Christos Sp. Voulgaris
THE BIBLICAL AND PATRISTIC DOCTRINE
OF THE TRINITY
The Greek Orthodox Theological Review vol.37, nov 3-4, 1992
IN ITS CLASSICAL FORMULATION AS " UNITY IN TRINITY" AND " TRINITY IN UNITY," the Christian doctrine of God, " the capital of our faith," according to Saint Gregory the Theologian, is not directly stated in the Bible. Rather, this formulation is the result of a gradual theological reflection upon the subject of the Church's faith as it is roughly portrayed in the Bible and lived in the experience of the Church. This process began in the second and was concluded in the fourth century, i.e., at a time when the Church Fathers struggled against the Sabellians and the Monarchians on the hand, who n their reaction to Gnosticism denied either the trinity of the persons in the Godhead or their equality of honor, as well as against the Arians and Macedonians on the other, who regarded the Son and the Holy Spirit respectively, as God's creatures.
Speaking about the Bible, however, we must point out from the outset that the doctrine of the Trinity does not rest solely on the few trinitarian formulas and expressions scattered here and there, mostly in the books of the New Testament. Rather, the entire biblical witness points to the trinitarian reality of the divine revelation, according to which God reveals himself to the world as he really is and exists in himself, i.e., in the three eternal modes of the existence of his one substance. It is exactly this trinitarian revelatory reality which is the scope and the aim of the Church's theological reflection with the purpose to guard it against human ungodly reflection. In other words, while human reason, unable to conceive of the paradox of God's trinity and unity by human categories, tends to place divine reality on the same line of human philosophical, religious, and historical thought forms, the theological, reflection of the Church expounds and interprets the biblical, i.e., revelatory reality about God. In doing so the Church is always conscious of the fact that not God is not the "object" of human reflection, but its "subject" because she is also aware of the biblical fact that not God but man is the object of the divine revelatory energy and that man's acts are his response to God's primary energy toward him. In the Bible God makes himself known and this is the only way that man can known him; God reveals himself and man believes in him, i.e., accepts him, and thus experiences him. Only then can man express himself theologically.
The Church's theological formulation of her faith in the Triune God is marked by its unbroken unity and identity with the biblical reality it self. In fact there is a mutual connection between the biblical reality and the Church since God's revealing activity in sacred history is the founding factor of the religious community within which that activity takes place. Thus, Israel is the " Kahal Jahweh " in the Old Testament which is also the object of God's activity. The same is also true of the Church in the New Testament, the community of God's Messiah, Jesus Christ the Son of God, In this respect also the Bible is the Bible of the ecclesial community, not only because this community defined the boundaries of the Bible and formed the canon of its authentic books, but also because this ecclesial community is the author of the Bible through the particular writers who wrote down the Church's experience and faith. As such then, the Bible is the deposit of the community's experience and faith in God's revealed reality. This means that we cannot think of the Bible without the Church and vice versa, and that the bible is not the revealed reality itself, but that which points to it.
This close connection and mutual coexistence between Church and biblical revelation makes the Church the sole authentic interpreter of the Bible, its guardian and the guardian and the guarantor of its integrity and continuity in history. This obviously implies that the greatest danger for the distortion of the biblical reality about God comes from the so called "biblical" understanding of the Bible, i.e., from the individual interpretation of it, away from the Church's experience and faith. The individual interpretation disregards the existence of the ecclesial reality and replaces the role of the Community by the role of the individual, or to speak in Pauline terms, it replaces the role of the "body" by the role of the particular members which are given an absolute status (cf. Cor 12.12-30; Rom 12.4-8). Paul is clear about it; the function of each member is defined by the whole, the "body", to the extent that any individualistic attitude of each member breaks the unity of the body and jeopardizes its very life and existence ( cf.1 Cor 12.15-21 ).
That the biblical revelatory reality is threatened to be distorted by the individual, non-ecclesial interpretation, is evident also from the fact that each individual reader possesses his own perceptive abilities and principles which differ from those of the other readers, as well as from the fact that no individual or even generation is perfectly aware of the perceptive abilities and principles of individuals and generations of the distant past and especially of the historic community which witnessed to the divine action in history. The result is that no one can interpret the biblical reality correctly unless he maintains the necessary connection and continuity with that community which experienced God's actions. This connecting link between the two, past and present, is the unbroken chain of ecclesial tradition formed by an unbroken living experience of the past in the present, i.e., the very consciousness of the ecclesial body. And it is this consciousness which preserves also the unity and identity of the Church's theological reflection and formulation of the biblical revealed reality about the three persons in the Godhead. What was revealed to the historic ecclesial community was handed down to subsequent ecclesial generations through their faith in it. Thus "theologia" cannot differ from the Church's own experience, which in turn cannot differ from the revealed reality to which the Bible bears witness, and the revealed reality cannot differ from the Godhead's eternal mode of existence. Therefore, we arrive to the trinitarian faith about God from two directions, i.e., from revelation itself and more particularly from the "economy" via christology and more and pneumatology, and from "theology" which stems from the triune God himself and via revelation ends up in christology and pneumatology. Theology and economy converge into the same reality. This implies that as far as the Holy Trinity is concerned there is no room for any kinds of "monism". But before entering this discussion we must point two more things.
First that the Christian doctrine of God in three persons has nothing to do with pagan polytheism. The Christian Trinity of persons is at the same time a unity in substance which means that the Trinity in Oneness and the Oneness in Trinity is of a personal, hypostatic nature, which pagan polytheism being a product of human imagination is of an impersonal character. In fact it is the hypostatic character of the divine nature that forms the reality of the relationship and therefore of the unity of the divine persons since each person's peculiar quality is understood only in his relationship to the other persons. Thus, the Father is "Father" only in relation to the Son, which means that if the Son does exist or if he is deprived of his divine substance and reduced to the level of the "divine men" of the Hellenistic world or to the level of a creature as Arios maintained, then the Father's peculiarly personal quality and so his very existence is done away with, too. The same principle applies in the cases of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is clear then that the unity of the divine persons presupposes their multiplicity which is the basis of their mutual relationship. The Christian doctrine of God, therefore, is not about an impersonal and static God, as in Hellenism, but personal and dynamic: God is personally in a perpetual energy and relationship. This implies that "monism’s" with respect to the triune God have grave consequences upon theo-logy and anthropology.
Second, when the Bible speaks about God, it mostly identifies him with the first person of the Trinity, i.e., the Father, as the beginning and cause of the existence and life of everything that exists and lives of the divine and on the human level, [i] "Father, the beginning of all, the cause of the existence of beings, the root of the living." Thus, God's fatherhood is tantamount to "Principium Divinitatis", since on account of his divine essence God the Father is the beginning and the cause of the Son by birth, and of the Holy Spirit by procession; and on account of his divine will and energy, he is the beginning and the cause of all creation, visible, and invisible. According to the Bible, the fatherhood of the first person of the Holly Trinity is not an acquisition or achievement granted to him by man, as in pagan religions, but a peculiarly natural, personal quality, because the attribute "Father" is the very name by which this person is revealed in the world, and first of all as the Father of his Son, regardless of creation ( cf. Mt 11.27,24.36; Jn 1.16,10.15) The relationship between the Father and his Son is a timeless relationship between cause and effect to the extent that the Son cannot exist without the Father as the Father cannot exist without the Son. The existence of the one implies the existence of the other and his peculiar quality (1 Jn 2.22-23). The same is also true of the Holy Spirit who timelessly "proceeds (only) from the Father" (Jn 15.26), so that if the Father does not exist there is no procession and thus there is no Holy Spirit, and vice versa.
This clear biblical reality was distorted in the ancient Church by the Monarchians who gave an absolute status to the Father at the expense of the Son and the Holy Spirit whom they regarded as functions of the Father, as well as by Marcion who gave an absolute status to the Son at the expense of the Father, emphasizing thus economy at the expense of the theology, i.e., a christology without patrology. Both of these ancient "monism’s" survive still today in western theology which quite often treats Jesus Christ as an inspired human person deprived of his divine quality. But the Holy Spirit is also quite often given an absolute status, especially by the so-called "charismatic" communities, while, as we said above, the "Filioque" doctrine confuses between the Spirit's timeless procession from the Father alone with his timely sending to the word through the Son. If the Holy Spirit proceeds timelessly "filioque", then the Son acquires a quality which he does not naturally possess, i.e., that of the fatherhood, and which makes the Son the source and cause of the Spirit's existence. At the same time, this idea underrates the Spirit in comparison to the Son, but most of all it underrates the person of the Father from whom, according to Saint Paul, " are all things and for whom we exist "( 1 Cor 8.6; Rom 11.36), even the Son himself ( 1 Cor 15.28). It is obvious that none of these "monism’s" correspond to the biblical reality. Marcion's rejection of the Father as the creator of the universe, on the other hand, overlooks his relations to it and rejects non-Christian reality all together. Indeed, the biblical doctrine about God stress the fact that revelation took place within the already existing world, without which Christ's redemptive work becomes meaningless. But even before Christ's coming God "did not leave himself without witness" ( Acts 14.17). Without any relation to the world, as Marcion maintained, God the Father becomes a mere "essence" in a platonic sense, impersonal, static and inactive, which makes impossible, not only the existence of the world, but even his own existence and life in himself.
