and the Son together are certainly not one Son, it follows that the Father and the Son together are not the one Word of both. And therefore He is not the Word in that He is wisdom; since He is not called the Word in respect to Himself, but only relatively to Him whose Word He is, as He is called the Son in relation to the Father; but He is wisdom by that whereby He is essence. And therefore, because one essence, one wisdom. But since the Word is also wisdom, yet is not thereby the Word because He is wisdom for He is understood to be the Word relatively, but wisdom essentially: let us understand, that when He is called the Word, it is meant, wisdom that is born, so as to be both the Son and the Image; and that when these two words are used, namely wisdom (is) born, in one of the two, namely born, both Word, and Image, and Son, are understood, and in all these names essence is not expressed, since they are spoken relatively; but in the other word, namely wisdom, since it is spoken also in respect to substance, for wisdom is wise in itself, essence also is expressed, and that being of His which is to be wise. Whence the Father and Son together are one wisdom, because one essence, and singly wisdom of wisdom, as essence of essence. And hence they are not therefore not one essence, because the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, or because the Father is un-begotten, but the Son is begotten: since by these names only their relative attributes are expressed. But both together are one wisdom and one essence; in which to be, is the same as to be wise. And both together are not the Word or the Son, since to be is not the same as to be the Word or the Son, as we have already sufficiently shown that these terms are spoken relatively.

Chapter 3.— Why the Son Chiefly is Intimated in the Scriptures by the Name of Wisdom, While Both the Father and the Holy Spirit are Wisdom. That the Holy Spirit, Together with the Father and the Son, is One Wisdom.

4. Why, then, is scarcely anything ever said in the Scriptures of wisdom, unless to show that it is begotten or created of God?— begotten in the case of that Wisdom by which all things are made; but created or made, as in men, when they are converted to that Wisdom which is not created and made but begotten, and are so enlightened; for in these men themselves there comes to be something which may be called their wisdom: even as the Scriptures foretell or narrate, that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; for in this way Christ was made wisdom, because He was made man. Is it on this account that wisdom does not speak in these books, nor is anything spoken of it, except to declare that it is born of God, or made by Him (although the Father is Himself wisdom), namely, because wisdom ought to be commended and imitated by us, by the imitation of which we are fashioned [rightly]? For the Father speaks it, that it may be His Word: yet not as a word producing a sound proceeds from the mouth, or is thought before it is pronounced. For this word is completed in certain spaces of time, but that is eternal, and speaks to us by enlightening us, what ought to be spoken to men, both of itself and of the Father. And therefore He says, No man knows the Son, but the Father; neither knows any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him: since the Father reveals by the Son, that is, by His Word. For if that word which we utter, and which is temporal and transitory, declares both itself, and that of which we speak, how much more the Word of God, by which all things are made? For this Word so declares the Father as He is the Father; because both itself so is, and is that which is the Father, in so far as it is wisdom and essence. For in so far as it is the Word, it is not what the Father is; because the Word is not the Father, and Word is spoken relatively, as is also Son, which assuredly is not the Father. And therefore Christ is the power and wisdom of God, because He Himself, being also power and wisdom, is from the Father, who is power and wisdom; as He is light of the Father, who is light, and the fountain of life with God the Father, who is Himself assuredly the fountain of life. For with You, He says, is the fountain of life, and in Your light shall we see light. Because, as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself: and, He was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world: and this light, the Word, was with God; but the Word also was God; and God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all: but a light that is not corporeal, but spiritual; yet not in such way spiritual, that it was wrought by illumination, as it was said to the apostles, You are the light of the world, but the light which lights every man, that very supreme wisdom itself who is God, of whom we now treat. The Son therefore is Wisdom of wisdom, namely the Father, as He is Light of light, and God of God; so that both the Father singly is light, and the Son singly is light; and the Father singly is God, and the Son singly is God: therefore the Father also singly is wisdom, and the Son singly is wisdom. And as both together are one light and one God, so both are one wisdom. But the Son is by God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification; because we turn ourselves to Him in time, that is, from some particular time, that we may remain with Him for ever. And He Himself from a certain time was the Word made flesh, and dwelt among us.

