The Mystery of the Holy Trinity
In an attempt to formulate the Church's teaching on the Holy Trinity, it has to be remembered that God as Trinity is a mystery — indeed,
the absolute mystery par excellence since God will forever remain so — and is therefore to be
approached in humility, reverence
and thanksgiving rather than exhaustively
understood. That is to say, God, in his very nature, is ineffable and inexpressible and could
therefore not be known unless He himself had first willed to be revealed to the world in this way. Indeed, the mystery of the Holy Trinity
exceeds the finite and created conscience of human persons and transcends their conceptual powers and knowledge. Reflecting specifically on
the mystery of the Holy Trinity in the fourth century, St. Gregory [Nazianzus] the Theologian (330–389/90AD) wrote:
to speak of God is impossible and to know him even more impossible.
Many centuries later, St. Gregory Palamas (1296–1359AD) reminded his readers that
the super essential nature of God is not a subject to speak of or think or even contemplate, for it is far removed from all that exists and more than unknowable, incomprehensible forever.
Clearly, the essence of God's divinity will never be known to humankind, because to be so would be a contradiction in terms. If God could be
fully understood by the creaturely mind and described by creaturely concepts, He would cease to be God.
However, God who is hidden (Deus absconditus) has also revealed himself (Deus revelatus) through his ordinary and extraordinary revelation; his ultimate self-disclosure was beheld in the incarnation of the Son of God which gave the world the opportunity to hear God, to see and even touch him (cf. 1Jn 1:1). St. Basil the Great (330–379AD) wrote that God disclosed himself to humanity to the extent that humanity was capable of receiving this revelation:
“We know the greatness of God, His power, his wisdom, his goodness, his providence over us and the justness of his judgments; but not his essence… We know our God from his operations, but do not undertake to approach near his essence. His operations come down to us, but his essence remains beyond our reach”.
Therefore God is, at the same time totally inaccessible and really communicable to the created world. God is unknowable and ineffable but at the
same time we know that He is because He has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is Trinity; a personal God
and this fact can be deduced from no principle nor explained by any sufficient reason for there are neither principles nor causes anterior to the Trinity.
And so, as a wondrous revelation of divine life and love eternal, human persons can, therefore, enjoy his beatitude and, together with St.
Gregory the Theologian proclaim in praise and thanksgiving, and with a sense of wonder and awe the God who is
One-in-Three and Three-in-One [Μονάς εν Τριάδι και Τριάς εν Μονάδι], a doxological proclamation therefore, surpassing all forms of human expression:
Oh you who are beyond everything! For what else can be sung about you? [Ω πάντων επέκεινα, τι γαρ άλλο θέμεις σε μέλπειν;].
God in Trinity
Firmly rooted in the Scriptures, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was formulated, lived and preserved in the Church. Notwithstanding the fact that
the Church's teaching on the mystery of the Holy Trinity was a divinely revealed truth, it nevertheless took the early ecclesial communities
many years to acquire a clear theological formulation. The need for precise terminology particularly emerged when the Church had to define,
with accuracy, in what way the one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — namely, the Father Almighty — was related to Jesus Christ
— who was professed to be God's only begotten Son, his eternal Word and Image — and to the Holy Spirit — identified as the
breath of the almighty God in the Old Testament. This was especially vital since the Scriptures were clear that God the Father was never
without his Word and Spirit, since both were eternally with God and essential to his being, action and life. Accordingly, the Father, Son and
Holy Spirit were seen as distinct personal
subjects — the Father, for example, was not the Son or Spirit, and the Son was not
the Father or Spirit, nor was the Spirit the Father or the Son — and yet all three were worshipped and glorified as
Consequently, the fathers of the Church, as we shall see, had to show that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were entirely unique and distinct
in reference to who they were, yet indissolubly identical in what they were — namely truly divine.
