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Three In One


Disbelief and Ignorance

The doctrine of the Trinity is the central tenet of the Catholic Religion and yet is arguably the least understood and most ignored. Typically, it is given a notional assent. At worst it is dismissed as mumbo jumbo; the words of the Quincumque Vult being perverted to "the whole darn thing incomprehensible". This is very sad. I believe that the doctrine (though a mystery) is not as difficult to make sense of as is generally thought. I also think that it is of crucial practical importance!

In passing I should remark that saying something is a mystery does not mean that it is:

It means that it is impossible to fully understand it, and that the rational account which one can give begs other questions, and that no easy answers are currently available to these questions. This is the status of every theory in physics, so it is not surprising that the same is true of the central theory of theology.

The doctrine is not about how God reveals Himself to us. Neither is it about God's agency in the created order. Sadly, it is often presented as being one or other of these, even by pius priests from Catholic pulpits. These are different versions of the heresy of modalism or Sabelianism, in which a Monadic (simply single and "point like") God either is perceived from differing points of view, or acts in diverse ways or modes, which are then improperly raised to the status of personhood or substantial being. The doctrine of the Trinity is rather about God-in-ThemSelves: I ask you to bear with the strange language, for the time being.

Obviously, the nature of God has direct implications for how God might be expected to act in the world. Moreover our experience of God's activity in the world - divine providence and divine grace: the "divine energies" - might be expected to give us some limited insight into the Divine Being. However, the doctrine of the Trinity is not based on such human experience, but rather on direct and specific revelation: revelation with a purpose.

The Athanasian Creed

Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all else, hold to the Catholic Faith. Whoever does not keep this faith pure will certainly perish forever.

Now this is the Catholic faith:
We worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God,
without mixing the persons nor dividing the essence.
For each person: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is distinct,
but the deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
equal in glory and coeternal in majesty.

What the Father is, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit.
The Father is uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated;
The Father is eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal;
Any yet they are not three who are eternal, but there is One who is eternal,
just as they are not three who are uncreated,
nor three who are infinite,
but there is One who is uncreated and One who is infinite.
In the same way the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, and the Holy Spirit is almighty;
And yet they are not three who are almighty, but there is One who is almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God;
And yet they are not three gods, but One God.
So the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord;
yet they are not three lords, but One Lord.
For just as Catholic truth compels us to confess each person individually to be God and Lord,
so the Catholic faith forbids us to speak of three gods or three lords.

The Father is neither made not created, nor begotten of anyone.
The Son is neither made nor created, but is begotten of the Father alone.
The Holy Spirit is neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeds from the Father.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Spirit, not three Spirits.
Within this Trinity none comes before or after; none is greater or inferior,
but all three persons are coequal and coeternal,
so that in every way, as stated before,
all three persons are to be worshiped as One God,
and One God worshiped as three persons.
Whoever wishes to be saved must have this conviction of the Trinity.
It is furthermore necessary for eternal salvation truly to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ also took on human flesh.

Now this is the Catholic faith: We believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, is both God and Man.

He is God, eternally begotten from the nature of the Father,
and he is man, born in time from the nature of his mother,
fully God, fully man, with rational soul and human flesh.
Equal to the Father, as to his deity, less than the Father, as to his humanity;
and though he is both God and Man, Christ is not two persons but one.
One, not by changing the deity into flesh, but by taking the humanity into God;
one, indeed, not by mixture of the natures, but by unity in one person;
for just as the reasonable soul and flesh are one human being,
so God and man are one Christ.
Who suffered for our salvation,
descended into hell,
rose the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty,
and from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
At his coming all people will rise again with their bodies to answer for their works.
Those who have done good will enter eternal life,
but those who have done evil will go into everlasting fire.

This is the Catholic Faith. Whoever does not faithfully and firmly believe this cannot be saved.

Language of Dispute

First some terminology. Language has been a source of great difficulty and much disputation and ill-natured argument in this field. It should become obvious why. The main problem has been with the concept of  "sub-stance or under-standing". The orthodox in East and West agreed that there was a Threeness as well as a Oneness about God. They also agreed that in one sense the Oneness was prior to the Threeness. They also agreed that the divine Father was in some sence prior to His Son and Spirit; though the three were all equally to be honoured, shared a common nature, and had a single will. They did not agree on much else! The West tended to condemn the East as being "tri-theists", the East tended to condemn the West as being "modalists".

The Western View

The Western account of the matter roughly went as follows.

The Eastern View

The Eastern account of the same reality roughly went as follows.

Confusion and Conflict

This confusion gave rise to the following conflict.

Why does any of this matter?

God is Love

It matters because of the profound practical significance of the doctrine. The central revelation of Christianity is, I contend, the apparently simple statement "God is Love". This sets Christianity apart from all other religions. No other religion can dare say this. Christianity can only say it, coherently, in and through and because of the doctrine of the Trinity. A strictly monad-theistic religion cannot say this. Judaism and Islam cannot say this: though the Judaism of the later Wisdom literature and of Jesus' day was moving rapidly towards the realization that it simply had to. The reason is that love, in the completeness of its meaning, requires an object as well as a subject: and a worthy object at that.

