In the Arian struggle, as we have seen, the question in the forefront was the full deity of the Son, and the question of the full deity of the Holy Spirit was at first kept in the background. The Nicene creed merely affirmed belief "in the Holy Spirit", and many years had to elapse before there was any public controversy about His position in the Godhead. A discussion of this question about the deity of the Spirit could not be postponed indefinitely, and it came to the forefront and the orthodox answer was incorporated in the doctrine of the Trinity at the
First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381.
The theologians chiefly responsible for this were,
in the East, the Cappadocian Fathers:
Basil of Caesarea (c.329-379 A.D.), his younger brother,
Gregory of Nyssa (330-c.395 A.D.), and his friend,
Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389 A.D.); and,
in the West,
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.). [1]

Early Theology of Holy Spirit.
Since Origen's day, theological reflection about the Spirit had lagged behind devotional practice. Alexander of Alexandria merely repeated the old affirmation that Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and the apostles. Arius considered Him a hypostasis, but regarded His essence as utterly unlike that of the Son, just as the Son's essence was utterly unlike that of the Father. Although the problem of the Spirit was not raised at Nicaea, there was an increasing interest in it after Nicaea. On the one hand, a radical like Eusebius of Caesarea, while clear that the Spirit is a hypostasis, reckons that He is "in the third rank", "a third power" and "third from the Supreme Cause", and uses Origen's exegesis of John 1:3 to argue that He is "one of the things which have come into existence through the Son". If it is asked why, unlike other created rational and spiritual beings, He is "included in the holy and thrice blessed Triad", his embarrassed answer is that He transcends them in honor and glory. The later Arians, Aetius and Eunomius, true to the logic of their position, regarded the Spirit merely as the noblest of the creatures produced by the Son at the Father's bidding, the source of illumination and sanctification. On the other hand, a conservative churchman like Cyril of Jerusalem, while discouraging inquiry into His Person and origin, displays a full doctrine which approximates to later orthodoxy. The Spirit, he claims, belongs to the Trinity, and "we do not divide the holy Triad as some do, nor do we work confusion in It as Sabellus does". It is in union with the Spirit that the Son participates in the Father's Godhead, and the Spirit is "the universal sanctifier and deifier", "a being divine and ineffable". Hence, like the Son, He is far removed from creatures, even the most exalted, and enjoys a perfect knowledge of the Father. His relationship to the other Two is defined in the formula, "The Father gives to the Son, and Son communicates to the Holy Spirit", and "The Father bestows all graces through the Son with the Holy Spirit". He is "subsistent" (huphestos), "ever-present with the Father and the Son", and is glorified inseparable with Them. Cyril delivered his Catechetical Lectures about A.D. 348. [2]

But it was not until A.D. 359 or 360 that Athanasius was inspired to expound his own theology of the Spirit. Serapion, bishop of Thmuis, had called his attention to a group of Egyptian Christians who combined a recognition of the Son's deity with disparaging views of the Spirit. Called "Tropici" by Athanasius because of their figurative exegesis of Scripture (tropos = "figure"), they argued that the Spirit was a creature brought into existence out of nothingness. More precisely, He was an angel, superior to other angels in rank, but to be classified among the "ministering spirits" mentioned in Heb. 1:14, and consequently was "other in substance" (heteroousion) from the Father and Son. They appealed to three proof-texts in particular, that is, Amos 4:13 ("Lo, I who establish thunder and create spirit ..."), Zech. 1:9 ("These things says the angel that speaks within me") and I Tim. 5:21 ("I adjure you in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels"). It seems probable that the Tropici, while anticipating the later Pneumatomachians and Macedonians, were not connected with them, but were a purely local sect. Athanasius' teaching, set forth in The Letters to Serapion (c.359 A.D.), that gave an answer these theses, is that the Spirit is fully divine, consubstantial with the Father and the Son.

  1. First, after exposing the mistaken exegesis of the Tropici, Athanasius demonstrates that Scripture as a whole is unanimous that the Spirit "belongs to and is one with the Godhead Which is the Triad" and is so far from having anything in common with creatures. Thus, while creatures come from nothingness, are the recipients of sanctification and life, and are mutable, circumscribed and multiple, the Spirit comes from God, bestows sanctification and life, and is immutable, omnipresent and unique.
  2. Secondly, Athanasius uses the argument that since the Triad is eternal, homogeneous and indivisible, and the Spirit is a member of the Triad, then He must be consubstantial with Father and Son.
  3. Thirdly, Athanasius dwells on the close relationship between the Spirit and the Son, concluding from it that the Spirit belongs in essence to the Son exactly as the Son does to the Father. For example, He is the Spirit of the Son, "the vital activity and gift whereby He sanctifies and enlightens", and He is bestowed by the Son; whatever He possesses is the Son's. He joins with the Son in His work of creation, as Psa. 104:29 f. and Psa. 33:6 indicate; and Their indivisibility is also illustrated by Their co-activity in the inspiration of the prophets and in the incarnation.
  4. Lastly, Athanasius infers the Spirit's divinity from the fact that the Holy Spirit makes us all "partakers of God [cf. I Cor. 3:16 f.] ...
    If the Holy Spirit were a creature, we should have no participation in God through Him; we should be united to a creature and alien from the divine nature ... If He makes men divine, His nature must undoubtedly be that of God."
    In deference to current convention, Athanasius abstains from calling the Holy Spirit God directly. But his doctrine is that the Spirit belongs to the Word and the Father, and shares one and the same substance (homoousios) with Them. [3]

What Athanasius says about the Spirit completes his teaching about the Trinity. The Godhead, according to this conception, exists eternally as a Triad of Persons (of course, at this time Athanasius had no term of his own to express this) sharing one identical and indivisible substance or essence. All three Persons, moreover, are possessed of one and the same activity (energeia), so that "the Father accomplishes all things through the Word in the Holy Spirit". Whatever the Father effects in the way of creation, or government of the universe, or redemption, He effects through His Word; and whatever the Word carries out, He carries out through the Spirit. Hence Athanasius can write,

