The triadologic perspective
the aryanic disputes became clear that Origenism and the cosmological approach
of the truth should be subjected to a radical review. This would become possible
only through the confutation of the teaching concerning the word and exactly at
this point had Aryanism transferred the starting point. The teaching concerning
the word might be able to add something to the dialogue on the Supreme Being,
the truth of the Greeks. For a short period of time the Church was found in the
situation of indecision, but the answer of the great Alexandrian theologian came
immediately, St. Athanassius. His answer, theological according to the decision
of Nice, was positive, but had an important presupposition: the teaching
concerning the word can be preserved just if the word is identified to the Son
in the Trinity.
thesis of Athanassius, which turned out to be of decisive importance in the
contradiction of the Church with Aryanism, emerged directly from the ontology of
the community, prepared through the tradition of the Eucharistic theology by
Ignatius, through Eirinaeus till Athanassius. The fact that Athanassius belongs
theologically rather to this flow of thought than to the catechetical tradition
of Alexandria, is proven clearly, if one examines his entire theology. To our
purpose here, may be enough to investigate the way he uses the ontological
thought in his contradiction to Aryanism. It is also interesting to verify till
which point his reasoning resorts to the ontological thought of Ignatius and
Eirinaeus, as presented in this research.
in his struggle versus Aryanism developed ontology with the following
he proceeds to the clear differentiation between substance, which he considers
to be the uttermost, and will[i].
In this way he attached the being to that final character which always existed
in the Greek way of thinking. Such discernment was necessary to show, that the
being of the Son in His relation to God is not similar to the being of the world:
the being of the Son belongs to the substance of God, whereas the being of the
world to the will of God. With this he could present arguments against the
followers of Areios, but the importance of this differentiation exceeds the need
of the moment. With this discernment of being and will Athanassius could break
into the closed in itself ontology of the Greeks, in which God and the world
connected to each other through an ontological resemblance. Thus, he could also
avoid the trap, in which Justin and Origen fell. However he did not abandon the
ontological thought, but on the contrary raised it to that uttermost character,
which comprised his peculiarity[ii].
The being is no more the same with the will and consequently neither with the
action. This clearly Greek and not Judean allegation is proven in the middle in
order to protect the biblical roots of the Gospel from the dangers of the Greek
ontology. The being of God remained definitely free against the world, so that
the Greek thought could understand it as being, without connecting it at the
same time to the world through an ontological necessity.
not everything end there. By linking the being of the Son to the substance of
the very God, Athanassius changed at the same time the sense of the same
substance. At this point he moved further away from the cosmological starting
point of the thought of Augustine and Origen and refers to the Eucharistic
starting point of Ignatius and Eirinaeus. In the allegation, that the Son
belongs to the substance of the Father, is already included, almost definitely,
that the substance in its kind is a relationship. "Could there ever be God
without that which belongs to Him?"[iii]
question has a great ontological importance. The word "never" in this
sentence does not have of course some meaning concerning time, but a logical or
much more ontological one. It does not refer to some time in God, but in the way
of His existence, in His existence as being. If the being of God is a
relationship and is someone can characterize it with the word "substance",
then doesn't it emerge from this inevitably in the basic meaning, which has
the being of God for the entire Ontology, that the substance, as far as it
characterizes this basic definition of being, cannot be understood in another
way other than communion?
there is going to be a revolutionary change at this point as far as the
understanding of the substance in Greek thought or if it is based upon certain
principles of this thought, which are beyond our knowledge, it is a question,
which we shall not examine further[iv].
On the contrary, from our occupation with Athanassius emerges the completely
clear conclusion that the difference between "first" and "second"
substance, as some researchers approach it on the interpretation of the
triadologic theology of the Greek Fathers, leads reality to an error[v].
This will be proven when we will mention in short the Cappadoceans. Such a
differentiation is pointless and creates only serious difficulties, when one
examines in the Trinity the relation between substance and person.
this point lays the most important contribution of Athanassius in the
development of a Christian ontology. In the processing of the ontological
question on the Eucharist the term community had become an ontological category
and with the help of this presupposition Athanassius promotes the idea that the
communion does not belong to the field of the will and action, but in the field
of the substance. In this way an ontological category here also finds an
important progress in the development of an ontology based on biblical
presuppositions, a decisive step towards a Christianization of Hellenism.
Neither the importance nor his authority in theology needs to be reduced when we
find out that Athanassius in this ontology left unanswered some basic problems.
One of them refers to - if it can be called like that – to the ontological
status, which we connect to being, which does not have its cause in the
substance but in the will and action, therefore to creation. If the existence of
the world is not a product of God's substance but of His will, then what is
its ontological cause? If we claim that it is the will of God, don't we run
the risk of connecting with this will of God an ontological content? Thus,
wouldn't it be extremely in vain the differentiation, which had been done for
the juxtaposition to Aryanism? The question is as difficult as it is essential
and it could strengthen the ontological monism of the Greek classicism, as with
the intense antithesis with the entire Christian ontology, which is cased on the
presupposition of the ontological differentiation of God. Could we ask whether
this dissimilarity can have an ontological meaning there, where of course the
ontology is not connected always with the sense of completeness. From many
points of view the question remains open[vi],
even though Maximus the Confessor made a primary effort to solve it, when he
approached, with a deep change of course, the idea of ecstasy of Pseudo-Dionysius
of Areios Pagos.
second problem, which has been placed through the ontological starting point of
Athanassius, concerns the existence of God Himself.
