“The theological concept of creation is incomprehensible unless Christ, and therefore the Holy Trinity, plays a decisive role in its shaping.”
“Creation in the Word of God and in his Spirit is, from the very beginning, including when the Trinity is still hidden, the indispensable foundation for his revelation, which, however much it constitutes a novelty in the Incarnation of the Word, is nevertheless its plenitude and impossible without such a foundation.”1
God the Father is the Creator; the Son, the Redeemer; and the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier. This is the classic attribution of functions to the distinct persons of the Holy Trinity, which is well-known to us from the Catechism. The suitability of the formula to revealed data and its pedagogical clarity are unquestionable. It is not the Father who died upon the Cross for us. It is not the Son who with his powerful word called into being that which did not exist. Neither is the Holy Spirit, for his part, the agent of these divine works, but rather the one who brings them to their completion in us.
Nevertheless, a more complete and nuanced vision of the reality of the triune God and his relation to the world allows us not only to adopt the viewpoint of the so-called personal “appropriations” mentioned above, but, beyond that, to take into consideration the intimate unity in which the divine persons live and work ad extra. Or, to put it more precisely, it is necessary to understand well exactly what is meant when it is said that the Creation is “appropriated” to the Father, the Redemption to the Son, and Sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Does this mean that only the Father is Creator, only the Son Redeemer and only the Spirit Sanctifier? Or that each one of them exercises these actions in a somewhat solitary way, as though on the fringes of the intimate and indispensable relation he has with the other persons? “Appropriation” excludes these suppositions, which nevertheless are perhaps not always far from a certain elementary catechetical imagination. The Creation is specially attributed to the Father, but neither is this his only action nor does it exclude the other two persons from taking an active role in it. The Redemption is specially attributed to the Son, but, again, neither is this his only action nor does he undertake it by himself. The same thing can be said of the sanctification attributed to the Holy Spirit.
The purpose of these pages is not to treat the doctrine of Trinitarian attributions as such, but rather to highlight one of its implications: Jesus Christ is not only the Redeemer of the human race, but also the one “through whom all things were made.” We will attempt to delve more deeply into this affirmation, which, to be sure, comes before the confession of faith in the Incarnation of the Son for our salvation in the ordering of the creed.
We will begin with a brief historical consideration of the treatment of the matter in theology, in order then to dwell at somewhat greater length on the data of revelation and on certain theological implications of creation in Christ for the very idea of creation and of God the creator.
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1. H.U. von Balthasar, “Creation and Trinity,” RCI Communio 10 (1988): 188.