The Divine Missions and the Indwelling of the Trinity

The Divine Missions and the Indwelling of the Trinity in the Souls of the Just

The divine missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit are temporal, but they are directly related to the procession of the Son from the Father and of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son.  The so called economic Trinity can never be separated from the immanent Trinity, and the way in which God acts, his gift of salvation through grace, are not merely external works of a transcendent God but an indwelling of this very God in the souls of the just.

“The notion of ‘mission’ of a divine person includes two elements: (1) the eternal procession of this person from another; (2) the gift of a created effect in time, namely sanctifying grace.”It is the two aspects towards which our reflection must turn, the second dependent upon the first.

The Father is the principle of the Son and the Spirit.  While not preceding them in time, as all are equally eternal and equally the one Being, God, the Father is prior as principle of the others. The Son, so to speak, comes from the Father, and likewise, the Son is one principle along with the Father of the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Father, however, has no such origin, but is rather the unbegotten principle of the other persons, and we call this innascibility. This understanding of the procession of the Son and of the Spirit, and likewise, lack of any procession of the Father, are necessary to understand the temporal missions of the Son and the Spirit in creation.

The Father is never sent, but the Son and the Spirit, each in their own way and in conformity with their manner of procession, are sent. All three Persons, however, dwell in the souls of the just.

All of creation is made in the image of God, and all creation shows forth something of God, his mind, and his love. Creation, St. Thomas tells us, is a reflection not merely of God as God, but as the Persons in their relation to one another. We get some idea of this when we contemplate the fact that God does not know things through discursive knowledge, but rather knows them all through His own understanding. He can be said, in a simple way, to know them through His Son, the Word. Likewise, He does not “come to know” these things and love the goodness in them, but rather, they are created and good because He loves them. “The heavens declare the glory of God” says Psalm 19.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Gen 1:26). Man and the angels are created with free will and with intellects, and so can participate in the life of God in a way no other creature can, whether living or inanimate. While God is in all things as their cause, He can also be in intelligent beings in a unique way, since, like God, they can know and love. This is what man and the angels were made for, but because of the fall, both need a special gift of God to be what they were created to be.

This gift of the Creator is none other than the gift of Himself.  Sanctifying grace, that gift which saves fallen man, is the life of God truly given to man, so much so that we are told that we become “partakers of the divine nature” and that we will “be like God, for we shall see Him as He is.” So it is truly the Triune God that comes and makes His dwelling with us.  But we must examine the special way in which the Son and the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and sent into the world for the salvation of man, come to live in us. We will look at their invisible missions, which can be seen even in the Old Testament, now that we have the fullness of Revelation in the New, and in the New Testament, where we have the Son Incarnate and visible manifestations of the Holy Spirit Himself.

“’Visible mission’ means the manifestation of the Son in the Incarnation and the manifestation of the Spirit in physical signs. ‘Invisible mission,’ conversely, means the sending of the Son and Holy Spirit into the hearts of the faithful.”We can see the visible missions exemplified especially in the Gospel According to John, where we are told that “In the Beginning was the Word…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and that ““I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.”

These two visible signs of course are manifestly different in that the Son became man, and entered into creation in a unique way.  The Holy Spirit did not become a dove or fire, but manifested himself in this way for the sake of man. Still, we see that both Persons that proceed from the Father also were sent and seen by men in a way that the Father is not. What is more, the Word of God, as generated, becomes Incarnate, but not so the Holy Spirit.  The Person are all one God, but are truly unique both in the eternal immanent Trinity and in their temporal relation to man.

The invisible missions of these two Persons are likewise unique, yet they never are separate from one another. In fact, wherever the Father is, there is the Son, and likewise with the Spirit. The unity and Trinity of the Persons eternally is hardly less mysterious than their unified yet Trinitarian, if we may call it that, way of indwelling in the saints.

Jesus said that He must go to the Father and He would send another helper.  Yet we may take quite literally the words of the Apostle who says “it is no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me.”

The indwelling of God in the just is pure gift, and this gift of sanctifying grace can never be separated from the Persons themselves.  Certainly, actual grace can and does exist apart from the indwelling of the Persons, as this initial grace is required for man to even move toward repentance and faith in the first place.  But one is never sanctified without the very Triune God dwelling in him.

In fact, without sanctifying grace, God does not, dwell in us. So it is not only insufficient to know God philosophically, as in natural theology, or even to know Him with an imperfect faith, as He is known by one, for instance, in the state of mortal sin.  When God, through grace, lives within us, we have the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We then can truly say that it is no longer I but Christ that lives in me.  We can then say that it is the Spirit that groans within us, perfecting our prayers, crying Abba, Father.

The Doctrine of the Trinity, concluded in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas in Question 43 with the Mission of the Divine Persons, is not merely a speculative doctrine for contemplation, but rather, reflection on the Trinity is central to the entire Christian faith, both as it is known and lived. We were created by God, in the image and likeness of God, and for the purpose of knowing and loving God.  The Trinity, God as He exists eternally in and of himself, is at the center of our faith, for it is the center of reality, of everything “that is.”




The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version. San Francisco, CA, Thomas Nelson Publishing,  2006

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles 4, translated by Charles J. O’Neil, Notre Dame, IN, 1975

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Ava Maria Press, 1948

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica: A Concise Translation, edited by Timothy McDermott, Notre Dame, IN, Ave Maria Press, 1989

Giles Emery, O.P., Trinity in Aquinas, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ave Maria Press, 2003

Giles Emery, O.P., The Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, Oxford, 2007

Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P., Reality, originally published 1950, Ex Fontibus Co, 2007

Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P., The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Volume I, originally published 1947, Rockford, IL, TAN Books, 1989

Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Tan Books, 1960

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