Love is the movement or attraction of a subject towards what it perceives as its proper good, benefit, sustenance or fulfilment. The only suitable object of God's Love is God; but then the subject and object would seem to be the same, and there can be no motion or attraction; no communication; no giving and receiving: no relationship. Hence a monadic deity could not properly love itself, because there is no differentiation of object and subject. While it could "value" or "esteem" itself, as in "value your neighbour as you value your self"; such a divinity would simply be exactly what it necessarily was, and its being would not encompass any form of inter-personal relationship, erotic love or friendship. Still less could it epitomize any such ideal.

Moreover, a monad-theistic religion that sees the deity primarily as loving has great difficulty in keeping its divinity truly divine; because the loving nature of the deity requires something outside itself: as an object to love. Without that object the deity cannot love. Such a god would be utterly lonely without a creation to love. The creation would be necessary to the fulfilment of the divine being. Hence the deity becomes dependent for the central character of its being upon the created order, and is not truly transcendent and cannot be outside time or in any way eternal or impassible.

A True Modalism

Only the kind of arrangement we find in the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity upholds the Oneness of God together with the notion that "God is Love".

The doctrine of  the Trinity paints quite a different, much richer, picture of God. The three Understandings in God are different, but consistent; diverse but coherent. They are like three harmonics struck on a single guitar string; three modes (in a mathematical physics sense), three activities (speakimg analogically: the three persons are not in fact actions or activities of the one divine being) within a single movement, always working together to a common end and purpose but in different fields or dimensions. They are of equal status and nobility, so are fit objects of each other's fulfilment. They each posses the Divine Wealth/Being fully, and are intimately entwined about and throughout each other in a timeless total sharing and intercourse of action. They consciously know of each other, recognize each other, and repeat to each other the eternal song of joy "I AM". Only the notion that within the Oneness of God is a vibrant and ecstatic Threeness of consciousness allows the Christian to proclaim "God is Love!" and to mean by this also that Love is God: love in all its forms - from disinterested charity (if this exists) to the most torrid erotic passion.

The one God in whom Israel believes, on the other hand, loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: among all the nations he chooses Israel and loves her - but he does so precisely with a view to healing the whole human race. God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape. [Benedict XVI "Deus Caritas Est"]

An Attempted Resolution

The first issue dividing East and West is "which came first; the substance or the being?" (I jest). In other words, does the One Being of God give rise to the Three Persons, or do the Three Persons (or some sub-set of them: most plausibly the Father alone) give rise to the One Being? I have said that there was a general agreement that the Oneness of God was "prior" to the Threeness, so it might seem that this was not an issue. However, it is not so simple. The way in which it was agreed that the Oneness was prior was that it was more important to say that God was One than that God was Three. Given that the "isness" (being, ousia) is undoubtedly one; to say that the Threeness is more important (or is more anything) than the Oneness is a non-starter. Hence, the agreement is perhaps superficial: more a means to avoid the issue than confront and resolve it.

It must be recalled that the West became very suspicious that the East had really descended from monotheism to worshipping three gods; and that the East became very suspicious that the West had become Sabellian (modalist) in its belief. I am afraid that both these concerns are justified. My own experience of Western preaching on this topic is that it is frequently explicitly and unambiguously Sabellian. Moreover I have met with explicit professions of tri-theism from strident proponents of "Byzantine Orthodoxy".

The Sound of Silence

I believe that the clue to resolving this dilemma is in the bald statement "God is Love". Note that "is" speaks of the One Divine Being and "Love" speaks of the relationships between the conscious understandings (persons) in God. This suggests that the Divine Being is identical with the relatedness of the Divine Understandings.

"What God is", is "what God does interioraly".
This is "God's essence".
It is Love.

This is what Thomas Aquinas teaches when he says that God's being is unconstrained activity. For God-as-God: "to be" and "to do" are the same verb. Hence one can say that all that God is, is Love: and all that the Father, Son and Spirit are and posses and share is the love which they have for each other. There is then no "physical" guitar string apart from the vibrations: the only "matter" that vibrates (I only speak by analogy) is the "interior energy" (not the external "divine energies", as this term is used theologically) of the modal vibrations themselves, as in Einstein's mass-energy equivalence. If the string stood still it would not be at all. Its only being is its motion.

If God did not love ThemSelves,
God would not be at all.

God's only being is love

In this picture it is absurd to try and say that the One Being under-pins, stands-under, gives foundation to. supports and makes real the Three Conscious Understandings without immediately adding that it is the inter-action of the Three Conscious Understandings which gives substance to and originates the One Being - and that they do so together. The circle is closed, and neither the unique being nor the tripple under-standing is possible without the other. This is how things ought to be, given that God is outside time. All notions of beforeness, ordering, strict priority and causation are suspect in connection with the Divinity.

