Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST004/3 Technical Terms.


Technical Terms of the Creeds and Theological Writings.

Before proceeding further to define the doctrine it will be as well to mention and explain some of the technical terms which are found in the creeds and theological writings.

(a).Unity and Trinity.

Unity refers to the essence or substance of God, and Trinity to the Persons within the one substance or essence.

(b).Person, Subsistence and Hypostasis.

In the early days of Christianity great difficulty was found in discovering the right word to use to denote the Persons within the one Godhead. There were Greek writers and Latin writers and they often misunderstood the words the others used. Especially was it so in this case.

Finally the above three words, two of them Latin and one Greek, came to be recognized to mean the Persons within the Trinity. In modern English the use of the word "person" makes it difficult to contemplate personality without the thought of separateness and individuality.

This must be guarded against as, theologically and in the understanding of the Latin Fathers, the word "persona", from which our word comes, does not necessarily imply this. Theologically in this connection "person" refers not to distinction in substance but to distinction in the runner in which the substance is shared.

"The divine Persons arc not therefore separate individuals, but possess in common, one nature or substance, their distinction lying not in a separate substance, but in the manner in which they share the same substance'.(Wiley 1:419).

(c).Procession, Generation Spiration.

These are the words used to describe the relationship of the Persons in the Trinity to each other. "Procession" means the origin of one Person from another. "Spiration means the same but is used only of the Holy Spirit. "Spirit" originally meant "wind" or "breath" and the Latin word "spiro" from which "spiration" comes (as also does "spirit") was closely connected with it and meant "breathe".

"Generation" does not refer to one particular act but to an eternal relationship of sonship which always has been and always will be. The Father is eternally the Father because the Son is eternally the Son and vice versa.

(d).Properties and Relations.

The word refers to the peculiar characteristics of each Person, and "relation" to the order in which one Person stands to another. The property of the Father is Paternity (meaning in this connection "to be of none"); of the son, filiation (sonship); of the Spirit, procession. These with the relations will be dealt with further in the next section under "The Divine Monarchy".

(e).Missions and Economies.

The terms in the last section refer to the inner nature of the Trinity whereas those refer to the relationship of the Trinity to the world, especially in connection with redemption. While the whole Trinity is on earth redeeming man, yet clearly in Scripture there is a certain relationship between then and a particular mission which each has. The Father sends, the Son and the Spirit are sent, though in different ways. The Son procures the atonement by His death, the Spirit administers it.

(f).Monarchy and Circumcession.

Having emphasised the fact of the distinctness of the Persons of the Trinity and their activity in the work of redemption, it was necessary to emphasize again and in a different way the Oneness of the Godhead.

This was done by the doctrine of the Divine Monarchy which means that there is only one rule and source of all; and also by the doctrine of the Circumcession which maintains that "the three Persons permeate or dwell in each other by sharing the one nature, thereby giving social unity in the plurality of the Persons". This permeation and sharing of each other`s nature was also called "perichoresis", "intercommunio" and "Interexistentia" (Latin).

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