The woman clothed with the sun
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Bulgakov. Divine Motherhood Category: Theosis …between created and uncreated…

God. Trinity
In the works of Vladimir Lossky

6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. Ис 41, 4. Ис 48, 12. Откр 1, 17. Откр 22, 13.

The Holy Trinity — God Person

The Holy Trinity — God who is personal and who is not a person confined in his own self.

For the creature, subject to change by nature, can partake of eternal life in the light of the Trinity.

The contemplation of this absolute perfection, of this divine plenitude which is the Trinity — God who is personal and who is not a person confined in his own self — the very thought, the mere ‘pale shade of the Trinity’, lifts the human soul beyond the world of being, changing and confused, in bestowing upon it this stability in the midst of passions; this serenity, or ἀπάθεια which is the beginning of deification. For the creature, subject to change by nature, can by grace attain to the state of eternal stability; can partake of infinite life in the light of the Trinity.

Различать в Боге «усию» и «ипостась»

Не три, но «Три — Единство».

Мысль, различающая в Боге «усию» и «ипостась», пользуется словарем метафизическим и выражает себя в терминах онтологических, которые в данном случае являются не столько понятиями, сколько условными знаками, отмечающими абсолютную тождественность и абсолютную различимость. В своем желании выразить «несводимость» ипостаси к усии, несводимость личности к сущности, не противопоставляя их однако как две различные реальности, святые отцы провели различие между этими двумя синонимами, что действительно было терминологической находкой, … Эту несводимость нельзя ни уловить, ни выразить вне соотношения трех Ипостасей, которые, собственно говоря, не три, но «Три — Единство». Когда мы говорим «три Ипостаси», то уже впадаем в недопустимую абстракцию: если бы мы и захотели обобщать и найти определение «Божественной Ипостаси», надо было бы сказать, что единственное обобщающее определение трех Ипостасей — это невозможность какого бы то ни было общего их определения.

Insufficiency of any number other than «Three»

Two is the number which separates. The one would be without honour, the other would be contrary to order.

The deity is neither one nor many; its perfection goes beyond the multiplicity of which duality is the root, and expresses itself in the Trinity. The Godhead does not dwell within bounds, nor does it spread itself indefinitely.

The threefold number is not, as we commonly understand it, a quantity. The threefold number relates to the indivisibly united divine hypostases, the ‘sum’ of which is always the unity, 3=1.

St. Gregory speaks to the philosophers as a philosopher, that he may win the philosopher to the contemplation of the Trinity. ‘The monad is set in motion in virtue of its richness; the dyad is surpassed (for the deity is above matter and form); the triad contains itself in perfection, for it is the first which surpasses the composition of the dyad. Thus, the Godhead does not dwell within bounds, nor does it spread itself indefinitely. The one would be without honour, the other would be contrary to order. The one would be wholly Judaic, the other Hellenistic and polytheistic.’60 One gains a glimpse of the mystery of the number, three; the deity is neither one nor many; its perfection goes beyond the multiplicity of which duality is the root (we recall the interminable dyads of the gnostics, and the dualism of the Platonists), and expresses itself in the Trinity. The term ‘expresses itself’ is improper, for the divinity has no need to manifest its perfection, either to itself or to others. It is the Trinity, and this fact can be deduced from no principle nor explained by any sufficient reason, for there are neither principles nor causes anterior to the Trinity.

Tριάς: ‘name which unites things united by nature, and never allows those which are inseparable to be scattered by a number which separates,’ says St. Gregory Nazianzen.61 Two is the number which separates, three the number which transcends all separation: the one and the many find themselves gathered and circumscribed in the Trinity. ‘When I say God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Ghost; for Godhead is neither diffused beyond these, so as to introduce a multitude of gods, nor yet bounded by a smaller compass than these, so as to condemn us for a poverty-stricken conception of deity, either Judaizing to save the monarchy, or falling into Hellenism by the multitude of our gods.’62 St. Gregory Nazianzen is not seeking to vindicate the trinity of persons before the human reason: he simply shows the insufficiency of any number other than three. But we may ask whether the idea of number can be applied to God; whether we do not thus submit the divinity to an exterior determination, to a form proper to our understanding–that of the number, three. To this objection St. Basil replies as follows: ‘we do not count by addition, passing from the one to the many by increase; we do not say: one, two, three, or first, second and third. ‘For I am God, the first, and I am the last.63 Now we have never, even to the present time, heard of a second God; but adoring God of God, confessing the individuality of the hypostases, we dwell in the monarchy without dividing the theology into fragments.’64 In other words, there is no question here of a material number which serves for calculation and is in no wise applicable in the spiritual sphere, where there is no quantitative increase. The threefold number is not, as we commonly understand it, a quantity; when it relates to the indivisibly united divine hypostases, the ‘sum’ of which is always the unity, 3=1, it expresses the ineffable order within the Godhead.


