7 Now for your say! Let the slings fly and the subtle inferences be drawn!
The Holy Spirit must either be ingenerate or begotten. If he is ingenerate, there are two unoriginate beings. If he is begotten, we again have alternatives: either begotten from the Father or from the Son. If from the Father, there will be two sons who are brothers.
Make them twins if you like, or one older than the other, since you have a penchant for corporeal ideas. If he is begotten from the Son, our God apparently has a grandson, and what could be odder than that? We certainly have here the arguments of people “wise to do evil,”(23) but unwilling to write what is good. For my part, if I saw the necessity for the alternatives, I should accept the realities without being put off by the names. But because the Son is “Son” in a more elevated sense of the word, and since we have no other term to express his consubstantial derivation from God, it does not follow that we ought to think it essential to transfer wholesale to the divine sphere the earthly names of human family ties. Do you take it, by the same token, that our God is a male, because of the masculine nouns “God” and “Father”? Is the Godhead a female, because in Greek the word is feminine? Is the word “Spirit” neuter in Greek, because the Spirit is sterile? If you want to take the joke further you could say, as the trashy myths of old did, that God coupled with his own will and fathered the Son. We should then be faced with the bisexual God of Marcion, who pictured those outlandish aeons.(24)
23 Jer 4:22.
24 The second-century heresiarch Marcion is not elsewhere recorded as teaching anything of the kind.
But since we do not admit your first dilemma with its assumption that there is no midway term between ingeneracy and generacy, away go your “brothers” and “grandsons” at once along with the pompous dilemma, beating a retreat from theology, dissolved, so to say, along with the dissolution of the first link in the complex chain. Explain to me where you are going to put “procession” which is evidently a mean term between alternatives and was introduced by a better theologian than you, our Savior? I take it that you have not composed a new New Testament and on the strength of it removed the phrase: “The Holy Spirit which proceeds from the Father.”(25) Insofar as he proceeds from the Father, he is no creature; inasmuch as he is not begotten, he is no Son; and to the extent that procession is the mean between ingeneracy and generacy, he is God. Thus God escapes your syllogistic toils and shows himself stronger than your exclusive alternatives. What, then, is “proceeding”? You explain the ingeneracy of the Father and I will give you a biological account of the Son’s begetting and the Spirit’s proceeding—and let us go mad the pair of us for prying into God’s secrets. What competence have we here? We cannot understand what lies under our feet,cannot count the sand in the sea, “the drops of rain or the days of this world,”(26) much less enter into the “depths of God”(27) and render a verbal account of a nature so mysterious, so much beyond words.
25 Jn 15:26.
26 Sir 1:2.
27 1 Cor 2:10.
In what particular, then, it may be asked, does the Spirit fall short of being Son? If there were not something missing, he would be Son.
We say there is no deficiency—God lacks nothing. It is their difference in, so to say, “manifestation” or mutual relationship, which has caused the difference in names. The Son does not fall short in some particular of being Father. Sonship is no defect, yet that does not mean he is Father. By the same token, the Father would fall short of being Son—the Father is not Son. No, the language here gives no grounds for any deficiency, for any subordination in being. The very facts of not being begotten, of being begotten and of proceeding, give them whatever names are applied to them—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit respectively. The aim is to safeguard the distinctness of the three hypostases within the single nature and quality of the Godhead. The Son is not Father; there is one Father, yet he is whatever the Father is. The Spirit is not Son because he is from God; there is one Only-begotten.(28) Yet whatever the Son is, he is. The three are a single whole in their Godhead and the single whole is three in personalities.(29)Thus there will be no Sabellian “One,” no three to be mischievously divided by our contemporaries.
28 Jn 1:14.
29 Cf. paras 28, 29, and 31. The term (idiotetes) used here and in a number of other passages by Gregory as a synonym of hypostases, or “subjects,” can be translated properties and was to cause confusion for Gregory’s later exegetes with the use of the expression “characteristic properties,” viz. the distinctive “fatherhood” and “ingeneracy” of the Father, the “generacy” or “filiality” of the Son, and the “procession” of the Holy Spirit
10 What, then? Is the Spirit God?
Is he consubstantial?
Yes, if he is God.
Present me then, someone may say, with two things from the same source, one a Son, the other not a son but, despite that, of the same substance, and I get God plus God.
Yes, and you give me one more “God” and grant me God’s nature, and I will present you with the same Trinity along with the same names and realities. If there is one God, one supreme nature, where can I find an analogy to show you? Are you looking for one from your environment here in this world? It is a singularly graceless, and not just graceless but a pretty well futile, notion to get a picture of things heavenly from things of earth, of things fixed immutably from this transitory element. As Isaiah says, it is “seeking the living among the dead.”(30) All the same, to oblige you, I shall try to get a picture even from this source to give my argument some support. There are, of course, many illustrations I could give (all of which I have resolved to leave out) drawn from natural history, about nature’s devices for the production of living things. Some of the facts are known to us all, others only to a few. For example, it is asserted that not only do we have identity and difference in the parents reflected exactly in the offspring, but identical offspring can also result from different parents and vice versa. If the story is at all reliable, there is a further kind of parentage when a thing is spontaneously consumed and reproduced. There are, in addition, things that, through nature’s munificence, stop being themselves and change, transformed from one living thing into another. Indeed two things of the same substance, one an offspring, the other not an offspring, can be from the same source—an example which is rather more to the point at issue. I will mention one case, well known to everybody, from human history, before passing on to another subject.
30 Is 8:19.
Copyright St Vladimir Seminary Press.