5. On this account, then, when anything concerning wisdom is declared or narrated in the Scriptures, whether as itself speaking, or where anything is spoken of it, the Son chiefly is intimated to us. And by the example of Him who is the image, let us also not depart from God, since we also are the Image of God: not indeed that which is equal to Him, since we are made so by the Father through the Son, and not born of the Father, as that is. And we are so, because we are enlightened with light; but that is so, because it is the light that enlightens; and which, therefore, being without pattern, is to us a pattern. For He does not imitate any one going before Him, in respect to the Father, from whom He is never separable at all, since He is the very same substance with Him from whom He is. But we by striving imitate Him who abides, and follow Him who stands still, and walking in Him, reach out towards Him; because He is made for us a way in time by His humiliation, which is to us an eternal abiding-place by His divinity. For since to pure intellectual spirits, who have not fallen through pride, He gives an example in the form of God and as equal with God and as God; so, in order that He might also give Himself as an example of returning to fallen man who on account of the uncleanness of sins and the punishment of mortality cannot see God, He emptied Himself; not by changing His own divinity, but by assuming our changeableness: and taking upon Him the form of a servant He came to us into this world, who was in this world, because the world was made by Him; that He might be an example upwards to those who see God, an example downwards to those who admire man, an example to the sound to persevere, an example to the sick to be made whole, an example to those who are to die that they may not fear, an example to the dead that they may rise again, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence. So that, because man ought not to follow any except God to blessedness, and yet cannot perceive God; by following God made man, he might follow at once Him whom he could perceive, and whom he ought to follow. Let us then love Him and cleave to Him, by charity spread abroad in our hearts, through the Holy Spirit which is given unto us. It is not therefore to be wondered at, if, on account of the example which the Image, which is equal to the Father, gives to us, in order that we may be refashioned after the image of God, Scripture, when it speaks of wisdom, speaks of the Son, whom we follow by living wisely; although the Father also is wisdom, as He is both light and God.

6. The Holy Spirit also, whether we are to call Him that absolute love which joins together Father and Son, and joins us also from beneath, that so that is not unfitly said which is written, God is love; how is He not also Himself wisdom, since He is light, because God is light? Or whether after any other way the essence of the Holy Spirit is to be singly and properly named; then, too, since He is God, He is certainly light; and since He is light, He is certainly wisdom. But that the Holy Spirit is God, Scripture proclaims by the apostle, who says, Do you not know that you are the temple of God? and immediately subjoins, And the Spirit of God dwells in you; for God dwells in His own temple. For the Spirit of God does not dwell in the temple of God as a servant, since he says more plainly in another place, Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, and which you have of God, and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price: therefore glorify God in your body. But what is wisdom, except spiritual and unchangeable light? For yonder sun also is light, but it is corporeal; and the spiritual creature also is light, but it is not unchangeable. Therefore the Father is light, the Son is light, and the Holy Spirit is light; but together not three lights, but one light. And so the Father is wisdom, the Son is wisdom, and the Holy Spirit is wisdom, and together not three wisdoms, but one wisdom: and because in the Trinity to be is the same as to be wise, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one essence. Neither in the Trinity is it one thing to be and another to be God; therefore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one God.

Chapter 4.— How It Was Brought About that the Greeks Speak of Three Hypostases, the Latins of Three Persons. Scripture Nowhere Speaks of Three Persons in One God.

7. For the sake, then, of speaking of things that cannot be uttered, that we may be able in some way to utter what we are able in no way to utter fully, our Greek friends have spoken of one essence, three substances; but the Latins of one essence or substance, three persons; because, as we have already said, essence usually means nothing else than substance in our language, that is, in Latin. And provided that what is said is understood only in a mystery, such a way of speaking was sufficient, in order that there might be something to say when it was asked what the three are, which the true faith pronounces to be three, when it both declares that the Father is not the Son, and that the Holy Spirit, which is the gift of God, is neither the Father nor the Son. When, then, it is asked what the three are, or who the three are, we betake ourselves to the finding out of some special or general name under which we may embrace these three; and no such name occurs to the mind, because the super-eminence of the Godhead surpasses the power of customary speech. For God is more truly thought than He is altered, and exists more truly than He is thought. For when we say that Jacob was not the same as Abraham, but that Isaac was neither Abraham nor Jacob, certainly we confess that they are three, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But when it is asked what three, we reply three men, calling them in the plural by a specific name; but if we were to say three animals, then by a generic name; for man, as the ancients have defined him, is a rational, mortal animal: or again, as our Scriptures usually speak, three souls, since it is fitting to denominate the whole from the better part, that is, to denominate both body and soul, which is the whole man, from the soul; for so it is said that seventy-five souls went down into Egypt with Jacob, instead of saying so many men. Again, when we say that your horse is not mine, and that a third belonging to some one else is neither mine nor yours, then we confess that there are three; and if any one ask what three, we answer three horses by a specific name, but three animals by a generic one. And yet again, when we say that an ox is not a horse, but that a dog is neither an ox nor a horse, we speak of a three; and if any one questions us what three, we do not speak now by a specific name of three horses, or three oxen, or three dogs, because the three are not contained under the same species, but by a generic name, three animals; or if under a higher genus, three substances, or three creatures, or three natures. But whatsoever things are expressed in the plural number specifically by one name, can also be expressed generically by one name. But all things which are generically called by one name cannot also be called specifically by one name. For three horses, which is a specific name, we also call three animals; but, a horse, and an ox, and a dog, we call only three animals or substances, which are generic names, or anything else that can be spoken generically concerning them; but we cannot speak of them as three horses, or oxen, or dogs, which are specific names; for we express those things by one name, although in the plural number, which have that in common that is signified by the name. For Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, have in common that which is man; therefore they are called three men: a horse also, and an ox, and a dog, have in common that which is animal; therefore they are called three animals. So three several laurels we also call three trees; but a laurel, and a myrtle, and an olive, we call only three trees, or three substances, or three natures: and so three stones we call also three bodies; but stone, and wood, and iron, we call only three bodies, or by any other higher generic name by which they can be called. Of the Father, therefore, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, seeing that they are three, let us ask what three they are, and what they have in common. For the being the Father is not common to them, so that they should be interchangeably fathers to one another: as friends, since they are so called relatively to each other, can be called three friends, because they are so mutually to each other. But this is not the case in the Trinity, since the Father only is there father; and not Father of two, but of the Son only. Neither are they three Sons, since the Father there is not the Son, nor is the Holy Spirit. Neither three Holy Spirits, because the Holy Spirit also, in that proper meaning by which He is also called the gift of God, is neither the Father nor the Son. What three therefore? For if three persons, then that which is meant by person is common to them; therefore this name is either specific or generic to them, according to the manner of speaking. But where there is no difference of nature, there things that are several in number are so expressed generically, that they can also be expressed specifically. For the difference of nature causes, that a laurel, and a myrtle, and an olive, or a horse, and an ox, and a dog, are not called by the specific name, the former of three laurels, or the latter of three oxen, but by the generic name, the former of three trees, and the latter of three animals. But here, where there is no difference of essence, it is necessary that these three should have a specific name, which yet is not to be found. For person is a generic name, insomuch that man also can be so called, although there is so great a difference between man and God.

8. Further, in regard to that very generic (generalis) word, if on this account we say three persons, because that which person means is common to them (otherwise they can in no way be so called, just as they are not called three sons, because that which son means is not common to them); why do we not also say three Gods? For certainly, since the Father is a person, and the Son a person, and the Holy Spirit a person, therefore there are three persons: since then the Father is God, and the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God, why not three Gods? Or else, since on account of their ineffable union these three are together one God, why not also one person; so that we could not say three persons, although we call each a person singly, just as we cannot say three Gods, although we call each singly God, whether the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit? Is it because Scripture does not say three Gods? But neither do we find that Scripture anywhere mentions three persons. Or is it because Scripture does not call these three, either three persons or one person (for we read of the person of the Lord, but not of the Lord as a person), that therefore it was lawful through the mere necessity of speaking and reasoning to say three persons, not because Scripture says it, but because Scripture does not contradict it: whereas, if we were to say three Gods, Scripture would contradict it, which says, Hear, O Israel; the Lord your God is one God? Why then is it not also lawful to say three essences; which, in like manner, as Scripture does not say, so neither does it contradict? For if essence is a specific (specialis) name common to three, why are They not to be called three essences, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are called three men, because man is the specific name common to all men? But if essence is not a specific name, but a generic one, since man, and cattle, and tree, and constellation, and angel, are called essences; why are not these called three essences, as three horses are called three animals, and three laurels are called three trees, and three stones three bodies? Or if they are not called three essences, but one essence, on account of the unity of the Trinity, why is it not the case, that on account of the same unity of the Trinity they are not to be called three substances or three persons, but one substance and one person? For as the name of essence is common to them, so that each singly is called essence, so the name of either substance or person is common to them. For that which must be understood of persons according to our usage, this is to be understood of substances according to the Greek usage; for they say three substances, one essence, in the same way as we say three persons, one essence or substance.