"The holy and blessed Triad is indivisible and one in Itself.
When mention is made of the Father, the Word is also included,
as also the Spirit Who is in the Son. If the Son is named,
the Father is in the Son, and Spirit is not outside the Word.
For there is a single grace which is fulfilled from the Father
through the Son in the Holy Spirit." [4]

The Cappadocian Fathers.
Cappadocia was a highland province in what is now eastern Turkey, bounded on the south by the Taurus Mountains. It was constituted a Roman province by Tiberius in A.D.17, on the death of Archelius. In A.D. 70, Vespasian united it with Aremenia Minor as one of bulwarks of the Roman Empire. Under later emperors, especially Trajan, the size and importance of the province increased greatly. It was easily accessible from Taurus through the Cilician Gates. Jews from it were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9). Some of the Dispersion to whom Peter wrote his letter lived in Cappadocia (I Pet. 1:1). The Cappadocian Fathers are:
Basil of Caesarea (c.329-379 A.D.), his younger brother,
Gregory of Nyssa (330-c.395 A.D.), and his friend,
Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389 A.D.).

Basil of Caesarea
Basil of Caesarea, also called Basil the Great, was the eldest son of Christian parents, and the brother of Gregory of Nyssa and Macrina. He was educated at home in Caesarea (in Cappadocia, not Palestine) and then Constantinople before going in A.D. 351 to the University of Athens. There friendships were formed with the young prince Julian and Gregory, another student from Cappadocia who was later to become famous as Gregory of Nazianzus. Following his study at Athens, Basil returned to Caesarea about 356 and taught rhetoric with great success. He was attracted to and influenced by the ascetic practices of Eustathius, bishop of Sebaste. He resisted attractive offers by the city to undertake educational work, because he had already determined to devote himself to an ascetic and devotional life. About A.D. 357 he was baptized and ordained reader in the church. This was followed by visits to monastic settlements in Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, which at a later stage helped him decide the nature of the monastic community he wanted to establish. On his return to Pontius he retired to a small hermitage by the river Iris not far from his home. He left his seclusion in A.D. 364 at the request of his bishop, Eusebius, who was facing much opposition from the extreme Arians, and was ordained presbyter, and proceeded to write books against Eunomius. After the death of Eusebius in A.D. 370, Basil was made bishop of Caesarea, a role which was to bring him into controversy not only with the Arians but also with the Pneumatomachi and the emperor. When the Emperor Valens visited the province eager to impose Arianism upon a defiant orthodox church, he was outclassed by the eloquent, forceful arguments of a dignified Basil. Basil made important contributions to the church not only as an ascetic and as bishop, but also as a theologian and teacher. His De Spiritu Sancto and Adversus Eunomium attacked the Arian doctrines and his towering personality and popularity made him and ideal mediator between East and West. Through his conciliatory influence, together with that of Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa the confusion over terminology was eventually resolved. Basil's many letters reveal him as a warm pastor who was concerned for the spiritual and physical well-being of his people. He died at fifty, a prematurely old man, worn out by his self-inflicted privations and ascetic practices. [5]

Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa, who was the younger brother of Basil of Caesarea, was a shy, gentle man of studious disposition who was totally dominated by his older forceful brother, whom he sometimes called "the Master." After a brief spell as reader in the church, he became a teacher of rhetoric and thereby incurred Basil's great displeasure for entering upon a secular life. In penitence he entered a monastery founded by Basil. In A.D. 371, he accepted Basil's invitation, although rather unwillingly, to become bishop of Nyssa. Because he supported the Nicene faith, Gregory was deposed by a synod of Arian bishops in A.D. 376, but he regained his see in A.D. 378 when Emperor Valens died. Gradually his fame spread, and about A.D. 379 he as asked to visit the Church of Syria to help solve the problem of schism in that church. And at the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381, he took leading part, not only in delivering the inaugural address which is not extant, but also the funeral oration of Melitius of Antioch, the first president of the council. Very little is known of the later years of Gregory's life. His chief theological work was the Sermo Catecheticus, a manual of theology in which he deals at length with Christology and eschatology. The latter doctrine he based upon the views of Plato and Origen which Gregory believed to be consonant with Scripture. He took Paul's statement in I Cor. 15:28 literally that God will eventually be "all in all", and saw hell as a process of ultimate purification rather than a place of eternal punishment. Gregory was a staunch supporter of the Nicene faith and was among the first to distinguish between ousia and hypostasis. The former he used to used to express essence, and the latter the distinctive peculiarity which was equivalent to person. [6]

Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory of Nazianzus was brought up on the family estate near the town of Nazianzum in Cappadocia where his father, also named Gregory, was bishop and whence he derived his title. He was educated at Caesarea where he met Basil and eventually the two friends went on to the University of Athens in about A.D. 350. Gregory returned home in about A.D. 358, and after a short career as a teacher of rhetoric he spent some time helping his aged father at Nazianzum. In A.D. 362, against his will, his father had him ordained presbyter. Ten years later he reluctantly agreed with Basil's wish that he be bishop of Sasima, a position he never in fact fulfilled, and a place he never visited, preferring to assist his father at home. After his father's death in A.D. 374, he retired to Seleucia in the province of Isauria. Gregory was summoned out of his monastic retirement to Constantinople to defend the Nicene faith against Arianism. His ministry at the "Church of the Resurrection" in Constantinople made a significant contribution to the final establishment of the orthodox faith. During the council he was appointed bishop of Constantinople, but characteristically resigned the see when his election was disputed. After the council he went back to Nazianzum, where he took charge of the church, but from A.D. 384 he retired to his family estate where he finally died. Although he was unimpressive in personal appearance and bearing, Gregory had an outstanding power of oratory which he used to great effect in his ministry at Constantinople. Most worthy of his writings are the famous five Theological Addresses against the Arians. In the first oration he deals with the Eunomians and in the second oration with the nature of God. In the third and fourth he develops the doctrine of God the Son. He shows that the orthodox teaching concerning the equality of Father and Son is much more Christian and more logical than the Arian concept of the Godhead. In the fifth oration Gregory treats the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and argues for the consubstantiality of the Spirit with the Father and the Son. Other writings include the Philocalia, a selection of from the works of Origen which he compiled with Basil; several writings against Apollinarianism; and 242 letters and poems. [7]