Note that my use of the word "modal" is far removed from its Sabellian application. For a Sabellian, God is a simple unity: with multiple aspects, appearances or external actions. For a Sabellian, the threeness of God is purely energetic: pertaining to the relationship between God and Creation. For me, God is the One Love of Three Divine Conscious Understandings, whose three distinct but consonant perspectives are themselves foundational and supportive of the single Divne Being.

As a Catholic I must insist on the one hand that the “existence” (understood as “nature, being, reality, essence or substance”) of the Son is not “begotten of the Father”, and the “existence of the Spirit” no more “proceeds” from the Father alone than from “the Father and the Son”; and on the other hand that the person/hypostasis of the Son is implied and called forth by the person/hypostasis of the Father as the object of Love, and that the person/hypostasis of the Spirit is evoked by the persons/hyposteses of the Father and the Son as their mutual Love. Hence the Father is the archetype of “the lover”,  as also the knower; the Son is the archetype of “the beloved”, as also the known; and the Spirit is the archetype of “Love itself”, as also knowledge or truth.

The Filioque

The guitar string analogy helps further when it comes to discussing the vexed problem of the "filioque". This is the running sore of the Great Schism which split the Church in 1054. The august fathers of Niceae-Constantinople authored a creed which stated that Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father [Jn 15:26]. Later the word filioque (in English: "and the son") was added in the West (against the opposition of at least one pope!) without the East being consulted. This was clearly wrong process. It smacks of conceit, presumptuousness and a lack of charity at the very least.

Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury eloquantly defends the Western position here.

The problem with this text is that Anselm uses the terms "existence" and "cause" of Holy Spirit. Now I do not know how either of these terms can properly be applied either to the One Nature or Being (ousia) of God, or to any of the Three Divine Persons or Hypostases. Anselm indicates this very problem here in his concluding remark: "if God can properly be said to have a cause or a source."

The East quite reasonably took exception to the illegitimate process by which "Filioque" was added to the Creed, and has typically condemned the change as heretical.

Gregory here also uses the term "existence" of Holy Spirit and claims that this is only from the Father, while also saying that Holy Spirit is the "pre-eternal rejoicing of the Father and the Son". He also says that Holy Spirit is "a kind of ineffable yet intense longing or 'eros' experienced by the Begetter for the Logos born ineffably from Him, a longing experienced also by the beloved Logos and Son of the Father for His Begetter" which seems to be a reciperocal statement as regards the role of the Father and the Son (consonant with the teaching of Anselm) while also saying that "but the Logos possesses this love by virtue of the fact that it comes from the Father in the very act through which He comes from the Father, and it resides co-naturally in Him," which introduces some kind of undefined asymmetry.

The objection is made that the Father alone should be seen as the fount of all being (note the Eastern tendency to make the Divine Hypostases prior to the Divine Ousia) and that to say "Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son" makes the Son a secondary source of being, which is claimed to be wrong.

On the string theory analogy, this contention is specious. The fundamental frequency (The Father) is just that: fundamental [1]. The second harmonic (The Son) results from the fundamental note reflecting back upon itself [1+1]; just as standard Trinitarian theology stipulates. The third harmonic (Holy Spirit) can either be construed as originating in a double self action of the fundamental on itself [1+1+1] or as the reflection of the fundamental on the second harmonic (and vice-versa) both [1+(1+1)] and [(1+1)+1]. In the case of a real guitar string, all three processes are real, distinguishable and active together; to start arguing about which is the "one correct account" is to debase the richness of reality.

Any manner of interpreting or defending the "filioque" which attempts to make the Son a source of being in competition with the Father is wrong, precisely as the East insists. Yet, ironically, the whole tendency of the East to make the Divine Understandings prior to the Divine Being would suggest an account of the inner life of God in which the Three Divine Persons equally substantiate, originate, support and give rise to the One Divine Nature: which is nothing else than their erotic love.

It seems to me that what Gregory of Palamas is arguing is that while there is a sense to "procession" according to which Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father (as the  Niceae-Constantinoplecreed clearly states, following Jn 15:26) yet there is another sence to "procession" according to which which Holy Spirit proceeds jointly from the Father and the Son. If so, Gregory is saying nothing else than that:

It should be noted that some kind of resolution of the controversy was achieved at the Second Council of Lyon, at which it was agreed by East and West that:
In faithful and devout profession we declare that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as from two beginnings, but from one beginning, not from two breathings, but from one breathing.
This is, of course, exactly in line with the teaching of Anselm.
I can readily accept Anselm's argument for the Father and Son as being one and the same source, rather than two sources, of the Hoy Ghost; just as the Three Divine Persons are one Maker, one Source of all that exist, and not three makers, nor three sources. What most interests me here is not the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father alone or ex Patre Filioque; but rather this last phrase : ''if God can properly be said to have a cause or a source.'' This is a problem for me in my understanding of the Holy Trinity - Whose blessed Feast we today celebrate. And I am very glad to see that Anselm also doubts whether it is proper to speak of The Son and the Holy Ghost as having an origin or source.

For how can such language, such a concept , be reconciled with the Co-equality, Co-eternity, etcetera, of all three Divine Persons? How can there be any parts or distinctions within the Godhead, except for the one distinction of Relationship/Person? Can there be within one and the same Godhead three unequal Persons, one of Whom is the source and beginning, the other two of which are derived from the First? Can there be one Who is greater, and two others Who are lesser?

