Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: THE MYSTERY OF THE TRINITY IS NEITHER UNREASONABLE NOR INCREDIBLE. - The Triumph of the Cross
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CHAPTER III.: THE MYSTERY OF THE TRINITY IS NEITHER UNREASONABLE NOR INCREDIBLE. - Girolamo Savonarola, The Triumph of the Cross 
The Triumph of the Cross, trans. from the Italian, edited, with an Introduction by the Very Rev. Father John Procter, S.T.L. With a frontispiece portrait of the author (London: Sands & Co., 1901).
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THE MYSTERY OF THE TRINITY IS NEITHER UNREASONABLE NOR INCREDIBLE.
Passing over the first principle of the Christian Faith, viz., the unity of God, we will proceed to the second article which is pre-eminently difficult, viz., the Unity in Trinity. By this we mean that the three Persons,—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,—are not three Gods or three natures, but One God and One Nature. We hold that there is One God, of most pure nature; and our belief is in no wise contrary to philosophy. Although we believe that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are One God, we do not teach, as Sabellius taught, that one Person is called at one time Father, at one time Son, and at another time Holy Ghost. Nor, do we hold, as was held by Arius, that the three Persons are substantially different, and that the Son is inferior and posterior to the Father, and the Holy Ghost inferior and posterior to the Father and the Son. We profess, against Sabellius, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct Persons. We teach, against Arius, that they are of one and the same nature, and equal in power and glory; so that all that belongs to the Father, belongs likewise to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; and all that belongs to the Son, belongs equally to the Father and the Holy Ghost; and all that belongs to the Holy Ghost, belongs, in like manner, to the Father and the Son. Thus, there is not between the Divine Persons the natural distinction which exists among creatures, consequent upon the more or less that each possesses, but merely a relative distinction. By which we mean that the Father possesses all that He has, of Himself, and from none other; that the Son, who has all that the Father has, derives it from the Father; and that the Holy Ghost, who has all that have the Father and the Son, receives it from Father and Son. Nor, on this account, are the Son and the Holy Ghost inferior to the Father, for they are One with Him in Nature and in dignity. Neither did the Father exist before the Son, nor the Son before the Holy Ghost. For, God, being immutable and eternal, the Father could not be God before He was the Father, and was always God and Father; and as He could not be Father without a Son, the Son is necessarily co-eternal with Him; and as the Holy Ghost is love, and the Father and the Son have loved each other from all eternity, they can never have existed without breathing forth the Holy Ghost. Neither is there any composition in the Divine Essence; for we believe that each of the Persons is One and the Same with the Divine Nature. Human reason cannot understand how in God, who is Pure Act and Simple Substance, there can be three Persons so completely distinct that One is not the Other, so that the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, nor the Holy Ghost the Father and the Son, nor the Father and the Son the Holy Ghost; and yet at the same time the Father is the same Simple Nature as the Son, and the Son as the Father, and the Holy Ghost as the Father and the Son. For in God there is Personal, but not natural, distinction; and as we name things according to our knowledge of them, and knowing God by means of creatures, we name Him by names derived from creatures. Now, among creatures, the production of one living being from another living being is called generation, and the one who begets is termed father, and the one begotten, son. And as in God, one living Person proceeds from another living Person, we term this procession generation, and He from whom the other Person proceeds is called the Father, and the Person who proceeds we name the Son. This generation, unlike that of men and animals, is wholly spiritual and Divine. And therefore we say that the Son is the Word, the Image, and the Begotten Wisdom of the Father. But the procession of the Holy Ghost, who is Love, is from the Father and the Son, because love is the union between the lover and the beloved, and thus the Holy Ghost proceeds immediately from two perfect Persons, the Father and the Son. But because, in the order of nature, nothing can be found which proceeds immediately from two equally perfect beings, no special name has been found for the Holy Ghost and His procession; and therefore the general term procession has been retained. It is correct, however, to call this procession the spiration of the Father and the Son, because the Holy Ghost proceeds by love, which implies a certain impetus, or breathing forth, towards the thing beloved. It is for this reason that the Person proceeding from the Father and the Son is called, par excellence,the Holy Spirit, although both the Father and the Son are equally Spirits and equally Holy. And because in intellectual nature, there are but two processions—the one by means of the understanding, the other by means of the will—faith reasonably teaches that in God there are but two processions and three Persons.
Any one who desires to learn more about the mystery of the Holy Trinity, will find inexhaustible treasures of knowledge in the writings of the Fathers. We have stated only the mere substance of the Faith, and have been content to show that in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity there is nothing incredible or unreasonable. Faith teaches nothing contrary to reason, but merely declares, that we cannot, by natural reason alone, arrive at the knowledge of Divine things. For human reason can only, by means of creatures, know God as the Cause and Principle of created things. And, as God is the Principle and Cause of things, only by means of His Power, Wisdom, and Goodness, and as the three Divine Persons are not distinct in these attributes, but united in them, it follows that reason cannot, by means of creatures, apprehend the distinction of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. We do not say that we should not believe this mystery because we cannot understand It. For it is most foolish to gauge truth by our intellectual capacity; since in God there are infinite mysteries, unfathomable by the mind of man.
