What is Equality?
Equality requires an external standard measure. For example, X is equal to Y in length, taking either X or Y as the standard. If Z is equal to X, it is also equal to Y.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit are absolutely diverse, having nothing outside the Godhead (not even its nature), and therefore neither equal nor unequal.
So what is going on when we say that the divine persons are “equal”? The mind performs an operation by dissecting the divinity from Father, Son and Holy Spirit and creates the following equations:
Father = God
Son = God
Holy Spirit = God
Therefore, Father = Son = Holy Spirit
Conceptualizing equality sets each person and the extracted divine nature on opposite sides of a balance. “God” becomes the external standard or measure for the three persons. Three diverse entities equal to a fourth (the standard) results in equality of the diversities. The mind divides in order to unite.
Such dissections are not real, of course, but only mental. The measuring mind has no other recourse in the struggle to express realities that are beyond spacetime. The concept of equality is cut from the cloth of material extension.
The shortcoming of this mental gymnastic is that it collapses the absolute distinction between person and nature; nature is extracted as a medium between persons to equalize absolute diversities. In consequence, absolute diversity of persons is attenuated and “mixed” with the absolute identity of nature. Diversity is “diluted” by identity.
Thus, equality and inequality cancel each other out:
Father = Son = Holy Spirit
Father ≠ Son ≠ Holy Spirit
A deeper question arises: what drives the desire to equalize persons? The very drive to equalize reveals an underlying assumption that diversity alone does not unify; that diversity is inherently prone to hierarchy and subordination. One of the early Trinitarian heresies was called “Subordinationism.”
This perception is an assumption drawn from material experience. In the ancient Greek mind, diversity in the universe was either vertical or horizontal, neither of which accounted for the reality of persons.
On a vertical ladder, all beings in the universe were diverse on account of inequality. From the lowest being to the highest, each species occupied a unique rung on the ladder, e.g., a rock, rose, and rhinoceros.
On a horizontal plane, multiple individuals of the same species or form differed by being limited by matter, e.g., three distinct roses of the same rose form. (In Aristotelian terms, each “substance” or rose was a distinct form/matter composition).
Persons in the Trinity are not diverse forms or species, for that would lead to subordinationism and hierarchy. Persons in the Trinity are also not individuals of a form, for individual substances are not unique identities.
The Trinity introduces an entirely new reality beyond Greek metaphysics. Communion of persons is the only reality in which diversity and identity are absolute, simultaneous, unlinked (not co-ordinated), and indivisible. In all other cases, diversity and identity are inextricably bound to one another in a dyadic conceptual structure (act/potency, form/matter, substance/accident). A rock, rose and rhino occupy ascending degrees of being, the fundamental unifier of diversities in medieval metaphysics. Rose A, B and C differ by being individuals outside one another, participating in the same form.
Persons are neither degrees nor participants of anything. Diversity simply is. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. “God” is not a form or essence that is divided or shared. Neither is “humanity” a form or essence that is divided or shared. Each human person is the whole humanity. Salvation hinges on this point, for if the second person of the Trinity did not assume humanity in its entirety, only the particle of humanity that was Jesus of Nazareth, considered as an individual substance, was saved.
Persons and nature interpenetrate indivisibly. Mutual indwelling or perichoresis is “divided indivisibly” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus).
Diversity is not founded on anything outside itself; it is a primordial “given”—the first truth of reality which is the Trinity. The first truth and cornerstone is simultaneously a unity. Triad and monad are primordial and cannot be collapsed into one. Triad is not grounded in monad, nor is monad grounded in triad. The Trinity is groundless. Thus it transcends all analogies, including the analogy of being which is dyadic in structure (existence/essence). Absolute diversities transcend the “ground of being.”
The dyad has no place in the Triad Monad; the dyad exists only as a theological construct, e.g., “Triad Monad” and “person nature.” Thought is inescapably dyadic. The original dyad of thinker and thought is the first remove from primordial reality. The Trinity is not “thought thinking itself” (Aristotle’s definition of God).
The concept of equality need not intervene when this reality is realized. Among persons diversity is neither inherently unequal nor hierarchical.
The Trinity casts a new, mind-bending light on the totality of reality encompassed by persons in communion. Grammar does not have the power to express this reality, but here are a few attempts to summarize this analysis:
- Equality is divided; absolute diversity is united.
- Equality is divisible; absolute diversity is indivisible.
- Equality separates; absolute diversity is inseparable.
All of these summations of absolute diversity are consonant with the fourth-century insight of St. Gregory of Nazianzus that the Trinity is “indivisibly divided” or “divided indivisibly.”
“Separate but equal” was a failed political doctrine once used to justify segregation in the United States (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896). Better than “all men are created equal,” persons are created absolutely diverse and one, beyond comparison and measurement. As in the Trinity, no ranking exists among persons who are utterly unique and therefore incomparable. As each human person is the whole humanity in the image of the Incarnate Son, no person is greater or less than any other.
The task of theology entails the hazard of dividing the indivisible in order to say something about it. Creeds and Councils have done their utmost to express the inexpressible with limited concepts, so with devotion we rightly profess that “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and coeternal majesty… In this Trinity, there is nothing greater, nothing less than anything else: But all three persons are coeternal and coequal with one another” (Athanasian Creed).
A new consciousness unconditioned by spacetime is required to “see” reality by being neither inside nor outside it, but in union and communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Such a state transcends vision and sight, subject and object, knowledge and love as we now know it.