Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Cup o’ Cappadocian (part 2)

Greetings everyone! Have you had your cup o' Cappadocian today? I thought not. Then sit back and relax while I fire up the espresso machine and steam the milk (2%, of course). And by the way, I'm gonna add a heapin' tablespoon of sugar for one or two of you, 'cause you need it!

Last time, we started talking about those wild and crazy Cappadocians. You remember those brothers, don't you? There's three of 'em: Big Basil and the two Gregs, sometimes known as Basil the Great, Gregory Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus. These dudes were pretty smart. They described the Triune God as one ousia (substance, nature, essence) in three hypostases (persons). They used the term ousia (oo-SEE-uh) to capture the oneness or unity of the Godhead, that is, what is common to the divine Persons; then they grabbed hold of the Greek word hypostases (hi-PASTA-seez) to capture the diversity or distinctions within the Triune Godhead (the Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father . . .). According to the "Cappadocian Settlement" of the Trinitarian controversies of the 4th century, God eternally exists as mia ousia, treis hypostaseis (one substance, three persons). Man, the Cappies knew how to spit out a mouthful in a few words!

But we haven't even started appreciating how smart these brothers were. I guarantee you, all three of them graduated the 6th grade! If we really want to appreciate their work, we gotta wrap our minds around some Greek philosophy. I know we'd all rather talk about fishin' or football or making biscuits, but we gotta do what we gotta do. So, like it or not, we need to know a smidgen ("a little bit" ) about the philosophical milieu (say what?) in which these boys lived and worked. So pay attention and try not to fall sleep.

In the Hellenistic (Greek) thought of the day, the divine (what the TV preachers call "Gawd") was regarded as an absolute unity, simple in its essence (substance) without characteristics of any kind and not subject to change (immutability). The divine was way up there, all by its lonesome: aloof, distant and unaffected by this world of dirt down here (impassibility). Furthermore, the divine was considered impersonal and arelational (lacking relationship), for relationship in the Deity was a "no-no," because it would compromise the all-important Greek insistence on divine simplicity (more in next post).

Against the philosophical milieu (there's that word again!) of their day, my boys the Cappies launched a philosophical revolution by countering the prevailing tendency of Greek thought, which was to view the divine as a simple undifferentiated essence. Because they began their thinking about God with God's redemptive acts in the economy (oikonomia) of salvation as revealed in the incarnate Son (and the gift of the Spirit), the Cappies found it necessary to clearly articulate the exact nature of the Father-Son relationship (LaCugna, pp. 60ff). In articulating the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son, they challenged the established view of Greek philosophy by giving ontological primacy to person over nature (i.e., substance, essence) (Schwöbel, pp. 52, 53). This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. Don't miss this point: In exact opposition to Greek philosophy, the Cappies give person (multiplicity!) greater ontological significance than unitary essence. This is important; it matters! It means we can start talking about God in terms of persons in relationship rather than in the then prevailing Greek notion of God as unitary (undifferentiated) substance. We don't have to retreat into "substantialist metaphysics" (sounds high falutin' don't it!), lost in deep philosophical contemplation of the divine essence considered apart from God's triune self-revelation in salvation history (oikonomia).

You see, the Cappies didn't think about God as simple, arelational substance (Augustine and Aquinas would buy into that big time!). They understood that the Father-Son relationship is an eternal relationship characteristic of God's transcendent Being, not merely a temporary economic (historical) manifestation of the Godhead. Thus, they began their thinking about God in the very un-Greek way of persons in relationship. According to John Zizioulas (a big time Greek orthodox type):

If, therefore, we wish to follow the Cappadocians in their understanding of the Trinity in relation to monotheism, we must adopt an ontology which is based on personhood, i.e. on a unity or openness emerging from relationships, and not one of substance (Schwöbel, p. 52).

Similarly, John Sanders writes:

[The Cappadocians] emphasized divine relationality in their debates with Eunomius, [a neo-Arian bishop] who claimed that God was a simple essence (not composed of any parts) and so the Son and Spirit could not be fully God: God is devoid of internal relations [per Eunomius]. In response, the Cappadocians claimed that the terms "Father" and "Son" referred to the relation between the Father and Son. In so doing, they held that person, not substance, was the ultimate metaphysical category and thus claimed that God was supremely relational. The Father can beget the Son because the Father, as personal, has self-emptying love for another. God is then not alone, in isolation from relationships, but eternally related within the Godhead as Trinity. God is then not an "in-itself," apart from others, but the epitome of love in relation (Sanders, pp. 147-148. Here Sanders closely follows LaCugna, pp. 14, 63-66).

