The delineation of the Divine procession concerning the Son and the Holy Spirit constitutes a nuanced subject that has engendered extensive debate and discourse over centuries within the domain of Christian theology.[1] Tertullian (c.197) declares very early on that.

We have been taught that He [Christ] proceeds forth from God [the Father], and in that procession, He is generated. So that He is the Son of God and is called God from unity of substance with God. For God, too, is a Spirit. Even when the ray is shot from the sun, it is still part of the parent mass. The sun will still be in the ray because it is a ray of the sun. There is no division of substance, but merely an extension of it…. Thus, Christ is Spirit of Spirit and God of God—-just as light is kindled from light. The material root remains entire and unimpaired, even though you derive from it any number of offshoots possessed of its qualities. So, too, that which has come forth out of God is at once God and the Son of God, and the two are one.[2]

The discourse surrounding Trinitarian language is multifaceted, and this article endeavors to elucidate specific parameters that circumscribe the articulation of insights within the purview of Christian theology. Two fundamental considerations merit attention to establish a solid foundation for the terminological constructs employed in articulating reflections on the Triune God.

  • Son (Begotten of the Father): The Father eternally generates the Son through an “eternal begetting,” which is not a physical creation but a unique, interpersonal relationship within the Godhead. Often described as an analogy to the generation of a perfect word within the mind, reflecting the essence of the speaker.
  • Holy Spirit (Proceeding from the Father and the Son): The Father and the Son “breathe forth” the Holy Spirit in an eternal movement of love, often referred to as “spiration.” This procession emphasizes the shared love and unity between the Father and the Son as the source of the Holy Spirit.

The Greek understanding of emanation.

Greek philosophy, particularly Neoplatonism, delved into the concept of emanation. Emanation, in Neoplatonism, refers to the process through which all reality emanates or flows from a single, ultimate impersonal source or principle. Plotinus, a prominent Neoplatonist philosopher, articulated this idea.[3] So, what could be said of the Christian idea of procession or emanation? First, it should be noted that the very act of the Father was not an impersonal idea but a personal revelation where He ultimately made Himself known via the media of the Son and the Spirit (John 1:18). In Neoplatonic thought, the One, or the source of all good, serves as the ultimate principle from which everything originates, but this is an expression of self-realization, not as Christian theology teaches an act of a personal mind. The process of emanation is a hierarchical descent, where various levels of reality emanate from the higher, more unified levels. What is important to remember in Neoplatonic thought is that the “One” is beyond comprehension and transcendent, yet everything emanates from it in a hierarchical order, leading to the material world. In Neoplatonic thought, the one impersonal emanation seeks to realize itself via the created order. In Christian theology, the One God seeks to make himself known in a Triune reality[4] as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a personal entity.  This obviously separated what the first Christian community and Neoplatonic Philosophy espoused about the reality of the One God. One is an impersonal emanation that seeks to express the unknown in the created order; the other is a deeply personal reality that communicates its intent by the revelation of the self and the ordering of that which was lost due to the fall of man. Very early on, the Church Fathers realized that Neoplatonic categories were not enough to espouse the full conceptual reality of what was revealed in the Triune God. Thomas G. Weinandy noted that,

This realization would come when the Fathers recognized that God’s revelation of himself as a Trinity of persons breaks the Greek Platonic principle of emanation. The principle may have been adequate to express Greek theodicy, but it is incompetent to handle the Christian revelation.[5]

What seems to separate the Neo-Platonic conceptions of the Divine is the fact that there is a prioritization of a personal revelation of the inner personhood of God, which is not so in Greek Philosophy. This is the result of the Triune conception of the Christian God. All other triads or deities seem to subsist wholly apart and even vicarious to the other selves. Even unitary systems of deity collapse into a chaotic mold of the unknown. But the Triune nuances work perfectly to describe the reality of a glorious God. Torrance writes brilliantly that.

No one Person is knowable or known apart from the others. Due to their perichoretic onto-relations with one another in which they have their Being in one another, the Father is not truly known apart from the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son is not truly known apart from the Father and the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is not truly known apart from the Father and the Son. The Holy Trinity is revealed and is known only as an indivisible Whole, in Trinity and Unity, Unity and Trinity. This indivisible wholeness, as we shall see, must be allowed to govern our understanding of the divine processions or missions of the Son and the Spirit from the Monarchy which, without a lapse into a remnant of Origenist subordinationism, cannot be limited to the Father. The Father is not properly (Kurious) Father apart from the Son, the Son is not properly Son apart from the Father, and the Holy Spirit is not properly the Holy Spirit apart from the Father and the Son.[6]

The Biblical understanding of Divine Procession.

