Here’s a Dot

According to Rowan Williams, the central concern is with the freedom of God’s will. Arius insists that God is self-subsistent, and because he is immaterial he is “without any kind of plurality or composition.” If the Son is eternally with God, then there is something beside God that qualifies or limits Him, and God is unlimited. To be in relation is to be limited and qualified, and God is absolute. As Williams says, “if God is free in respect of every contingent, mutable and passible reality, the Word exists because God chooses that he should.” For Williams, Arius’s theology is very “conservative,” affirming what earlier writers would have affirmed: “God is free, the world need not exist, the Word is other than God, the Word is part of the world, so the Word is freely formed ex nihilo.” If the Father “necessarily” begets the Son, then His freedom is qualified and limited by some necessity. In addition, as Letham points out, Arians “wanted to protect God from involvement in creation, from human experiences and sufferings. Jesus’ human limitations showed that he was inferior to God.”

Now, in philosophical theology, who does Arius’ God sound like? Absolutely simple unlimited being to which all relations are extrinsic…hmmm.

“From this, we can see that the assumptions behind Arianism are precisely Hellenistic assumptions. To be absolute means to be entirely unrelated. And to be absolute means to be free from contaminations and involvement with the material creation. Harnack had it exactly backward. It wasn’t the orthodox who were Hellenizing the faith; the Arians were the one who were incapable of bursting out of the confines of Greek metaphysics. (See also Zizioulas on how Trinitarian theology burst the categories of Hellenistic thought.)”

Duh. This is what the Orthodox with their “subbiblical” Trinitarianism have been saying all along. Now, does your theology “burst” the categories of Hellenism or think that they are necessary to doing theology proper? Compare and see. Just go read Hodge, Warfield, Turretin, Bavink…err I mean Melancthon, Chemnitz, Walther…err I mean Aquinas, Scotus, Albert…err I mean Augustine…err I mean Plotinus, Proclus…Plato.

13 Responses to Here’s a Dot

  1. Cyprian says:

    Photios and Perry, Thanks.

  2. Andrea,

    Only with respect to ‘acts of will’ could the Son mediate the Spirit, and vice versa, but since there is no intervening attribute between Son and Spirt or Spirt and Son, they do not originate each other’s hypostasis. Same is for Maximus, same is for Gregoory of Nyssa.


  3. Photios, I enjoyed your paper on Gregory of Nyssa v. Eunomius which I found nicely intellectually honest, especially regarding the part that hinted at the Son mediating the Spirit, which I am also surprised to hear you guys say St. Maximus can support, but I don’t think either of them were in favor of changing the creed (as Dr. Farrell so eloquently refused to do in the Soliloquy). I too thought of the Holy Spirit’s part in the Incarnation to show that the Son comes from the Spirit too, also the Theophany at Christ’s baptism shows that the Spirit came “down” from the Father and initiated His earthly ministry.

    This paper also helps provide a framework that I was looking for in how the Trinity relate to each other,

    “This is so for Gregory since the identity of the energeiai that the Spirit possesses, is the same energeiai as the Son and the Father, meaning it is something said about—or more accurately around—their nature.94 This manifesting of the Spirit by the Father through the Son cannot be thought of as a Hypostatic origination, precisely because Gregory identifies this act with the act of willing, that is in God there is no difference between will and energy.95 As we have shown previously, every operation and divine name is common to all the Hypostases. Gregory expresses this manifestation in even more explicit terms as a circular movement among the Persons in another work against Macedonius:

    You see the revolving circle of the glory moving from Like to Like. The Son is glorified by the Spirit; the Father is glorified by the Son; again the Son has His glory from the Father; and the Only-begotten thus becomes the glory of the Spirit. For with what shall the Father be glorified, but with the true glory of the Son: and with what again shall the Son be glorified, but with the majesty of the Spirit? In like manner, again, Faith completes the circle, and glorifies the Son by means of the Spirit, and the Father by means of the Son.96

    It appears that in this passage that Gregory has in mind a manifestation of glory that is irrespective of creation. A real relation that would characterize and constitute God’s internal Being, in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will to manifest the divine love as energeiai in many different ways to Them. It is at this level that we could say that the economic Trinity reflects the theological Trinity.97″

  4. David Richards says:

    I think what you meant to say Perry is that God is *not* being?

