Procession of the Holy Spirit According to Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity
This article is a paper read at the informal Conference between Orthodox Catholic and Roman Catholic theologians in Paris in 1950. It was written in French and appeared in "Russie et Chretiente», which published all the papers and minutes of the conference.
It was translated from the French text by Seminarian Alexander Romanoff, a student at St. Vladimir's Seminary.
My paper will be almost entirely devoted to the presentation of the Orthodox doctrine in its positive aspect. As yet Orthodox theology does not possess a trinitarian doctrine definitely elaborated and recognized by the magisterium of the Church or by the majority of theologians as a doctrine incontestably representative of Orthodoxy. This article will be an attempt to explain the faith from the basis of a synthesis of scriptual and traditional teaching.
In Trinitarian theology all parts belong together, so I think it best to outline briefly the essential principles of the doctrine, so that the teaching concerning the Holy Ghost may be placed in its proper perspective.
1. God is a perfect and absolute being. God is one: not only numerically one, but one in Himself. The plenitude of divine perfections, the modes of His existence, are united in one absolute identity of His being. But unity is not outside of plurality; all unity is unity of a plurality. Unity has logical priority over plurality, but is inseparable from it. In God, plurality is the plenitude of his perfections, the diversity of the forms of His existence. Many of the perfections and forms we attribute to God are but virtual in Him. But even those that are proper to Him do not divide Him; each real attribute exists in God in its absolute perfection, but without separating from the others, and in perfect reciprocal interpenetration.
2. The first form which is really proper to God after unity is hypostasis. God is personal: He is so of necessity because the impersonal, anhypostaton, does not exist according to Orthodox theology.
The Bible gives us a very clear picture of God’s personality, but without doctrine or precise terminology. In Greek philosophy these are scarcely touched upon. It is the Fathers of the fourth century who have shown the way toward the elaboration of the doctrine. St. John of Damascus left us an account which is not too coherent, but which contains a profound outline. In Russian theology there is no doctrine of Person which is commonly held, but neither are there any great divergencies of view on the subject. I do not think I am betraying the Fathers or Russian theology in asserting that Person or hypostasis is the principle of life in every spiritual being. As the principle it is unique and incommunicable; there are no two identical persons, and they differ recisely as persons, at least negatively. In every being everything is determined or possessed by the person, everything exists for the sake of the person, everything proceeds from it and returns to it. While serving as a basis (hypostasis in the literal sense of the word) for everything within the being, possessing everything in the being, the person as such is distinct from that which it possesses; it does not identify itself with any of its manifestations, it is simply the mainstay or principle of life.
Every person holds a unique place among the others. The aim and content of its existence is determined by its relations with the other persons. In the first place, by the relation of its origin, because every person proceeds from another, with the exception of the hypostasis of God the Father, for “of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” (Rom.11:36). The doctrine of the Fathers concerning the idiomata, semeia, gnorismata, of the divine hypostases coincides in its essence with this. But it would be wrong to conclude that these features or personal relations form the hypostases themselves. They are merely inseparable attributes.
3. Since person is the principle of life, the second element of God’s existence is life. In the Fathers the notion of hypostasis is very often supported by the idea of substance, the central theme of Greek philosophy. However, we observe the contrary in the Bible, which makes no mention of the concept of substance, but which reveals constantly the manifestations of the life of the living God. Divine life is according to the Bible an eternal action, which manifests all the perfections of God.
4. But life never finds justification in itself: its final end is the same as its origin, i.e. the person. But it has also an immediate end, which is the actualization and possession of the essence which is its objective content. So, after person and life, the third form of being is essence. In the life of a hypostasis, on the one hand, is realized or actualized its essence, i.e. what it is. On the other hand, in the same act of its life the hypostasis possesses, or appropriates, this same essence. Consequently the life of the person passes, so to say, through its essence and returns to it. Divine life is an eternal act. But it is an act, not a state.
The concept of ousia, unmentioned in the Bible, has diverse meanings in the Fathers, and so often becomes a source of misunderstanding. Ousia, or substance, taken in a concrete sense could signify the entire divine being, the consubstantial Trinity. In this case the three hypostasesare, so to say, within the divine substance. I translate this meaning of the word ousia by the word being. The second meaning of substance in the Greek Fathers is the individual – Aristotlés ousia prote. The latter should not be applied to God, but the Fathers do it quite often, when they speak of a divine hypostasis as an en-ousia, i.e. without distinguishing it from its content. For example, they say quite often that the Son is begotten of the ousia of the Father, when they want to explain that the Father bestows upon Him existence from the depth of His being, and not from the outside. In this interpretation ousia does not stand for essence, but for concrete and personal substance.
