Question: At Pentecost, our Lord spoke of the Father as “greater” than He-are they not both one and the same God? How could one be greater than the other?
Answer:It is always difficult to discuss the relationships between the Persons of the Trinity. We have no intellectual concepts that allow us to ponder them “before” creation so our words always involve concepts of time even “before” time came to exist. We are also faced with the difficulty of saying exactly how Jesus Christ could be both true God and true man-which He had to be in order to both represent mankind and offer atonement worthy of God. Over the centuries many erroneous theories were advanced, some portraying Christ as a bit less than God, and others seeing His divine nature overshadow or even swallow up His human nature. Clearly, none of these alternatives can be correct.
Only in a very limited sense might it be said that “begetting” of the Second Person by the First Person established an order of priority-certainly not a ranking of inequality.
Yet equally clear is the fact that Jesus accepted some very serious limitations in allowing Himself to be confined by a human nature and human body. Bishop Sheen used to liken the Incarnation to a man who loved dogs so much that he actually became a dog-an impossible scenario, but one which only begins to suggest the limitations the infinite God took upon Himself. Saint Paul goes so far as to say that in the Incarnation “Jesus Christ, who, though by nature was equal to God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave....”1 Having accepted these self imposed limitations, the God-man could correctly say that He was, in certain ways, less than the Father. The Gospel read on Pentecost records the words of our Lord spoken on Holy Thursday, while He was still very much limited by human form, and would be until He “went to the Father. There are a few other such passages: “Of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father only.” “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but only what He sees the Father doing.... As the Father has life in Himself, even so he has given to the Son also to have life in Himself, and has granted Him power to render judgment because He is Son of Man.”2 But all of these refer to Jesus in His self imposed limitation.
Other passages speak to the unity and equality of the Divine Persons in eternity: “In the beginning was the Word ... and the Word was God.” “The Father is in Me, and I in Him.” “I and the Father are one.” “I pray ... that all may be one, even as Thou, Father, and I in Thee.” “There are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one.”3 And that about says it!
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