Biblical reality is distorted by "monism’s" centered in the person of the Son, i.e., if an absolute status is given to him at the expense of the other two persons, or if the Son is demoted in comparison to the other two persons. Thus, theology without christology is foreign not only to the Christian doctrine of God as such, which is inseparably connected with the person of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Logos of the Father "in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2.9; cf. Cor 5.19), but to the reality of the peculiarly personal attribute of the Father, since there is no Father without the Son. In addition to this, without the Son the remains unknown to the world and thus historical revelation is done away with. But as Jesus Christ himself said, "no one has ever seen God, the only Son, who is in he bosom of the Father, he has made him known" (Jn 1.18;cf. 14.6,9,10, 16.3,32. 5,23 etc.). On the other hand if we give absolute status to Christology at the expense of patrology and pneumatology, we are eventually led into a mere "anthropology. "Indeed, a christology of this kind makes theology a mere "Jesusology" of an Evionite type as well as an "anthropology" destined to end up, as it did, to a "theology" of the death of God which is the justification of atheism by way of the Christian faith itself. Phenomena of this kind abound in western theological textbooks where human values, like love, justice, brotherhood, etc., are disconnected from and treated independently of Jesus Christ's divinity and are projected as models of human life without any reference to the divine reality. The result is the degradation of the Christian faith and man's existential, ontological renewal. In other worlds, ontology is replaced by morality and thus Christianity runs the risk of becoming an atheistic humanism since such a Christian life does not differ from the life prescribed by other religions because its model and criterion is not "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1.24) "in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1.14), but "the wisdom of this world" (1 Cor 1.20, 2.6) which as anthropocentric is at the same time satano-centric. This "monism" overlooks the fact that Jesus Christ is a perfect man only because he is God-man, i.e., because "in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2.9). Therefore, Christian values are Christian only in their reference to the person of Christ in his twofold natures.
Biblical reality is finally distorted by the "monisms" centered around the person of the Holy Spirit. In the history of the Church, such "monisms" were advocated by the Arians and the Macedonians in the ancient times and by the "filioque" later on, which degrade the Holy Spirit in relation to the other persons of the Trinity, on the one hand and by the enthusiastic groups in the apostolic times (cf.1 Cor 14) and by the so-called "charismatic" communities of our own times which give an absolute status to the Holy Spirit on the other. Now, if degrade the Holy Spirit, salvation in Christ becomes inactive on the personal level since any one who does have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him " (Rom 8.9) and "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12.3) and "by this we know that he (Christ) abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us" (1 Jn 3.24). It is only in the Holy Spirit that man can be adopted as a son by God the Farther (Rom 8.14-17 Gal 4.4-7). The spirit in fact prevents Christ's redemptive work to be viewed from the point the individual (Jn 14.18). On the other hand, giving an absolute status to the Spirit annihilates the transcendent as well as the historical character of the divine revelation. Proceeding eternally from the Father, the Spirit is given in time by the Son. This makes Christ's person and work absolutely necessary for man's appropriation of the Spirit and so for his adoption by the Father. Thus the charismatic element of the Holy Spirit cannot be viewed independently of the historical roots of our faith in Christ; if it does it becomes a mere utopia. It was for this very reason that Saint Paul, whole not forbidding glossolalia in Corinth, he nevertheless stressed the importance of the "prophecy", i.e., the kerygma about Christ's person and work with which it connects the believer and "edifies" him. At the same time "prophecy" calls into account and "convicts" the unbeliever and so "the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so falling on his face he will worship God and declare that God is really among the believers." Left without control, the charismatic element leads into ecstasy (cf. 1 Cor 14.23, "you are mad") and absurdity, and at the same time it rejects the sense of sinfulness and guilt.
From what has been so far said it becomes obvious that Patrology, Christology and Pneumatology must be examined together, grounded upon the unity of the three persons in the Godhead. When we talk about the one person we are bound to have always in mind the other two since the work carried out by any one of them presupposes the participation and cooperation of the other two persons. The unifying factor that lies in the background is the hypostatic and therefore dynamic divine nature.
THE WITNESS OF THE SCRIPTURES
The Old Testament
The Holy Trinity is fully revealed in the second period of the divine Economy, recorded in the New Testament, while in the first period, recorded in the Old Testament, we have hints only about it. Here the emphasis lies on Monotheism due to Israel's tendency towards idolatry and polytheism, and to man's sinful condition which prevented him from a clear knowledge of God (cf. Rom 1.18-2,16).
When examining the Old Testament evidence scholars usually confine themselves to five texts, i.e., to Genesis 1.26, 3.22 and 11.7 where according to the Hebrew text God's name occurs in the plural (Elohim), to Genesis 18 which records the three angels' visit to Abraham, and to Is 6,3 which recirds the threefold hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy" sang by the angels round God's throne. But a closer look at the Old Testament reveals a greater number of texts of a trinitarian context.
Indeed, the Old Testament begins with the simple statement "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In the Hebrew text the word "God" occurs in the plural while the verb "created" occurs in the singular. The explanation given by scholars is that here we are confronted with a "pluralis amplitudinis," according to which, as in the case of the kings and rulers of antiquity, the plural from "Elohim" stresses God's majesty, while many saw the purpose of the author to prevent polytheism tendencies by placing the verb in the singular. But if this was the case, then the world: God" should have been exclusively used in the singular throughout the Old Testament; but it does not. Besides, if a "plural amplitudinis" is indicated each time he world "Elohim" occurs, then the verb should always occur in the singular, as in Genesis 1.1, which does not, because in the account of man's creation in the same chapter, the verb, used twice, is first placed in the singular and the plural, agreeing with the plural pronoun: "Then God said, let us make man in our image, and after our likeness" (Gen 1.26). Now, since the verb and the pronoun occur here in the plural, the word "Elohim" stands for the Godhead, indicating more than one person. A similar case is found in Genesis 3.22 where the singular "said" is followed by the plural "one" of "us," and in Genesis 11.7 where the singular verb is later changed into the plural ("Let us go down and let us confuse their language"). A case similar to Genesis 1.26 is found also in Genesis 3.22.
In their efforts to impose a singular connotation upon Genesis 1.26, 3.22, and 11.7, scholars maintained that the dialogue here is not among the persons of the Godhead, but between God and the heavenly spirits. In practical terms this explanation implies that God the Creator addressed himself to the heavenly spirits and asked them to participate in man's creation. If this is true then the being about to be created (i.e., man) should be created "in the image and after the likeness" of both, God and the spirits. Such an idea, however, is monstrous as far as the bible is concerned, because it places the uncreated God and the created spirits on an equal footing as models of other creatures. But that God alone is man's model is evident from Genesis 1.27 where it is clearly stated that “God created man in his own image of God he created him.” And from Ecclesiastes 12.1 where a multipersonal Godhead is said to be man’s model.
The interpretation of the above texts in the context of a “pluralis amplitudunis” is of Jewish origin dating at the time of Theodoret of Kyros who says that “they (the Jews) maintain that God of all said to himself “let us make man,” after the example of those in high honor. Indeed supreme rulers are accustomed to say in the plural “we decree,” and “we write” and “we command,” and the rest. But they (the Jews) did not realize that the God of all speaks mostly in the singular: “it is time that every man come in my presence” (Gen. 6.13) and “I remembered that I created man” and “I will blot out man” (Gen. 6.6-7) and “Behold, I am doing new things; now they spring forth” (Is 43.19). And in the entire divine Scripture we hear the God of all conversing in the singular, while a few times he converses also in the plural indicating with this the number of the persons of the Trinity. For when he confused the languages, he did not say in the singular “I will go down and confuse their language,” but “Let us go down and let us confuse their languages” (Gen. 11.7)... For every time it is said “God said” is meant the common divine essence; but when it continues “Let us make” the number of the persons is implied. Likewise again, when it is said “image” is meant the identity of nature, for He not say “in images,” but “in image.” And when he said “in our” he indicated the number of the persons.” [ii]
Let us turn now to another kind of Old Testament texts where the existence of more than one person in the Godhead is indicated by the New Testament where they are cited. Thus, e.g., v. 2 of Psalm 2 which has a messianic significance (cf. Mt. 3.17, 17.5, Mk 1.11, 9.7, Lk 3. 22, Jn. 1.49, Act 13.33 etc.), speaks about « the Lord » and « his Christ.” “Lord” is here a translation of the Hebrew word “Adonai” signifying God as the Lord of the universe and of Israel. But in Acts 4.26 and Rev. 11.15 “the Christ” of Psalm 2.2 is expressly identified with Jesus. A similar case is that of Psalm 18. 26-27 (0=117), also a messianic Psalm, whose coming one in the name of the Lord” is also identified in Matthew 21.9 and Luke 19.38 with Jesus by the multitudes. No doubt, the multitudes’ conviction was based upon Jesus’ own conviction that he came in the name of his Father (Jn 5.43), whom even he called “Lord” of heavens and earth (Mt 11.25).
