My venture into Orthodoxy has often left me wondering about things I thought I had a handle on. When you first become a Christian, you start to learn about the basics - Creation, Christ’s death and resurrection, etc. I thought I was set on these. Not necessarily that I understood them fully, just as much as I could. Of course I let the mystery that is God be what it is. But I could, with confidence, put a word or two to these basics to try to explain them.
Now I feel like Orthodoxy is ripping things open to go deeper and hashing out more than I ever thought I could understand. Confused? Me too. And the topic of the day is the Trinity. Lord Almighty. I always knew it was touchy, and not really something that would ever cease blowing my mind. Growing up, I was a Lutheran, and we never looked into the idea of the Trinity much. So when people try to explain it, I realize what a fine line exists.
“One essence in three persons. God is one and God is three: the Holy Trinity is a mystery of unity in diversity, and of diversity in unity. Father, Son, and Spirit are ‘one in essence’ (homo-ousios), yet each is distinguished from the other two by personal characteristics. ‘The divine is indivisible in its divisions’ (Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations), for the persons are ‘united yet not confused, distinct yet not divided’ (John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith); ‘both the distinction and the union alike are paradoxical’ (Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations).”
But how do they relate to each other? Apparently, the Father is the source, the origin, and the Son is begotten from the Father. The Son is equal to the Father and coeternal with Him, but is not sourceless like the Father. The Spirit also has a source in the Father, but has a different relationship than that of Son and Father. The Spirit proceeds from the Father.
This was a big source of trouble for the Church and disagreement on it, in part, led to the division between the western (Catholic) Church and eastern (Orthodox) Church. It manifests in what’s called the Filioque. Yup, three little words that the western Church added to the nicene creed.
In Orthodoxy, you’ll hear: “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake through the prophets.” [see John 15:26]
In Catholicism, you’ll hear: “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake through the prophets.”
Small difference, hey? That’s what I thought!
Oh my mind is so small.
I won’t get into this right now, but it just helps you realize how much of a fine line knowing and understanding God is. I like this and I hate it. I like it because the Truth of God should be specific. God isn’t about to change, and His Truth is fine-tuned to who He is. It won’t change for anything. I’m not even convinced it can.
But I hate it because I feel like at any point I can become a heretic. His nature is specific; this point of God’s essence is indeed a point. But then, how do we hit it? It’s ironic that I’m sitting next to a dart board right now. God is like the bulls eye; and He isn’t about to move. He shouldn’t. But I feel like I’m three apartments down trying to whip darts and hit God. Seems impossible.
There was a heretic in the third century, Sabellius, who said that Father, Son and Spirit weren’t three distinct persons, but simply different ‘modes’ or ‘aspects’ of one deity. How is that different from the idea of three in one? When I think of God as three distinct persons in one essence, it sounds very similar to me as three modes of a single being. The more I think about it, the more I get it, which is comforting. But still, how do we stay in the careful balance of acknowledging the three-person nature of God without beginning to sound like a tritheist?
The ability to easily misunderstand God is, I know, allowed. And I know that God is ever-patient and gracious. I guess this post is incomplete in that I can offer no answers or remedies. I can only continually realize that I am utterly small, and though God makes Himself known, it takes forever to understand Him. It’s a good thing I have that long.