Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics and About God

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I. Biblical premises


In our last lesson, we summed up the topic of the prerequisites of Dogmatics - namely Cognizance and Faith – prerequisites that are required for approaching the mystery of God as well as the mystery of mankind’s salvation through Christ.  Beginning today, we shall specifically begin to examine the Dogmas of the Faith, starting from the Dogma on God and the Holy Trinity.

As you may well understand, it is not only Christians who speak of God. Every religion deals with God. Even atheism deals with God, inasmuch as it reacts negatively to and abolishes, a certain specific perception of God. Although it may seem that atheism at first sight rejects every notion of God, deep down, it is impossible for someone to uphold a rejective theory without identifying it with something.  We reject something, when we have somehow related it to something else. Consequently, there is a deep-seated perception of God in our minds, which we wish to reject. It is therefore impossible for anyone to escape from the question pertaining to God, whether a Christian, or a follower of another religion, or even a denier of every notion of God. As I said, he must first make it absolutely clear in his own mind exactly what he is rejecting, before rejecting it.


    We here are naturally going to tackle the notion of God as it developed and was handed down to the Christian faith and the Church.  So, our question is: what is the Christian notion of God?  In order to reply to this question, we must first clear the historical field.  The Christian faith does not introduce any radically novel concept of God. God Himself participates in the faith of the Judeans of that time; it is the God whom they embraced, and the faith that they embraced, through the Judean community of the Old Testament; the God of Christ is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. In order, therefore, to locate the historical roots of the notion of God in Christendom, we must necessarily obtain an answer to the question of what comprised the Hebrew perception of God.


A second basic question would be: what kind of modification does this idea undergo, when passing through the faith in the person of Christ? Because, while Christ does not attempt to introduce a new perception of God and speaks of the same God to Whom the Old Testament refers, nevertheless, when projecting certain assumptions regarding His person that touch on the meaning of God in a fundamental way, He inevitably modifies, or leads to modification of, the perception of God that Hebrews had, during those times.


A third element pertaining to the historical modification of the Dogma on God in Christendom, is that this biblical notion of God - as it appears in the Old Testament, and later transformed in the New Testament on account of the pressure exerted by the faith in the person of Christ – is eventually interpreted by the Fathers of the Church, on the basis of two elements, which we outlined in the introductory lessons: firstly, the cultural environment during the times of the Fathers, which environment supplies the Fathers with the terminology, the meanings, and everything else that is necessary for one to define Faith theologically; secondly, the experience of the Church, from which the Fathers drew the existential dimensions of the Dogma on God.  We must therefore determine what comprises these cultural elements, these experiences, which shaped the Dogma on God during the Patristic era.


However, in accordance with the principles that were set out in our lessons, Dogmatics to us is not simply a collection of information and knowledge about what certain people once believed in, or about what they want us to believe today. Dogmatics is an interpretation, an existential interpretation of the Dogmas, therefore, the question that always concerns us and should concern us in every Dogma, is: what is the existential significance of that Dogma for us today? In other words, if this Dogma pertaining to God were to supposedly change in some way, what would the impact be on our existence? Would it have any impact, or would it simply remain the same, and not signal any existential  change? Therefore the existential interpretation of a Dogma pertaining to God must concern us, given that it includes the following general points, especially for us today.


First of all, it is that which we call a denominational or trans-Christian status, or ecumenical, or ecumenist. We must examine if and where the Orthodox Christian Dogma on God differs from other religions’ and Christian denominations’ ideas on God. Where is the definitive difference? Because one could insist that “we all believe in God”. With the exception of atheism, for which there will always be the question that I posed from the beginning (but anyway, atheism rejects every discussion on God), every other religion makes reference to God. The question is, if our differing from other religions merely has to do with the addition of certain things that the others don’t have. Like the Holy Trinity for example:  we all believe in one God, but some don’t believe in the Holy Trinity, therefore, if we add the Dogma of the Holy Trinity to the concept of God, we converge with those Christians. Is that the way it really is? What is the definitive difference in the concept of God, between non-Christians and Christians?  For the others, the non-Orthodox, the problem is ever serious. Because basically, all Christians certainly confess the same God, but the differences quite often are so essential with regard to the matter, that one must evaluate them and see how much and at which points these differences affect people – essentially and moreso existentially.


