Twentieth-Century Theology Lost Sight of Something Essential about the Trinity

It’s time to recover the teaching that Father, Son, and Spirit act as one, with no “division of labor” between them.

When our church fathers defended one of the most important creeds (the most important creed, some might argue) in the history of the church—the Nicene Creed—they believed the biblical and orthodox doctrine of the Trinity hung in the balance, and with it, the survival of the church.

As they muscled their defense into place, they pinpointed several key beliefs as absolutely essential in the fight against heresy. One of these was “inseparable operations,” a belief summed up in a famous Latin phrase, opera Trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt. What this means is that the work of the Trinity—from Creation to salvation—is undivided. Or as Augustine said with such elegance in his classic, De Trinitate, “As the Father and Son and Holy Spirit are inseparable, so do they work inseparably.” The Father, Son, and Spirit work as one because they are one—one in essence, will, power, and glory.

Enter modernity. The doctrine of inseparable operations—a “rule” once indispensable to Christian orthodoxy and liturgy—has been thrown into question: dispensed by some, severely modified by others. As theologian Adonis Vidu explains in his sobering new book, The Same God Who Works All Things: Inseparable Operations in Trinitarian Theology, “During the past century the rule has gone from being part of the very foundation of Trinitarian dogma to being dodged as one of its greatest vulnerabilities.”

What happened? And why does it matter?

A departure from Nicene tradition

The classical, Nicene tradition labored to preserve Scripture’s witness to the unity of the persons of the Trinity, and likewise their equality. This tradition distinguished the persons according …

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