A Compendium of the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg/8 The Divine Trinity


These three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are the three essentials of the one God, which make one, like the soul, the body, and operation in man. (T. C. R. n. 166.)

At this day human reason is bound, as regards the Divine Trinity, like a man bound with manacles and fetters in prison; and may be compared to a vestal virgin buried in the earth, because she has put out the sacred fire; when yet the Divine Trinity ought to shine as a lamp in the minds of the men of the church, for God in His Trinity and in its unity is the All in all in the sanctities of heaven and the church. (T. C. R. n. 169.)

Every one acknowledges that these three essentials—the soul, the body, and operation, were and are in the Lord God the Saviour. That His soul was from Jehovah the Father can be denied only by Antichrist; for in the Word of both Testaments He is called the Son of Jehovah, the Son of the Most High God, the Only-begotten. The Divine of the Father is therefore, like the soul in man, His first essential. That the Son whom Mary brought forth is the body of that Divine soul, follows from this; for nothing but the body conceived and derived from the soul is provided in the womb of the mother. This therefore is the second essential. Operations form the third essential, because they proceed from the soul and body together, and the things which proceed are of the same essence with those which produce them. That the three essentials, which are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one in the Lord, like the soul, body, and operation in man, is very evident from the Lord's words,—that the Father and He are one, and that the Father is in Him and He in the Father; likewise that He and the Holy Spirit are one, since the Holy Spirit is the Divine proceeding out of the Lord from the Father. (T. C. R. n. 167.)

From the Lord's Divine Human itself proceeds the Divine truth which is called the Holy Spirit; and because the Lord was Himself the Divine Truth, when He was in the world He Himself taught the things which were of love and faith, and at that time not by the Holy Spirit; as He Himself teaches in John: "The Holy Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (vii. 39). But after the Lord even as to the Human was made Jehovah, that is Divine Good,—which was after the resurrection,—He was then no longer Divine Truth, but this proceeded from His Divine Good. That the Holy Spirit is the Divine truth which proceeds from the Lord's Divine Human, and not any spirit or any spirits from eternity, is very manifest from the Lord's words in the passage cited, that "the Holy Spirit was not yet." And then it is manifest that a spirit himself cannot proceed, but the holy [effluence] of a spirit, that is, the holy [effluence] which proceeds from the Lord, and which a spirit utters. From these considerations now it follows that the whole Trinity is perfect in the Lord, namely, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and thus that there is one God,—and not three, who, distinct as to person, are said to constitute one Divine. The reason why they were called the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Word was that men might acknowledge the Lord, and also the Divine in Him. For man was in so thick darkness,—as he also is at this day,—that otherwise he would not have acknowledged any Divine in the Lord's Human; for this to him would have been above all faith, because entirely incomprehensible. And moreover it is a truth that there is a Trinity; but in one, namely, in the Lord. And it is acknowledged too in the Christian churches that the Trinity dwells perfectly in Him. The Lord also taught plainly that Himself was one with the Father (John xiv. 9-12); and that the holy [truth] which the Holy Spirit speaks is not His, but the Lord's, in John: "The Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, . . . shall not speak from Himself, hut whatsoever He shall hear He shall speak: . . . He shall glorify Me, for He shall take of Mine, and shall proclaim it unto you" (xvi. 13, 14). That the Comforter is the Holy Spirit is declared in John xiv. 26. (A. C. n. 6993.)

Before the World was created there was no Trinity of God but an ideal or potentia One.

The Sacred Scripture teaches, and reason enlightened therein and therefrom by the Lord sees, that God is one; but that God was triune before the world was created the Sacred Scripture does not teach, and reason enlightened therefrom does not see. What is said in David, "This day have I begotten Thee," is not from eternity, but in the fulness of time; for the future in God is present, thus to-day. So likewise this passage in Isaiah: "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, whose name is God, Hero, the Father of eternity."

