In my book, New Insights into the Deposit of Faith, I discuss the speculative theological question as to whether or not the Three Persons of the Trinity are equal as concerns their Personhood.
“God is One Being, and the One Being is Three Persons. The Three Persons are equal as concerns their Divine Nature. For they do not share the Divine Nature as if it were divided between them, nor as if it were possessed partially by each. Truly, the Three Persons are the One Nature. Since the Divine Nature is One and each Person is the Divine Nature, not partially but wholly, then the Three Persons are equal in their Divinity. The teaching of the Church on the Triune Nature of God is a dogma of the Church; it is a required belief of all Christians.
“However, there has been no solemn definition by a Pope or an Ecumenical Council on whether the Three Persons are equal or unequal with respect to their Personhoods. And the Universal Magisterium does not teach any single doctrinal position on this question as definitively to be held. The Magisterium has yet to teach definitively on this point.”
“So it is that the Trinity can be One, which is the highest form of equality, and yet truly Three, which is necessarily due to inequality since each of the Three is fully God. There can be no defect or insufficiency to distinguish each of the Three. Nor can any One of the Three have something that the other lacks, since the Divine Nature is all goodness in its most perfect form. Only the relations between the Three is left to distinguish one from the other. But a perfectly equal relationship would have no distinctions (and thus would be imperfect). Therefore, the relations between the Three must be based on the dependency and inequality of procession.”
I’ll add a few comments to the above quotes.
There is obedience within the Trinity. The type of obedience is so far above earthly obedience that it is hard to express. But certainly it is not so much like the giving and receiving of orders, but more like the difference in roles in the family, or differences in roles in the Church. The Son is obedient to the Father, because the Son proceeds from the Father. The Spirit is obedient to the Father and the Son, because the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
There is a type of humility in the Divine Nature, and in each of the Persons. We might say that the type of humility varies somewhat in character from one Person to another. The Father is humble in giving all that He is in Personhood to the Son, and the Father and Son are humble in giving all that each is, all in one act, to the Spirit. And the Son, as well as the Spirit, are each humble in accepting their Personhood as a gift.
Procession is the entire basis for this speculative idea of inequality in the Trinity. But it is never a type of inequality that would ascribe any detriment or imperfection to any Person. This idea is speculative, but I also consider it essential to a proper understanding of the Persons of the Trinity. For each Person is infinite perfect God, exactly equal in Divinity, sharing one and the same Nature, each possessing that Nature fully. But there must be something to distinguish them, and the distinction is based on procession. Since procession is unequal, the Persons are, in a limited sense, also unequal.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator