The Divine Missions and the Indwelling of the Three Persons of the Trinity in the Souls of the Just

The eternal processions in the Blessed Trinity – the Son’s generation from the Father and the Holy Ghost’s spiration from the Father and the Son – are reflected in creation in the temporal missions of the Son and the Holy Ghost. A divine mission involves a temporal “sending” of one divine Person by another (or others). Father Kenneth Baker defines “mission” as “the procession of one Person from another with reference to a new way of existing in an external term.”[1] As we shall see, this “external term” can be creation in general (“the world”) or the soul of the individual Christian in the state of grace.

These “temporal processions” or missions of the Son and the Holy Ghost are clara scriptura:

St. Paul states, “God sent his Son.”[2] Two verses later, he adds, “God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts.” Thus the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Ghost both find their place within three verses.

Our Lord frequently spoke of His being sent by the Father (e.g., John 7:28: “He that sent me, is true, whom you know not”[3]). In the same Gospel, we read of the Father’s sending the Holy Ghost: “But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (John 14:26). Completing the picture in the next chapter, Our Lord adds that He, too, will send the Holy Ghost: “But when the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me” (John 15:26). Thus, the Holy Ghost’s eternal procession from the Father “and the Son” (filioque), is reflected temporally.

St. Thomas closely links the processions to the missions when he describes mission “as meaning in one way the procession of origin from the sender, and as meaning a new way of existing in another; thus the Son is said to be sent by the Father into the world, inasmuch as He began to exist visibly in the world by taking our nature; whereas ‘He was’ previously ‘in the world’ (John 1:1).”[4] He goes further when he speaks of the term “procession” as including “the eternal procession, with the addition of a temporal effect. … Hence the procession may be called a twin procession, eternal and temporal, not that there is a double relation to the principle, but a double term, temporal and eternal.”[5]

Since the “Temporal Missions are strictly regulated by the divine sequence of origin,”[6] the Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son together send the Holy Ghost. (The Father’s indwelling in the soul, which raises a slight difficulty in the question of the missions, will be discussed later.)

It may be objected that, being God, all three Persons are always omnipresent, so reference to a divine Person being sent somewhere is superfluous at best. St. Thomas already answered this above when he spoke of mission as “a new way of existing in another.” (Fr. Baker also included this note in his own definition.) This new mode of existence – a supernatural mode effected by grace – is “in full harmony with that theological principle according to which God is present where He acts and more intimately present where He acts more intensely.”[7]

The scriptural passages cited earlier speak of both of the historical missions of the Second and Third Persons, as well as the continual and progressive missions by which these Persons are sent into the minds and hearts of believers. There is a distinction between these two types of external missions of the divine Persons. Two pairs of terms designate this distinction: “external and internal” and “visible and invisible.” The “visible” or “external” mission of the Son is His Incarnation, His mission to take our flesh as Christ and redeem us. His “invisible” or “internal” mission is to enlighten the minds of believers as “the truth” (John 14:6) and the “true light” (John 1:9). The Holy Ghost’s visible and external mission is different from Our Lord’s inasmuch as He did not become incarnate and “dwell among us” (cf. John 1:14) as did the Son. “There is evidently a great difference between the visible mission of the Son, who makes a human nature His own, and the mission of the Spirit, who only uses signs to manifest himself.”[8] This difference comes out in the Summa where St. Thomas says that “the Son has been sent visibly as the author of sanctification; the Holy Ghost as the sign of sanctification.”[9] As the “sign of sanctification,” the Holy Ghost assumed certain visible figures, appearing as the dove at Our Lord’s Baptism, the cloud at His Transfiguration and the tongues of fire at Pentecost. The internal, invisible mission of the Holy Ghost is the enflaming of the will of believers with the love of God, making them to practice the theological and moral virtues, as well as to live by His seven gifts.

While distinct, the two different kinds of missions (external and internal) are related to each other: “The visible missions are external signs of the invisible missions, namely, the Trinity dwelling in the souls of the just.”[10] Thus, the latter are more important than the former, which are only necessary because “invisible things are made known by the visible.”[11] This is why even the Holy Ghost, who was never incarnate as was the Son, was visibly manifested to men. We needed this revelation, this “sign,” in order to know of His internal mission.

The internal missions are concomitant with the state of sanctifying grace, which is necessary to prepare the soul for the “enjoying of the divine person”[12] by this indwelling. Our Lord at least hints at this when he speaks of theological charity and fidelity to the New Law as prerequisites for having the divine Persons in our souls: “If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him” (John 14:23). It is the internal mission of the Holy Ghost that Jesus spoke of when he said that “I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever. … you shall know him; because he shall abide with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16-17). He speaks of His own internal mission when He says, in the following verse, “I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.”