Following the Old and New Testaments, the fathers of the Church — especially those of the fourth century — came to refer to God not
as έν (one) — namely, a uni-personal monod — but as ένωσις (unity) — indeed, an absolute, indissoluble and continuous unity
of three divine persons. Regarding such a
tremendous and fascinating mystery (mysterium tremendum et fascinosum) of the unity-in-diversity
and diversity-in-unity of the Holy Trinity, St. Gregory the Theologian (330–379/90AD) wrote in a rather mystical, liturgical and poetical way:
“No sooner do I conceive the unity than the Trinity bathes me in its splendour. And when I think of the Trinity, again the unity seizes me and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me”.
In expounding the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Orthodox Church begins with the community of the three genuinely
existing persons —
Father, Son and Holy Spirit — rather than with an abstract concept of metaphysical or transcendental unity. Again, St. Gregory the Theologian
When I say God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In fact, the fathers of the Church identify person with hypostasis —
namely, a real concrete existence — and teach that the three persons, or hypostases, are three absolutely distinct and unique modes of
personal existence, that are, nevertheless, co-equal, co-eternal and co-substantial; with one and the same divine being, power and activity.
And so, the Trinity is referred to as the Tri-Hypostatic Godhead in the patristic and liturgical traditions, in which there are three persons,
yet one essence, a harmony and unity of one life, one divine action and will, and one rule. In this way, there is one God, yet three divine
persons; a stumbling block for the purely
rationalist mind, but a cornerstone of the Christian faith.
In reflecting upon the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the Eastern Orthodox tradition teaches that there are three distinct and equal divine persons;
that is to say, that the three divine persons are absolutely unique to one another, entirely other yet united, and each possessing the fullness
of the divinity. Thus, according to St. Gregory the Theologian,
the Godhead is undivided in separate persons. The otherness of each
person is not moral or psychological but ontological. By the expression
ontological otherness, in relation to the Holy Trinity, is simply
meant that there are three real, concrete and absolutely distinct modes of existence and life within the Trinitarian mystery; not simply three
different ways that the one God can supposedly appear or become manifest momentarily to the world. In other words, the Church does not teach
that God sometimes appears in the form of Father, then as Son and still other times as Spirit. Rather, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are
three entirely distinct modes of existence, yet perfectly united and sharing the same divine essence. And so, experiencing God in this way
the early Church spoke of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in terms of
three persons in one essence.
In differentiating between the three divine persons, the Eastern Orthodox tradition teaches that the Father is to be distinguished from the other
persons inasmuch as He eternally begets the Son and eternally gives forth [εκπορεύει] the Holy Spirit; the Son is to be distinguished in that
He is begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit in that He proceeds from the Father. Thus, the entirely unique hypostatic attributes of the
three persons are as follows: the Father — his unbegotteness (αγέννητον) and paternity; the Son — his begotteness (γεννητόν) and
sonship; and the Holy Spirit — his procession (εκπορευτόν) or
ekpempsis. Again, St. Gregory the Theologian affirmed that the
characteristics of the Father is his unbegotteness, of the Son, his birth and of the Holy Spirit his procession.
However, the Church proclaims that even though the Father, Son and Holy are distinct from one another, there is nevertheless a perfect and
harmonious identification of the three persons in one and the same essence so that there is no confusion, division or subordination between
them. Indeed, in relation to the created world, the unity of action is articulated in the following manner: the Father is the
primordial cause of creation, the Son, the
creative and redeeming cause and the Holy Spirit, the
perfecting cause. Having distinguished the three
divine persons in general terms, our attention, in the next issue of Voice will turn to focus on each in more detail.