This is an area that concerns modern man. The other area is that of modern man’s basic existential needs. I have repeatedly said that Dogmatics without any existential interpretation is a dead letter, which will inevitably lead to a marginalizing of theology; unfortunately, this marginalizing has become reality for modern man. And the danger especially in regard to the dogmas is severe. We theologians and even the Church itself have left the dogmas to the specialists: “On the matter of God, you must ask the professor of Dogmatics – I have nothing to do with the subject”, is what the Bishop or the priest or anyone else will say to you. Or, our sermons avoid these dogmatic subjects altogether, because they are for the “specialists”. Well, this is exactly what marginalizing of dogmas means, and it has occurred, because we do not strive – as I said – for an existential interpretation that will or will not prove that dogmas are a matter of life and death for mankind.  We may admit this in a show of piety, but we do not actually show it. We cannot convince anyone. Theology has the duty to try to convince, because it is a matter of life and death to accept this concept of God, and not any other notion about God. On these general observations, we shall now try to initially outline the historical framework within which the Dogma on God appeared - the idea about God within Christendom - and we shall naturally begin from the Bible, from the Biblical framework, because that is where the Christian concept of God appeared. Then we shall proceed to the Patristic framework; we shall see how it is shaped therein, and then we shall interpret it existentially.


Christ already believed in the same God in Whom His contemporary Judeans believed. He does not ask the Judeans to change their concept of God. He makes it evident every time He communicates with them, that He participates in the same faith towards the same God – the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, the God of the Fathers of the Old Testament. What, then, were the basic, characteristic elements of this faith, this concept of God, which differentiated it from other, non-Biblical concepts of God?

Very briefly, we can locate these elements (the characteristic elements that comprise the definitive difference for the Hebrews and the Old Testament, which, as I said, Christ Himself accepted) in the following:

   First of all, in the absolute transcendence of God; God exists prior to the world, and we can never relate Him to anything of what we see in the world. It is imperative that we transcend the experience of this world, as opposed to ancient Hellenism and ancient Greek philosophy. We have here a distinct definitive difference, because, to the ancient Hellene, the cosmos was always the place where someone could meet God. Whether their God was a logical, connective force – the one that holds the world together in harmony, in beauty, (given that the word “cosmos” as you know, in Greek has the meaning of harmony, beauty, order) – or a logic that allowed them to explain the cosmos, the ancient Hellene had gone as far as to search for God, within the cosmos.

From a Biblical point of view, this was unacceptable. You cannot reach God by studying the cosmos and you cannot tie God, God’s existence, to the existence of the cosmos. Basically, you cannot simultaneously refer to God and the cosmos. You must suppose God to be Someone Who existed before the cosmos, before the existence of the cosmos. Naturally, this is connected to the idea of the creation of the cosmos from nil; in the sense that the cosmos once did not exist, whereas God always existed. The ancient Hellenes could in no way accept this idea.

To the ancient Hellene, the cosmos is eternal, even when in the process of being created; in Plato, we have the creation of the cosmos by the Creator-God. This God creates pre-existing ideas, from pre-existing elements, in a pre-existing space. Hence, there is something that is ever-existent, from which the cosmos is made, in the design given to it by God, and God is somehow entangled in this existence. No matter how hard we look for transcendence in the gods of ancient Hellenism, we shall not find it to the absolute degree that we find it in the Old Testament. This, then, is one element.

    The second one, which explains the absolute transcendence of God and is naturally associated with the first, is that God is not bound by any physical or moral needs; in other words, this is the absolute freedom of God. God’s transcendence rests in His absolute freedom. And again, so that you may see the difference, I will remind you of the idea that the ancient Hellenes - ancient Greek philosophy - had of God.  To the tragic poets – mainly Euripides, but also the pre-Socratic thinkers, as well as Heracletus and all the Greek philosophers, the question was posed as to whether the gods were free to do what they wanted. The reply that they gave was a categorical “no”. The gods were bound to do what was correct; they could never act unjustly, nor do anything that would contravene any physical or moral laws. There was a moral and a physical law. Heracletus said that there exists a logic, a “logos” that preserves the continuum of the cosmos in harmony, and if something were to go wrong, the entire cosmos would vanish. That the cosmos does not vanish is precisely because this logical order exists, and the gods must respect this logical order. And within this logical order, the ancient Greeks also placed justice. Basically, Zeus – as you know – married Themis (themis=justice), to evidence precisely that Zeus could not act arbitrarily; that he was checked by Justice. Justice was an important element to the ancient Hellene. The tragic poets most assuredly brought this fact to the surface. Thus, to the ancient Hellene, God cannot act arbitrarily.

