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Modern Theology 23:2 April 2007

ISSN 0266-7177 (Print)

ISSN 1468-0025 (Online)




In his discussion of the trinitarian legacy of the Cappadocian fathers, T. F.
Torrance argues that the Cappadocians defend themselves against the
charge that their differentiation between three hypostases in God does not
prove an existence of three separate divine principles instead of one ousia
by attributing the oneness and the source of the Godhead to the hypostasis
of the Father alone. Torrance, then, bluntly considers this patro-centric
hypostatization of the Godhead a serious defect in the Cappadocian
fathers’ theology. Instead of maintaining the important differentiation and
the equality in terms of self-distinction between the three hypostases, the
Cappadocians emphatically limit the existence of the Godhead to the
hypostasis of the Father alone. They turn thereby, according to Torrance,
“the internal relations between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into
the consecutive structure of a causal series or a ‘chain’ of dependence
‘through the Son’, instead of conceiving of them . . . in terms of their
coinherent and undivided whole-ness, in which each person is ‘whole of
the whole’”.2 Torrance believes that by this logic the Cappadocians left the
church with a problem related to the significance of the Fatherhood of God,
in that in their theology the two senses of paternity with reference to the
Godhead and to the person of the Father were “completely conflated”.3
This conflation led consequentially, Torrance affirms, to a shift in emphasis

Najeeb G. Awad
Near East School of Theology, Chouran, P.O. Box 13-5780, Beirut 1102 2070, LEBANON

© 2007 The Author

Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
182 Najeeb G. Awad

from the unity of three persons based on their equal divinity to their unity
based on the monarchia of the Father.4
Contrary to T. F. Torrance, John Zizioulas strongly believes that attrib-
uting the source and the oneness of the Godhead to the person of the
Father alone is the impeccable, unprecedented and unequivocal contribu-
tion of the Cappadocian fathers to trinitarian theology in the history of
Christian doctrine. By interpreting the godly unity and divinity ad intra in
terms of the singular personhood of the Father, the Cappadocians, accord-
ing to Zizioulas, correctly save trinitarian theology from all sorts of
problematic ontologies in that they trace the ontological principle of God
back to the “person” rather than to the “ousia” or to the substance. By
exclusively viewing the Godhead as the person of the Father’s communal
existence, and the Father’s being as being-in-communion, the Cappado-
cians persuasively show, in Zizioulas’ opinion, that God is a dynamic, open
and relational communion of love, and not a static self-enclosed ousia. Far
from concurring with Torrance’s description of this Cappadocian logic as a
mistaken proposal, Zizioulas believes that the contribution of the Cappa-
docians to Christian theology is their affirmation that the Father and not the
substance is what confirms God’s free will and existence and what repre-
sents the source of the Godhead.5
In this article, I attempt to show that John Zizioulas’ praise (as well as
T. F. Torrance’s criticism) of the Cappadocian’s restriction of the Godhead
to the person of the Father alone is not constructed on a fairly coherent and
appropriate perception of the intrinsic diversity that is characteristic of
the writings of the three fathers from Cappadocia. By their belief that the
phrase “the Godhead is by means of the Father alone” characterizes all the
three Cappadocian fathers’ theologies, Zizioulas and Torrance represent a
popular and widely adopted mistaken interpretation that avoids taking
into consideration the variety and difference in the writings of Basil of
Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus, not only with
respect to their form but also with respect to their content.6
It is my goal, therefore, to show that there is a crucial difference between
Basil of Caesarea’s and Gregory of Nazianzus’s trinitarian logic with regard
to the nature and source of the Godhead in the light of their hermeneutic
of the relational dynamics between the three hypostases. While Basil is the
one among the three Cappadocian fathers who attributes the Godhead
strictly to the Father alone, Gregory of Nazianzus is the one who, contrary
to his elder compatriot, views the Godhead as the three hypostases together.
While Basil’s approach is almost “patro-centrically semi-hierarchical”, Gre-
gory’s is “reciprocally koinonial”. I believe that showing the difference
between Basil’s and Gregory of Nazianzus’s trinitarian ontology would,
eventually, mean that in order to read the Cappadocian theology coherently
and inclusively we should avoid reading them exclusively through a
Basilian lens.
© 2007 The Author
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Between Subordination and Koinonia 183

The Hierarchical Emphasis on the Godhead as the Father Alone

The Eastern fathers’ trinitarian theology bestows a central place to the

belief that the Godhead is ontologically caused by the Father alone.
Together they regard this belief as basic in the doctrine of God, not only for
its refutation of the Filioque but also because it designates the ontological
particularity of the Trinity as one ousia: the hypostasis of the Father is the
principle/source of oneness and unity of the Godhead. Vladimir Lossky
remarks that confessing “the Father is the Godhead” means that “the
Father is the personal principle of unity of the three, the source of their
common possession of the same content, of the same essence”.7
Many scholars believe that in the fourth century it was the Cappadocians
who authoritatively argued that the source of the Godhead is the Father
alone. They concede that the three fathers from Cappadocia mainly stated
that even if the three hypostases are each God from God, the Son and the
Spirit are nonetheless caused by the Father alone, who in turn is not
caused. Because the Father is the “un-caused” causer of the other two
persons, His personhood alone is constitutive of the essence of God and of
the oneness of the Godhead. However, in the rest of this section I will show
that the idea that “the origination of the Godhead is by virtue of the Father
alone” is found at center stage primarily in Basil’s writings.
The main question for Basil is the following: How can the three equally
divine persons be one God? Compared to his colleagues, Basil was the most
eager to combine the Greek logic of operations, names and hypostasis with
the Jewish monotheistic logic.8 The concern about maintaining the oneness
of God despite the strong belief in His divine triunity is what underlies
Basil’s speech about the relation between the three divine persons in terms
of a linear logic of causation: from the Father to the Son through the Spirit.
For him, such a linear trinitarian relationship between the three hypostases
preserves the freedom of the Godhead by having it reside in the free
hypostasis of the Father and the salvific actions he executes by means of
His Son and Spirit.
There is strong evidence that the hypostatic co-existence of the Holy
Spirit and the Son with the Father is of secondary importance. This can
be gleaned from a careful reading of Basil of Caesarea’s trinitarian the-
ology, especially his work On the Holy Spirit. This book in particular
shows that Basil’s main concern is to defend the Spirit’s and the Son’s
uncreated-ness and prove their divine nature. He consistently argues that
by rejecting the Spirit we reject the Son, and by rejecting the Son we
reject the Father.9
In principle, Basil speaks about the divine Godhead as a koinonia of
three persons in reciprocal interpenetration. He affirms the impossibility of
believing in the Father and the Son without at the same time believing in
the Holy Spirit: “He who rejects the Spirit rejects the Son, and he who
© 2007 The Author
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
184 Najeeb G. Awad

rejects the Son rejects the Father.”10 This view—which I dub a “reciprocally
koinonial” view—underpins Basil’s belief that the prepositions “from”,
“through”, “in”, “by”, etc., (that are indicative of the persons’ functions) are
interchangeable between the three divine hypostases, because the three are
equally divine/equal in divinity.11 The “reciprocally koinonial” nature of
the triune Godhead is also the grounds for Basil’s defense of the insepa-
rability and the indivisibility of the three divine persons in terms of their
actions.12 Because the three persons of the divine Godhead are divine by
means of their “reciprocally koinonial” existence, and because the scrip-
tures refer to “Father, Son and Holy Spirit alike”,13 the three persons are
equally divine; all are one Godhead.
On the one hand, Basil’s view seems to restrict the koinonial relationality
between the three hypostases to their historical operations. His understand-
ing of the ontological trinity shows, on the other hand, that koinonia is only
predicative of the divine Godhead’s causal operations ad intra trinitatis. In
Basil’s On the Holy Spirit—especially chapter sixteen onwards—Basil expli-
cates the eternal Trinity in terms of successively linear relationships
between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Whereas in the earlier chapters
of this treatise, he states that causal prepositions (i.e. from, through) refer
equally to the three persons, in the later chapters he rather insists that the
Father alone remains the source and the center of the Godhead. After all,
the rejection of the Spirit’s divinity, according to Basil, does not affect the
Father directly but only through the Son. This means that any skepticism
about the divinity of the Son also casts doubt on the eternal divinity and
referentiality of the person of the Father.
In order to understand the Basilian ontology coherently, one might well
refer back to few focal points found in some of Basil’s letters—or at least
letters attributed to him or expressive of his thought. One such letter
reveals the presumption that underlies Basil’s reliance on the notion of
“rank” and on the linear form of relationality in the trinity. There Basil
It must well be understood that, as he who does not confess a
community of substance falls into polytheism, so he who does not
grant the individuality of the persons is carried away into Judaism.14
In order to avoid falling into either of these two traps, Basil suggests—in
several of his letters, as well as in On the Holy Spirit—that when we talk
about the Son and the Spirit besides the Father we should not conceive of
two additional qualitatively different natures. Rather, we should posit
Father, Son and Spirit as one in nature and affirm that the Spirit is as divine
and eternal and un-created as both the Father and the Son.15 In chapter
Sixteen of On the Holy Spirit, Basil accordingly offers an argument to prove
that the Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son on the basis of His
inseparable work with them in all their temporal activities. However, a
© 2007 The Author
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Between Subordination and Koinonia 185

