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The Eternal Processions and Temporal Missions of the Divine Persons: Understanding the Relationship

Updated: Feb 16

In God, there are two immanent operations which are to know and to will. These operations are ad intra which means that they are internal to God as opposed to normal actions of corporeal substances which are external to the acting agent (Garrigou-Largrange I.I). However, God’s actions are not limited to these kinds of internal actions and the missions of the divine persons are the foundation of God’s supernatural ad extra actions. The processions are reflected in the missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The processions of God are the origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. God’s Word produces substantially and communicates the nature of the Father to the Son. In a like although distinct manner, the divine nature is also communicated by the procession of love. This is not to say there was ever a time when any of the three were not, the Father has always been Father, and the Son and Holy Spirit likewise. However, the Son and the Holy Spirit are sent into the world. This manifestation into time is called a mission.

Each mission is related to the procession because there is equality between the one sent and the one sending. This does not imply a change on the part of the one being sent for the divine person does not begin to be in a place or cease to be where he was. Rather, the divine person exists in a new manner- which is entirely in the effect. These missions can be visible such as in the Incarnation and at Pentecost or invisible such as sanctifying grace.

The mission of a divine person is a procession of one person to another with the purpose of a temporal effect. These missions reveal the divine processions because they “extend” those eternal processions into time. The Father sends the Son while the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit. Thus, the missions reveal to us that there is one God in three persons.

Each of the persons of the Trinity is known by certain names. For example, the first Person is the Father. The second Person is known as the Word, the Son, and the Image. Finally, the third person is known as the Holy Spirit, Love, and the Gift. These names indicate something about their Divine Mission whereby the Person is sent and adds a temporal effect.

Innascibility, or to be unbegotten, is a property of the Father. Hence, the Father has no origin and is not sent. On account of this, there is no procession from which the Father can have a mission. However, the Father sends the Son and the Holy Spirit.

God communicates His entire nature to the second Person of the Trinity and so we call Him Son. A Son shares the nature of His Father. Christ is sent from the Father to us to redeem us and restore our fallen nature so we might also share in the divine nature. The name Son hints at the adoptive filiation. In the Incarnation, God becomes sensible to us. In this mission, He both communicates the divine as Word and expresses the nature of the Father to us as an Image.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the mutual love of Father and Son and so is named Love. The Spirit dwells in the just man invisibly and enables him to love God and neighbor as he ought. This sanctification is a gift that dwells personally and by circumincession draws the Son and the Father. Thus, the name Gift reveals the mission of the Holy Spirit who is given to us to sanctify and deify.

Each of the names of the persons of the Trinity helps express their missions. The Son is sent into the world to show us how to be an image of God and to make us sons of God. The Holy Spirit is the gift that shows us what love is and how that love should be expressed.

Each of the missions implies a procession and each procession is eternal. In other words, there is no time when the Father was not the Father nor a time when the Son was not the Son, nor a time when the Holy Spirit was not spirated. Each mission references one of these processions which is the origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. However, each mission also has a temporal terminus.

Neither the Incarnation nor the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost are eternal for they occur in a specific place and time. Yet, their origin is eternal. The Divine Person is not changed in this sending but does become present in a new way. Hence, there is a two-fold procession (two-fold in terminus and not in principle) one of which is eternal and one of which is temporal. This mission must be from the eternal origin because a divine Person cannot be sent by command or counsel because they are in no way less than the sender. Yet, it must also be temporal because its effects occur in time.

The missions can be understood to be prolongations of the processions ad extra. Thus, they are connected to the origins of each Person but distinct from other ad extra actions, such as the creation. In this, we can see a distinction between the order of grace and the natural order of creation. The mission “implies directly the eternal origin of the persons, and indirectly the new effect produced in the creature”.

Thus, the missions are eternal in the sense that the divine persons go forth from eternity. However, their effects are temporal because they occur in time. The person is not changed, but the temporal effect does connote a new mode of existence.



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