  5. Cyprian,

    Yes, the Orthodox do affirm a form of simplicity, specifically in ruling out composition in God. But since God is NOT being, simplicity doesn’t imply that the energies and the essence are identical. What it does imply is that each of the energies is metaphysically distinct without being “cut off” from the essence or the Triadic actors. Each of the energies interpenetrate each other without a kind of reductive identity. Simplicity then is an energy unifying all of the energies so that God is equally and fully present in each of them without an identity between all of them. (Knowledge and will are not identical in God for example.)

    I would start with Gregory Palamas’ Triads and then the Capita.

  6. I found an answer to one of my questions in Photios’ Synergy in Christ,

    In Saint Athanasius, the distinction between essence and will appears to be a real, metaphysical one:
    A man by counsel builds a house, but by nature he begets a son; and what is in building began to come into being at will, and is external to the maker; but the son is proper offspring of the Father’s essence, and is not external to him; wherefore neither does he counsel concerning him, lest he appear to counsel about himself. As far then as the Son transcends the creature, by so much does what is by nature transcend the will. And they, on hearing of Him, ought not to measure by will what is by nature.25

    Thus, St. Athanasius’s defense of the deity of Christ and His necessity from the Father, along with the free contingency of the world depends on a real distinction between essence and will.

    I was mistakingly seeing the Father’s relationship to the Son as external. But if we, and the cosmos, are in Christ… we are in His humanity which was divinized by His energies, by His will. Another thought – this is irreversible so I guess God’s will though free, is stable and committed. Sorry Arius and the Anglicans and Plato for not giving you your due attention.

  7. Levi says:

    Also, I am not trying to necessarily imply that reformed people think this way. I am just stating why I am often uncomfortable with the language that is used, and it makes me wonder why things are explained that way. Maybe what I am saying is totally unfounded. And I think Edwards is making a good point, but I just don’t really feel comfortable with the language he uses to express it.

  8. Levi says:

    Ha, I said “shutter” didn’t I? Ha, dang.

    Well, anyway the Edwards quote could really be taken as redolent of neoplatonism on its face….at least I think so…the more educated people here can correct me if I am wrong. Of course, I don’t think he means it that way, but it certainly sounds like emanations of some sort. God may be the source by which anything else can exist, but that doesn’t mean He is the “substance” and they are merely shadows of it.

    It is like saying whatever good we experience in the material world is just a shadow of the greatest form, the good. I can see someone reading something like this and making a connection that the material world is worthless, and in some cases evil.

    Then was Christ in this world just an emanation or shadowy figure of God? Was the divine actually connected to the human? I know it seems like I am reading a lot into this quote, but if we consider it in an already thoroughly reformed mindset, it seems like a logical way to think.

  9. jacob says:

    Levi: When you say that quote makes you shudder, is that a negative response or a positive response to it? I’m a novice in these conversations, so I’m not so well attuned to what is good and bad theology in some of these areas.

  10. Levi says:

    You made me think of this quote from Jonathan Edwards that makes me shutter every time I see one of my reformed friends quoting it:

    “The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accomodations here…[These] are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the ocean.”

  11. Cyprian says:


    I’ve seen plenty of criticism on the western tendencies towards ADS over the past couple of years, but I was curious if the Orthodox take simplicity at all as a concept in theology proper, or maybe do affirm a form of simplicity, but just not to that same degree that the west has in affirming that the simplicity of God is absolute. I’ve never come across an explaination of this that is very clear.

    A reference to a good book, paper, or past blog posting would be sufficient — I could go digging from there.

  12. If God doesn’t need the world for His existence and was independently free in His creation of it (assuming Arius was right on that point), did that change in the Incarnation? And since God foreknew His Son’s Incarnation before He created the world, He had already bound Himself to it from the beginning. Otherwise ISTM He could have disconnected Himself and let it be annihilated. So Christ is the vehicle for God’s relation to creation?

    So does God choose to have a relationship in the Trinity, to which we are joined through Christ, or is it part of His essence? And if relating is part of His essence, then is He dependent on the Spirit and Son in whom we are joined to be God? If God didn’t act energetically, would He still be God in monolithic simplicity? But since the Son and Spirit are eternally begotten and proceeding, I guess relating is part of His essence, but by choice, His will? But, what He wills would then be classified as energies instead? I’m probably wrong in my categorizations.

    I’m reminded of when He wanted to wipe out the earth during Noah’s day, Sodom and Gomorrah, and when He was going wipe out the Isrealites before Moses interceded. His communicative relationships to Noah, Abraham, and Moses kept total annihilation from happening.

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