careful reading of some of the claims Basil makes in this regard reveals
something of the linear and semi-hierarchical elements in his thinking,
elements that grant the Father an ontological rank different from the one of
the Son and of the Spirit.
In chapter sixteen of On the Holy Spirit, Basil refers to Paul’s saying in 1
Corinthians 12: 4–6 (RSV): “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same
Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are
varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every
one.” In all the previous chapters of his book on the Spirit, Basil continually
named the Trinity invariably by starting with the Father (i.e., “Father, Son
and Holy Spirit”). At face value, the reader of Basil’s writings here and
elsewhere may think that this habit is simply a spontaneous writing style
rather than any sort of a deliberate phraseology. However, Basil’s letter
number 125 reveals something else. There Basil criticizes those who change
the order or the ranks of the three persons in relation to each other:
it is necessary to shun those . . . who change the sequence which the
Lord handed down to us, placing the Son before the Father, and putting
the Holy Spirit before the Son. In fact, we must preserve unaltered and
inviolable the sequence which we received from the very words of the
Lord, who said: “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
Holy Spirit”.16
In On the Holy Spirit, chapter 16.37, Basil reiterates the point, affirming
thereby that when invoking the Trinity one always starts from the Father.
This is far from accidental, underscoring an ordering within the trinitarian
Godhead that has substantive import (at least from Basil’s point of view).
Consider what Basil says directly after he cites 1 Corinthians 12: 4–6:
Just because [Paul] in the above passage mentions the Spirit first, and
the Son second, and God the Father third, do not assume that he has
reversed their rank. Notice that he is speaking the same way we do
when we receive gifts: first we thank the messenger who brought the
gift, next we remember him who sent it, and finally we raise our
thoughts to the fountain and source of all gifts.17
There are two significant features to Basil’s argument: (1) What Basil is
attacking here is not the ranking of the three divine persons as such. Rather,
he is concerned to assure his audience that, despite what appears to be a
reversal of the traditional order of the persons of the Trinity by the apostle
Paul, the traditional ranking nonetheless remains intact. Basil himself is
against subordinating the Spirit to a lesser level of divinity and infinity
than the one of the Father and the Son (which is why Basil argues against
the Pneumatomachoi). Indeed, Basil opposes the Pneumatomachoi because,
despite their good intentions, they threaten the divine essence of God by
© 2007 The Author
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
186 Najeeb G. Awad

imposing a creaturely reality (the Spirit in this case) on the Godhead. Basil,
then, is not in principle opposed to every kind of ranking; what he is
against are those specific sort of rankings that deny the Spirit His divinity
and eternal being. The ranking that is unproblematic for Basil, therefore, is
one that at the same time maintains the equal divinity of the three persons
and allows for the specific designation of each person—e.g., only the Father
is “the fountain and source of all gifts” in the same way that the Son is the
sender of the gift and the Spirit is the messenger through whom the gift is
sent. (2) Basil associates the word “God,” in his aforementioned words,
with “Father” alone. This does not mean that for him the Spirit and the Son
are not expressive of God. It simply means that the Spirit and the Son are
so as each is “God from God”, whereas the Father alone is “God the
Father”. That the Spirit and the Son are “God from God” and not “God”,
as the Father is, is a conclusion that Basil derives from the language about
the Son and the Spirit as conveyers, transmitters, of the divine gift (i.e., the
Son is the sender, the Spirit is the messenger), and not, as is the Father, “the
fountain and source of all gifts”.
Basil’s emphasis on the Father’s occupation of the higher rank of per-
sonal being in the Godhead in the following pages of his treatise On the
Holy Spirit is compatible with his metaphor of “the gift, its conveyer and
its source”. In the following paragraph (16.38), Basil reminds his readers of
his conviction that “the originator of all things is one”. Here and elsewhere
in his writings a careful reader will notice that among the three hypostases,
“Father” names for Basil the single originator in the divine reality, for
the Son and the Spirit are consecutively ascribed the role of mediating the
creation (i.e. “He creates through the Son”) and the role of perfecting the
created things (i.e. “perfect through the Spirit”).18
A couple of sentences later, Basil stresses the priority of the Father and
his occupation alone of the rank of the originator in the Godhead when he
states that “the Father creates through His will alone and does not need the
Son, yet, chooses to work through the Son”.19 Similarly, when it comes to
the Son, he affirms that the Son also works on His own will without
needing any other. And yet Basil construes the Son’s ability to work alone
in relation to the third person, who seems to be on a lesser rank than the
other two, rather than with regard to the relation of the Son to the first
person. It is interesting that when it also comes to the relation of the Son
and the Spirit to other creatures (e.g. the relation of the Spirit to the angels),
Basil invokes the concept of rank to defend their non-creaturely nature:
they are above any other existing creatures. However, Basil’s concern about
ranking here may well indicate simply that “ranking” as a notion is central
to his understanding of the difference between the three divine persons,
whether in their relations with each other or in their relations with creation.
It is possible similarly to discern other indications of ranking and
linearism in Letter 38 (which many scholars recently attribute to Basil’s
© 2007 The Author
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Between Subordination and Koinonia 187

brother20). In this letter, the author differentiates between “substance” and

“person” with respect to the Trinity. “Substance” designates a common
factor generally shared by more than one subject, yet caused by one person,
the Father. “Person”, on the other hand, designates a specific individual
quality that is not shared by other subjects who have, nevertheless, been
bestowed the same nature.21 Eventually, what is common in the Trinity is
called ousia and what is distinct is called hypostasis. In other words, the
distinction of the Godhead should lie in a specific hypostatic reality, which
lies for Basil in the hypostatic reality of the Father, since He alone is the
un-caused causer among the three divine persons.
This logic paves the way for the subordination of the Spirit to the Son,
as well as the subordination of this latter to the Father, and the identifi-
cation of the Father with the source of the Godhead when the Spirit is
viewed in the following parts of the letter. The author argues that the
Spirit’s distinct quality (i.e. personhood) lies in the fact that He is “made
known after the Son and with the Son, and that He subsists from the
Father”.22 This is predicated on the basis of the already stated belief that in
the Trinity “the originator of all things is one: He creates through the Son
and perfects through the Spirit”.23 This means that the Father is identified
with the center of origination, and the Godhead lies in one person and is
shared by the other two insofar as they are this person’s (i.e. the Father’s)
means of creating and perfecting. There is, therefore, an emphasis on
articulating a successive linear mediation, not circular or fully reciprocal
trinitarian relations between the divine persons. The features of this lin-
earity appear in the affirmation that it is possible to speak about three
equally divine persons without falling into tritheism by claiming that the
Father is the emperor while the Son and the Spirit are the emperor’s
images. Every reaction to the images passes back to the images’ owner. The
Holy Spirit, then, cannot be before God or anterior to the Son. He can
neither be above the Father nor the Son, whether in accordance with time
or in accordance with rank.24
John Zizioulas believes that Basil’s way of explicating the trinitarian
relations is expressive of an authentic Cappadocian thought, for, according
to Zizioulas, the Cappadocians render the “person” the source of divine
existence, and they treat “source/principle” (aitia) and “cause” (arche) as
completely synonymous. Zizioulas accordingly claims that from the Cap-
padocians we learn that the aspect of particularity in relation to the divine
person’s identity should be understood causatively in the Trinity ad intra.25
Therefore, he agrees fully with the proposition that the Father causes the
divine existence, and that He alone is the cause of this existence, since to
every existence there should be one originating cause.26 Basil of Caesarea
specifically, according to Zizioulas, teaches us that in the opera ad intra
trinitatis everything originally initiates from the Father, passes through the
Son, and comes finally to us by the Holy Spirit, who is the third in order
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Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
188 Najeeb G. Awad