The notion of substance has the same meaning when the Fathers say that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the ousia of the Son, since they consider Him as residing eternally in the Son, and not necessarily in His essence. The most precise and legitimate meaning of substance in the Trinitarian doctrine is Aristotle’s ousia deutera, a synonym for eidos or morphe. In this sense ousia should be translated as essence. It is that which constitutes the hypostasis, its quidditas, the objective content of its life, the objective reality of its entire being.
The concept of hypostasis is opposed to the notion of essence just as the principle to the term; the particular to the general; the subjective to the objective; the container to the content; the possessor to the possessed. But this opposition becomes a union in the act of the hypostatic life, by which the hypostasis realizes itself, and manifests itself in its essence, and the latter manifests and personifies itself in its hypostasis.
The whole being of God is personal, essential and living. There is an absolute interpenetration, but without confusion of these three forms in the perfect unity of God.
5. The first of the divine hypostases is God, the Father. It is He who is the Theos, the Hypostasis par excellence, because He is the foundation of the entire God-head, Theos theogonos (God from Whom proceeds God.) There is no God if there is not God the Father, says John of Damascus. Everything that exists in God is a mode or fruit of His life. Now the life of a person has two different forms. The first is within the individual – the person realizes himself, manifests himself in his life and in his essence in forms which are not persons themselves (as e.g. in acts of thought and will) but which reflect impersonally the person whose manifestations they are. It is precisely in this impersonal character that there is a certain limitation of everything that is within the person. That is why an individual who is retired within himself does not enjoy the fulness of life. To put it differently, love for oneself, as natural and as perfect as it is, cannot fully satisfy the absolute and infinite impulse of love which constitutes the principle form of the divine life, since love seeks above all the communion with that which is an absolute value, the hypostasis. Whereas the impersonal possesses only a value derived from him who possesses it. For example: each divine hypostasis possesses wisdom in its essence which inseparably belongs to it. But this essential wisdom is circumscribed by its own impersonality. The absolutely perfect idea that God as person has of Himself must also be a person, otherwise it would not be adequate to the One it represents. That is why there is in God an essential and an hypostatic Wisdom. Thus the second form of the personal life consists of relations between hypostases.
One should generally distinguish in God the vital and essential aspect from the purely hypostatic aspect, for everything that exists in God may have these three diverse aspects: Wisdom, Love, Holiness, Truth, Action. There is, for example, a tremendous difference between a truth that is a hypostasis and a truth that is a mere thought. If we consider the existence of God the Father in abstracto as separated from the Son and the Holy Ghost, we shall see that there is in Him a life and an essence (to which could be reduced all other forms of His existence, such as reason, will.) Neither this essence nor this life are persons, they are mere modes of Himself, and consequently they do not exhaust the fulness of existence possible to God. That is how one is able to understand the reason of hypostatic processions. The Son of God is One who realizes in His hypostasis and in a hypostatic way that which is the Father, His quidditas, the entire essence of the Father. The Holy Ghost is the One who realizes in His hypostasis and in a hypostatic way the life of the Father, His absolute and eternal activity, His all-powerful love. Since the Father is the principle of the Holy Trinity in its entirety, so the Son in manifesting hypostatically in Himself the Godhead of the Father – which is also that of the Trinity – manifests it for the whole Trinity. And the Holy Ghost as the hypostasis of the life of the Father. Who is the source of life of the entire Trinity, is the hypostatic life of the whole Trinity.
6. According to Orthodox theology, procession is an act of which the principle is a hypostasis. If the entire divine life issues from the hypostasis as from its source, then an act which lays down the existence of a person can have only a person for its principle. Personal can never arise from the impersonal, since it is the person which is the basis of being. The essence cannot be the instrumental cause of the procession, because person is not a mode of the essence. It is person that actualizes and possesses the essence and not the essence that transforms itself into person. Nevertheless, an act of procession is not outside of the essence, it is essential as everything that exists in God, it transfers, as is said occasionally, all the essence and all the life of the Father unto the Son and Holy Ghost,
When we speak in general of the divine hypostases we border on an abstraction. Each hypostasis is an entity which is absolutely different from the other; one cannot ever count them as St. Basil has so aptly remarked. One distinguishes them by names, and a name should belong to one person only. Furthermore, Oriental theology sees but an abstraction in the concept of procession. The acts by which the Father begets the Son and breathes the Spirit are of a different kind, and it is through these acts that the Son and the Holy Ghost receive their actual existence and their personal character. It is not «a person in general», or any person, that is begotten of the Father, but His hypostatic Wisdom, and the Holy Ghost is for the Father not «any person» but his hypostatic Spirit which He breatheth perpetually.
7. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are but one divine being, one God. Their common life is determined by the same goodness, the same love, the same wisdom and holiness; consequently, it can have but one content – an identical essence. But if the divine reality is the same in the three hypostases, it is lived and manifested differently by each of them. One can say perhaps that each hypostasis is God in a different way from the other two. Any divine perfection while remaining identical with its content is lived and manifested in a different way by each of the three hypostases.
8. It is not the Paternity as such, nor the Spiration that are characteristics determining by themselves the person of the Father. His personal peculiar quality is that of being the Cause without a cause, Theos theogonos. He is the first and the only principle of and for everything, o Monarchos. His entire Godhead, belongs to Him as to the Principle, monarchikos, so to speak. God the Father has everything of Himself, but also for the others. These two moments are inherent in the idea of the principle. A principle acts of itself and gives life to another. That is why Orthodox theology asserts that the nature of the Paternity and of the Spiration belongs likewise, and for the same reason, to the Father, the unique source of the Trinity. It is the same vital impulse of the Father, of His infinite love, the impulse towards absolute plenitude, that makes Him Father and Spirator. The Son and the Holy Ghost are as inseparable from the Father as His own essence and His life; no less inseparable are the acts of generation and spiration.
If the Father is the Cause, His relations with the Son and the Holy Ghost should have a causal character. He bestows upon the two other persons not only hypostatic existence, but all the richness of divinity which He is the first to possess. One should not forget that God the Father, being the Principle of divinity, is likewise its ultimate end. Everything is turned towards the hypostasis of the Father, everything converges eis auton, (toward Him,) everything is for Him. The Son and the Holy Ghost themselves tend towards the Father, and their relations with Him have a marked character of finality.
9. The Son of God is the hypostatic image of the Father, the Image of His divinity. He is the Truth, the Wisdom, the Power, the hypostatic Logos of the Father, and all that He has He possesses and manifests as a hypostasis in a personal manner, but in the logical or noetical aspect, in that of the truth, of the wisdom and Logos. His relations with the Father and the Holy Ghost have the same character of a personal but objective, noetic, “intellectual” revelation.
10. The Holy Ghost is the spirit of the hypostatic Life of the Father, as well as of the whole Trinity. How are we entitled to maintain that the Holy Ghost is the hypostatic Life? – Because all His scriptural and traditional names point in this direction. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit, the Spirit of God, of the Father, of the Son, of the Lord Jehovah, of Wisdom, of Truth, of Glory. But the word “spirit” means respiration, breath, exhalation – a function indispensable to life, whose invisible and energetic manifestation it is.
To be the spirit of something is to be a function and an active manifestation of its existence. That is why the Holy Ghost is very often described as a divine Power, Energy, Action, or Activity. Several names for the Holy Ghost express the same idea under different aspects. He is the Light, in so far as spirit or representative energy of the Wisdom and Truth. He is the sweet Savior or Fragrance in as much as He is beauty and harmony. He is Kingship in His capacity as the energy of the Omnipotence, and glory of God. He is Love – not the principle of Love, which is the Father, but the Eros, the Spirit or the impulse of love, the heat of the Sacred Fire. He is Joy in his possession of the absolute perfection of God, the joy of love. He is holy, because He restores everything to the Father – the principle of the absolute, and hence of the holy. He is the Holy One as well, because he is the fulfillment of love, of goodness, and of the perfect law of the divine life. He is the Unction because in Him are concentrated all the vivifying and sanctifying energies of God.
All the definitions of the Holy Ghost just reviewed may be included in the one idea of life, because life is the activity of a person tending toward the accomplishment and possession of good; it is the revelation of the person, the unity of its relation to itself and to other beings. Now, the Holy Ghost is, as we have seen, the hypostasis of divine activity; he is to teleiotikon of God, tes Triados pleroma (the fullness of the Trinity); the Accomplishment of Sovereign God, the Act of union in love, knowledge and holiness. And He is all these things not as an act of nature, but as a unique and peculiar hypostasis.