The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity
God the Father Almighty
In further expounding upon the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that God the Father is the
timeless principle of origin [πρώτη αιτία αχρόνως] of the Godhead. This is precisely what is meant by the expression,
the monarchy of the Father within the inner
life of the Holy Trinity — namely, that the Father, as the sole principle of the Son's generation and the Holy Spirit's procession, is
the exclusive source of the divine essence, which the Son and the Holy Spirit equally share and possess. The Church's conviction regarding
the monarchy of the Father has been based on the interpretation of the words of Jesus that
My Father is greater than I (John 14:28),
which was always interpreted, by the Eastern Patristic tradition, to be a reference to the Father's
unoriginated hypostatic quality;
and not to any greater moral or functional importance of the Father in relation to the Son and Holy Spirit. In other words, the Father was
considered to be greater not because his essence was superior or for the reason that He transmitted it to the other two persons, but because
He was the sole principle cause of the Godhead — however, One who always personally shared his incomprehensible divinity with his Son
The teaching of the
monarchy of the Father was constantly employed by the fathers of the fourth century to counter those who would accuse
them of tritheism (belief in three gods). St. Basil the Great (330–379AD), for example, wrote:
God is one, because the Father is one.
And precisely the same teaching is found in St. Gregory the Theologian:
“For us there is one God, for the Godhead is One, and all that proceeds from him (i.e. the Father) is referred to the One, though we believe in three persons. When, then, we look at the Godhead, or the first cause, or the monarchia, that which we conceive is One; but when we look at the persons in whom the Godhead dwells, and at those who timelessly and with equal glory have their being from the first cause, (i.e. the Son and the Spirit of the Father), there are three whom we worship”.
For the fathers of the Church, the Holy Trinity is a unity not because there is a unity of substance, as the West has argued, but because of the monarchia of the Father, who is himself one of the Trinity. Accordingly, the fathers of the Church taught that there is one God because there is only one Father. Or put another way, it was the monarchia of the Father that was the ground of koinonia within the Trinity and not any abstract conception of the divine ousia. This was nothing other than the biblical affirmation that the one God was the Father almighty (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:6 and 1 Tim. 2:5).
The only begotten Son and Word of God
uncaused hypostasis [person], the Father was nonetheless always with his divine Word and Spirit, who themselves were also concrete
and distinct modes of existence within the divine essence. Being Father necessarily implied a schesis with his Son and Spirit, without whom,
fatherhood would be logically inconceivable. That is to say, the Father could never be perceived to be alone in his divinity as this would
imply that He was not always
father but became so, which would be unacceptable in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. And so, there was
never a time when God was without his Word and Spirit. Indeed, St. Irenaeus (130–202AD) had noted that when God acts in the world, He always
does so through his Word and Spirit, which he called the
two hands of God. Accordingly, the teaching of the Church on the Son of God
is that He was begotten of the Father before all ages, and not created in time like all other created beings of the world. Being begotten of
the Father [τον εκ του Πατρός γεννηθέντα προ πάντων των αιώνων] — as is said in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed — simply meant
that the Son of God shared the same essence as God the Father and so was
light from light, true God from true God. And this eternal
Son of God they identified with Jesus, whom they taught was God incarnate and born of the Virgin Mary.
In countering the Arian controversy in the fourth century, which claimed that the Son of God was a creature — even though a most exalted
one — born in time, the fathers of the Church taught that Jesus, as the Son of God was consubstantial [of one essence] with the Father
[ομοούσιον τω Πατρί]. In teaching that the Son of God was consubstantial with the Father, the Church not only refuted the famous Arian slogan
which stated that
there was a time when He [i.e., the Son of God] was not, but also made plain that that the
being [ουσία] of
the Son in relation to his Father was identical, one and the same; and hence entirely
other from that of the world's nature. On the
contrary, the Son's
being, the fathers taught, belonged to the same substance or essence of God, whereas that of the world's belonged
to the will of God and was created. As the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ was divine with exactly the same divinity as God the Father, but,
as One born on earth from the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, he was also fully human. Being of the same substance with the Father, God's only begotten
Son, the man Jesus of Nazareth not only revealed the Father —
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6) — but was also the saviour of the world. Being fully human, Jesus Christ identified totally with the human condition —
except for sin of course — and therefore raised it back to God, uniting it with God. And so, the Church teaches that in the theanthropic
person of Jesus Christ, the faithful of the Church not only
see God but are also saved by him as well.
