Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Lectures 1961 – 1962. Lecture 5. Theology

Theme: The Holy Trinity, The Incarnation, The Holy Spirit   Place:    Period: 1961-1965   Genre: Talk

Trinitarian theology as you know, is the work mainly of the fourth century. The council of Nicea completed and fulfilled by the council of Constantinople as far as our definition of the Holy Spirit is concerned and the great problem of the fourth century was to explain and to express at the same time the unity and the diversity in God, the problem of God one in three persons; the coincidence, the paradox of God who is one and God who is three; and the problem was not only to convey the mystery of God in adequate explanations but also to find such words which in themselves would both signify identity and diversity and at this point the word of St Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, stands out in a remarkable way. The Fathers of the fourth century have termed for their defini­tions and for the use of their words both to common language and to philosophical language, and they have singled out a certain amount of words which had already acquired a certain connotation in order to specialise them and to make them an adequate expression of Christian thinking. They had to meet with several problems, the first and main one was that in the experience and therefore in the thought of the ancient world the notion of pure nature and pure person did not exist, because quite obviously the ancient world had to operate with concepts derived from experience, and in the fallen world to which we belong neither nature nor person appear in their purity, in what they are, and this explains why the ancient world had never evolved the notion of the person: the person was considered in the ancient world from two points of view, either as a fragment of the total human species, the individual.

The individual is the last term of a fragmentation; it is the point beyond which one cannot divide further without loosing the identi­ty with which one is concerned; one can consider the human race in its totality or in its individual members. If you try to divide further it is no longer a member of the human race which you have to examine, it is either a departed soul or a corpse. The life individual is the last term of this process of division, of analysis, of disintegration, and the experience of the ancient world could not beyond this empirical reality of the individual, see anything else. It saw what was common to all men gathered together in little units which could be compared with one another, distinguished from one another because they had common features, because they were diffe­rent in the very process of being similar. A radical dissimilarity could not be perceived. On the other hand when an individual was examined and thought of in action, in movement, one saw that this common nature acquired particular features. But these features which obviously belong to the common nature, all these features which were human but organised in a different way and moving, adapted, and adjusted to one another in different ways, appeared only as something that covers up the basic identity of all. And so one spoke of in Greek of prosopon, “προδωπον”, in Latin of “persona” which did not mean a person, but a character on the stage. And so on the other hand the ancient world knowing that we are all human and basically similar to one another, saw in individual expressions of this common nature nothing but a fragment of the total and common nature, and on another level in action and in personality nothing but characters, but characters that were almost put on and not inherent to this particular individual.

This lead to a problem of expression in the fourth century, because what was essential to Christian thought both concerning man and concerning God was that we had to speak of a common nature, the divine nature which belong to the three persons of the Holy Trinity equally and completely, and on the other hand of three persons which were not characters on a stage, which had absolute reality yet were neither characters on a stage nor a fragment of the common nature, they were persons in a way which the ancient world did not know. The difference between the individual and the person we have spoken of more than once is that the individual is a fragment of the common nature which is distinguishable from any other fragment by the combination in him of common features physically, of physical characters like size, colour etc. or psychologically, by characters which are not unique but belong to the species and are grouped in a peculiar way which allows us to distinguish the one from the other.