Trinity in the East.
The Homoousion of The Spirit.
If Athanasius started the defense of the Homoousion of the Spirit, then the Cappadocian Fathers completed it cautiously and circumspectly. The moderate section of the great central party, of which Cyril of Jerusalem was a typical representative, had long possessed a doctrine acknowledging the full deity of the Spirit, while declining to employ the homoousios to express it; but the old Eusebian subordinationism was still tenaciously upheld by the left wing. As a result, the manifesto circulated by Basil of Ancyra and his friends after the synod of Ancyra in A.D. 358, contented itself with a vague formula stating that the Spirit "is given to the faithful from the Father through the Son", and "has His being (huphestos) from the Father through the Son". But in A.D. 362 at the council of Alexandria, Athanasius secured acceptance of the proposition that the Spirit is not a creature but belongs to, and is inseparable from, the substance of the Father and the Son. From then on the question of the Spirit's status becomes an urgent issue, and the underlying divergence of opinions are brought out in the light of day. In a sermon preached in A.D. 380, Gregory of Nazianzen gives an illuminating picture of the wide variety of views which still held the field. Some, he reports, consider the Holy Spirit to be a force (energeia), others a creature, others God. Others, making the vagueness of Scripture their excuse, decline to commit themselves. Of those who acknowledge His deity, some keep it as a pious opinion to themselves, others proclaim it openly, and yet others seem to postulate three Persons possessing deity in different degrees. There are two main divisions of opinion. The opponents of the full deity of the Spirit were known as Macedonians or Pneumatomachians ("Spirit-fighters"). The former name, which only came into use after A.D. 380, recalls Macedonius, the Homoiousian bishop of Constantinople, who was deposed by the Arians in A.D. 360, but there is nothing to show that he had anything in fact to do with "Macedonianism". The Pneumatomachians, as they are more suitably named, harked back to the left-wing Homoiousians whom Athanasius must have had in mind when insisting on the Homoousion of the Spirit at Alexandria. The moderates among them accepted the consubstantiality of the Son, but the more radicals (led by Eustathius of Sebaste after his rupture with Basil of Caesarea in A.D. 373) preferred the words "like in substance" or "like in all things". [8]

Eustathius (c.300 - c.377 A.D.) was a famous exponent of asceticism who attracted and became a formative influence in the development of Basil of Caesarea. The ascetic practices of Euthathius and his followers were extreme enough to be condemned by several synods, but he was sufficiently respected that he was elected bishop of Sebaste in Armenia Minor in A.D. 356. He was a prominent member of the Synod of Ancyrea (A.D. 358), which stood for the Homoiousion position in the Arian controversy, and he was consequently deposed in A.D. 360. Later in A.D. 373, he became "the leader of the sect of the Spirit-fighters", and his friendship with Basil was completely severed. The Pneumatomachians were condemned by Damasius of Rome in A.D. 374, and their doctrines were attacked by the Cappadocian Fathers and Didymus the Blind of Alexandria. Formally anathematized with other heresies at the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381, the sect disappeared after 383, victims of the Theodosian antiheresy laws. [9]

The position of both the moderate and more radical groups is aptly summarized in the statement attributed to Eustathius that he did "not choose to call the Spirit God nor presume to call Him a creature"; as others expressed it, "He occupies a middle position, being neither God nor one of the others (i.e. the creatures)". Their case was partly Scriptural; they cited a multitude of texts suggestive of the Spirit's inferiority and pointed, in particular, to the silence of the Bible respecting His divinity. They also argued that, since no relationship was conceivable within the Godhead except that of the Father and Son, the Spirit of God must be either a coordinate unoriginate principle with the Father or else the brother of the Son; since neither alternative was acceptable, He could no more be God than the other spirits.

In the opposite camp, because of the wide variety of opinion which had to be placated, progress towards the full Athanasian position was necessarily gradual. Gregory of Nazianzus describes how Basil of Caesarea, when preaching in A.D. 372, studiously abstained from speaking openly of the Spirit's deity. At this stage, Basil preferred to win over the wavering by tactful "reserve" (oikonomia), contenting himself with the negative criterion of denial or acceptance of the creatureliness of the Spirit. After his break with Eustathius and the increasing activity of the Pneumatomachians, he became progressively more definite. So, in the following year, in the profession of faith submitted to Eustathius, Basil advanced a new test: the Spirit must be recognized as intrinsically holy, one with "the divine and blessed nature", inseparable (as the baptismal formula implied) from Father and Son. In his De Spiritu Sancto (A.D. 375), Basil took a further step, urging that the Spirit must be accorded the same glory, honor and worship as Father and Son; He must be "reckoned with" (sunarithmeisthai), not "reckoned below" (huparithmeisthai) Them. This was as far as he was to go. He nowhere calls the Spirit God nor affirms His consubstantiality in so many words, although he makes it plain that "we glorify the Spirit with the Father and the Son because we believe that He is not alien to the divine nature". The main points of his argument are

  1. the testimony of Scripture to the Spirit's greatness and dignity, and to the power and vastness of His operation;
  2. His association with the Father and Son in whatever They accomplish, especially in the work of sanctification and deification; and
  3. His personal relationship to both Father and Son.