In the Old Testament the title “Lord” is applied also to another person, besides God, of divine status. A classic case is that of Psalm 110.1 (0=109) “The Lord said to my Lord,...” In the Synoptic tradition the second Lord is identified by Jesus with himself (Mt 22.44 pars), and this identification was deposited in the early Church (Acts 2.34-35, Rom 8.34 etc.). The Son’s lordship is stressed in all these cases on account of his participation in the creation of the world and of his redemptive work by which he detached creation from the rule of Satan and submitted it to himself (cf. Eph 1.3-23, Col 1.12-20. 1 Cor 15.12-28, Heb 1.2-3, etc.). Jesus Christ’s lordship over creation is stressed also by Psalm 102.26-28 (0=101), according to its interpretation in Hebrews 1.10. Additional cases of application of the title ”Lord” to another person, besides God, in the Old Testament are Deuteronomy 9.10, 1 Chronicles 17.16;21, Amos 4.11, Jeremiah 50.40 (0=27), etc., where this other “Lord” appears acting in a special way as a mediator between God and the world and is invested with a divine power and authority. In the New Testament this person is always identified with Jesus Christ the Son of God, called equally “Lord” like his Father.
Indeed, the lordship of the Son is grounded upon his equal honor with God the Father. Thus in Psalm 45.7-8 (0=44) and Isaiah 9.6 he is equally called “God “in a purely biblical sense, since quite often in the Old Testament the future Davidic ruler appears as a representative of God. But in Psalm 2.7 and 110.3 (0=109) this Davidic Messiah is called not only Son of God but God himself, too. A similar case is found in Psalm 45.7-8 (0=44) where the word “God” occurs twice, once in the vocative and once in the nominative, the first indicating the Messiah, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews (1.8-9, Christ) and Aquila. [iii] Also the “Mighty God” in the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 9.6 is anointed with “the oil of gladness” (cf. also Acts 10.38) and destined to rule the world with equity and righteousness (cf. also Is 9.7, 32.1 Ps 45.7-8).
The fourth Evangelist, referring to the “Lord of hosts” of Isaiah 6.10 whom the prophet saw and whose voice he heard at the moment of his call, identified him Jesus the Son followed by the explanation “Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (Jn 12.40-41). John’s interpretation of Isaiah 6.10 forced the Church Fathers to see in all the theophanies of the Old Testament the Son of God. Indeed, according to the Fathers it was the Son who appeared to Abraham (Gen 12.7, 17.1, 18.1), to Isaak (Gen 26.23-24), to Jacob (Gen 35.7, 48.3, 32.28;30), to Moses (Ex 33.13-14), to Ezekiel (Ez 1.1ff), etc., albeit in different ways. Christ’s invisibility in the Old Testament was due to his pre-incarnated state in accordance with his observation to Moses that “you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 30.20), or as the Fathers explained that creatures cannot see the uncreated essence. [iv]
In addition to this, in the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 6 the Hebrew word for the “Lord of hosts” is “Jahweh” and it is interesting to note that many Old Testament passages using this name are cited in the New Testament as fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, besides Psalm 102.26-28 (0=101) cited in Hebrews 1.10-12, we are told in 1 Corinthians 10.9 that the grumbling against Jahweh at Rephidim (Ex 17.2-7, Num 21.6-7) was against Jesus himself. Also, the Lord who sends his messenger to prepare the way before him, according to Mal 3.1, is identified with Jesus in the Synoptic tradition and the messenger himself is identified with John the Baptist (Mt 3.3, Mk 1.3, Lk 3.4). Finally, the prophecy of Isaiah 35.3ff is applied by Luke 7.19-22 to Jesus.
Closely connected with the above is the figure of the “Malach Jahweh” of “Malach Elohim,” found mostly in pre-exilic texts. This figure appears superior to men in knowledge, power, and wisdom and is sent by God to protect or guide Israel (Ex 14.19, 23.20, Num 20.26) or certain individuals (Gen 18, 24.7, 28.10;15 etc), to smite the enemies of the people of God (2 Kgs 19.35), to punish Israel (2 Sam 24.16,1 Chron 21.16), to announce messages from God (Gen 16.7-11, 22.11-25 etc.), and to provide help (1 Sam 29.9;2 Kgs 14.17;20). Quite often he speaks and acts as if he were God himself, while sometimes he is clearly distinguished from him. Recent scholarship wavers between the identification of this figure with God and its differentiation from him, while the Church Fathers, with the exception of Augustine, Gregory the Great, and Thomas Aquinas, identified the “Malach Jahweh” with the Son of God, forecasting his incarnation. [v] But besides the active presence of the first two persons of the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament, a few texts indicate also the active presence of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Psalm 95.7-11 (0=94) speaks about “the voice of God” which in Hebrews 3.7-11 is identified with the Holy Spirit. Similarly, the expression» Says the Lord” in Jeremiah 31.31-34, cited in an abbreviated from in Hebrews 10,15-17, is identified with the Holy Spirit with the comment “and the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us…”
Finally there are passengers in the Old Testament which suggest the active presence of all three persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus, besides the identifications of “the Lord of hosts” with Jesus Christ in Isaiah 6.8-10 the “voice of the Lord” in the same text is identified with the Holy Spirit in Acts 28.25-27. Therefore, in this prophecy we have all three persons present. Similarly, in Isaiah 48.16-17, except the speaking Lord, we have also the Lord who sent him and “his Spirit.” The same thing is observed in Isaiah 61.1-2 which is cited in Luke 4.18-19.
The above texts are a sample only of a greater evidence in the Old Testament. It is interesting to point out, however, that when the Old Testament speaks generally about “God,” most of the times it is the Godhead indicated.
The New Testament
In considering the New Testament evidence, scholars usually confine themselves to the so-called Trinitarian formulas in it. This procedure however, does not give a full account and a clear picture of the revealed reality which runs throughout the New Testament, even where not all three persons of the Holy Trinity are mentioned. Indeed, it is the distinctive factual mark of the New Testament revelation that when one person is mentioned, the other two are also implied, since, as noted bove, each person’s peculiar quality is understood in the reality of his relationship with the other two persons and so with their existence. Therefore, the best way to study the New Testament evidence about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is to present the peculiar, personal quality of each person separately.
God the Father
It is true that God’s quality as “Father” is also found in the religious literature outside the Bible. Nevertheless, the fundamental aspect of it there is that this quality is based upon mythical conceptions and a primary act of birth nothing man’s natural descent from God. Thus, i.e., the Ugaritic god “El” is called father of mankind, and the Babylonian moon-god “Sin” is called father and generator of gods and men. This last idea is also found in Homer [vi] and Plato who calls him “maker and father of everything” (Tim 28C, 41A etc.). In Egypt, Pharaoh was considered as God’s son in a special sense of natural descent. But in Plato and the Stoics, God’s fatherhood takes on a philosophical connotation, according to which the divine is the beginning and the depth of all beings and the substance of everything that exists (the divine, the world, and man) is the divine Logos who sets the order and governs the universe as a cosmic logos. Man comes to communion with this Logos by his own logos who is the seed of the universe. Thus, every man is considered to be God’s son because of the communion of his logos with the logos of the universe, i.e., because of his natural relationship with the divine.
Things are different in the Bible, however, where God’s fatherhood is of a personal character. In other words, in contrast to naturalistic religions where God’s fatherhood is ascribed to him by man who made up the various gods in his own imagination and placed them in his social and family structures, the Bible stresses the fact that fatherhood is an innate quality of God, because he reveals himself in the Bible particularly as a Father of his own Son by birth and secondarily as the Father of men by adoption. Therefore, the naturalistic element is replaced in the Bible by the divine revelation which is the model of human entities and relations. That is, men’s fatherhood and son ship are expressions and types of the divine fatherhood and son ship. With respect to man, God’s fatherhood is connected with man’s fidelity to him and not with his quality as Creator of the universe and himself. This is why nowhere in the Bible is God said to be the Father of all men, but only of those who are related to him by faith acknowledging him as their own God. Thus, Israel alone is said to be God’s son in the Old Testament, and God alone is said to be Israel’s Father (Ex. 4.22, Deut 1.31,8.5 32.5f;18, Ps 26.9-10, Is 43.6-7, Jer 31.9, Job 13.4, Mal 1.6, etc.). This mutual relationship between God and Israel is based upon God’s election of Israel as his “firstborn” son (Ex 4.22) and a whole series of God’s acts in history which Israel acknowledges by faith. Even so however, this mutual relationship is not the fundamental principle in God’s dealings with Israel since God’s non-incarnate revelation still underlines the distance between them. The gap was bridged in the New Testament where we have the actual presence of Jesus Christ the incarnate Son and Logos of God, who revealed God’s innate quality as his own Father.