in the economic Trinity. Zizioulas sides with this “Cappadocian” identifi-

cation of the Father with the Godhead and defends it as follows:
If this [Godhead] is not Father alone, it is impossible to maintain the
divine unity or oneness without taking resort into the ultimacy of
substance in ontology i.e. without subjecting freedom to necessity and
person to substance.27
Zizioulas adopts what he deems as an original “Cappadocian” logic and
claims that “God as person—as the hypostasis of the Father—makes the
one divine substance be that which it is: The one God”.28 The Father alone,
in other words, constitutes God’s essence. He goes further in interpreting
the “Cappadocians’” theological view, arguing that any reference to God’s
being should be attached to the Father alone as the hypostasis of the
Godhead,29 inasmuch as the Son and the Spirit signify the Godhead by
pointing to the Father. The making of the Father alone the ground of God’s
being, the ultimate source and cause of origin, is praiseworthy; it consti-
tutes the pioneering contribution of the “Cappadocians”—namely, a stal-
wart defense of the uncreated-ness and the divinity of the Logos. Moreover,
this patro-centric view protects the freedom of God because it lays this
freedom in the dynamic relationality of the “hypostasis”, rather than in the
static concept of “ousia”. Although Zizioulas does not deny that attributing
the relationality and freedom of the Godhead to the hypostasis of the
Father alone may lead indirectly to the subordination of the Son (and, I
believe, more drastically the Spirit) to the Father, he nonetheless believes
that construing the Godhead in terms of the hypostasis of the Father alone
(rather than as a static, self-enclosed ousia) marks the original “Cappado-
cian” emphasis: the triune communion is itself the ousia.30
One objection to this “Cappadocian” way of thinking is that it leads one
into a logical conundrum: if “person” denotes the relationality of being and
“hypostasis” its substance, and if “Father” is not another relational person
in God’s substance but rather the substance itself, then the Father alone
would be God in person, while the Son and the Spirit would not be exactly
so, no matter how strongly and causally related they are to the Father.
Consequently, we seem to be led into some sort of tritheism, an ontological
plurality of substance. In other words, if what I have described above is a
faithful representation of the Cappadocian trinitarian logic, then one cannot
evade (as some have tried to do) the subordinationist possibility inherent
in the allegedly “Cappadocian” patrocentric view. T. F. Torrance would, in
this case, be correct in criticizing the “Cappadocians’” identification of the
Godhead with the Father alone because it deprives the Godhead of its
essential trinitarian nature and paves the way for relations of superiority
and inferiority or for “degrees of deity” in the Trinity.31
It is worth asking whether Zizioulas’ interpretation of the Cappadocians
(displayed above) is accurate. How does grounding the Son’s divinity in
© 2007 The Author
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Between Subordination and Koinonia 189

the hypostasis of the Father as the sole substance of God cohere with the
Cappadocians’ other emphasis on “reciprocal koinonia”, as both substantial
and constitutive of God’s being ad extra and ad intra trinitatis? One either
stresses that the Father is the Godhead alone, and then subjects the koinonia
of the three persons to the causal relations of origin, or one argues that the
Godhead is the three hypostases together, and then renders their koinonia—
including their relations of origin and their reciprocal love—as a manifes-
tation of their co-constitutive importance for the Godhead. Marrying the
claim that the substance of God is only the “relations of origin” with the
claim that the Godhead is the hypostasis of the Father alone is incompatible
with a parallel logic of reciprocity. This is especially so when that logic is
set within the wider framework of the Cappadocians’ theology, particularly
that of Gregory of Nazianzus, as I will show in the next section.
To be sure, the key characteristic of “Cappadocian” theology is that the
Father alone is the source/principle of the Godhead. However uncontested
this may be, it should not prevent us from looking again at the theology of
Basil of Caesarea to see whether we can find an explanation for his
insistence on this patro-centric paradigm. One should first reckon with the
fact that despite the previous stress on the Godhead as the Father alone, it
is generally accepted that Basil cannot be considered a subordinationist.
Why not? For the simple reason that he understands how subordinationism
threatens rather than maintains the ontological harmony and oneness of the
divine essence, which he is keen to defend. He most probably thinks that
the best way to negate this threat is to emphasize the equality of the three
persons by virtue of their functions. Basil’s emphasis here aims at denying
any conflation of God’s essence with created things. He insists that the
Spirit who makes the divine Son known to us is uncreated and divine—
which defends, in fact, the incorruptibility of the incarnate Word. It also
shows that the one who was born from a human womb was from the
beginning the divine Son of God because He was conceived by the Holy
Spirit. Basil’s defense of the Son’s divinity would thus accord with the
Father’s transcendence, immutability and infinity insofar as these divine
attributes are directly seen through and in the incarnate Son.
Even if one accepts the above set of claims, this should not lead us to
conclude—from the perspective of the ad intra trinitatis—that Basil’s
approach is fully perichoretic, either in logic or in intent. For by defending
the essential equality of the Spirit to the Son, and the Son to the Father,
Basil is not concerned with showing the Spirit’s equal hypostatic impact on
the Son, and the Son’s equal impact on the Father, in the transcendent
Trinity. He is concerned to display, rather, the functional equality of the
Spirit and the Son in the immanent Trinity. I do not deny that Basil’s
historical context plays a significant role in shaping his concerns, where, for
example, he was challenged by certain heretical claims from the likes of the
Pneumatomachoi and the Eunumians. However, the historical context does
© 2007 The Author
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
190 Najeeb G. Awad

not excuse him from the need to offer a clear perichoretic account of the
particularity and role of the Holy Spirit and the Son in distinction from that
of the Father ad intra trinitatis. Yet I would still argue that even bearing in
mind the historical context does not yet explain the problematic fact that
Basil was not developing a “koinonial” (but rather a causal) understanding
of the Godhead, and his identification of the Godhead with the Father
alone was not paving a way for a later, more balanced understanding.
The claim that the Basilian approach is definitive and characteristic of all
the Cappadocian theology—let alone that it is “characteristic of all the
Greek fathers”32—actually repeats rather than redeems the shortcoming of
this “Cappadocian” view. It might be conceptually correct to say that
“cause” in God implies personal denotation so that the cause of existence
should is a “person”, that is, should be someone rather than something. But
that still leaves unexplained why the personal source of the divine exist-
ence is one person rather than three “persons”, especially given the fact that
we have in the Trinity three persons who are equal in nature. Is it because
the Father is the sole originator of the Son and the Spirit? But this
origination is constitutive of the existence of the Son and the Spirit and not
of the Godhead. The issue here, then, is not whether the Son and the Spirit
are un-originate like the Father, but whether or not they are together
constitutive of the Godhead. Why are the relational and personal notions of
the “cause” attributed only to the Father’s hypostasis and not extended to
the Son and the Spirit if the latter are perichoretically constitutive of the
Godhead with the Father? What if the issue here is basically finding the
right expression of the relation between the belief in “triune personhood”
and the belief in “one substance” instead of finding a proper conceptual
relation between “person” and “substance”? I agree in principle with the
view that by using “ousia” as a way of referring to “person” we avoid
conceiving of God as impersonal. However, I still want to ask why should
the personal nature of the “ousia” be caused by the Father alone?
In the following section, I argue that even though a divine “ousia” that
is constituted by three divine persons rather than only one is not an open
possibility in Basil’s texts, this does not mean that it is not an open
possibility in the Cappadocian theology as a whole. We should not rely on
Basil’s theology alone or reduce the Cappadocian theology as a whole
solely to Basil’s premises. We should rather integrate Basil’s work with the
theology of his two colleagues, especially the koinonial framework of
Gregory of Nazianzus.