The other Cappadocians repeated and extended Basil's teaching. Gregory of Nyssa emphasizes the "oneness of nature" shared by the three Persons, and quotes Psa. 33:6
("By the word of the Lord were the heavens established,
and all the power of them by the Spirit [literally, "breath"] of His mouth")
to prove that the Word and the Spirit are coordinate realities. According to his version of Luke 11:2, the Lord's Prayer read, "Thy Holy Spirit come upon us and purify us". From this he concluded that the activity of the Spirit was identical with that of the Father; and since the Son also was indistinguishable, there could be no difference of nature between the Persons. But Gregory of Nazianzus throws off all inhibitions. "Is the Spirit God?" he asks and answers, "Yes, indeed. Then is He consubstantial? Of course, since He is God." Gregory also finds support for his doctrine in the testimony of Scripture (for example, John 4:24; Rom. 8:26; I Cor. 14:15), and also in the Spirit's character as the Spirit of God and of Christ, His association with Christ in the work of redemption, and the Church's devotional practice. To explain the lateness of the recognition of the Spirit as God, Gregory produces a highly original theory of doctrinal development. Just as the acknowledgment of the Father's Godhead had to precede the recognition of the Son's, so the latter had to be established before the divinity of the Spirit could be admitted. The Old Testament revealed the Father, and the New Testament the Son; the latter only hinted at the Spirit, but He dwells in us and discloses His nature more clearly.

A problem that the Cappadocians had to face, if they were to counter the Arian jibe that the Homoousion of the Spirit seemed to involve the Father in having two Sons, was to differentiate between the mode of origin of the Son and that of the Spirit. All that Basil of Caesarea can say on the subject is that the Spirit issues from God, not by way of generation, but "as the breath of His mouth"; thus His "manner of coming to be" (tropos tes hupacxseos) remains "ineffable". Basil further teaches that the one Spirit "is linked with the one Father through the one Son"; it is "through the Only-begotten" that the divine qualities reach the Spirit from the Father. Gregory of Nazianzus is satisfied with the Johannine statement (John 15:26) that He "proceeds" (ekporeuetai) from the Father; what "procession" means he can no more explain than can his adversaries what the Father's agennesia or the Son's generation means, but it distinguishes the Spirit from both. But it was Gregory of Nyssa who provided what was to prove to be the definitive statement. The Spirit, he teaches, is out of God and is of Christ; He proceeds out of the Father and receives from the Son; He cannot be separated from the Word. From this it is a short step to the idea of the twofold procession of the Spirit. According to Gregory of Nyssa, the three Persons are to be distinguished by Their origin, the Father being cause (to aition) and the other two caused (cf. to aitiaton). The two Persons Who are caused may be further distinguished, for one of Them is directly (prosechos) produced by the Father, while the other proceeds from the Father through an intermediary. Viewed in this light, the Son alone can claim the title Only-begotten, and the Spirit's relationship to the Father is in no way prejudiced by the fact that He derives His being from Him through the Son. Elsewhere, Gregory speaks of the Son as related to the Spirit as cause to effect, and uses the analogy of a torch imparting its light first to another torch and then through it to a third in order to illustrate the relationship of the three Persons. It is clearly Gregory's doctrine that the Son acts as an agent, no doubt in subordination to the Father Who is the fountainhead of the Trinity, in the production of the Spirit.

After Gregory of Nyssa, the regular teaching of the Eastern Church is that the procession of the Holy Spirit is "out of the Father through the Son". Epiphanius (c.315-403 A.D.), bishop of Salamis (Constantia), after describing the Holy Spirit as "proceeding from the Father and receiving of the Son", takes a further step, influenced perhaps by his Western contacts, and omits the crucial preposition "through". In his view, the Holy Spirit is "not begotten, not created, not fellow-brother nor brother to the Father, not forefather nor offspring, but out of the same substance of Father and Son". He is "Spirit of the Father" and "Spirit of the Son", not through any composition analogous to that of body and soul in man, but "centrally to Father and Son, out of the Father and the Son". He is "from both, a Spirit derived from spirit, for God is spirit".

Origen, more than a century before, basing himself on John 1:3, had taught that the Spirit must be included among the things brought into existence through the Word. The same theory, with a strongly subordinationist flavor, reappears in his radical successors, such as Eusebius of Caesarea. But, as stated by the Cappadocians, the idea of the twofold procession from Father through Son lacks all traces of subordinationism, for its setting is a wholehearted recognition of the homoousion of the Spirit. [10]

The First Council of Constantinople.
The climax of the development of the Homoousion of the Spirit was the reaffirmation of the Nicene faith at the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381. One hundred and eighty-six bishops, all of them from the East, gathered in the capital where one hundred and fifty of them reaffirmed their orthodoxy, fortified now by the teaching of Athanasius, Basil and Gregory of Nyssa. At this council the consubstantiality of the Spirit as well as the Son was formally endorsed. The theology which prevailed, as exemplified by the great Cappadocians themselves, may be fairly described as that of Athanasius. It is true that their approach was somewhat different from his and has been called Neo-Nicene. Emerging from the Homoiousian controversy, it was natural that they should make the three hypostases, rather than the one divine substance, their starting point. Hence, while the formula which expresses their position is "one ousia in three hupostaseis", their emphasis often seems to be on the latter term, connoting the separate subsistence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rather than on the former, which stood for the one indivisible Godhead common to Them. Like Athanasius, they were champions of the Homoousion both of the Son and of the Spirit. As regards the Son, they pressed home the time-honored considerations of His generation out of the Father's being and of His functions as creator and redeemer, and in particular of the worship offered to Him in the Church.