Another priority in the movement within the Triune community is the reality of what God orders from eternity to make Himself known. The Biblical understanding of divine processions, particularly in Christian theology, had some connections with Neoplatonic thinking, but the Father quickly transcended these ideas because of distinct differences. As I discussed earlier, in Neoplatonism, the concept of emanation involves a hierarchical descent of reality from a single, ultimate source (the One). The distinction of the persons, as they maintain an eternal subsiding unity, is key and a sure difference from the Neoplatonic aloneness of the one. Butner makes a good point when he argues that in the relationship of the Father and the Son, divine procession orders the distinction between the persons of the Father and the Son. He adds.

the Father and Son remain distinct persons despite simplicity because the unbegotten Father begets the Son, and this procession is the basis for a relation of opposition: that which is begotten and unbegotten cannot logically be the same.[7]

The divine procession, then, is key in the ordering of who each revealed person is and seems necessary to indicate a ‘taxis or value of each entity and how they communicate a symmetry from the Divine self. Thomas Aquinas seems to try to communicate what value there would be between the individual persons without violating the single unified will of the three, and he looks at how love would be realized and expressed through the divine mind. Butner relates that Aquinas uses an analogy where.

the Son is the reason of God, and the Spirit is the love between Father and Son. The Father is the mind within which this love and reason occurs. The analogy suggests that the Son and Spirit are in the Father and that the Father’s acts of loving and knowing are in the Son, capturing aspects of both the spatial metaphor and the movement metaphor for perichoresis. It adds some clarification regarding the divine persons that is not immediately evident in the other metaphors. Because of the mutual indwelling and interpenetration of perichoresis, the Father, Son, and Spirit are a single mind, consciousness, and love, fitting the Christological-compatibility criterion of divine personhood.[8]

Procession should not be defined as a mere emanation of the impersonal One. In Christian theology, divine processions are often associated with the Trinitarian doctrine, where the Three entities passed make themselves categorically known without any essential change, while Neoplatonic emanation is a hierarchical descent from a transcendent source. Christian divine processions involve an eternal, relational aspect within the unity of the Godhead because Christian theology emphasizes the personal nature of God and the eternal relationship between the persons of the Trinity, and the role of Jesus Christ in salvation.

For internal actions like the processions, the Father generates the Son and spirates the Spirit within himself such that the procession of the Son is somehow in the Holy Spirit and the procession of the Holy Spirit is somehow in the Son. The doctrine of inseparable operations is also qualified by the consubstantiality of the persons. Jesus and his Father are one (John 10:29–30). Father, Son, and Spirit share the same simple essence, so we cannot distinguish the powers and acts of God from the essence of God. Therefore, Father, Son, and Spirit also perfectly share the power and acts of God and cannot divide these into parts.[9]

Considering the preceding exposition, I seek to elucidate the nuanced interpretation of pivotal terminologies employed in delineating the Triune God. Furthermore, I endeavor to provide precision in their usage by anchoring them within the historical context of Christian theology.

Keywords to consider:

When attempting to describe the inner realities or life of the Triune God, we will inevitably fall short, as we can only articulate what is conceived and revealed to us within the constraints of time. Lincoln Harvey reminds us that.

Trinitarian categories and nomenclature such as processions, relations, monarchy, eternal begottenness, spiration, perichoresis, and taxis are employed in the service of describing the inner nature of God with a view to drawing anthropological analogies, with eclectic results.[10]

It is imperative, therefore, to earnestly pursue an accurate description of the meanings of specific words; otherwise, we run the risk of conveying something unfitting for the glory of the Triune God. Now when we look at the use of language in Scripture there are predominantly three ways, we can describe what we say about God. First, there is the univocal meaning, where we can say our human attributes are equal to God’s. Our language used, for instance, about God would be exactly representative of its straightforward meaning. Secondly, there are equivocal attributions which means what we attribute to God seems to be different or other than what God is. There is, therefore, a distinction between what we ascribe to God and what He is. Thirdly, there is the analogical meaning, where what we say about Yahweh could be synonymous with human attributions. Still, the distinction would be that God has these qualities in His perfection that we try to describe in a limited sense. What I am trying to show is that these words I am going to describe should be considered equivocally considering what we can say about the Triune God. There are four words I would like to define when we look at them, considering what was revealed when we speak about the Triune God. These words are “generation,” “eternal,” “procession,” and lastly, the word “origin.”

  • Generation.