The relations of the Holy Ghost with the other hypostases, and even with the creature, always have the character of a vital impulse of an absolute power and perfection, uniting everything with the First Principle of divine life, and manifesting all, not in an aspect of accomplished objectivity as the Son, but in the dynamism of spiritual energy.
The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father alone. Ek monou tou Patros is a fundamental dogma of the Orthodox Church. We are convinced that it is taught by Revelation and Tradition. But let us suppose that the New Testament and the Fathers do not teach us anything about it, or while affirming the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father they are silent on the subject of its relation with the Son. We would still be faced with the fact that since the eleventh century at least the whole Oriental Church confesses ek monou tou Patros as an article of faith. This is a fact that does not depend on our opinions or wishes. Historically ek monou tou Patros is consecrated by the thousand year old struggle with the Filioque. But there is more to it than mere history. For all Orthodox this dogma is the revelation of the Truth residing in the Church, of divine Truth, and it is in this capacity that it presents itself to the conscience of both the Orthodox believer and theologian. Even if one had found but few data to explain this truth in Scripture and the Fathers – which is not the case – one would still believe it and explain it in the light of the whole Orthodox theology. I believe that it is easy for Roman Catholics to understand this position since theirs is exactly the same. For Roman Catholics as for Orthodox Catholics the decisive argument is the teaching of the Church.
The true foundation for ek monou tou Patros is the belief in the domination of the principle of Monarchy in God, and in the necessarily trinitarian character of all divine relations. Everything in God proceeds from the Father and returns to Him. Everything is situated in relation to Him. This is the teaching of Christ, and we cannot do away with it. Everything is trinitarian in God. We observe it even in the internal existence of a hypostasis. The law is even more absolute in the life of the Trinity. How can we admit that something that does not belong exclusively to one person as its inalienable property, is not possessed by all the persons either as their unique essence or as a movement uniting the entire Trinity? A dyad would be a dissection of the Trinity, a separation of two persons concerning the third, a lack of love or a weakness, as though a divine person were unable or did not wish to associate fully and immediately the third person to his revelation with the second person. There is no question, of course, of dyads that we form by way of abstraction, two processions or two hypostases proceeding from the Father and being sent into the world. Orthodoxy denies that two divine persons can be united truly by a reality to the exclusion of the third.
[Similar to the «breathing power» or «vis spirativa» according to the Roman Catholic theology, is the power by which God the Father and the Son of God «breath» (spirant) the Holy Spirit.]
We cannot imagine that the Father begetting the Son does not breathe the Holy Ghost, which then becomes a mere effect of their union already accomplished. The Holy Ghost is breathed together with the begetting of the Son, as the breath with the word. The life of the Son would be hypostatically precarious without the Holy Ghost. The Son and the Holy Ghost are two manifestations of the Father which have the same cause, the same aim, and which complete each other reciprocally.
The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of the Son. He is that, first of all, because He is the Spirit of the Father. All that belongs to the Father belongs to the Son. Even the Father belongs to Him. Which does not mean that He proceeds from Him. Secondly, the Holy Ghost is consubstantial with the Son, hence He is one with Him, He is His. Thirdly, the Holy Ghost is hypostatically within the Son in the sense that He shares a common life with Him, and that He is the hypostatic Life sent into the Son by the Father to witness His love for Him. And this personified Life and Love of the Father resides eternally within the Son. In the fourth place, the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of the Son because He is His manifestation. He reveals the Son, as the hypostatic Truth of God: He is the Spirit of Truth, the personal Act which reveals the Son. The Fathers of the Church stressed this thought by calling the Holy Ghost the image of the Son. But this image is dynamic as a luminous reflection of the Truth which is in the Son.
One may say that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son, but that does not mean that it takes from Him His very existence. In existence He proceeds from the Father together with the Son. The representative procession from the Son which can be attributed to the Holy Ghost is not an existential procession. The Holy Ghost «takes», according to the word of Christ, the truth from the Son (JohnXVI,14–15); He has in Him the Son Himself. One could say that the Holy Ghost depends upon the Son to the extent that He «takes» into Himself this hypostatic revelation of God that is realized in the Son. But this dependance is not causal.