The Life-Giving Spirit of God
The Holy Spirit, as the third person of the Holy Trinity, is equally divine in the same way as the Father and Son. For this reason, he is given
Giver of Life (cf. Rom 8:10) — attributes, which can only properly belong to God and not to created
beings. For this reason, as is recited in the Creed, the Holy Spirit is worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son. Beyond
affirming the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the Church also taught that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father; yet was sent into
the world, within time, by the Son of God to continue the salvific work of God. There is, therefore, an important distinction made in Orthodox
theology between the Holy Spirit's eternal procession and existence, and his temporal mission. That is to say, whereas the Holy Spirit proceeds
eternally from the Father only, He is sent into the world, in time, through the incarnate Son of God. In particular, the Eastern Orthodox tradition
teaches that Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father alone — that is, not from both the Father and the Son as is taught in Western
theology with the addition of the filioque [Latin for,
and from the Son] in the Creed — whilst, He is sent into the world in time,
by the Son.
The teaching regarding the distinction between the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone, and his temporal mission from the Son, is clearly seen in the gospel according to St. John. Whilst the original Greek is clear in this distinction, employing two different verbs to distinguish the eternal procession — εκπορεύεται — from the temporal mission — πέμψω — the Latin translated both words with the one term procedere — to proceed — and therefore spoke of the Holy Spirit proceeding eternally from the Son of God as well; something which the Eastern Orthodox tradition outrightly rejects. The Eastern Orthodox position is based upon John 15:26:
“When the Helper comes, whom I shall send [ον εγώ πέμψω] to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father [ο παρά του πατρός εκπορεύεται], He will testify of Me” (John 15:26).
The text clearly shows that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father — ο παρά του πατρός εκπορεύεται — since the Father alone is the
source and beginning of the Godhead. Indeed, the Eastern Orthodox tradition understands the verb
εκπορεύεται to have a special meaning
signifying the Spirit's eternal procession from the Father alone. And so, when referring to the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit, which
concerns the relations existing within the Trinity from all eternity [the immanent Trinity], the Church attributes the Spirit's procession
and existence to the Father alone.
It is for this reason that the Eastern Orthodox Church refuses to say that the Spirit also proceeds also from the Son, since this is not the Scriptural
use of the verb
εκπορεύεται, nor was it understood like this at the Second Ecumenical Council (380AD) which formulated the Church's
teaching on the Holy Sprit. However, in referring to the Spirit's temporal mission in the world, then it is clear that the Holy Spirit is sent
by Jesus Christ — ον εγώ πέμψω. Failure to distinguish between the two verbs
πέμψω, can consequently easily
lead one to believe that the Holy Spirit
proceeds from the Father and the Son since the Scriptures mention the Son sending forth the
Spirit — but this only concerns the Spirit's temporal mission in the world. To do this, however, would not only introduce two separate
principles or sources to the Godhead, which would amount to ditheism, but also distort the equality between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
that is, an imbalance in the eternal relations is introduced in which the Holy Spirit is subordinated to the Son. Consequently, in order to
avoid introducing two principles into the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and destroying the equality between the three divine persons, the Eastern
Orthodox Church rejects the filioque.
Having delineated the Church's teaching on how the three divine persons of the Holy Trinity are distinct and diverse, it remains now to focus our
attention on the terminology used by the Church to express how they were one and the same. The fathers of the fourth century taught that the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit are entirely
other in who they are — that is, three concrete and distinct persons or hypostases —
but indissolubly identical in what they are. In order to intimate the what of God, the fathers of the Church employed the term
St. Basil the Great (330–379AD) wrote:
I know that God is; but what his essence is, I consider to be beyond my understanding. Also St.