It should be stressed that the very word generation is not “causation,” where the son is a lesser eternally created being. In theological terms, causation within the Triune God refers to the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It signifies the eternal generation of the Son from the Father and the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son.[11] Unfortunately, the limitation of language sometimes falls short of the precise definition of what we are trying to describe. Ryan Mullins (2017, 197) notes that.

When the Father causes the Son and Spirit to exist, the Father somehow causes the Son and the Spirit to have the divine essence. But this violates self-suciency. No being that is divine has its essence derived from, nor dependent upon, anything outside of itself. The Son and the Spirit have their essence derived from the Father. The essence of the Son and the Spirit is dependent upon the causal activity of the Father. The Son and the Spirit are not self-sucient, so the Son and the Spirit are not divine.[12]

The observation emerges that challenges arise when attempting to anthropomorphize an essential facet of God’s nature, wherein the endeavor to articulate it is often confined to human terms. In the context of causation, the discussion does not pertain to the temporal origination of the Son’s life, which, at a certain juncture, was nonexistent. Rather, it elucidates the Father’s intention to manifest the Son within the confines of time, particularly through the incarnation. Two critical considerations arise in this context. Primarily, the incarnation may convey an impression of the Son’s temporal createdness and the Spirit’s temporal sending at a specific juncture. However, such temporal manifestations do not insinuate any inferiority of the Son or the Spirit in relation to God the Father. Causation primarily signifies the structured unfolding of God’s self-revelation and does not imply any deficiency in the self-sufficiency of the Son or the Spirit. While the Son and the Spirit exhibit obedience to the Father, this does not imply any hierarchical superiority of the Father over them. It rather speaks of the role the two persons take in work established by the Father in the economy of salvation and His own self-revelation. John of Damascus beautifully explains that when we look at the internal relation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

community and unity are observed, in fact, through the coeternity of the subsistences, and through their having the same essence and energy and will and concord of mind, and then being identical in authority and power and goodness – I do not say similar but identical – and then movement by one impulse. For there is one essence, one goodness, one power, one will, one energy, one authority, one and the same, I repeat, not three resembling each other. But the three subsistences have one and the same movement. For each one of them is related as closely to the other as to itself: that is to say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one in all respects, save those of not being begotten, of birth, and of procession.[13]

It should be noted then that what we are claiming is that there is an assumed equality among the three divine persons (e.g., Mat 28:19; 2 Cor 13:13; Eph 2:18; 3:14–17; 4:4–6; 5:18–20; Rom 8:14–17, etc.) so any language of causation should be defined in light of aseity which is afforded to all three persons in the One God.

  • Eternal.

Another word that sometimes causes some dismay could be the word “eternal.” Within the theological framework of the Triune God, “eternal” denotes a state beyond the limitations of time. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in an eternal, uncreated reality without a beginning or end.[14] Eternality obviously indicates the idea of no beginning or end. Timeless might be the best description if we are looking for a specific word to sum up the state of existence of the Son and the Spirit. Richard Holland notes that in Neoplatonic thought,

What is “in time” changes and moves; and what is not, is eternally at rest.[15]

The early Christian Fathers expeditiously recognized the potential challenges inherent in this concept. Consequently, they asserted unequivocally that the incarnation did not signify any alteration in the personhood of the Son or the divine essence. Furthermore, they contended that the advent of the Holy Spirit did not constitute an economic dependency on either the Son or the Father. Athanasius, in his “First Discourse to the Arians,” mentions this fact.  

And He ever was and is and never was not. For the Father being everlasting, His Word and His Wisdom must be everlasting. On the other hand, what have these persons to show us from the infamous Thalia? Or, first of all, let them read it themselves, and copy the tone of the writer; at least the mockery which they will encounter from others may instruct them how low they have fallen; and then let them proceed to explain themselves. For what can they say from it, but that ‘God was not always a Father, but became so afterwards; the Son was not always, for He was not before His generation; He is not from the Father, but He, as others, has come into subsistence out of nothing; He is not proper to the Father’s essence, for He is a creature and work?’ And ‘Christ is not very God, but He, as others, was made God by participation; the Son has not exact knowledge of the Father, nor does the Word see the Father perfectly; and neither exactly understands nor knows the Father. He is not the very and only Word of the Father, but is in name only called Word and Wisdom, and is called by grace Son and Power. He is not unalterable, as the Father is, but alterable in nature, as the creatures, and He comes short of apprehending the perfect knowledge of the Father.’ Wonderful this heresy, not plausible even, but making speculations against Him that is, that He be not, and everywhere putting forward blasphemy for reverent language! [16]