I have seen some Eastern Orthodox internet apologists use these very expressions, claiming that the Father is greater than the Son, even as regards the Son's divinity, not only His humanity. Even the new Catechism of the Catholic Church mentions the Monarchy of the Father, without elaborating; but wouldn't such a Monarchy of One Person necessarily subordinate the others? Is this not the heresy of Subordinationism: the tendency to subordinate the three Persons with the Father on top, the Son beneath Him, and the Holy Ghost beneath Both. This can well be tolerated in early ecclesiatical writers; but can it be tolerated after the Oecumenical Councils have defined and perfected Trinitarian dogma and terminology?

I too do not wish to be polemical: I simply am perplexed as I do not recognise herein the Triune God Whom I adore and confess, Whom I learnt about in catechism in the 1960's and in my Philosophy and Theology Studies back in the 1970's, and described in the Athanasian Creed as being ''One God in Three co-equal, co-majestic, co-eternal, co-almighty, co-perfect Persons" without beginning, without end.

If The Trinity consists of a Source and Monarch, from Whom the other Two are ultimately derived and upon Whom they are dependent, then we have Three Gods! I could accept that, if it could be proved to me that Tritheism is the proper orthodox catholic Christian understanding of God.
[A Catholic Priest (Trinity Sunday, 2012)]

Of course, Understanding, Consciousness and Person are indefinitely more obscure concepts than vibrations on a string. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a clear mapping or isomorphism between traditional Trinitarian theological concepts and the harmonic model which I have sketched out. It should always be remembered that we have no clear idea of what we are talking when we speak of Divine Persons and Divine Love. We always work by analogy. We can do nothing else.

The reason that the Catholic has a conviction that the analogies they use are not fundamentally misleading is that they believe also in the doctrine of the Incarnation: that the second Understanding in God was united to a human nature; that without giving up His divinity, He humbled Himself to participate in the Form of Man; that He experiencing the finitude and vulnerability of His Creation; and that in meeting with Him, his friends met the Father [Jn 14:8-11].

The Divine Energies

In the West a clear distinction is generally maintained between what is created, material and temporal on the one hand; and what is uncreated, spiritual and eternal on the other. The exceptions are the human "soul" and angels, both of which are typically considered to be created, spiritual and eternal: in the sense of having no end, although they have a beginning. Two kinds of "grace" are generally identified, namely created and uncreated. Uncreated grace is understood to be the abiding presence of Holy Spirit (and even the entire Trinity) in the soul of the friend of God: it is therefore virtually the same thing as that friendship, which relates and binds the soul to God. Created grace(s) is/are those virtues, charisms, benefits and favours in the life of the friend of God, which result from Uncreated Grace, as it leads on to good works.

In the East, a further distinction is made, especially by Gregory of Palamas and his disciples.

When God the Father preannounced through the prophet Micah the birth in the flesh of His Only-begotten Son, and wished to indicate also the unoriginate nature of Christ's divinity, He said: 'and his goings forth were from the beginning, even from eternity.' [Micah 5:2 LXX] The holy fathers explain that these 'goings forth' are the energies of the Godhead, for the powers and energies are the same for Father, Son and Holy Spirit… comprehend who it is that exists from the beginning, and who it is to whom David says: 'from eternity' - which has the same meaning as 'from an eternity of days' - 'to everlasting, Thou art’ [Ps. 89:2]… when God said through His prophet that these goings forth are from the beginning, He did not say that they came into being, or were made or created. And St. Basil, inspired by the Spirit of God, said, not that the energies of the Spirit 'came into being', but that they existed 'prior to the creation of noetic reality' and 'beyond the ages' (cf. On the Holy Spirit xix 49). Only God is operative and all-powerful from eternity, and therefore He possesses pre-eternal operations and powers. [St. Gregory Palamas "Topics of Natural and Theological Science" #72]
The problem with this is that apart from the created Cosmos, what context can there be for "Divine Energies" to "go forth into"? Moreover, if the only possible context is the created Cosmos, then these "Divine Energies" must be contingent on the existence of this context and so not be eternal as God is eternal, but at most only eternal as the angels are eternal.
Every created nature is far removed from and completely foreign to the divine nature. For if God is nature, other things are not nature; but if every other thing is nature, He is not a nature, just as He is not a being if all other things are beings. And if He is a being, then all other things are not beings. And if you accept this as true also for wisdom, goodness, and in general all things that pertain to God or are ascribed to Him, then your theology will be correct and in accordance with the saints. God both is and is said to be the nature of all beings, in so far as all partake of Him and subsist by means of this participation: not, however, by participation in His nature - far from it - but by participation in His energy. In this sense He is the Being of all beings, the Form that is in all forms as the Author of form, the Wisdom of the wise and, simply, the All of all things. Moreover, He is not nature, because He transcends every nature; He is not a being, because He transcends every being; and He is not nor does He possess a form, because He transcends form. How, then, can we draw near to God? By drawing near to His nature? But not a single created being has or can have any communication with or proximity to the sublime nature. Thus if anyone has drawn close to God, he has evidently approached Him by means of His energy. In what way? By natural participation in that energy? But this is common to all created things. It is not, therefore, by virtue of natural qualities, but by virtue of what one achieves through free choice that one is close to or distant from God. But free choice pertains only to beings endowed with intelligence. So among all creatures only those endowed with intelligence can be far from or close to God, drawing close to Him through virtue or becoming distant through vice. Thus such beings alone are capable of wretchedness or blessedness. Let us strive to lay hold of blessedness. [St. Gregory Palamas "Topics of Natural and Theological Science" #78]
Gregory is here introducing an un-necessary distinction between God's nature and God's energies. His motivation is just. He wishes to support and uphold the neccessary contention "Every created nature is far removed from and completely foreign to the divine nature." Typically, I do this myself by asserting that "God is nothing" and "God does not exist". My meaning and Gregory's are, I think, identical.

