|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||About God|
A communion of persons, or a communion of natures?
By the Rev. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlassios
There is of course a difference between the meanings of the terms “partaking”, “communication” and “community”, and yet, all of them can also be rendered with the term “communion”.
Thus, we naturally assert that the hypostatic characteristics of Godhood are not common; what is common is the essence of God, i.e.: LOVE. That is why we speak of a “communion of love” between the Divine Persons and that is how we should mean it. The Rev. Metropolitan fr. Hierotheos Vlachos explains this for us:
It has been quoted exhaustively that in the place of worship, Christians acquire the experience of communion between persons and that subsequently, during worship, an “inter-reciprocation" of their persons takes place. Generally speaking, this term “communion of persons” is lately being used very much in the theological language, and this springs from the viewpoint that an immense significance has been ascribed to the person from a theological point of view, for the confronting of various anthropological and social problems. The attempt is, of course, a commendable one; however, it does not always coincide with Orthodox theology.
It is a known fact that the person relates to a hypostasis and the essence relates to a nature; furthermore, that a nature per se, without a hypostasis, cannot exist, nor can a nature-less person exist. The notion of ‘person’ in the Triadic God was developed by the holy Fathers, in order to express the experience that they had of the Triadic God and also to reply to heretics who utilized philosophical thought.
When speaking of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, we mean that each Person consists of an essence-nature, and its individual hypostatic characteristics. The Father communes His essence-nature to His Son, through a pre-eternal and beginning-less birth, and He communes His essence to the Holy Spirit, through a pre-eternal and beginning-less procession. By being in communion with the essence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are therefore of the same essence as the Father and they consequently share the same energy, the same glory and the same Kingdom. But, the manner of existence attributed to the Father is “unborn”; the manner of existence attributed to the Son is “born” and the manner of existence attributed to the Holy Spirit is “proceeding from”. This means that the nature-essence is something “communable”, but the hypostatic characteristic – the manner of existence of each Person – is something “non-communable”.
Therefore, according to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, within the Holy Trinity there are non-communable things and common things, which means that in the Triadic God, we cannot speak of a “communion of Persons”, since the hypostatic characteristics of each Person are non-communable. However, we can speak of a communion of the nature-essence, since the Father communes His essence to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And the expression of an “inter-reciprocation” of the Persons in the Triadic God – even though the Father is found within the Son and the Holy Spirit, just as the Son and the Holy Spirit are found within the Father – is a problematic one, since there cannot be an inter-reciprocation of the hypostatic characteristics (i.e. the manner of existence of the Persons), precisely because they are non-communable. Christ’s words, “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (John, 14:10), pertain to the communion of their nature-essence, and to the fact that the Father is the cause of the Son’s birth, and the cause of the procession of the Holy Spirit.
If we were to move on, from Theology (the Triadic God) to Providence (Christology – the Incarnation of the Logos), even then, we would again encounter the theological view that there does not exist a communion of Persons, only a communion of natures. There is no communion of Persons, because in Christ, we did not have a union of two persons, i.e., of God the Logos and of man (as Nestorios had asserted, which union supposedly constituted the Person of Providence); instead, we had a union of two natures –the divine and the human – hypostatically. In other words, they were united, in the hypostasis of the Logos.
Saint John the Damascene speaks of an inter-reciprocation of natures in the Person of Christ, because of an inter-exchange of characteristics. With His Incarnation, Christ is both God and man, and He possesses the characteristics of both natures, unaltered. When He is called “Son of God”, Christ still maintains the characteristics of human nature; in other words, He is referred to as a God subjected to passions and a crucified Lord of Glory; when He is called “Son of Man”, He still maintains the characteristics of divine nature; He is referred to as a “pre-eternal child” and a “beginning-less man”. This is because both natures are joined together unchangeably, unalterably, inseparably, discernibly, indivisibly, in the hypostasis of the Logos, but also because of the manner of this inter-exchange. Saint John the Damascene writes: “And this is the manner of reciprocation, when each nature gives its own elements, towards the identity of the hypostasis and towards the inter-reciprocation between them”. Thus, in the Person of Christ, there is an inter-reciprocation of the two natures.
In another place, the same saint observes that the two natures in the Person of Christ are indivisibly separate, for the purpose and for the manner of differentiation, but, even when maintaining their difference, the two natures are nevertheless joined together discernibly, during the “the inter-reciprocation between them”.
Since we cannot speak of a communion of Persons in the case of the Triadic God, but only a communion of natures, and, since in Christ we cannot speak of a communion of Persons (which does not exist), only a communion-reciprocation of natures, it is for the same reason –and even more so- that we cannot speak of a communion of persons and an inter-reciprocation of persons in mankind, but only of a communion and a reciprocation of mankind’s nature. All of mankind partakes of the same nature. One cannot speak of a communion of Persons in God or in man from a theological aspect; it might be possible, but only from a philosophical point of view.
Translation by A.N.
Article published in English on: 22-2-2007
Last update: 22-2-2007