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The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity

The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity

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Published by akimel
by Met John Zizioulas
by Met John Zizioulas

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Published by: akimel on Feb 16, 2013
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06/05/2014

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Thisoriginallyappearedin
TrinitarianTheologyToday:EssaysonDivineBeingandAct 
,pp.44-60.Slightlyeditedforclarity.
JohnD.Zizioulas
TheDoctrineoftheHolyTrinity:TheSignificanceoftheCappadocianContribution
Introduction
Cappadocia,whichliesintheheartofAsiaMinor,becameanimportantcentreofChristiantheologyinthefourthcenturyad.AlreadyatthetimeofStPaultherewasasmallChristiancommunityinCappadociawhereChristianityspreadsorapidlyastoproduceanumberofmartyrsandconfessorsinthesecondcentury,andtocontributesevenbishopstotheCouncilofNicaeainad325.ButitwasmainlyinthesecondhalfofthefourthcenturythatCappadociabecamefamousforitstheologicalthought.ThiswasduetofourleadingfigureswhosetheologicalandphilosophicaloriginalitysealedtheentirehistoryofChristianthought:StBasiltheGreat,bishopofCaesareainCappadocia(ca.330-79);StGregoryofNazianzus,knownasthe“Theologian”(ca.330-89/90),atfirstbrieflybishopofSassimainCappadociaandlateron,alsobriefly,ArchbishopofConstantinople;StGregory,theyoungerbrotherofBasil,bishopofNyssa(ca.335-94?);and,finally,theirfriendStAmphilochius(340/45-?),bishopofIconium.Thefirstthreeoftheseleftbehindthemaconsiderablenumberofwritings(dogmatictreatises,exegeticalworks,asceticwritings,orations,sermons,andletters),whichallowustoappreciatetheirthought,whileStAmphilochius'worksurvivesonlyinalimitednumberofhomiliesandletters,someofthemonlyinfragments.AlthoughthetheologicalcontributionoftheseCappadocianFathersisuniversallyrecognisedandacknowledged,itsimportanceisbynomeanslimitedtotheology.ItinvolvesaradicalreorientationofclassicalGreekhumanism,aconceptionofmanandaviewofexistence,whichancientthoughtprovedunabletoproduceinspiteofitsmanyachievementsinphilosophy.Theoccasionforthiswasofferedbythetheologicalcontroversiesofthetime,buttheimplicationsoftheCappadocianFathers'contributionreachbeyondtheologyinthestrictdoctrinalsenseandaffecttheentirecultureoflateantiquitytosuchanextentthatthewholeofByzantineandEuropeanthoughtwouldremainincomprehensiblewithoutaknowledgeofthiscontribution.HowdoesthedoctrineofGodappear,ifplacedinthelightofCappadociantheology?WhatproblemsconcerningthedoctrineoftheTrinityanditsphilosophicalintegritycouldbeovercomewiththehelpofthistheology?Whatconsequencesdoesthistheologyhaveforour
 
understandingofthehumanbeingandofexistenceasawhole?Thesekindsofquestionsaretheessentialconcernsofthispaper.Needlesstosay,however,suchvastandcomplexquestionscannotbedealtwithinanexhaustivewayinsuchalimitedspace.Onlysomesuggestionswillbeputforthandsomecentralideasunderlined.TheCappadociancontributionstillawaitsitscomprehensiveandexhaustivetreatmentintheological—andphilosophical—research,inspiteoftheconsiderablenumberofwordsdevotedtoitsindividualrepresentatives.InordertounderstandandappreciatecorrectlythecontributionoftheCappadocianstothedoctrineoftheTrinitywemustfirstsetthehistoricalcontext.WhatweretheCappadociansreactingagainst?Whydidtheytaketheviewtheytook,andhowdidtheytrytorespondtothechallengesoftheircontemporaries?AftertryingtogiveananswertothesequestionswemayconsiderthelastingsignificanceoftheseFathers'theologyforothertimes.
I. TheHistoricalContext
Ifwetrytosingleoutthesensitivities—wemightcallthemobsessions—oftheCappadocianFathersvis-à-vistheircontemporaries,wemaylocatetheminthefollowingareas:
A.Sabellianism
SabellianismrepresentedaninterpretationofthedoctrineoftheTrinitywhichinvolvedtheviewthattheFather,theSon,andtheSpiritwerenotfullpersonsinanontologicalsensebut
roles
assumedbytheoneGod.Sabelliusseemstohaveusedthetermpersoninthesingular,implyingthatthereis“oneperson”inGod.
1
ThismodalisticinterpretationmadeitimpossibletounderstandhowtheSon,eternallyorintheIncarnationhadarelationofreciprocaldialoguewiththeFather,prayingtoHim,etc.,astheGospelstoriesrequireustobelieve.ItwouldalsomakeitimpossiblefortheChristiantoestablishafullypersonaldialogueandrelationshipwith
each
ofthethreepersonsoftheTrinity.Furthermore,itwouldappearthatGodwassomehow“acting”intheEconomy,pretending,asitwere,tobewhatHeappearedtobe,andnotrevealingorgivingtousHistrueself,Hisverybeing.Fortheseandotherreasons,thedoctrineoftheTrinityhadtobeinterpretedinsuchawayastoexcludeanySabellianorcrypto-Sabellianunderstanding,andtheonlywaytoachievethiswouldbebystressingthefullnessandontologicalintegrityofeachpersonoftheTrinity.TheCappadociansweresodeeplyconcernedwiththisthattheywentasfarasrejectingtheuseoftheterm
 prosopon
orpersontodescribetheTrinity
2
—atermthathadenteredtheologicalterminologysinceTertullianintheWestandfounditswayintotheEastprobablythroughHippolytus—particularlysincethistermwasloadedwithconnotationsofactingonthetheatricalstageorplayingaroleinsociety,whenusedintheancientGraeco-Romanworld.Intheirattempttoprotectthedoctrinefromsuchconnotations,theCappadocianswereattimesreadytospeakof“threebeings”inreferringtotheTrinity.Forthesamereason,theypreferredtouseimagesoftheTrinitythatwouldimplytheontologicalfullnessofeachperson,suchas“threesuns”,“threetorches”,etc.,thusintroducingafundamentalchangeintheNicaeanterminologywhichwasinclinedtowardstheuseofimagesindicatingonesourceextendedintothree(“lightoflight”etc.).Bydoingthis,theCappadocianscametobeknownasbeing
 