Gregory the Theologian taught:
What God is in His nature and essence no human person has ever discovered or ever will discover. Accordingly,
God's essence signifies what God is within Himself and that will forever remain totally unknown, incommunicable, unapproachable, unutterable
and beyond any human comprehension. However, having underlined the ineffability of God's essence, the fathers of the Church, nevertheless used
simply human analogies in order to explain what was meant by the term
essence within the context of explaining the difference between
essence and hypostasis.
In his letter to his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil attempted to show that essence referred to what is common within the Godhead, signifying, in this way, the inseparable oneness in their divine being, power and activity. In employing the example of created human beings, he was able to show that just like all men and women are essentially the same in their sharing the same humanity, so too, the divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are substantially the same — namely, divine. Specifically, he wrote:
“Suppose then that two or more are set together, as for instance Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, and that an inquiry is made into the essence or substance of humanity; no one will give one definition of essence or substance in the case of Paul, a second to that of Silvanus, and a third to that of Timothy; but the same words which have been employed in setting forth the essence or substance of Paul will apply to the others also…”.
This excerpt clearly and simply explains that, in the case of humanity, even though there may be a countless number of human persons, there is still one humanity, since all share in those common properties and characteristics [such as, reason, thought, will, judgement, imagination, memory, etc] which defines humanity in general. If this analogy were to be transferred to God, then it could be said that in God, essence refers to all those common and ineffable qualities, which are shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit equally and identically. However, unlike human persons, who retain their own distinct will and energy, acting separately and out of their own initiative, in the case of God there is no such separation. On the contrary, there is a perfect unity and oneness in every respect of the divine essence. Accordingly, one in essence in the case of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit signifies one single, unique and indivisible reality.
Nonetheless, an essence, whether in the case of God or in the case of the created realm, does not exist unless a specific person gives it existence. It is persons who give existence [i.e. hypostasise] essence. Whilst it may be conceptually possible to speak of the divine essence of God without taking into account the three divine hypostasis (i.e. a unique existence of nature), it nevertheless remains outside the parameters of reality, since the persons hypostasize [that is, give existence to] essence. That is to say, every being that exists, whether created or uncreated, exists hypostatically, that is as a specifically unique existent. Therefore for the fathers of the Church, it was the person who constituted the initial possibility of experiencing God. It was not the essence that preceded and defined existence but the person. On this, St. Gregory Palamas (1296–1359AD) wrote:
“And God speaking to Moses, did not sayI am the essence, butI am who I am(Exodus 3:14); for He who is, is not from the essence, but rather the essence is from He who is; for He who is has captured in himself whatever is”.
From this it is quite evident that it is persons that have a real and specific existence — persons are the mode of existence of essence. The God who is and acts in the world is seen and known personally as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The fathers proclaimed that God is in principle a person, who being absolutely free from every necessity and predetermination hypostisised [i.e. gave existence to] his Being giving birth eternally to the Son and sending forth the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, even though, totally incommunicable, the fathers did teach that the divine essence is not without hypostasis and so ventured to refer
to God's essence in terms of a
trihypostatical energetic essence. In upholding the personal dimension of essence, the Eastern Orthodox
tradition refused to conceive the essence of God in terms of an undifferentiated simplicity. Furthermore, they were able to affirm the truth
that it was not the essence which defined God — as this would limit his absolute freedom — but rather, the divine essence was the
result and realisation of an absolutely free and personal God. That is to say, it was not the essence that preceded and defined existence but
person. In attributing the ultimate reason for existence to a person — and not to an abstract essence — a freedom from
any constraints of nature or givens was safeguarded. As a person, God does not act by a predefined nature, which would amount to a compulsory
way of being, but according to his free will. Consequently, the expression, God
in one essence expressed not only the ontological otherness
of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their relation to the created world, but also their absolute harmony and unity within the inner life
of the Trinity.