The essence of their doctrine is that the one Godhead exists simultaneously in three modes of being, or hypostases. So Basil remarks,

"Everything that the Father is is seen in the Son,
and everything that the Son is belongs to the Father.
The Son in His entirety abides in the Father,
and in return possesses the Father in entirety in Himself.
Thus the hypostasis of the Son is, so to speak,
the form and presentation by which the Father is known,
and the Father's hypostasis is recognized in the form of the Son". [11]
This is the doctrine of the co-inherence, or as it was later called "perichoresis", of the divine Persons. The Godhead can be said to exist "undivided... in divided Persons", and there is an "identity of nature" in the three hypostases.
"We confess", writes Evagrius Ponticus,
"identity of nature and so accept the homoousion. ...
For He Who is God in respect of substance is consubstantial with Him Who is God in respect of substance."
Gregory of Nazianzus explains the position by stating,
"The Three have one nature, viz. God, the ground of unity being the Father,
out of Whom and towards Whom the subsequent Persons are reckoned". [12]
While all subordinationism is excluded, the Father remains in the eyes of the Cappadocians the source, fountain-head or principle of the Godhead. Their thought is that He imparts His being to the two other Persons, and so He can be said to cause Them. So Gregory of Nyssa speaks of "one and the same Person (prosopon) of the Father, out of Whom the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds", adding that "in the strict sense (kuios) we describe the unique cause of Those caused by Him one God".

To explain how the one substance can be simultaneously present in three Persons, they appeal to the analogy of a universal and its particulars. Basil writes,

"Ousia and hupostasis are differentiated exactly
as universal (koinon) and particular (to kath' hekaston) are,
for example, animal and particular man." [13]
From this point of view, each of the divine hypostases is the ousia or essence of the Godhead determined by its appropriate particularizing characteristic (idiotes; idioma), or identifying peculiarity, just as each individual man represents the universal "man" determined by certain characteristics which mark him off from other men. For Basil, these particularizing characteristics are respectively "paternity" (patrotes), "sonship" (huiotes), and "sanctifying power" (hagennesia) or "sanctification" (hagiastike dunamis; hagiasmos). The other Cappadocians define them more precisely as "ingenerateness" (agennesia), "generateness" (gennesis), and "mission" or "procession" (ekpempsis; ekporeusis), although Gregory of Nazianzus has to confess his inability to indicate wherein the Spirit's procession differs from the generation of the Son. Thus the distinction of the Persons is grounded in Their origin and mutual relationship. They are so many ways in which the one indivisible divine substance distributes and presents Itself, and hence They come to be termed "modes of coming to be" (tropoi huparxseos). So Basil's friend Amphilochius of Iconium, after stating his belief in "one God made known in three forms of presentation" (prosopois), suggested that the names Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not stand for essence or being (as "God" does), but for "a mode of existence or relation" (tropos hupaxseos etoun scheseos); and Pseudo-Basil (possibly Didymus) argued that the term agennetos does not represent God's essence but simply the Father's "mode of existence". This view appears to be Sabellianism.

The Cappadocians had thus analyzed the conception of hypostasis much more thoroughly than Athanasius. They were emphatic that the three hypostases share one and the same nature. In the Triad, the Monad is adored, just as the Triad is adored in the Monad; and the distinction of hypostases in no way rends asunder the oneness of nature. Their theory is that the unity of the ousia, or Godhead, follows from the unity of the divine action (energeia) which is disclosed in revelation. Gregory of Nyssa writes,

"If we observe a single activity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
in no respect different in the case of any,
we are obliged to infer unity of nature (to henomenon tes phuseos)
from the identity of activity; for Father, Son and Holy Spirit
cooperate in sanctifying, quickening, consoling and so on." [14]
Basil similarly finds proof of the deity of the Spirit in the fact that His energy is coordinate with that of Father and Son. As Pseudo-Basil remarks,
"Those whose operations are identical have a single substance.
Now there is a single operation of the Father and the Son,
as is shown by 'Let us make man in our image etc.',
or, 'Whatsoever the Father does, the Son does likewise';
and therefore there is a single substance of Father and Son." [15]
Along similar lines Gregory of Nyssa argues that, whereas men must be regarded as many because each of them acts independently, the Godhead is one because the Father never acts independently of the Son, nor the Son of the Spirit. The divine action begins from the Father, proceeds through the Son, and is completed in the Holy Spirit; none of the Persons possesses a separate operation of His own, but one identical energy passes through all Three.

The Cappadocians have often been charged with accepting the homoousion while interpreting it in a merely specific or generic sense, and the designation of "Neo-Nicenes" has consequently been applied to them. But the accusation rests on a misconception, for it is exceedingly doubtful whether the fathers of Nicaea themselves used the term homoosios to suggest anything more than the truth that the Son shares the same divine nature as the Father. Much more to the point is the related suggestion, which was advanced as much in their own day as in ours, that their doctrine, despite its sincere intention of maintaining the divine unity, was inescapably tritheistic. Admittedly certain features of their thought seem to lend weight to the charge, not the least their unfortunate comparison of the ousia of Godhead to a universal manifesting itself in particulars. In his anxiety to evade the tritheistic implications of likening the Triad to three men sharing the same ousia of manhood, Gregory of Nyssa is forced to conclude that in strictness of language we should not speak of a multiplicity of men but of one man. Yet the fathers themselves were fully conscious of the deficiencies of the analogy. Gregory of Nyssa expressly draws attention to the unity of operation between Father, Son and Spirit; and Gregory of Nazianzus emphasizes that the unity of the divine Persons is real as opposed to the purely "notional" (monon epinoia theoreton) unity of several men. Thus if Father, Son and Spirit are distinguishable numerically as Persons, They are indistinguishable as essence. In relationship to the Father, the Son is identical in substance (tauton kat' ousian); and the analogy between the Trinity and Adam, Eve (made out of his rib) and Seth (the product of both) breaks down because the divine essence is indivisible. In the very letter which expounds the universal-particular analogy most fully, Basil (or whoever was its author) argues eloquently for the inseparability of the Persons and the ineffable oneness of Their being. The fundamental point which should be remembered is that for these writers the ousia of Godhead was not an abstract essence but a concrete reality.