What rational mind, when it hears that before the creation of the world there were three Divine persons, called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, does not say within itself while thinking on the subject, What is meant by a Son born of God the Father from eternity? How could He be born? And what is the Holy Spirit proceeding from God the Father through the Son from eternity? And how could He proceed and become God by Himself? Or how could a person beget a person from eternity? and both produce a person? Is not a person a person?

The rational mind, in revolving and reflecting upon a Trinity of persons in the Godhead from eternity, might also consider of what use was it for a Son to be born, and for the Holy Spirit to go forth from the Father through the Son, before the world was created? Was there need that three should consult how the universe should be created? And thus that three should create it, when yet the universe was created by one God? Nor was there then occasion that the Son should redeem, since redemption was effected after the world was created, in the fulness of time; nor that the Holy Spirit should sanctify, because as yet there were no men to be sanctified. If then those uses were in the idea of God, yet they did not actually exist before the world, but after it; from which it follows that the Trinity from eternity was not a real Trinity, but ideal; and still more a Trinity of persons.

A Trinity of persons in the Godhead before the world was created, never came into the mind of any one from the time of Adam down to the Lord's advent; as appears from the Word of the Old Testament, and from the histories of the religion of the ancients. Neither did it come into the minds of the Apostles, as is evident from their writings in the Word. And that it did not come into the mind of any one in the Apostolic Church prior to the Council of Nice, is clear from the Apostles' Creed, in which no Son from eternity is mentioned, but a Son born of the Virgin Mary.

The Trinity of God was formed after the world was created, and actually in the fulness of time, and then in God incarnate, who is the Lord the Saviour Jesus Christ. (Canons, pp. 35-37.)

A trinity of Divine persons from eternity or before the world was created is, in the ideas of thought, a trinity of Gods; and this cannot be expelled by an oral confession of one God. (T. C. R. n. 172.)

A Memorable Narration concerning the Divine Trinity.

