Jump to content


Photo
* - - - - 4 votes

St Gregory the Theologian: Oration 31


  • Please log in to reply
14 replies to this topic

#1 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 12 July 2012 - 11:34 PM

"But what do you say," the opponents of St Gregory ask, "about the Holy Spirit? Where did you get this strange, unscriptural 'God' you are bringing in?" (§1). It quickly becomes clear in the oration that Gregory is no longer principally addressing the sophistical Eunomians, though they are certainly not forgotten. His opponents include a wider group of Christians, believers who affirm the full divinity and consubstantiality of the Son, yet who find it difficult to equally affirm the full divinity and consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit. Whence their difficulty? Holy Scripture--they do not find the divinity of the Spirit explicitly asserted in the Bible. We can imagine the objections posed to the great theologian: "Quote me chapter and verse. Show me where Jesus and the Apostles unambiguously state that the Spirit is God. Provide your proof texts."

St Gregory does not respond directly to the biblicism of his critics. He will not argue with them on their own terms. He certainly believes that the divinity of the Spirit is fully supported by the biblical witness, but only if it is read and interpreted properly. We cannot remain at the level of the letter of Scripture. We must penetrate through the words to their inner meaning and thus apprehend the divine realities they intend. Scripture must be read in the Spirit by those who are being purified by the Spirit. When these two conditions obtain, then the testimony of Scripture to the Spirit becomes manifest.

It is the Spirit in whom we worship and through whom we pray. "God," it says, "is Spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in Truth." And again: "We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." And again: "I will pray with the Spirit but I will pray with the mind also"--meaning, in mind and spirit. Worshipping, then, and praying in the Spirit seem to me to be simply the Spirit presenting prayer and worship to himself. (§12)


The biblical texts quoted do not, in fact, state that the Spirit is divine. Rather, they remind us of the spiritual reality of the Church: the Church prays in the Spirit, the Church worships in the Spirit, the Church believes and confesses the Father and the Son through and by the Spirit. The Spirit has been poured out upon the Church and now indwells and divinizes her. She knows God to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because she lives in and with God. Her liturgical and spiritual life is shaped and formed by her experience of the Holy Trinity. "This is the meaning of David's prophetic vision," Gregory explains: "'In your light we shall see light.' We receive the Son's light from the Father's light in the light of the Spirit: that is what we ourselves have seen and what we now proclaim--it is the plain and simple explanation of the Trinity" (§3).

The Church's confession of the Spirit as God, consubstantial with the Father, is thus ultimately grounded, not upon the literal exegesis of Scripture, but upon the Church's experience of theosis. She knows the Spirit is God because the Spirit is actively transforming believers into God. "If he [the Spirit] has the same rank as I have [i.e., creaturehood], how can he make me God, how can he link me with deity?" Gregory asks (§4). For Gregory, theosis is a fundamental sacramental and spiritual datum. To be baptized is to be incorporated into Christ and reborn in the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit makes us new creatures and participants in the Trinitarian life of God, then he must be God himself and not a creaturely intermediary:

Were the Spirit not to be worshipped, how could he deify me through baptism? If he is to be worshipped, why not adored? And if to be adored, how can he fail to be God? One links with the other, a truly golden chain of salvation. From the Spirit comes our rebirth, from rebirth comes a new creating, from new creating a recognition of the worth of him who effected it. (§28)


But one can hear Gregory's opponents loudly objecting: If the Spirit is indeed God, how is it that it has taken the Church over three hundred and fifty years to acknowledge this fact? Is not the theologian from Nazianzus teaching a truth that not even the Apostles knew? Is he not claiming a new revelation?

St Gregory responds to these concerns by advancing his understanding of the progressive nature of divine revelation. "There have been," he explains, "two remarkable transformations of the human way of life in the course of the world's history" (§25). The first was the transition from idols to Law, the first covenant. The second was the transition from Law to Gospel, the second covenant. And within the second covenant there is also the intimation of a third change, "from the present state of things to what lies unmoved, unshaken, beyond" (§25). Each of these epochs are marked by a gentleness and graduality: God does not compel or force; he persuades and coaxes. Qhen he established the Law and abolished idols, he permitted sacrifices to continue. When he established the Gospel, he abolished the sacrifices but permitted circumcision to continue. But eventually, as the Church grew in its understanding of the Gospel, the Church abandoned the concession of circumcision, as evidenced in the later behavior and teaching of the Apostle Paul.