Indeed, according to the New Testament, it was Word of God, “the only Son of God who is in the bosom of the Father” (Jn 1.18), “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1.15,2 Cor 4.4) who “reflects the glory and bears the very stamp of his person” (Heb 1.3) who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1.14) and make known the Father (Cf. Mt 3.17 par. 17.5 par. 16.16, 27.43, Lk 1.32;35. Jh 1.34, 10.36, 11.4 17.1, 19.7, etc.). The authority of the revelation of the Son rests on his inner relationship and unity with the Father to the extent that only the Son Jesus Christ can say « I and the Father are one » (Jn 10.30) and that « the Father is in me and I am in the Father » (Jn 10.38, 14.10-11). Thus, if one knows, the son, he knows the Father, too, and only by the Son one comes to the Father (Jh 14.6-9, 8.19, etc.). These expressions indicate a unity between the Son and the Father which has nothing to do with the Gnostic conception of it where one person was absorbed by the other. Rather, the unity between the Father and the Son is a unity of substance which retains the identity of the persons.
According to the New Testament, God is the Father of Jesus Christ his eternal Son in a literary sense. Jesus underlined this by using the Aramaic expression “Abba” (Mk 14.36) and similar ones by which he stressed the fact that he is the Son of God who is his Father in an exclusive way (Mt 7.21, 11.27, 26.63-64, Mk 12.6 Lk 10.21f, 22.42, 23.34;46, Jn 3.16;18, etc.). It is interesting to notice that he never used the expression “our Father” for both, himself and men together. Instead, he used the expression “my Father” for himself and the expression “your Father” for the believers who also were conscious that God is exclusively the Father of Jesus Christ. Saying like he was sent by the Father, to whom he addressed himself and prayed, whom he obeyed in his earthly life, and to whom he returned at his exultation, exclude any notion of Monarchianism or Arianism and underline that he has always been distinguished as a person from the Father, from the very beginning. And it was these sayings upon which the Church Fathers built their theological reflection in their fight to oppose the intention to identify the Son with the Father as persons, or to distinguish them substantially and thus reduce the Son to the state of a creature. The result of this theological controversy was the invention of the term homoousios by Saint Athanasios, which was also adopted by the Synod of Nicaea (325 A.D.), and which underlined the identity of substance between the Father and the Son and, at the same time, their distinction as persons.
On the other hand, man’s adoption as son God appears in the New Testament as the very purpose of the divine plan of salvation fulfilled in the coming of Son to the world (Gal 4.4-7, Rom 8.14-22 Eph 1.3-5). As a creature man cannot be related to God on account of nature, as in naturalistic religions. The highest status he can obtain is his adoption as son by God on account of his faith in him. In the above passages this idea is presented as the result of the cooperation between all three persons of the Holy Trinity, according to which the world of Jesus Christ in the world is activated within each individual by the Holy Spirit to the extent that each individual becomes able to call God his own Father, exactly as Jesus Christ does and even to address him by the expression which Jesus used in order to indicate their close unity, i.e., “Abba” (Rom 8.15, Cf. Mk 14.36). Thus only those “who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” and therefore heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8.14;17). This makes it plain then why Jesus Christ, as reported in the Fourth Gospel, rejected the contention of the Jews saying “we have one Father, even God” and replied to them “you are of your father the devil” (Jn 8.4ff); it was because the Jews rejected him as God’s Son. Faith in the Son of Jesus Christ is the sine qua non condition for the divine adoption. As Saint Athanasios rightly pointed out, [vii] “The Jews… rejecting the Son, do not possess the Father either” because “adoption cannot be secured without the real Son.” [viii] By adoption man becomes what Jesus Christ is by birth, so that they are both of the same origin and thus Jesus calls the believers his own brethren (Heb 2.10; 11;17). Let it be mentioned, however, that man is adopted only by the Father and not by any of the other persons. [ix]
Making the long story short, two things need to be pointed out in his respect: a) man’s divine adoption is of an ontological character (cf. Rom 6.3-7, Gal 3.26-28); and b) as God’s act and man’s condition adoption refers to the person and not to the substance. The other way around is common to naturalistic religions and annihilates the value of Christ’s work and man’s efforts to achieve it. If adoption applied to the substance, then fatherhood should extend to all three persons of the Trinity, not to the Father alone, which is contrary to biblical revealed reality.
God and Son
The New Testament is absolutely clear about the fact that God the Father has only one Son (Jn 1.14; 18, 3.16; 18, 1 Jn 4.9, etc.) The way in which Jesus Christ speaks about himself as the only Son of God underlines his-consciousness that he is the incarnated eternal Son of God: existing before Abraham was (Jn 8.58) and having come forth from the bosom of the Father, i.e., from his very essence (Jn 1.18, 16.29), the Son has everything that the Father has except His paternal quality (Jn 3.35, 5.20; 26, 8.28; 38, 16.15, etc.). Thus Jesus Christ alone can say in an absolute way “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10.30) or “the Father is in me and I in the Father” (Jn 10.38, 14.10; 11;20, 16.32, 17.21). This gives him the right to declare that “not any one has seen the Father except him who is from God:he has seen the Father” (Jn 6.46, cf. Mt 11.25-27, Lk 10,22. Saint Basil rightly commented at this point that “the unknown cannot become known by the unlike and the strange; rather, the familiar must become known by the familiar.” [x] And it was due to his equality with the Father that Jesus Christ promised to his disciples that he was going to send them the Holy Spirit “who proceeds from the Father” 9Jn 15.26) and asked “that all may honor the Son even as they honor the Father,” for “he who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (Jn 5.23).
Jesus’ self-consciousness that he was the Son of God “par excellence was also admitted, on account of his saving work, by those indifferent or even opposed to him, such as the demons (Mt 4.1-11, 8.29, Mk 3.11, 5.7, Lk 4.41, 8.28), the centurion (Mt 27.54, Mk 15.39), the robber (Lk 23.41-42), or by simple people (Mt 14.33). Especially, however, Jesus’ self-consciousness was declared by the early Church, i.e., the historical community round him, which stated that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1.1-14) or that “though he in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” (Phil 2.5-11). All these statements emphasize Jesus’ eternal equality and con-substantiality with God the Father. It was due to this fact that the early Church preached, in accordance with Jesus’ self-consciousness, that “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1.3) “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… and he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1.16-17, cf. Heb 1.2; 10-12, etc.). Indeed, the New Testament is full of the faith of the early Church that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God made man that in him “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2.9, cf. 2 Cor 5.19. Also Acts 9.20, Rom 1.3, 4.9. 5.10, 8.3; 29;32, 9.5, 1 Cor 1.19, Gal 1.16,2.20, 4.4;6, Eph 4.13, Col 1.13, 1 Thes 1.10, Tit 2.13, Heb 1.2; 5;8, 3.6, 4.14, 5.9, 6.6, 7.3, 10.29 2 Pet 1.17, Jn 1.2, 2.22. 3.8;23, 4.9; 15. 5.20, Jn 3, Rev 2.18, etc.). It was only later that certain expressions of the New Testament were misunderstood by heretics and meant to imply a notion of subordination or inferiority of the Son to the Father (cf. i.e., Jn 14.28, Jn 5.28, Jn 5.19 “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing,” and Colossians 1.15 “the first-born of all creation”). However, the Church Fathers, following the faith of the early Church insisted that these and similar expressions imply the harmony of will and energy which exists between the Father and the Son and the latter’s timeless existence before all creation. [xi]
In the same way the heretics misunderstood also the various christological titles used in the New Testament. But as the Church Fathers stressed again, these christological titles indicate the various aspects of Christ’s saving work which recapitulates and unites in itself the work of the various persons used by God in the Old Testament to carry out his plan of salvation. [xii] Indeed, the Church’s use of these titles corresponds to the various aspects of human life and it is an effort to describe Christ’s saving work in its variety of expressions in the service of the sole purpose, i.e., man’s salvation in accordance with God’s will. The early Church believed in and recorded exactly that which it experienced, i.e., a) that Jesus Christ the Son of God is a causal person having come forth from the bosom of the Father, i.e., his essence; b) that the knowledge of the Son’s eternal birth from the Father is absolutely connected with the event of his incarnation in time; c) that though “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2.9), which means that the whole Trinitarian “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5.19), the incarnation and the passion are restricted to the Son alone; d) that the Son’s saving work is the sole factor for man’s communion with the Holy Trinity; and e) that all these facts explain why Jesus Christ demands faith in himself on man’s behalf (cf. Jn 14.1, 3.15-18; 36, 6.29; 35; 40, 7.38, 12.44; 46, 14.12, 17.29, Mt 18.6, etc.).
God the Holy Spirit
The objections raised throughout the history of the Church against the person of the Holy Spirit and his equality with the Father and the Son are more serious than those raised against the Son. This is mainly due to the fact that in the Greek language the Spirit is of neuter gender and he quite often appears to indicate an impersonal power. This means of course that the work of the Spirit in the world varies, but in no case can he be taken as a worldly power. Throughout, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God at all times and he comes forth from him, from whom also he is given in such a way that in him God himself is presented as working.
