Garrigues on the Father

February 21, 2009

The following text is translated from J.-M. Garrigues, L’Esprit qui dit «Père!»: l’Esprit-Saint dans la vie trinitaire et le problème du Filioque (Paris, 1981), pp. 31-35. I give it here, in part because Garrigues is an important writer on trinitarian matters; it has been argued (by the Orthodox writer, Jean-Claude Larchet) that the 1995 Vatican “Clarification” on the Filioque is largely a summarizing of his ideas. Also, a reader of this blog wrote to me today concerning St. Gregory the Theologian’s trinitarian theology; I thought I would give this translation, as providing a different perspective. Having read this passage, I have to say that I find things in it that I don’t agree with; there are places where Garrigues seems to me to have mistranslated St. Gregory, and, on the whole, I think he gives only one side of the picture: if it is true that the essence-hypostasis distinction is irreducible, it is also true that St. Gregory does identify, in some sense, the persons with the essence or nature. That is, I think St. Gregory looks at divine unity from a two-fold perspective: he is able to attribute unity both to the one Father and to the one nature or essence, although he makes these attributions in different ways: the Father is the unity in the sense that he is source to the other persons of what they are and of that they are; but the essence is also the unity, in the sense that each person, viewed in himself, possesses that one, identical essence, the full and undiminished nature of Godhead, and, indeed, not only possesses that essence, but is it. As Gregory says, “For the Godhead is one in three, and the three are one, in whom the Godhead is, or to speak more accurately, who are the Godhead” (or. 39.11).


The Father ἀρχὴ-ἄναρχος through the irreducibility of the “essence-hypostasis” distinction

The Eunomian crisis was a terrible shaking of the faith of the Eastern Church. Carrying Arianism to its furthest consequences, it constituted a deadly menace for faith in the God of revelation. It is on account of this that the fathers of the fourth-century Church wrote against Eunomius, and one need only count the number of treatises which the Cappadocian fathers and St. John Chrysostom dedicated to combatting him in order to understand the seriousness of the threat. This was a struggle that would continue over time; one finds echoes it in the works of Cyril of Alexandria, well into the fifth century. In fact, it is the very faith of the Church that would react through the mouth of these fathers and that would find, within Revelation, this rule of life and thought, this apophaticism which would forever mark the Eastern Church, especially through the liturgy which took shape exactly at the moment of the anti-Eunomian reaction: Σὺ γὰρ εἶ ὁ θεὸς ἀνέκφραστος, ἀπερινόητος, ἀόρατος, ἀκατάληπτος [“For thou art God, ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible”]: so says the preface to the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, while, again, that of St. Basil says ἄναρχε, ἀόρατε, ἀκατάληπτε, ἀπερίγραπτε, ἀναλλοίωτε, ὁ Πατὴρ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [“without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, uncircumscribable, unchangeable, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”], thus tying together the inaccessibility of the paternal archê-anarchos to his manifestation in his Son, the one who became Christ for us.

During this Eunomian turmoil, the Spirit raised up within the Church authentic “theologians” to render glory to God, theologians, that is, in the Eastern sense of Theologia which, since Origen, possessed a thoroughly concrete sense: it is the trinitarian reality itself, the λόγος πρὸς τὸν θεόν, and our participation in this divine life of the Logos made Man. It was for having revived this Theologia at the very heart of the faith of the Church that Gregory of Nazianzus received the supreme title of “Theologian,” a title which, till then, only the disciple of the Logos, John the Evangelist, had received.

Gregory the Theologian begins by rediscovering the New Testamental, Ante-Nicene perspective which refuses to make a separation between the Father as archê of creation and of the economy, on the one hand, and the Father as personal archê of the Trinity, on the other: “For he would have been the Principle (archê) merely of things petty and unworthy, worse, he would himself have been Principle merely in a petty, unworthy way, if he had not been the Principle of the Godhead and the goodness that are worshipped in the Son and the Holy Spirit: in the one as Son and Word, in the other as Spirit proceeding without separation” (Or. Theol. II, PG 35, 445). Gregory, by an instinct of faith, locates here the specifically non-Christian point of Eunomius’s position: to be the immutable and sovereign archê because of one’s being the principle only of inferior beings, such is not the true greatness of the Christian God; his greatness does not reside in a superiority of degree of being within an order of deficient participation (“a petty, unworthy way of being archê“) but in the possibility of being archê of the communication of Godhead to two other, equal persons within the order of the communion of love. Gregory understood that the manifestation of the invisible God, accomplished perfectly and freely by his Son upon the cross, brings us in contact with an unheard-of manner of being God, a manner that has little in common with that of a simple and supreme substance, as Eunomius too humanly conceives of it: “We will never have the audacity to speak of an ‘overflow of goodness,’ as one of the Greek philosophers dared to do, as if it were a bowl overflowing…. We will never accept a forced generation, a kind of natural, hardly-constrainable production, which can in no way fit with our notion of Deity” (Or. Theol. III.2). Faith understands a freedom above all necessity in the divine generation: the ἄναρχος Father can be at the same time ἀρχὴ τῆς θεότητος because he is a mystery of the gift of agape, and because his anarchia is a superessentially free source which has no need of protecting itself by jealously preserving for itself its own superiority. The Christian Godhead is “a Godhead without a superior degree which elevates or an inferior degree which abases” (Or. XLI, PG 36, 417 B). For the archê-anarchos of the Father, as source of the total gift, is a cause which in no way diminishes that to which it gives origin: “It is no less great to come from such a cause than it is to be without cause; for it is to participate in the glory that comes from him of being without principle (anarchos), and to that is added generation, so high a dignity, if one is able to understand it, and meriting so much veneration” (Or. Theol. IV, 7). One should take note at this point how it is in deepening the mystery of the irreducible archê-anarchos of the Father that Gregory of Nazianzus is led to the equality of essence between the Father and those to whom he gives himself totally, the Son and the Spirit.