60 ‘Oratio XXII, 8’, P.G., XXXV, 1160 CD.
61 ‘Oratio XXIII, 10’, P.G., XXXV, 1161 C.
62 ‘Oratio XLV, 4’, P.G., XXXVI, 628 C.
63 Is. XLIV, 6: ’Eγὼ [γὰρ] θεὸς πρῶτος, καὶ ἐγὼ μετα ταῦτα’ in the LXX. ‘I am the first and I am the last’, in A.V.
64 ‘De Spiritu Sancto’, cap. 45, P.G., XXXII, 149 B. Edited with French translation by Benoit Pruche, O.P., Paris, 1947 (Sources chrétiennes), pp. 192–3.

Dogmatic theology. The Trinity

The Incarnation, the point of departure for theology, immediately puts at the heart of the latter the mystery of the Trinity. He Who is incarnated is indeed none other than the Word, that is to say, the second person of the Trinity. Incarnation and Trinity are thus inseparable, and against a certain Protestant criticism, against a liberalism which would oppose Gospel and theology, we must stress the evangelical roots of the orthodox triadology. Can one indeed read the Gospel without asking the question: who is Jesus? And when we hear the confession of Peter: “Thou art the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), when St. John opens to us eternity with his Gospel, we understand that the only possible answer is the dogma of the Trinity, the Christ, only Son of the Father, God equal to the Father, identical divinity and different person.

The chief source of our knowledge of the Trinity is, indeed, none other than the Prologue of St. John (and also the first epistle of the same), and that is why the author of these amazing texts has received, in the Orthodox tradition the name of St. John the Theologian. From the first verse of the Prologue, the Father is called God, Christ is called the Word — and the Word, in this beginning which is here not temporal but ontological, is at once God (“in the beginning ... the Word was God”) and other than the Father (“and the Word was with God”). These three affirmations of St. John: “In the beginning was the Word — and the Word was with God — and the Word was God,” constitute the germ of all trinitarian theology. They immediately direct our thought to the obligation of affirming, at the same time, the identity and the diversity of God.

Certainly it is tempting to shatter the antinomy by rationalizing one or the other of its terms. Thus there have appeared, more or less explicitly, two major heretical tendencies: Unitarianism and Tritheism.

Unitarianism has often assumed the aspect of an absolute monarchianism: there is only one person in God, that of the Father, Whose Son and Spirit are only emanations or forces. Its most perfect expression was in the third century, the modalism of Sabellius, where the very notion of person-hood disappeared. For Sabeliius indeed, God is an impersonal essence which manifests itself diversely to the universe. The three persons are then no longer anything but three successive modes of action, three appearances to the world of the same monad always simple in itself. Through creation God takes on the shape of Father. The Father is thus the aspect of a first phase of divine manifestation linked with the genesis and the paradisiacal state. But sin modified the relation between God and man; the era of the Father finished and God took another aspect, that of the Son, whose complete manifestation corresponded to the Incarnation. With the Ascension, the filial mode of divinity was once more absorbed into the essential mdistinction and a new mode appeared, that of the Spirit. At the Final Judgement, when the universe will be divinized, everything will enter into the indivisible monad. This successive Trinity remains thus a pure appearance and in no way concerns the reality itself of God: here, nature completely absorbs the persons.

