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Hive History: Proper Properties

04 March 2011 by Daniel


Q. 6. What do the Scriptures make known of God?
A. The Scriptures make known what God is, the persons in the Godhead, his decrees, and the execution of his decrees.

Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Q. 8. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

It wasn't until 1704 that the word "proper" began to take on the meaning of something that was socially appropriate. Prior to that, the word described something that was one's own - an attribute entirely particular to the thing itself. When the authors of the Westminster Catechism say "it is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity", they weren't making an argument for the Trinity based on how socially appropriate that relationship seemed to them. They were describing the inner-Trinitarian relationship as a property of the Godhead.

The fullness of what is being expressed in the Catechism (concerning this relationship) cannot be imparted until or unless we understand the language the authors were using. I am speaking in particular about such peculiar terms as "begotten" and the phrase "proceeding from". In order to comprehend what these authors believed the scriptures teach about the personal properties of the three Persons in the Godhead we must first understand what these terms meant to those who used them at the time they were using them.

In 325, at the Council of Nicea, Arius was condemned as an heretic for teaching that God -created- Jesus. The council, in correcting Arius, clarified what the scriptures taught concerning the Sonship of Christ: that this Sonship was eternal and singularly so (ie. there were no other eternal Sons - Jesus was the only "begotten" of the Father, a coeternal Person, of the same substance as the Father, and explicitly affirmed as divinity). Thus they affirmed a creed, called the Nicene Creed, which was to be regarded by all of Christendom to be an accurate explanation of what the scriptures taught, and as pertains to this post at least, concerning the eternal Sonship of Christ. The Westminster Catechism affirms this same Sonship as a property of the Trinity.

In 381, at the First Council of Constantinople, the Nicene Creed was amended to include the teaching that the Holy Spirit preceded from the Father, meaning that the Holy Spirit was of the same being (ousia) as God the Father. In 589, at the Third Council of Toledo, this amendment was revised to say that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son (and not without a whole lot of controversy(!) that we won't get into at this time). Again, this relationship is affirmed in the Westminster Catechism as a property of the Trinity.

The scriptures lead us to the conclusion that God is the eternal, uncreated, infinite reality who exists in three Persons related to one another as the Father, His only Son, and the Holy Spirit who together are of the same substance/essence. The reason we labor to articulate this understanding, is not because we want to impress ourselves or others with the scope and depth of our own biblical navel gazing, rather we strive to articulate what is true and revealed of God in order that we may ourselves be on guard against those innovations and corruptions that would eventually lead us astray in our faith, and again, in order that we might warn others away from such innovation and corruption.