9. What therefore remains, except that we confess that these terms sprang from the necessity of speaking, when copious reasoning was required against the devices or errors of the heretics? For when human weakness endeavored to utter in speech to the senses of man what it grasps in the secret places of the mind in proportion to its comprehension respecting the Lord God its creator, whether by devout faith, or by any discernment whatsoever; it feared to say three essences, lest any difference should be understood to exist in that absolute equality. Again, it could not say that there were not three somewhats (tria quædam), for it was because Sabellius said this that he fell into heresy. For it must be devoutly believed, as most certainly known from the Scriptures, and must be grasped by the mental eye with undoubting perception, that there is both Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit; and that the Son is not the same with the Father, nor the Holy Spirit the same with the Father or the Son. It sought then what three it should call them, and answered substances or persons; by which names it did not intend diversity to be meant, but singleness to be denied: that not only unity might be understood therein from the being called one essence, but also Trinity from the being called three substances or persons. For if it is the same thing with God to be (esse) as to subsist (subsistere), they were not to be called three substances, in such sense as they are not called three essences; just as, because it is the same thing with God to be as to be wise, as we do not say three essences, so neither three wisdoms. For so, because it is the same thing to Him to be God as to be, it is not right to say three essences, as it is not right to say three Gods. But if it is one thing to God to be, another to subsist, as it is one thing to God to be, another to be the Father or the Lord (for that which He is, is spoken in respect to Himself, but He is called Father in relation to the Son, and Lord in relation to the creature which serves Him); therefore He subsists relatively, as He begets relatively, and bears rule relatively: so then substance will be no longer substance, because it will be relative. For as from being, He is called essence, so from subsisting, we speak of substance. But it is absurd that substance should be spoken relatively, for everything subsists in respect to itself; how much more God?

Chapter 5.— In God, Substance is Spoken Improperly, Essence Properly.

10. If, however, it is fitting that God should be said to subsist— (For this word is rightly applied to those things, in which as subjects those things are, which are said to be in a subject, as color or shape in body. For body subsists, and so is substance; but those things are in the body, which subsists and is their subject, and they are not substances, but are in a substance: and so, if either that color or that shape ceases to be, it does not deprive the body of being a body, because it is not of the being of body, that it should retain this or that shape or color; therefore neither changeable nor simple things are properly called substances.)— If, I say, God subsists so that He can be properly called a substance, then there is something in Him as it were in a subject, and He is not simple, i.e. such that to Him to be is the same as is anything else that is said concerning Him in respect to Himself; as, for instance, great, omnipotent, good, and whatever of this kind is not unfitly said of God. But it is an impiety to say that God subsists, and is a subject in relation to His own goodness, and that this goodness is not a substance or rather essence, and that God Himself is not His own goodness, but that it is in Him as in a subject. And hence it is clear that God is improperly called substance, in order that He may be understood to be, by the more usual name essence, which He is truly and properly called; so that perhaps it is right that God alone should be called essence. For He is truly alone, because He is unchangeable; and declared this to be His own name to His servant Moses, when He says, I am that I am; and, Thus shall you say unto the children of Israel: He who is has sent me unto you. However, whether He be called essence, which He is properly called, or substance, which He is called improperly, He is called both in respect to Himself, not relatively to anything; whence to God to be is the same thing as to subsist; and so the Trinity, if one essence, is also one substance. Perhaps therefore they are more conveniently called three persons than three substances.

Chapter 6.— Why We Do Not in the Trinity Speak of One Person, and Three Essences. What He Ought to Believe Concerning the Trinity Who Does Not Receive What is Said Above. Man is Both After the Image, and is the Image of God.

