We are going to continue on the subject of doctrine according to Lossky, in a shorter form, with the theory of the Holy Trinity.
The starting point of all theology in our Christian approach is the Incarnation of the Word of God, the Incarnation understood as the final revelation of God who becomes present in our midst, who becomes a man, who speaks a human language and who reveals not only in his teaching but in what he is and in what he does what we have got to know and what is our way of salvation. And the fact of the Incarnation, as described in the Gospel and as understood in Christendom, sets before us immediately the mystery of the Holy Trinity; indeed the one who is the incarnate God is the Logos, the Word of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, and so Incarnation and Trinity appear inseparably in the same context and it is impossible to oppose the Gospel in its would-be simplicity to theology in its intricacy, as have done certain protestant schools. Our faith in the Incarnation and our faith in the Holy Trinity are correlative and rest on the revelation given us in the Gospel. One cannot read the Gospel without asking oneself who is the one who speaks with this sovereign authority. And we cannot pass by, when we read the Gospel and when we enter into its spirit, we cannot pass by the confession of faith made by Peter which is recorded in the sixteenth chapter according to St. Matthew, verse 17, “Thou art the Son of the living God”. And on the other hand when we return to the Gospel according to St. John, from the first words we see how the Gospel and the mystery of God in all eternity are related to one another; the answer to the Gospel is the teaching of the Holy Trinity, it is rooted in it, it is correlative with it. Christ in his own words in the confession of his Disciples is the only begotten Son of the Father, He is God and equal to the Father, their divinity is identical, yet their person is different, the Son is not the Father, neither is the Father the Son, and the Holy Spirit is neither of the two, yet they appear linked together as three persons of one unique God. The main source from which we can approach this teaching of Christendom on the Holy Trinity is the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John, also the first epistle of St. John the Divine, and this is why the name of the Theologian the Divine has been given to the Apostle whom Jesus loved. From the beginning of this introduction into the Gospel of our salvation, the Father is called God, the Christ is called the Word. And this Word, this Logos in this beginning, which is not a temporal beginning, but which speaks of things as they are in their ontological reality, as the source of all things, is at the same time God, yet different from the Father. We see that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God; these three affirmations of the person of Christ as the Word, his situation “vis-a-vis” of God and the fact that He himself is God is the basis of our Trinitarian theology; they compel us from the start to affirm about God both the identity and diversity, there is here an antinomy, that is an opposition of terms, which from a purely rational point of view appears difficult and it is not surprising therefore that attempts were made by intellectuals, by people who tried to reduce divine categories to categories that could be understood and perceived and taken into human thought, it is not surprising that these people tried to reduce antinomy in one or another way, and the two extremes in this effort to overcome this paradoxical situation in which unity and diversity, identity and diversity are simultaneous and correlative was made in two ways. On the one hand by the affirmation of the unicity of God, and on the other hand by a tendency that was never completely of expressed, of thinking of the Holy Trinity as of three separate Gods. The tendency to consider God in terms of one, has begun by the affirmation of the absolute monarchy of the Father, monarchy not in the sense of a certain authoritarian situation, but He is the only origin the only source of what is truly God, according to this way of thinking, which has found its most concrete expression in the third century with Sabellius, “there is only one person in God — that of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit are an emanation, an expression of this one and unique person in whom the whole of divine nature is as it were concentrated; the notion of persons disappear here, only One subsists; for Sabellius God is an impersonal essence and this impersonal essence expresses itself diversely in the universe; and the three persons, what we call the three persons of the Holy Trinity, appears then as nothing else than three successive ways, three forms of expression of the same impersonal divine unit. In the act of creation God takes the face of what we call the Father, from Him all things originate in the same way as life originates from a father, and so the Father appears as the first and the primary aspect, in a first phase of divine manifestation which is connected with the act of creation, with the genesis of all things, with the period when the world was still harmonious when the fall had not taken place, when the garden of Eden was there whole and untouched. But from the moment when sin changes the relationship between God and man, the time of the Father comes to an end, and the period of tragedy and salvation is that of the Son, the Son who rules, who saves, and who reveals, and with the Ascension, the expression of divine care for this world made manifest in this particular expression — not this particular person — (that expression which we call the Son) comes to an end; and a new period begins, that of the