God's self-disclosure as Holy Trinity is also marked by a progressivity of revelation:

The old covenant made clear proclamation of the Father, a less definite one of the Son. The new covenant made the Son manifest and give us a glimpse of the Spirit's Godhead. At the present time, the Spirit resides amongst us, giving us a clearer manifestation of himself than before. It was dangerous for the Son to be preached openly when the Godhead of the Father was still unacknowledged. It was dangerous, too, for the Holy Spirit to be made (and here I use a rather rash expression) an extra burden, when the Son had not been received. It could mean men jeopardizing what did lie within their powers, as happens to those encumbered with a diet too strong for them or who gaze at sunlight with eyes as yet too feeble for it. No, God meant it to be by piecemeal additions, "ascents" as David called them, by progress and advance from glory to glory, that the light of the Trinity should shine upon more illustrious souls. This was, I believe, the motive for the Spirit's making his home in the disciples in gradual stages proportionate to their capacity to receive him--at the outset of the gospel when he performs miracles, after the Passion when he is breathed into the disciples, after the Ascension when he appears in fiery tongues. He was gradually revealed by Jesus also, as you too can substantiate by a more careful reading. "I will ask the Father," he says, "and he will send you another Comforter, the Spirit of Truth"--intending that the Spirit should not appear to be a rival God and spokesman of another power. (§26)


Gregory responds to the charge of fabricating new revelation by insisting that the Church's knowledge of the divinity of the Son is grounded upon Spirit himself, who now inhabits the Church. This is not a post-apostolic revelation. The Church, rather, has grown in her understanding of what she has received. John Behr describes this as an ascent of maturity. Before the Church could begin to formulate the divinity of the Spirit, she first had to assimilate and clarify the apostolic revelation of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son. But now that the Church has finally achieved dogmatic understanding of the consubstantiality of the Son, she is ready to reach a similar understanding of the Holy Spirit, based not on proof-texts from Scripture but on her experience of the Spirit. Consider this important passage from Oration 41, in which Gregory distinguishes the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit both from the way the Spirit worked in the ministry of the disciples during Jesus' life and from their reception of the Spirit immediately after his resurrection:

The first instance manifested the Spirit indistinctly, and the second more distinctly; but this present occasion [Pentecost] did so more perfectly, since the Spirit is no longer present only in energy as before, but in its very being, so to speak, associating with us and dwelling among us. For it was fitting that as the Son had lived among us in bodily form, so too the Spirit should appear in bodily form; and that after Christ had returned to his own place, it should have come down to us. (41.11)


Gregory could hardly have put the matter more strongly. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell with his people in his very substance and essential reality. Christopher Beeley comments:

Here Gregory identifies in very strong terms the reality of the Holy Spirit's divine nature and its presence in the Church. Whereas Basil had argued that the activity, or energy, of the Spirit is present in the purified soul, Gregory is making the bolder claim that, in the age of the Church, the Holy Spirit now presents itself to believers as being fully divine and consubstantial with the Father--that it is present "in its very Being." (Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God, pp. 172-173)


Jesus himself taught his Apostles that the Spirit would come and would "teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26). The greatest of these new truths, suggests St Gregory, is the "Godhead of the Spirit" (§26).

Once the divinity of the Spirit is acknowledged and dogmatically confessed, the testimony of the Scriptures to the consubstantiality of the Spirit becomes manifest and clear:

But now you shall have a swarm of proof-texts, from which the Godhead of the Holy Spirit can be proved thoroughly scriptural at least to those not utterly dense or utterly alien to the Spirit. Look at the facts: Christ is born, the Spirit is his forerunner; Christ is baptized, the Spirit bears him witness; Christ is tempted, the Spirit leads him up; Christ performs miracles, the Spirit accompanies him; Christ ascends, the Spirit fills his place. Is there any significant function belonging to God, which the Spirit does not perform? Is there any title belonging to God, which cannot apply to him, except "ingenerate" and "begotten"? The Father and the Son, after all, continue to have their personalities; there must be no confusion with the Godhead, which brings all other things into harmonious order. I shudder to think of the wealth of titles, the mass of names, outraged by resistance to the Spirit. He is called "Spirit of God," "Spirit of Christ," "Mind of Christ," "Spirit of the Lord," and "Lord" absolutely; "Spirit of Adoption," "of Truth," "of Freedom"; "Spirit of Wisdom," "Understanding," "Counsel," "Might," "Knowledge," "True Religion" and of "The Fear of God." The Spirit indeed effects all these things, filling the universe with his being, sustaining the universe. His being "fills the world," his power is beyond the world's capacity to contain it. It is his nature, not his given function, to be good, to be righteous, and to be in command. He is the subject, not the object of hallowing, apportioning, participating, filling, sustaining; we share in him and he shares in nothing. He is our inheritance, he is glorified, counted together with Father and Son; he is a dire warning to us. The "finger of God," he is, like God, a "fire," which proves, I think that he is consubstantial. The Spirit it is who created and creates anew through baptism and resurrection. The Spirit it is who knows all things, who teaches all things, who blows where, and as strongly as, he wills, who leads, speaks, sends out, separates, who is vexed and tempted. He reveals, illumines, gives life--or, rather, is absolutely Light and Life. He makes us his temple, he deifies, he makes us complete, and he initiates us in such a way that he both precedes baptism and is wanted after it. All that God actively performs, he performs. Divided in fiery tongues, he distributes graces, makes Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. He is "intelligent, manifold, clear, distinct, irresistible, unpolluted"--or in other words, he is utterly wise, his operations are multifarious, he clarifies all things distinctly, his authority is absolute and he is free from mutability. He is "all-powerful, overseeing all and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle"--meaning, I think, angelic powers as well as prophets and Apostles. He penetrates them simultaneously, though they are distributed in various places; which shows that he is not tied down by spatial limitations. (§30)


The Holy Spirit is not some unbiblical deity. He is God, the third person of the Holy Trinity, consubstantial with the Father. Thanks to St Gregory the Theologian this is the faith that has been dogmatically taught in and by the Church since the First Council of Constantinople.

#2 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 14 July 2012 - 03:01 PM

"For our part," St Gregory writes, "we have such confidence in the Godhead of the Spirit, that, rash though some may find it, we shall begin our theological exposition by applying identical expressions to the Three. 'He was the true light that enlightens every man coming into the world'--yes, the Father. 'He was the true light that enlightens every man coming into the world'--yes, the Son. 'He was the true light that enlightens every man coming into the world'--yes, the Comforter. These are three subjects and three verbs--he was and he was and he was. But a single reality was. There are three predicates--light and light and light. But the light is one, God is one. This is the meaning of David's prophetic vision: 'In your light we shall see light.' We receive the Son's light from the Falther's light in the light of the Spirit: that is what we ourselves have seen and what we now proclaim--it is the plain and simple explanation of the Trinity" (§3)

One might wonder how plain and simple the above "explanation" of the Trinity truly is; but the grammatical rule is clear enough: all divine predicates are properly applied to each of the three persons of the Godhead. Thanks to the magisterial writings of St Gregory the Theologian this rule now governs Christian discourse about God and prayer to God.

But what is the justification for this rule? How does this rule not promote tritheism? Or as St Gregory puts it: "If it is asserted, we use the word 'God' three times, must there not be three Gods?" (§13).

Gregory's initial response to this question is to simply ask his audience, If you confess that Jesus Christ is homoousios with the Father, how are you not ditheists? The Eunomians, of course, would have shrugged off the question, given their denial of the homoousion, but not that large group of believers who became known as the Pneumatomachians. The Pneumatomachians publicly affirmed the full divinity of the Son, but they balked when it came to confessing the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Even St Basil the Great had qualms about calling the Spirit "God." But St Gregory had no such qualms. "Is the Spirit God? Certainly," replied Gregory. "Is he consubstantial? Yes, if he is God" (§10) If St Gregory and his followers are guilty of promoting tritheism, how are the Pneumatomachians not also guilty of promoting ditheism? The logic is identical.

In any case, how did Gregory understand the unity of the three hypostases? This is not an easy question to answer, particularly if one is relying on the Theological Orations exclusively. As Christopher Beeley notes, the Theological Orations are largely defensive in nature and therefore do not express the whole of Gregory's thought. After raising the charge of tritheism, the Theologian offers his rebuttal:

We have one God because there is a single Godhead. Though there are three objects of belief, they derive from the single whole and have reference to it. They do not have degrees of being God or degrees of priority over against one another. They are not sundered in will or divided in power. You cannot find there any of the properties inherent in things divisible. To express it succinctly, the Godhead exists undivided in beings divided. It is as if there were a single intermingling of light, which existed in three mutually connected Suns. When we look at the Godhead, the primal cause, the sole sovereignty, we have a mental picture of the single whole, certainly. But when we look at the three in whom the Godhead exists, and at those who derive their timeless and equally glorious being from the primal cause, we have three objects of worship. (§14 [Wickham translation])


