St Gregory the Theologian and the One God (part 3)

Eclectic Orthodoxy

Christ the Ancient of Days“The monarchy of God the Father,” avers Christopher Beeley, “is thus the foundational principle of Trinitarian logic, the fundamental dynamic that gives meaning to the grammatical aspects of unity and distinctness within the Trinity, and also the basic shape of the divine economy, by which the eternal God is known” (Gregory of Nazianzus, p. 217). But it’s important for readers to know that there exists a body of scholarship that challenges this construal of Nazianzen’s trinitarian theology. Beeley surveys the debate in his article on the divine monarchy. I have not attempted to read the scholarship on this question, much of which remains inaccessible to those of us (like me) who do not live near a seminary library or who do not read French, German, Greek, Russian, or whatever. All I can say is that I have found the the analysis presented by Beeley, McGuckin, and Behr…

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8 Responses to St Gregory the Theologian and the One God (part 3)

  1. David Waltz says:

    Hello Fr. Kimel,

    The concept of the “monarchy of God the Father” has been an important area of study for me over that last 5 years. I have devoted 37 posts (link) to this issue, and after much study and reflection I can say a good deal of conviction that the position held by Behr, Beeley, Bobrinskoy, Hopko, Lossky and Meyendorff is the correct one.

    The Biblical witness lends a good deal of support for the monarchy of God the Father, but little (if any) to the monarchy of the Divine essence. The same can be said for the vast majority of Church Fathers who wrote prior to Augustine.

    Now with that said, I have three questions for you. When, and by who, did the first clear reference of the priority of the monarchy of the Divine essence occur? Second, when, and who, was the phrase, “the one God” applied to the Divine essence? And third, when, and who, was the phrase, “the one God” applied to the Trinity?

    Grace and peace,

    David

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, David. Thanks for stopping by. Here are my answers to your three questions:

      1) When, and by who, did the first clear reference of the priority of the monarchy of the Divine essence occur?

      I don’t know. Some people point to St Augustine, but after reading both Ayres and Hart I am dubious that he identified the monarchy with the divine essence.

      2) When, and who, was the phrase, “the one God” applied to the Divine essence?

      I feeling pretty ignorant now, but I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to this question either. But I am intrigued by this passage from St Gregory Nazianzen’s Oration 38:

      But when I say God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For Godhead is neither diffused beyond these, so as to bring in a mob of gods; nor yet is it bounded by a smaller compass than these, so as to condemn us for a poverty-stricken conception of deity, either Judaizing to save the monarchia, or falling into paganism by the multitude of our gods.

      Here St Gregory seems to be using “God” as a predicate: the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God. Might this not at least suggest an evolution of linguistic usage, which would continue in both the Eastern and Western Churches?

      3) And third, when, and who, was the phrase, “the one God” applied to the Trinity? See above.

      Do you have any answers for the above questions? Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

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  2. MorganHunter says:

    In your opinion, do the affirmations in the Athanasian Creed that ” the glory is equal” and “none is greater or less than another” among the three Persons of the Trinity contradict the doctrine of the monarchy of the Father?

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  3. MorganHunter says:

    Glad to hear that! I was just vaguely remembering how I’d heard an Orthodox acquaintance assert that, while the Father was not in any way “better” than the other Persons (they were equal in essence), He could still be said to be “greater”. Have you ever come across anything like this?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      The Father is “greater” than the Son and Spirit in the way of order—i.e., he is the source of the Son and Spirit’s eternal existence. But the Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in terms of essence or substance.

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      • MorganHunter says:

        Do you interpret “My Father is greater than I” as referring specifically to the incarnate Christ in regard to His human nature (as, I believe, although I am extremely ignorant about this topic, a number of theologians in the Latin tradition do), or as indicating the kind of eternal distinction in greatness that you mention above?

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  4. David Waltz says:

    Hello again Fr. Kimel,

    Thanks much for taking the time to respond to my questions. At the end of your post, you wrote:

    ==Do you have any answers for thee above questions?==

    Concerning question #1, the issue of the “monarchy of God the Father” sure seems to be lacking among the Latin Church Fathers. I have not been able to identify any Latin CF who explicitly delves into this topic. As for the Greek CFs, scholars have identified two distinct uses of “monarchy” with reference to God: first, the ‘rule’ of God over His creation; and second, an absolute causal application. The first can be used of Trinity as a whole, but the second is reserved for the Father only.

    As for #3, I have not been able to identify any CF before Augustine who explicitly states that the Trinity itself is “the one God”. With that said, I think it is important to keep in mind that there is a difference between saying that the Trinity is “the one God” and saying the three persons of the Trinity “are one God”—the term “God” is being used in two distinct senses.

    And finally, #2. Your observations concerning Gregory Nazianzen’s use of the term “God” in Oration 38 are spot-on (IMO). I would argue that the predicate use of “God” with reference to the 3 persons of the Trinity has reference to the same Divine nature that all 3 share. Though each person of the Trinity is “God”, only the Father is “the one God”.

    I am still trying to identify the when, how, and why this exclusive use of the phrase “the one God” was shifted from the Father alone, to the Trinity…

    Grace and peace,

    David

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