In the Old Testament, this concept did not apply to the Hebrews’ perception of God. It did not cross a Hebrew’s mind that God could be shackled to goodness, to correctness and to justice as principles that dominated over God Himself, and that they must be respected by God Himself. That is why the Old Testament God acts extremely arbitrarily. The Old Testament is filled with murders, filled with numerous things that do not appear just and proper at first glance, but nevertheless are executed on God’s command; this is because God is not bound to moral principles. Pay special attention to this point, as it is extremely sensitive and difficult to remove from our thoughts, because we are kneaded into the Greek perception of God and we have tied down God, we have subjugated God’s freedom to certain behavioral regulations and regulations of justice, which we have drawn from ethics. But ethics can never abolish God’s freedom, whether according to the Hebrew perception, or to the Christian perception, as we shall see. In any case, while we are on the subject of the definitive difference according to the biblical concept of God, we must stress this:  God has absolute freedom, not only towards the cosmos, but also towards principles and ideas.

And I will again remind you that Plato in Timaeus speaks of a god who creates, but only in conformance with ideas that already exist. Ideas are not created by God; ideas designate God’s actions. God has to comply with the idea of goodness for instance, or virtue, and thus, if he were to create a world which was not “good” ( a term otherwise understood as “beauteous” ), and instead made it ugly, he would be violating ideas; also the idea of beauty to which he is subordinate. That is why he gave the world a spherical shape – as Plato explains in Timaeus – because, he explains, a sphere is the ideal form of perfection, of beauty etc. And God can indeed do nothing that would violate any ideas. Whether these ideas are moral perceptions of goodness or aesthetic perceptions of beauty, the ancient Hellene always made God subordinate to these ideas. This does not apply, in the biblical perception of God.

    The third basic element is what we would call the personal character of God. God is personal. Of course one could say that God was personal in ancient Greek thought, but it all depends on what the word “personal” means. That is why we must define what we mean in the Old Testament, when we say that God is personal. What we mean is that God is acknowledged through personal relationships. He is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob. He is never a faceless, supreme power, as many people would say today “yes, I believe in God, as a supreme power, and impersonal”. One principle that explained the cosmos the way it was in ancient Hellenism is the Mind, the supremely intellectual mind – (once again, the ancient Greeks had started to relate God to the Mind, and unfortunately many Christians – even during the Patristic period – were tempted to describe God by using the notion of the Mind quite often). Both in the Old Testament as well as in Hebrew perception, the idea of God could not be understood in relation to a Mind; nor in a physical power, or in a logical origin of beings. God can be related, through personal relationships : He is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob. His does not say anything about the nature of God, but it does say that this God is always associated to someone, and is not a unit, a single person that can be isolated. He always resides within a personal relationship. This is elementary for the Christian notion of God, and although it is found in the biblical faith in God, the Hebrews who didn’t accept Christianity did not develop it into its full potential.  Further down, we shall see the importance of this fact. For the time being, we shall keep in mind that in the Hebrew idea of God, He is always a God of associations, and not an isolated person.

Another element of this personal character of God is that the Old Testament God – the God of the Bible – is not only in a constant personal association; He also calls on man to indulge in a liberal personal association, in a mode of existence such as His. He is therefore a God of personal associations.