Do you see? Let me recap: Rather than develop a metaphysics of substance based on the Greek philosophical presupposition that God is utterly simple and arelational, the Cappadocians asserted that person is the supreme ontological principle and, in so doing, they understood the Godhead as eternally and supremely relational . Unlike the philosophers, they did not regard substance (ousia) as an abstract principle to be considered apart from the concrete particularities of the divine persons: Father, Son, and Spirit (LaCugna, p. 69; also see previous post). Rather, they saw that the divine persons in relationship among themselves constitute the "Being" of God (Gunton, p. 86). In the Cappadocians' trinitarian ontology, the Triune Persons exhaust the Godhead without remainder. As LaCugna notes, "[T]here is no ousia apart from the hypostases." Gunton (p. 86) asserts , "[T]ogether the persons in relation to one another constitute the 'being' of God. So the 'being' of God is simply what the persons are one to another." God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no fourth "something," no unknown substance, no substratum, hidden behind or lying beneath the Triune Persons.

To fully appreciate the Cappadocian contribution, we gotta compare their approach to the Augustinian-Thomist-Western approach to the doctrine of God. (We'll get more of the Augustinian-Thomist approach in future posts). Nowadays, just about everyone knows that the Eastern (Greek) theologians begin their articulation of the nature of God with the Triune Persons (diversity) and move from there to the essence (unity) of the Godhead. The Western (Latin) approach is just the opposite: Western theologians, following Augustine (who was deeply influenced by Neoplatonism) and, later, Thomas Aquinas (influenced by Aristotelianism), begin their articulation of the doctrine of God with the unitary substance (essence, nature) of God and from there work toward the Triune Persons (some would argue that they never quite get there). We'll explore why this is so in an upcoming post.

In relation to the Latin emphasis on the unitary substance, Western theology tends to speak of the Godhead as "three 'relations' subsisting in the 'Being' of God" (Gunton, p. 86). I have often tried to picture what the Latin theologians are getting at. To risk the absurd, it sounds like they are describing three eggs. Have you had a fried egg sandwich lately? I'll think I'll have one for lunch. Here's what you do: You break out the salt, pepper, mayo and Bunny Bread, slick down the cast iron skillet with bacon grease, then heat it up till the grease starts smelling oh so fine! Next, you crack three eggs on the edge of the kitchen counter, being careful not to let the egg white drip into the cutlery drawer, then you carefully drop the eggs into the skillet and sort of let them run together and become one big egg with three yokes staring up at you. Notice that the yokes are in the egg but they don't constitute the whole thing. There's a lot of egg white left over, surrounding the yokes. It seems to me that's how Western trinitarian theologians, following Augustine, describe the Trinity. The Persons do not constitute the Being of God; rather, they are just somehow in there ("subsisting" in the Being of God). The problem may be obvious to those of you who remember the previous post. Describing the Godhead as three "subsistences" in the Being of God seems to suggest that the Being of God is something more than the Triune Persons, a fourth "something" that underlies the divine Persons. According to Gunton (p. 87), "If you say that the persons are subsistences in the 'being' of God, then you are implying that the 'being' of God is different from the 'persons'. If something 'subsists' in God then what is this 'being'?" In Western (Latin) theology, it appears that the "real" Being of God remains hidden, lying somehow beyond God's Triune self-revelation in salvation history (oikonomia). That thought causes me to shudder, because it means that the "deepest truth" (Baxter Kruger) about God is not fully and accurately revealed in Jesus.

Not to worry, however! Let's look at the Eastern (Greek) approach as articulated by the Cappies, building on Athanasius. If we start with God's self-revelation in salvation history (oikonomia) as Father, Son and Spirit, we are immediately thrown into the arena of relationship, for "Father" and "Son" are relational terms: the Father loves the Son in the Spirit; the Son loves the Father in the Spirit. As Baxter Kruger has said often, "To say the name of Jesus is to say the Father's Son." And then we are right into the middle of the Triune Godhead who eternally exists as Father, Son and Spirit. For the Cappies, the Triune Persons, in their perichoretic interrelatedness (relationship!), are the Being of God. The Triune Persons constitute the Being of God, so that there is no unrevealed fourth "something" left over, no "deep truth" about God that is hidden from us. Remember the Nicene assertion that Jesus is homoousios to Patri, that is, "of one substance with the Father." The Nicene Creedal language encapsulates the supremely assuring truth that when we look at Jesus, we see God as God is. Jesus is the self-revelation of God. As he himself said, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." There is no God hidden behind the back of Jesus (Torrance).

