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Gregory of Nazianzus Church. Personalities John Chrysostom

Saint John of Damascus (Ἰωάννης ὁ Δαμασκηνός)

Born: c. 675; Damascus
Died: c. 753 (780); Mar Saba, near Jerusalem

Impersonalistic conception of Divinity

St. John of Damascus' equating of the «one God», i.e., the Old Tescament Divine I, with the First hypostasis is therefore not correct.

Impersonalistic thought tends to equate the Divine Absolute Subject, the triune trihypostaric I, with God the Father. To a certain degree this veils the impersonalistic conception of Divinity. John of Damascus, too, is not averse to making such an equation, as is attested, in particular, by the following statement: “Of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit we speak not as of three Gods but rather as of one God, the Holy Trinity, since the Son and the Holy Spirit are referred to one Cause, but, despite Sabellius' opinion, are not combined and do not merge” (Precise Exposition of the Orthodox Faith I.8). This identification of «Divinity» with the Father is even more evident in John's further affirmation: “When we look at Divinity, the first cause, the monarchy, the unity and identity of Divinity … we then imagine one. But when we consider what Divinity consists in, or more precisely what Divinity is and what proceeds from it, what exists eternally from the first cause with equal glory and without separation, i.e., when we consider the hyposrases of the Son and the Spirit, we then see three” (I.8).

Despite all the imprecision of these definitions, one can nevertheless conclude that, in a certain sense, St. John of Damascus follows Origen in conceiving the Father as the Neoplatonic One, as proto-divinity, proto-will, proto-hypostasis (and not only as the First hypostasis). But this is incorrect. God, as the triune trihypostatic Subject, as the Absolute Person, is not the Father as one of the three hypostases, even if the First (and on this pathway it is impossible to avoid Origenistic subordinationism); rather, He is the tri-une subject in which three are one and one is three. This is, so to speak, the dynamics of trihypostatizedness, whereas one usually notices it only in its statics. And only on the basis of this idea can one completely eliminate hypostatic subordinationism.

In examining the trihypostatizedness of the Absolute Person, it must be kept in mind that, in itself, in its initial position so to speak, this Person does not yet contain hypostatic distinctions (gnorismata hupostatika), bur is defined solely by the crine self-positing of I as I-I-I or as I-We-You. The Absolute I is sufficiently revealed for itself as such within the limits of these trinely hyposcaric definitions; and, moreover, all of these three hypostatic centers of the one I are equivalent or equi-hypostatic as I-thou-he, and are mutually reflected in one another; and only the secondary, further revelation of the hypostatic subject in the life of the Holy Trinity, in the concreteness of the Latter, complicates them with hypostatic qualifications, introduces hypostatic differentiation. Bur the latter does nor remove their original hypostatic equivalence, for in this being of theirs as hypostatic centers, centers of I, within the limits of the triune absolute I, they preserve their equi-Iness, so to speak. St. John of Damascus' equating of the «one God», i.e., the Old Tescament Divine I, with the First hypostasis is therefore not correct. This «one God» is not the First hypostasis, just as He is not the Second or the Third hyposcasis; and in general He cannot be identified with any of the three hypostatic centers. (He is the multiple and unique Elohim, I-We.)

But in this case to what does this I of the one God who says of Himself, “I am the Lord thy God,” refer if it does not refer to the Father, to the Son, or to the Holy Spirit, to any of the three? Does this not introduce a fourth hypostasis, as though a super-hypostasis, in Divinity? Of course, it does not introduce such a super-hypostasis, for although this triune Divine I is not the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit in their differentiation, it is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in their union, as the triune inwardly transparent I, existing in three I's. Different in hypostasizedness, they nevertheless remain one, not only with regard to ousia, with regard to «Divinity», but also with regard to hypostatizedness, like three lights merging into one. The trinitarian dogma must be understood more broadly and deeply; it must be understood not only with reference to the consubstantiality of the three persons but also with reference to their hypostatic triunity.

Sergius Bulgakov
The Comforter
VIII. The Trinitarian and Pneumatological Doctrine of St. John of Damascus

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