    A fourth element after transcendence, freedom and a personal character of God, is that which we could call the historical character of God’s revelation. This analyzed, means first of all that God reveals Himself and is recognized by His involvement during the course of history; this does not – I repeat – mean the observation of the nature or the aesthetics of the cosmos. Hence, the place in which God can be referred to and where one could say that He can be found, is in History and not in nature. We will of course notice that, although the Hellenes had embraced Christianity during the Patristic years, it was nevertheless difficult to expel the importance of observing the cosmos, hence the Fathers – and predominantly at the height of that era with Saint Maximus the Confessor – would frequently introduce this element of observing the cosmos, but it was mainly in reference to God; it was their approach to God. In referring to the biblical roots of the Christian idea of God, we must seriously stress the following: that the observation of the cosmos does not lead us towards God, except only in one way, as is expressed in the Psalm “… the heavens narrate the glory of God, and the works of His hands are made evident by the firmament….”.  In other words, God is not to be somehow found within the cosmos; instead, the cosmos itself testifies that Someone Else - this God – exists, but beyond the cosmos, and consequently this transcendence of God with respect to the world once again, plays a definitive role and thus the observation of the cosmos in relation to God – if we observe this Psalm’s expressions – is more like a historical kind of observation, and not cosmology per se.  “…The works of His hands are made evident by the firmament….” : to the Hebrews, the world is a creation, a project; someone made it. It is not a nature, which has certain principles, certain laws – the laws of harmony, the laws of goodness, of justice, and all those things that the ancient Hellenes had. Consequently, the world itself is treated as “history”, and not as “nature” or as “ the world”.

   Another element of the biblical meaning of God, under that which we named the historical character of the revelation of God, is that the biblical God reveals Himself mainly through His commandments and man’s observance of these commandments. For the Hebrew, the truth in general but more specifically the faith in God, is not a theory and neither does it originate theoretically – as we said – from the examination of the cosmos. It originates from the examination of history; from God’s interaction with the people of Israel during the course of History, and from the experience of a Being that sets down a Law that is to be obeyed. The response to this Law, the obedience to this Law, comprises the encountering with God.

    These all belong to the biblical perception of God; the Old Testament perception of God. Now, as I said, Jesus introduced certain new elements that did not negate the Hebrew perception of God, nor were they introduced for this purpose. Christ never suggested that the Hebrews of His time did not believe in the true God. Christ Himself believes in the same God that they believe in. The difference lies in a) the stance that one should take towards the Hebrews in this case and b) the stance that one should take towards idolaters. In the case of idolaters, the gods are false. They do not exist; they are not real. Here, we have the true God of the same Fathers that they believe in, the same ones that the Judeans of His time accepted. Despite all this, there are certain claims that Christ makes with regard to His person, which automatically lead to a revision of the idea that the Hebrews had of God. This also explains the conflict with the Hebrews of His time. However, from a Christian point of view, Christ’s claims with regard to His person are wholly accepted. Our issue is not to discuss whether they should or should not be accepted; they were accepted by certain people, by His disciples, by the communities that also wrote the New Testament and then by the Church, which formulated the Christians’ Dogma on God. Consequently, our problem is not whether these claims were rightly or wrongly accepted; our problem, our issue, is that they were accepted, and that from the moment they were accepted, the question “What does God look like?” arose.  Is it still the same concept of God, or do we have a radical change? I repeat that even Christ Himself had no intention of introducing radical changes.  It is in fact the fulfillment of the Old Testament notion of God, in the format that Christ presented, as regards His own person. But we have to examine these claims closer.

    A first claim is that Christ projects a particular - and moreso an exclusive, Filial relationship with God.  He addresses God as His Father, and not just father, in the way that anyone would say it; it carries a unique meaning. Bible scholars today have especially stressed the meaning of the word ‘abba’, ‘abba the Father’. It is an Aramaic word that Christ used in His conversations with God, with the Father.  This word, according to the interpreters, bears a special meaning of a close personal nature, a particular personal relationship.  Therefore, with this claim, Christ brings Himself into a relationship with God that is different to the relationship that people have with God, or that the other Hebrews had. This is the first element that He introduces, which, as we shall see, leads to the modification of the biblical idea of God.