11. But lest I should seem to favor ourselves [the Latins], let us make this further inquiry. Although they [the Greeks] also, if they pleased, as they call three substances three hypostases, so might call three persons three prosopa, yet they preferred that word which, perhaps, was more in accordance with the usage of their language. For the case is the same with the word persons also; for to God it is not one thing to be, another to be a person, but it is absolutely the same thing. For if to be is said in respect to Himself, but person relatively; in this way we should say three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; just as we speak of three friends, or three relations, or three neighbors, in that they are so mutually, not that each one of them is so in respect to himself. Wherefore any one of these is the friend of the other two, or the relation, or the neighbor, because these names have a relative signification. What then? Are we to call the Father the person of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, or the Son the person of the Father and of the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit the person of the Father and of the Son? But neither is the word person commonly so used in any case; nor in this Trinity, when we speak of the person of the Father, do we mean anything else than the substance of the Father. Wherefore, as the substance of the Father is the Father Himself, not as He is the Father, but as He is, so also the person of the Father is not anything else than the Father Himself; for He is called a person in respect to Himself, not in respect to the Son, or the Holy Spirit: just as He is called in respect to Himself both God and great, and good, and just, and anything else of the kind; and just as to Him to be is the same as to be God, or as to be great, or as to be good, so it is the same thing to Him to be, as to be a person. Why, therefore, do we not call these three together one person, as one essence and one God, but say three persons, while we do not say three Gods or three essences; unless it be because we wish some one word to serve for that meaning whereby the Trinity is understood, that we might not be altogether silent, when asked, what three, while we confessed that they are three? For if essence is the genus, and substance or person the species, as some think, then I must omit what I just now said, that they ought to be called three essences, as they are called three substances or persons; as three horses are called three horses, and the same are called three animals, since horse is the species, animal the genus. For in this case the species is not spoken of in the plural, and the genus in the singular, as if we were to say that three horses were one animal; but as they are three horses by the special name, so they are three animals by the generic one. But if they say that the name of substance or person does not signify species, but something singular and individual; so that any one is not so called a substance or person as he is called a man, for man is common to all men, but in the same manner as he is called this or that man, as Abraham, as Isaac, as Jacob, or anyone else who, if present, could be pointed out with the finger: so will the same reason reach these too. For as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are called three individuals, so are they called three men, and three souls. Why then are both the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, if we are to reason about them also according to genus and species and individual, not so called three essences, as they are called three substances or persons? But this, as I said, I pass over: but I do affirm, that if essence is a genus, then a single essence has no species; just as, because animal is a genus, a single animal has no species. Therefore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three species of one essence. But if essence is a species, as man is a species, but those are three which we call substances or persons, then they have the same species in common, in such way as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have in common the species which is called man; not as man is subdivided into Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so can one man also be subdivided into several single men; for this is altogether impossible, since one man is already a single man. Why then is one essence subdivided into three substances or persons? For if essence is a species, as man is, then one essence is as one man is: or do we, as we say that any three human beings of the same sex, of the same constitution of body, of the same mind, are one nature,— for they are three human beings, but one nature,— so also say in the Trinity three substances one essence, or three persons one substance or essence? But this is somehow a parallel case, since the ancients also who spoke Latin, before they had these terms, which have not long come into use, that is, essence or substance, used for them to say nature. We do not therefore use these terms according to genus or species, but as if according to a matter that is common and the same. Just as if three statues were made of the same gold, we should say three statues one gold, yet should neither call the gold genus, and the statues species; nor the gold species, and the statues individuals. For no species goes beyond its own individuals, so as to comprehend anything external to them. For when I define what man is, which is a specific name, every several man that exists is contained in the same individual definition, neither does anything belong to it which is not a man. But when I define gold, not statues alone, if they be gold, but rings also, and anything else that is made of gold, will belong to gold; and even if nothing were made of it, it would still be called gold; since, even if there were no gold statues, there will not therefore be no statues at all. Likewise no species goes beyond the definition of its genus. For when I define animal, since horse is a species of this genus, every horse is an animal; but every statue is not gold. So, although in the case of three golden statues we should rightly say three statues, one gold; yet we do not so say it, as to understand gold to be the genus, and the statues to be species. Therefore neither do we so call the Trinity three persons or substances, one essence and one God, as though three somethings subsisted out of one matter [leaving a remainder, i. e.]; although whatever that is, it is unfolded in these three. For there is nothing else of that essence besides the Trinity. Yet we say three persons of the same essence, or three persons one essence; but we do not say three persons out of the same essence, as though therein essence were one thing, and person another, as we can say three statues out of the same gold; for there it is one thing to be gold, another to be statues. And when we say three men one nature, or three men of the same nature, they also can be called three men out of the same nature, since out of the same nature there can be also three other such men. But in that essence of the Trinity, in no way can any other person whatever exist out of the same essence. Further, in these things, one man is not as much as three men together; and two men are something more than one man: and in equal statues, three together amount to more of gold than each singly, and one amounts to less of gold than two. But in God it is not so; for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together is not a greater essence than the Father alone or the Son alone; but these three substances or persons, if they must be so called, together are equal to each singly: which the natural man does not comprehend. For he cannot think except under the conditions of bulk and space, either small or great, since phantasms or as it were images of bodies flit about in his mind.