There are many reasons why Orthodox Christians do not acknowledge the causal procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son. If He proceeded from Him as from a cause, it would cease to be fully and truly the Spirit of the Father, being shared in His very origin by the Father and the Son.
If we admit the Filioque we shall have to renounce the belief that the Holy Ghost really is that hypostatic Life and Love of the Father which He sends in the Son, that living Unction with which the Father had anointed the Son for all eternity. All that one could say, if one followed Roman Catholic theologians, would be that the Father gives the Son the «breathing power», but not the Holy Ghost himself.
Furthermore, if the Son were an absolute Cause of the Holy Spirit, God would be divided. If, on the other hand, He is a complementary or instrumental Cause then He is not perfect, nor is the Father, because He is in need of an assistant. If the Father and the Son add up to one cause, and this cause is hypostatic, then they are but a single hypostasis, if this common cause is their essence the Holy Ghost cannot proceed, because essence is unable to produce a person. Moreover, divine essence would be divided into two parts, one, the vis spirativa, would belong only to the Father and the Son; the other, the remainder of the essence, to the whole Trinity.
Finally, if we admit the Filioque, it would be tantamount to dividing the Holy Trinity into two dyads, one dyad consisting of the Father and the Son, the Holy Ghost being a mere Product or Gift, and not an inherent Participant on equal terms. The other dyad would be constituted by the Breather and the Holy Ghost, the Father and the Son being excluded in so far as they are separate persons.
[According to the Roman Catholic theology, the «Breather» or Spirator is the unity of the Father and the Son inasmuch as They «breathe» together the Holy Spirit. Roman Catholic theology denies that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from two different persons. The Father and Son possess together the breathing power, which is the real principle of existence of the Holy Spirit. The concepts of Spirator and «breathing power» do not exist in the Bible and patristics.]
Orthodox theology insists on the perfect communion of the three persons of the Trinity, known as the perichoresis or circumcession. This concept is of great importance for the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. Let us take as a starting point the formula ek tou Patros dia tou Yiou (from the Father through the Son ): it is found often in the Fathers and is commented upon by many Orthodox theologians. It is considered as identical with the Filioque by some Uniate and Latin theologians. This identity is denied by the Orthodox, mainly on the same grounds that lead us to deny the Filioque. The Son cannot be a cause of the Holy Ghost, not a unique cause, nor complementary, nor instrumental, nor common with the Father. The difference between the prepositions ek (from) and dia (through) adds another argument against the doctrine of a single Breather.
Because “to proceed from” and “to proceed through” are two different actions. Now, if we admit the doctrine of the Spirator, the Holy Spirit proceeds neither from the Father and the Son as two persons, nor through the Son, but from the unique breathing power of the Father and the Son.
Uniate theologians have proposed the doctrine of principium imprincipiatum and principium principiatum (the first principle and the principle proceeding from another principle), but firstly this explanation derives from the affirmation of a unique Breather, about whom the Greek Fathers knew nothing, and about whom the formula dia Yiou does not speak. Secondly, one may ask whether the vis spirativa is absolutely identical in the Father and in the Son, or whether the Son adds something to this power. In the first place there is no room, neither for Dia nor for a distinction between the Father and the Son in relation to the Holy Ghost. In the second place, the spirative power of the Father is imperfect and the vis spirativa composed of two elements: the Father and the Son, can no longer be considered as a single Spirator. Orthodox Theologians explain quite often Dia Tou Yiou (Through the Son) by relating it solely to the mission of the Holy Ghost in the world. Such an explanation is legitimate, but it does not explain everything. There are cases when the Fathers use Dia Fiou without specifying the divine activity Ad Extra, and moreover the manifestation of the Trinity in the world can be considered with difficulty as having no relation whatever with the trinitarian life of the Godhead: one should rather suppose a dependance and an analogy between the two. I believe that one has the right to repeat the same arguments about the palamist explanation which consists of transposing the procession of the Holy Ghost through the Son to the plan of divine energies. (That is equally the explanation given by V. N. Lossky: the energetic manifestation of God cannot represent to us aught but the divine life.) In other words, I believe with other theologians that the economic and palamist explanation of the Di Yiou are not false, but rather insufficient.
