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On Line Library of the Church of Greece

 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.

8. Conclusions

The foregoing presentation of the biblical and patristic doctrine of the unity of the Trinity does not cover the entire Christian doctrine about God, while some aspects of it, like, the procession of the Holy Spirit, the identity of will and energy of the divine persons, etc., need further elaboration.  What has been said, however, gives us a clear clue to the ‘mystery’, that is, to the fact that the Christian doctrine about God cannot be expressed in a concrete formula, for revealing Himself God is plenitude of stains, which cannot compromise with each other.  Thus, his power is restrained by His wisdom; His love is restrained by his justice; His transcendence is restrained by His revelation, etc.  If we want to get a ‘complete’ and ‘clear’, as much as possible, picture about God, corresponding to the revealed reality, we must take all these of His revelation into account.  Otherwise, if we try to adjust them to ‘our’ picture about God and reconcile them with human reason, we distort the mystery of the Trinity, which, lying beyond reason, is subject to faith alone, for God the Creator of the universe is identical with God the redeemer and with God the sanctifier.  To human reasoning, the paradox of the Christian faith, “One God in three Persons” is a contradiction; as a contradiction also the other theological proposition that the three divine Persons, though united in one substance, are distinguished from each other on account of attributes peculiar to each one.  Thus God is one distinguished within Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is plain then that this theological proposition does not explain the mystery of the Trinity, but rather preserves it by showing that there is no other (human) way available to approach it.  The intention of theology is not ‘gnosiological’ but ‘doxological’.

In the same context we must identify the revealed and transcendent Trinity and at the same time differentiate them.  In the first case, the fact that in Jesus we have “the whole fullness of deity” (Colossians 2:9) indicates that the transcendent, eternal God is identical with the revealed; that revelation is the way to His knowledge in Himself, that is, in His eternal existence.  Otherwise, revelation would be stripped of its absolute character and leave room for additional, human ways to God’s knowledge.  At the same time, however, it is equally important to distinguish between transcendent and revealed reality in God.  In other words, the fact that God reveals himself does not imply that we can have a complete and perfect knowledge of Him in Himself.  The fact that it was not the whole Trinity which was incarnated, but only the Son, compels us to be very careful in identifying between revealed and transcendent God, in spite of the fact that the Son revealed the fullness of the deity.  Thus, the difference here is between ‘substance’ and ‘energy’, the first indicating God in Himself, in his transcendent existence beyond any conception and knowledge, while the second indicating God’s activity in the world alone is subject to knowledge.  ‘Substance’ and ‘energy’, therefore, are two aspects of the same reality; the revealed God remains a mystery, and being a mystery He is revealed.   Revelation does not remove or explain the mystery, while the mystery does not hinder revelation.  Though identified in the same entity, substance and energy are at the same time differentiated, indicating God in mystery and God in revelation.  Thus, dealing with God in His revealed reality, theology tries at the same time to ‘protect’ Him from the arbitrariness and autonomy of human reason.