Athanasius maintains that both these entities, Son and Spirit, proceed to enter time, which might seem to contradict any notion of timelessness. But he then vindicates the idea by showing that what should be noticed is that both the Son and the Spirit enact the Father’s will in time. This then gives us a glimpse of the inner operation of the Son and Spirit which is not only captivated or limited to where they were made apparent in the economy of procession, but they are co-eternal and existed with the Father before time began. Athanasius strives to uphold the idea of co-eternality and assumes that in the incarnation of the Son and the spiration of the Spirit, they do not become less eternal as they act in obedience to the Father in time. Matthew Barrett sums up Nicaean Orthodoxy as,

Nicaea and the fathers do not mean—and neither do we—that the Son is merely a mirror of the Father, as if the Son only appears to be like the one he reflects. Rather, the Son is the image of God because he shares the very nature of God.[17]

  • Procession.

Divine procession indicates that the eternal cause of the Son means the Father sends and reveals the Son in time from eternity, and from the Son (or Father) proceeds the Holy Spirit.[18] It should be noted that there are mention of two “processions” in the fourth Gospel. In the context of the Triune God, procession signifies the eternal origin of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. It is a distinctive feature of the Holy Spirit’s relationship within the Trinity.[19] The Son from the Father (John 3:17, 34; 6:38; 20:21) and that of the Spirit from the Father and/through the Son (John 14:16–17, 26; 15:26). Both processions are understood as eternally occurring, not as events in time but both these “sending’s” takes place in time, so it becomes both exact occurrences in time, with a notional sending outside of time. There is an affirmed identity within the sending of the Holy Spirit and the Son. Katherine Sonderegger writes;

The Divine Processions are, yes, a declension to the Concrete and Perfect; the Generation of the Son as Eternal Line of Descent; the Breathing Forth as an Outpouring of Perfect Goodness. Yes, the Divine Life is this, principally this. But it is not merely this. The holy altar of Israel tells us this; the life of Moses tells us this; the prophets announce and live this somber truth; the costly death of the Suffering Son enacts this truth. There is a Rupture and a Breaking, Unlike all others, in the Divine Life of the Triune God— in the inner Life.[20]

The procession of the Son and the Holy Spirit seems to set apart what could be said about the Christian conception of God. It is the distinguishing mark by which the life of the Triune God becomes brighter. In a distinctive undertaking, the Triune God engages in the redemptive initiative, orchestrating the salvation of humanity in its fallen state by personally intervening in the world on their behalf. This distinctive characteristic sets apart the Christian theological framework, as there exists no comparable counterpart within the myriad religious traditions across the globe. Katherine Sonderegger says;

The Divine Processions are the life of the Holy God, and they measure, in their infinite soundings, the exceeding weight of Glory that is the Holy Life of God. But this Descent measures more. It measures out the Alien Character of God. The Processions generate this Strangeness: they set God—Nature and Life and Persons—apart. This is the lesson of Lateran IV. What we see in the Fiery Life of God is His own Alien Work, His own Self Declaration of Remoteness and Reserve. He is no idol; He does not belong to any pantheon or table of the gods; He is not to be found among the spiritual powers of the cosmos. The Holy Triune God is utterly Unique. The Processions beget this Alien Distance. They guard the Inner Holiness, preserve, and hide it. The Generation of the Son is the Breaking of all genus and family resemblance and likeness; it marks and keeps the utterly strange.[21]

In expounding the procession of the Son and the Spirit, the narrative underscores a dimension of obedience in consonance with the Father, and within this union, there is a conspicuous absence of hierarchical ordering. Rather, the emphasis lies on the dynamic manifestation of God’s singular nature, epitomized by the essence of love. This divine love, inherent in the Triune God, propels the salvific mission, affirming its distinctive character as the quintessential mode through which redemption emancipates and declares its singular authority over all that requires liberation. Indeed, it is this distinctive attribute that serves as the focal point inspiring profound worship and awe within the sphere of Christian devotion.

  • Origin.

Another word that might seem inept when describing this ordering of the Triune God is the word “origin” of the Divine persons. Within theological discussions on the Triune God, origin often refers to the eternal generation of the Son from the Father and the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. It emphasizes the distinct relationships and modes of existence within the Trinity.[22] As the Catholic dictionary describes this doctrine, we will see why it needs more nuance. It reads.

