“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
The Father is NOT the Son and vice versa
Let’s stop talking about mere labels and talk about what they actually mean. When I use the term “person” I mean this: a subsistence within the divine essence. This subsistence, while related to the other two, is distinguished from them by certains properties which aren’t shared by the others. Let’s be clear: the term “subsistence” is different than “essence.” For example, if the “Word” was identical to God in every way, then John would have not said that He was always “with” God (John 1:1). Yet, when John immediately adds that the “Word was God,” he draws our attention back to their shared essence (“God-ness”). But notice the unity and distinction in the passage. The Word is God and shares in the same “essence” as the Father. But the Word is distinct from God in some way: the way of person or “subsistence.”
So each person in the Trinity is related to the others but also each one has its one distinction properties. When the term “God” is used, it can rightly be applied to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. But when the Father is compared to the Son, the particular properties of each person distinguishes one from the other. The Father is NOT the Son. Each person (Father, Son, Spirit) carries with itself its own properties which are not part of the other persons. Whatever properties are solely possessed by the Father can be transferred to the Son. I have no objections to adopting Tertullian’s definition, if it is properly understood: “There is a certain arrangement or economy within God , which does not affect the unit of essence.”