interestedintheTrinitymorethantheunityofGod.(Cf.thewell-knowntextbookthesisthattheWestbeganwiththeunityofGodandthenmovedtotheTrinity,whiletheEastfollowedtheoppositecourse.)Thisstressontheintegrityandfullnessofthepersonswasfullofimportantphilosophicalimplications,asweshallseelateron.OutofthisconcernfortheontologicalintegrityofeachpersonintheTrinitycamethehistoricrevolution,asIshouldliketocallit,
3
inthehistoryofphilosophy,namelytheidentificationoftheideaofpersonwiththatof
hypostasis
.Itwouldleadustoofartodiscussherethehistoryoftheseterms.SufficeittorecallthatonlyagenerationbeforetheCappadocianstheterm
hypostasis
wasfullyidentifiedwiththatof
ousia
orsubstance
4
(indeed,theLatinterm
substantia
wouldliterallytranslateintoGreekas
hypostasis
).StAthanasiusmakesitclearthat
hypostasis
didnotdifferfrom
ousia
,bothtermsindicating“being”or“existence”.TheCappadocianschangedthisbydissociating
hypostasis
from
ousia
andattachingitto
 prosopon
.Thiswasdoneinordertomaketheexpression“threepersons”freefromSabellianinterpretationsandthusacceptabletotheCappadocians.Thatthisconstitutesanhistoricalrevolutioninphilosophyweshallhaveanopportunitytopointoutlater,whenwediscussthephilosophicalsignificanceoftheCappadociancontribution.Now,theCappadociansseemtohavedonewellwithpointingoutanddefendingthefullnessandintegrityofeachperson,butwhatabouttheunityoronenessofGod?Weretheynotindangerofintroducingtritheism?Toavoidthisdanger,theCappadocianssuggestedthat
ousia
(substance)or
 physis
(nature)inGodshouldbetakeninthesenseofthegeneralcategorywhichweapplytomorethanoneperson.WiththehelpofAristotelianphilosophy,theyillustratedthisbyareferencetotheonehumannatureorsubstancewhichisgeneralandisappliedtoallhumanbeings,andtothemanyconcretehumanbeings(e.g.John,George,Basil)whoaretobecalled
hypostases
(plural),notnaturesorsubstances.
5
Inthisway,theyremovedallapparentillogicalityfromtheirposition,sinceit
is
logicallypossibletospeakofonesubstanceandthree
hypostases
(orpersons),astheaboveexampleshows.Butthetheologicaldifficultywasthere,sinceintheaboveexampleoftheonehumannatureandthree(ormore)humanbeingswehavetodowith
threemen
,whereasintheTrinitywedonotimplythreeGods,butone.Inordertomeetthistheologicaldifficulty,theCappadocianFathersposedthequestionofwhataccountsforthedifficultyinreconcilingtheoneandthethreeinhumanexistence.Thiswasofparamountsignificanceanthropologically,asweshallseelater.Thereasonwhyhumanbeingscannotbeoneandmanyatthesametimeinvolvesthefollowingobservations.(a)Inhumanexistence,natureprecedestheperson.WhenJohnorGeorgeorBasilareborn,theonehumannatureprecedesthem;they,thereforerepresentandembodyonly
 part 
ofthehumannature.Throughhumanprocreationhumanityis
divided 
,andnohumanpersoncanbesaidtobethebearerofthetotalityofhumannature.Thisiswhythedeathofonepersondoesnotautomaticallybringaboutthedeathoftherest—orconversely,thelifeofonesuchpersonthelifeoftherest.(b)Becauseofthis,eachhumanpersoncanbeconceivedasan
individual 
,i.e.asanentityindependentontologicallyfromotherhumanbeings.Theunitybetweenhumanbeingsisnot

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