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Truth and Communion


The Truth is also

The Eucharistic perspective

The triadologic perspective

Negative perspective

The Christological perspective

The perspective of the "image" (icon)

Truth and Salvation -
the existential importance of the synthesis of the Greek Fathers

Truth and person

Truth and the

Truth and the Church - Ecclesiastical consequences
emerging from the synthesis of the Greek Fathers

The Eucharist as a place of the

3.     The triadologic perspective 

Through 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.

This 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.

Athanassius in his struggle versus Aryanism developed ontology with the following characteristics:

Firstly, 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.

But 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]

This 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?

If 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.

At 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.

A second problem, which has been placed through the ontological starting point of Athanassius, concerns the existence of God Himself.

As 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.

In 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.

Until 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 relationship[viii]. Undoubtedly this concerns an ontology, which comes from the existence of God.

But 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.

This 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] Κατά Αρειανών, 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, 36-57.

[ii] As above II, 2: υπεραναβέβηκε δε της βουλήσεως το πεφυκέναι.

[iii] As above, I, 20.

[iv] D. 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.

[v] 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.

[vi] 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.

[vii] Also see Athanasius, Επιστ. Προς Επισκ. And others, MPG 26, 1036 B.

[viii] 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. Basil, Επ. 38,2 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.

[ix] Also see K. Rahner, Schriften zur Theologie I, Einsiedeln, Zuerich//Koeln 1965, esp. 165 and on.


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