Why is the order of the Trinity always discussed in terms of Father, Son, and then the Holy Spirit? Why not the other way around: Holy Spirit, Son, and Father? or Son, Father, and Holy Spirit or Son, Holy Spirit, and father? or even Father, Holy Spirit, and Son? or Holy Spirit, Father, and Son? Is there some significance to the usual order being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Does any other possible order diminish the Trinity in some way, shape, or form?
What we now know as Trinitarian teachings were developed at the Council of Nicaea and proposed by Athanasius of Alexandria. There is even the Athanasius Creed that fairly well defines the result. The truth is – it wasn’t an easy teaching to develop.
The Homoiousians held that God the Son was of a similar, but not identical, substance or essence to God the Father.
The Homoousians believed that they are of the same essence and are equally God.
The Homoeans declared that the Son was similar to God the Father, without reference to substance or essence.
Other Homoians declared that God the father was so incomparable and ineffably transcendent that even the ideas of likeness, similarity or identity in substance or essence with the subordinate Son and the Holy Spirit were heretical and not justified by the Gospels. They held that the Son was like the Father in some sense but that even to speak of “ousia” was impertinent speculation.
Heteroousians said that the substance or being of God the Father and the substance or being of the Son of God (Jesus) are different. This was also known as Arianism and was the chief heresy that Athanasius fought against.
These represent the main schools of throught, however there were countess variations of them over the centuries. And yet here we are roughly 1500 years later, we hold to the homoousian (from “same” and “being”) without giving a second thought to every other teaching. In this way the ‘victor’ has re-written history so that all other teachings are heresy.
Does that make every other interpretation wrong? Does that make all of our default teachings automatically right? After centuries of debate – we still don’t have a firm understanding as to the nature of the Trinity. The first few hundred years the disciples were confused and that didn’t make them love God any less. After all, being a mysterious being is part of what makes God worthy of worship.
I wonder if there is an implied greatness in the order of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Generally, first is foremost. Best. Greatest. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the order of appearance – though the other two persons of the Trinity are hinted at, God The Father is the primary agent of the Old Testament. The Son and the Holy Spirit share the New Testament and are featured in that order. In terms of Power, The Father displays it throughout … from the plagues of Egypt, to judgement against entire peoples, to prophets who bring a powerful miracle-backed message. Jesus does no shortage of miracles, and the Holy Spirit enables similar miracles but they are not on the same scale. Were all three members of the Trinity co-equal, then there really should be no reason that The Holy Spirit or the Son be referred to first, or Father or the Holy Spirit referred to second, or the Father or the Son be referred to last.
We have to remember that the passages that we use to explain who and what the Trinity are were written a few hundred years before the concept of the Trinity was defined and agreed upon by the representatives of the Council of Nicaea. It might not have been what Paul or the other New Testament authors had in mind when referring to persons of the Trinity to make a point about other teachings. We have to be careful to search for all possible meanings that exist outside of “obviously this refers to the Trinity” teaching that is more or less a default. We should ask ourselves: “What might have the early believers (before the council of Nicaea) have thought that this passage meant?”