Spirit. When the Judgement will have come, when all the world will have entered into divine harmony, into what the Greeks call theosis, divinisation, all things will be reabsorbed again in the undivided unity which is God, as I have said before, impersonal and essential. This Trinity is not therefore a Trinity of persons but three ways of manifestations which received names according to certain criteria, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, and these three modes of expression, of manifestation, and of action of the one impersonal God in his essence never exist simultaneously. One cannot speak of Trinity, one can speak of the manifestation and action of only one aspect of God, and it is only by adding up the three manifestations that we can speak of the three aspects and the three names. This succession of manifestations therefore is not a Trinity, it is a pure appearance; God remains the same, one and unique and it is only with relation to the world that these aspects are made distinct. The opposite approach which would also have been a solution for this tension, which is so difficult to make sense of in purely intellectual terms, between identity and diversity, the opposite solution is the faith in three Gods; this has never been expressed in Christian theology. But although we cannot speak of a divided Trinity, of a Trinity of persons which are separated and opposed to one another, one has found in different epochs in theological systems a certain weakening of the sense of the reciprocal relationship of the three persons; so that we come to an image of the Trinity in which their relationship is loose; this is what we find in certain Fathers of the pre-Nicean time and particularly in Origen. Origen considered that the Father was
identical to the supreme unity, or rather unit, and that therefore one could distinguished Him from the Son only on condition that the Son came as it were second on a lower rank of divinity; divinity was not his, He only partook by a sort of adoption, by a sort of sharing, that might or might not have taken place, of the divine nature of the Father. And the Logos, the Word, instead of being as we say “God of God, very God of very God” was endowed by the One who alone was God with divine characteristics and was made to be the instrument of the One, the only One who was One. And the Holy Spirit in his own terms was related to the existence of the Son on a lower level, as Lossky has put in a rather funny way, as the grandson in this series, in this cascade of deteriorating or diminishing divinity. In Arianism, which was the great heresy of the fourth century, this tendency which broke the unity of the Trinity came foremost. Arian identified God with the Father and affirmed that all that was not God, that is the Father, could be nothing but a created being, and therefore he considered the Son as a created being because he is not identical with the Father, so that this differentiation of persons which he tried to keep and secure resulted in braking up the ontological unity between Father and Son. The Son, according to Arian the created Son creates in his own turn the Spirit and so here again we find a hierarchy in three steps where only the Father is God, in which the Son and the Spirit are created, the Son by the Father, the Spirit by the Son and each of three newly created beings, Son and Spirit, is subservient, obedient, an instrument in the hand of whom he originates. In this vision of the Holy Trinity there is of course a break and a break which cannot be bridged, a gap between the Father who is God and the Son and the Spirit who are not. The faith which we find in the Gospel and the faith which has been kept so carefully by generations of Christians accepts in one motion of conviction, in one act of adhesion both the unity and the diversity in God. It is in the fourth century, which was the century of Trinitarian theology, that ways were resorted to (?) make the mystery which was known directly in the experience of the Church, in the thought of the Church, to be perceptible and understandable for the pagan would; it has been said that this lead to introducing into Christianity a rational element that was alien to it. In reality one should think rather in opposite terms that it leads to the christening of human reason which acquired new categories, a new approach which without being unreasonable discovered new ways of expressing in human terms what was beyond the experience of the pagan world. This work was done mainly by Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil the Great; Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Hilaire of Poitiers, and they together found words which could convey in terms of thought what was the knowledge and experience of the Church through the revelation given by God. The word which they used, to which we will have to come once or twice more is a Greek word, homoousion (όμούσίον), which means consubstantial, identical essence, participating in the same essence, the same substance, and this adjective was used if the Son and of the Spirit to underline the fact that we believe the Three: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit were God in the same way, to the same extent participating completely and totally in the same mystery of being God. The distinction which we found both in the Gospel and in the Fathers is difficult to make in English because when Scripture and the Fathers of the Church spoke of God the Father calling Him only by the name of God, they did not use simply the word God, they used the word the God, ό Θεος, and so many points of argument, which cannot be discussed or solved in a translation in any of the languages which can use or can avoid the article, can be solved in the original text.