I am convinced that the doctrine of the perichoresis is the best commentary on the Dia Yiou, The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father with the Son. However there is a certain priority of the Son over the Holy Ghost, a priority similar to that of the essence over life, of effect or end over action: neither a life nor any action has its own raison d'etre – they tend towards an actualization of that which is their content or their end; they are for something else than themselves. Thus, one may say, but in a hypostatic sense, that the Holy Ghost is for the Son, because He is sent by the Father as His Spirit, His Life or His hypostatic Love in the Son; He is the living revelation of the Father to the Son. Sent by the Father, the Holy Ghost rests in the Son as an unction. One may also add that the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father rushes to the Son in order to find in Him that Truth, that «hypostatic Idea of God» which for the Holy Ghost is the Quasi Forma of His personal existence. We can say, in other words, that the life of the Holy Spirit is determined by the Wisdom which is in the Son of God. In taking from Him the Wisdom, the Holy Ghost becomes the Spirit of Wisdom, His active Image. Thus, He no longer remains in the Son but leaves Him in revealing Him and in order to reveal Him.
But to whom does the Holy Ghost reveal the Son? To creation? In that case we leave God. To nobody? In such a case the divine circumincession is a mere impulse into the void! Or does this marvelous movement of divinity stop at the Holy Ghost, manifesting the Son to somebody whom we do not know? Such a presentation would be contrary to the principle of Orthodox triadology that all relations are trinitarian within the Godhead. Consequently, if the Holy Ghost is the Revelation of the Father, He is the Revelation likewise for the Father, as well as for Himself and for the Son. If He is a Manifestation of the Son, this Manifestation is also for the Son, for Himself as well as for the Father. Thus when the Holy Ghost reveals the Son, it is to the Father that He reveals Him, and this revelation is also a manifestation of the infinite love of the Son for the Father. So the Holy Ghost returns, if one may say so, to His only Spirator, the Father, and He is not only the Union of the Father with the Son, but also of the Son with the Father. The true meaning of «Through the Son» is not only «with» but «for» or «after» (in the sense of the order of hypostases) or «of» the Son. But above all «through» or «by» the Son, because the Holy Ghost in His ineffable circumincession, proceeding from the Father passes into the Son and by the Son, reflecting Himself in Him, He returns to the Father; all of it, of course, in the spiritual sense. This «movement» of the Holy Ghost is nothing more than a symbolical explanation of His hypostatic character – to be a life, an energy, a fragrance, a spiration, a heat that embraces all the Divinity, the whole Trinity, penetrating everywhere, unifying everything into a perfect harmony «for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God» (ICor.II.10.)
In light of what has just been stated it is easy to understand what meaning for all Orthodox the expression has which declares that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and from the Son and from both. I note that the verb Ekporeuomai is used by the Church Fathers to denote the Procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father only. When they speak of His procession from the Son they say Proieinai, Procheisthai, Eklampein, Choregeisthai and others. Furthermore the Greek Fathers never speak of the Procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and from the Son as of the same Principle.
Let us stop for a while on the correlation of the names and symbols of the 3 divine hypostases. The Father is called the Sun, the Source, the Mouth; the Son – the Sunbeam, the River, the Word; the Holy Ghost – the Light, the Living Water, the Breath. Now, the Light comes from the Sun, but it is carried by the Sunbeam which gives it its form. Water flows from the Source, but its stream is formed and limited by the contours of the river. The Breath issues from the mouth, but its form is determined by the meaning of the Word. Moreover, God the Father is called the True, the Wise, the Mighty; the Son is called the Truth, the Wisdom, the Power; the Holy Ghost called the Spirit of Truth, of Wisdom and the Energy of God. The Spirit of Truth and of Wisdom comes from Him Who is the True, the Wise, but the Form, the Eidos, the content, of the Spirit are bestowed by the Truth and the Wisdom themselves. The energy is an act of Him Who acts, but in order to act, He has to possess Power. It follows that the Holy Ghost is presented as proceeding from the Father, but is, so to say, «informed», carried, contained, sent by the Son. I draw your attention once again to the fact that this correlation is not that of elements in a natural process, but a reciprocal relation of living persons, each one of them possessing a peculiar existence.
