Q: How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A: There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Matthew 28:19: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
How confused we can become about the mystery of the Trinity! We professed last week to be firmly grounded upon the idea that there is "but One only, the living and true God", and now we're talking about three persons, one God, and it's enough to make our heads spin. Is it any wonder that the other monotheistic religions often accuse Christianity of worshiping more than one God? The Christian Church has been clear though: We believe the Bible reveals one God in three persons.
What does that mean, to worship and confess one God in three persons? People throughout the centuries have made attempts at explaining the mystery of the Trinity. They've used analogies that have, for the most part, come up short. Some throughout the history of the Church have gone so far in attempting to explain the triune nature of God that they've ended up abandoning Biblical truth. For example, some believe that God simply plays three different roles, or manifests himself in three different modes, at different times (the Modalist heresy). But this heresy denies what the Bible reveals: that there are three distinct persons in the Godhead, not simply three roles that God plays. We see this most clearly at the baptism of Jesus where we hear the audible voice of God, we see the Son being baptized, and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove. Others attempt to describe the Trinity by saying that the three persons of the Godhead are simply components of God (the Partialist heresy). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they say, are each only part of God, but neither is fully God in and of themselves. Only together do they form the one true God. This heresy denies what Scripture plainly teaches, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all fully and equally divine in their person.
Despite the many errors and heresies that have popped up over the centuries in attempts to explain the tri-unity of God, the Church has indeed produced some helpful and biblical documents to help us understand the mystery of the Trinity. One of these documents is the Athanasian Creed. This creed is universally accepted by Christians as a concise statement of what the Bible teaches concerning the triune nature of God, and I hope that it will help us all to understand this great mystery a little more clearly so that we may worship the one living and true God more completely!
The Athanasian Creed:
Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith*.
Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally.
Now this is the catholic faith:
That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
neither blending their persons
nor dividing their essence.
For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
The Father is uncreated,
the Son is uncreated,
the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
The Father is immeasurable,
the Son is immeasurable,
the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.
The Father is eternal,
the Son is eternal,
the Holy Spirit is eternal.
And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.
So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.
Similarly, the Father is almighty,
the Son is almighty,
the Holy Spirit is almighty.
Yet there are not three almighty beings;
there is but one almighty being.
Thus the Father is God,
the Son is God,
the Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there are not three gods;
there is but one God.
Thus the Father is Lord,
the Son is Lord,
the Holy Spirit is Lord.
Yet there are not three lords;
there is but one Lord.
Just as Christian truth compels us
to confess each person individually
as both God and Lord,
so catholic religion forbids us
to say that there are three gods or lords.
The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten from anyone.
The Son was neither made nor created;
he was begotten from the Father alone.
The Holy Spirit was neither made nor created nor begotten;
he proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Accordingly there is one Father, not three fathers;
there is one Son, not three sons;
there is one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.
Nothing in this trinity is before or after,
nothing is greater or smaller;
in their entirety the three persons
are coeternal and coequal with each other.
So in everything, as was said earlier,
we must worship their trinity in their unity
and their unity in their trinity.
Anyone then who desires to be saved
should think thus about the trinity.
But it is necessary for eternal salvation
that one also believe in the incarnation
of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully.
Now this is the true faith:
That we believe and confess
that our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son,
is both God and human, equally.
He is God from the essence of the Father,
begotten before time;
and he is human from the essence of his mother,
born in time;
completely God, completely human,
with a rational soul and human flesh;
equal to the Father as regards divinity,
less than the Father as regards humanity.
Although he is God and human,
yet Christ is not two, but one.
He is one, however,
not by his divinity being turned into flesh,
but by God's taking humanity to himself.
He is one,
certainly not by the blending of his essence,
but by the unity of his person.
For just as one human is both rational soul and flesh,
so too the one Christ is both God and human.
He suffered for our salvation;
he descended to hell;
he arose from the dead;
he ascended to heaven;
he is seated at the Father's right hand;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
At his coming all people will arise bodily
and give an accounting of their own deeds.
Those who have done good will enter eternal life,
and those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.
This is the catholic faith:
one cannot be saved without believing it firmly and faithfully.
*(The word catholic with a lowercase "c" means "universal" and refers to the true Christian church of all times and all places throughout history, which belongs to Christ alone.)