Trinitarian Dogma of Cappadocian Fathers
The Contribution of the Trinity of Cappadocian Fathers on the Divine Triunity
A paper submitted to Dr. Smither
In partial fulfillment of the Requirements for
the course CHHI 520
Liberty Theological seminary
Christopher W. Myers
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Table of Contents
Athanasius: The Forerunner of the Cappadocian Fathers- 4
Basil of Caesarea- 5
Gregory of Nyssa- 8
Gregory of Nazianzus- 11
A Conclusion: On the Cappadocian’s Contributions- 14
Discussion on the Divine Trinity is like walking across a cable that extends across Niagara Falls; one off balance step to the left or right and one falls into the river of heresy and is crushed under the waterfall of orthodoxy. When discussing the Godhead, one must retain this perfect Biblical balance of tension between the one and the three or he will fall into favoring the one and become a modalist, yet if he favors the three, then he will become a tritheist. So in this discussion of the Cappodocian fathers and in one’s own studies of the Divine Triunity, he must think like Gregory of Nazianzus when he says,
No sooner do I conceive of the one than am I illumined by the splendour of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.
The trinity of theologians from Cappadocia, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus, will be discovered in this brief paper, so that their contribution to the orthodox Trinitarian dogma is clearly seen. Furthermore, their unities and diversities will be evaluated in this research. To this author, it seems that too many scholars lump the trinity of theologians together under the head “Cappadocians” as if they had no theological distinctives. The truth seems to be that Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory the Theologian have both unities and diversities regarding their theology that must be understood in order to clearly see their contributions to Trinitarian orthodoxy. By holding the Cappadocian father’s theology in such tension, one can behold the perfect balance that God ordained for these men to conquer the day and defeat heresy and uphold the truth of Scripture, the truth of God’s triunity.
Athanasius: The Forerunner of the Cappadocian Fathers
The Cappadocians did not theologize in a vacuum, nor were they the first to carry the orthodox position on their shoulders. Athanasius had carried the Nicene faith on his shoulders since the Nicene Council in 325AD. Basil the Great took the burden from Athanasius and carried the flame of orthodoxy with his brother, Gregory of Nyssa and also later with his friend, Gregory of Nazianzus. There were two groups who were in opposition basically over language; Kelly opines that their theology was essentially the same, the argument arising over whether homoousios or homoiousios should be applied to the Godhead. Athanasius, recognizing that language was the main barrier preventing the uniting of the two parties, wrote De synodis in 359 to open dialogue with them. His main thesis was that since the Homoiousions acknowledged the distinction of three persons, the Homoousions could not deny the homoiousion, however the Homoiousions must acknowledge the unity of substance if they truly believed in the perfect likeness of substance.
It was from this homoiousios tradition that the Cappadocians emerged. Because of their origin of thinking, we observe their explanation of the Trinity to begin with an explanation of the three and then moving to the one. However, in the West, the tradition was to explain the Trinity by starting with the one and then moving to the three. Basil was the theologian of the East who adopted the homoousion language for the Godhead and showed his fellow Homoiousions that the Nicene faith indeed did not engender any Sabellian tendencies. To Basil of Caesarea, who is called Basil the Great, this paper will now turn.
Basil of Caesarea
Hildebrand helpfully traces four stages of Basil’s theological development concerning the Trinity. The first two stages follow Basil’s movement from homoiousion to homoousion. The last two stages trace the emergence of prosopon and hypostasis in his Trinitarian thought. Eventually, Basil understands that prosopon is too prone to heretical misuse and so he affirms the Nicene formulation. Some words on Basil’s conversion to homoousios are now in order.
Basil did not convert to homoousios because his theology of the Divine Trinity changed. Rather, Basil came to see the weakness of using homoiousios in attribution of the Divine Trinity. Indeed, through two contributions did Basil come to see the superiority of homoousios. First is Basil’s observation of the Council of Constantinople in 360 where the homoiousios formulation became a compromise that the Arians could even accept. Second is Basil’s conversation with Apollinarius. Upon these two events, Basil came to see the superiority of homoousios. Basil saw tendencies toward heretical understandings of the Divine Trinity with the use of either term, but Basil finally decided that the Nicene formulation of homoousios provided the least likelihood of heretical misuse, especially the Arian heresy who could not at all accept homoousion.
