Modern Eastern Orthodox Theologians on the One God being the Person of the Father

In recent years there has been something of a revival of aspects of mid-fourth century triadology in Eastern Orthodoxy. Several prominent EO theologians have argued for a return to a return to the belief that the one God is the Father, the first person of the triad, as opposed to the one God being a tri-personal “triune God”.

As in the last few centuries the Eastern church has undergone what some have referred to as a “patristic renaissance” it is no surprise to see their theology has moving away from a semi-modalistic direction and returning to what the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers articulated regarding the one God being the person of the Father in particular.

I wanted to share a few quotes from some of these theologians below:

John Meyendorff:

The same personalistic emphasis appears in the Greek Fathers’ insistence on the “monarchy” of the Father. Contrary to the concept which prevailed in the post-Augustinian West and in Latin Scholasticism, Greek theology attributes the origin of hypostatic “subsistence” to the hypostasis of the Father—not to the common essence. The Father is the “cause” (aitia) and the “principle” (archē) of the divine nature, which is in the Son and in the Spirit. What is even more striking is the fact that this “monarchy” of the Father is constantly used by the Cappadocian Fathers against those who accuse them of “tritheism”: “God is one,” writes Basil, “because the Father is one.” (Byzantine Theology, 2nd ed, 1983, page 183)

John Zizioulas:

Among the Greek Fathers the unity of God, the one God, and the ontological “principal” or “cause” of the being and life of God does not consist in the one substance of God but in the hypostasis, that is, the person of the Father. The one God is not the one substance but the Father, who is the “cause” both of the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit. (Being As Communion, 1985, pages 40-41)

Thomas Hopko:

“… in the Bible, in the creeds, and in the Liturgy, it’s very important, really critically important, to note and to affirm and to remember that the one God in whom we believe, strictly speaking, is not the Holy Trinity. The one God is God the Father. In the Bible, the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. He is God who sends his only-begotten Son into the world, and Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Then, of course, in a parallel manner, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of God, that the Holy Spirit, being the Spirit of God, is therefore also the Spirit of Christ, the Messiah, because the Christ is the Son of God, upon whom God the Father sends and affirms his Holy Spirit.” (From the online transcript of the podcast, The Holy Trinity)

3 thoughts on “Modern Eastern Orthodox Theologians on the One God being the Person of the Father”

  1. Ironically, I give all of these exact quotes in a presentation on the Monarchy of the Father, and in a paper I am writing. Here are some more…

    Zizioulas: “The one God is the Father. Substance is something common to all three persons of the Trinity, but it is not ontologically primary until Augustine makes it so.” (‘On Being Persons: Towards an Ontology of Personhood’, in Persons Divine and Human, ed. Christoph Schwöbel and Colin Gunton, p. 40.)

    John Behr: “The one God confessed by Christians in the first article of the creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople is unambiguously the Father.”
    “Calling upon God as Father: Augustine and the Legacy of Nicaea,” in Orthodox Readings of Augustine, p. 162

    John Behr: “So how can Christians believe in and worship the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and yet claim that there is only one God, not three? How can one reconcile monotheism with trinitarian faith? … The Father alone is the one true God. This keeps to the structure of the New Testament language about God, where with only a few exceptions, the world “God” (theos) with an article (and so being used, in Greek, as a proper noun) is only applied to the one whom Jesus calls Father, the God spoken of in the scriptures … This same fact is preserved in all ancient creeds, which begin: “I believe in one God, the Father …”
    Such, then, is how the Greek Fathers, following Scripture, maintained that there is but one God, whose Son and Spirit are equally God, in a unity of essence and of existence, without compromising the uniqueness of the one true God…”
    The Living Pulpit (April-June, 1999), pp. 22-23

    John Behr: “For the Christian faith there is, unequivocally, but one God, and that is the Father: “There is one God and Father.” For Basil, the one God is not the one divine substance, or a notion of “divinity” which is ascribed to each person of the Trinity, nor is it some kind of unity or communion in which they all exist; the one God is the Father. But this “monarchy” of the Father does not undermine the confession of the true divinity of the Son and the Spirit. Jesus Christ is certainly “true God of true God,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, but he is such as the Son of God, the God who is thus the Father. If the term “God” (theos) is used of Jesus Christ, not only as a predicate, but also as a proper noun with an article, this is only done on the prior confession of him as “Son of God,” and so as other than “the one God” of whom he is the Son; it is necessary to bear in mind this order of Christian theology, lest it collapse in confusion.”
    The Nicene Faith II: pp. 307-308

    Thomas Hopko: “On the other hand, there is another terrible error, and the other terrible error, usually called Modalism in technical theological terminology, is where people say there is one God Who is the Holy Trinity, There is “He Who Is the Trinity.” And we Orthodox Christians, following scripture, and the creedal statements, and the liturgical prayers, can never say there is one God who is the Trinity. There is one God who is the Father. And this one God who is the Father has with Him eternally, Whom He begets timelessly before all ages, His only-begotten Son — who is also His Logos, his Word, and also his Chokhmah, His Sophia, His Wisdom, also His Eikona, His Ikon, His Image —but this Wisdom and Word and Image and Ikon, is divine with the same divinity as God, the One True and Living God… ” (15:41 to 16:37)

    Vladimir Lossky: “The Greek Fathers always maintained that the principle of unity in the Trinity is the person of the Father… This is why the East has always opposed the formula of filioque which seems to impair the monarchy of the Father: either one is forced to destroy the unity by acknowledging two principles of Godhead, or one must ground the unity primarily on the common nature…”
    The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 58

    And don’t forget St. Photios’ arguments against the filoque (in The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit) largely revolved around the monarchy!
    “11. Leaving aside the aforementioned, if one admits of two causes in the thearchic and superessential Triad, where then is the much hymned and God-befitting majesty of the monarchy? Will not the godlessness of polytheism be riotously introduced? Under the guise of Christianity, will not the superstition of Greek error reassert itself among those who dare to say such things?
    “12. Again, if two causes are imposed upon the the monarchic Triad, then according to the same reasoning, why should not a third one emerge? For once the principle without principle and above principle, is cast down from its throne by these impious ones and is cleaved into a duality, the principle will proceed more vehemently to be severed into a trinity, since in the supersubstantial inseparable, and simple nature of the divinity, the triad is more manifest than the dyad, and indeed also harmonizes with the idiomata.”


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