The assertion of the Holy Trinity does not imply three deities because the divine being is one: the essence of the Father is identical to the essence of the Son, and the essence of the Son is identical to the essence of the Spirit. "Each of the Trinity," Gregory explains further, "is in entire unity as much with himself as with the partnership, by identity of being and power" (§16). The infinite ousia of God cannot be divided into multiplicities. Because the divine hypostases are united in the one divine essence, "no distinction is possible or conceivable in the Godhead in terms of being, volition, action, power, glory, degree or status" (J. A. McGuckin, "'Perceiving Light from Light' in Light' [Oration 31.3]: The Trinitarian Theology of Saint Gregory the Theologian," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 39 [1994]: 25).

But the interpretation, and translation, of this key passage is apparently not as clear as it might first appear. Scholars vigorously debate the meaning of this text. Compare the above with the following translation by Behr:

We have one God, for the divinity is one, and, though we believe in three, those who derive from the one incline towards him. One is not more, and another less, God; nor is one earlier and the other later. There is no division of will or separation in power; there is none of the qualities of divisible things. If I have to speak concisely, the divinity is undivided in beings divided; there is one mingling of light, as there would be in three suns joined to each other. When we look to the divinity, or to the First Cause, or to the monarchy, that which we conceive is one; however, when we look to those in whom there is divinity, and who are, timelessly and with equal glory, from the First Cause, there are three whom we worship. (Behr, Nicene Faith, II:364)


Behr offers the following commentary:

Divinity is not an abstract category of which the Father, Son, and Spirit are parallel members or representatives, as, for example, in our own case, where there is a single humanity yet a plurality of human beings. Rather, for Gregory, the being of God is what divinity is and, as such, is also what the Son and the Spirit are, for they are of his being. … If we are considering "divinity," or, as this is the being of the Father, if we contemplate the First Cause and his monarchy, we only see one, but looking at those in whom we find this divinity--those who, because derived from the First Cause, share in the monarchy, the single rule of the one God (cf. Or 29.2)--we contemplate three. (II:364-265)


God is one, in other words, not just because each divine person shares in the identical divine being, but because the Father has generated the Son and Spirit and shared with them his divine being. The Father is the one God ("I believe in one God, the Father Almighty"), and he eternally begets his Son and breathes forth his Spirit, each identical in essence. Whereas in the second century apologists the monarchy of the Father often implied the subordination and inequality of the Son and the Spirit, in the hands of St Gregory the Theologian the monarchy of the Father establishes the essential equality of the divine persons.

#3 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 15 July 2012 - 03:50 AM

I think that about concludes my personal reflections of the Five Theological Orations. They have been challenging to read and i've learned a lot, though I feel I have only broken the surface as far as comprehending St Gregory's understanding of the Holy Trinity. I hope you have found these postings useful.

Does anyone have any thoughts to share or questions to pose?

#4 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 16 July 2012 - 09:47 PM

A good introduction to Oration 31 is St Gregory's poem on the Holy Spirit, found in the collection On God and Man, trans. Peter Gilbert. Here is a passage:

In threefold lights the one nature is established,
not a numberless unity, since it subsists in three excellencies,
nor a Threesome worshipped severally, since the nature is inseparable.
In the Godhead is the unity, but they whose Godhead it is are three in number.
Each is the one God, if you should talk of them singly.
Again, there is is one God, without beginning, whence comes the wealth of Godhead
whenever the word refers to all three, so that, on the one hand, it might reverently proclaim to men the threefold lights, and
on the other hand, that by it we might extol the strong-shining Monarchy,
and not content ourselves with a pluralist marketplace of Gods.


As in the oration, Gregory emphatically asserts both the unity of the Godhead and the Triad, in whom the divinity subsists.

#5 Sacha

Sacha

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 464 posts

Posted 26 July 2012 - 04:27 AM

Behr offers the following commentary:



God is one, in other words, not just because each divine person shares in the identical divine being, but because the Father has generated the Son and Spirit and shared with them his divine being. The Father is the one God ("I believe in one God, the Father Almighty"), and he eternally begets his Son and breathes forth his Spirit, each identical in essence. Whereas in the second century apologists the monarchy of the Father often implied the subordination and inequality of the Son and the Spirit, in the hands of St Gregory the Theologian the monarchy of the Father establishes the essential equality of the divine persons.



Fr Aidan,

I'm sorry for my being late to this excellent thread. Re Behr's comment above: would you agree that second century apologists as well as the Apostolic Fathers did in fact believe in subordination? Did that subordination necessarily imply inequality of essence?