This brings us to an element in the Cappadocians' thought which their critics often ignore, that is, their belief in the simplicity and indivisiblity of the divine essence. In certain moods, they seem reluctant to apply the category of number to the Godhead at all, taking up the old Aristotelian doctrine that only what is material is quantitatively divisible. How can we be accused of tritheism, exclaims Evagrius, seeing we exclude number entirely from the spiritual nature of deity? According to Gregory of Nyssa, number is indicative merely of the quantity of things, giving no clue as to their real nature; and Basil insists that if we use number of deity at all we must use it "reverently" (eusebos), pointing out that while each of the Person is designated one, They cannot be added together. The reason for this is that the divine nature which They share is simple and indivisible. As Gregory of Nazianzus remarks, it is "absolutely simple and indivisible substance", "indivisible and uniform and without parts" (adiairetos esti kai monoeides kai ameres). In othe words, they have transferred their emphasis from mere numerical unity to unity of nature. Evagrius says as much when he writes, "In answer to those who upbraid us with tritheism, let it be said that we worship one God, one not in number but in nature. Whatever is described as one in a merely numerical sense is not one really, and is not simple in nature; but everyone recognizes that God is simple and incomposite." But the corollary of this simplicity is that tritheism is unthinkable. [16]

The Trinity in the West.
In the meantime, Western theological thought about the Trinity, virtually quiescent since Novation, had began to bestir itself. We have seen how Hilary of Poitiers, as a result of his exile in the East, was able to collaborate with Athanasius in winning over the Homoiousians, himself teaching a doctrine which, while absolutely clear as against Sabellianism on the distinction of the Persons, insisted on Their consubstantiality. A characteristic formula of his was,
"Unum sunt, non unione personae sed substantiae unitate"
("They are one, not one person but one substance"),
and he cited Isa. 45:14 f. (Old Latin) as proving that
"the Godhead of Father and Son is indivisible and inseparable".
A little later, we find Ambrose conceiving of their Person Who are one (unum sunt) through Their having one substance, one divinity, one will, one operation; the idea of universal with its particulars does not suffice to explain Their unity. A more conservative approach, reflecting the still powerful influence of Tertullian, is found in writers such as Phoebadius, [17] first known bishop of Agen in southern France. His birth and death dates are uncertain; but he became bishop after A.D. 347 and was alive in A.D. 392. He wrote Liber contra Arianos to refute the Arian heresy. At the Council of Arminum (Rimini) in A.D. 359, he at first refused to sign the Arian Confession, but was tricked into doing so by Valens. When he discovered the deception, he protested strongly and cleared himself. He also wrote De Fide Orthodoxa contra Arianos and Libellus Fidei. He wrote in Contra Arianos (22),

"We must hold fast the rule which confesses the Father in the Son
and Son in the Father. This rule, preserving unity of substance
in the two Persons, recognizes the economy (dispositionem) of the Godhead." [18]
The Spirit, he added, is from God, so that if God has a second Person in the Son, He has a third in the Spirit.
"Yet all in all They are one God; the Three are a unity (unum)." [19]

But the most original and interesting individual in the middle decades of the fourth century was Marius Victorinus, the NeoPlatonic philosopher who after his conversion in A.D. c.355 set himself to defend the Homoousion against Arian criticisms. Important for their own sake, his ideas are also important for the impact they had on Augustine. Philosophically, Victorinus relied heavily on Plotinus, but his acceptance of the Christian Scriptures and revelation required him to make drastic changes in the NeoPlatonic view of reality. The Biblical concept of a living God required him to think of God as essentially concrete and active; God is eternally in motion rather than static. Thus, he is able to develop a doctrine of eternal generation which allows him to evade the Arian objection that generation implies change. This movement immanent in God takes the form of dialectical process which is in the Godhead intrinsically triadic. God is tridunamos, "possessing three powers - being, living, understanding [esse, vivere, intelligere]". From this point of view, the Father is the divine being that is absolute and unconditioned; He is entirely without attributes or determination, invisible and unknowable; strictly speaking, He is "prior to being [proon]". The Son is the "form" by which the Godhead determines or limits Itself, thereby makes Himself knowable. He is, so to speak, the eternal object of the Father's will, or rather the object of His knowledge, the image by which He knows Himself. The Son is related to the Father as actuality to potency, as Word to eternal silence. The Spirit, about Whom Victorinus has less to say, is distinguishable from the Son as intelligence is from life, as the voice from the mouth that utters it. So Victorinus can write that "the Father is silence eloquent, Christ is His voice, and the Paraclete is the voice of the voice"; and elsewhere that "if Christ is life, the Spirit is understanding".

In one of his hymns, he expresses the characters of the Persons of the Trinity as "Existence, Life, Knowledge - O Blessed Trinity!"; and he affirms, "God is substance, the Son is form, the Spirit is concept". Yet these three dynamic characters are shared alike by all three Persons; each with the others is only one substance, one will and life, one knowledge. Again and again he insists on the circuminsession, or mutual indwelling, of the Persons (that is, omnes in alternis existentes). They are one with the unity which transcends number; yet there is a distinction between Them which Victorinus would prefer to express by tres subsistentiae rather than by tres personae, or else by saying that the absolute Godhead subsistes tripliciter. He seems to envisage the being of God as in a continuous process of unfolding and re-folding. If the Son, as the form and image of the Godhead knows itself, and so returns back to Itself. The Spirit is thus the link, or copula, between the Father and the Son, completing the perfect circle of the divine being. [20]

Augustine gave the Western view of the Trinity its mature and final expression. All during his life as a Christian, Augustine was meditating upon the problem of the Trinity, explaining the Church's doctrine to inquirers and defending it against attack. Augustine put together on different occasions, between A.D. 399 and A.D. 419, a long (written in fifteen volumes) and elaborate discussion of the Trinity in perhaps his greatest work known as the De Trinitate. He accepts without question the truth there is one God Who is Trinity, and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are at once distinct and co-essential, numerically one in substance; and his writing about it is a detailed statements of it. However, he nowhere attempts to prove it; it is a datum of revelation which, on his view, Scripture proclaims on almost every page and which is "the Catholic faith [fides cathoica]" to be handed on to believers. According to his fundamental principle that faith must precede understanding (praecedit fides, sequitur intellectus), his theological task is to understand and comprehend the doctrine that is accepted by faith.