So here is a brief comparison of the Western (Latin) and Eastern (Greek) approaches to the doctrine of God:

  • The West begins with speculation on the unitary substance of God , cast in terms of the substantialist metaphysics of Greek philosophy (speculation on the substance or being of God considered apart from God's self-revelation in salvation history), and subsequently construes the Godhead as three "subsistences" in the Being of God. Hence, Being appears to underlie the Triune Persons. Arguably, by starting with the unitary Being of God, the West never quite makes it to the Triune Persons and ends up with modalism (God as a unipersonal monad). As Colin Gunton (p. 87) says, "[I]f you scratch the surface of many Western theologians you find modalism."

  • The East begins with the Triune Persons in relationship and subsequently understands the Being of God as constituted by the Triune Persons without remainder. Thus the Being of God cannot be considered in the abstract apart from the concrete particularities of the Father, Son and Spirit in their perichoretic interrelatedness; there is, therefore, no unknown God hidden behind the back of Jesus. Furthermore, in the Eastern approach, the doctrine of God is intimately united to God's salvific self-revelation in redemptive history in the incarnate Son and the gift of the Spirit (this is especially true of Athanasius, whom the Cappies followed). Note: For a doctrine of God to be biblical, it must be explicated in terms of God's salvific acts for us in the incarnate Son and the gift of the Spirit; that is, God as revealed. Hence, Theology Proper (the doctrine of God) must be united to Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). This vital connection has been lost in the Western doctrine of God with frightening implications.

By giving "person" ontological priority over "substance" (being, essence), the Cappies (following Athanasius) turned upside down the Greek world with its distant, aloof, impersonal and uncaring deity. By beginning with God's Triune self-revelation, Big Basil and the two Gregs developed their doctrine of God in terms of the Father's relationship with the incarnate Son who is homoousios to Patri. Thanks to Athanasius, the Cappies, and many others, we can rest in the profound assurance that in the infinitely loving, compassionate eyes of Jesus, we peer deeply into the heart of the Triune God, who is eternally God for us! Hurray for the Cappadocian Fathers! That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!

P.S. Well be getting to NeoPlatonism, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and substantialist metaphysics in upcoming posts. I know you can't wait!


Gunton, C.E. 2007. The Barth Lectures. Transcribed and edited by P.H. Brazier. London: T & T Clark. 285pp.

LaCugna, C.M. 1991. God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. 434pp.

Sanders, J.E. 2007. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 384 pp.

Schwöbel, C. (ed). 1995. Trinitarian Theology Today. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 176pp.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Cup o’ Cappadocian (Part 1)

How do you like your Cappadocian? Decaf or leaded? Whole milk or skinny? Whipped cream on top or naked? How about a shot of hazelnut syrup to sweeten us up a bit today? You look like you could use it! Chocolate chip cookie with that? Now we're talkin'! That'll be $6.75 please.

As good as that sounds, the kind of Cappadocian we'll be talking about today ain't available at Starbucks. Fact is, we gotta go back to the pre-Starbucks days, all the way back to the fourth century to learn about the theological trio known as the Cappadocian Fathers. In case you didn't already know it (And of course most of you do. Not!), Cappadocia was located in Asia Minor, or modern day Turkey. There were three Cappadocian Fathers: Big Basil, his little brother Greg and their cousin Greg (Basil the Great, Gregory Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus). These dudes were major players in those days. In fact Gregory Nazianzus presided over the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (381 A.D) where they put the finishing touches on the Nicene Creed.

To appreciate what the Cappies did, you gotta get into a fourth century mind set. Remember, this was a time of great theological turmoil regarding the doctrine of God. Everybody was working late, burning the candles low, trying to figure out a way to talk about God that made sense of the biblical revelation. Face it: what would you do, Bubba? On the one hand, we've always believed in one God; yet on the other hand, God has lately fully revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? I mean, give me a break! One? Three" What's going on here? How do we put this together in a way that half-way makes sense?