   The second one is His claim that He is the incarnation of God’s final act in history. I mentioned before, that, to the Hebrew, God revealed Himself in His historical acts and not in any physical acts.  Take note that the acts of God - as distinguished from the nature of God – are later unfolded, in the theology of the Fathers, where the Hellenic interest in cosmology is already taken into consideration, an interest that the Hebrew doesn’t have. We are compelled to make these subtle distinctions as scientists. Because it is simpler and easier to say that we learn Dogmatics by putting all the information into a bag and pulling out whatever we require from therein. To the Hebrew, the acts of God were historical acts and not physical acts.  A Hebrew would have immediately suspected idolatry, if one spoke to him of physical acts. At any rate, I have mentioned this in order to arrive at the crucial point – that for the Hebrews of His time, Christ projects the claim that He is the “son of man”, where, as you know from the Apocalyptics of that era which both the audience and Christ Himself shared, the “son of man” is the one who will bring on the end of history, the final crisis of history, which – for the Hebrew – could only be God; only God can make the final, irrevocable judgment in the due course of time. And this judgment of God is given to the “son of man” (this is expounded in the book of Daniel, then in Enoch, and all of this is found in the Gospel: “when the son of man comes, and is seated on His throne of glory”). The son of man is the one who will pass judgment.  In view of the fact that to the Hebrew, this final judgment can only be passed by God, this “son of man” is the incarnation of the divine presence of God in history.  Man cannot pass judgment on history; in the end, only God can.  But the Hebrew does not expect to see God; it is impossible to see Him, on account of God’s transcendental element. God appears in the form known as ‘son of man’, bearing the act of final judgment on history, when Christ identifies Himself as the ‘son of man’. (Many interpreters today have doubts as to whether Christ actually identified Himself as the ‘son of man’, or if the Church did this, later on.) I believe that Christ clearly identified Himself as the Son of Man, but that is not the issue here. The important thing is that He had already identified Himself earlier on, basically with the Resurrection; with faith in the Resurrection. From that moment, a special kind of relationship is created, between the person of Christ and God; one that urges us to re-examine the meaning of God in the light of these events. In other words, in a person such as Christ, who maintains that He will be the One to judge history.

It was on this information that the first Church inevitably proceeded to modify the Hebrew perception of God. And we must keep these subtle distinctions in mind, in order to understand how the Dogma on God arrived at the point it did, with the Fathers.  Take note of these subtle distinctions, these delicate steps. The preaching of Christ’s Resurrection automatically signifies that in the conscience of the first faithful, Jesus Christ is identified to the eschatological son of man, that is, with God Himself acting irrevocably upon history.  At this juncture, we have the additional fact that this eschatological son of man, who is now the resurrected Christ, is expected to return soon in order to effect this final judgment of history.

   So far, the problem is not so acute, with regard to the meaning of God. It becomes acute, when Christ’s Second Coming lingers; the New Testament is a faithful mirror of this situation. One has to be blind, not to see the first Christians’ troubled minds with regard to their expectation of the Second Coming.  This immediately poses the question: where is Christ in the meantime, until His return for the final judgment? What is His place now, and what is His relation to God? The answer is found in the Christology of Christ’s Ascension, where He is thenceforth found to reside at God’s right. The words of the 110th Psalm “…the Lord sayeth to my Lord, be seated on my right…” is where Christology first developed and placed Christ to the right of the Father, up until the day of the Final Judgment. However, this was the cause of the following existential situation.

This Christ, Who is presently seated at the right of the Father – according to the 110th Psalm – enjoys certain privileges that for the Hebrew belong exclusively to God,. Observe two such privileges. Firstly, worship: “…everything on earth and in heaven shall kneel…”.  No Hebrew can kneel before a creation, a creature; it is out of the question. Now here comes another Person, which seats itself next to the person of the only Father, the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the unique God, and expects - or receives – both adoration and worship.

A second existential element is that this person expects and receives such devotion, that it demands the sacrificing of one’s very life under torture. Only God can make such demands.  Hence, the question of what is this Christ, immediately raises the question of what happens with the idea of God. How is God Himself any more, the One we believed in, when there is also this other person who has these demands that are so absolute and befitting only to God?

This lingering of Christ’s Second Coming now adds a third basic element. It not only poses the question “where is Christ now?”, but also the question “what is our relationship in the meantime with God, until Christ returns?” In other words, how does man see his relationship with God, now that Christ is seated at God’s right, in heaven?