Gregory of Nazianzus and the “Perichoretic Godhead” Ontology

Discourse about the “koinonial” nature of the Godhead of God and a
radical construal of the perichoresis of the three hypostases in terms of
being, not only in terms of operations, can be readily found in Gregory of
© 2007 The Author
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Between Subordination and Koinonia 191

Nazianzus’s writings. An exhaustive treatment of this subject is clearly

beyond the bounds of this article. Instead, I am going to focus specifically
on Gregory’s Five Theological Orations, since they constitute the core of his
theology on the Trinity and on the Holy Spirit.
Gregory of Nazianzus shows an allegiance to the theology of Nicea and
he concurs with his other two colleagues, Gregory of Nyssa and Basil of
Caesarea, in explaining the traditional phrase “one ousia, three hypostases”
as follows: “we use in an orthodox sense the terms ‘one ousia’ and ‘three
hypostases’, the one to denote the nature of the Godhead, the other to
denote the properties of the three.”33 By this understanding we avoid,
according to Gregory, “either judaizing to save monotheism or hellenizing
by the multitude of our gods”.34
Moreover, like most of the Eastern fathers, Gregory believes that the
doctrine of the Trinity is initially an apophatic discourse about God’s opera
ad extra, for human reason cannot fully grasp the nature of God per se.
Having said that, apophaticism does not prevent Gregory from talking
about the Trinity both ontologically and functionally. Although he talks
about the Godhead that reveals the nature of the three persons not only in
their operations but most importantly in their being, Gregory successfully
protects his ontology from tritheism and from the Eunomians’ claim that
because God’s essence is simple and one, God is both un-originate and
unable to originate another equal divine being, unless the second, or even
the third, is less divine and unequal in essence. Gregory of Nazianzus
argues that there was no time when the Son and the Spirit were not,
because the three persons “are above all ‘when’”.35 In other words, the Son
and the Spirit are not mere expressions of functionality, two revelatory
manifestations of the Godhead’s actions; they are, rather, the Godhead in
nature. It is true that the Son and the Spirit are not originators like the
Father, for they both originate or “proceed” from him. Yet, this “origina-
tion” does not deny that the three persons are one in nature, and it does
not negate that by virtue of their nature the three together are constitutive
of the Godhead ad intra trinitatis, or in essence.
Something of Gregory’s creative understanding of the divine monarchia
can be grasped from the foregoing summary. For him, the Triune God is a
monarchy of three persons equal in nature and united in essence, on one
hand, and distinct and numerical in causation, on the other. What is
interesting here is that from an argument about the monarchical Trinity by
virtue of causation on the functional level, Gregory of Nazianzus is able to
move to an argument about the monarchical causation in the Godhead as
such, and thus to the ontological level of the Trinity, taking thereby a step
beyond the apophaticism of the other two Cappadocians: Basil of Caesarea
and Gregory of Nyssa.
Gregory of Nazianzus believes that being the originating cause of the
other two persons does not make the Father greater than the Son and
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192 Najeeb G. Awad

the Spirit. It does not mean, in other words, that the Father is of a higher
rank than the other two, for “Father” and “Son” are but names that
characterize the relationship between the Father and the Son.36 The dis-
tinction between the Father, the Son and the Spirit, lies, in other words, in
their external predicates: originate and un-originate. These predicates do
not identify the essence but the persons of God.37 By this, Gregory is not
drifting into a quadrinitarian modality. He is rather taking one cataphatic
step further the other Cappadocians’ ontology about the ad intra trinitatis,
and he does so by distinguishing “Father”, “Son” and “Spirit” from
“originate”, “un-originate” and “spirated”. The issue for him is describing
positively the particularity of the Trinity rather than justifying its numerical
This, then, is the backdrop of Gregory of Nazianzus’s refusal to name the
Godhead as “Father” alone.38 By so refusing, he aims to show that being the
cause or the originator of the Son and the Spirit does not entail the claim
that the Father is by nature on a higher rank than the Son and the Spirit.39
“Father” does not designate superiority because it names a form of rela-
tionship or the “manner of being”40 by which the first hypostasis relates to
the second and the third. In contradistinction from Zizioulas’ understand-
ing of the notion of “relation” in the writings of the Cappadocians, Gregory
of Nazianzus does not concede that “relation” is prior to “being” or to
“essence”. Neither would he say that the fatherhood relationship is the
person of God first and foremost. To the contrary, Gregory believes that
even if we said that the Father is the Godhead, this will not exclude the
other two persons from the Godhead’s constitution because the assertion
“the Father is the Godhead” brings the Son in with it; it does not alienate
him.41 The Son and the Spirit, therefore, are “on the same level as the
In his development of a relational view of ministry, Zizioulas imposes a
Basilian logic on the writings of Gregory of Nazianzus when he derives
from Gregory’s notion of particularity a hierarchical view of the Trinity.
Referring to Gregory’s Orations, Zizioulas says:
In a relational view of the ministry, authority establishes itself as a
demand of the relationship itself. Thus the church becomes hierarchical
in the sense in which the Holy Trinity itself is hierarchical: by reason
of the specificity of relationships. The ministry, viewed in this way, creates
degrees of honor, respect and true authority precisely in the way we see
this in trinitarian theology.43
Zizioulas’ investment of particularity in relation to the Trinity is pertinent
to Basil’s patro-centric view of the Godhead, but not to Gregory’s peri-
choretic understanding of God’s essence. Gregory of Nazianzus does not
understand the Godhead ontologically as a movement initiated by the
person of the Father, as Zizioulas claims.44 When Gregory says that “it is
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Between Subordination and Koinonia 193

one that moved to threeness” he refers to the movement the Trinity

makes in its historical revelation, not in its ontological eternal being as
one Godhead. It is in revelation that the Trinity takes the initiative
toward us in a gradual form of relationality, starting from the Father’s
creation, followed by the Son’s salvation, and then by the Spirit’s sanc-
tification. When Gregory speaks about the “one” who makes a move-
ment, he means the Godhead or the Triune God and not the Father
alone. By misinterpreting Gregory of Nazianzus, Zizioulas ignores the
fact that for Gregory the causal relations are not signs of degree or
hierarchy nor do they authorize any “degree of honor in the Trinity”.
Gregory of Nazianzus views the causal relations as a designation of
reciprocal consubstantiality and equality, for they show that each person
is not who He is unless the other two persons appear in His being and
in His eternal subsistence. In other words, the Godhead cannot be by
virtue of the Father alone, because the Father per se cannot be who He
is if He is (or if at one moment He was) alone.
The difference in function between the divine persons is not, for Gregory,
a sign of linear relationality or leveling between the divine persons of the
Trinity. The Godhead cannot therefore be named as “Father” only, “Son”
only, or “Spirit” only. God, first of all, “cannot be named.”45 And, the
Godhead in its fullness is not constituted by one single form of relationality,
even if it was in essence a relational and not an absolute reality. The
theologian who believes that “the actual being of God in its fullness is
neither limited nor cut short by any prior or any subsequent reality”46 will
find it inappropriate to allege (as Zizioulas does) that since relation is prior
to substance, the relation called “Father” is the source of the Godhead. The
Godhead for Gregory is the three persons together, for these hypostases
“do not have degrees of being God or degrees of priority over against one
another”.47 The Father and the Son and the Spirit are not for Gregory “of
the same substance”, but are together “one substance”; hence the oneness
and unity of the Godhead is adored just as the three hypostases are equally
adored and confessed in the one Godhead.48 The Father is nothing of His
particularities without the other two persons. It goes without saying that
the same applies to the other two persons: Son and Spirit. We need to read
Gregory carefully in order to grasp the core of his particular view of the
Godhead and to affirm after him that what is constitutive of the Son’s and
the Spirit’s being applies to the Father as well. Zizioulas misses Gregory’s
significant contribution and imposes on his theology an interpretation more
appropriate to Basil’s thought.
No clearer elaboration of the aforementioned position in Gregory’s
theology can be found than what he says in his fifth theological oration:

When then we look at the Godhead or the first cause, or the Monarchia,
that which we conceive is one, but when we look at the persons in
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194 Najeeb G. Awad

whom the Godhead dwells, and at those who timelessly and with equal
glory have their being from the first cause—there are three whom we