The distinction Gregory makes is un-necessary, however. This is because any "participation" in the nature of God is exactly that: a "participation". This is a term in Platonic philosophy, and serves the purpose of making a radical distinction between primary being - by which the Ideal Forms have their necessary reality - and secondary being, which I term "existence" - by which created things (whether spiritual, material or composite) have their contingent reality. The very fact that created things only "participate" (or "share") in the Divine Nature serves to set up the distinction which Gregory wishes to defend. There is no need to create a new one, between the singular uncreated, eternal and incommunicable Divine Essence and the multi-form uncreated, eternal but communicable Divine Energies. The fact that Gregory does feel the need seems more to demonstrate a forgivable technical misunderstanding of Platonist philosophy than any great theological insight.

My critique of Gregory's exposition does not mean that I think that he is fundamentally wrong, however. Far from it! I believe - on other grounds of my own - that there is a form of Divine "Activity" which is eternal in character and yet which is "para-physin": beyond what is strictly God's nature as self-sufficient God and that this is the very Act of Creation. As seen from God's extra-temporal point of view, this has no beginning nor end (though seen from our perspective it does have a definite start, of course) and is not provoked by any extrinsic influence. This Act is itself entirely necessary and Divine; though it results in a multide of things which are each contingent, but can only be fully accounted for in terms of the totality of that single eternally necessary Divine Act. As Gregory puts it: "Only God is operative and all-powerful from eternity, and therefore He possesses pre-eternal operations and powers."

Indeed, it might be speculated that the angelic host themselves (or perhaps the higher echelons: the Cherubim and Seraphim, say) might be accounted as constitutive of this Act and so be quasi-divine in a way that lesser creatures are not. This ties in with a tendency in Judaic thought to account of God's singular and unitary nature in terms of a multiplicity of Angelic Identities. These identities would be the hypostasization or impersonization of the various modes, aspects and threads of the single Creative impetus. Seen from God's perspective they are co-eternal with His Being: as eminating from the Divine being of necessity. Seen from our perspective they are "created", having a beginning: for their entire business is to initiate and govern the Cosmos, acting as emmissaries of the Divine Will within it.

Similarly, various - impersonal? - phenomena associated with "God's presence" in the material world (such as the "Divine Glories" which manifested to Abraham, Moses and in the Temple, and the Divine Light associated with the Transfigoration of Christ and "seen" by some mystics) may be more immediate and direct manifestations of the Creative Act than is normal and natural: a breaking into physical and contingent reality of that spiritual, eternal and divine Action.

Tendencies towards Tritheism in Eastern "Orthodoxy"

Sadly, on two occasions I have been instructed by self-appointed proponants of "Byzantine Orthodoxy" that "God is One" only energetically, not essentially. One explicit example of this is:
Orthodoxy undoubtedly affirms a true and unique simplicity to the divine ousia, yet for us, even 'simplicity' and 'unicity' are energetic and do not in any way actually make determinations on God’s essence. [Jay Dyer "Roman Catholic Dogmatic Absolute Divine Simplicity is Heretical"]
Let us make no mistake about what this means, in as far as this is possible. As I have already explained, the divine energies are God's non-essential external ACT or causal impetus towards and within created existance. Hence to say that the divine "'simplicity' and 'unicity' [note how these words are put in quotation marks, and that 'unicity' is preferred to 'unity'] are energetic and do NOT IN ANY WAY actually make determination on God's essence," is to say that God is only "one" in the sense that three singers are "one" when they sing in unison: their "unity" is accurately and exhaustively understood as consisting in a precise congruence and confluence of action. There are THREE ACTORS but only ONE ACT. This is, withyout any doubt, TRI-THEISM. How this is compatible with the initial affirmation of "a true and unique simplicity to the divine ousia" escapes me; unless all that is meant is something along the following lines:
It is the Church's teaching... that there is only one God because there is only one Father. The Son is born from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father, both in the same timeless and eternal action of the Father's own being. what the Father is, the Son and the Spirit are also. They share the divine nature with God the Father, being "of one essence" with Him.
Just as the Father is "ineffable, inconceivable, invidible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and etarnally the same" so the Son and Spirit are exactly the same. Every attribute of divinity which belongs to God the Father: life, love, wisdom, truth, blessedness belongs to the Son and Spirit also. [Orthodox Wikki]
This clearly says that the Son and Spirit have the same attributes as the Father, and that this exhausts what being "of one essence" means. It is not the case that the Father, Son and Spirit are ONE BEING ABSOLUTE - which is Catholic monotheistic orthodoxy - but rather that they are THREE INSTANCES of a COMMON SPECIES - which is tri-theism.

