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39. Persons and Essence in God

1. Because God is absolutely simple in his being, the divine relations, as things or entities, are identified with God's essence. Essence in God is not really distinct from Person, and still the three Persons are really distinct from one another. They are real relations in God which involve relative opposition in their terminals (the Persons) but none at all in their essence.

2. Therefore the three Persons in God, while really distinct from one another, are one and the same undivided and indivisible divine essence.

3. Hence when we use nouns or noun-expressions for the divine essence, we use them in the singular. We do not say,"Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are Gods"; we say,"Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost are God."Sometimes we may use adjective-expressions in the plural, for these often refer to the divine essence, not directly in itself, but as subsisting in the distinct Persons. Thus we may say that there are three eternal beings. But if the noun beings is stressed,rather than the adjective eternal, we should not use the expression, for it might be misunderstood as declaring the essence of God to be threefold, which is not the case.

4. Concrete names for the divine essence may sometimes be understood in a personal sense; whether such names are essential or personal depends on our use of them. Even the noun God can be used as a personal name: we may use it to indicate the Father only, as when we say, "God begets"; we may use it to indicate Father and Son, as when we say, "God spirates"; we may use it - and this is our ordinary use of the name - for the Trinity, as when we say, "God creates."

5. Abstract names for the divine essence cannot thus be used as personal names. While we can say, "God begets God," we cannot say, "Essence begets essence."

6. And names for the Persons may be applied to the divine essence, since, in entity or being, the Persons and divine essence are one and the same. Thus we may say, "The divine essence is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost"; or "The divine essence is the three Persons"; or "God is the three Persons."

7. Attributes of the divine essence (power, wisdom,knowledge, etc.) are sometimes appropriated to the Persons of the Trinity. Thus it is customary to appropriate power to the Father, wisdom to the Son, and goodness to the Holy Ghost. Or we may say that the Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Holy Ghost sanctifies. Yet all that God does proceeds from the undivided will of the undivided Trinity.

8. Such appropriation is justified inasmuch as it helps us better to understand and explain our faith. We derive all our knowledge from creatures, and thus we are led to consider God himself as we consider creatures, and to parcel out the divine attributes. We need constantly to remind ourselves, however, that these helpful appropriations of essential divine attributes to distinct divine Persons are conveniences for us, and not accurate expressions of objective truth.

"It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. "
Thomas á Kempis

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"It is well to choose some one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon it."
St Philip Neri

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"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."
St Alphonsus de Liguori

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