Notice that the first principle ad intra trinitatis is not the “Father” but the
Godhead itself. The Godhead is the monarchia’s representative, not the
Father alone. In the same oration, Gregory also says: “The Godhead exists
undivided in separate beings . . . when we look at the Godhead, the primal
cause, the sole sovereignty, we have a mental picture of the single whole,
certainly”.50 Here also the principal “cause” in God’s eternal being is
equated with the Godhead; it is neither explicitly nor implicitly identified
with the Father. Even when Gregory speaks about the uniqueness of the
Father in relation to the Son and the Spirit, he insists that this does not
necessarily mean that the cause of the relations of origin should be prior to
its effects in terms of existence. In short, it does not also negate the fact that
the Son and the Spirit are also unoriginated with respect to time.51 If
anything, it actually indicates that although the Father originates them the
Father is not ontologically superior to the Son and the Spirit.
According to John Egan, many scholars fail to reconcile Gregory’s
understanding of the relation between the originating cause and the
originated effects—a distinction he uses to deny the prior existence of the
Father to the Son and the Spirit—with Gregory’s other claim (Oration 31.33)
that God is the cause of every moving thing, therefore being prior in
existence.52 If there is such a confusion in understanding Gregory’s logic, it
stems from a failure to realize that whereas in Oration 29.4 Gregory is
talking about causality ad intra trinitatis, that is about the relations of
causation (i.e., relations of origin) in the Godhead, in Oration 31.33 he is
talking about causality ad extra trinitatis, that is about the causal relations
of the Godhead with the world.53 T. A. Noble supports this explanation
by pointing to the crucial difference between arche and aitia for
Gregory. Noble shows that by aitia Gregory means the external causation
of the world by God, and by arche he means the internal origination
within the Trinity (i.e. of the Son and the Spirit by the Father).54 The Father
is the arche (originator/cause) of the Son and the Spirit insofar as his
hypostatic particularity is concerned. However, the Father is not the aitia
(source/principle) of the Godhead itself.55
Even when Gregory occasionally uses aitia and arche for the hypostasis of
the Father per se, he points to the particularity of the three persons, not the
reduction of the Godhead into the Father. 56 This also appears when
Gregory stresses that even if arche and aitia were used to describe the Father
as the one from whom flows the Godhead, this does not imply that we
have a hierarchical leveling of greatness in terms of nature, but only a
hierarchy in terms of origination (Oration 40.43). This also appears in
Gregory’s hesitation to use “origin” for the Father, as this may create a
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Between Subordination and Koinonia 195

misleading view of the monarchia as a sovereignty of one single hypostasis

with two subordinate hypostases, both of which are less in nature than the
If one overlooks this terminological difference, then a clear contradiction
arises in Gregory of Nazianzus’s ontology when he speaks about the Father
as arche as well as aitia. Gregory’s seemingly “paradoxical” ontology (as
Noble describes it) offers in fact a non-contradictory theology about God’s
nature, albeit from different angles. From the angle of the Trinity, the three
persons’ particularity lies in having one originator and two being origi-
nated. From the angle of oneness, the essence of the three persons lies in
their being equally constitutive of the one Godhead. There is of course a
difficulty in such a paradoxical combination: the claim of equality among
the three hypostases in terms of Godhead conjoined with the claim of
particularity that assumes that one of the three hypostases is originator
while the others are not, sometimes leads to a hierarchical subordination.58
But, having a paradox is not in principle against theological logic, for
theology is not always determined by an “either/or” but is sometimes
shaped by a “both/and” frame of thought.59
Adopting this way of speaking enables Gregory to claim that “when I say
God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.60 This seemingly paradoxical
logic controverts John Meyendorff’s claim that the Plotinian and Origenist
trends of the Cappadocians’ thinking render a substantial differentiation
between the three persons that may lead to tritheism or at least subordi-
nationism.61 This accusation can be refuted because the distinction between
the three persons, according to Gregory, is ultimately a designation of their
substantial oneness, not of their substantial differentiation. In another place,
Meyendorff himself does not deny that even Basil speaks about the Spirit
in terms of a hypostasis who perfects God’s creation as a substantial
partner in the original plan of God.62 Yet, he does not realize that Gregory
of Nazianzus actually takes one radical step further beyond Basil’s stress on
the oneness of the Trinity when he says “when I think of anyone of the
three, I think of him as the whole”.63
Here Gregory agrees with Basil in acknowledging the distinction
between the three divine persons in terms of the relations of origin ad intra.
One cannot accuse him of undermining the distinction of the three persons.
He is, in fact, founding the relations that are constitutive for the distinction
between the three persons on a tri-union of a completely equal presentation
of the “ousia”, in such a way that does not allow any possible suggestion
of hierarchical subordination of any one of the divine persons by virtue of
origination.64 Even when he sometimes views the Father as a “principle”
(aitia) and as a “cause” (arche) of the divine essence, this only means that
the Father is the source of unity (henosis) of the three persons and not the
origin of their substance.65 With respect to particularity, “cause”, for
Gregory, means the Father is the originator alone: he alone breathes the
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196 Najeeb G. Awad

Spirit and begets the Son. But, with respect to unity, “cause” means to
Gregory that the Father is the person who unites the three hypostases as
one ousia, and not the one who represents the divine ousia alone.
This crucial difference in Gregory’s understanding of the Father’s place
in the Godhead leads to another important difference in his trinitarian
conception and terminology. Gregory says that what is revealed in the
three-in-one is the inner reciprocal koinonia of a triunity and not a simple,
isolated divine ousia. The idea of “reciprocal koinonia” corrects, in other
words, the mere epistemological, apophatic emphasis on the Fatherhood of
the Godhead. Indeed, it subjects it to the doxological truth of the substan-
tial triune infinity, so that the perichoretic constitution of the Godhead by
the three persons together remains central all the way through. It is,
therefore, an extremely crucial fact that for Gregory the Father is not the
aitios (source/principle) of the Son and the Spirit. He is rather the arche
(cause/origin) of the Son and the Spirit. The divinity of the Father is not
the Godhead. The essence of the Father is His divinity as God from God, so
it is neither the aitia nor the arche of the Godhead. The divinity of the Father
is the arche of the Son and the Spirit. The Godhead, on the other hand, is
the aitia (source) of creation. And since the creator of the world is called in
Scripture the Father of all creatures, then there is no problem in rendering
the Father the aitios of the world.66 He is aitios (principle/source) ad extra for
creation and arche (cause/origin) ad intra of the Son and the Spirit.
Because Zizioulas fails to recognize the above mentioned terminological
differentiation and its theological implications for Gregory’s trinitarian
ontology, he misinterprets him as one who merely echoes Basil’s thought.
It is true that Gregory speaks of “the ground of unity being the Father, out
of whom and towards whom the subsequent persons are reckoned.”67 But
this is not exactly the same as Basil’s treatment of the Father as the “source
of the Godhead”. Even if Gregory acknowledges a causative form of
monarchia that makes the Father the arche of the Son and the Spirit,68 he
would not make the Father, as Zizioulas thinks, the single ontological arche
of the Trinity or of the Godhead.69 In the light of the terminological
distinctions in his thought discussed above, Gregory of Nazianzus would
say that the Father is the arche of the Son and the Spirit in the triune
Godhead, and not the arche of the Godhead, for the Godhead as such is the
aitia of the three persons’ divinity and being.
Zizioulas’ insistence on making “person” above or before “substance”
can be justified by Basil’s patro-centric understanding of the monarchia. But
it cannot be supported by Gregory’s restriction of the Father’s priority to
the causal relations of origin. Gregory’s acknowledgment of the causal form
of monarchia does not prove his total agreement with Basil’s view of the
monarchia, because Gregory does not believe that the causal relations of
origin are solely constitutive of the Godhead. Even when Gregory of
Nazianzus says that the Father is arche,70 he is simply refuting a certain
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Between Subordination and Koinonia 197

philosophical notion of obligatory or necessary causation and maintains

instead God’s free love.71 Gregory is not setting forth this argument, in
other words, to prove that the Father as free originator is the source of the
The exquisite care with which he proceeded helps explain why, in
presiding over the Council of Constantinople in 381, Gregory advocated
changing the language of “begotten from the substance of the Father” to
“begotten from the Father”. Far from proving his support of identifying
“Father” with “substance”, this change in wording underscores the impor-
tance of Gregory’s differentiation between arche and aitia and his preference
for speaking of the Son as from the Father and not from the Father’s
substance, as if the Father is the divine substance of God alone.72
This also explains why, contrary to Basil, Gregory does not mind using
“homoousios” for the third person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, and not
only for the Son, although he knows that this breaks into new and
challenging ground in theological terminology.73 For Gregory, “homoou-
sios” means that the Spirit equally and substantially shares in the one
ousia of God with the Father and the Son, without being by any means
subordinate to them because of his being spirated by the Father. This
does not imply division in the Godhead. It basically means, rather, that
“each of the Trinity is in entire unity as much with himself as with the
partnership, by identity of being and power”.74 This is evident in Gre-
gory’s belief that the Spirit perfects and sanctifies creation as a consti-
tutive hypostasis in the one divine Godhead,75 which the Scripture
alludes to when it speaks of the Spirit’s re-creating role in Christ’s
baptism and resurrection, as well as His role in perfecting the Son’s
incarnation. The Son was born by the Spirit, and in baptism He was
proclaimed by the Father and glorified by the Spirit, before being led by
the same Spirit into the wilderness of temptation.76 The crucial issue here
for Gregory is that the Spirit is not only an empowering divine energy
from the Father but also a person who “accompanies His equal (i.e. the
Son)”.77 This sensitivity to the Spirit’s hypostatic individuation and
co-constitutive impact in the Godhead is a unique outcome of Gregory of
Nazianzus’s perichoretic ontology. It makes his trinitarian understanding
of the Trinity ad intra a foundation for a promising reemphasis on the
importance of the person of the Spirit for the persons of the Father and
the Son, and for a new, more balanced study of pneumatology.
John Zizioulas’ claim that “the Son is begotten from the Father” is but an
affirmation of the claim “I believe in one God the Father”78 is, I submit, not
only an inappropriate reading of the creedal written text, but an unfair
devaluation of the affirmation of the homoousian relation between the
Father and the other two persons, especially in Gregory’s theology.
“Homoousios” is more central than the causal monarchia of the Father in
the theology of the president of the Council of Constantinople than
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198 Najeeb G. Awad