12. And until he be purged from this uncleanness, let him believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, alone, great, omnipotent, good, just, merciful, Creator of all things visible and invisible, and whatsoever can be worthily and truly said of Him in proportion to human capacity. And when he is told that the Father only is God, let him not separate from Him the Son or the Holy Spirit; for together with Him He is the only God, together with whom also He is one God; because, when we are told that the Son also is the only God, we must needs take it without any separation of the Father or the Holy Spirit. And let him so say one essence, as not to think one to be either greater or better than, or in any respect differing from, another. Yet not that the Father Himself is both Son and Holy Spirit, or whatever else each is singly called in relation to either of the others; as Word, which is not said except of the Son, or Gift, which is not said except of the Holy Spirit. And on this account also they admit the plural number, as it is written in the Gospel, I and my Father are one. He has both said one, and we are one, according to essence, because they are the same God; we are, according to relation, because the one is Father, the other is Son. Sometimes also the unity of the essence is left unexpressed, and the relatives alone are mentioned in the plural number: My Father and I will come unto him, and make our abode with him. We will come, and we will make our abode, is the plural number, since it was said before, I and my Father, that is, the Son and the Father, which terms are used relatively to one another. Sometimes the meaning is altogether latent, as in Genesis: Let us make man after our image and likeness. Both let us make and our is said in the plural, and ought not to be received except as of relatives. For it was not that gods might make, or make after the image and likeness of gods; but that the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit might make after the image of the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, that man might subsist as the image of God. And God is the Trinity. But because that image of God was not made altogether equal to Him, as being not born of Him, but created by Him; in order to signify this, he is in such way the image as that he is after the image, that is, he is not made equal by parity, but approaches to Him by a sort of likeness. For approach to God is not by intervals of place, but by likeness, and withdrawal from Him is by unlikeness. For there are some who draw this distinction, that they will have the Son to be the image, but man not to be the image, but after the image. But the apostle refutes them, saying, For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God. He did not say after the image, but the image. And this image, since it is elsewhere spoken of as after the image, is not as if it were said relatively to the Son, who is the image equal to the Father; otherwise he would not say after our image. For how our, when the Son is the image of the Father alone? But man is said to be after the image, on account, as we have said, of the inequality of the likeness; and therefore after our image, that man might be the image of the Trinity; not equal to the Trinity as the Son is equal to the Father, but approaching to it, as has been said, by a certain likeness; just as nearness may in a sense be signified in things distant from each other, not in respect of place, but of a sort of imitation. For it is also said, Be transformed by the renewing of your mind; to whom he likewise says, Be therefore imitators of God as dear children. For it is said to the new man, which is renewed to the knowledge of God, after the image of Him that created him. Or if we choose to admit the plural number, in order to meet the needs of argument, even putting aside relative terms, that so we may answer in one term when it is asked what three, and say three substances or three persons; then let no one think of any bulk or interval, or of any distance of howsoever little unlikeness, so that in the Trinity any should be understood to be even a little less than another, in whatsoever way one thing can be less than another: in order that there may be neither a confusion of persons, nor such a distinction as that there should be any inequality. And if this cannot be grasped by the understanding, let it be held by faith, until He shall dawn in the heart who says by the prophet, If you will not believe, surely you shall not understand.

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Source. Translated by Arthur West Haddan. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130107.htm>.

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