Augustine's exposition of the Trinitarian orthodoxy begins with the conception of God as absolute being, simple and indivisible, transcending the categories. In contrast to the tradition which made the Father its starting point, Augustine begins with the divine nature Itself. It is this simple, immutable nature or essence (he prefers "essence" to "substance", for the latter suggests a subject with attributes, whereas God for Augustine is identical with His attributes) which is Trinity. The unity of the Trinity is thus set in the foreground, subordinationism of every kind being rigorously excluded. Whatever is affirmed of God is affirmed equally of each of the three Persons. Since it is one and the same substance which constitutes each of Them,
"not only is the Father not greater than the Son in respect of divinity,
but Father and Son together are not greater than the Holy Spirit,
and no single Person of the Three is less than the Trinity Itself". [21]

Several corollaries follows from this emphasis on the oneness of the divine nature. [22]

  1. First, Father, Son and Spirit are not three separate individuals in the same way as three human beings who belong to one genus. Rather, each of the divine Persons, from the point of view of substance, is identical with the others or with the divine substance itself. In this way God is not correctly describe, as Victorinus had described Him, as "threefold" (triplex: a word which suggested to Augustine the conjunction of three individuals), but as Trinity, and the Persons can be said severally to indwell or coinhere with each other.
  2. Secondly, whatever belongs to the divine nature as such should, in strictness of language, be expressed in the singular, since that nature is unique. As the later Athanasian creed, which is Augustinian through and through, puts it, while each of the Persons is increate, infinite, omnipotent, eternal, etc., there are not three increates, infinites, omnipotents, eternas, etc., but one.
  3. Thirdly, the Trinity possesses a single, indivisible action and a single will; Its operation is "inseparable". In relationship to the contingent order the three Persons act as "one principle" (unum principium), and, "as They are inseparable, so They operate inseparably". In his own words, "where there is no difference of natures, there is none of wills either". As an illustration of this, Augustine argues that the theophanies recorded in the Old Testament should not be regarded, as the earlier patristic tradition had tended to regard them, as appearances exclusively of the Son. Augustine argues that sometimes they can be attributed to the Son or to the Spirit, sometimes to the Father, and sometimes to all Three; on occasion it is impossible to decide to which of the Three to ascribe them.
  4. Lastly, Augustine faces the obvious difficulty that his theory suggests, that is, that it seems to obliterate the several roles of the three Persons. Augustine's answer is that, while it is true that the Son, as distinct from the Father, was born, suffered and rose again, it remains equally true that the Father cooperated with the Son in bringing about the incarnation, passion and resurrection; it was fitting for the Son, however, in virtue of His relationship to the Father, to be manifested and made visible. In other words, since each of the Persons possesses the divine nature in a particular manner, it is proper to attribute to each of Them, in the external operation of the Godhead, the role which is appropriate to Him in virtue of His origin. It is a case of what later Western theologians were to describe as appropriation.

The Persons of the Godhead are identical considered as the divine substance, the Father is distinguished as Father because He begets the Son, and the Son is distinguished as Son because He is begotten. The Spirit, similarly, is distinguished from Father and Son inasmuch as He is "bestowed" by Them; He is Their "common gift" (donum), being a kind of communion of Father and Son, or else the love which They together pour into our hearts. Thus the question arises: what in fact are the Three. Augustine recognizes that they are traditionally designated Persons, but he is clearly unhappy about the term; probably it conveyed the suggestion of separate individuals to him. If in the end he consents to adopt the current usage, it is because of the necessity of affirming the distinction of the Three against Modalism ("the formula 'three Persons' was employed, not so that that might be said, but so as to avoid having to say nothing at all"), and with a deep sense of the inadequacy of human language. His own positive theory was the original and, for the history of Western Trinitarianism, highly important one that the Three are real or subsistent relationships. His motive in formulating it was to escape a cunning dilemma posed by Arian critics. Basing themselves on the Aristotelian scheme of categories, they contended that the distinction within the Godhead, if they existed, must be classified under the category either of substance or of accident. The latter was out of question, God having no accidents; the former led to the conclusion that the Three are independent substances. Augustine rejected both alternatives, pointing out that the concept of relationship (ad aliquid relatio) still remains. The Three, he goes on to claim, are relationships, as real and eternal as the factors of begetting, being begotten and proceeding (or being bestowed) within the Godhead which give rise to them. Father, Son and Spirit are thus relationships in the sense that whatever each of Them is, He is in relationship to one or both of the others. [23]

Augustine attempts to explain what the procession of the Spirit is, or wherein it differs from the Son's generation. Augustine was certain that the Spirit is the mutual love of Father and Son (communem qua invicem se diligunt pater et filius caritatem), the consubstantial bond which unites Them. His consistent teaching was that He is the Spirit of both alike; as he put it, "The Holy Spirit is not the Spirit of one of Them, but of both". This he believed to be the clear teaching of the Scripture. Thus in the relationship to the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son form a single principle; and since the relationship of both to Him is identical, and where there is no difference of relationship Their operation is inseparable. Hence Augustine, more clearly than any of the Western fathers before him, taught the doctrine of the double precession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son (filioque). Answering the objection that since both the Son and the Spirit derive from the Father there should be two Sons, he states,

