Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Is Trinitarian Procession?

"Brother Adam" asked the following question in the Q&A forum at Phatmass:
Where does the Nicene idea of the Son proceeding from the Father and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son come from? Specifically, the idea of the word 'proceed'. I had a fundamentalist friend deny that there is any type of procession because it is not in the Bible.
Well, the idea of procession comes as a logical deduction from what we know about God. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, yet God is one and eternal. If we say that any one of the three was "created" or "adopted", this would imply that there was some point in time in which one of them was not. It would also imply a gradual subordination from the Father to the Son to the Spirit. Both claims are hostile to the equal claims of divinity and eternity of and by the Three Persons, and to the unity of God. It is in the word "procession" that we find the most accurate description of the relationship between the Persons in the Trinity. From the Pocket Catholic Dictionary:
PROCESSION. The origin of one from another. A procession is said to be external when the terminus of the procession goes outside the principle or source from which it proceeds. Thus creatures proceed by external procession from the triune God, their Primary Origin. An internal procession is immanent; the one proceeding remains united with the one from whom he or she proceeds. Thus the processions of the Son and the Holy Spirit are an immanent act of the Holy Trinity. An internal, divine procession signifies the origin of a divine person from another divine person (Son from the Father), or from other divine persons (the Holy Spirit from Father and Son) through the communication of numerically one and the same divine essence.
See also this from the Catholic Dictionary by Peter Stravinskas:
Procession, Divine: The inter-Trinitarian origins of the Son and the Holy Spirit. "Generation" is the eternal procession of the Son from the Father, while "spiration" is the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. The Divine Persons are distinct from one another in the One God; the processions ("relations") distinguish each Person. The Father's distinguishing attribute is paternity; the Son's, filiation; the Holy Spirit's, procession ("spiration").
Thus, God must exist as three Persons in one God, and "procession" has been used as the most apt word to describe how this works.

All of this is biblical. The divinity of three, and the distinct personality of each one is well attested. The scripture citations are probably too numerous to address here. The idea of "procession" is likewise seen in Scripture, in the Father "begetting" the Son, and in the Spirit being "sent" in some verses by the Father and in others by the Son.

For more on this, and for all the relevant Scripture verses, see the following articles:
  • See The Blessed Trinity for the divinity, distinct personality, and procession of the three Persons
  • See section B. 2. "Divinity of Jesus" from The Character of Jesus Christ for a critique of Jesus' Sonship as one of "adoption"
  • See Christology for more on the proper way to understand the Person of Christ
  • See Holy Ghost for the divinity and personality of the Third Person. For His procession, see section IV "Procession of the Holy Ghost" and section V "Filioque".
  • See Filioque for more on the "double procession" of the Holy Ghost.
I hope that helps. You have before you a grand undertaking! Good luck to you.

Pax Christi,


  1. I don't even remember that. I just wrote a detailed defense of the Trinity for a JW. lol.

  2. I am working on an internship project on the Filioque, any sources you guys have would be great.


  3. Jon,

    For links on the filioque, go here:

    If you need more, just let me know.

    Pax Christi,


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