Thus in the Old Testament the Spirit is identical with life, natural as well as normal (Gen 1.2 2.7, 6.3.17, 7.15, 41.38, Ex 31.2, Deut 34.9, Num 11.25-30,2 Kgs 19.7, Ps 32.6, 50.13 Isa 29.10, Ez 11.19, 37.1-10, etc.).
The whole world is filled with the Spirit of God and his activity is variously felt, like in appointing leaders in Israel (Judg 6.34, 14.6, 15.14, 1 Sam 10.10, Ps 3.12 etc.,), prophets whom he inspires to fulfill their mission (Deut 34.9, Num 11.24-25, Is 59.21, Ez 11.5, Mich 3.8, Zach 1.6; cf. 2 Pet 1.21 etc.,).
At the escatological time the Spirit of God is to be poured upon the coming Messiah and his Community (Is 44.3, 11.2, 42.1-4, 39.15, Joel 2.28-32, 3.1; Zach 12,10;cf. Acts 2.17-20, etc.). Therefore, nowhere in the Old Testament is the Holy Spirit presented as a person, and to some extent this is also true of the New Testament where quite often he appears as a principle of divine power distributing supernatural gifts, like e.g., to Zachariah and Elizabeth, to Mary who conceived of the Holy Spirit, to the Baptist, and to the entire Church. But, as promised in the Old Testament, especially filled with the Spirit is Jesus the Messiah (Lk 4.18ff), in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah 61.1-2 (cf. also 58.6), who was born of the Holy Spirit, who also came upon him at his baptism and then led him to the desert to be the tempted by Satan (Lk 4.1ff Mt 4.1ff Mk 1.12-13).
But the question which concerns us mostly here is whether there is any evidence in the New Testament which presents the Holy Spirit as a person. The answer to this question is clearly positive. Thus from the Synoptic tradition we have Jesus Christ’s saying about the blasphemy against the Spirit compared with the blasphemy against Christ himself (Lk 12.10), as well as the following statement about the illumination of the believers at the time of persecution (Lk 12.11-12). That the blasphemy is not against an impersonal power, but against a person, becomes clear from the fact that during the persecution, the Spirit will “teach” the believers what they ought to say (v. 12). “Teaching” is exclusively peculiar to persons and this is verified in Saint John’s Gospel where Christ calls the Spirit “another Counselor,” i.e., other than himself, who “will teach you all things and bring to you remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14.16-26). It is plain that the Holy Spirit will take Christ’s place among the disciples after his departure from the world (cf. Jn 14.18 “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you,” cf. also 16.7, Lk 24.49, Acts 1.4) in a teaching capacity in order to remind them of the significance of everything which Christ had said in his earthly life.
Closely related to this is Christ’s saying that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” and is sent to the world by both, the Father and himself (Jn 15.26, 14.26,; cf. Lk 11.13, Acts 2.33). “Procession,” subjection and objectively, is not energy, but a mode of existence, i.e., of the Father and of the Spirit, exactly as birth is a mode of the existence of the Son, objectively, and of the Father, subjectively. Thus the peculiar quality of the Holy Spirit is placed side by side with the peculiar qualities of the Father and the Son. As such the Spirit is of an equal honor with the other two persons, which would not be the case if he were the result or the product of an energy, when he would be inferior to them the creatures. This is why it is said of the Holy Spirit that when he comes to the world “he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment” (Jn 16.8) exactly as does the Son (cf. Jn 5.22,27,30,8.16,12.31), even though “he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare the things that are to come” (Jn 16.13-15). To this effect the Spirit “takes what is Christ’s” (Jn 16.15), who in turn has taken what is the Father’s (Jn 3.35,6.37,10.29,13.3,16.15). Indeed, the Son does not speak the words on his own authority (Jn 14.10), because his teaching is not his, but the Father’s who sent him to the world (Jn 7.16,cf 3.34,126.96.36.199,12.49, etc.). Likewise the Spirit does not bear witness to the Father, but to the Son (Jn15.26), whom he glorifies (Jn 16.14). Now, this evidence shows clearly that consubstantiality and equality of honor go hand in hand with a successive order of the divine Persons which cannot be violated and which guards the peculiar attributes of each person. It is exactly this order which has been revealed in the Economy and from this we are guided to the Theo-nomy.
Besides John, Paul also uses expressions about the Holy Spirit fit for a person. According to him, ”the Spirit helps us our weakness” and “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” or “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8.26-27). As is the case, the verbs of the expressions suggest an energy coming out of the Holy Spirit, in the same way as it is suggested about God “who searches the hearts of men (and) Knows what is the mind of the Spirit” (Rom 8.27a). In the same way also Paul speaks in 1 Cor 2.6ff about the mystery of Christ’s saving work which cannot be understood by the rulers of this age, but which is revealed by God to those who love Him, through the Spirit who “searches” everything, even the depths of God. “The verb “to search” has always a person as a subject in the New Testament and here it is used exactly as in Romans 8.27a and Revelation 2.23 about God searching the hearts of men. On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 2.10 reminds of Matthew 11.27 and Luke 10.22 where Christ says that “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.” Now, having an equal knowledge of each other, the Father and the Son are mutually equal; and so is the Holy Spirit who “searches the depths of God” since “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2.11). In order to make this clear Paul compares the perfect knowledge of God by his Spirit with man’s perfect knowledge by :the spirit of man which is in him” (1 Cor 2.11). As man’s spirit cannot be separated from his humanity and essence so also the Spirit of God is not alien to his divinity and essence. It is interesting to notice, though, that while in the case of man it is said “the spirit of man which is in him,” indicating that the spirit is an accessory of man as a whole, in the case of God it is simply said “the Spirit of God,” which means that though inseparably connected with God, nevertheless the Spirit is not an accessory God but a separate entity.
This is even more clearly evident in 1 Corinthians 12.4-6 where the three divine Persons are mentioned with reference to their particular connection with the gifts which, though many and different, are yet united in harmony as energies of the same God: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires all in every one.” As different expressions of power the gifts refer to the Father as the beginning and cause of all; as different expressions of service to the benefit of the Church, they refer to Christ who possesses them in full and grants them to the believers; as different expressions of sanctification and spiritual growth, they refer to the Holy Spirit who brings each individual believer to communion with Christ and through him with the Father. The fact that “all these are acted by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each individually as he wills” (1Cor 12.11) indicates that the Spirit exercises a sovereign power
and authority as a person. Therefore, having a will and an energy of his own, the Holy Spirit is a hypostatical essence, not a mere energy of God the Father, deprived of existence. As Origen rightly observed, if the Spirit were a simple impersonal power, the verbs “to act,” “to apportion,” and “to will” would have been placed here in the passive voice in order to indicate the energy of the person commanding the Spirit. But because the Spirit wills and acts and apportions, he is not a simple energy but an active essence. [xiii]
There are several passages in the New Testament which indicate that a sovereign will, authority and energy are ascribed to the Holy Spirit. Thus in 2 Corinthians 3.17 the Spirit is called “Lord” (“The Lord is the Spirit”) on an equal footing with God the Lord and Christ the Lord elsewhere in the New Testament. As the fundamental characteristic of the New Covenant the Spirit plays his unique role in the transformation of the believers. Within the context of the divine plan of Salvation, which is the plan of the entire Holy Trinity, according to Christ “the Spirit breaths where he wills: (Jn 3.8). It was in this function that he spoke to several persons in the Old Testament and in the New Testament (cf.Mt 10.20, Acts 1.16, 4.27, 8.27, 11.28, 20.11, 28.25, 1Tim 4.1, Heb3.7, 9.8, 10.15, 1Pet 1.11,2Pet 1.21, Rev 14.13,etc.) where he leads individuals to the Father (Eph 2.18), turns them into his own temple (1 Cor 3.16; 6.19; Eph 2.22), deliberates and decides together with the apostles at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15.28), selects and appoints in the Church (Acts 13.1-4, 20.28), speaks to local churches (Rev 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206), builds up the body of the whole Church (Eph 4.3-4, Jn 6.45.) grieves for the sins of the believers (Eph 4.30) and occasionally punishes them (Acts 5.3-4). There is no substantial difference between the expressions “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ”, because the first one shows his relation to God the Father as the beginning and cause of all, including himself, while the second emphasizes his relation to Christ of whom he bears witness and by whom he is given to the world.