Zizioulas thinks. Gregory even uses this term to speak about the Spirit in
relation to the Father (and not only in relation to the Son). “Homoousios”
is definitely a Nazianzene contribution to that Council because his belief
that the Son and the Spirit are both homoousios with the Father is
expressive of his conviction that 1) the Father is the arche of the Son and the
Spirit and not the aitia of the Godhead, and 2) the Godhead is the
perichoresis of the three “homoousiotic” persons.79
What is crucial and significant in Gregory’s view of the Trinity and of the
person of the Spirit is his belief that the monarchia of the Trinity is not an
exclusive attribute for one hypostasis, but is equally ascribed to the three
persons together (i.e. to the Father and the Son, but also and equally to the
Spirit). The divine, eternal monarchy is the sphere or framework of the
communion between the three persons. It is the totality of the three
persons’ equal inter-relationality.80 Opposite to the Basilian version, causal-
ity in Gregory’s logic is not linear (i.e. from the Father, to the Son by the
Holy Spirit) as in the Trinity ad extra. Rather, it is a “koinonial” causality:
from Father, Son and Spirit as one divine Godhead. The perichoretic
framework grounds the monarchical function wherein the begotten and the
breathed/spirated hypostases obey and follow the un-begotten hypostasis
lovingly and freely. The monarchy as koinonia, not as hierarchy, is what
reveals the Godhead as the divine principle or source (aitia). By this
perichoretic aspect of the monarchy ad intra, Gregory of Nazianzus suc-
cessfully avoids an inappropriate reliance on hierarchical assumptions to
defend the divine monarchia. Such a reliance denies the monarchia its
unique Christian aspect, which is based on the existence of three
hypostases as one God. In his third theological oration (Oration 29),
Gregory describes the monarchy as follows:

It is, however, a monarchy that is not limited to one person . . . but one
which is made of an equality of nature and a union of mind, and
identity of motion and a convergence of its elements to unity . . . so that
though numerically distinct, there is no severance of essence.81

This conceptuality allows Gregory to offer a more convincing trinitarian

theology (as well as a promising pneumatology) than any other church
father. Others, including the remaining two Cappadocians, defend consub-
stantiality for the sake of rejecting contradiction and created-ness in the
Godhead. They focus on the oneness of the Godhead and defend it on the
basis of the same oneness itself. Gregory, instead, places the unity and
oneness within its basic ontological trinitarian framework. His “koinonial”
understanding of the monarchical framework of the ousia grants the Holy
Spirit and the Son their equal place and impact in the Godhead. It admits
the Spirit His proportionate significance for the existence of the Father and
the Son.
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Between Subordination and Koinonia 199

Concluding Remarks
The main point I argued throughout my analysis of Basil’s and Gregory’s
theologies is this: the derivation from the theology of the Cappadocians of
any theological foundation for understanding the hypostatic nature of the
divine Trinity should be founded on a coherent and inclusive understand-
ing of the internal dynamics of the relations between the diverse trinitarian
approaches of every one of the Cappadocian fathers.
I believe that the forgoing exposition of a substantial distinction between
Basil of Caesarea’s and Gregory of Nazianzus’s understandings of the place
and the role of each of the three hypostases in the divine Godhead
sufficiently demonstrates that we should scrutinize, compare and contrast
each of the three Cappadocians’ theological discourses, rather than lump
them together on the assumption that they are fundamentally the same.
This is not to over-emphasize their dissimilarity, but rather to grasp the
richness of the internal dynamism and variety of their respective theologies
in the light of each one’s main concerns, emphases and points of depar-
ture.82 Proceeding thus is, I believe, the most suitable reading of what is
generally described as “Cappadocian Theology” (i.e. rather than merely
Basilian, Nyssan or Nazianzene theology).83 More specifically, in order to
appreciate the distinctively trinitarian character of Cappadocian theology
one can acknowledge it as Basilian—but only to the extent that what Basil
of Caesarea talks about is given its full attestation, if not its correction, in
Gregory of Nazianzus’s writings.

1 This paper was originally presented at King’s College Systematic Theology Seminar,
December, 2003. Various segments of it comprise important sections of the second part of
my doctoral thesis on the hypostatic individuation of the Holy Spirit, which I defended
on December, 2005.
2 T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church
(Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), p. 238.
3 Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, pp. 240–241.
4 Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, p. 241.
5 John Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY:
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985/1993), pp. 27–49.
6 To be fair, T. F. Torrance acknowledges that Gregory of Nazianzus “exercised more
flexibility in the use of theological terms” than his other two Cappadocian colleagues,
although he offers, according to Torrance, much the same teaching and theology as they
do. See Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, p. 239. However, I believe that Torrance too easily
gives up elaborating in detail where exactly Gregory of Nazianzus’s flexibility lies. He
does not deal, for example, with the import of Gregory’s differentiation between arche and
aitia and the significance of his “koinonial” view of the Godhead in his trinitarian
ontology and his concept of the divine monarchy. Torrance rather comforts himself with
the belief that the first person of the Trinity, the Father, is “the sole principle or cause or
source of deity” and is thus the ‘main thrust of the [whole] Cappadocian teaching’ (p. 241)
(italics are mine).
7 Vladimir Lossky, “The Procession of the Holy Spirit in Orthodox Trinitarian Theology,”
in Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader, edited by Daniel B. Clendenin (Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), p. 172.

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200 Najeeb G. Awad

8 Gregory of Nyssa alludes to this. See Gregory of Nyssa, Great Catechism, in A Select Library
of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace,
editors, second series, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1995), Vol. 5, pp.
9 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, in A Select Library of the Christian Church: Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, editors, second series, (Peabody, MA:
Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1995), Vol. 8 pp. 37, 61.
10 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 11.27.
11 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 5.9.
12 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 16.37 ff. This is the driving force of Basil’s defense
of the Spirit’s equality with the Father and the Son in terms of incomprehensibility (22),
lordship (21), glory (19) and oneness in the divine unity (18). He affirms these facts in
order to defend (a) the divine nature of the Spirit, and (b) the inseparable “together-ness”
of the three persons in their historical operations. His intent is not to show that the Spirit
is, so to speak, co-originator or the source of the Godhead with the Father and the Son.
13 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 5.9.
14 Basil of Caesarea, Letter 210. See St. Basil, Letters, Vol. 1 (1–185), in The Fathers of the
Church, translated by Agnes Clare Way, C.D.P with notes by Roy J. Deferrari, (Washington,
DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1977).
15 See, for instance, Basil of Caesarea, Letters, 105, 113, 114, 125, 128, 159, 189, to mention a
16 Basil of Caesarea, Letters, 125.
17 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 16.37. Emphasis added.
18 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 16.38.
19 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 16.38.
20 There is a debate about the Basilian authorship of this letter. Some believe that it
should be attributed to Gregory of Nyssa, and there are others who want to consider
both the form of the letter and its content as distinctively Basilian in character. Sister
Agnes Clare Way, the translator of Basil’s letters in The Fathers of the Church series,
justifies the treatment of this letter as Basilian in the following way: “This letter . . . is
also found among the works of St. Gregory of Nyssa addressed to his brother St. Peter
of Sebaste. However, both from manuscript evidence and for stylistic reasons, as well
as for the fact that it was referred to in the Council of Chalcedon as a letter of St. Basil,
it has in general been assigned to him, and no modern scholar has questioned its
Basilian authorship.” St. Basil, Letters, Letter 38, ftn. 1, p. 84. Bloomfield Jackson also
adopts the same position in his translation of Letter 38 and other Basilian letters. See
St. Basil, Letters and Selected Works, in A Select Library of the Christian Church: Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, (New York, NY: Christian Liturgical
Company/Oxford & London: Parker & Company, 1895), Vol. 8, Letter 38, ftn. 1, p. 137.
Roy J. Deferrari concurs and prefers to treat this letter as Basilian in form as well as
content. See Roy J. Deferrari, translator, Saint Basil, the Letters, (London: William Hei-
nemann Ltd./Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), Vol. 1, Letter 38, ftn.
1, p. 197. Among those who still cite from Letter 38 as if it were a Basilian text, are
John Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p. 41, ftn. 36; p. 88, ftn. 65; J. N. D. Kelly,
Early Christian Doctrines, fifth edition (London: A&C Black, 1993), pp. 263 ff. and
Jaroslav Pelikan, Christianity and the Classical Culture: the metamorphosis of natural
theology in the Christian encounter with Hellenism, (New Haven, CT: Yale University
Press, 1993).
21 Basil of Caesarea, Letters, 38.
22 Basil of Caesarea, Letters, 38.
23 Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit, 38, 62.
24 Basil of Caesarea, Letters, 52. Basil here maintains that one should not “place [the Spirit]
above either the Son or the Father whether according to time or to rank”. In his letter to
Meletius, Basil reveals the reason behind this hierarchical view of the Trinity. He points
to a group of people who claim that “The Father is paternally the Son, and the Son is
filially the Father and in like manner as regards the Spirit, in so far as the Trinity is one
God” (Letter 129). Aiming at correcting this misunderstanding, Basil stresses the linear
distinction of the three persons. It is a linear monarchy model that is clearly devised on