Communion in the Trinity
The unity of the divine essence was not considered, by the fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church, to be the only principle of the perfect unity
within the Godhead. As we previously saw, God was considered one because there was one Father. In addition to this, the Father, Son and Holy
Spirit were regarded as one because of their perfect koinonia. For this reason, the Church teaches that the three unique and distinct persons
of the Holy Trinity continually embrace one another in an interpenetrating communion of love (αλληλοπεριχώρησις). Each of the persons is completely
open to the other, totally transparent and receptive. This transparency and receptivity is expressed by the notion of perichoresis [περιχώρησις].
In describing the notion of perichoresis, Archbishop Stylianos beautifully characterised it as
an ineffable and captivating reciprocal embrace of infinite love [ένα… άρρηκτο και άλληκτο αλληλοεναγκαλιασμό απείρου αγάπης].
And so, the Eastern Orthodox tradition would claim that Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in interpersonal koinonia, dwelling in one another
through a movement of reciprocating love yet without losing their distinctive personal attributes. In fact, the unbreakable communion and otherness
that exists in the Triune God is a sine qua non condition of the unity of the three divine persons.
The very being of God, as a communion of three hypostases relating to one another in love and inter-penetrating one another in that same divine
love, is the foundation of the unity of within the Godhead. It follows, therefore, that the Trinity is a unity not because there is a unity
of substance, as the West has argued, but because of the unbreakable koinonia that exists between the three divine persons. This implies that
otherness does not threaten the divine unity but is a sine qua non condition of it. And so, for the Holy Trinity, diversity does not destroy
the unity of the three persons but on the contrary
expresses three entirely different ways of God's undivided and identical life by which the fullness of God's love is manifested.
Consequently, diversity, in the case of God, does not lead to separation, as
logic would dictate, but rather intensifies and reconciles
on a deeper level the mystery of communion and love which each of the three persons of the Holy Trinity share. For the Holy Trinity, this koinonia
presupposes freedom and a limitless dynamism — an eternal interpenetration radically renewing the common divine beatitude.
Fellowship or community is central to the being of God since it presupposes not an abstract being of God, as is supposedly the case in the West, but persons who are capable of fellowship. St. Gregory of Nyssa stresses the idea of Trinitarian koinonia:
“In the life-creating nature of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit there is no division, but only a continuous and inseparable communion (koinonia) between them… It is not possible to envisage any severance or division, such that one might think of the Son without the Father, or separate the Spirit from the Son; but there is between them an ineffable and inconceivable communion (koinonia) and distinction”.
The divine unity therefore should be viewed from the standpoint of love. Each of the persons is not a selfish withdrawal into himself, but a complete pouring out of himself toward the others. Since all love is unifying, it is this communion of love amongst the persons, rather than the common divine essence, that best expresses the unity in the being of God. And it is precisely this interpenetrating love to which the entire created world looks forwards with eager expectation and longing when all things, of which we now only have a foretaste, will be perfectly re-established in God:
“I long to be in that unshaken dwelling place, where my Trinity is found in the gathered brightness of its splendour — the Trinity whose dim shadows exalt me”.
Academic Secretary and Associate Lecturer,
St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College
- This beautiful phrase belongs to Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis, Στο Περιθώριο του Διαλόγου, (Athens: Domos, 1991), 116.
- Dogmatikos, 29, 1–7.
- Oration, 3.
- St. Gregory of Nazianzus, The Second Theological Oration — On God (Discourse 28.4)
- P.G. 150, 937A.
- Letter 234, 1.
- V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 47.
- Dogmatic Poetry I, I, 29. P.G. 37, 507–8.
- The first explicit expression is found in Genesis where it reveals a loving God that cooperates in Trinity in order to create. It is remarkable
that throughout the entire Patristic tradition the plural pronoun used in Genesis 1:26:
Then God said,, is considered as a clear indication of the Trinitarian God.
Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness
- Oration, 40. 41, PG 36:417.
- Oration 45, 4. P.G. 36, 628C.
- St. Gregory Nazianzus, Sermon 31, 14; P.G. 36, 149.
- Oration 25, 16 P.G. 31, 609.
- St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 31, 14.
