I have been studying the early Church Fathers (I use the term "early" for the CFs who wrote between the end of the first century and the end of fifth century) for over three decades now. In addition to trying to understand what those CFs taught within the framework of the period in which they wrote, I have also attempted to understand how their writings relate to the developed theologies of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions.
Earlier today, I discovered a comprehensive Eastern Orthodox site that is nothing short of a 'goldmine' of valuable information on Eastern Orthodoxy, the Church Fathers and numerous other topics:
I was led to this site via the following page concerning the Cappadocian fathers:
The above page is part of the "Lessons on Christian Dogmatics" (link) series, which is:
... the notes that were taken from the lectures of Professor I. Zizioulas (current Metropolitan of Pergamus and Chairman of the Athens Academy) at the Poemantic Division of the Thessaloniki University’s School of Theology, during the academic year 1984-1985.
They are published with the blessing and the permission of the reverend Metropolitan.
Given my in depth work on the of the Monarchy of God the Father, I found the following from above "Cappadocian fathers" page to be of particular interest:
The third element that the Cappadocian Fathers contributed was that they not only “endowed” a complete hypostasis to each of the three persons, they in fact attributed the cause of God’s existence to the person of the Father. In other words, they attributed the beginning of God’s existence to the person of the Father – to a person.
In view of the fact that they introduced these new elements (note: in the terminology, not in the dogma), the Cappadocian Fathers utilized images and analogies when referring to the Holy Trinity, which always had the characteristic of comprising complete beings.
In the 1st Ecumenical Council, with the theology of Saint Athanasius it was stressed very much that the Son is born of the nature -or of the essence- of the Father. That could have been misconstrued as an extension of the Father’s essence, and not as a birth of a complete and independent entity. If we have three extensions of God’s essence, then we are dangerously close to Savellianism [i,e, Sabellianism/Patripassianism/modalism]. That is why such a huge reaction against the “homoousion” had been raised, by those who were concerned that the “homoousion” -as defined in Nice- might contain in it the danger of Savellianism.
Savellius viewed God as a unit that extended itself; a unit that expanded and took on these three separate roles, and that in the end, this group would again contract unto itself, and become once again the original one unit. He saw God as a being that extended itself and acquired three “offshoots” which had the same essence.
The Cappadocians wanted to eliminate this interpretation, hence their insistence that these three persons are not extensions of the one essence, but three independent, complete entities, and that is the reason for their stressing the meaning of “hypostasis”.
The images they used for this purpose are characteristic. In both the 1st Ecumenical Council as well as the Symbol of Faith (the Creed), we note the image of light, which was used to portray the unity between the Father and the Son. There is the image and the expression of: “light out of light”. Just as light emanates rays that cannot be distinguished from their source, nor the source from the rays, this proved itself to be a useful portrayal, to indicate that the Son is united with the Father inseparably, as “light out of light”.
The Cappadocian Fathers found this depiction inadequate, as it (the rays) could be construed, as the extension of a body, also, the Son could be construed as an energy of God. So, instead of saying: “light out of light”, they preferred the concept of three suns. Not just a light that originates from a light, but three individual suns, three lit torches.
These are the favored depictions, by which it is illustrated that we have three self-existent, complete persons, which, together with this depiction, are simultaneously presented as united. But here is the critical point: What is that common thing that unites those three suns? It is the common essence, the common energy which they possess, because all three suns emanate the same heat and the same light. Consequently, the energy is common to all three, and the Essence –which goes along with the energy- is also common to all three. It is in this manner that the presence of their hypostasis and the fullness of each person and their unity are simultaneously depicted.
In the analogy used for man, they used three persons in order to denote the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Just as Basil, George and John are three persons, three people joined by a common nature, a common essence, which is their human nature, so can the three persons of the Holy Trinity be denoted by the image of three people. In the instance of God, an adjustment of this depiction is necessary, because it is different to the instance of three people. What needs to be stressed as an introduction to what will follow, is that the Cappadocian
Fathers insisted that each person of the Holy Trinity comprises a complete entity, and that the depictions we use should be depictions of complete entities and not extensions of a body. Three suns, three torches, three people. This is the way to denote the full hypostasis of each person.
And then a bit later, we read the following provocative assessment:
Thus, in the East, the Greek Fathers came to a halt at the Cappadocians, with regard to the dogma on the Holy Trinity. Whoever is not acquainted with the Cappadocians, is not acquainted with the dogma of the Holy Trinity. One cannot learn about it from anyone else, only from the Cappadocians. Prior to the Cappadocians, many ideas had been expressed, which, however, needed to be supplemented by the Cappadocians. With the Cappadocian Fathers, the East possessed the dogma on God in its completed form. (Bold emphasis mine.)
Though I have read a good number of works by Eastern Orthodox theologians on the issue of the doctrine of the Trinity, the above is the first time I have come across such a bold assertion. I am left wondering if this a consensus view within the Eastern Orthodox paradigm...
With that said, I believe that the entire page worth reading—finding much of the content in agreement with my own thought—though I suspect that a number of folk will take issue with some of the content as I have (especially the author's reflections on Augustine).
Off to take in more of this site's content...
Grace and peace,