Now this hypostatical and sovereign role of the Holy Spirit helps us to understand better the so-called trinitarian formulas in the New Testament. Such formulas are not only Mt 28.19 which tells that the baptism is to be performed in the name of each person of the Trinity, or 2 Corinthians 13.13 which tells that the Spirit brings the believers into communion with the Father and the Son, but a whole series of texts, short or long, which tell of the active participation of all three persons of the Trinity in the work of Salvation, each one in his own particular role (cf Lk 1.35, Mt 3.13-17 par., Lk 4.16ff, Jn 20.21-22, Acts 1.4-5, 2.33, 4.24-31, 5.30-32, 10.38, 11.15-16, Rom 1.4, 5.1-11, 8.9-17, 15.16.30, 1Cor 6.11, 12.3, 2Cor 1.21-22, 3.3, Gal 4.4-6, Eph 1.3-17, 2.18, 3.14-18, 5.19-20, 1 Thes 5.18-19, 2 Thes 2.13-17, Tit 3.4-7, Heb 10.29, 1Pet 1.2, 1Jn 4.2-3, Jd 20-21. Also the very important passage 1 Jn 5.7 which is wrongly considered a later interpolation). These passages show the overall recognition and faith of the apostolic Church in the Holy Trinity without any reservation whatsoever. Reservations appeared only later among Christian thinkers influenced by non-ecclesisstical, philosophical and religious ideas, as we shall see in the following chapter.
THE TEACHING OF THE FATHERS
During the second century we do not have any sound formulation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity except occasional statements in the baptismal symbols and various inferences in certain church writers Rome, [xiv] Justin, [xv] thenagoras, [xvi] Irinaios, [xvii] Tertullian, [xviii] with occasional expressions of subordinationism of mirror importance. [xix] The New Testament teaching on this subject had not yet been seriously contested and the oral apostolic tradition was still alive in the church. But with the spread of Gnosticism and the rise of Monarchianism of dual origin, i.e., that of the Jewish which accepted a kind of abstract unity of Jewish monotheism, and that of the pagan which accepted a kind of pantheistic unity in the context of polytheism, the Church was forced to clarify and elaborate the New Testament teaching in its struggle against them. The Monarchians of Jewish origin stressed God’s transcendence and justice and rejected his inner communion with man in the person of Jesus Christ, while those of pagan origin stressed God’s presence in the world and his love and rejected his transcendence and justice. This Monarchian heresy of dual origin developed into various forms in the third and fourth centuries, most important of which were Sabellianism and Arianism. From the last ones came the Macedonians who contested the personal character of the Holy Spirit.
During their struggle against these heresies, the church Fathers used at first the word “person” for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, introduced by Hippolytos, as well as the equivalent Latin word “persona”, introduced by Tertullian. But Sabellians gave to these words the meaning of a temporary from of God’s manifestation or revelation, and this forced the Greek fathers to substitute the word “person” with the word “hypostasis,” by which they meant the mode of God’s existence. Occasionally they used the word “person”, too, but gave to it the meaning of the word “hypostasis”, which is different from the meaning which it has in philosophy and the later theological thinking, where it indicates the self-conscious and independent being without being at the same time a separate entity. The Western Church continues using the word “persona” instead of the word “substantia” (“hypostasis”) which in Latin is identical with the word “essentia” and which sometimes causes confusion. Eventually the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated and stated at the Councils of Nicaea (325 A.D.) And Constantinople (381 A.D.). The main protagonists on the Church’s side, during this time were Athanasios, Basil, Gregory the Teologian, and Gregory of Nyssa, whose views on the subject we will present here shortly, after a short account of Sabellianism and Arianism.
Introducing Stoicism into biblical thought, according to which God is the essence of the universe, and thus promoting pagan pantheism by way of Christianity, Sabellianism maintained that God shrinks and expands with the world. When he shrinks, he remains a silent and inactive unit, but when he expands, he becomes active or speaking (Logos) and so trinitarian and creator of the world. Writing against them, Athanasios says that such an idea is absolutely wrong, for if the Father is the unit and Trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it follows that the Father became also Son and Spirit, i.e., what he was not before His expansion, and therefore, the unit itself, i.e., the Father, incarnated and suffered on the cross. If however, the unit is not the Father, but something else, it follows that this unity is the creator of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.[xx] Furthermore, if when silent God is inactive and therefore not creative, it follows that he did not have in himself the Word from the beginning and the power to create, but, instead, acquired them both during his expansion, i.e. when he gave birth or spoke. But then the question arises, where did he acquire them from and for what purpose? But if he had the World in himself from the beginning and thus was able to create, the birth of the Logos was not necessary, because he could create even by remaining silent. And if the Logos was in God before his birth, then after his birth he is outside him. Such an idea, however, contradicts Christ’s saying “I am the Father and the Father in me” (Jn 220.127.116.11; cf. 17.21). “If he is in the Father now,” says Athanasios,”he has always been in him” (Jn 17.12). And if when shrinking God is inactive, as a silent unit, and becomes able to create only when he expands, as speaking, then he is inferior even to men who are creative even when remaining silent (Jn. 17.11). For Athanasios, the Logos and the Spirit were in God from the very beginning, not made later. For this reason, it was not necessary for him to expand in order to possess the Logos and the Spirit in himself. For the same reason God did not have to expand in order to become Trinity and incarnate, for such an idea implies that there was no Trinity before the incarnation, on the one hand, and that it was the Father-unity who expanded and became Son and Spirit. In this case the Trinity is a Trinity only by name, something which is totally alien to biblical revelation.
Arianism, on the other hand, following an abstract Jewish conception about God, maintained that God is the highest cause of the world, without any cause outside himself. Arianism defined God only negatively, as unborn, not affirmatively, too, as self-existing, which would abolish the idea about the abstract unit. In this way, Arianism did not think of him as Father and Son, but only as the creator of the Son and through him creator of the world. Therefore, the Son is the first principle of the world created by God, the medium between himself and the other creatures created by him and after his pattern. This idea is similar to Plato’s according to which the inferior gods or demons played an important role at the formation of the world, acting as mediums between the imperfect material things and the highest idea, i.e., God.[xxi] Following this, the Arians maintained that the Son of God is the most perfect creature by whom God created the other creatures, and at the same time the Son is a lesser God and thus subject to worship in the context of pagan worship of creatures. As a creature, the Son has a beginning in his existence, in time, and for this reason he is not the Logos, Wisdom, and Power within God. He is called Logos, Wisdom, and Power because God named him so, i.e., not by grace, on account of his communion with God’s word wisdom and power.[xxii] Confusing between “originate” and “unoriginate,” on the one side and “made” and “not made,” on the other, the Arians accepted that the Son is neither “unoriginate” nor “not made” like God the Father, but “originate” and “made” like the rest of the creatures, having come into being by the Father’s will.[xxiii] As “originate” and “made,” the Son is changeable, according to Arians.[xxiv]
The fundamental difference, therefore, between the Church and Arianism was that, according to the first, Christ was first God and then he became man in order to divinize man, while according to the second, Christ was man first and then he became God.[xxv] This is how Athanasios summarizes the whole thing: “God, the creator of the universe and king of all, who is beyond all being and human thought, since he is good and made mankind in his own image through his own Word, our Savior Jesus Christ; and he also made man perceptive and understanding of reality through his similarity to him, giving him also a conception and knowledge of his own eternity, so that as long as he kept this likeness he might never abandon his concept of God or leave the company of the saints, but retaining the grace of him who bestowed it on him, and also the special power given him by the Father’s Word, he might rejoice and converse with God, living an idyllic and truly blessed and immortal life. For having no obstacle to the knowledge of the knowledge of the divine, he continuously contemplates by his purity the image of the Father, God the Word, in whose image he was made, and is filled with admiration when he grasps his providence towards the universe. He is superior to sensual things and all bodily impressions, and by the power of his mind clings to the divine and intelligible realities in heaven. For when man’s mind has no intercourse with the body, it transcends the senses and all human things and it rises high above the world, and beholding the Word sees in him also the Father of the Word. It rejoices in contemplating him and is renewed by its desire for him…”[xxvi] . The Father’s revelation and knowledge in Christ can be complete and perfect only if the Word incarnated in Christ is equally perfect like the Father. The same principle applies to the Spirit, too, if he is to bring man to God the Father. According to Athanasios, God could not be the cause of anything outside himself or the creator of the universe, unless there was eternal life and movement within himself by which internal discernments do not affect God’s eternal essence, since through them he returns to himself. Thus, “if the Son was not before his generation, truth was not always in God, which it were a sin to say; for, since the Father was, there was ever in him the truth, which is the Son, who says “I am the Truth” (John 14.6). And the subsistence existing, of course there was forthwith its expression and image; for God’s image is not delineated from without, but God himself has begotten it; in which seeing himself, he was delighted… When then did the Father not see himself in his Image?… and how should the Maker and Creator see himself in a created and originated essence? For such as is the Father, such much be the image… The Father is eternal, immortal, powerful, light, King, Sovereign, God, Lord, Creator, and Maker. These attributes must be in the Image, to make it true that he “that has seen” the Son :has seen the Father”. If the Son be not all this, but as the Arians consider, originate, and not eternal, this is not a true image of the Father…”[xxvii]
The point of the Arians that “there was a time when the Son was not”[xxviii] but came into being in time out of nothing, contrary to what the Scriptures say that he was born from the Father, has fatal repercussions on man’s destiny, for if he was not God by nature, the Image of the Father, he could not be able to divinize man, because he would be in need of divinization himself.[xxix] But because the Son is the true Image of the Father and in him everything receives life, “he is not alien to the Father, but consubstantial (homoousios) with him”[xxx], exactly because he is not made. Only the Son who is consubstantial with the Father can be the true image of the Father, for if that which is made can be an image of that which is not made, then the created becomes equal to the uncreated.[xxxi] That this is totally wrong becomes evident from Christ’s command. He who commanded us to be baptized, not in the name of uncreated and created, nor in the name of the Creator and the creature, but in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.[xxxii] Therefore, only the word “homoousios” can indicate the exact relationship of the Son to the Father, for likeness is not fit for substances, but only for shapes and qualities. With respect to substances, we cannot speak of likeness, but of identity, “thus, man is said to be like man not according to substance, but according to shape and character; according to substance, they are of the same origin. Equally, man cannot be said to be unlike a dog, but of different origin. Therefore, the ones is of the same origin and substance, while the other of different substance, the Son is not changeable, but always the same because the Father’s substance is not subject to change neither.[xxxiii] For this reason, all those passages of Scripture which ascribe some sort of change to Christ, do not imply his unchangeable divine substance, but his human one, which alone is subject to change. For example, the passage in Philippians 2.9 “Therefore God has highly exulted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name...” indicates Christ’s human nature exulted by his resurrection and exultation.[xxxiv]
Having thus defined the relationship of the Son to the Father, Athanasios goes on to define the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Son and the Father, “so that from the knowledge we have about the Son, we will be able to acquire a good knowledge about the Spirit, too. For we will discover that the Spirit has that relationship to the Son which the Son has to the Father.”[xxxv] This is more so since the Son himself said that the Counselor, the Spirit of truth, “will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak…for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn 16.13-14) and thus he breather and gave it to the disciples from himself (Jn 20.22). Therefore, that which was said by the Son, that “all that the Father has is mine” (Jn 16.15), applies to the Spirit, too who equally has all that the Father has but through the Son, for as the Son is the Father’s Son, likewise the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, to the extent that he is called the “Spirit of God” or the “Spirit of the Son”. This is how Athanasios understands Paul’s expression “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into hearts, crying, “Abba Father” (Cal 4.6) and John’s “when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, he will bear witness to me”(Jn15.26).