There was a beautiful chapter in 'Christ the Eternal Tao' that touched on these issues, I will have to look it up again and perhaps contribute something from it.

#6 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 26 July 2012 - 01:31 PM

Sacha, I'm afraid it's been a long time since I read the 2nd century Fathers with reference to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but Behr's quoted statement certainly rhymes with what I have read about 2nd century Trinitarian reflection in other secondary sources. Hellenism was comfortable thinking of degrees of divinity; hence it was easy to think of the Father as the one who possessed divinity in its fullness and to think of the Son and Spirit as less divine. It took decades and decades for the Church to think through and assimilate the implications of the creatio ex nihilo and to realize that there are no degrees of divinity: there is simply God and the creatures he has made. At that point the question must then be posed: on what side of the divide do we locate Jesus Christ and the Spirit? St Gregory's great and decisive contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was to demonstrate why the Holy Spirit must be confessed as God, of one being with the Father.

#7 Sacha

Sacha

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 464 posts

Posted 26 July 2012 - 04:34 PM

Thank you for those thoughts. It is my view that the Apostolic Fathers actually did not believe in degrees of divinity (I may have misunderstood what you mean exactly by this), even allowing for the fact that their understanding of the Trinity was relatively underdeveloped. Even earlier, the Apostle would remind us in Phil 2:6 that Christ did not consider equality with God as something to be taken advantage of, but humbled Himself, even unto death on a cross. It is hard to ignore the subordination inherent in the Christ Hymn but one should also notice that this is a voluntary subordination, one that glorifies the triunal love present in the Almighty, expressed not just from Father to Son but Son to Spirit and Spirit to Father (Hieromonk Damascene wrote insightfully and beautifully about this in Christ the Eternal Tao.) As a corollary, this voluntary subordination does not in any way imply any sort of inequality of essence. This is where the Western/Aristotelian mind stumbles over a major non sequitur, adamantly refusing to recognize that the one does not necessitate the other. This was Eunomius' fundamental mistake as Basil pointed out, in addition to confusing/conflating the unbegotten attribute of the Father with His essence.

Returning to the AF, Ignatius plainly referred to Christ as God as would others such as Polycarp, Justin Martyr. Ignatius writes:

"There is one only physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, GOD IN MAN, true Life in death, Son of Mary and Son of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord" (7:2).

Generate and yet ingenerate, passible and yet impassible. These are not contrarieties but instead paradoxes (see next paragraph below). It is true however that the Holy Spirit was not recognized as much in the 2nd century. The Cappadocians' contribution was seminal in that it redressed that lopsidedness by bringing to light the ousia/hypostasis distinction, but I do feel that in their zeal to rebuke the errors of Arius, Eunomius et al they might have over corrected by throwing out the subordination upheld earlier by the AF. Again, subordination (see 1 Cor 8:6 "There is one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ...") does not necessitate inequality of essence.

Coming back to the difficulty inherent in the concept of the Trinity, consider Justin Martyr's insight when he speaks of the kindling of fire from fire. This is in a way, an act of begetting, since the flame kindled from the fire is not created nor made, but rather generated without any loss of essence. Nevertheless, while retaining equality of essence ( Phil 2:6), upon its begetting the flame now has a uniqueness of its own. Further, the fire is greater than the flame in a sense (not that of essence however). Christ indeed did say "The Father is Greater than I."

Tertuallian would eventually expand on the idea of the kindling of fire by pointing to the sun and sun rays, or the root-tree-fruit analogy. Circling back from the analogy to the Father-Son, one could ask: how is this not di-theism? It cannot be if one recognizes that it is the Father who begets, in other words, the Father who generates the Son whilst retaining His oneness with the Son and Spirit. It is not He who taught Moses to say "The LORD our God is One". This economy therefore inherently prohibits an understanding of a plurality of gods.

Perhaps we can build upon Justin's insight by turning to another aspect of the glorious creation of God: music. French baroque composer Rameau spoke of finding the Trinity in the "triple resonance of the corps sonore" and in the natural/perfect proportions of the major triad composed of root, third and fifth tones. There is something wonderfully mysterious about the Root note which evokes the mystery of the trinity; consider a C played on the guitar at the 3rd fret of A string. If one strikes the string, the pressure of the string's vibration pushes the air to generate the sound of the C note. What is imperceptible to the human ear however, are the harmonic resonances of the third (E) and the fifth (G). These can be made audible by generating harmonics at certain sections of the string while holding down the C note. The point being that the Third and Fifth are inherent in the Root! Three, yet One. One could say C is the ousia, while the harmonic C, E and G overtones are the hypostases. Rameau came to regard the corps sonore as “the material manifestation of the mind of divinity; it is the spirit of God made flesh, the original principle of man’s knowledge." and I agree with him.