Since it has been granted me by the Lord to see the wonderful things that are in the heavens and beneath the heavens, I must by command relate what has been seen. A magnificent palace was seen, and in the innermost part of it a temple; in the centre of this was a table of gold on which was the Word, at which two angels were standing. Around this were three rows of seats; the seats of the first row were covered with cloth of pure silk of purple colour; the seats of the second row with cloth of pure silk of a blue colour; and the seats of the third row with cloth of white. Under the roof, high above the table, there appeared a broad canopy glittering with precious stones, from the splendour of which light shone forth as a rainbow when the sky is becoming serene after a shower. Then suddenly there were seen sitting upon the seats as many of the clergy [as they would contain], all clothed in garments of the priestly office. At one side there was a vestry, where an angel custodian was standing; and therein lay splendid garments, in beautiful order. It was a council called together by the Lord. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Deliberate." They asked, "On what subject?" It was answered, "On The Lord the Saviour, and on The Holy Spirit." But when they began to meditate on these subjects they were not in illustration. They therefore prayed, and light then flowed down from heaven, and illuminated first the backs of their heads, afterwards their temples, and finally their faces. And then they began; and, as it was commanded them, First, on the Lord the Saviour. The first proposition and subject of investigation was, "Who assumed the Human in the Virgin Mary?" And the angel standing at the table on which the Word was, read to them these words from Luke; "And the angel said unto Mary, Behold, thou shalt conceive in the womb, and shalt bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus; He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High. . . . And Mary said to the angel, How shall this be since I know not a man? And the angel, answering, said, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the Virtue of the Most High shall overshadow thee; wherefore the Holy Thing that is born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (i. 31, 32, 34, 35). Then he read these also in Matthew: "The angel said to Joseph in a dream, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is begotten of her is of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph knew her not until she had brought forth her first-born Son; and he called His name Jesus" (i. 20, 25). And besides these he read many others from the Evangelists, as Matt. iii. 17; xvii. 5; John i. 18; iii. 16 ; xx. 31; and many in other places, where the Lord, as to His Human, is called the Son of God, and where He from His Human calls Jehovah His Father; and also from the prophets, where it is foretold that Jehovah Himself was about to come into the world; among which were these two in Isaiah, "It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God, whom we have waited for to deliver us; this is Jehovah, whom we have waited for; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation" (xxv. 9). "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight in the desert a path for our God; . . . for the Glory of Jehovah shall he revealed; and all flesh shall see together. . . . Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come in the Mighty One: . . He will feed His flock like a shepherd" (xl. 3, 5, 10, 11). And the angel said, "Since Jehovah Himself came into the world, and assumed the Human, therefore in the prophets, He is called the Saviour and the Redeemer." And then he read to them the following passages: "Only God is in thee, and there is no God else; verily thou art a God concealed, O God of Israel the Saviour" (Isaiah xlv. 14, 15). "Am not I Jehovah? and there is no God else beside Me; a just God and a Saviour there is not beside Me" (xlv. 21, 22). "I am Jehovah, and beside Me there is no Saviour" (xliii. 11). "I Jehovah am thy God, . . . and thou shalt acknowledge no God but Me, and there is no Saviour beside Me" (Hosea xiii. 4). "That all flesh may know that I Jehovah am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer" (Isaiah xlix. 26; lx. 16). "As for our Redeemer, Jehovah of Hosts is His name" (xlvii. 4). "Their Redeemer is Mighty; Jehovah of Hosts is His name" (Jer. I 34). "Thus saith Jehovah the King of Israel, and His Redeemer, Jehovah of Hosts, I am the First and the Last, and beside Me there is no God" (Isaiah xliv. 6). "O Jehovah, my Rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm xix. 15). "Thus saith Jehovah thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, I Jehovah am thy God" (Isaiah xlviii. 17; xliii. 14; xlix. 7; liv. 8). "Thou O Jehovah art our Father, our Redeemer, Thy name is from everlasting" (lxiii. 16). "Thus saith Jehovah thy Redeemer, I am Jehovah that maketh all things, . . . even alone, . . . by Myself" (xliv. 24). "Jehovah of hosts is His name, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of the whole earth He shall be called" (liv. 5). "Behold, the days come, . . . that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, who shall reign King; . . . and this is His name, . . . Jehovah our Righteousness" (Jer. xxiii. 5, 6, xxxiii. 15, 16). "In that day, Jehovah shall be King over all the earth; in that day, Jehovah shall be one, and His name one" (Zech. xiv. 9). Confirmed by these and the former passages, those who sat on the seats unanimously declared, that Jehovah Himself assumed the Human in order to redeem and save men. But a voice was then heard from Roman Catholics who had concealed themselves behind the altar, saying, "How can Jehovah God become man? Is He not the Creator of the universe?" And one of those who sat on the second row of seats turned and said, "Who then?" And he who was behind the altar, standing now near the altar, replied, "The Son from eternity" But he received the answer, "Is not the Son from eternity, according to your confession, also the Creator of the universe? And what is a Son and a God born from eternity? And how can the Divine Essence, which is one and indivisible, be separated, and one part of it descend, and not at the same time the whole?"