It follows then that since the Son is the Son is the Son of the Father and the offspring of his substance, not a creature, but “homoousios” with him, so the Spirit who is in God and searches the depths of God (1 Cor 2.11-12) and is given from the Father through the Son, cannot be a creature, too. In other words, if the Spirit is a creature, the Son is a creature also. Creatures are made out of nothing (Gen 1.1), while the Son and the Spirit are from God with whom they create all things. What is said in John 1.3 about the Son, that all things were made through the Word who does whatever the Father does (Jn 5.19), meaning that since he is creator he cannot be a creature, is also said about the Spirit in Ps 104.29-30, 0=103), i.e., “when you take away their spirit, they die and return to their dust; when you send forth your Spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the earth”. Thus the Spirit has a creative capacity, for the Father creates all things through the Word in the Spirit, so that where the Word is, there also is the Spirit, while what has been created through the Word, has its existence from the Spirit of the Word, as it is written in Ps 33.6(0=32) “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the Spirit of his mouth all their power”. The Spirit is not outside the Word, but being in the Word, he is in God through him, so that the gifts are given by the Trinity. This is what Paul says to the Corinthians, i.e., in their variety, it is the same Spirit and the same Lord and the same God who acts all things to all. In fact, the Father himself acts and gives all things through the Word in the Spirit.[xxxvi] The same in true also in 2 Corinthians 13.13, where Paul says that, partaking of the Spirit, we have the grace of the Word, and in him we have the love of the Father. Therefore, since the grace of the Trinity is one, the Trinity is undivided and its divinity is one, “one God who is above all the through all and in all…This is the faith of the catholic church; for the Lord has founded and rooted it on the Trinity, when he said to the disciples ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28.19). If the Spirit were a creature, he (Christ) would not have placed him with the Father. The Trinity would not be like within itself, if something alien was placed in it.”[xxxvii]
That the Spirit is equal to the Son and the Father, and not a creature, was not enough to define exactly his identity and relationship to the other two persons of the Trinity. The Arians maintained that, if he is not a creature, he is a Son, so that there are two Sons, the Word and the Spirit. More particularly, if the Spirit takes what is the Son’s, it follows that the Father is the Spirit’s grandfather and the Spirit is the Father’s grandson.[xxxviii] Replying to these outrageous views, Athanasios observes that the Spirit is not called Son in the Bible, but Holy Spirit of God, exactly as the Son is not called Holy Spirit. Each person has a peculiar name of his own, by which he is known and which is indicative of his identity and peculiar attribute. “Why the same name,” asks Athanasios, “is not given to both, but, instead, the one is called Son and the Other is called Spirit?”[xxxix] As we are not supposed to change the names of the various created things, since such a thing would cause a confusion with respect to their identity and quality, likewise, to a higher degree, we are not supposed to change the name “of those above creation to whom God gave the name” and who have “an eternal residence”. Under this principle. “the Father is Father and not grandfather, and the Son is God’s Son and not the Father of the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit and not the Father’s grandson nor the Son’s brother.”[xl] If we change the names of the divine persons, we abolish their identity and relation to each other. If we give names to the divine persons, like we do to human persons, by calling them grandchildren and grandparents, we reverse the order of things by giving an absolute status to human reality and a relative one to the reality of the Trinity. Such a thing, however, has nothing, to do with the church’s faith consisting in what Christ said, i.e. in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Mt 28.19): Therefore, the Father cannot be called grandfather, and the Son cannot be called Father, and the Holy Spirit cannot be called otherwise, except as he is called. It is impossible to alter this faith, for the Father is always Father, and the Son is always Son, and the Holy Spirit is always Holy Spirit and called so… This is so, because the Father does not have his origin from a Father; so he does not give birth so someone else’s Father; nor is the Son part of the Father and as such an offspring to give birth to a Son… and the Holy Spirit and as such he is of God, and we have believed that he is given from the Father through the Son. Therefore, the Holy Trinity remains unchangeable and known as one Godhead.”[xli]
As we gather from the above, Athanasios defined the relationship of the Son and the Spirit to the Father by emphasizing their consubstantiality, but he did not, at the same time, define exactly each person’s different mode of existence, in relation to the others, in the context of the identity or unity of their substance. This is due to the fact that the archbishop of Alexandria used the words “ousia” and “hypostasis” as synonyms, avoiding the use of the word “prosopon”. The difference of the Son’s mode of existence from the Father’s mode of existence, is indicated by him by the use of expressions about the Son as the Father’s Image, the very stamp of his hypostasis, Word, Wisdom, Radiance, etc. The exact distinction of each person’s mode of existence in relation to the others, is made by Basil and the two Gregories who carried out the clarification of the Church’s faith and doctrine on the Trinity to a further point. It is interesting to notice, however, that the three Cappadocian fathers usually avoid to speak about God, and when they do, they mainly mean the Father. What they always do, though, is that they speak about the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For them, God is the three persons whose common energy underlines God’s unity and identity in himself.
According to Saint Basil the divine energy for the creation and the renewal of the universe runs “from the Father, through the only Son, to the Spirit” and this means that “the way of the knowledge of God lies from one Spirit through the one Son to the one Father’.[xlii] In other words, God reveals himself as he really is in himself, and this means that the way of his revelation is the way of his knowledge, which runs from “Pneumatology” to “Christology” and from there to ‘Patrology’: “For this reason never do we separate the Paraclete from his union with the Father and the Son. For our mind being enlightened by the Spirit looks up at the Son, and in him as in an image beholds the Father.”[xliii] It is obvious then, why Old Testament monotheism, grounded on the principle “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one God” (Deut 6.7), was unable to lead man to the true knowledge of God. Starting from this kind of monotheism, we cannot understand “the characteristics that are sharply defined in the case of each (i.e., person), as for example paternity and son ship and holiness[xliv] nor can we understand their unity, i.e., the whole Godhead who makes up the content of our faith. This means that heresy, as partial and one-sided faith, is not just imperfect, but a distorted faith, ‘for he who does not believe the Spirit does not believe in the Son, and he who has not believed in the Son does not believe in the Father.” Denying one person equals to denying the whole Godhead, ‘for the naming of Christ is the confession of the whole, showing forth as it does the God who gave, the Son who received and the Spirit who is the unction. So we have learned from Peter, in the Acts, of ‘Jesus of Nazareth whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit’; and in Isaiah, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me’; and the Psalmist, ‘Therefore God, you God has anointed you with the oil, of gladness.’”[xlv]
In Saint Basil’s view, each person in the Godhead is “the influx of the individual qualities” which is the characteristic sign of each person’s existence,[xlvi] i.e., the meeting point of his peculiar attributes. For this reason, as far as God is concerned, enumeration must be done in a godly way. In other words, God’s hypostases must be co numerated, not sub numerated, for monarchy in the Trinity is identified with the substance, not with a particular person. We say that God is one, not according to the number, but according to the substance.[xlvii] “Do you maintain that the Son is numbered under the Father, and the Spirit under the Son, or do you confine your sub numeration to the Spirit alone? If, on the other hand, you apply this sub numeration also to the Son, you revive what is the same impious doctrine, the unlikeness of the substance, the lowliness of rank, the coming into being in later time, and once for all, by this one term, you will plainly again set circling all the blasphemies against the Only begotten.”[xlviii] In fact, Basil averts enumerating the persons in God so that it will not be taken to imply three Gods: “In delivering the formula of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, our Lord did not connect the gift with number. He did not say “into first, second, and third,’ nor yet ‘into one, two, and three,’ but he gave us the boon of the knowledge of the faith which leads to salvation, by means of holy names… Number has been devised as a symbol indicative of the quantity of objects… Count, if you must; but you must not by counting do damage to the faith. Either let the ineffable be honored by silence; or let holy things be counted consistently with true religion. There is one God and Father, one Only-begotten, and one Holy Spirit. We proclaim each of the hypostases singly; and, when count we must, we do not let an ignorant arithmetic carry us away to the idea of plurality of Gods. For we do not count by way of addition, gradually making increase from unity to multitude, and saying one, two, and three-nor yet first, second, and third. For ‘I, God, am the first, and I am the last.’ … For the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son… and therein is the unity. So that according to the distinction of Persons, both are one, and according to the community of substance, one.”[xlix] Unity and distinction go hand in hand in God and in such a way, that neither the distinction of the persons breaks the unity of substance, nor the identity of substance confuses the peculiarity of the qualities. Speaking about three persons, we understand the same thing united and distinguished, according to Saint Basil.
