I spent a whole blog post just ramping up to talk about Gregory of Nazianzus’ way of dealing with the Trinity. Let’s see if I can be on topic by making one brief comparison.
For most people today the Trinity is discussed in relation to US. I’m not thinking of academic theology but ordinary conversation.
Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems like the key points of the discussion usually go something like this:
Here’s one side:
- People don’t want to call God “Father,” often because their own fathers were singularly unlike God.
- Having ruled out calling God “Father,” they look for different terms for the Persons of the Trinity, often settling on “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.”
Here’s the other side:
- People on the other side insist on calling the three Persons “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” usually because it is biblical language.
- Having kept the term “Father,” they emphasize that God is not like our human fathers, but a better, loving, new Father.
If some of these points seem odd or unfamiliar to you it may mean that you hang out with just one kind of Christian. Each opinion above is held passionately by Christians I know.
Please notice one thing:
In all of these comments, referring to God as “Father” is actually saying something about us.
People assume God is “Father” because God is our father —
either because everybody is a child of God
or because Christians are adopted as God’s children.
God is Father — of us. God is Creator — of us; Redeemer — of us; Sustainer — of us.
Back in the fourth century they did it differently. They did not start with how God relates to us. They looked at how the Persons of the Trinity related to each other.
The first point was how to understand the Son in relation to the Father.
- Arians said the Son was created — the first and most divine created thing, but fundamentally different from the Father.
- Athanasius and the First Council of Nicaea said the Father begot the Son in eternity.
- Always, and absolutely before there was a creation, the one God was Father and Son in relationship.
The second point was to understand where the Holy Spirit fit in.
- The Pneumatomachi said the Spirit was a later, created being.
- Gregory of Nazianzus and the First Council of Constantinople said the Spirit proceeded from the Father in eternity.
- Always, and absolutely before there was a creation, the one God was Father, Son and Spirit in relationship.
Gregory was convinced that within the One God there were, eternally, three Persons in relationship with one another.
- The Father was the Father because he had a Son.
- The Son was the Son because he had a Father.
In a sense it has nothing to do with us.
Some would say these ancient theologians are full of unverifiable speculations.
But — their reasoning started with Scripture, which revealed things beyond the reach of our senses and our reason. The Trinity was about the actual, eternal nature of God.
Personally I think that is a much sounder approach than starting with our experience and projecting our opinions onto God. That’s a dangerous approach. Scripture has an unpleasant name for making deities according to our own tastes.
When you hear people talk about Trinity, what issues do you hear them raise?
If you like the post I hope you’ll share it. (It isn’t all about me, really!)