Moreover, the Byzantine Orthodox tend to follow the following teaching:

If you ask me to state shortly my own view, I shall state that "ousia" has the same relation to "hypostasis" as the common item has to the particular. For each of us partakes of being through the common formula of being {shared "logos of ousia": generic nature, categoric account} but he is one or the other {exists as an individual} through the properties attached to him. So also [in the Godhead] the formula of being is the same, like goodness, divinity and what else one may conceive of: but the hypostasis is seen in the properties of fatherhood or sonship or the sanctifying power. [Basil of Caesarea "Against  Eunomius."]
This takes for granted that the only way of referring to a real object of thought is in terms of what might be termed its generic and particular natures: on the one hand what properties or attributes it shares in common with other members of its species or type of being; and on the other hand what properties or attributes constitute its own distinctive character. While this may be some kind of basis for accounting for impersonal matter (as long as "position" and "momentum" are included in the set of - or even identified as the only - properties which can be attributed to particular hypostases) it is inacequate for dealing with conscious persons.

When it comes to human beings Basil's theory renders impossible any account of identical twins: for such pairs of individuals are autonomous and distinct persons in an absolute sence, and not merely in a marginal and incremental sense congruent with whatever minor divergences of anatomy or psychology may distinguish them. Moreover, my sense of personhood is not based on an appreciation of my distinctive character, or even on my awareness of self; but on the fact that I am a subject who consciously experiences whatever befalls me.

When it comes to divine being, Basil's theory forces one to believe in three Gods: each sharing a common "divinity"; but doing so as three instances of the species "God", and distinguished from each other by particular characteristic propensities. Basil's theory fails to distinguish interior constitutional or essential facts of the Godhead - such as the Father's "giving birth" to the Son - from exterior energetic facts - such as the Spirit's role in sanctifying created beings.

It is true that the Unity of God is in some sense based on the Fatherhood of the Unoriginate One; but this way of speaking always hazards the idea that the Son and Spirit are distinguishable beings, having an exactly similar nature to the Father: homo-I-ousion with Him, rather than homo-ousion. It is heretical to even insinuate that the Son and Spirit are in any sence the results of "God's eternal action". This would suggest that they are subordinate to the Father, and even created. All of God's energetic action(s) is/are eternal from the divine perspective, so referring to the Son's birth and the Spirit's procession from the Father as "timeless and eternal" does not establish the Son and Spirit as co-equal with the Father, let alone as "one-in-being" with Him.

Orthodoxy requires God to be understood as "Absolutely Simple", and any-one who rejects "Absolute Divine Simplicity" is a heretic. I wish to make it utterly clear that I do not attribute such a basic and radical divergence from orthodoxy to any-one who self-identifies as "Orthodox" and that I will persisit in understanding statements of the kind I have just quoted as signifying ignorance (or at most "material heresy" - factual error) rather than any hostility to the Catholic Faith and hence "formal heresy" - willful error.

It is noteworthy that Gregory of Nyssa writes at length in an apparently tri-theistic mode within his letter "To Ablabius". Gregory asserts that it is a mistake of language to say that there are many human beings just because there are many human persons, and that we should more truely say that there is only one human being, because all human persons share the same nature or essence. By this he seems to refer to the Platonic theory of Ideal Forms and to be asserting that there is One Ideal Form of Being Human. Similarly, there is One Ideal Form of Being God. Hence, the essence of God is absolutely one: "Absolute Divine Simplicity".

He then goes on to point out that we can only know of the unity of God (as any other truth about the nature of God) through the divine energies: the outward engagement of God with Creation; but this essential unity (which we know of only empirically and indirectly) is not equivallent with the harmonious character of the divine energies. The energetic harmony is only conclusively symptomatic and absolutely indicative of the unity of the divine essence, not identical with it. This echoes Plato's argument that the harmony of the Cosmos (the Greek word Cosmos itself indicates a harmony) implies that the creation is the act of One Creator.

He then asserts that the three divine hypostases cannot be merely three instances or examples of a shared nature (as are clones) because there is no spatial or characteristic means of differentiating them from each other; but only their inter-personal relationships.

Gregory does not (as far as I can tell) propose any clear hypothesis as to how there are three hypostases or what that means; but only that it is true, and somehow analagous to human personal individuality, and that it is not absurd. He fails to propose any such hypothesis because he does not have a theory of personhood, other than the naive idea that a person is nothing other than an example or instance of a generic nature. He definitely rejects this as being the case with the three divine persons: for whom consubstantiality is more radical than simply a precice similarity of nature.

