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 Christos Sp. Voulgaris

The Biblical and Patristic Doctrine of the Trinity

From: The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. 37 (Νov.) 3-4, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Mass., 1992.

5. God and Son

God and Son  The New Testament is absolutely clear about the fact that God the Father has only one Son (John 1:14-18, 3:16-18, 1 John 4:9, etc.).  The way in which Jesus Christ speaks about Himself as the only Son of God underlines His consciousness that He is the incarnate eternal Son of God, existing before Abraham was (John 8:58) and having come forth from the bosom of the Father, from His very essence (John 1:18, 16:29); the Son has everything that the Father has except His paternal quality (John 3:35, 5:20-26, 8:28-38, 16:15, etc.).  Thus, Jesus Christ alone can say in an absolute way “I and the Father are one (John 10.30)” or “the Father is in me and I in the Father (John 10:38, 14:10; 11:20, 16:32, 17:21).”  This gives Him the right to declare that “not any one has seen the Father except Him who is from God: he has seen the Father (John 6:46, cf. Matthew 11:25-27, Luke 10:22).”  St. Basil rightly commented at this point that “the unknown cannot become known by the unlike and the strange; rather, the familiar must become known by the familiar.”[x]  It was due to His equality with the Father that Jesus Christ promised to His disciples that He was going to send them the Holy Spirit “who proceeds from the Father (9 John 15:26)” and asked “that all may honor the Son even as they honor the Father,” for “he who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him (John 5:23).”

Jesus’ self-consciousness that He was the Son of God par excellence was also admitted on account of His saving work, by those indifferent or even opposed to Him, such as the demons (Matthew 4:1-11, 8:29, Mark 3:11, 5:7, Luke 4:41, 8:28), the centurion (Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39), the robber (Luke 23:41-42), or by simple people (Matthew 14:33).   Especially, however, Jesus’ self-consciousness was declared by the early Church, the historical community around Him, which stated that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-14)” or that “Though He in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped… (Philippians 2:5-11).  All these statements emphasize Jesus’ eternal equality and consubstantiality with God the Father.  It was due to this fact that the early Church preached in accordance with Jesus’ self-consciousness that “all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made)”… “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… and He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17, cf. Hebrews 1:2; 10-12, etc.).”  Indeed, the New Testament is full of the faith of the early Church that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God made man, that in Him “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9, cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19, Acts 9:20, Romans 1:3, 4:9. 5:10, 8:3; 29:32, 9:5, 1 Corinthians 1:19, Galatians 1:16, 2:20, 4:4-6, Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:2; 5:8, 3:6, 4:14, 5:9, 6:6, 7:3, 10:29, 2 Peter 1:17, John 1:2, 2:22. 3:8-23, 4:9; 15: 5:20, John 3, Rev 2:18, etc.).”  It was only later that certain expressions of the New Testament were misunderstood by heretics and meant to imply a notion of subordination or inferiority of the Son to the Father (John 14:28, John 5:28, John 5:19 “the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing,” and Colossians 1:15 “the first-born of all creation”).  However, the Church Fathers, following the faith of the early Church, insisted that these and similar expressions imply the harmony of will and energy which exists between the Father and the Son, as well as the latter’s timeless existence before all creation.[xi]

In the same way the heretics misunderstood the various Christological titles used in the New Testament.  But as the Church Fathers stressed again, these Christological titles indicate the various aspects of Christ’s saving work, which recapitulates and unites in itself the work of the various persons used by God in the Old Testament to carry out his plan of salvation.[xii]  Indeed, the Church’s use of these titles corresponds to the various aspects of human life.  It is an effort to describe Christ’s saving work in its variety of expressions in the service of the sole purpose, man’s salvation in accordance with God’s will.  The early Church believed in and recorded  exactly which it experienced that:

1)      Jesus Christ the Son of God is a causal Person having come forth from the bosom of the Father, His essence;

2)      The knowledge of the Son’s eternal birth from the Father is absolutely connected with the event of His incarnation in time;

3)      Though “in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9),” meaning that the whole Trinitarian “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19),” the incarnation and the passion are restricted to the Son alone;

4)      The Son’s saving work is the sole factor for man’s communion with the Holy Trinity; and

5)      All these facts explain why Jesus Christ demands faith in Himself on man’s behalf (cf. John 14:1, 3:15-18; 36, 6:29, 35, 40, 7:38, 12:44-46, 14:12, 17:29, Matthew 18:6, etc.).                  


[x] Saint Basil, Against Eunom. 1,17.

[xi] Cf. Cyril Alex., Inter. In John 1, 1-2.Basil, Against Eunom. 1.25,6,1 Letter 5. Athanasius, Against Arians, 1,58,3,9, Chrysostom, Homily in John 38.4 etc.).

[xii] Cf. Cyril of Jesus., Catechesis 10,4-5).