The person is something quite different; it is not defined by the fact that it groups together some of the common characteristics of the nature. The person possesses all the characteristics of the common nature and therefore cannot be distinguished from another person because each person in God possesses the totality of what is human nature. It cannot either be distinguished as a character on the stage because this would introduce the notion of unreality, of something which is untrue, which is only an appearance and not a deep and adequate reality. The person is therefore defined not by contrast because there are no points of comparison, not by opposition but by the fact of its uniqueness; it is not by grouping the characters that we can distinguish one person from the other but by the fact that one person is not the other. This makes it possible to realise that each person possesses the totality of the
nature and that the nature does not exist apart from or outside of the persons. Nature and persons coincide absolutely, nature and person, if we can speak in terms of time are correlative; they do not appear one after the other, and so to underline the fact of this identity on the one hand, and of this absolute diversity on the other hand, the Fathers chose two words which in Platonic langua­ge and in common speech, although they had begun by being different, had converged towards one another, and could in the time of Athanasius be used practically for one another. These were the Greek words of “ousia” and of “hypostasis”. They apply the one, ousia to define the common nature and employ the other one, to speak of the same common nature as revealed and present in the person but the two words at that epoch meant practically the same thing so that when they were used one knew that one spoke of two aspects of the same mysterious reality, and not of two things which were different and had nothing to do with one another. These words which were almost synonymous, which were both related, ousia to eimi, to being, and hypostasis to the idea of substance, that is subsistance, (?) existence, were therefore introduced in the Christian vocabulary to express, from two different points of view the same divine reality and so we find ourselves in the presence of a solid theology which was completely novel in what it had to say and completely novel also in the way in which it used this vocabulary. Nature as nature in its purity, person as person in its uniqueness, unrepeatable, expressed by two words which only by convention meant something different, and which recalls immediately the other aspect of the problem. As far as other expressions were concerned like eternity, truth, life, love, goodness, being, existence, and so on, it was made clear at the same epoch and in the subsequent centuries that these could be thought of, or spoken of, only in relation to the created world. Goodness, justice, truth are ways in which we discover, perceive and know God, but God is not defined by these characteristics. He does not exists in categories of that kind, He is He spoke of Himself and said, “I am the One who is” which the Authorized version has put: “I am what I am”. Now another system of reference was also worked out partly on the grounds of Scripture and partly on the grounds of explanation; it was the relatedness of the three persons between themselves. The three persons of the Holy Trinity, one God, are love. Of this we have spoken in the past and I will not speak now; the identity of the notion of Trinity with the notion of love, the mystery of love fully expressed in the Trinitarian aspect of the perfect gift, perfect acceptance and perfect sacrifice, or in the terms of Philaret in the nineteenth century, the Father — love crucifying, the Son— love crucified, the Spirit — love triumphant. But we know, somehow, more about those relationships; we know from Holy Scripture that the Son is the Son born of the Father and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. These are two important aspects in these notions. The first one is that all the relationships, the relations of origin and the internal relationships are founded not on nature but on person; it is from God, O Theos, the God, the Father, that originate both the Son and the Spirit, it is not from a common nature that the three are as it were cut out, dividing the nature in three parts; it is in the uniqueness of nature and from the one person of the Father that the existence of the Son and of the Spirit originate (?). Now all the words which we use are inadequate because they make us think in terms of time, in terms of the Father pre-existent, which is untrue in terms of time, of events within the Holy Trinity, which is untrue. But what the fathers of the Church underline according to Scripture is what they called the monarchy of the Father. The monarchy meaning that He is the only origin, the only source, He is