– that all people through their reason and conscience can know that there is a God and also have a certain degree of knowledge of his power and glory (natural knowledge of God);
– that the only true God has revealed his divine nature and the plans of his heart for us in the Holy Scriptures (revealed knowledge of God);
– that God is a spirit, a living personal being without a body, with the absolutely perfect attributes: he is e.g. eternal and almighty, holy and just, good and merciful;
– that God is triune, i.e. there is only one God, but in the one divine being or essence there are three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Everything created presupposes a creator. The Bible assumes that man with his reason can come to the conclusion that God exists and understand something about his greatness and power. It is easier to draw the conclusion from the creation that there must be a great and powerful designer, than to believe that everything has come into being just by chance. Man can in nature “see the back of God” and understand that he is “somebody”, a living, personal being who should be honoured and worshipped (theism). This insight is also why man in all times has been a religious creature.
The denial of God’s existence, atheism, is more the conclusion of confused feelings than of clear thinking. Pantheism, the belief that God is everything and everything is God, identifies the Creator with the creation. It’s basically atheistic because it denies that God is somebody, a personal being. Even agnosticism, which says that we neither can deny nor affirm God’s existence, is a kind of atheism, since it refuses to say that God surely exists.
If we are going to rightly know God and be saved, then the natural knowledge of God and the general religiosity must be complemented and corrected by the divine revelation in the Scripture. The Bible reveals that man himself by means of his reason cannot obtain such knowledge. This includes the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three different persons existing by themselves (three distinct persons), but at the same time each of them is “the one true God” and the possessor of the one and only divine essence in all its fullness.
How the three divine persons are internally distinguished from each other the Bible describes thus: The Father has begotten (not created) the Son from eternity, the Son is begotten of the Father before all time (being one substance with the Father), and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. In what manner all these things take place is a mystery, which Scripture does not delve further into. Neither should we attempt the impossibility of penetrating the depths of the divine Majesty. God is “dwelling in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16).
The divine works of the three persons towards the world are always done jointly and in cooperation. This, however, does not prevent the Bible from ascribing the creation especially to the Father, the salvation to the Son and the sanctification to the Holy Spirit.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not a human invention, constructed by theologians in the fourth century as it is sometimes said. The Christian Church believes this great truth only because the Bible presents God as three persons in one Godhead and one Godhead in three persons. The Trinity is a holy mystery, which in our time on earth never can be solved or explained by human reason. Neither is it necessary. No man can search the depths of God’s essence, otherwise God would not be God. The whole Christian faith rests upon the revealed doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Without it there is no Christianity and no salvation.
THREE in ONE – ONE in THREE
The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. (Ps. 19:1)
What may be known of God is manifest in them (the Gentiles), for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:19-20)
(They) show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them. (Rom. 2:15)
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Ps. 14:1)
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)
God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4:8-9)
The LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.” (Gen. 17:1)
You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. (Lev. 19:2)
The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. (Ps. 145:9)
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! (Deut. 6:4)
We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. (1 Cor. 8:4)
And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
All should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. (John 5:23)
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 28:19)
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16-17)
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:18)
But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. (John 15:26)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (2 Cor. 13:14)
And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. - - -
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. (Athanasian Creed, Trigl. p. 33)
Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting; that is to say, there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and yet there are three Persons, of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And the term “person” they use as the Fathers have used it, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself. (Augsburg Confession, I, Trigl. p. 43)
… we believe and teach that there is one divine essence, undivided, etc., and yet, that there are three distinct persons, of the same divine essence, and coeternal, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This article we have always taught and defended, and we believe that it has, in Holy Scripture, sure and firm testimonies that cannot be overthrown. And we constantly affirm that those thinking otherwise are outside of the Church of Christ. and are idolaters, and insult God. (Apology, I, Trigl. p. 103)
all kinds of false doctrines that contrary to the Scripture teach, for example,
– that it is sufficient to have natural knowledge of God and be generally religious – e.g. to know and worship God “in the church of nature”;
– that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three gods or gods of different rank (polytheism, belief in many gods);
– that there are actually not three persons in one Deity, God is merely showing himself from three different sides or in three dimensions, or is like an actor playing three different roles (old heresy called modalism, from Lat. “modus”, very common today);
– that the Deity of the Son or the Holy Spirit is not as eternal, great and powerful as that of the Father (all kinds of deviations seeing the Father as the only real God);
– that the Son is not begotten of the Father, but a made or created being (arianism, a heresy spread by Arius in the fourth century);
– that the Holy Spirit is not a divine person, but only a power (dynamism, from Greek “dynamis” – an old heresy from the third century denying the Deity of the Son and also of the Holy Spirit).
Father most holy, merciful and loving,
Jesus, Redeemer, ever to be worshiped,
life-giving Spirit, Comforter most gracious,
Three in a wondrous Unity unbroken,
one perfect Godhead, love that never faileth,
light of the angels, succor of the needy,
hope of all living;
All thy creation serveth its Creator,
thee every creature praiseth without ceasing;
we too would sing thee psalms of true devotion:
hear, we beseech thee.
Lord God Almighty, unto thee be glory,
one in three Persons, over all exalted.
thine, as is meet, be honor, praise and blessing
now and for ever. Amen.
Old Latin Hymn, translated by Alfred E. Alston