The second subject of inquiry concerning the Lord was, Whether the Father and He are not therefore one, as the soul and body are one. They said that this followed, because the soul is from the Father. Then one of those who sat upon the third row of seats read from the creed called Athanasian these words: "Although our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man, yet they are not two, but one Christ; yea, one altogether; He is one person; for, as the soul and body make one man, so God and Man is one Christ." The creed, said the reader, where these words are found, is received in the whole Christian world, even by the Roman Catholics. And they said, "What need is there for more? 'God the Father and He are one, as the soul and body are one.'" And they added, "Since this is so we see that the Human of the Lord is Divine, because it is the Human of Jehovah; and also that the Lord as to the Divine Human should be approached, and that thus and not otherwise the Divine may be approached which is called the Father." This their conclusion the angel confirmed by many passages from the Word; among which were these: "Unto us a Child is Born, unto us a Son is given, . . . and His name shall he called Wonderful, Counsellor, God, Hero, the Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace" (Isa. ix. 6.) "Abraham doth not know us, and Israel doth not acknowledge us; Thou Jehovah art our Father, our Redeemer; Thy name is from everlasting" (lxiii. 16); and in John: "Jesus said. He that believeth on Me, believeth . . . on Him that sent Me; and he that seeth Me, seeth Him that sent Me" (xii. 44, 45). "Philip saith unto Jesus, Show us the Father. . . . Jesus saith unto him, . . . He that seeth Me, seeth the Father; how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? . . . Believe Me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me" (xiv. 8, 9). "Jesus said, I and the Father are one" (x. 30); and also, "All things that the Father hath are Mine," and "all Mine are the Father's" (xvi. 15; xvii. 10). Lastly, "Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (xiv. 6). To this the reader added, that similar things to what are here said by the Lord concerning Himself and His Father, may be said also by man concerning himself and his soul. Having heard these things, they all with one voice and one heart said that the Human of the Lord is Divine, and that this must be approached in order to approach the Father; since Jehovah God by means of it sent Himself into the world, and made Himself visible to the eyes of men, and thus accessible. In like manner He made Himself visible and thus accessible in a human form to the ancients; but then by an angel. But because this form was representative of the Lord who was about to come, all things of the church with the ancients were representative."

After this a deliberation followed concerning the Holy Spirit. And there was first disclosed an idea of many concerning God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—that God the Father sits on high, and the Son at His right hand, and that they send forth from them the Holy Spirit, to enlighten, teach, justify, and sanctify men. And then a voice was heard from heaven, saying, "That idea of thought we cannot endure. Who does not know that Jehovah God is omnipresent? Whoever knows and acknowledges this will acknowledge also that He Himself enlightens, teaches, justifies and saves; and that there is not a mediating God distinct from Him still less distinct from two, as person from person. Therefore let the former idea which is vain be put away, and let this which is just be received, and then you will see this subject clearly." But a voice was then heard from the Roman Catholics, who stood near the altar of the temple, saying, "What then is the Holy Spirit which is mentioned in the Word—in the Evangelists and in Paul—by which so many learned men among the clergy, and especially of our church, say that they are led? Who in the Christian world at this day denies the Holy Spirit and His operations?" At these words one of those who sat upon the second row of seats turned and said, "You say that the Holy Spirit is a person by Himself and a God by Himself. But what is a person going forth and proceeding from a person but an outgoing and proceeding operation? One person cannot go forth and proceed from another, but operation can. Or what is a God going forth and proceeding from God but the outgoing and proceeding Divine? One God cannot go forth and proceed from another, but the Divine from one God can." Having heard these things, those who sat upon the seats unanimously concluded that "The Holy Spirit is not a person by itself, nor therefore a god by itself, but is the Holy Divine going forth and proceeding from the one only omnipresent God, who is the Lord." To this the angels standing at the golden table upon which the Word was, said, "Well. We nowhere read in the Old Covenant that the prophets spoke the Word from the Holy Spirit, but from Jehovah; and where the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the New Testament it means the proceeding Divine, which is the Divine enlightening, teaching, vivifying, reforming, and regenerating." After this followed another inquiry respecting the Holy Spirit; which was,—From whom does the Divine which is meant by the Holy Spirit, proceed; from the Father or from the Lord? And while they were investigating this subject a light shone upon them from heaven, by which they saw that the Holy Divine which is meant by the Holy Spirit does not proceed out of the Father through the Lord, but out of the Lord from the Father; comparatively, as in man his activity does not proceed from the soul through the body, but out of the body from the soul. The angel standing near the table confirmed this by the following passages from the Word: "He whom the Father hath sent speaketh the words of God: He hath given unto Him the Spirit not hy measure. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand" (John iii. 34, 35). "A Rod shall go forth out of the stem of Jesse, . . . and the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might" (Isaiah xi. 1, 2). That the Spirit of Jehovah was bestowed upon Him, and that it was in Him, xlii. 1; lix. 19, 20; Ixi. 1; Luke iv. 18. "When the Holy Spirit shall come, which I will send unto you from the Father" (John xv. 26). "He shall glorify Me, because He shall receive of Mine, and make known unto you; all things whatsoever the Father hath are Mine; therefore said I that He shall receive of Mine and make known unto you" (xvi. 14, 15). "If I go away I will send the Comforter unto you" (xvi. 7). That the Comforter is the Holy Spirit, xiv. 26. "The Holy Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (vii. 39). But after the glorification, "Jesus breathed upon and said unto the disciples. Receive ye the Holy Spirit" (xx. 22). And in the Apocalypse, "Who shall not . . . glorify Thy name, Lord? for Thou alone art Holy" (xv. 4). Since the Lord's Divine operation from His Divine omnipresence is meant by the Holy Spirit, therefore when He spoke to the disciples of the Holy Spirit, which He was about to send from the Father, He also said, "I will not leave you orphans; . . . I go away and come unto you; . . . and in that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you" (xiv. 18, 20, 28). And just before He departed out of the world He said, "Lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the consumation of the age" (Matt, xxviii. 20). Having read these passages to them the angel said, "From these and many other passages from the Word, it is plain that the Divine which is called the Holy Spirit proceeds out of the Lord from the Father." To this those who sat upon the seats said, "This is Divine Truth"