Not to worry though. We've got several options already making the rounds out there. There are always the subordinationists. They say the way to protect the unity (oneness) of God is to make the Son and Spirit junior Gods, something less than the real thing. That way the Father can remain all alone in his unique oneness and we'll make both the Jews and the Greeks happy. These boys thought they had a winner. Then, of course, there were the modalists. You remember them, don't you? They've been around since the second century. They were saying that God is really just one person, not three. So what's the big deal about all this one and three stuff? (For the answer to that question, see my previous post entitled, "One or Three?"). Finally there were the tritheists who said, "What the heck. Let's call it three gods and let it go at that." But not many took those guys seriously. So basically, we've got to figure out a way to steer between the subordinationists on one hand and the modalists on the other. In other words, we've got to protect the oneness (unity) of God; we've got to account for all three persons of the Godhead (diversity), and we've got to keep everybody equal to avoid subordinationism and to keep Athanasius from comin' down on our heads!

But I know what you're thinking. Some bright folks are wondering: But what about Tertullian? All the way back in the second century he was saying that God was una substantia, tres persona (one substance, three persons). True enough, Bubba. But Tertullian was way over in western Africa writing in Latin, so he hadn't really caught on over in the eastern, Greek speaking part of the empire where the fireworks were really happening.

So here's the deal: This is what the Cappies were up against. How do we maintain the biblical revelation that God is one while also maintaining the equally biblical revelation that God eternally exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Many of us today could probably give a reasonable answer to that question. But remember, in the fourth century no one had clearly articulated a theology that maintained both the unity and diversity of the Godhead. This is what Big Basil and the two Gregs brought to the table (building on the work of Athanasius). Their formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity is known as the "Cappadocian Settlement." Despite the influence of Augustine (who went off on his on track), so much of what we say about the doctrine of the Trinity today is rooted in the work of the Cappadocians. So pour a cup, kick back and relax, 'cause we're gonna be here a while. Here we go!

Based upon their understanding of the triune pattern of biblical revelation, the Cappadocians argued that God exists as one substance, essence, being or nature (Gr. ousia oo-SEE-ah) in three persons (hypostases hi-PASTA-seez) (Gonzales, 1987:287; cf Olson, 1999:174ff). For the Cappadocians, ousia (substance, essence, being or nature) is the unifying principle of the Godhead; hypostasis (hi-PASTA-sis, person) is the principle of distinction (cf Jenson, 1995:105). The Cappadocian formula (one ousia, three hypostases) preserves both the unity (oneness) and the diversity (threeness) of the Godhead. Thus, the Cappadocians articulated the trinitarian grammar that would allow the Church to speak of God as one substance or essence (ousia) in three persons (hypostases)—One in Three; Three in One. (The formal Cappadocian statement in Greek is mia ousia, treis hypostaseis, one substance, essence or nature; three persons). Cool!

Articulating a fine distinction between hypostasis and ousia to defend the ontological equality of the divine persons, the Cappadocians asserted that the Son is distinct from the Father in terms of hypostasis but equal in terms of ousia (substance or essence) (LaCugna, 1991:70). Did you get all that! The Cappadocians are boo-coo smart. Ousia gives us unity and equality. The Triune Persons are the same in ousia; hence, equally God (They are all homo-ousios, "same substance." Remember our last post?). At the same time, the Triune Persons are distinct in terms of hypostasis (person). The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father. That gives us the multiplicity or diversity of the Godhead. So there you go. Goodbye subordinationism. Goodbye modalism. Hello trinitarian orthodoxy.

Let's sum it up real simple like:

  • ousia (substance, essence, being, nature) accounts for the unity and equality of the Godhead. "Hear O Israel, The Lord is one."

  • hypostasis (person) accounts for the diversity of the Godhead. The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father . . .

  • We maintain unity, equality and diversity by saying that the Son is equal with the Father in terms of ousia, yet distinct in terms of hypostasis. The Father and Son are one substance or essence (ousia) but distinct persons (hypostases). Ditto with the Spirit.

Simple! Only took a few centuries to work it out!

Nevertheless, because of the Cappies' assertion that there are three distinct hypostases (persons) in the Godhead, some of the boys started hollerin' "Foul!" They thought Big Basil and the two Gregs were actually closet tritheists (believing in three gods, not one). So the Cappies had to get down to the real nitty gritty in their thinking. Here's what they came up with:

The distinction between substance (ousia) and person (hypostasis) does not mean that the three divine persons can be thought of as independent autonomous beings (Schwöbel, 1995:50). Rather, at the heart of the Trinity, the Cappadocians saw an interpersonal communion (koinonia) or fellowship, wherein communion is a function of all three persons of the Godhead. Hence, the being of God is interpersonal, that is, internally relational with each person related to the others in "reciprocal delight" (O'Collins, 1999:131, 132). In the Cappadocian doctrine of God, we see the incipient concept of perichoresis, that is, the "being-in-one-another" of the persons of the Trinity. "In a unique 'coinherence' or mutual penetration, each of the trinitarian persons is transparent to and permeated by the other two" (O'Collins, 1999:132). The concept of perichoresis precludes the charge of tritheism in Cappadocian theology with its inherent affirmation that the divine persons must be understood, not in terms of individual subjectivity, but in terms of intersubjectivity (O'Collins, 1999:132).

