The word mission (from the Latin mittere ) means a sending. Theologically, the divine missions are the sending of God the son and the holy spirit. The doctrine of the divine missions may be succinctly stated thus: the Son is sent by god the father, and the Holy Spirit is sent by both the Father and the Son (Denz 527).
Notion of Divine Missions. A divine mission is the procession of a Divine person with the extrinsic effect that the Person thus sent becomes present in a new manner in rational creatures, uniting them in a supernatural union with God.
A divine mission is a sending not by command or counsel, for this would imply that the Person sent would have a distinct will from the Person sending. In God there is but one will (Denz 851), which is common to the three Divine Persons. Any communication of the divine will from one Person to the other can be only through the divine processions, which distinguish the Divine Persons (Denz 528). As the divine processions imply no inequality between the Divine Persons, so too the divine missions imply no dependence or inferiority of the Person sent. The divine missions are as prolongations of the eternal processions; but, whereas a divine procession pertains to the immanent life of God, a divine mission refers to a Divine Person existing in a new manner outside the Godhead.
The existence of a Divine Person in a new manner is in rational creatures. This constitutes a new divine presence in creation. In the natural order, God is present by His knowledge, will, and essence (see omnipresence). By virtue of the divine missions the presence of the Son and the Holy Spirit in the soul is a personal presence superadded to the presence of God in all nature. As to the supernatural order, the Latin Fathers emphasize the divine nature as the efficient and final cause of sanctification and the Triune God as the author of grace. This aspect of the mystery of sanctification stresses the divine operations in the soul. These divine operations are extrinsic to God and must therefore be attributed not to any one Person but to the three Divine Persons (Denz 501, 531). The work of sanctification is frequently ascribed to the Holy Spirit by appropriation [Divinum illud munus; Acta Sanctae Sedis 29 (Rome 1896–97) 647], for all these effects must be held as common to the Trinity in as far as God is the supreme efficient cause (Denz 3814). Since the divine missions, then, pertain only to the divine presence of the Son and the Holy Spirit, these missions are not to be distinguished by their sanctifying effects on the soul but by the divine processions in respect to the new manner in which these Divine Persons dwell in the soul.
In the soul of the just, the three Divine Persons are present in their substantial reality: the Son and the Holy Spirit are present in Person in accordance with their divine missions; and the Father is present in Person because the Father is in the Son and in the Holy Spirit (Denz 1330). This presence of the Trinity in the soul of the just is known as the doctrine of the divine indwelling.
The personal presence of the Trinity in the soul of the just is brought about through the Incarnate Word. Christ assumes a new human nature, not in a substantial way as in the incarnation, but in an accidental way, for the creature does not thereby lose his identity; nevertheless, there is truly a mystical union through the Holy Spirit, a union that attains its consummation and perfection in heaven (Denz 3814–15).
Persons Sent. In the Trinity there are the procession of the Son from the Father and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. Consequently, only the Son and the Holy Spirit are said to be sent.
The Father can be in a new manner among creatures, but not by reason of any divine processing. Nowhere is it said in Scripture that the Father is sent, but that He comes and gives Himself (Jn 14.23). Hence the Father's coming and giving Himself is not a divine mission.
The mission of the Son emanates from His immanent procession from the Father. Christ, who is sent by the Father, is His Son. God did "send his Son into the world" (Jn 3.17). "He who does not honor the Son, does not honor the Father who sent him" (Jn 5.23). Christ lives by the Father: "As the living Father has sent me, and as I live because of the Father, so he who eats me, he also shall live because of me" (Jn 6.58). Christ's mission is by the will of the Father (Jn 6.39), and faith in Christ is faith in the Father, who sent Him (Jn 12.44). It is, moreover, the will of the Father that the mission of Christ should bring life everlasting, and Christ Himself will raise the just to glory (Jn 6.40). Thus the ultimate purpose of Christ's mission is "that all may be one, even as thou, Father, in me and I in thee; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (Jn 17.21; cf. 17.22, 23).
Furthermore, according to St. John's doctrine of the Son as the Word (Jn 1.1–18), the mission of the Son is associated with creation itself; it is directed specifically to rational creatures, and it is manifested in the Incarnation: "And the Word was made flesh" (Jn 1.14; see word, the; logos). A human nature is assumed in the very Person of the Son, so that it is the Son Himself who comes in Person. St. Paul, too, speaks of the Incarnation as the actual sending of the Son as man (Gal 4.4). He speaks also of the mission of the Son as embracing all rational creatures, visible and invisible (Col 1.15–20). Besides, St. Paul speaks of the eternal plan of the Father to be realized in Christ with His mission extending to those in heaven and those on earth (Eph 1.3–10).