Basil’s correspondence with Apollinarius is mostly preserved for us in Basil’s Letters and especially number 361. The evidence for Apollinarius being the prime mover of Basil’s conversion is contingent on Basil’s correspondence with Apollinarius being earlier than Basil’s Letters to Maximus, which most clearly displays Basil’s shift to homoousios. Basil says to Maximus,
If I must give my own view, it is this. The phrase “like in essence,” if it be read with the addition “without any difference,”I accept as conveying the same sense as the homoousion, in accordance with the sound meaning of the homoousion. Being of this mind the Fathers at Nicaea spoke of the Only-begotten as “Light of Light,” “Very God of very God,” and so on, and then consistently added the homoousion. It is impossible for any one to entertain the idea of variableness of light in relation to light, of truth in relation to truth, nor of the essence of the Only begotten in relation to that of the Father. If, then, the phrase be accepted in this sense, I have no objection to it. But if any one cuts off the qualification “without any difference” from the word “like,” as was done at Constantinople,then I regard the phrase with suspicion, as derogatory to the dignity of the Only-begotten. We are frequently accustomed to entertain the idea of “likeness” in the case of indistinct resemblances, coming anything but close to the originals. I am myself for the homoousion, as being less open to improper interpretation.
To this point Basil’s Trinitarian Theology is largely shaped according to Basil’s polemics and caution against Ariansism, especially as embodied in his work Against Eunomius. Now Basil battles the opposite realm, the heresy of Sabellianism, in his homily Contra Sabellianos. Basil’s battle against Sabellianism gives birth to Hildebrand’s third and fourth stages of Basil’s theological development and to these observations we now turn.
Basil in his polemic against the Sabellian/Marcellion heresy established technical terms for the Trinity that could best express the Biblical data. The greatest and most important of these terms is hypostasis. The term itself has already been established by the Nicene fathers in 325AD. But the Sabellians confused it by equating hypostasis with ousia. Basil’s greatest contribution is that he distinguished clearly between hypostasis and ousia. Basil allowed the truths of Scripture to shape language, instead of vice versa. This is one of the reasons why he has deserved his title ‘the Great.’
Basil’s other technical term that he established flowed out from his important distinction between hypostasis and ousia; that term is prosopon. Basil adopted this word which had a wide range of meaning and could thus be given the more precise sense which it received in theological discussion. Basil was well aware that neither this nor any other word he might have adopted was able to express the mystery of the three divine persons in their unity and distinctness. Basil was able to rescue the term from the hands of heretics by distinguishing hypostasis from ousia. Prosopon during this time became almost interchangeable with hypostasis, Basil preferred the latter to the former. Basil used prosopon for his Trinitarian dogma mostly when writing against heresy that misused prosopon to serve their heretical doctrines.
Lastly on Basil, the study of historical theology must appreciate Basil’s contribution to establishing the divinity of the Holy Spirit and rightly placing him as the third person of the Trinity. Yes, the fathers at Nicaea saw this clearly in Scripture; however, by Basil’s time the heretical group the Macedonians had arisen in opposition to the deity of the Holy Spirit among other things. Basil set the record straight in his treatise On the Holy Spirit. Basil speaks of the commonly accepted doctrine of the Holy Spirit as,
…an intelligent essence, in power infinite, in magnitude unlimited, unmeasured by times or ages, generous of It’s good gifts, to whom turn all things needing sanctification, after whom reach all things that live in virtue, as being watered by It’s inspiration and helped on toward their natural and proper end; perfecting all other things, but Itself in nothing lacking; living not as needing restoration, but as Supplier of life; not growing by additions; but straightway full, self-established, omnipresent, origin of sanctification, light perceptible to the mind, supplying, as it were, through Itself, illumination to every faculty in the search for truth; by nature un-approachable, apprehended by reason of goodness, filling all things with Its power, but communicated only to the worthy; not shared in one measure, but distributing Its energy according to “the proportion of faith;” in essence simple, in powers various, wholly present in each and being wholly everywhere; impassively divided, shared without loss of ceasing to be entire, after the likeness of the sunbeam, whose kindly light falls on him who enjoys it as though it shone for him alone, yet illumines land and sea and mingles with the air. So, too, is the Spirit to every one who receives It, as though given to him alone, and yet It sends forth grace sufficient and full for all mankind, and is enjoyed by all who share It, according to the capacity, not of Its power, but of their nature.
And Basil goes on to affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit from the attributes described of him in Scripture as wholly identical to that of the Father and Son; therefore establishing his consubstantiality. Indeed, both Gregory’s contributed to the foundational surety of the dogma of the Holy Spirit, perhaps Gregory of Nazianzus the most, however Basil’s brother Gregory of Nyssa must first be evaluated.
Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa is considered the most brilliant of the trinity of Cappadocians. Basil’s great contribution was his proclamation of the Nicene formula by defining terms precisely and drawing a distinction between hypostasis and ousia. Gregory of Nyssa ran with Basil’s work and improved upon it; his large work Against Eunomius is similar to Basil’s Against Eunomius, indeed Gregory’s work is Basil’s work with a more systematic structure of argumentation and improved arguments at that. Gregory’s uniqueness lies in the theological center of his understanding of the Divine Trinity. It is from this center that some of the most convincing arguments of Gregory’s day originated. This center of Gregory’s theology will be explained, for it is his unique contribution among the trinity of Cappadocian theologians.
The very center of Gregory of Nyssa’s Trinitarian theology is his ontological understanding of nature, power, and activity. Ayres convincingly shows that Gregory’s understanding of power (dunamis) as relating to the ontology of the Godhead is what has set him apart as “surpassing the other Cappadocians” and wherein lies the heart of his unique contribution to Trinitarian theology. Gregory’s theology revolves around these truths: natures are indivisible, God’s nature is never described directly, but rather his activities and interactions and character, indeed, God’s nature is wholly unknowable, all activities of God always involve every person of the Godhead. Therefore, if the activities of the persons are one, then the power that gives rise to the activities is one. If the persons are always seen engaged in the same actions and these arise from the same power, then the divine nature that produces this power must be one as the activity is one. In other words, Gregory sees that an action of the one God is never three distinct, but similar actions. Rather, an action of the one God is always one unitary action where the three persons fulfill their respective roles coordinated according to their relationship with one another. One action derived from one power, which means one divine nature, but three distinct persons.
Yet, Gregory still had to explain to his adversaries how the Father, Son, and Spirit could not be described as a mere collection of properties of this one Godhead. Gregory’s answer returns back to his central theology and his concept of divine persons. Gregory knew that every activity of the one God always involved the three persons. These three persons were not mere arms of the one substance, for they display relationship. It is upon that foundation of relationship that Gregory builds his concept of the divine persons. The divine persons are not just to be diversified ontologically, but primarily relationally. Gregory used the concept of koinonia, communion, between the three persons as the solution to his adversaries’ enquiries. This means that the Son is eternally in the bosom of the Father, communing with him, and the Father is to be contemplated as one in the Son who is the power and wisdom of God, the truth, the light, and sanctification, peace, life, and holy, princely, principal, quickening, governing, and sanctifying all of creation.
Gregory like Basil also wrote a treatise against the Macedonians entitled On the Holy Spirit Against the Followers of Macedonius. Gregory’s discourse on the Holy Spirit is on par with Basil, but not as powerful and direct as that of Gregory of Nazianzus. Gregory of Nyssa never uses homoousios of the Spirit; however, this paper will find that Gregory of Nazianzus will have no inhibitions on this matter. However, Gregory of Nyssa’s great achievement in pneumatology regarded his proof against the Arian objection of the Spirit being the Father’s second Son. Gregory distinguished the Son and Spirit’s mode of issuance. He teaches the Spirit is out of God and is of Christ. The Spirit proceeds out of the Father and receives from the Son. The Spirit cannot be separated from the Word. At last, another way of saying it is that the Holy Spirit is out of the Father through the Son. Discussion on Gregory of Nyssa could fill volumes of books, but this paper must move on to the third member of the Cappadocian trinity, to Gregory of Nazianzus.
Gregory of Nazianzus
The church fathers of the 5th century at the Council of Chalcedon gave Gregory of Nazianzus the title “Theologian” in recognition of his masterful works on the orthodox Divine Trinity. Gregory the Theologian like no other Eastern father took the theology of the Trinity and applied it to the social, personal, and corporate life of Christians, especially in the area of worship. Indeed the Trinity was the centerpiece of Gregory’s worship.
Gregory’s theology of the Trinity was so foundational and secure that he is the first Cappadocian to openly admit the Spirit’s deity despite the livid opposition to it in his day. He says in his Theological Orations, “What then? Is the Spirit God? Most certainly. Well then, is He Consubstantial? Yes, if He is God.” The sureness of Gregory’s pneumatology often caused him contentions, even among the other Cappadocian fathers when he pointed out their lack of piety in not openly confessing the deity of the Spirit.
Gregory of Nyssa’s theological contribution so happened to be the same force that was the center of his theology; this author found the same to be true of Gregory of Nazianzus. The center and heart of Gregory the Theologian’s theology is the concept of divinization and the monarchy of the Father. Gregory’s great contribution is most clearly seen in his defense of the deity of the Holy Spirit and in his explanation of his Trinitarian doctrine. This paper will only briefly consider Gregory’s explanations in order to explain his concept of divinization and the monarchy of the Father.