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Between Subordination and Koinonia 201

both the epistemological level of the human knowledge of God, on the one hand, and on
the level of godly graceful giftedness to creation, on the other.
25 John Zizioulas, “On Being a Person: Towards an Ontology of Personhood”, in Persons,
Divine and Human: King’s College essays in theological anthropology, edited by Christoph
Schwöbel and Colin E. Gunton, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), p. 38.
26 John Zizioulas, “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council on the Holy Spirit in
Historical and Ecumenical perspective”, in Credo in Spiritum Sanctum (Pisteuo eis to
Pneuma to Hagion : atti del Congresso teologico internazionale di pneumatologia in
occasione del 16000 anniversario del I Concilio di Costantinopoli e del 15500 anniversario
del Concilio di Efeso : Roma, 22–26 marzo, 1982), (Roma: Libraria Editrice Vaticano, 1983),
p. 37.
27 Zizioulas, “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council on the Holy Spirit”, p. 45.
28 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p. 41.
29 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p. 88.
30 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p. 89.
31 Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons (Edinburgh: T
& T Clark, 1996), p. 179. See also Ralph Del Colle’s excellent comparison between
Torrance and Zizioulas’ understanding of trinitarian ontology: Ralph Del Colle, “ ‘Person’
and ‘Being’ in John Zizioulas’ Trinitarian Theology: Conversations with Thomas Torrance
and Thomas Aquinas”, Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 54 no. 1 (2001), pp. 70–86.
32 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p. 88.
33 See Jaroslav Pelikan, Christianity and the Classical Culture, pp. 231–247; p. 243.
34 Pelikan, Christianity and the Classical Culture, p. 245.
35 Saint Gregory of Nazianzen, Select Orations, translated by Charles G. Browne and James
E. Swallow, in A Select Library of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.
7, second series, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Peabody, MA: Hendricksen
Publishers, Inc., 1995), 29.30.
36 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 29.16.
37 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 29.12.
38 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 29.16.
39 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 29.15. “We concede that it belongs to the nature of the
cause to be superior”, yet this does not entail, as Gregory says, “that superiority belongs
to the nature”.
40 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 29.17.
41 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 29.16.
42 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 29.18. In Oration 30.11, Gregory contends that when the
Son says “I live because of the Father” this does not mean “that his living and being are
restricted by the Father, but that he exists outside time and absolutely”.
43 Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p. 223, referring to Gregory of Nazianzus’s Oration 34.10;
36. It is noteworthy that in his major book on the ontology of the Trinity in relation the
Cappadocian theology, Zizioulas hardly cites from Gregory’s writings. Among the hun-
dreds of footnotes there are only three quotations from Gregory of Nazianzus in
Zizioulas’ penultimate chapter, chapter 6. He mentions Gregory in that chapter on p. 210,
ftn. 3. And, he quotes from Oration 34.10 on page 223, ftn. 38; and from Oration 29.16, on
page 235, ftn. 85. From this, one can hardly claim that Zizioulas heavily relies on Gregory
of Nazianzus in Being as Communion.
44 This is taken from a chapter, presented as a paper at King’s College Systematic Theology
Seminar and given to me by my supervisor Prof. Colin Gunton, under the title “The
Father as Cause: Personhood Generating Otherness”, pp. 1–48, p. 25. This work has
subsequently been published as chapter four of Zizioulas’ new book, Communion and
Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church, edited by Paul McPartlan (London
and New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc., 2007). Citations are
from the paper as it was presented at King’s rather than from the book manuscript in the
following way: Zizioulas, “The Father as Cause”. Zizioulas defends this interpretation of
Gregory’s understanding of the monarchia as a movement in the following way: “The
movement, therefore, of the divine personal being . . . is clearly a movement with personal
initiative . . . it is the one, the Father, that ‘moved’ (monas kinetheisa) to threeness . . . there
is no movement in God which is not initiated by a person.” Zizioulas regards these words

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202 Najeeb G. Awad

as evidence that Gregory of Nazianzus supports the attribution of the monarchia to the
Father alone and not to the three persons together. I do not believe, however, that
Zizioulas engages in sufficient argument to substantiate this claim.
45 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 30.18.
46 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 30.18.
47 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations. 31.14. In saying this, Gregory of Nazianzus does not
think he threatens God’s oneness by implying three divided essences, for although the
number “3” refers to three objects distinct from each other by means of their mutual
relations, it does not amount to three natures: “in counting, I am not attending to things,
so much as to the amount of things referred to in counting them” (Oration 31.18).
48 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 25.17.
49 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 31.14. In Oration. 20.5, Gregory clearly shows how he
both avoids Sabellianism, on one side, and Arianism, on the other.
50 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 31.4.
51 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 29.4.
52 John P. Egan, “Primal Cause and Trinitarian Perichoresis in Gregory Nazianzene’s Oration
31.14”, in Studia Patristica, edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone, (Leuven: Peeters, 1993), Vol.
XXVII, pp. 21–28; pp. 24–25.
53 The importance of Egan’s short paper lies in his interesting endeavor to prove that
restricting “cause” and “Godhead” to the Father alone was mistakenly imposed on
Gregory of Nazianzus’s perichoretic thinking. He believes that this mistaken reading is
not actually based on a neutral examination of Gregory’s texts, but on a presumptuous
view derived from the incorrect expanded version of those texts by Cyril of Alexandria.
54 T. A. Noble, “Paradox in Gregory Nazianzen’s Doctrine of the Trinity”, Studia Patristica
edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone, (Leuven: Peeters, 1993), pp. 94–99; p. 97.
55 T. F. Torrance also recognizes the importance of this terminological differentiation in
Gregory’s theology when he correctly concludes, “while we think of the Father within the
Trinity as the principle or arche of Deity . . . that is not to be taken to mean that He is the
source . . . or cause . . . of the divine being (to enai) of the Son and the Spirit, but in respect
simply of his being un-originate or Father”. T. F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God,
p. 180. Del Colle believes that this statement does not indicate any drift in Torrance’s
thought away from the Greek toward the Roman Catholic, as one may think. Rather, Del
Colle believes, Torrance is actually calling for a qualified construal of the Father as the
one principle of the Godhead rather than calling for a total denial of it. Indeed,
Torrance is actually “quick to register his reservation about Catholic trinitarian specula-
tions”. See Ralph Del Colle, “ ‘Person’ and ‘Being’ in John Zizioulas’ Trinitarian
Theology”, p. 81.
56 Egan does not deny this fact even when he disagrees with Noble’s emphasis on the
non-synonymous character of those two terms in Gregory. See John P. Egan, “Aitios/
‘author’, Aitia/‘cause’ and Arche/‘origin’: Synonyms in Selected Texts of Gregory
Nazianzen”, Studia Patristica, edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone, (Leuven: Peeters, 1993),
Vol. XXXII, 1995.
57 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 29.2.
58 Noble, “Paradox in Gregory Nazianzen’s Doctrine of the Trinity”, p. 98. Noble believes
that Gregory was actually combining Origenist triadology with Athanasian Unitarianism
in his approach. I do not fully agree that the Origenist tendency is present in Gregory
because Origin construes the Trinity as three names not persons.
59 In his biographical study of Gregory of Nazianzus, John McGuckin claims that Gregory’s
theological method was particularly characterized by the practice of “holding apparent
opposites in creative tension”. See John McGuckin, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus: An
Intellectual Biography (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), p. 10. This
may also hint at the Heraclitian elements in Gregory’s thinking (which he may well have
received through Plato’s writings). According to W. K. C. Guthrie, Heraclites believed that
the strife of opposites is not contrary to harmony. It is rather this harmony par excellence.
Moreover, contrary to Empedocles’s belief in “succession”—namely that harmony follows
disharmony in chronological succession—Heraclites would see disharmony and harmony
as identical opposites in simultaneity; W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy Vol.
I, The Earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans, (Cambridge: Cambridge University