"The Son is from the Father, the Spirit also is from the Father.
But the former is begotten, the latter proceeds.
So the former is Son of the Father from Whom He is begotten,
but the latter is the Spirit of both since He proceeds from both. ...
The Father is the author of the Spirit's procession
because He begot such a Son,
and in begetting Him made Him also the source
from which the Spirit proceeds." [24]
Augustine warns us that it should not be inferred that the Spirit has therefore two sources or principles; on the contrary, the action of the Father and Son in bestowing the Spirit is common, as is the action of all three Persons in creation. Further, despite the double procession, the Father remains the primordial source, inasmuch as it is He from Whom the Son derives His capacity to bestow the Spirit. [25]

According to Augustine, there are analogies or "vestiges" of the Trinity everywhere, for in so far as creatures exist at all they exist by participating in the ideas of God; hence everything must reflect, however faintly, the Trinity Which created it. The function of these, is not so much to demonstrate that God is Trinity, but as to deepen our understanding of the mystery of the absolute oneness and yet real distinction of the Three. But for the veritable image, man should look primarily into himself, for the Scripture presents God as saying, "Let us [that is, the Three] make man in our image and our likeness". Even the outer man, that is, man considered in his sensible nature, offers "a kind of resemblance to the Trinity". The process of perception, for example, yields three distinct elements which are at the same time closely united, and of which the first in a sense begets the second while the third binds the other two together, that is, the external object (res quam videmus), the mind's sensible representation of it (visio), and the intention or act of focusing the mind (intentio; voluntas; intentio voluntatis). However, for the actual image of the Triune Godhead we should look to the inner man, or soul, and in the inner man to his rational nature, or mens, which is the loftiest and most God-like part of him. This is the mind's activity as directed upon itself or, better still, upon God. [26]

This analogy fascinated him all his life, so that in such an early work as the Confessions (397-398 A.D.) we find him pondering the triad of being, knowing and willing (esse, nosse, velle). In the De Trinitate he elaborates this triad at length in three successive stages, the resulting trinities being

  1. the mind, its knowledge of itself, and its love of itself;
  2. the memory or, more properly, the mind's latent knowledge of itself, understanding, that is, its apprehension of itself in the light of the eternal reasons, and the will, or love of itself, by which this process self-knowledge is set in motion; and
  3. the mind as remembering, knowing and loving God Himself.
Each of these, in different degrees, reveals three real elements which, according Augustine's metaphysic of personality, are coordinate and therefore equal, and at the same time essentially one; each of them throws light on the mutual relationships of the divine Persons.

It is the last of the three analogies, however, that Augustine considers most satisfactory. The three factors disclosed in the second "are not three lives but one life, not three minds but one mind, and consequently are not three substances but one substance"; but he reasons that it is only when the mind has focused itself with all its powers of remembering, understanding and loving on its Creator, that the image it bears of Him, corrupted as it is by sin, can be fully restored. [27]

Augustine has no illusions about the limitations of the analogies. [28]

  1. In the first place, the image of God in man's mind is in any case a remote and imperfect one: "a likeness indeed, but a far distant image. ... The image is one thing in the Son, another in the mirror."
  2. Secondly, while man's rational nature exhibits the trinities mentioned above, they are by no means identical with his being in the way in which the divine Trinity constitutes the essence of the Godhead; they represent faculties or attributes which the human being possesses, whereas the divine nature is perfectly simple.
  3. Thirdly, as a corollary from this, while memory, understanding and will operate separately, the three Persons mutually coinhere and Their action is one and indivisible.
  4. Lastly, whereas in the Godhead the three members of the Trinity are Persons, they are not so in the mind of man. "The image of the Trinity is one person, but the supreme Trinity Itself is three Persons": which is a paradox when one reflects that nevertheless the Three are more inseparably one than is the trinity in the mind. This discrepancy between the image and the Trinity Itself merely reminds us of the fact, of which the Apostle Paul has told us, that here on earth we see "in a mirror, darkly"; afterwards we shall see "face to face".


[1] J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine, 2nd Edition,
Harper & Row, Publishers (New York, Evanston and London, 1958, 1960).,
p. 252.

[2] Ibid., pp. 255-256.

[3] Ibid., pp. 256-258.

[4] Ibid., p. 258.

[5] Carey, G.L., Basil, The Great in
The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Revised Edition.,
Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1981),
pp. 109-110.

[6] Carey, G.L., Gregory of Nyssa in
The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Revised Edition.,
Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1981),
pp. 435-436.

[7] Carey, G.L., Gregory of Nazianus in
The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Revised Edition.,
Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1981),
p. 435.

[8] Kelly., pp. 259-260.

[9] Williams, C. Peter, Eustatius in
The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Revised Edition.,
Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1981),
p. 357.

[10] Kelly., pp. 260-263.

[11] Ibid., p. 264.

[12] Ibid., p. 265.

[13] Ibid., p. 265.

[14] Ibid., p. 266.

[15] Ibid., pp. 266-267.

[16] Ibid., pp. 263-269.

[17] Lindsell, Harold, Phoebadius in
The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Revised Edition.,
Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1981),
p. 778.

[18] Kelly., p. 269.

[19] Ibid., p. 269.

[20] Ibid., pp. 269-271.

[21] Ibid., p. 272.

[22] Ibid., pp. 272-274.

[23] Ibid., pp. 269-275.

[24] Ibid., p. 276.

[25] Ibid., p. 276.

[26] Ibid., p. 277.

[27] Ibid., pp. 277-278.

[28] Ibid., pp. 278-279.