Gregory’s concept of divinization is the understanding that God is making every believer more and more into the image of His Son by the Spirit. Gregory says it polemically,
This is what our great mystery intends for us. This is our faith and rebirth in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in our common name: our rejection of godlessness and our confession of Divinity. In fact, this is our common name! And so, to dishonor or separate any one of the three is to dishonor our confession—that is, our rebirth, our Divinity, our divinization, our hope.
For Gregory, in order for our eternal communion with God, we must participate in the Trinity. And in order for this participation to occur the Spirit makes us anew. The Spirit makes us into a new creature, ultimately with a new nature that will be able to commune with the Almighty. Gregory made this so apparent that he would say that God is making men “gods” so that he can commune with them. The modern reader would cringe when reading his many words of that fact; however, Gregory is not being impious or Mormon in his theology. Rather, he is setting up a polemic against many of the people of his day who fought the deity of the Spirit. Gregory’s polemic genius was that he connected the rebirth of a Christian and the action of this regenerating Spirit (John 3), which necessitates the deity of the Spirit. Since the deity of the Spirit is absolutely essential in order for the Spirit to ultimately impart the divine nature upon man at his rebirth and for the Spirit to shape man by sanctification to be more and more conformed to the image of Christ. Even more powerful is the fact that this deification of man is properly connected to our gospel hope and it is all dependent on the deity of the Spirit, for how will that which is a creature impart a divine nature? Or how can anything less than God impart his divine nature? This concept of divinization is a great contribution from Gregory.
This last contribution from Gregory that this paper will discuss has even enlightened this author; it is Gregory’s center and heart of understanding the Trinity, it is the truth of the monarchy of the Father. Gregory viewed the Father as the ontological source (αρχή) and cause (αιτία) of the Divine Trinity. The monarchy of God the Father lies at the heart of each of Gregory’s major doctrinal statements on the Divine Trinity.
This author will attempt to explain Gregory’s concept of the Monarchy of the Father. Gregory spoke of an “origin” or a “source” of the Son and Spirit, but he did not mean an origin in time or space, for the Son and Spirit have eternally been with the Father and he acknowledged this. Rather, Gregory understood this eternal begetting of the Son or the eternal procession of the Spirit to be describing the source of the “relations” or relationships within the Godhead. The one God of the Bible has always existed as Father, Son, and Spirit. And this eternality of the Trinity is understood by the relational distinctions between the persons. There has always been Father, Son, and Spirit. However, in order for the Father, Son, and Spirit to be distinct at all and still be one, there must be a common source from which deity could exist in them all. Gregory’s answer is that the Father is the Father because it is from Him that all deity flows. Likewise, the Son is the Son because he is begotten of the Father, for the deity of the Son flows from the Father. Likewise, the Spirit proceeds out of the Father, for the deity of the Spirit flows from the Father through the Son. So it cannot be said that there is two sons, but only one Son because the Holy Spirit receives the deity from the Father through the Son and the Son directly from the Father. This flow of deity is the very description of how the relationships within the Godhead exist and this is Gregory’s concept of the monarchy of the Father.
A Conclusion: On the Cappadocian’s Contributions
A wonderful book needs to be written on the Cappadocian Father’s similarities and dissimilarities of theology, especially regarding their Trinitarian dogma. This paper has explored the unity of the trinity of Cappadocian fathers against the Arians, the Sabellians, the Marcellians, the Macedonians, and other heretics. Also, the Cappadocians are unified in affirming the orthodox position of the Trinity. However, this paper has attempted to show their diversities by accenting their respective theological contributions to the great truth of the Divine Trinity. And so this paper discovered that Basil contributed the affirmation of Nicene language and laid a foundation of Trinitarian technical terms allowing Scripture to shape his language so that he could describe Biblical doctrine of the Godhead, instead of allowing his language to limit the doctrine of the Godhead. Additionally, Basil made the most important distinction between hypostasis and ousia. And Gregory of Nyssa’s ontological understanding on nature, power, and activity brought new Biblical arguments against heretics and his concept of divine persons vindicated the distinctions in the Godhead by expositing the divine interrelations. And lastly, Gregory of Nazianzus, the great Theologian, flexes his cognitive muscle and forces us to contemplate our own divinization as it relates to our hope and to our communion with the Divine Trinity. And he shows us the Monarchy of the Father as the central truth to the unity and diversity of the Divine Trinity.
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Light We Shall See Light. New York, Oxford University Press, 2008.