The Supposed Depersonalisation of God in Western Trinitarianism

The idea that “Western Theology”  depersonalises God is absurd. It is as absurd as saying that to distinguish between “mind” and “consciousness” depersonalises the human being! The root cause of all the Christological and Trinitarian heresies (every one of which - except, perhaps, Sebellianism - flourished in the East much more than the West) is a failure to clearly destinguish between “nature, being, object, essence, ousia, substance, personality” on the one hand and “person, consciousness, subject, spirit, hypostasis, subsistence” on the other hand. Unless this is done, carefully, one is bound to be an It is ironic that while this distinction between “nature” and “hypostasis” was, arguably, developed in the East (certainly, I discovered it most definitely expressed in/by the Eastern Doctors) yet now it seems to be least clearly held and defended in the East. I find this to be tragic.

God revealled ThemSelves to Noah, Abraham and Moses as Being One, without specifying any details of the internal communion which underpinned that Unity. BEfore then Incarnation, the Holy Trinity spoke with one voice, in unison - with occasional lapses into three-part harmony, perhaps. This did not depersonalise God. Three spoke together, with a single voice. The fact that God communicated energetically (via physical/material things: burning bushes, clouds of smoke and fire, floods, rainbows, plagues, manna, suddenly appearing rams, human-lookimg “angels”, earthquakes, rushing winds, quite voices...) does not mean that God was depersonalised!

Similarly, every means by which the person who I am communicates is material. I am unable to communicate with any other person “directly”. Even if I were to be telepathic, that communication would still (I expect) be mind-to-mind: nature-to-nature, soul-to-soul; rather than person-to-person: hypostasis-to-hypostasis, spirit-to-spirit. Nevertheless, what arises from - and is nurtured by - such mediated (energetic) communication is an inter-personal relationship.

I cannot see how the Filioque has anything to do with this.

Inclusive Language

Some people use feminine language of God in order to synchretically introduce New Age or pagan associations with "The Goddess" into Christian theology. This is to be deplored without reservation. However, I don't believe that gender is very important, or that it is any more specially present in God than is "green-ness". Hence I don't have much of an objection to people calling the First Person of the Trinity "God the Mother". After all, God's love for Israel is likened to that of a mother for her child. Neither have I any objection to Holy Spirit being referred to as female. After all, "spirit" is neuter in Greek and feminine in Hebrew. A number of holy men and women have habitually talked of Jesus - who is undoubtedly male - in feminine terms. Still, I personally prefer to abide by Jesus' use of "Father" when referring to the First Person of the Blessed Trinity.

One problem with referring to God as female is that the female form of human being is much more adapted to reproduction than the male. The fraction of a woman's anatomy which is gender-specific is much larger than that of a man: whose only reproductive organs are his penis, prostate and testes and whose skeliton, musculature and fat distribution is determined by efficiency, not by the needs of reproduction. Moreover, the female psychology is much more oriented towards reproduction than the male. Hence, thinking of God as female increases the risk of thinking of God as being sexual and reproductive, or at least of being concerned with such matters. Indeed, some proponenants of God-as-female would agree with this, and construe it as a good thing; however I think this is a very bad thing, and wish to preserve the characterisation of God as "male" precisely in order to reduce the risk of thinking of God as sexual, or being particularly concerned with sex or reproduction.

Another problem with referring to God as female is that "the Goddess" has often been a rather vicious and misanthropic figure, and has been used by women to control and terrorise heterosexual men: who are easily entranced by femininity; often think of their purely human beloveds as divine, or at least angellic; and who sometimes yearn to be subjugated to a female will. While the jealous and vindictive image of God found in the primative parts of the Old Testement is undoubtedly one that can be used to oppress; it is not frightening because it is male (a jealous and vindictive female divinity is just as plausible, dramatically; and such certainly existed in pagan mythology) and God's "male-ness" is never presented as "masculinity", or as sexually alluring. Indeed, what "eroticism" there is to be detected is always between male patriarchs and prophets and the "male" God, never between women and God. Strangely, God's status as "male" is never used to justify a patriarchal society, so far as I can recall: Eve's responsibility for the supposed disaster of the Fall is used to do this - especially in the New Testement. The God of the Bible is generally presented as benevolent and compassionate, though strict and stern too; in other words as a loving, kind and just parent and potential friend.

Gender aspecific terminology is another matter entirely. Apart from use of "the first/second/third person of the Blessed Trinity", which rapidly becomes tedious and abbreviations like FPBT, SPBT and TPBT, which grate immediately, attempts at genderless reference to the Persons of the Trinity tend to be theologically dangerous. For example, the trinity of Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier is especially deadly:

It is true that each person has a "lead role" in every divine activity within the Cosmos, but it is false that any person can ever act alone. Because a person acts via his/her wealth/resources/nature, and the Nature of God is One, the three Divine Persons always act in concord and in concert: both in and as the one Act of Love. The inner life of God is its own justification and does not require or aspire after any purpose other than its self-sufficiency. The Three recognize and love each other for what they are: as mutual possessors of and contributors to the One Divine Being. The traditional language of Father, Son and Spirit authentically (though inadequately) reflects the intrinsic relations which both distinguish and bind together the three persons.

