This current post is the third in a 'series' of threads (first; second) which explores the issue of "the one true God", as delineated in the Bible, and the subsequent 'development' and understanding of this concept in the writings of the post-Biblical Church Fathers.
In the prior two threads, I have presented evidence that the Bible makes some important distinctions between the One who called ό θεός and the one called θεός ; between the ό θεός who begets, and the μονογενής θεός who is begotten; between the one termed "τοῦ μόνου θεοῦ" (John 5:44) and "τὸν μόνον ἀληθινὸν θεὸν" (John 17:3), and the one He sends. I also pointed out that only one person in the Bible is declared to be the "εἷς θεὸς" (and it is not Jesus).
The above mentioned threads prompted 183 responses in the comboxes, including some informative posts from a couple of our Eastern Orthodox brothers who presented, and defended, the 'traditional' EO concept/definition that God the Father is "the one God"—a teaching which is also termed 'the monarchy of the Father'. Links to contemporary EO theologians (e.g. Behr and Hopko) who embrace this view were provided. My own personal studies (prior and subsequent) add other EO scholars who support this motif—e.g. Boris Bobrinskoy, The Mystery of the Trinity (pp. 264-268); Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology (p. 46 ) and The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (p.58); Anthony Meredith, The Cappadocians (p. 106); John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (p. 183); Athanasius Yevtich (Atanasije Jevtich), "Between the "Niceneans' and 'Easterners': The 'Catholic' Confession of St. Basil" in Christ - The Alpha and Omega (pp, 171-173); John D. Zizioulas, Being As Communion (pp. 40, 41) and Communion and Otherness (p. 134).
However, it was brought to my attention by Iohannes/John (via a link [tinyurl.com/2calggz] he provided in THIS POST), that not all EO scholars/theologians are convinced the concept of "the monarchy" has God the Father in mind, but rather, as with most Latin/Western theologians, it is the One divine essence/nature (sometimes termed the 'Godhead' [θεότης]) that is the reference point. Nicholas Loudovikos, in his The Heythrop Journal essay, "Person Instead of Grace and Dictated Otherness: John Zizioulas' Final Theological Position", critiques a number of Dr. Zizioulas' 'positions', including "the traditional Eastern doctrine of the monarchy of the Father". (Page 5 - bold emphasis mine.) Note the following:
John Zizioulas' Trinitarian theology is based on the traditional Eastern doctrine of the monarchy of the Father. He attributes this doctrine mainly to the Cappadocians and Maximus the Confessor, and this of course is true. It is not always easy, however, to agree with his understanding of their texts.
For Zizioulas the Father is the one God of the Creed. Once again the discussion is about freedom that can be assured only if the Father 'as a person and not substance' (p. 121) (in Zizioulas' vocabulary this always opposes nature/necessity to person/freedom, even in God) makes a 'personal rather than ousianic' (p. 120) constitution of the two other hypostases. The two characteristics of Zizioulas' Triadology are therefore: first, its (rather) non-ousianic character, and second, the rejection of any element of reciprocity. As we shall see, the Cappadocians as well as Maximus never supported such views. (Pages 5, 6.)
Dr. Loudovikos goes on to build a solid case that John Zizioulas (and so many other EO scholars/theologinas), has misread the Cappadocian Fathers concerning the issue of "the monarchy". This is a very important charge, for 'the traditional' reading the Cappadocians on this issue of "the monarchy" has been one of the key components for the "the traditional Eastern doctrine of the monarchy of the Father."
In the combox of the Is "the one God" of the Bible the Trinity, or God the Father? thread, Iohannes/John and I delved into St. Basil's "classic statement" (Sermon 24.3) on "the monarchy". Our research uncovered the possibility of two legitimate readings/translations of the passage; one reading supports "the traditional Eastern doctrine of the monarchy of the Father", the other does not. Prior to my subsequent research efforts, I leaned toward the former position; however, after a considerable amount study and reflection, I am now rethinking that assessment. The following selection, with surrounding context, is Dr. Loudovvikos' reading/translation of the passage:
Basil has no difficulty connecting monarchy with the unity of substance, as a careful reading of his On the Holy Spirit, 45, demonstrates. Basil makes a distinction concerning the Trinity between the specificity of hypostases and the monarchy; he connects the persons with the former and the common substance/nature (το κοινόν της) which he also calls 'communion of deity' (κοινωνία της θεότητος) with the latter. More explicitly, in his Sermon 24 (par. 3) to forestall any identification of the monarchy with just one person (the Father) who might act independently, he writes: 'there is one God who is the Father; there is also one God who is the Son, but there are not two Gods, because there is an identity between the Father and the Son. Because there is not another deity in the Father, and another in the Son nor another substance (physis) in either of them'. (Pages 7, 8.)