Finally, this decree was made:—That from the deliberations in this council we have clearly seen, and therefore acknowledge as holy truth, that the Divine Trinity is in the Lord God the Saviour Jesus Christ; consisting of the Divine from whom [all things are], which is called the Father; the Divine Human, which is called the Son; and the proceeding Divine, which is called the Holy Spirit; all together exclaiming, "In Jesus Christ dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Coloss. ii. 9). Thus there is one God in the church.

When these deliberations were ended in that magnificent council, they arose, and the angel custodian came from the vestry and brought to each of those who sat upon the seats splendid garments, interwoven here and there with threads of gold, and said, "Receive the wedding garments." And they were conducted in glory into the New Christian Heaven, with which the Lord's church upon earth, which is the New Jerusalem, will be conjoined. (T. C. R. n. 188.)

Importance of a right Idea of the Trinity.

Having written of the Triune God, it is important also to treat of the Divine Trinity,—which is known in the Christian world, and yet unknown. For by this alone can a just idea of God be obtained; and a just idea of God in the church is as the sanctuary and altar in the temple, and as the crown upon the head and sceptre in the hand of a king sitting upon his throne. For hereon depends, as a chain upon its first link, the whole body of theology. And, if you will believe it, every one is assigned his place in heaven according to his idea of God; for this is as the touchstone by which is discovered the quality of the gold and silver, that is, the good and truth, in man. For there is no saving good in him, except from God; nor any truth, that does derive its quality from out the bosom of good. . . .

But how the things written in the Word respecting the Trinity are to be understood,—whether, that there are three Gods, who in essence and hence in name are one God; or, that there are three objects of one subject, so that they are only qualities or attributes of one God, which are so named, or in another way,—reason left to itself can by no means see. But what counsel is to be offered? There is no other than that a man shall go to the Lord God the Saviour, and read the Word under His guidance,—for He is the God of the Word,—and he will be enlightened and see truths, which reason also will acknowledge But to read the Word under guidance of one's own intelligence,—as is done by all who do not acknowledge the Lord as God of heaven and earth, and therefore approach and worship Him alone,—may be likened to children playing, who tie a bandage over the eyes and try to walk in a straight line, and even think they are walking in a straight line, when yet step by step they are turning aside, and at length go in the opposite direction, strike against a stone, and fall. (T. C. R. n. 163, 165.)