we have seen, the ontology of Athanassius relies on the allegation that between
God and world there is dissimilarity because of the fact that the existence of
the world is based on the will and not on the substance of God. In that sense,
the use of the idea of the substance has played an irreplaceable part in
theology in the procession of a biblically based ontology. What is it that
happens though with the dissimilarity in the substance of God Himself, as it is
enclosed in the allegation of Athanassios that the Son belongs "always" to
the substance of God? Whatsmore, Athanassius shows that the ontological
dissimilarity emerges inevitably from the differentiation of the will and the
nature, but does not show, to what extent the communion "inside" the very
substance includes a dissimilarity of ontological type.
such a basic question there was no answer, before the idea of the substance was
made clear, of the being as a relationship as it resulted before the Eucharistic
access in the ontology and as promoted by Athanassius. This was the great
contribution of the Cappadocean Fathers. Let us now occupy ourselves for a while
with their ontology. One of the difficulties on the development of a clear
ontology of the communion laid in the fact that between substance, as an
ontological class, and hypostasis, there was no important difference. In
Athanassius, as in his contemporary intellectuals, is clear, that substance and
hypostasis mean exactly the same thing[vii].
But how would we express it, if we wanted to talk on dissimilarity in the
"inside" of the very substance (that is about a dissimilarity which does not
have its cause in will)? During the study of the history of that time on can see
what confusion and what misunderstandings could emerge from that terminology. A
term such as the "person" concealed Savellianismus and to some it was not
adequately ontological; the hypostasis had to others the tri-godly complexion.
However, it is important, the fact that the solution that was given from the
Cappadocean fathers led later to the review of the Greek ontology and the growth
of a Christian ontology.
the time, during which the Cappadoceans attempted to process an answer to the
triadological problems, the identification of substance and hypostasis meant,
that the particular atomicity of a thing (hypostasis) simply describes the fact
that something is (meaning its substance). But this changes later on. The term
hypostasis was singled out from that of the substance and as such was adopted by
the triadological theology. Then, for the first time a term of relationship
entered the ontology, while at the same time an ontological category, such as
the hypostasis appeared at the categories of relation towards existence. The
existence and the existence in a relationship then acquired the same meaning. To
the existence of a man or something it is at the same time necessary for two
things to be present: the existence itself (hypostasis) and the existence in
relationship (that is the existence of a person). Only in the relationship
appear this identification in its ontological sense and when a relationship did
not enclose such an ontologically important identity it could not be a
Undoubtedly this concerns an ontology, which comes from the existence of God.
where does the importance of this step that the Cappadoceans made in the
ontology, lay? Firstly, the existence of God is placed in a new, more biblical
basis. With the term person-hypostasis taking the ontological character of the
substance, the existence of God managed to be expressed in a final sense. The
further growth of triadological theology, particularly in the West with
Augustine and the scholastics, leads us again to the term substance and not
hypostasis, as an expression of the uttermost character and the principle of
divine existence. From this comes the outcome, that in the doctrinal manuals the
triadologic teaching was placed after the chapter of the one and only God (the
one and only substance) with all the difficulties, which we encounter, when we
try to connect the teaching concerning the Trinity with that of God. On the
contrary, originality, with which the Cappadoceans differentiate from all the
other Greek Fathers, existed, as Karl Rahner notes[ix], in that the final ontological affirmation on God
should not be sought in the uniqueness of the substance of God but in the Father,
that is in a hypostasis or person.
identification of the uttermost existence of God to a person rather than the
substance does not allow just a biblical presentation of the teaching on God (God=the
Father in the Bible), but much more the problems concerning the same substance
are solved, as for example the relation of the Son and the Father between them.
With the Father becoming the "cause" of the existence of God - or the utmost
cause of existence – theology accepted some kind of subordination of the Son
to the Father without being obliged to reduce the Word to a creation. But this
was not possible, because the dissimilarity of the Son had relied on the same
substance. Since it concerned the ontological relation of God with the world
though, the term hypostasis, ontologically understood, should be completed by
the term of the substance, if we do not want to return to an ontological monism.
The identification of God with the Father would lose its biblical content, if
our own teaching about God did not include along with the three persons the one
and only substance.
I, 33; II,2 and others. Also see G. Florovsky, The concept of Creation in
Saint Athanasius, in :Studia Patristica IV (ed. Of F. L. Cross), 1962,
2: υπεραναβέβηκε δε της βουλήσεως το
M. Mackinnon in the important analysis of the term "substance" in
Aristotle (Aristotle's Conception of Substance, in R. Bambrough (ed.), New
Essays on Plato and Aristotle, 1965, 97-119) mentions a lot of delicate hues
of this term and it would certainly be good for Patrologians to think about
them seriously. Also see his work "Substance in Christology. A Cross-Bench
View", in S. W. Sykes and H. P. Clayton (ed.), Christ, Faith, and History,
Cambridge Studies in Christology, 1972, 279-300.
Also see G.L.Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, London 1952, esp. 220 and
243; J.N.D. Kelly, Altchristliche Glaubensbekenntnisse. Geschichte
und Theologie, Goettingen 1972, p. 241.
In this sense the Christian theology has a lot to gain from the remarkable
work of E. Levinas, Totalite et infini. Essai
sur l' exteriorite, La Haye, 1971.
Also see Athanasius, Επιστ.
others, MPG 26, 1036 B.
The Cappadoceans ended there through their position, that no nature exists
in "pure state", but always has the way of its existence, also see e.g.
MPG 45, 337. It is interesting to ascertain, that G.L. Prestige, as above,
243, judges the thought of St. Basil that in God there is an identification
of nature and person. This makes harder, as he says, the defence of the
unity in the divinity, because it has as a consequence a displacement of the
substance that is from the "first" to the "second". This shows
clearly though, to which point the appliance of this discernment in the
Greek Fathers is in question.
Also see K. Rahner, Schriften zur Theologie I, Einsiedeln, Zuerich//Koeln
1965, esp. 165 and on.