The opposite heresy, pure Tritheism, has never been expressed. But if the absurdity of a divergent Trinity cannot be formulated, one often observes a certain weakening of the trinitarian reciprocity: a Trinity without equality and finally relinquished. Before Nicaea subordinationistic tendencies were powerful in Christian thought, particularly with Origen. Under the influence of Neo-Platonism, the Father was identified with supreme unity, so that one could not thereafter distinguished the Son except by subordinating Him. Divinity did not properly belong to Him; He only participated in the divine nature of the Father. The Logos thus became the instrument of the One, and the Holy Spirit in its turn served as an instrument for the Son with which to sanctify on behalf of the Father.

With Arius this tendency became a heresy which broke the trinitarian unity. Arius identified God and the Father, and claimed that all which is not God is created. The Son is therefore created, since He is other than the Father, and the personal difference results in an ontological break. This created Son creates in His turn the Spirit, and the Trinity reverts to a hierarchy where the inferior serves as instrument to the superior, and which is shot clean through by that insuperable gap which separates the created from the uncreated. Generation becomes creation, the Son and the Spirit, “grandsons,” who are creatures radically distinct from paternal divinity, and the triad only survives by dividing the monad.

By contrast, faith, jealously preserved by the Church, seizes in a single movement, with a single adhesion, the unity and the diversity of God. But our intelligence must also be religious, and it is not only feeling, but also thought, which must open itself to the truth, or rather neither of tbem separately but our whole being, at once fervent and lucid. The triumph of Christian thought is to have elaborated over the first four centuries, and particularly during the fourth, “trinitarian” par excellence, a definition which gave to the heathen an inkling of the fullness of the Trinity: this was not the rationalization of Christianity but the Christianization of reason, a transmuting of philosophy into contemplation, a saturation of thought by a mystery which is not a secret to conceal, but an inexhaustible light. This grand work, over which Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus, and also Hilary of Poitiers, all collaborated, finally enabled the Church to express, by the term ομοουσιοζ, the mystery of the divinity at once monad and triad. Oμοουσιοζ means consubstantial, identical in essence, co-essential; this is the adjective which qualifies the Son, God and other than “the God,” the same but not the Father.

“The Word was with God” says the Prologue of St. John: προζ τον Θεόν. Προζ denotes movement, a dynamic closeness: one could translate it as “towards” rather than “with”: “The Word was towards God.” Προζ thus includes the idea of a relationship: this relationship between the Father and the Son is eternal generation, and we are thus introduced, by the Gospel itself, to the life of the divine persons of the Trinity.

It is also the Gospel that reveals to us the trinitarian “location” of the Holy Spirit, and the relations which stress Its own personal uniqueness. It is enough to read in St. John the last words of the Lord to the Apostles: “And I will pray to the Father to send you another Comforter (Protector) to be with you always: … the Spirit of Truth”(14:16–17) and again: “The Protector, the Holy Spirit Whom the Father will send in my Name” (15:26). The Spirit is then other than the Son, Who is also a Comforter, but He, the Spirit, is sent in the name of the Son to bear witness to Him. His relation to the Son is then neither one of opposition nor of separation, but of diversity and reciprocity — thus, of communion in the Father.

It is the same for the relation of the Spirit to the Father: “The Spirit of Truth which proceeds from the Father” (15:26): the Spirit is different from the Father, but united to Him by a bond of procession which is proper to Him and differs from the generation of the Son.

The Son and the Spirit thus appear, throughout the Gospel, as two divine persons sent into the world, the former to quicken our personal liberty, the latter to unite Itself with our nature and regenerate it. These two persons each have their proper relation to the Father (generation and procession); they also have between them a relationship of reciprocity: it is thanks to the purification of the Virgin by the Spirit that the Son could be given to men, as it is by the prayer of the Son ascended back to the right hand of the Father that the Spirit is dispensed to them (“the Protector Whom I will send you from the Father,” John 15:26). And these two persons appear, in the eternity which unfolds, equal in dignity to the Father and identical to Him in substance. They transcend the world where they act: the one and the other are indeed “with” the Father, Who does not Himself come into the world, and their closeness to the Father, source of the divine nature, manages to locate for our thought the Trinity in its transcendence, its stability and its fullness.

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