Dr. Loudovvikos' essay provides a number of brief citations from the writings of the three Cappadocian Fathers that provide a broader context for determining which reading/translation of Sermon 24.3 is the more accurate. I would like to build upon his foundation; first from Basil:
...they ought to confess that the Father is God, the Son God, and the Holy Ghost God, as they have been taught by the divine words, and by those who have understood them in their highest sense. Against those who cast it in out teeth that we are Tritheists, let it be answered that we confess one God not in number but in nature. (Letter 8.2 - NPNF 8.116.)
And from Gregory "the Theologian" Nazianzen (Nazinanus):
The three most ancient opinions concerning God are Anarchia (ἀναρχία), Polyarchia (πολυαρχία), and Monarchia (μοναρχία). The first two are the sport of the children of Hellas, and may they continue to be so. For Anarchy is a thing without order ; and the Rule of Many is factious, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly. For both these tend to the same thing, namely disorder ; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution.
But Monarchy (μοναρχία) is that which we hold in honour. It is, however, a Monarchy (μοναρχία) that is not limited to one Person (πρόσωπον), for it is possible for Unity if at variance with itself to come into a condition of plurality ; but one which is made of an equality of Nature and a Union of mind, and an identity of motion, and a convergence of its elements to unity―a thing which is impossible to the created nature―so that though numerically distinct there is no severance of Essence (οủσία). Therefore Unity having from all eternity arrived by motion at Duality, found its rest in Trinity. This is what we mean by Father and Son and Holy Ghost. (Orations, 29.2 , The third theological oration - NPNF 7.301)
What is our quarrel and dispute with both? To us there is One God (εἷς θεός), for the Godhead is One (μία θεότης), and all that proceedeth from Him is referred to One, though we believe in Three Persons. For one is not more and another less God ; nor is One before and another after ; nor are They divided in will or parted in power ; nor can you find here any of the qualities of divisible things ; but the Godhead (θεότης) is, to speak concisely, undivided in separate Persons ; and there is one mingling of Light, as it were of three suns joined, to each other. When then we look at the Godhead (θεότητα), or the First Cause (πρώτην αἰτίαν), or the Monarchia (μοναρχία), that which we conceive is One ; but when we look at the Persons in Whom the Godhead (θεότης) dwells, and at Those Who timelessly and with equal glory have their Being (ὄντα) from the First Cause (πρώτης αἰτίας) there are Three Whom we worship. (Orations, 31.14 , The fifth theological oration - NPNF 7.322)
Concerning the above passages from Gregory, Loudovikos wrote:
...the only definition of monarchy [from the Cappadocians] must be that of Gregory Nazianzen: 'Monarchy that cannot be limited to one person, for it is possible for unity if at variance with itself to come into a condition of plurality; but one which is constituted by equality of nature, and agreement of opinion, and identity of motion, and a convergence of its elements to one, something that is impossible to happen in the created nature; so that though numerically distinct there is no division of ousia'. (Page 8.)
I do not think I would go as far as endorsing Loudovikos' assertion that the above is, "the only definition of monarchy", that should be considered; but I will say, from my readings of the Cappadocians, it is certainly the most direct, and clearest definition.
Another EO scholar, Hegumen Hilarion Alfeyev, in his essay"The Trinitarian Teaching of St. Gregory of Nazianzen" (in The Trinity - East/West Dialogue, pp. 107-130), concurs with Loudovikos' assessment:
As we have seen, the idea of God's monarchy was fundamental to both Sabellius and Arius; the notion of the Son's co-eternity with the Father was rejected by Arius precisely because he perceived in it a breach of the principle of the Father's monarchy. For Arius, those who insist on the eternal begetting of the Son introduce 'two unbegotten origins.' Gregory opposed this understanding of monarchy and claimed that the term is not related to the Hypostasis of the Father, but to the Godhead as such, i.e. to the three Hypostases together. In other words, Gregory did not associate the idea of monarchy with the Father but with the unity of the Godhead. (Page 113 - bold emphasis mine.)
[NOTE: Interestingly enough, Alfeyev's translation of Basil's Sermon 24.3a seems to support "the traditional Eastern doctrine of the monarchy of the Father"; however, he concludes that, "according to Cappadocian theology, ideas of the primal cause and of the monarchy were connected." As such, Alfeyev suggests that one must make a distinction between the "ideas of the primal cause and of the monarchy", even though they are in a certain sense "connected".]
I could supply a number of other passages from the Cappadocians which strongly suggest that they identified "the monarchy", "unity", "One God" (εἷς
θεός), etc. with the one "essence" (οủσία) and/or the Godhead (θεότης), and not with the person of the Father, but I believe the above has established issue adequately enough.
Now, I do not wish to give the impression that the Cappadocians did not place a certain emphasis on the priority of the Father as the 'source', 'fount' of divinity—for they all in fact did so (but then, even Augustine spoke in such language)—the point I want to highlight is that they did not seem to ever explicitly uphold "the traditional Eastern doctrine of the monarchy of the Father."
So, as I reach the end of this current post, I am left asking myself: why have so many Eastern Orthodox scholars/theologians read/understood the Cappadocians in a manner that seems at odds with the broader context of their writings?
Grace and peace,