One can sympathize with Basil when he ultimately concludes in his response to Eunomius that one should not adopt a rationalistic attitude towards this great mystery of the faith. Nevertheless I think that the Father in His goodness and mercy has given us enough knowledge and understanding to strengthen our faith in the mystery of the Trinity and to correct the errors of Sabellians and Arians alike.

#8 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 27 July 2012 - 01:02 AM

Sacha, may I suggest that you obtain a copy of Fr John Behr's The Way to Nicaea and read with him the specific Church Fathers discussed in his book. You might even want to start a new thread on Trinitarian subordinationism and the 2nd/3rd century Church Fathers. In any case, St Gregory Nazianzen decisively eliminated the problem of subordinationism by his insistence that both the Son and Spirit are homoousios with the Father.

#9 Fr Raphael Vereshack

Fr Raphael Vereshack

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,420 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Monastic Cleric

Posted 27 July 2012 - 01:55 PM

Maybe the issue is that we do not need to see these early Fathers or the early Church through the lens of Nicea in such a manner as though everyone was speaking as if they either were a Nicean or as if they were an Arian.

This way of looking at the issue is currently very common. And yet it is not necessary in order to point to the basic theological integrity of these early Fathers.

The language of Nicea after all has distinct meaning because of the way in which the debate proceeded at the time and due to the specific points made and then were resolved upon by the Church at the time. Otherwise its language if used outside of its own direct context is just as easily lent to what those like St Gregory the Theologian certainly did not mean as to what they did. (the famous example of fire from fire for example can suggest that the Persons of the Holy Trinity are 'one in essence' in the same or similar sense that created nature is; ie that the Son and Holy Spirit are just emanations from or aspects of the Father).

The theological focus of the early Fathers then is seen from within their own context, which is that the Word is divine in that He is from God in a unique sense (ie not just a 'man of God' like an illumined prophet); but also that He is the distinct Word of the Father, not divine in the same sense as the Father.

For most of the Fathers of this time though these theological parameters were set in terms of the Father's providence for the world and of the Word's role within this. This was their over riding focus and context so that it is not helpful to place them within the later context of Nicea without missing out on what was central to their insight (and how it was the support upon which Nicea could later on be built).

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#10 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 29 July 2012 - 11:53 AM

Fr. Behr seems to make a subtle shift. He refers to St. Gregory speaking in terms of the three beings of God, and then says there is one divine being, which I don't see from the actual quotes from St. Gregory, who uses the terms divinity, monarchy, and first cause -- the problematic term here being "being" as a noun referring to God. Perhaps it's a later development but I don't see the term being or Being as being the Orthodox view. Instead we have "Beyond," with the distinction being made between Essence and Energies. Is there a "being" problem? The term "being" denotes a thing when used as a noun.

#11 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 01 August 2012 - 01:18 PM

[quote name='Owen Jones']Fr. Behr seems to make a subtle shift. He refers to St. Gregory speaking in terms of the three beings of God, and then says there is one divine being, which I don't see from the actual quotes from St. Gregory, who uses the terms divinity, monarchy, and first cause -- the problematic term here being "being" as a noun referring to God. Perhaps it's a later development but I don't see the term being or Being as being the Orthodox view. Instead we have "Beyond," with the distinction being made between Essence and Energies. Is there a "being" problem? The term "being" denotes a thing when used as a noun.[/QUOTE]

I'm afraid I'm confused, Owen. I see neither a shift nor a problem. The nominal employment of ousia (essence, being, substance) to denote that which each of the divine hypostases possess and are is classic Trinitarian theology, enshrined in the Nicene Creed itself: "And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the being of the Father …" I don't know how one can make sense of 4th century Trinitarian reflection if we cannot speak of the one being of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

St Gregory the Theologian typically prefers to use the words "divinity" and "nature" instead of ousia (being/essence/substance), but he is certainly more than capable of speaking of the divine ousia. For example: "Each of the Trinity is in entire unity as much with himself as with the partnership, by identity of being and power" (31.16). Beeley summarizes Gregorian usage:

[/quote]In confessing that the Son and the Spirit are fully divine as a result of their generation from God the Father, Gregory recognizes that he is distinguishing between the divine nature, which all three persons share, and the distinctive characteristics and identities of the three persons, by which they are distinguished from one another. He expresses the singularity and the threeness of God in several different ways. On the oneness of God, he variously states that the three are one God, one in Divinity, a single nature or being, or, again, simply a single thing. It is noteworthy that, on the whole, Gregory prefers the biblical terms "God," "Divinity," and "nature" over the more controversial term "being. On the threeness of the Trinity, he speaks of three hypostases or subsisting entities, three persons, three unique things or characterstics, or, often, simply three things. (p. 221)[/quote]

For Gregory the divine monarchy signifies that the Father is the one God. The Father is both hypostasis and divine essence. This, I believe, is what Behr is saying in his comment quoted above.

As we have seen, St Gregory has no problems identifying God and being. In Oration 30.18 Gregory states that "He who is" is the most apt name to denote the divine essence, as it signifies its absolute nature. "He who is" is thus superior to the words "God" and "Lord," which he suggests are relational terms. "But we are making deeper inquiries," he explains, into a nature which has absolute existence, independent of anything else. The actual, personal being of God in its fullness is neither limited nor cut short by any prior or any subsequent reality--so it was and so it will be."

Earlier I quoted St Gregory's 1st Epiphany Oration, which bears repeating now:

[quote]God always was and is and will be—or better, God always is. For ''was'' and ''will be'' are divisions of the time we experience, which is a nature that flows away; but God always is and gives himself this name when he identifies himself to Moses on the mountain (Ex 3.14). He contains all of existence in himself without beginning or end, like an endless, boundless ocean of being. He extends beyond all our notions of time and nature, and is outlined by the mind alone, but only very dimly and in a limited way--not by things that represent him completely, but by the things that are peripheral to him, as one representation is derived from another to form a kind of singular image of the truth: fleeing before it can be mastered, escaping before it can be conceived, shining on our guiding reason (provided we have been purified) as a swift, fleeting flash of lightning shines in our eyes. And he does this, it seems to me, so that to the extent that the Divine can be comprehended it may draw us to itself--for what is completely incomprehensible is also beyond hope, beyond attainment; and that to the extent that it is beyond our comprehension it might stir up our wonder, and through wonder might be yearned for all the more, and through our yearning might purify us, and in purifying us might make us like God; and when we have become this, that he might then associate with us intimately as friends--my words here are rash and daring!--uniting himself with us and making himself known to us as God to gods, perhaps to the same extent that he already knows those who are known by him. (38.7)[/quote]

Sr Nonna Harrison comments on this passage: "[Gregory] begins 38.7-8 by speaking of God in himself, in contrast to the created universe, and God alone is truly 'being'" (Introduction to Festal Orations, p. 47).

Perhaps St Gregory has appropriated the language of Plato, as you have earlier suggested, but he is not guilty of Platonizing, for two reasons: First, because of the absolute difference between God (divine being) and the world he has freely and contingently made out of nothing (created being): "God is the most beautiful and exalted of the things that exist--unless one prefers to think of him as transcending being, or to place the sum total of existence in him, from whom it also flows to others" (Or 6.12). Secondly, because the divine being is always enhypostasized in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and does not exist outside of them. There is no generic being. There is only the unbegotten God and the eternal Word whom he has spoken and the Holy Spirit whom he has spirated. Each divine person shares the divine being and is the divine being. This is not Plato. This is the Bible spoken into the world of Hellenism.

#12 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 01 August 2012 - 03:11 PM

First of all, I was not trying to suggest that St. Gregory is appropriating the language of Plato at all. I only suggested that one of the passages quoted could actually have been written by Plato, only to point out that in talking about God, we shouldn't necessarily make a sweeping generalization about "philosophy" as being invalid because it's "pagan" or because it doesn't precisely conform to Patristic and Trinitarian dogma. One has to be careful I think in terms of judging either Plato or Aristotle from a perspective of Christian dogma almost a thousand years later and requiring it to conform to that dogma. Cannot much of what we know from classical philosophy be seen as typological, in the same sense as say, various OT texts.

As for the term "being," I sense it is being used here in a way that is normally capitalized, referring not to God as "a being" but as a quality. Is that a fair assessment? Over time I think in the Greek Fathers, culminating in St. Maximos, the term "Beyond Being" is the accepted concept. Not to put too fine or too controversial a point on it, but Western Catholic theology of Being tends to go in another direction. Obviously, St. Gregory uses a number of terms as equivalent.

