Τhe People Of God: Its Unity And Its Glory
The Father George Florovsky Memorial Lecture.
Α discussion of John 17:17-24 in the light of patristic thought
The Person of the Father as the cause of the divine unity.
Ιn discussing the question of the unity of the people there are some further observations to be made which may throw more light οn the issue. The first point which deserves to be given more careful considerarion is the connection between the divine unity and the unity of the people of God. The question is stressed clearly, as has already been pointed out, by Christ: "that they may be one, even as we are one". The divine oneness is the model for the oneness of the people. Ιn fact, the people can be one οnly because the Triune God is the fulness of unity(11).
Let me undertake a doctrinal analysis. Ιn the tradition of the Greek Fathers it is commonly asserted that the source, the beginning and the recapitulation of the intertrinitarian unity is the Person of the Father. The oneness of God is thus understood as having a "personal" dimension, so to speak. The one God is not the inaccesible divine nature, but is the Father, the cause of the existence of the other two divine persons. The Father, the principle of the Hypostases, gives Himself over to the other two divine persons, generating the Son, and causing the Holy Spirit to proceed, thus establishing a unique unity based οn His monarchy. We have to understand this "giving over" of the Father as the communication of His divine essence to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. This ecstasis of the Father is an action of freedom and of love. It is a personal kenosis, so to speak, an akenotos kenosis of the Father for the benefit of the other two divine persons. The Son and the Holy Spirit respond freely to this "gushing forth" of the Father's love. They neither usurp the Father's love for their own benefit, nor seize it (Phil.2:6), but offer their existence and life to the Father in love, as He does to them. This exchange (antidosis) in love and freedom is expressed as absolute obedience to the Father's will(12).
I think it is clear from what has been pointed out so far that the ontological cause of the Godhead and of the divine oneness is not the divine essence, but the Hypostasis of the Father. God's unity and the intertrinitarian life are not the consequence of the one nature but of the existence of the Father through Whom the Son and the Holy Spirit receive their existence. "Αll that the Son and the Spirit have", says St. John Damascene, "is from the Father, even their very being; and unless the Father is, neither the Son nor the Spirit is. And unless the Father possesses a certain attribute, neither the Son nor the Spirit possesses it: and through the Father, that is, because of the Father's existence, the Son and the Spirit exist, and through the Father, that is, because of the Father having the qualities, the Son and the Spirit have all their qualities"(13).
11. Ιn the life of the superessential and life-giving Trinity, unity appears not as an additional or compound category, but as an absolutely radical reality which is beyond conjunctions and divisions. The number "One" as an arithmetical category is insufficient to describe -the divine unity. Unity as a mathematical concept presupposes compoundness. But we know, explains St. John of Damascus, that only those which are "composed of imperfect elements must necessarily be compound". We also know that "compoundness is the beginning of separation". However there is nothing in the intertrinitarian life which is imperfect, or which compounds, or which leads to separation. The three divine Hypostases are absolutely perfect, and consequently nο compound can arise from Them. The three divine Persons are united in such a way "not so as to commingle, but so as to cleave to each other and they have their being in each other without any coalescence or commingling". While each divine Hypostasis is perfect in Himself, and has His οwn mode of existence, "each one of Them is related as closely to the others as to Himself". De Fide Orthodoxa, Lib. Ι, PG 94, 824Α-828C.
12. See my article: "Paradosis: The Orthodox Understanding of Tradition", Sobornost Incorporating Eastern Churches Review, 4:1 (1983) , p. 31.
13. De Fide Orthodoxa, Lib. Ι, PG 94, 824ΑΒ.