The first thing which we find, apart from the affirmation of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity in the Gospel, in the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, are the words: “And the Word was with God”. Πρός τόν Θεόν says the Greek text and the word προς (pros) as I have said more than once here, does not indicate a state, a situation of being near or side by side or with, but a movement, a dynamic relatedness and in this short text, apart from the affirmation that before all things were made, before the beginning of time, in this timelessness beginning of all things, the Father and the Son were and there was between the two a relationship of directedness, the Father being the absolute centre towards which is directed the Son being related to Him, it is also the Gospel that reveals to us the situation, if I may use that word, within the Trinity of the Holy Spirit, and the relation the way in which He is related to God. In his last conversation with the Apostles Christ says, ‘and I shall pray My Father that He will give you another Comforter who will for ever be with you, the Spirit of Truth’. And in another passage, “The Comforter, the Holy Spirit whom the Father shall send in my Name”. Here we see that the Spirit is different from the Son, He also is one who comforts, He is also one who reveals the Truth, He is sent in the Name of the Son and He will bear witness to the Son. He will reveal the truth of Christ, He will remind the Disciples of what Christ has told them. He is related to the Son not in terms of opposition or of separation but of diversity. He is different and also there is a reciprocal relationship between Him and the Son because it is He who reveals the Son and it is by the Son that He is sent. He is the Spirit of the Son and He is also for us the Spirit of adoption that makes us, teaches us in the Son to become the real children of God, the sons of God by participation, who teaches us to call and say “Abba, Father”. And on the other hand the Spirit is related to the Father, He is the Spirit who proceeds from the Father not identical with Him but united to Him by this procession which is his characteristic in relation to the Father, which distinguishes Him genetically both from the Father and the Son. So the Spirit and the Son appear throughout the Gospel as two divine persons active in the world, of which the One unites himself to our nature, becomes the true man, regenerates our nature, makes it new and in the image of the vine and the branches makes us again, or more than again and in a new way, true human beings. The other, the Spirit, comes to meet our human persons and brings to life our freedom and our unrepeatable characteristic of being each of us unique in the eyes of God and in the scheme of human salvation. We will therefore have to consider in our next talk two things, what we know of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity according to Scripture and the knowledge of the Church, in themselves and in their mutual relatedness and the way in which the Lord Christ and the Holy Spirit enter into relationship with created beings, restore them into life and fullness and fulfil them for the Kingdom of God.
Answers to questions.
Conclusion to the theories of Sibellius:
When He appears as the creator, as the active origin of things, He is called the Father; this holds for all the period when there is a father-child relationship. But when the child becomes rebellious the relationship breaks, and the new period is a restoration within the world of a relationship of father and child, made or born, originated in Him. It is the period when the Son takes or rather when the same God appears in his function of a son, in whom sonship is re-acquired, and when he is reabsorbed back into the impersonal undifferentiated essence, the Holy Spirit is in action in us, invisible, to fill us with a certain number of qualities which will make us also be reabsorbed in this mystery. But ultimately the world has got to disappear as an entity and the three persons are not persons, they are three different manifestations of the same reality, and ultimately this very reality must come to a complete repose in impersonal existence. Well, this is not the God of the Gospel and this is why Sabellius was rejected by the Church.
Arianism at least left a God standing, here nothing was left standing, neither God nor the created.
…. To be an heretic you must have an outstanding intellectual approach, it was people of intelligence, of culture, of philosophical background of religious experience who were heretics; because the people who were not could not build the kind of philosophical system, which were at the root of their theological development.
… I think that it is possible to know the Trinity in each person and to have a relationship which is profoundly different with the Son, with the Spirit or with the Father. I think that we can say certain things starting with an experience which is personal, which belongs to the whole Church and which is rooted in the Gospel or in the totality of the Revelation. But what we cannot do is to show by a logical approach the necessity for God to be a Trinity and therefore prove that as He cannot be anything else then therefore He is this.
… God has found it necessary to reveal Himself as three persons of the Holy Trinity. He has found it necessary through Christ and through the Apostles in the Gospel and the Epistles to reveal to us that He is one in the Holy Trinity and it was not simply to satisfy our curiosity to make it possible for us to know how God is made, it has implications and it has a content in our experience. We know the Father, we know the Son and we know the Spirit, we know their unity, we know their diversity. When we transfer in terms which are human this knowledge which is not human, which is given, which God affirms about Himself, then there are applications on human level.
What love is, the relation between love and life, between love and death, between death and Resurrection, between the Incarnation and the mystery of sacrificial love is all contained in this idea of the Holy Trinity, of Trinitarian love. There is a little book written by Zander called “The social implications of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity” in which he shows that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity has implications in the relationship between persons on earth as it has between persons in Heaven.
The organisation of the Church is based — I do not mean the details of administration — but the great lines of its organisation — is based on the idea that the Church must be one in the diversity and multiplicity of persons as an image of God one in three persons and that the relationships that are true in the mystery of divine love must become true in the mystery of this human icon.
There is a basic canon on the Church’s structure in which we are told (it seems to be a very small point to begin with but it develops into a Trinitarian idea) that in each region the bishops of the region must be obedient to their head but also that their head must never act otherwise than in complete unanimity with the others, which secures cohesion and unanimity and the end of it is so that God, one in the Holy Trinity, should be glorified by man; the idea of the icon is there. The knowledge of the Trinity allows us to build a society according to a pattern which is a divine pattern, not because we try to be as God is, but because it is the pattern which is mutual love and unanimity, obedience and freedom in complete balance.