The Triunity of God


Thomas F. Torrance, "The Triunity of God," in The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 302-340; #1988-489i


Torrance, Thomas F. "The Triunity of God." In The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church, 302-340. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988; #1988-489i

Publication life cycle / General notes

This chapter was not represented among the original lectures given in Princeton in 1981. 

Discussed in the Reading Group with Gary Deddo: video. Cf. the Creeds handout (right) and the Agreed Statement (#1993-TFT-2e-online).


From the Foreword: “In the final chapter an attempt is made to draw together the various emphases within the Church as they reached a general consensus on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as ‘one Being, three Persons’. Attention is first given to Athanasius’ conception of the Triunity of God as Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity. For him theology in its deepest sense as the knowledge and worship of God was identified with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The key to the Triunity of God he found in the Nicene homoousion (ὁμοούσιον) which pointed to eternal consubstantial relations within the Trinity and thus to the consubstantiality of the Trinity as a whole. It was he who developed the doctrine of completely interpenetrating or co-indwelling relations between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which was later called the doctrine of divine coinherence. This carried with it a revised conception of ousia (οὐσία) as being considered in its internal relations, and of hypostasis (ὐπόστασις) as being considered in its objective inter-relations. It was in that sense that he accepted the formula ‘one Being, three Persons’, which carried with it a doctrine of the Monarchia (Μοναρχία) as identical with the one indivisible being of the Holy Trinity. Attention is then given to the Cappadocian contribution to the doctrine of the Trinity, notably to the greater emphasis given by Basil to the distinguishing properties of the three divine Persons, and his attempt to preserve the unity of the Trinity by referring the particular modes of being of the Son and the Spirit to the Person of the Father, which operated with an abstract generic notion of God’s being. The reservations of Gregory Nazianzen about the subordinationist implications of this approach led him to move back closer to Athanasius, but with a doctrine of eternally subsistent relations within the Holy Trinity which deepened and strengthened the Athanasian conception of the Triunity and Monarchy of God. While Didymus, who stood closer to Basil, moved away from Nicene formulation, Epiphanius offered a powerful development of that Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity, or the consubstantial unity of three perfect co-equal enhypostatic Persons in the one indivisible being of the Godhead. It was this Athanasian and Epiphanian doctrine of God that provided the foundation on which the Nicene–Constantinopolitan understanding of the Holy Spirit and the Triunity of God was brought to firm theological expression.” (pp. 10-11).


(1) Athanasius (p. 302)
(2) Basil, the Gregories and Didymus (p. 313)
(3) Epiphanius and the Council of Constantinople (p. 326)
(4) The Collect for Trinity (p. 340)

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“It may well be claimed that Gregory’s understanding of the Holy Trinity registered a significant deepening of the Athanasian conception of the divine οὐσία as being considered in its internal relations, for it was cast in a more dynamic form. In the Godhead all subsistent relations are dynamic, mutually interpenetrating, unitary and without opposition in their reference to one another. Here we have presented a rather more satisfactory view of the Triunity of God than that of the other Cappadocians, for the Μοναρχία is not limited to one Person: it is a Unity constituted in and by the Trinity. ‘To us’, Gregory declared, ‘there is one God, and one Godhead, and all that issues from him is referred back to him so as to be one with him, although we believe that there are three. And one is not more and another less God, nor is one before and another after. They are neither divided in will nor separated in power; nor are any of the distinguishing marks of separated individualities to be found there, but divided as the Persons are, the entire and undivided Godhead is one in each person.’ ‘But each of these Persons is entirely one with those with whom he is conjoined, as he is with himself, because of the identity of being and power that is between them (ἀλλά τὸ ἓν ἔκαστον αὐτῶν ἔχει πρὸς τὸ συγκείμενον οὐχ ήττον ἤ πρὸς ἑαυτό, τῷ ταὐτῷ τῆς οὐσίας καὶ τής δυνάμεως). This is the account of the oneness (ὁ τῆς ἑνώσεως λόγος) so far as we have apprehended it. If this account has force, thanks be to God for the insight; if it does not, let us seek for a stronger one.’ It may be noted that Gregory Nazianzen’s concept of subsistent relations in the Trinity (with his hint of an analogical openness of the human person to ‘that Mind, Word and Spirit, who is one kindred Deity’?) was later taken up and developed by Augustine and given an important place in western trinitarian theology. This understanding of the coinherence of subsistent trinitarian relations in God clearly set the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit on a rather different basis, that of a Μοναρχία which is not limited to one Person and in which there is no partition of οὐσία.” (pp. 321-322).