Wow! We gotta give that wild Irish Jesuit O'Collins some big time credit for that statement. The triune persons are not three separate Gods out there, each doing his own thing. Rather the three divine Persons exist in an eternal fellowship of "reciprocal delight" and harmony of will, intent, and purpose. In other words, the fellowship in the Godhead is a communion, not of individual subjectivity, but of INTER-subjectivity. Way to go, O'Collins! Cool stuff! (P.S. Much more needs to be said about perichoresis, but we'll leave that for another day. O'Collins captures the essential point).

As Zizioulas (Schwöbel, 1995:47) notes, the Cappadocians further avoided the charge of tritheism by suggesting that ousia was a general category that could apply to more than one individual. For example, humanity is a general category that applies to Larry, Mo and Curley, who are three hypostases (persons) that share a common ousia or nature (humanity). LaCugna (1991:67) develops the analogy further, noting also that Gregory of Nyssa compares the substantial unity (consubstantiality) of the divine persons to the consubstantiality of human persons. The word "humanity" can refer to more than one individual person. Larry, Mo and Curley are all humans, yet they remain distinct and unique individuals. While each person (or "stooge" in this case) retains his uniqueness and diversity, all three stooges share the same ousia (essence, nature, or substance). Their common ousia is humanity (anthropos). Because they possess the same ousia, the three hypostases—Larry, Mo and Curley—are homoousios (of the same substance). Similarly, the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct hypostases who share one common ousia (theos or Godness); that is, they are three divine Persons who share the same essence, nature, or substance (they are homo-ousios). All are theos; that is, all are God. Said another way: What Father, Son and Spirit are is the same; who each is, is unique and distinct. (As an aside, Olson (1999:194) provides a simple but useful way to understand the Cappadocian formula, wherein "what-ness" (ousia) and "who-ness" (hypostasis) are distinguished. The Godhead may be described as three "who's" in one "what.")

Simply stated, the Cappies are trying to avoid the charge of tritheism by showing that three distinct "somethings" can share one nature, just as three people share the same human nature. That's great as far as it goes. But analogies are never perfect, and this one is fraught with difficulties. To be sure, many scholars have noted the problems, even dangers, in the Cappadocian analogy of three humans sharing a common nature. As Zizioulas (Schwöbel, 1995:48, 49) notes, the analogy of Larry, Mo and Curley is problematic because it refers to three people, whereas the Trinity is not three Gods, but one God. Moreover, human nature both precedes and continues after the existence of an individual human being. In other words, human nature exists apart from Larry, Mo and Curley. It existed before the Stooges took the stage and it continues after the last pie in the face is thrown. LaCugna (1991:69) warns, therefore, against the mistake of thinking of ousia in abstract terms, divorced from the three hypostases. For example, one may think of human nature in general, abstract terms apart from the concrete particularities of Larry, Mo and Curley, as when one says, "It's just human nature . . ." This kind of thinking, however, does not apply to the divine ousia. Unlike human beings, with God it is impossible to say that nature (substance, essence, being) precedes person or exists apart from it because the three persons of the Trinity do not share a pre-existing nature but rather coincide with it. In Cappadocian theology, ousia expresses concrete, not abstract, existence. "Each divine person is the divine ousia; the divine ousia exists hypostatically, and there is no ousia apart from the hypostases" (LaCugna, 1991:69).

Folks, I cannot overstate how important that last point is. We gotta get this if western Christianity is ever to fully return to the ancient catholic faith articulated by Irenaeus, Hilary, Athanasius, the Cappadocians and many others. So let's unpack LaCugna's last statement, "There is no ousia (substance, nature) apart from the hypostases (persons)." In plain speak, there is no unknown, mysterious, abstract essence of God (ousia) that exists apart from the Father, Son and Spirit as revealed in salvation history (oikonomia). If the ousia (substance, essence) of God existed apart from the Triune Persons, then the ousia of God would be a "fourth something," as Colin Gunton puts it, that exists in addition to the Triune Persons. And that is a major "no-no" because that would mean that the "deepest truth" (Baxter Kruger) about God is something other than what has been revealed in God's threefold self-revelation in salvation history as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Against the speculative theology of Thomas Aquinas and subsequent medieval scholasticism, there is no divine ousia to be considered in the abstract apart from the Triune Persons. The Triune Persons in their perichoretic interrelations are the ousia of God! The fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, dwelling eternally in reciprocal delight, is the ousia of God, and there is no ousia to be considered apart from that divine fellowship.