What meaning has the doctrine of the order of the hypostases? It is obvious that one cannot speak of an order in terms of time or according to the worth of hypostases or their substantial distinctions. This order explains only a certain dialectic of trinitarian relations. One may comprehend this order in the aspect of «Economic Trinity»: the subject of God’s creative and revealing activity is the Father; this activity is realized primarily in the eternal LOGOS of the Father, and it is the same LOGOS that becomes incarnate in Christ. But everything that is realized in the LOGOS is accomplished by the Holy Ghost. Everybody agrees that the Father is the First Principle, for the creation as well as for the Trinity; but among Orthodox theologians there is a certain doubt, regarding the order to be followed in respect to the two other hypostases. One is sometimes inclined to affirm that they should occupy the same rank. This idea seems sound to me if one considers the Son and the Holy Ghost as two Hypostases proceeding equally from the Father and manifesting Him together, though in a different way. But if one considers the relations of the Son with the Holy Ghost, one should recognize that – in the dialectic of relations at least – the Son has a priority of the Holy Ghost for reasons which I have already made clear: the Holy Ghost is with the Son, for Him, by Him, through Him, of Him! And this order of the hypostases is confirmed by Scripture and Tradition. However, one could affirm just as well that the Son proceeds with the Holy Ghost, that He is for Him as His hypostatic Idea, that He is «by or through» the Spirit that manifests Him to the Father and in the world.
To present the Orthodox triadology, two diagrams are proposed that seem to me equally insufficient. The first is proposed by some photians: it is an angle whose summit represents the Father and the two points where the sides end, the Son and the Holy Ghost. This diagram exposes pretty well the equality of the Son and the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the same Father, but it does not tell us anything about the relation of the Son with the Holy Ghost.
The other diagram pretends to formulate the patristic doctrine: it is a straight line, the starting point is the Father, the final the Holy Ghost and the one that divides it in two is the Son. This diagram is excellent for representing the economic Trinity; the Father acts in the world, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost. But it is totally insufficient for Trinity itself, since each person is in direct relation with the other two, and that this relation passes into the Perichoresos through the second Person into the third.
The complete diagram of Orthodox Theology should be a triangle placed within a circle. The summit of this triangle is God the Father; the perichorese movement goes forth from the Father in two directions and returns to Him passing through the two other hypostases. The Son and the Holy Ghost are just as active as the Father in this movement, but only the Father is the existential Cause, the Son being the Principle of Revelation of the divine Truth, the Holy Ghost the Principle of dynamic manifestation of the Absolute Being of God, the fulness of existence of this Absolute Being realizing itself in the Father who possesses His Son and His Spirit.
Summary and Conclusions
1. The Divine Being, while being absolutely One who realizes Himself in several forms and perfections real or virtual, which interpenetrate themselves without blending and without dividing God.
2. The fundamental forms of the divine existence are: the person, the life and the essence. The person is the principle and the final purpose of the life of a spirit. Every person is unique and independent in itself; it possesses a personal peculiarity determined by its origin and by its relation with other persons. The Divine life is an eternal act by which the person actualizes its essence and its «Quidditas» and takes possession of it. The life comes from the person and returns to it. The divine essence is the content, the reality, «the Quidditas» or the form of the Divine Being possessed by the persons. It is identical in the three Hypostases.
3. The first person is the Father. This internal existence cannot suffice Him, since, firstly love requires a multipersonal existence. Secondly, it is only in another person that a person can fully realize itself. Hence the eternal begetting of the Son of God in so far as Image of hypostatic Quidditas of the Father, and the breathing of the Holy Ghost in so far as Spirit or hypostatic Life of the Father.
4. The generation and the breathing are two qualitatively distinct acts, but as inseparable as the Son and the Holy Ghost themselves, whose peculiarities they determine. The principle of Processions is the Hypostasis of the Father. A person cannot arise from the impersonal, which does not mean that an act of procession is outside the essence.
5. The Father is ho Monarchos or the Cause of the Trinity, and His relations with the Son and the Holy Ghost have the character of an existential cause. The Son and the Holy Ghost are not existential causes, but the First is the principal of manifestation in so far as hypostatic Truth, the second is also a principle of manifestation, but in so far as hypostatic Life of the Trinity.
6. The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father alone. He is with the Son, for the Son, by Him and of Him in the sense which I tried to explain and which is not causal, but of an interdependence similar to the one existing between life and essence, the sunbeam and the light, the water and the river, etc.
7. Everything that is not a hypostasis or does not belong to one of them as a hypostatic peculiarity, possesses in God a trinitarian character or identifies itself with its unique essence. Each hypostasis is that what it is, not only for itself, but also for the two other hypostases. All the persons have an immediate relation with the other two, but every relation passes through the Second Person to the Third, uniting the entire Holy Trinity. That is how the life of the Trinity is a perpetual circumincession.