   The answer to this timely, existential question comes from the other Paraclete, as analyzed in the Gospel of St. John “..I shall not leave you orphaned..” . I am departing,  I am not here, Christ had said; I am presently at God’s right, however, the Father “shall send forth another Paraclete (cletos=summoned, para=by), the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father..”.  Therefore, an experience of a new relationship with God begins, after Christ’s Ascension, with the arrival of a third person on the scene. A person which, like Christ, verifies the presence of God Himself; It does things that only God can do. The miracles, the charismas, all these things are realized, thanks to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the first faithful are compelled – within the meaning of God – to somehow find a place for this existential, this empirical reality.  Because now, God acts as a communion of the Holy Spirit.  Subsequently, Christ appears as that communion, which includes the Church community and all the charismas that the community contains, given that all these things cannot be attributed to a creation.

   To Hebrew thinking, the question is therefore raised, as to whether, after all the above, we can now refer to God, to this Being, to the One that the Hebrews called God, without simultaneously and automatically referring to the other two Persons: of Christ, who named Himself “the Son of God” in a particular way, and of the Holy Spirit, who replaces or verifies Christ’s presence in this special way – the communion in the Spirit – during the course of history.

Thus, the church is led with the aid of these existential experiences to the Triadic definition of faith; in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, simultaneously. This Triadic form eventually becomes the inevitable form of reference to God for the Christians, for the reasons I just gave you. These processes that take place in the course of history are basically empirical; they are not intellectual. You must deal with certain persons, such as Christ, who give rise to existential situations, therefore, you either reject Christ’s claims – you have that right – and thenceforth remain as a Hebrew with one God (who, as we shall see later on poses certain problems, and who is not the Triadic God), or, you embrace this Triadic formula out of necessity now, since you have accepted Christ’s claims.

Well, this Triadic formula that springs up in history under the circumstances that I described, appears obviously in the New Testament, and it has three forms. Two of them are clearly existential. One form is the Baptismal form. The faith in God that is required for baptism involves a faith or a reference to God not as a single person, but as a Holy Trinity. At the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we have a definite reference to Christ’s instruction to “baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” . You may know from history or from the New Testament, that this reference to the Holy Trinity at the end of Matthew’s Gospel is not accepted as genuine, but is considered to be a later addition, based on certain arguments that, according to the Acts of the Apostles and the witness accounts therein, the Baptism was performed in the name of Christ and not the Holy Trinity.  The first positive account that we have of baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity is in Justin. But the importance does not lie in whether baptism was performed in the name of the Holy Trinity; the importance lies in the fact that this form is present in all the Books of the New Testament and especially in Paul’s Epistles, and that it reached from being a baptismal experience to being included within the baptismal reference to God.

The other form by which it appears, is the Eucharist form. This is also very basic, and we encounter it clearly, at the end of Paul’s epistles, especially at the end of the 2nd Epistle to Corinthians 13, in the familiar form “…may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all…”. As proven by research, this form with which Paul’s epistles ended, comprised the opening of the Eucharist Liturgy in the first Churches, in the ancient Church, and so we must consider it a Eucharist formula. In other words, the Divine Eucharist was associated with the Triadic formula from the start.

The third form is the theological form in the broader sense, which we observe in St. John’s Gospel and in Apostle Paul. We won’t quote any verses. The simultaneous reference to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is prevalent in both Paul and St. John’s Gospel.

   Consequently, a theology surrounding these three persons  now commences. The theology of the three persons  does not, however, become a problem, up until the Patristic period in particular.  And although the Patristic era commences with the Apostolic Fathers from the point of view of Ecclesiastic Philology, from the point of view however of theological Dogmatics it essentially begins with the Apologists of the 2nd century, because it was during that period that Hellenic queries were raised; Hellenic-type queries regarding faith in God.

And the Hellenic-type question that was predominant from the 2nd century onwards, was: If we are baptized now in the same way that all Christians were baptized then, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, what happens to our faith in the One God, which is accepted by the Bible?  This is a serious question, which I call a Greek question, given that a Hebrew would never have thought of making it, whereas a Greek would want to know if the nature of these persons  (because that is the Hellenic question: regarding the nature of beings) relates to the nature of God, or if it is something different. And that is when tremendous dilemmas appear, from which the Church with its theology for centuries now is struggling to escape. Up until the 4th century with the Cappadocians it was difficult to give an answer to this question, which I will repeat: If we believe in One god, how is it possible to refer to the three persons  as if they too were ontologically related to that One God? The dilemma is that, if we say that the three persons  are ontologically associated with the One God, the question that immediately arises is: “Don’t we then have three Gods?”  If we say that the three or the two persons  are not ontologically associated with the One God, then the existentially pressing question that arises is: “ then how is it that we adore and worship these persons  , and how can we attribute acts that according to biblical perceptions belong only to God – for instance, the eschatological judgment of history and the miracles that are performed by the Holy Spirit?”