the One from whom the Spirit and the Son derive. And the equality between the One who is the origin and those who exist from Him, the equality is defined by the fact that He gives birth to the Son, and existence to the Spirit by sharing completely the totality of what He is; from Him the two persons who are derived are not endowed with less than the totality of divine nature. The three persons, the one unbegotten, the other one begotten, the other one proceeding, outside of time, beyond comprehension and description, are co-eternal as out of time; they are co-equal because they are all three the plenitude and totality of divine being and of existence. The difference between the begetting of the Son and the procession of the Spirit, I think, and so did Lossky and certain numbers of other theologians after certain Fathers, is not a definition in the way in which they originate in the Father or rather not an attempts at describing it, because whatever words we use we cannot give an image, not to speak of a picture of this mystery in God. They are meant to convey the fact that the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is as unique and unrepeatable as their persons are. They draw their origin from the common source, each in a way that corresponds to the fact that they are radically, absolutely different as persons. This is the first thing which conveyed to us by the words ‘unbegotten’, ‘begotten’, ‘proceeding’. On the other hand the words which we use to signify them has also led Scripture to use these words to define their origin. We speak of the Son and of the Father and by analogy their relationship is one of unbegottenness and begottenness; we speak of the Spirit which in Hebrew, in Greek and in Latin was expressed by the blowing of the wind, and we speak of procession, but these words are not merit to describe or to unveil intra-Trinitarian mysteries which are beyond our comprehension. You know that there has been and still is a controversy about the relationship of the Spirit to the Father and to the Son. The ancient Creed according to the Words of the Gospels affirms that the Spirit proceeds from the Father; this is enough for us to accept and to know, because it is one of the few statements which the Lord Christ made which one can call theological statements. There is a last point which I would like to touch upon; we use in Orthodox theology a term which is not used in the West at all, the term of ‘energies’. The word ‘energies’ has been coined late in theological terminology. According to the Greek Fathers the being of God is unbounded, unlimited in a plenitude, and we cannot say that God exists within Himself as if we meant that He is limited in a certain way. God is both unknowable and knowable He is beyond our experience and yet we are called to become partakers of divine nature. He is both divine tenebra, (?) essential darkness and essential light. He is both in Himself and He communicates Himself by what we call Graces which is Himself, given to his creatures. He communicates Himself by his actions of divine love, divine peace, divine power of all sorts, and it is to all this totality of actions, of gifts which apply to God communicating Himself, giving Himself, acting in us and upon us, that late Byzantine theology, with Gregory Palamas, gave the name of energies, it is God overflowing beyond the limits of his unlimited being as one of the Fathers puts it, is a plenitude that cannot be kept within the bounds of its own being but overflows and gives itself, shares itself, communicates itself and takes into itself by a mysterious act of communion and of transfiguration all that it touches and all that receives Him. And as you remember we have spoken of the nature of Grace and of the importance of the fact that Grace is God Himself communicating Himself to us; and not a gift of God of the creaturely (?) realm, because it is the very root of our hope and it is the very power that is at work in order that we might become what we are called to be; if Grace was creaturely, no amount of it would ever bridge the unbridgeable gap between the created and the uncreated. It is because Grace is the same God giving Himself, communicating Himself, assimilating us to Himself that our human vocation to become partakers of divine nature, to become gods indeed as the Old Testament and the Lord Christ repeats it, in the New Testament, can be fulfilled. These are the elements of Trinitarian terminology which I wanted to explain and with this we have finished what is this part of theo­logy concerning God, the living God of Revelation, One in the Trinity, life itself, love itself, transcendental and absolute mystery on the one hand, and infinitely close to us on the other hand; unknowable on the one hand, and yet the pattern of all relationships, of all the creation, of all the Church, of all partial relationships within the Church and within creation.

