Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A slightly unorthodox but very Orthodox Trinity

If any one else said this, one might think it was heretical. But it's Father Thomas Hopko, and it makes a lot of sense of Biblical language, so I found worth considering and pondering, as an alternative to our usual Latin-style "God the Father," "God the Son," God the Holy Spirit" language. (The notes added are my own)

Strictly speaking, according to Orthodox theology, again as I personally understand and teach it, God is not to be conceived as "one God in three persons," or as "three persons in one divine substance," if this is taken to mean that the one God is expressed in three personal forms so that it is one and the same God who is understood as being the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Strictly -- and I would say, biblically, liturgically, and creedally -- speaking, the one, true, and living God is not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the one God and Father who has within himself eternally and, one might dare say, as an "element" of his very being and nature, his only-begotten Son, also called his divine Word and Image, who -- being another person or hypostasis than who God is -- is incarnate as the man Jesus, the Christ of Israel and the Savior of the world. This one God and Father also has within him his one Holy Spirit, who proceeds from him alone and rests eternally in his Son and Word, anointing him in his incarnate manhood to be the messianic King, and through him, personally indwelling and deifying those who belong to him and his Father.* The vision is one of three distinct divine persons or hypostases who are confesed, as in the Nicene Creed, to be the "one God, the Father almighty" and the "one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten . . . of one essence with the Father," and "the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father." It is this God whom the Orthodox Church addresses in her eucharistic liturgy in this manner.

For Thou are God . . . Thou and Thine only-begotten Son and Thy Holy Spirit . . .

For all these things we give thanks to Thee, and to Thine only-begotten Son, and to Thy Holy Spirit . . .

Holy art Thou and All-Holy, Thou and Thine only-begotten Son and Thy Holy Spirit.

The divine "Thou" of Orthodox worship is the one God and Father.** His Son is also a "Thou," as is his Holy Spirit. And the three are divine. This is the biblical teaching, summarized in the creed and celebrated in the liturgy. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three equally and identically divine persons or hypostases. They are of "one essence" or "nature." There is no metaphysical superiority of any of the persons to the other, and no ontological subordination. Yet the one God and Father is the source of his Son and Spirit. And the Son and Spirit are not only "from the Father" ontologically (by way of "generation" and "procession"), but are personally obedient to him in their divine being and activity. They do his will, they carry out his work, they complete his actions, they reveal his person, they communicate his nature, they bring him to creation and take creatures to him. This does not mean that they are any less "divine" (or any less "God," to speak in this way) than the Father. And this certainly does not diminish or degrade them in any manner at all. On the contrary. It is to their everlasting glory, honor, and worship that they are, from all eternity, God's very own Son, Image, and Word and his own Holy Spirit.

From his "Women and the Priesthood: Reflections on the Debate -- 1983" in Women and the Priesthood (SVS Press, 1999), pp. 238-240.

Thanks also to Bill Tighe for making this available to me!

*Thus the usual Trinitarian formula in Paul is: God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, as in 2 Cor. 13:14. Stripped to its most basic elements it is God, Lord, and Spirit as in Ephesians 4:4-6. In 1 Peter 1:2 we have God the Father, the Spirit, and Jesus Christ.

**" And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent": John 17:3. This is by the way a favorite proof-text for Muslims to prove the Gospels themselves deny the divinity of Christ. It's nice to know they would get no traction with Fr. Hopko on this point.

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