I continue to blog through the writing process of a book on the inseparable operations of the Trinity. This short post will enunciate a simple thesis, which flows from the basic premise, opera ad extra indivisa sunt. I have first presented this thesis at the Dabar 2017 conference (@ TEDS). It may be formulated as follows:
The diversity of Trinitarian persons is manifested in their self-differentiation not so much in creation’s exitus (or production), as in its reditus (or return).
The thesis derives naturally from the doctrine of inseparable operations (DIO). If God acts as a single efficient cause, it follows that the persons may not be manifested in their self-differentiation in the production of creatures, or in the divine action.
The vestiges of the Trinity, identified by Christian theologians throughout the centuries must not be confused with particular effects of the particular divine persons (such as the Father might be producing this, the Son or Spirit, that other thing). Vestiges are understood as vestiges only once the individuation of the divine persons has been made.
But, crucially, the individuation of a divine person (in distinction from the others) is not accomplished from their efficient causality (which is single).
This is the reason why the persons of the Trinity may only be identified from their union with creatures. Or, to use Augustine’s and Aquinas’s terminology, from their missions (which consist of the processions, to which a created effect is added).
This is my explanation why Scriptural revelation starts with divine monotheism and only subsequently discloses the diversity of the three persons. We start with the one God because creation is produced by the single divine efficient cause. However, creation was meant for union with God, in the person of his Son. Only insofar as creation is united to the Son, or another divine person, will the Son be individuated as distinct from the Father, and the Holy Spirit. DIO does not encourage us to expect separate actions of separate agents from above. That sounds like an Olympian view of the Gods. The Christian God is the One Holy God, who acts mightily as one in the world he has created.
But then how did we come to individuate the Son and the Holy Spirit as distinct from the Father – if they always act as one, that is? The answer is: from the fact that by faith we confess certain created realities to be united, or to manifest specifically one of these persons (even if these created realities are produced by the whole Trinity). Take Jesus Christ: in Christ, a created reality (Jesus’ human nature) is united to (and ‘actuated’ by) the eternal Son of God. This is the hypostatic union. The New Testament writers confess this to be the first fruits of the renewed creation. Or, to change examples: take the dove that descended at Jesus’ baptism: it manifests the Spirit exclusively, not because it is hypostatically united to the Spirit, but because it has been designated for that purpose. There is only a semiotic union here, not a hypostatic union.
Augustine explains the logic of these distinctions in his interpretation of Jesus’ baptism in Sermon 52. He writes that the human nature of Jesus and the dove were created by the whole Trinity (exitus); nonetheless, they specifically manifest, or are united with (in the case of Jesus) with just one of the persons (reditus).
And thus the revelation of the Holy Trinity takes place not through mere divine action, but through Trinitarian union with the creatures, hence through creation’s return to God.
Let me try an analogy here: take the operation of a magnet upon a metallic pin. The whole magnet attracts the pin, or it acts as a single efficient cause upon the pin. Nonetheless, the pin becomes attached to just one of the poles of the magnet. In being attached to one of the poles, it receives the charge of the opposite pole (I am tempted to make something trinitarian of this aspect of the example, but I must resist at this time). Similarly, the human nature of Jesus is attracted into union with God by the whole Trinity, yet it becomes attached to the Son alone. Just like we come to learn of the distinction between North and South in magnets precisely because of how metallic objects are attached to particular poles, so we come to learn the distinction between the triune persons by watching the assumption of the human nature of Jesus into union with the Son; and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit by the dove, or by tongues of fire, etc.