   The dilemma evidently is not easily overcome. The problem is, how can one accept the Holy Trinity without doubting Monotheism.   Unless one admits it is a “mystery”. And this, is an outlet. You will permit me not to use this outlet, because we could then say that everything is a mystery, and that settles everything. That is not theology. Of course these are mysteries, but they are mysteries that invite us to ponder. They do not obstruct our thoughts. At any rate, the Fathers would have given up theology if they had said “this is a mystery”.  On the contrary, they went to great lengths – especially the Cappadocian Fathers – to find a way to say that there is no conflict between monotheism and the Triadic God.  There is no conflict.  And that is the main problem that we are also looking into, based on the Fathers:  Why is there no conflict?

This problem preoccupied the Patristic era. In order to give a reply to this question, many generations of theologians had to pass.  In the 2nd and 3rd century – although this is familiar from the history of Dogmatics – various answers were given. Let us arrange them in one or two categories, so that we may assist our thoughts. One category of answers related the Logos and the Spirit to the acts of God in association with Creation and with Providence in general; i.e., God is One, but, in order to create the cosmos, He acts as a Logos and a Spirit. The great difficulty with this kind of answer was that the Triadic existence of God presupposes the existence of the cosmos. We would therefore lose God’s transcendence with regard to the three persons  .

   In numerous personages of the 2nd century, I would say even in Justinian, things are still not very clear; and generally in the Apologetics of the 2nd century it is still unclear as to whether the Logos and the Spirit belong to the sphere of God or of Creation. At any rate, they act and they appear always in association with Creation, something that is very dangerous even to the transcendence of the persons  . As you know from history, this is what led to Arianism, and subsequently obliged the Church to clear matters at least with regard to the Son, the Logos, and to say that the Logos does not belong in the sphere of Creation, but in the sphere of God. In this way, the Church gave a negative reply to this form of answers that had been attempted. It is not because God is a Creator that He is Triadic; He is Himself Triadic, independently of His Creation. This was cleared up – at least with regard to the Son – in the 1st Ecumenical Synod.

The other category of answers was the one that was called Modalist, Mannerist. There, the Son and the Holy Spirit and even the Father, were perceived as the manners with which God acted throughout history, and not as Beings or as self-existent persons  . This kind of theory was promoted mostly by Savellius, who, as you know, caused an immense problem to the Church, resulting in the rejection of this theory and this explanation.  Because the Church insisted that these Three persons  are entities, they are Beings, which are in a personal association between themselves, each one of them being something different to the other. The Father speaks to the Son, and the Son prays to the Father; in short, we have two Entities.

The Church therefore rejected these mannerist theories, it rejected the “Providence” theory, and so the question remained: if they are three Entities, how come they aren’t three gods?  If it had accepted the mannerist monarchic theory, the Savellius theory, it would have had no problem. But it preferred to have the problem, rather than to deny that the three persons  of the Holy Trinity are three Entities; exactly because the Church did not want to distance itself from this principle and give an answer, rather than to say “it’s a mystery therefore we do not talk about it.”

That is why the theology of the Cappadocian Fathers came into being, and has become the basis for the Christian dogma and theology. We must delve into this theology very carefully, with a sincere passion to learn. The problem surrounding the Holy Trinity is a difficult one. But this dark-age tendency that is observed in many today, in the name of a simplified faith and piety that keeps them at a distance from any intellectual labours, I consider to be something dangerous.  Theology is not piety’s enemy, and if these problems preoccupy us vigorously, we shall see that God becomes existentially more familiar to us, than if we didn’t bother at all with these problems.


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Greek text

Translation by A.N.

Article published in English on: 6-7-2005.

Last update: 4-8-2005.