 The Gay Perspective

I can't resist but end by pointing out the irony of the doctrine of the Trinity as seen by gay eyes. Please don't take what I say next too seriously.

The Trinity seems to be founded on the ecstatic/erotic love union of two "male" persons: the Father and the Son. As Gregory of Palamas puts it: "The Spirit of the supreme Logos is a kind of ineffable yet intense longing or 'eros' experienced by the Begetter for the Logos born ineffably from Him, a longing experienced also by the beloved Logos and Son of the Father for His Begetter." If one takes this image at face value, it amounts to incestuous paedophilia. There is no doubt that this union is generative (and so in the origin of the meaning "sexual") in character, because from it bursts forth a third person: Holy Spirit. Whereas Islam detests the Catholic idea that the Blessed Virgin was "impregnated" by God, as demeaning to the transcendence of God, the incestuous homosexual paedophilia that the doctrine of the Trinity seems to assert should really offend more!

Any orthodox  account of the inner life of God is at best highly uncongenial to the paradigm of the heterosexual nuclear family. Amusingly, the contemporary Catholic Magisterium fails to notice this and even attempts to use the doctrine of the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son to bolster its conventional championing of "male-female complementarity" and the centrality of procreation to all authentically "self-giving" relationships. So, for example -

"Moreover, there can be no doubt that the narratives of the 'beatifying beginning of human existence' in the Genesis texts narrate not only the creation of man as the apex of the material universe, not only the creation of man as 'male and female', as a communion of persons made in the image of the Holy Trinity, but also the creation of marriage."  [Prof. W.E. May, Catholic University of America : English text of the essay in Italian, “La ‘communio personarum’ e l’atto coniugale,” in Morale Coniugale e Sacramento della Penitenza: Riflessioni sul ‘Vademecum per i Confessori, Eds. Alfonso Card. Lopez Trujillo and Francisco Gil Hellin, Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1998, pp. 135-150]
There can be no doubt that absurdities will never cease!

The Decline in Trinitarian belief

I recently received the following communication from a priest friend. I think that it "says it all":
"The three Divine Persons are much more than mere manifestations of one and the same God: they are three distinct individuals who share one and the same godhead. They are a community of Three (real persons) in One (divine essence of Love). Nowadays it is difficult to hear anything remotely orthodox preached or written on this subject by western Christians. Most priests ignore the Trinity even on Trinity Sunday - which is, perhaps, sadly better than to speak ill or wrongly about The Triune God!

The Holy Trinity is the centre of our faith, just as the Holy Mass is the centre of our religion, and the traditional mass liturgy (of both the Roman and other western rites, and of all eastern rites) states over and over again in its wording, its rituals and its art, the Church's belief in the Triune God. The Mass is a Sacrifice, offered by the Head and members of the Church, of the Humanity of Christ joined to His Divinity, up to the Most Holy Trinity (of which Christ is the 'Second Person' - and therefore also co-receiver of His own Sacrifice.)

After [my Trinity] Sunday Mass [homily] it was pointed out to me that most of the references to the Holy Trinity in the old rite of Mass no longer exist in the new rite, and that a Catholic familiar only with the new rite would not have understood my homily at all. The way in which we pray and worship, determines the way in which we believe. It becomes clear, when one compares the traditional Mass of the Roman Rite to the text and ceremonies of the Novus Ordo Missae, that whereas the Traditional Roman Rite is thoroughly Trinitarian in its wording, its stated intention, its orientation and its ceremonies, the New Order of Mass is not.

The fact that the Trinity is a turn off for too many modern day Catholics, is central to the contemporary sickness of the Church. The anti-triniatrian sickness of modern Roman Rite Catholics is due foremost to this drastic change in liturgy. In the new Roman rite of Mass nearly all verbal references to the Holy Trinity have been scrapped, the triple ceremonies in honour of the Trinity abolished, the altar facing God turned around to face the people, as if prayer and sacrifice were now being offered no longer to God, but to the people. Now, when it is no longer clear to priest and people What and Whom we are worshipping, that can only bode ill for the Church and its faith.

I had a discussion today after Mass with a lady who said: 'Father, I pray to God but not to Jesus Christ, because for me He is a separate entity from God. He is just a good human moral example for us to follow, but not a God to be worshipped.' I did manage to convince her to at least pray about it and be open to what believing in the Divinity of Christ, and in the Holy Trinity. She relented, as it were, stayed for the rosary, and afterwards said that she had decided to 'give up her own ideas and give in on this question.' For how long, I do not dare say, as the opinion that Christ is not God is now so widespread.

Both the faithful and not a few priests use the New Liturgy as proof of their acquired non-belief. Belief in the livegiving Trinity is simply not explicitly declared or nurtured by the words, rituals, art and orientation of the modern liturgy. A living catholic faith can exist only where the livegiving Triune God is worshipped and communed with. I firmly believe that the change in Worship has brought about a change in faith."
[Tuesday after Trinity Sunday, 2005]

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