The mission of the Holy Spirit emanates likewise from the will of God to communicate Himself. Accordingly the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of the Father (Mt.10.20) and the Spirit of His Son (Gal 4.6). The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son in accordance with His divine procession (Jn 14.26; 15.26; 16.7; 16.13–15; Gal 4.6). As the Holy Spirit in the Trinity is the "love and holiness of both" the Father and the Son (Denz 527), Scripture speaks of Him in respect to His mission not only as the gift of God (Jn 4.10, 14; 7.37–39) but also as the concrete and personal realization of God's love, achieving in the soul purification, justification, and sanctification (1 Cor 6.11; 2 Thes 2.13). Leo XIII therefore speaks of the Holy Spirit as the "life-giving Love," whose temporal mission is from the beginning of creation [Acta Sanctae Sedis 23 (Rome 1890–91) 644–645].
The missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit are eternal and absolute in origin; they are universal in time (Heb 13.8) and so ecumenical that no rational creature is excluded from their divine influence, for God "wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the "truth" (1 Tm 2.4; cf. Is 59.1).
Visible Missions. The Incarnation is the visible mission par excellence. In the Incarnation a human nature was assumed into the unity of the Person of the Son. Of the three Divine Persons, the Son alone assumed this new mode of existing as man (Jn 1.14; Phil 2.5–7).
In the Incarnation the Son, who is the "image of the invisible God" (Col 1.15), enters creation officially "in the fullness of time" (Gal 4.4). He comes to impart His life (Jn 6.38–40; 10.10), but always in the Holy Spirit, "because through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father" (Eph 2.18). And in union with the Holy Spirit, Christ perpetuates His visible mission through His Mystical Body, the Church, through His priesthood (Jn 20.22), through His Sacraments, and through His sacrificial and sacramental presence in the Holy Eucharist.
Of the mission of the Holy Spirit, there are four perceptible manifestations: under the form of a dove at the baptism of the lord (Mt 3.16); under the form of a luminous cloud at the transfiguration (Mt 17.5); under the form of breath, when Christ conferred the Holy Spirit on His apostles (Jn 20.22); and under the form of tongues of fire in the cenacle (Acts 2.3–4). These forms were only signs or symbols of the presence of the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit did not assume these forms into the unity of His own Person.
In the Old Testament the just were sanctified through the divine missions [Divinum illud munus; Acta Sanctae Sedis 29 (Rome 1890–91) 651], but no legal or formal manifestation of these missions was made. The Incarnation of the Son was to inaugurate the external dispensation of grace. The visible mission of the Holy Spirit, then, does not precede the visible mission of the Son; but the Holy Spirit manifests the Son, as the Son manifests the Father.
Invisible Missions. The distinctive nature of the divine missions is that the Son and the Holy Spirit are in a new manner in creatures. It is a new, interior and invisible presence, which sanctifies the soul, imparting to it a new supernatural life.
As mentioned, the Latin Fathers stress the efficient and final causality of sanctification and attribute the supernatural order to the Triune God. For the Greek Fathers every created effect is by virtue of the divine command of creation; the supernatural order, however, is not taken as an effect of efficient causality but as the living presence of the Divine Persons in rational creatures. The life of a Divine Person is distinct from any creative command; it is essentially immanent, whereas the creative command refers to things outside the divine nature. By virtue of the divine missions, the Son and the Holy Spirit exist in a new manner in rational creatures, so that the immanent life of God is present in creatures. It is in this sense that the Greek Fathers explain the words of St. Peter: that "you may become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pt 1.4). Similarly, St. Paul speaks of Christ being "formed" in the soul (Gal 4.19).
Pius XII explains:
If we examine closely this divine principle of life and power given by Christ, in so far as it constitutes the very source of every gift and created grace, we easily see that it is nothing else than the Holy Spirit.… For it was by His breath of grace and truth that the Son of God adorned His own soul in the immaculate womb of the Blessed Virgin … this Spirit Christ merited for us on the cross.… But after Christ's glorification on the cross, His Spirit is communicated to the Church in an abundant outpouring, so that the Church and each of its members may become daily more and more like to our Savior.
To this Spirit of Christ, too, as to an invisible principle, is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the Body are joined one with the other and with their exalted head; for the Spirit of Christ is entirely in the head, entirely in the Body, and entirely in each member.… It is He who … is the principle of every truly supernatural act in all parts of the Body. It is He who, while He is personally present and divinely active in all the members, also acts in the inferior members through the ministry of the higher members.… "Let it sufficeto say that, as Christ is the head of the Church, so is the Holy Spirit its soul" (Leo XIII).
… The Church, then, no less than each of its holy members, can make this thought of the Apostle its own (Gal 2.20): "And I live, now not I; but Christ lives in me." [Pius XII, "Mystici Corporis Christi," Acta Apostolicae Sedis 35 (1943) 54–56]
See Also: grace, created and uncreated; soul of the church; trinity, holy; trinity, holy, articles on.
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[g. m. greenewald]