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Thought and Biblical Truth. Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press,
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New Testament. electronic ed. Grand Rapids, MI : Eerdmans, 1976.
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Complete Text of The End For Which God Created the World. Wheaton: Crossway Books,
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___________. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. VII. Oak Harbor: Logos
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___________. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. VIII. Oak Harbor : Logos Research Systems, 1997.
Turcescu, Lucian. Gregory of Nyssa and the Concept of Divine Persons. The American
Academy of Religion Series. New York, Oxford University Press, 2005.
 Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations 40:41 in Schaff, Philip, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. VII. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997, S. 375).
 Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines. Revised Ed. (Peabody: Prince Press, 1978), 252-253.
 Ibid. 263-265
 Hildebrand, Stephen M. The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea: A Synthesis of Greek Thought and Biblical Truth. (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) 188-191
 Kelly, Early Christian Docrines, 238, 251.
 Ibid. 76-79 especially see note 9 on page 79 for primary citation.
 Note here that Phillip Schaff considers these letters to Apollinarius spurious, but not so with Hildebrand. Possibly because Catholic tradition has attributed these letters as authentic. Schaff, Philip: The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. VIII. (Oak Harbor : Logos Research Systems, 1997) See Letters CCCLXI-CCCLXIV.
 Ibid. See Letter IX
 ὃμοιον καἰ ουʼσίαν
Schaff, Philip: The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. VIII, Letter IX, 3
 Basil’s developing theology as displayed in Contra Eunomium cannot be drawn out in detail here due to lack of space. But Ayres draws it out quite nicely in Ayres, Lewis. Nicaea and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology. (New York: Oxford Universiy Press, 2004). See especially 191-208
 Hildrebrand says this is Homily 24. This is actually Basil’s polemic against the Marcellians, which he calls Sabellians in his day, See Hildebrand, The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea, 83 and especially note 22.
 Letham, Robert. The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship. (Phillipsburg, P&R Publishing, 2004) 148-153.
 The word meant, “face, or countenance” only later did it start to become “person” in the sense of hypostasis. See Kittel below on that.
 Kittel, Gerhard (Hrsg.) ; Bromiley, Geoffrey William (Hrsg.) ; Friedrich, Gerhard (Hrsg.): Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI : Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), S. 6:778
 Hildebrand, The Trinitarian Theology of Basil of Caesarea, 82-92.
 Called the pneumatomachians or spirit-fighters.
 Schaff, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, VIII, Schaff dates this at 376.
Ibid. On the Holy Spirit 9.22, also consider 9.23
 Letham, The Holy Trinity, 153
 Ayres, Lewis. Nicaea and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology. (New York: Oxford Universiy Press, 2004) chapter 14.
 Ayres, Nicaea and Its Legacy, 347-348.
 Gregory uses John 1:18; I Corinthians 1:24, 30; Ephesians 2:14 to come to these contemplations see Turcescu, Lucian. Gregory of Nyssa and the Concept of Divine Persons. The American Academy of Religion Series. (New York, Oxford University Press, 2005) 115-117.
 Letham, The Holy Trinity, 155.
 Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 261.
 Schaff, Philip: The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. V. (Oak Harbor : Logos Research Systems, 1997) On the Holy Spirit, also see Kelly expansion on page 263.
 And his worship, see Beeley, Christopher A. Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God: In Your Light We Shall See Light. (New York, Oxford University Press, 2008), especially the Preface. I believe Beeley, like this author, recognizes Gregory as the greatest of the Cappadocians and the possessor of the finest Trinitarian theology of his day.
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration XXXI in Schaff, Philip: The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. VII. Also see Kelly, Doctrines 261.
 Quoted in Beeley, Gregory of Nazianzus, 229; from Orations 23.12.
 Beely, Gregory of Nazianzus, 153-186, 228-233
 Whole discourses from Gregory’s can be found in his Orations 20, 23, 25 and 29-31respectively, and bits and pieces in 2, 6, 40-42.
 This very brief explanation is derived from not only Beeley, Gregory of Nazianzus, chapters 1-4, but also by looking at Jonathan Edward’s Trinitarian concept where he had applied Gregory’s thought in his own concept of the eternality of the divine persons; see Piper, John. God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards with the complete text of The End For Which God Created the World. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998.
 Beeley does this in comparing Gregory of Nazianzus against the other Cappadocians, however, he admits in the Conclusion on pg. 292 that the similarities and dissimilarities on Basil and Gregory the Theologian alone could accumulate into a dissertation; his work only scratched he service of these unities and diversities within the trinity of Cappadocian fathers.