If we further consider the arguments set forth in the second Book, we can have no doubt as to the Mystery of the Trinity. Our faith in it is confirmed by certain peculiar reasons, one being that though this Mystery is above our reason, it is, in no sense, contrary to it, and that it is further rendered credible by the likeness borne to it by many created things. First, by means of the procession or emanation of creatures, the mind may rise in some sort to the contemplation of the Divine procession. For, in creatures we see processions of many kinds, of which those that belong to the more perfect nature are likewise most perfect and most interior. For example, there is in inanimate things a certain sort of generation. One fire generates another, the virtue of the generating fire passing into the one generated. This procession, however, is not perfect nor intrinsic; for it does not remain in the thing that generates, but passes into an object outside of itself. Plants, being animated, have procession more perfect and more intrinsic; for that which is generated from a plant belongs to the principle of the plant producing it, and is united to it. But here, as the thing produced is finally separated from the principle of the producer, this procession is not perfect nor intrinsic. As animals are more perfect than plants, we find in them more perfect and more intrinsic procession, and one rather spiritual than corporeal. Now, this procession is the operation of the senses which remains within the senses themselves. Nevertheless this operation, being caused by an extrinsic object, its procession is not wholly intrinsic. But the procession of the intellect is far more perfect and more interior; because, since the intellect of itself, and by no external aid, understands that which it understands, it forms its own operations within itself, produces the word and the likeness of the thing known, and is united, as it were, by love to that thing in such a way as to become an image of the Trinity—to wit: by understanding, word, and love. But, since all our knowledge has its origin in sense, the processions of our intellect are not wholly, but only partly, extrinsic. We shall find, if we consider the angelic intellect, that in it the procession of word and of love is more intrinsic and more perfect than is the case in the human intellect; because angelic cognition does not arise from sense, but is wholly interior. Nevertheless, as the whole of the angelic substance depends on God, we cannot say that the procession of word and of understanding in the angelic intellect is as intrinsic as if it depended on nothing extrinsic; and, therefore, it contains some imperfection. Knowing then, as we do, that creatures are noble in proportion as they are perfect and intrinsic, and understanding, likewise, that every effect endeavours to imitate its cause, our Faith surely teaches nothing unreasonable when it professes that, as the nobility of God infinitely surpasses the nobility of all creatures, there are in Him most perfect and intrinsic processions, arising from no extrinsic cause, and having no existence apart from His Substance; and that all creatures endeavour, in so far as they can, to imitate these processions, though they can never equal them in perfection, since the Divine Persons depend on nothing, but are God, the Cause of all things. We see, therefore, that the dogma of the Blessed Trinity contains nothing either impossible, or unreasonable.
There exists in the spiritual part of man’s nature a certain likeness to the Trinity, viz., understanding, word, and love. This likeness becomes more apparent when man his engaged in actual contemplation of God; for, then, his understanding is informed by the Divine light and presence representing the Father; he forms in his contemplation a concept of God which represents the Son, and is called the word of the mind; and the Divine love which springs from his understanding and his concept of God represents the Holy Spirit. Of course this human trinity is very remote from the Trinity of God, and differs from it exceedingly. For our intellectual word, and our love, are changeable, and are not the substance of our soul; whereas the Divine Word and the Divine Love are eternal, consubstantial with the Father. But in spite of this essential difference, so vivid a likeness to the Blessed Trinity is apparent in the nobler creatures that it is proved, that this doctrine is completely in accord with reason.
This likeness to the Blessed Trinity exists, not only in the superior, but also in the inferior, ranks of creation, since the perfection of every creature consists in three things, viz., beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is attributed to the Father, the middle to the Son, and the end to the Holy Ghost. We see, likewise, in creatures another trinity, that, namely, of substance, power, and operation. We might point out many other illustrations of the trace left by the Trinity upon creatures, and of their tendency to reproduce the number three, as if it were the sum of their perfection. Aristotle, the Prince of Peripatetics, following not faith but reason, says in his Heaven and Earth: “All things appear to be made up of threes”. And Pythagoras also concludes, that “all things are determined and perfected in this number three, which represents beginning, middle, and end,” and that “this number has been transferred from creatures to the gods”. And “if we speak of two things (he adds) we do not mean the sum total of things; but when we say three things we mean all things; for without the third thing, the quantity would be incomplete, and therefore imperfect, since perfection means completeness”. Pythagoras further adds, that “bodies being composed of three things—to wit length, breadth, and height—are perfect quantities”. By these examples, and by the arguments already brought forward, it becomes clear, that our belief in the Blessed Trinity is not unreasonable, but rather that this doctrine is a most credible, and, even according to our human standard, a most probable one. For, although far exceeding human reason, it is in no wise opposed to natural philosophy. It avails itself of the arguments of philosophy, thereby giving a most sure sign of its truth.