St. Thomas affirms that “the mission of the divine person is according to the gift of sanctifying grace.”[13] For it is grace (habitual, or sanctifying grace) that makes possible the new mode of existence by disposing the soul to receive this supernatural infusion. The Master of Aquino artfully describes this new manner of presence: God is in the soul “as the object known is in the knower, and the beloved in the lover.” By such an indwelling, “God is said not only to exist in the rational creature but also to dwell therein as in His own temple.”[14]

St. Thomas has it that the Holy Ghost, who dwells in the soul according to grace, effects this grace in the first place. “Sanctifying grace disposes the soul to possess the divine person; and this is signified when it is said that the Holy Ghost is given according to the gift of grace. Nevertheless the gift itself of grace is from the Holy Ghost; which is meant by the words, ‘the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.’ [Rom. 5:5]”[15] Three hundred years later, at the Council of Trent, the fathers agreed with the Angelic Doctor when they described the efficient cause of justification as “a merciful God… ‘signing and anointing with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance.’ [Eph. 1:13]”[16] For these reasons, the divine indwelling is commonly listed as one of the “concomitants” of justification.

All Three Persons are present in the justified soul, although this indwelling is generally appropriated to the Holy Ghost because it is a work of sanctification or Charity.[17] It must be that all Three are present, because all the works of the Trinity ad extra are works of all three Persons. Their consubstantiality and circumincession (mutual indwelling in each other) are such that the Three are inseparable in their external works, only being distinguished ad intra by the relation of opposition. Therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all present in the soul in this “new mode.”

A question arises as to the Father’s indwelling. If He is unoriginate, how is it that He comes to dwell in the souls of the just as the other two Persons do?[18] The dilemma is that the missions follow the order of the processions (as we said), but the Father proceeds from none. The answer is that the Father is not sent, but is present in the soul by virtue of the Trinitarian concomitance we averred to in the last paragraph: “As to the Father, though He dwells in us by grace, still it does not belong to Him to be from another, and consequently He is not sent.”[19] St. Thomas carefully avoids even saying that the Father sends himself. For his part, St. Augustine says that “The Father, when known by anyone in time, is not said to be sent; for there is no one whence He is, or from whom He proceeds.”[20]

We have spoken, as Fr. Baker did, in terms of the identity of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity with the internal missions. Monsignor Pohle holds the opinion that there is a formal difference between the missions and the indwelling:

“Though every invisible Mission has for its ultimate object the ‘indwelling’ of God in the soul, and the beginning of that indwelling is signalized after the manner of a ‘coming’ or ‘descent’ yet Mission and Indwelling are not identical, – for this reason, among others, that Mission takes place only in conformity with the immanent Procession from Person to Person, while Indwelling, though appropriated in a special manner to the Holy Ghost, is common to the entire Trinity.”[21]

This insight helps to solve the problem of the Father’s indwelling even though He is not sent.

St. Thomas also holds, with St. Augustine, that progress in grace and virtue entails fresh “missions” of the divine Persons. It is thus not only an ” [initial] indwelling by grace,” but also a “certain [progressive] renewal by grace.”[22]

Father Baker begins the lesson on this subject by saying that it makes the doctrine of the Trinity “practical” for us. We can see this practicality in the lives of the saints, such as Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, who used to refer to the Triune God intimately as “My Three,” and actually became distracted with the thought of the Trinitarian indwelling during her recreations in Carmel. May the Holy Three grant us all such blessed distractions!


St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Online Edition: Kevin Knight, 2003. Online, available at: [accessed 12 July 2006].

Parente, Pietro; Piolanti, Antonio; and Garofalo, Salvatore, Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology. Translated by Emmanuel Doronzo, O.M.I., S.T.D., Ph.D. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1951.

Pohle, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph, Ph.D., D.D. The Divine Trinity. Adapted and edited by Arthur Preuss. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1925.

[1] Class Notes, Lesson 12: Missions & Divine Indwelling,

[2] Gal. 4:4: “misit Deus Filium suum…Misit from mitto, mittere, misi, missus: “to send,” whence comes “mission.”

[3] Other examples include “I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me” (Jn. 6:38) and “He who honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father, who hath sent him” (Jn. 5:23).

[4] Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 43, A. 1.

[5] Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 43, A. 2.

[6] Pohle, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph, Ph.D., D.D. The Divine Trinity. Adapted and edited by Arthur Preuss. (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1925) p. 249.

[7] Parente, Pietro; Piolanti, Antonio; and Garofalo, Salvatore, Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology, translated by Emmanuel Doronzo, O.M.I., S.T.D., Ph.D. (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1951) p. 141.

[8] Parente, Pietro; Piolanti, Antonio; and Garofalo, Salvatore, op cit, p. 189.

[9] Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 43, A. 7.

[10] Class Notes, ibid.

[11] Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 43, A. 7.

[12] Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 43, A. 3.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 43, A. 3.

[16] Denz. 799.

[17] The Holy Ghost is sometimes called “Uncreated Charity” as distinct from the theological virtue, “created Charity.”

[18] Vide John 14:23: “my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him.”

[19] Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 43, A. 5.

[20] Cited in the Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 43, A. 4.

[21] Pohle, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph, Ph.D., D.D., op cit. p. 252.

[22] Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 43, A. 6. See, esp., ad. 2.

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