Along the lines also moves the thought of Saint Gregory the Theologian, according to whom the Monarch whom we hold in honor is “that which is not limited to one person, but one which is made of one quality of substance and a union of mind, and an identity of motion, and a convergence of its elements to unity- a thing which is impossible to the created nature - so that though numerically distinct there is no severance of substance. Therefore, unity having from all eternity arrived by motion at duality, found its rest in Trinity. This is what we mean by Father and Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is the begetter and the emitter; without passion of course, and without reference to time, and not in a corporeal manner. The Son is the begotten, and the Holy Spirit the emission; for I know not how this could be expressed in terms altogether excluding visible things….When did these come into being? They are above all ‘when.’ But if I am to speak with something more of boldness, when the Father did. And when did the Father come into being? There never was a time when He was not. And the same thing is true of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Ask me again, and again I will answer you, When was the Son begotten? When the Father was not begotten. And when did the Spirit proceed? When the Son was, not proceeding but, begotten beyond the sphere of time, and above the grasp of reason…How then are they not alike unoriginate, if they are coeternal? Because they are from him, though not after him. For that which is unoriginate is eternal, but that which is eternal is not necessarily unoriginate, so long as it may be referred to the Father as its origin. Therefore, in respect to cause, they are not unoriginate; but it is evident that the cause is not necessarily prior to its effects, for the sun is not prior to its light.”[l]
Therefore, according to Gregory, the word about God is a word about the Trinity, comprehending out of Light (the Father), Light (the Son), in Light (the Holy Spirit), i.e., “concisely and simply the doctrine of God.”[li] In contrast to this, in Greek idolatry the divine is divided into many gods after the example of humanity, which, though one, is also divided into many men. In both cases, unity is only theoretical and the particular persons differ from each other according to time, passions and power, i.e., they have many and different contrasts and energies.[lii] But in Christianity, the persons of the Trinity having one and the same substance, have also one and the same energy, that of the Father taken over by the Son born from him, and by the Spirit, who proceeds from him, also. Thus, the accusations of the heretics against the church’s faith, as centering around three Gods, is absolutely foreign to the reality of the Trinity.
This issue is taken up in more detail by Gregory of Nyssa, who observes that since God is to an abstract, motionless, and lifeless unity, he must be regarded as the cause and effect of himself. Nevertheless, the cause is distinguished from the effect which is double: while we confess the invariable character of the nature, we do not deny the difference in respect of cause, and that which is caused, by which alone we apprehend that no Person is distinguished from another; by our belief, that is, that one is the cause, and another is of the cause; and again in that which is of the cause we recognize another distinction. For one is directly from the first cause, and another by that which is directly from the first cause; so that the attribute of being Only-begotten abides without doubt in the Son, and the interposition of the Son, while it guards his attribute of being Only-begotten, does not shut out the Spirit from His relation by way of substance to the Father.”[liii] According to Gregory, enumeration fits only to persons, not to substance: “The idea of the persons admits of that separation which is made by the peculiar attributes considered in each severally, and when they are combined to us by means of number; yet their nature is one at union in itself, and an absolutely indivisible unit, not capable of increase by addition or of diminution by subtraction, but in its essence being and continually remaining one, inseparable even though it appears in plurality, continuous, complete, and not divided with the individuals who participate in it.”[liv]
The enumeration of the persons, however, raises the question whether we finally accept three gods in the Trinity. This issue is exclusively discussed by Gregory in his above-mentioned work to Ablabios, as well as in his other treatise “Contre Centes”. Ablabios asks Gregory, why in the case of men, Peter, James, and John, though of one and the same human nature, they are counted and spoken of in the plural as three men, while in the case of the Trinity, we refuse to say three gods, although we confess the three persons and accept no difference between them with respects to substance and admit that God is one, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Gregory’s answer to this is that in the case of men, we present and name as many those who have the same human nature as if there were many natures, improperly and out of a habit, because the name “man” indicates mainly the common substance of all human persons, each one of which is indicated by a separate name, like, e.g., Luke, Stephen, etc., and not by the name “man”. But even when say “many men”, in the plural, it is not harmful and dangerous, because the word indicates the substance, man cannot be regarded as a unity in himself, as one, simple being, but as changeable and somehow as a multitude. “Man”, as a general term, cannot be regarded as existing in every person, because the older ones die and new ones take their place so that humanity is thought of as consisting sometimes by more and sometimes by fewer persons, while by the change of the individual human persons, changes also humanity as such, or the human substance which is also numbered with the persons. This, however, cannot be said about the Trinity, for its persons remain the same and unchangeable, without being increased to become four or decreased to become two. Therefore, it is wrong to mean three gods when we speak about the three persons, the more so since the three persons in God exist together without being separated from each other in time or in place, or according to will or according to energy, etc., i.e., everything that is proper to men and separate them from each other.
The foregoing presentation of the biblical and patristic doctrine of the unity of the Trinity does not cover the entire Christian doctrine about God, while some aspects of it, like, e.g., the procession of the Holy Spirit, the identity of will and energy of the divine persons, etc., need further elaboration. What has been said, however, gives us a clear clue to the “mystery”, i.e., to the fact that the Christian doctrine about God cannot be expressed in a concrete formula, for revealing himself God is plenitude of stains which cannot compromise with each other. Thus, his power is restrained by his wisdom; his love is restrained by his justice; his transcendence is restrained by his revelation, etc. If we want to get a “complete” and “clear”, as much as possible, picture about God, corresponding to the revealed reality, we must take all these of his revelation into account. Otherwise, if we try to adjust them to “our” picture about God and reconcile them with human reason, we distort the mystery of the Trinity, which, lying beyond reason, is subject to faith alone, for God the Creator of the universe is identical with God the redeemer and with God the sanctifier. To human reason, the paradox of the Christian faith: “One God in three Persons” is a contradiction, as a contradiction also the other theological proposition that the three divine persons, though united in one substance, are distinguished from each other on account of attributes peculiar to each one. Thus God is one distinguished within himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is plain them that this theological proposition does not explain the mystery of the Trinity, but preserves it by showing that there is no other (human) way available to approach it. The intention of theology is not “gnosiological” but “doxological”.
In the same context we must identify the revealed and transcendent Trinity and at the same time differentiate them. In the first case, the fact that in Jesus we have “the whole fullness of deity” (Col 2.9) indicates that the transcendent, eternal God is identical with the revealed and that revelation is the way to his knowledge in himself, i.e., in his eternal existence. Otherwise, revelation would he striped of its absolute character and leave room for additional, human ways to God’s knowledge. At the same time, however, it is equally important to distinguish between transcendent and revealed reality in God. In other words, the fact that God reveals himself, does not imply that we can have a complete and perfect knowledge of him in himself. The fact that it was not the whole Trinity which incarnated, but only the Son, compels us to be very careful in identifying between revealed and transcendent God, in spite the fact that the Son revealed the fullness of the deity. Thus, the difference here is between “substance” and “energy”, the first indicating God in himself, in his transcendent existence beyond any conception and knowledge, while the second indicating God’s activity in the world alone is subject to knowledge. “substance” and “energy”, therefore, are two aspects of the same reality; the revealed God remains a mystery, and being a mystery he is revealed. Revelation does not remove or explain the mystery, while the mystery does not hinder revelation. Though identified in the same entity, substance and energy are at the same time differentiated, indicating God in mystery and God in revelation. Thus, dealing with God in his revealed reality, theology tries at the same time to ‘protect’ him from the arbitrariness and autonomy of human reason.