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Between Subordination and Koinonia 203

Press, 1962), pp. 435 ff. A similar logic underpins Gregory’s claim that three persons are
the one Godhead per se, because and not in spite of their three-ness.
60 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 45.4.
61 John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes (New York,
NY: Fordham University Press, 1974), pp. 180–181.
62 Meyendorff, The Byzantine Theology, p. 169. He concludes: “the Spirit is the very content
of the kingdom of God”, which for Meyendorff explains why the Byzantine liturgy
addresses the Spirit as “heavenly king”.
63 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 41.40.
64 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 31.9. “Neither is the Son Father, for the Father is one, but
He is what the Father is, nor is the Spirit Son because He is of God, for the only-begotten
is one, but He is what the Son is.” (Italics are mine).
65 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 42.15.
66 According to Grace Ledbetter, aitia means for Plato the “reason” for doing a certain good
action. See Grace M. Ledbetter, “Reason and Causes in Plato: The Distinction between
‘Aitia’ and ‘Aition’ ”, Ancient Philosophy, Vol. 19 no. 2 (1999), p. 258 (pp. 255–265). In this
functional sense, it is not probable that the Father is the aitia of the Son and the Spirit,
because this means that the Son and the Spirit are mere functional extensions of the Father
and not equal to him as God from God in terms of being. But to say the Father is aitia
for the world is appropriate, because it means that (1) the world is the function of the
Father as creator, (2) it is a good function for it is the outcome of a good and divine
“reason” (aitia), and (3) it affirms that the world is not co-eternal or co-divine like the
67 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 42.15, as quoted in Zizioulas, “The Father as Cause”, p. 8.
68 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 3.2.
69 Zizioulas, “The Father as Cause”, p. 9.
70 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 3.2.
71 Zizioulas recognizes this as well in “The Father as Cause”, p. 10. In another place in the
same essay, Zizioulas states that for Gregory the Father is not the name of the “ousia” per
se (Ibid. p. 19, ftn. 46). However, Zizioulas does not see in this an indication of Gregory’s
conviction that the Father is not the Godhead alone. Zizioulas’ failure to note this may be
related to his reference to Gregory’s Oration III far more extensively than to Gregory’s five
Theological Orations. Oration III may just be the only oration where Gregory speaks
about the monarchia almost patro-centrically. It is not fair to rely on that reference alone
to argue for Gregory’s concurrence with Basil on this point. One should rather read
Oration III in the light of Gregory’s perichoretic view of the monarchia in the Theological
72 Zizioulas misses this Nazianzene logic because he reads Gregory’s words as if he were
re-reading Basil. Thus he arrives at a mistaken conclusion; namely, that all three Cappa-
docians insist on “the emergence of the trinity from a personal rather than an ousianic
source” (italics are mine). See Zizioulas, “The Father as Cause”, p. 11.
73 Donald Winslow shows that Gregory of Nazianzus defends Basil’s avoidance of the term
for the Spirit by claiming that Basil was deliberately diplomatic for dialogical reasons,
although Basil would assent to it in private (Oration 43.68). See Donald F. Winslow, The
Dynamics of Salvation: A Study in Gregory of Nazianzen, (Cambridge, MA: The Philadelphia
Patristic Foundation, Ltd., 1979), p. 122.
74 Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 31.16; 2.39, as quoted in Winslow, The Dynamics of
Salvation, p. 126.
75 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 31.28–29.
76 One of the main and most noticeable characteristics of Gregory’s orations is their rich
inclusion of and deep rootedness in biblical materials. Gregory’s extensive familiarity
with the Bible warrants the view that his theology is, par excellence, biblical as much as
it is systematic.
77 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 41.11. Winslow argues for the Spirit’s indispensable role
in perfecting salvation. He shows that Gregory’s belief in the salvific particularity of the
Spirit is founded on a perichoretic understanding of baptism as a substantial “new-birth”
and “re-creation” effected exclusively through and by the Spirit. See Winslow, The
Dynamics of Salvation, pp. 132–145.

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204 Najeeb G. Awad

78 Zizioulas, “The Father as Cause”, p. 11.

79 To be fair, Zizioulas seems to be partially aware of the trap into which the patro-centric
view of the monarchia may lead him. Thus, he often says that the Father is “the source
of unity” and avoids saying “the source of divinity”, despite claiming from time to time
that the Father is the source of the “trinity” rather than “the Father is the source of the
other two persons”. Despite this concession, however, Zizioulas’ misunderstanding of
Gregory’s crucial difference from Basil persists for the following reasons: (1) he reads
the Cappadocians’ versatile theology from a narrow and one-sided Basilian angle; (2) he
proceeds with the inaccurate assumption that his Basilian reading of the Cappadocians is
authentic and that whoever criticizes this reading rejects in fact the Cappadocians’
theology; and (3) he forgets that Basil’s favorite baptismal formula does not say “in the
name of God the Father” but “in the name of God,[mind the comma] the Father, the Son
and the Holy Spirit”.
80 Some would like to argue that this logic is reminiscent of the belief that reality is
pluralistic in nature, and then concede that the main concern of the Cappadocians is to
derive the center of the unity from this plurality. Some also argue that on this assumption
rests the difference between the trinitarian approaches of the Alexandrian school and the
trinitarian approaches of Platonic schools (Antiochian). See F. W. Green, “The Later
Development of the Doctrine of the Trinity”, in Essays on the Trinity and the Incarnation,
edited by A. E. J. Rowlinson, (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1933), pp. 243–247 ff.
81 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations, 29.2. George L. Prestige and Frank L. Cross correctly
realize that the main emphasis in the Fathers’ understanding of “monarchy” rested on the
fact of the equality in essence of the three divine hypostases, and not on the mere oneness
of the ousia. “The fact that now comes to be emphasized is that the Father is manifested
in the Son and in the Holy Spirit wholly and without detraction. The three persons no
longer lead back to a unity that is primarily found in one person; they are in a real sense
one in themselves.” See George L. Prestige and Frank L. Cross, God in Patristic Thought
(London: SPCK, 1936/1959/1981), p. 233.
82 Due to the drastic state of siege that followed the devastating Israeli war against Lebanon
(where I live right now) between July and November 2006, I was not able to gain access
to two recent and crucial works on Cappadocian and Nicene theology: John Behr, The
Nicene Faith (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004) and Lewis Ayers, Nicea
and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 2004). The Library of the Near East School of Theology, Beirut (where I
teach), did not have copies of these works in their holdings when I was working on the
draft version of this essay, and I could not buy them myself because of the suspended
postal delivery and the blocked money transference services between Lebanon and the
West during that period of time. I regret not being able to finish this article without
benefiting from, or thinking with, these two important recent contributions to Cappado-
cian theology, but look forward to consulting them when an opportunity presents
itself—hopefully in the very near future.
83 Otis Brooks shows that the coherency of the Cappadocian theology was an unprecedented
systematic reconstruction of the “Origenist or anti-Irenaean” position on the basis of
homoiousian theology. See Brooks Otis, “Cappadocian Thought as a Coherent System”,
Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Cambridge, No. 12, (1958), pp. 95–124, pp. 106–107.

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