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.[23]

The word origin seems to indicate an ordering and a bringing forth of the three personas, one from another. At least the Son proceeds from the Father and the Holy Spirit from the Son (or both). When discussing the Triune God, the term “same” underscores the essential unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They share the same divine essence while maintaining distinct personal properties.[24] The concept of origin in the Trinity signifies the timeless and inseparable relationships between the three persons – the Father as the source, the Son eternally begotten, and the Holy Spirit proceeding. Understanding the term “origin” in the theological context of the Triune God is crucial for appreciating the timeless nature of the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What we should remember is that we need to uphold both the unity and distinction within the Triune God. Despite the two processions, there is only one divine essence shared equally by all three persons of the Trinity. Sonderegger writes;

the Proceeding Persons are not generated from the Nature but rather by the Person of the Father; just this is His Primacy. But the Acts of Procession by which the Persons are Eternally issued just are the Dynamic Life, the Nature, of the Tri-Personed God. Now, such a Triune schematic immediately underscores the Eternal Distinctiveness of the Persons and, even more, proposes a ground for that Distinction: Two Processions ensure Two Definite Persons. The Father, in the primary sense, it seems, acts eternally in two specific manners: He begets, and He breathes.[25]

Lastly, we should also take note that there is a non-hierarchical estimation afforded to what we attribute to the Triune community as the community defines its own terms. We must maintain that the processions do not establish a hierarchy in the Trinity, nor does it violate what could be considered when we look at Divine aseity. All three persons are equally divine and possess the exact nature by necessity in origin. Usually, the word ‘same’ is used to describe the precision of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s nature they share as an origin, but sameness could imply a similarity without equality, whereas if we say the Triune reality possesses the “exact” nature of God means all three ‘personae’ maintain a singular divine essence. This is a reality the early Church Fathers tried to maintain when they spoke of orthodoxy, and it will serve us well to do the same.

In Conclusion:

In conclusion, the intricate exploration of theological nuances surrounding the Triune God reveals the challenge of articulating profound concepts within human language. The term “generation” does not imply a hierarchical causation but signifies the eternal relationships among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The term “eternal” poses a challenge in reconciling timeless existence with temporal manifestations. “Divine procession” marks the eternal cause of the Son and distinguishes the Holy Spirit’s relationship within the Trinity. The term “origin” emphasizes distinct relationships and modes of existence within the timeless Triune God. Despite two processions, unity and distinction persist, with a non-hierarchical structure maintaining divine aseity and equality. The use of “exact” underscores precision in their shared divine essence, highlighting the limitations of language in capturing the mysteries of the Triune God.



[1] Thomas Aquinas, in his “Summa Theologica”, describes five considerations when we look at the procession within the Triune God. THE PROCESSION OF THE DIVINE PERSONS (FIVE ARTICLES). Having considered what belongs to the unity of the divine essence, it remains to treat of what belongs to the Trinity of the persons in God. And because the divine Persons are distinguished from each other according to the relations of origin, the order of the doctrine leads us to consider firstly, the question of origin or procession; secondly, the relations of origin; thirdly, the persons.

Concerning procession there are five points of inquiry:

(1) Whether there is procession in God?

(2) Whether any procession in God can be called generation?

(3) Whether there can be any other procession in God besides generation.

(4) Whether that other procession can be called generation?

(5) Whether there are more than two processions in God?




[4] The Essential Plotinus” by Plotinus, translated by Elmer O’Brien.

[5] Does God Change, Thomas G. Weinandy. Pg.32.

[6] The Christian Doctrine of God, Thomas F. Torrance. Pg.174.

[7] Trinitarian Dogmatics, D. Glenn Butner Jr., Pg.103.

[8] Trinitarian Dogmatics, D. Glenn Butner Jr., Pg.139.

[9] Trinitarian Dogmatics, D. Glenn Butner Jr., Pg.187.

[10] Essays on the Trinity. Lincoln Harvey. Pg.75.


[12] Hasker on the Divine processions of the Trinitarian Persons, Ryan Mullins. Pg. 197.

[13] John Damascene, De fid. orth. Ch. 8.


[15] God, Time, and the Incarnation. Richard A. Holland Jr. Pg.28.


[17] Simply Trinity. Matthew Barrett. Pg.200.

[18] Dr. Robert Falconer wrote an excellent article on the topic of the procession and the understanding of the Church of the East and West at the following link:


[20]Systematic Theology Volume 2, The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity:  Processions and Persons,  Katherine Sonderegger. Pg.335.

[21] Systematic Theology Volume 2, The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity:  Processions and Persons,  Katherine Sonderegger., Pg.336.

[22] Catholic Encyclopedia – Eternal Generation.



[25] Systematic Theology Volume 2, The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity:  Processions and Persons,  Katherine Sonderegger., Pg.