Properties, Divine Personal

views updated


By divine personal properties Trinitarian theology understands that which is proper to and exclusive to one of the Divine persons, to the exclusion of the other two. The very existence of three Persons necessarily implies the existence of differentiating qualities.

The name Father expresses that which is most intimate and necessary in the First Person, i.e., the act of generating the Son. In order to express this divine fecundity as a necessary and inseparable feature of the Father, Greek theology often refers to Him as the source, root, and principle of the other two Persons (Basil, Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, John Damascene; Tertullian among the Latins). These expressions convey the idea not of efficient causality, but rather of self-diffusion by communication of the same nature. If the act of generating a Son consubstantial to Himself belongs so intimately to the Father, then He cannot be understood except through an essential relation to the Son: the Father is paternity itself, nothing but an eternal, subsistent, generative act.

As a consequence the Son, necessarily generated by the Father, is "the radiance of the Father's splendor and the full expression of his being" (Heb 1.3). Just as divine paternity exclusively constitutes the Father, so also divine filiation constitutes the Person of the Son. The paternal act of generation is essentially productive of a perfect image of the Father, and this paternal image is an exclusive personal property of the Son. As such, the Son is the perfect replica of His Father; He manifests His Father and is consubstantial with Him. The second of these three qualities is at the root of the divine mission that constitutes the Incarnation. Divine filiation is considered as the act of an intellectual faculty (Latins) or as an operation of the entire nature, proceeding from the innermost core of the divine substance (Greeks). In any case, generation and filiation are essentially correlative terms, each constituting a different Person.

It is the same with regard to the Spirit. A constant Greek tradition sees in divine sanctity an exclusive, personal trait of the Spirit, as constitutive of a Divine Person as generation and filiation. "In God, whatever appertains to nature is common but the Person is known by the character of paternity, or filiation, or sanctifying power" (St. Basil, Epist. 214.4; Patrologia Graeca 32:789). This conception, common in the 4th century, is further supported by Athanasius, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nazianzus, Eulogius, and John Damascene. Sanctity as a personal property of the Spirit is, however, conceived not merely as an internal act, like generation and filiation, but with an outward bent: the Spirit is sanctity to be poured out on men. In addition to this sanctifying power, the Spirit possesses also as a personal character an ineffable intimacy with the Son originating from a special immanence in Him. Greek theology conceives the origin of the Divine Persons as it were in straight line, with the Father as divine principle of the Son, and the Son as the only immediate source of the Spirit. This was the current conception in 4th-century Cappadocia (Basil) as well as Alexandria (Athanasius, Cyril). On the contrary, for the strictly rational, almost geometrical conception of the Latins, the only differentiating personal property of the Spirit is passive spiration, His being breathed forth, as though from equidistant points, by Father and Son. In this view, sanctity is not a personal property of the Spirit but rather a common treasure equally shared by all three. In current Western theology, therefore, divine personal properties are only three: generation, filiation, and passive spiration; at times, broadening the concept, two more are included: agennētos for the Father, and common spiration, common to Father and Son.

See Also: acts, notional; consubstantiality; generation of the word; missions, divine; paternity, divine; person (in theology); relations, trinitarian; trinity, holy, articles on.

Bibliography: m. schmaus, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, (Freiburg, 195766) 8:805806. t. de rÉgnon, Études de théologie positive sur la Sainte Trinité, 4 v. (Paris 189298). m. j. scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity, tr. c. vollert (St. Louis 1946). c. welch, In This Name: The Trinity in Contemporary Theology (Toronto 1953).

[a. m. bermejo]