- St. Gregory the Theologian wrote:
they [i.e. the Son and Spirit] are from him, though not after him. Being unoriginated necessarily implies being eternal, but being eternal does not entail being unoriginated. Oration 29, 3. In his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, St John of Damascus (675–749), also highlighted the essential dependence of the Son and the Spirit upon the person of the Father;
Whatsoever the Son has from the Father, the Spirit also has, including His very Being. And if the Father does not exist, then neither does the Son and the Spirit; and if the Father does not have something, then neither has the Son or the Spirit. Furthermore, because of the Father, that is because of the fact that the Father is, the Son and the Spirit are; and because of the Father, the Son and the Spirit have everything that they have. Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 1, 8; P.G. 94. 324B.
- Against Sabellius, 3. P.G. 31. 605A.
- Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 31 [On the Holy Spirit], 14.
- Adv. Haer. 5.9.1.
- The West teaches that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son [in Latin,
procedit ex Patre filioque].
- St. John of Damascus wrote:
Likewise, we believe also in one Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life: who proceeds from the Father, the Father being the only cause… proceeding from the Father and communicated through the Son. And participated in by all creation… And we speak likewise of the Holy Spirit as from the Father, and call him the Spirit of the Father. And we do not speak of the Spirit as from the Son… and we confess that He is manifested and imparted to us through the Son…But the Holy Spirit of the Father as proceeding from the Father, for there is no impulse without the Spirit. And we also speak of the Spirit of the Son, not as though proceeding from him, but proceeding through him from the Father. For the Father alone is the cause. Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 1, 8, 12. P.G. 94. 821–833 and 849.
- The West responds to these objections by stating that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son
as from one principle [tanquam ab uno principio]. According to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, such a response reduces and confuses the persons of the Father and the Son, thus making the persons merely different aspects in which the one God appears; something which the East rejects, since it upholds that persons are concrete and unique modes of real existence. Furthermore, the filioque also ends up making the essence the principle of unity, and not the person of the Father, but the abstract essence of God. From this, there arises the danger of undermining the fact that God is personal, and believing instead that He is an abstract essence in which various relations can be distinguished. As we have shown, the East does not identify
personwith mere relations as Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274AD) had done in the West by stating that personae sunt ipsaet relationes [persons are the relations themselves]. Relations are personal characteristics of persons, but not the persons themselves.
- Letter 234, to Amphilochius of Iconium.
- Oration 28, 17.
- In his letter to Ablabius, St Gregory of Nyssa wrote:
… since among men the action of each in the same pursuits is discriminated, they are properly called many, since each of them is separated from the others within his own environment, according to the special character of his operation. But in the case of the divine nature, we do not similarly learnt that the Father does anything by Himself in which the Son does not work conjointly, or again that the Son has any special operation apart from the Holy Spirit; but every operation which extends from God the creation, and is name according to our variable conceptions of it has its origin form the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit. For this reason, the name derived from the operation is not divided with regard to the number of those who fulfil it, because the action of each concerning anything is not separate and peculiar…St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Not Three Gods (see NPNF, 5:334).
- cf. C. Yannaras, Elements of Faith, 27.
- Triads, 3,2,12.
- C. Yannaras, Elements of Faith, 27.
- Cf. S. Yangazoglou, The Person in the Trinitarian Theology of Gregory Palamas, Philotheos, 1(2001): 141.
- Στο Περιθώριο του Διαλόγου (Athens: Domos, 1991), 116.
- Even this analogy of the Trinity is only a dim shadow of the reality of God but is perhaps the most appropriate one since we know that God is love (1 John 4:8).
- In Greek the term is περιχώρησις which literally means
- St. John Damascus would claim that the Three are
united yet not confused, distinct yet not divided(Exposition on the Orthodox Faith, 1.8).
- Harkianakis, S.,
The Mystery of Person and Human Adventurein Phronema, 11(1996), p.9.
- On the difference between Essence and Hypostasis, 4, PG 32 332A.
- Poem 2.1.11, vv 1947–49.