But wouldn't you know it, so much of the horrid awful-ness of the western doctrine of God comes right out of the tendency, inspired by Greek philosophy (the bane of the western doctrine of God), to talk about the ousia of God in abstract terms apart from God's threefold self-revelation in salvation history as Father, Son and Spirit. Yet if we talk about the essence of God as if it were something other than what has been revealed in Christ and the Spirit, we invariably end up with a god very different from the all-loving, self-sacrificing Triune God revealed in Jesus. In short, we end up with the immutable, impassible deity of Greek philosophy. If we follow Augustine and Aquinas and start with "substantialist metaphysics" (philosophical speculation on the substance or nature of God considered apart from God's triune self-revelation in salvation history), we end up with what Baxter Kruger calls the "omni-God" or what I call the "cosmic ogre" or "monster God." You remember him don't you, the all-powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), ever present (omnipresent) pissed off deity who can't wait to send you to hell! But alas! I digress. More on this in future post.

Here's the essential point: Our speech about God must begin with God's self-revelation, not with our own speculative ideas about the Godhead. Methodologically, we always start with Jesus (or, as the Irish say, "JAY-sus!") and move from him to the Father and right into the heart of the Triune Godhead. That way we don't get distracted with speculative, "cosmological" proofs about the nature of God based on an unbiblical framework like Aristotilean metaphysics. Sorry, Thomas Aquinas. Brilliant saint that you are, I wish you had paid closer attention to Athanasius and less to Aristotle. Let's move on.

Regarding the problems in the Cappies' analogy of three human beings sharing a common nature: In the Triune God, the one (ousia) not only does not precede the many (hypostases) but, to the contrary, requires the many for its existence. It is, therefore, impossible to say that in the Triune God any one of the three divine persons exists apart from the others. As Zizioulas (Schwöbel, 1995:48) argues, "The three constitute such an unbreakable unity that individualism is absolutely inconceivable in their case. The three persons of the Trinity are thus one God, because they are so united in an unbreakable communion (koinonia) that none of them can be conceived apart from the rest." In short, the unity (ousia) and multiplicity (hypostases) of the Godhead are like two sides of a coin, wherein it is impossible for one to exist without the other. Unlike humanity, multiplicity in God does not involve a division of the divine nature nor does the unity of the Godhead (ousia) exist logically prior to or apart from the three divine persons (hypostases). Goodbye tritheism.

The Cappadocians, and their older contemporary Athanasius, contributed immeasurably to the settlement of the trinitarian controversies of the fourth century. As a result of their work, the second great ecumenical council at Constantinople (381 A.D.) added language to the creed developed at Nicæa to provide what is known to Christians throughout the world as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The council included the key Nicene affirmations regarding the deity of the Son and added language regarding the third person of the Trinity to assert that the Holy Spirit is Lord and giver of life and to be worshipped with the Father and Son (Jenson, 1995:107). The creed established the formal doctrine of the Trinity as worked out by Athanasius and the Cappadocians and is regarded as the orthodox summary of the faith by all major branches of the Christian Church (Olson 1999:173).

P.S. There is much more to be said about the Cappadocians and the philosophical revolution they launched by countering the prevailing Greek thought of the day. See you in Part 2 for another "Cup o' Cappadocian!"


Gonzalez, J.L. 1987. A History of Christian Thought (vol 1). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 400pp.

Jenson, R.W. 1997. Systematic Theology (vol 1). Oxford: OUP. 244pp.

LaCugna, C.M. 1991. God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. 434pp.

O'Collins, G. 1999. The Tripersonal God: Understanding and Interpreting the Trinity. New York, NY: Paulist Press. 234pp.

Olson, R.E. 1999. The Story of Christian Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 652pp.

Schwöbel, C. (ed). 1995. Trinitarian Theology Today. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 176pp.

Academy of Bible and Theology

Dear Readers, Recently, I launched a new project called the Academy of Bible and Theology (click  here ), sponsored by AsiAfrica Mini...