“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.
Persons, Perfectly United
The distinctions of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not interfere with God’s unity. The Son is one God with the Father. The Son constitutes the Spirit with Himself. And the Spirit is no different from the Father and the Son. He is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Each person is fully God. The only difference is that each person has His own particular qualities. The whole Father is in the Son, and the whole Son is in the Father just like Jesus says, “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me” (John 14:10).
The church fathers also underscore that each person of the Trinity is fully God. “The name ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ and ‘Holy Spirit’,” says Augustine, “only distinguish their relationship to one another not their ‘God-ness.'” Sometimes, the church fathers appear to disagree with one another. But they can be reconciled. For example, in one place, they teach that the Father is the beginning of the Son. At another place, they assert that the Son has both His “God-ness” from Himself and therefore one, beginning with the Father. This discrepancy is clearly explained by Augustine: “Christ, as to His nature, is called God, while in relation to the Father, He is called Son.” Again, he says: “The Father, as to His nature, is called God, while in relation to the Son He is called Father. The Father is not the Son. Yet, in their natures, both the Father and the Son are the same God.”
Therefore, when we speak of the Son by Himself, without reference to the Father, we can call Him the only beginning. But when we reference His relationship to the Father, we correctly make the Father the beginning of the Son. Augustine’s fifth book on the Trinity is devoted solely to explaining this subject. But it is far better to be content with the differences of relationship in the Trinity than get bewildered by trying to peer into the very essence of God.