Answers to questions.

We meet the Lord Christ, we have a certain experience of the Holy Spirit which is much more difficult to perceive as a person. The person of Christ is easy to see because of the Incarnation. We can think of Christ as a person because He is Jesus of Nazareth, it is easy, He is Yes and Amen, He is all affirmation. The difficulty with the Holy Spirit is that in our sense we cannot seize Him as a person, we can seize Him as a presence, as some experience which is not simply born in us and dies in us as something which is external to us yet internal to us, which is immanent in us although it is not us. It is as difficult to imagine the Holy Spirit as a person as it is difficult to imagine the sort of individuality of the flowing wind, in a way the wind blows, it belongs to everything else, it is there totally, it is practically impossible to say that it is this stream of air, that is moving, it is air everywhere, it is the totality of the air that exists in the cosmos that comes into motion because a stream of air as moved a tenth of an inch. And so the same is true with the Holy Spirit and the words are not used in vain. We both know Him and He escapes, He escapes because we can not find his limits… We cannot find anymore the limits of the Word, but we can find the limit of the incarnated Word. We imagine that we can think of the Father because the word ‘father’ is something which is human and therefore even if we do not picture anyone we know how to seize the concept. We do not know how to seize a concept like a movement of the air because the air is unseizable, the movement is unseizable, limits do not exist in reality and the only thing which we can say is that the experience of the Holy Spirit we have is both — as Cabasilas puts it — is more intimate to us than our soul is intimate to us and yet different from us, it is not one of the ways (?) in which we are, it is an intrusion in the original sense of the word, there is otherness and this otherness escapes us because we cannot seize it like light, like wind, like heat; all these images have been used by the Fathers and it applies also to the fact that each person is revealed by the other except the Holy Spirit who is not revealed but pointed to, the Father unseizable, unknowable Who is the very mystery of the Godhead unsearchable for us is revealed in the Incarnated Son, He is revealed as an imprint but an imprint of a seal which we can neither see nor perceive; the Son is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit who throws light into us that we can know who this man is. And Himself He is only pointed to by the Lord Christ, He is not revealed in the sense that He is not shown to us. Christ says of the Father; “Who has seen Me has seen the Father” in the same way in which one can say, if you have seen the seal you have seen what was on the seal but one cannot say the same about the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit remains like a light, he makes things visible and He remains invisible. He is like the light that falls on object and allows us to see them but we can only conclude to the existence of the light from the fact that we see the objects but we do not see the light, we see the objects, we see the Lord Christ because the light of the Spirit falls on us and on Him. We see the Father through Christ and in Christ in the same process of the Spirit speaking to us in our heart: Abba — Father, and Himself remains unseizable only perceptible and He is what we find in the Gospel. Remember the first time Christ speaks of the Holy Spirit, it is on a night on the roof of house in his conversation with Nicodemus and Nicodemus does not understand and Christ takes the image from what is going around them, the evening has come, the heat has receded, the wind is blowing from the wilderness and Christ says it is like the blowing of this wind: you do not know where it comes from, where it goes to; the only thing you know and you can not deny is that you are in the wind, your skin knows that, your whole body knows that because you are refreshed, you can see your clothes moving in the wind. And if you look in Mark (chapter (?) about the sin against the Holy Spirit, you find the same imagery: one can be forgiven for not being able to decipher the mystery of Christ. Christ is an objective reality. An objective reality can be misunderstood can be denied; what you cannot deny without destruction of your own integrity is the blowing of the wind. You can say that this may be a mountain but it may be a house. You cannot say without either being mad or lying that the wind is not blowing that you perceive on your body and around you; and there can be forgiveness for an error of judgement, there can be no forgiveness for lack of integrity because unless integrity is restored nothing can rescue from this if you deny that what you know, you know nothing can save you from that while if you deny what you do not understand, there is hope. An error of judgement can be the result of complete moral and intellectual integrity. St. Paul was a persecutor of Christ for the right reasons and Christ did not reject him, on the contrary, He fulfilled him, while the rejection of our own experience to say that what I know I deny is a hopeless situation and this again shows the problem of the Holy Spirit with us and it explains why the Fathers repeatedly say that in this cascade of Revelation the Father by the Son, the Son by the Spirit the Spirit can be reveal only in the Church, in its members as in the togetherness, in the totality of it, revealed in the sense of being made visible, tangible, perceptible, though not Himself but his shining, but a shining that can be perceived as shining and not only as vision, what I mean to say is that when light is thrown on an object it is the object you see and not the light but when you look into the face of a saint and see it radiant with the light divine it is light divine you see and no longer the face. This could be born out by a passage in the life of Saint Seraphim when in his conversation with Motovilov when the Holy Spirit descended upon both, and Motovilov shut his eyes and Seraphim said: why are you shutting your eyes and Motovilov said, because your face is shinning like sunshine at midday, — and then he goes on and said, what I saw was really not the face of a man, it was a brightness like that of the sun at midday and within this brightness the movement of the eyes and of the lips that were speaking, at that moment it is no longer a face that is made compact and concrete and brought into relief by a light falling on it, it is a free (?) that somehow ceased to be perceptible in that concrete and heavy way because the light shines out of it and it is the light that is seen and no longer the concreteness of it. In the same imagery which we find in the two icons of the Transfi­guration that of Rublev that of Theophane the Greek. The light in Rublev’s gives relief and concretness to everything; the light in Theophane’s makes things to loose part of their concretness because they shine forth with light and what you see is the light shining out the things and no longer the light falling on the things.

We cannot perceive the Holy Spirit in the same concrete and objective way in which we perceive the Incarnate Word or in which we imagine we perceive the Father and yet He is personal because we have a relationship with Him within our experience. He speaks to us, He prompts us, He speaks within us, He is a voice, He is a presence, He is a light, He is a fire, He is concrete and real and not simply a word we sue as if we were saying He is the bound of love between us and God, a bound of love is completely impersonal and immaterial, here it is more then this, it is a driving force, it may be an unseizable force like wind but it has concreteness.

The risen Christ is man of beyond the fall, He always was outside sin, but He was within the fallen reality, with His restriction He comes back into where the fall is left aside.

God made to Adam and Eve clothes of skin as St Gregory of Nyssa says, in the fall they acquire compact heavy and limited humanity while before, or for Christ after the Resurrection, they had shape, but they were not united in the way in which we are, heavy and compact.

As St Paul says if we have known Christ, according to the flesh, we know Him no more according to the flesh, we know now the Christ of the Spirit, it does not mean an unbodied Christ but a Christ which we know through the Revelation of the Holy Spirit, different from the object of history and who is not quite what He was in the years of His life. The risen Christ is not the man of Nazareth He is Him but already beyond the victory, beyond death and within the victory.

Listen to audio: no Watch video: no