#13 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 01 August 2012 - 09:49 PM

As for the term "being," I sense it is being used here in a way that is normally capitalized, referring not to God as "a being" but as a quality. Is that a fair assessment? Over time I think in the Greek Fathers, culminating in St. Maximos, the term "Beyond Being" is the accepted concept. Not to put too fine or too controversial a point on it, but Western Catholic theology of Being tends to go in another direction. Obviously, St. Gregory uses a number of terms as equivalent.


My guess is that ousia does not have a technical or specialized meaning for St Gregory. He seems to be fairly flexible in his terminology and is very much aware of the analogical and metaphorical nature of theological language. On several occasions he rebukes the Eunomians for their literalism and philosophical rigidity. But unlike Sts Basil and Gregory Nyssen, he does not offer precise definition for ousia and hypostasis. For Gregory ousia simply denotes that which the Three share or possess in common.

What would St Gregory think of the "beyond Being" approach of Pseudo-Dionysius? That's an interesting question, and I'd love to see a Gregorian scholar discuss it. Gregory is very much aware of the radical distinction between the transcendent, infinite Deity and the finite world he has created. He seems to favor the metaphor of magnitude to emphasize the absolute difference between the eternal God and the contingent world. Does the "beyond Being" language say anything more than this?

Met John Zizioulas favors the "Being" approach of the Cappadocians as opposed to the "Beyond Being" approach of Pseudo-Dionysius:

Patristic theology and subsequent Christian doctrine uses the verb "to be" when referring to God. The neo-platonism which dominated at the time of the Fathers spoke of "one" as being "beyond substance," so the term "ousia" could not be used of the "One," but only of what derives from it. Such negative theology was widespread, and not limited to neo-platonism. Dionysius the Areopagite used the expression "hyper-ousios" (above essence) in order to say that God in himself is above every ontological category. All our categories come from our experience of created reality, but created reality cannot give us any knowledge of God. When dealing with the Greek Fathers, we refer to this as apophatic theology.

The doctrine of God does indeed take us beyond the common nature of things, but this does not mean that we cannot use the concept of being when dealing with God. "Apophaticism" does not mean that we have surpassed the concept of being or gone beyond ontology. In an important passage in "On the Holy Spirit" Saint Basil says, with reference to the phrase of St John's Gospel "in the beginning was the Word," that no matter how we stretch our intellect, we cannot go beyond the word "was." The verb "to be" is not only permissible in discussion of God, but it applies most directly and uniquely to God, so theology is the true ontology. God is not beyond or above the concept of "being," but he is the genine, the true, "being."

God is "the one who is" and he is that "being" whom we can address in worship and the Eucharist. The beginning of the Eucharistic anaphora that bears St John Chrysostom's name, makes the formal declaration of the Church taht God is the real, the true "being."

It is only meet and right to sing praises unto thee, to bless thee, to magnify thee, to give thanks unto thee, to worship thee in all places of thy dominion. For thou art God ineffable, unknowable, invisible, incomprehensible, the same THOU ART from everlasting.


The expression "the same" was familiar even in Plato's time, defining "being" as what is stable and permanent. To the ancient Greeks, decay and dissolution was the
fundamental problem, as indeed it is for all of us, so "being" is what is constant and immutable. Ontology simply represents our search for stability and permanence.

Division and dissolution turn "being" into "non-being." ... Every entity is penetrated by non-being, which is always wearing away at it until, when it has finally disappeared, it no longer has any reality at all. Non-being ultimately renders everything unreal. But we are hoping to find permanence, and we do find it, only, in God. ...

It is therefore not true to say that there is no ontology in the theology and life of the Church. We do indeed refer to the being of God, and to his being true "being" who actually is. This is the significance of the confession that God is: we may really know this. It does not represent an absence of knowledge, and we do not require any negative theology to communicate this. As Saint Gregory Nazianzus pointed out, God is that which may not be doubted. (Lectures in Christian Dogmatics, pp. 55-56)


My impression is that St Gregory might agree with Zizoulas on this point. But most importantly, he would remind us that our theological language always transcends itself, always points beyond itself to the ineffable, incomprehensible reality that is God .

#14 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 06 August 2012 - 01:59 PM

This probably constitutes splitting hairs, but one observation of most heretical movements is that they evidence a certain logical rigidity -- which is actually quite anti-philosophical.

#15 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 03 March 2013 - 06:16 PM

I have just published a four-part article on St Gregory's Fifth Theological Oration on the Spirit.  FYI.






0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users