Gregory is thus led to the heart of the mystery of the Father; he is, at one and the same time, greater and equal, anarchos and archê of the Godhead. He is not identical with his divine essence, since he is God in being Father, that is to say, in communicating that essence totally to the Son and to the Spirit. This is what Eunomius was unable to comprehend; he made the Father’s anarchos an essential property (in every sense of the word) of the Father, failing to see that the Father is inseparably anarchos and archê because he does not identify himself with his essence, being God, not by property, but by paternity: “When we say that the Father is greater than the Son qua cause, they add the conclusion ‘he is cause by nature’ and they deduce therefrom that he is greater by nature” (Or. Theol. III, 15). And Gregory expounds, in a precise way, how the unique paternal archê is God, not by an exclusive identification with the divine essence, but by a mysterious “movement” which comes and goes between Unity and Trinity: “But we, on the contrary, honor a single principle (μοναρχία); and this unity is not that which is constituted by the common dignity of nature, the agreement of will, the identity of movement and the return to unity of that which comes from unity — all these being things impossible to the created nature — in such a way that, if there is a numeric difference, there is, nevertheless, not a division of essence. This is why the Monad, having set itself in motion from the Principle (ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς) towards the Dyad, completes itself in a Triad” (Or. Theol. III, 2). [1] But if the Father ought not to be conceived of as identifying himself, in an exclusive manner, with the divine essence, the “movement” of communication which comes from him not only passes beyond the exclusive identity of his person with the divine essence, but even the dyad, relation conceived of as bipolar opposition, which is proper to the ontology of the created (matter-form, relation, etc.), to blossom into the Triad which is the other face of the paternal monarchy: “The Monad is put into motion on account of its richness; the Dyad is overcome, because the Godhead is above matter and form; it limits itself by the perfect of the Triad, which is the first to overcome the composition of the Dyad; in such a way that the Godhead does not remain in narrowness (Eunomius) nor spreads itself out to infinity (polytheism)” (Or. XXIII, 8, PG 35, 1160 C). “Triad: this word unites things united by nature and does not at all allow inseparable things to be dispersed by a number which separates them” (Or. XXIII, 10, PG 35, 1161 C); for this reason the Triad is the manifestation of the most profound mystery of the Father and can be considered as the name of the Living God of revelation (Or. XLV, PG 36, 628 C). We thus again discover, completely purified of all subordinationism, the traditional relation between the manifestation of the invisible God and his Revelation as Trinity.

It is thus through a meditation upon the mystery of the Father, the irreducible archê-anarchos, that the whole Trinity shows itself to be gathered up in his monarchy, according to Gregory of Nazianzus. It is in the Father that the antinomy of essence and hypostasis originates, an antinomy of which the “personal relations” are only a derived manifestation. For this reason, relations of opposition within the divine essence are not the foundation of the hypostases; these relations only permit a negative approach of the hypostases, preventing one from confusing them: “The Father has not become Father, since he has not had a beginning (archê). He is truly the Father because he is not the Son, just as the Son is truly the Son because he is not the Father. One cannot say the same concerning us, who are simultaneously fathers and sons, without being the one instead of the other” (Or. Theol. III, 5). This text illustrates well the superseding, in the Trinity, of a notion of relation, conceived of as relative, dyadic opposition, and thus proper to a created ontology. The Father is source of an absolute hypostatic diversity, even as he guarantees absolute communion in essential equality. This is how Gregory the Theologian presents him to us in a celebrated text: “For us, there is a single God, because there is a single Godhead, and because those who proceed refer back to One (ἕν) from which they proceed, even in being three according to the faith, for one of them is not more God and another less God…. Thus, when we consider the Godhead, the first cause, the monarchy, it is the One which appears to us, and when we consider those in whom is the Godhead, those who come from the first cause without interval of time and with equality of glory, there are three whom we worship” (Or. Theol. V, 14). It will be noted that Godhead (essence) is considered straightaway within the mystery of the Father who, not identifying himself with it, is by the same token the cause of its communication and its being imparted to other persons. It is the irreducibility of essence and hypostasis in the mystery of the Father, the archê-anarchos, which constitutes him as the source of the Trinity. It is this mystery of the Father which Gregory seeks finally to draw near to by way of symbols: that of the source, the fountain and the stream for the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, or, better, that of the vibrating reflection of sunlight upon water which produces splashes of light, unifying themselves and diversifying themselves unceasingly (Or. Theol. V, 32).


[1] Garrigues mistranslates here: “… et cette unité n’est pas celle que constituent la commune dignité de nature, l’accord de la volunté, etc. ….” Compare the tr. in NPNF ii.7, p. 301: “It is, however, a Monarchy that is not limited to one person, for it is possible for Unity if at variance with itself to come into a condition of plurality; but one which is made of an equality of Nature and a Union of mind, and an identity of motion, and a convergence of its elements to unity — a thing which is impossible to the created nature — so that though numerically distinct there is no severance of Essence.” Garrigues completely drops the important clause “it is, however, a Monarchy that is not limited to one person” (μοναρχία δέ, οὐχ ἣν ἓν περιγράφει πρόσωπον), as well as the explanatory clause that follows it; it seems as though he has skipped down a couple of lines, and has applied the οὐχ from this clause to the second half of the sentence. In any case, his translation is wrong. He appears to see Gregory as denying that unity, in God, in any way involves an ontological coincidence of person and essence. The tacit point of this denial seems to be to criticize certain (Western) ways of speaking about divine unity (attributing it to the nature), and to assert certain (Eastern) ways of speaking about divine unity (attributing it to the Father). I think Gregory, rather, intends to include both ways in his perspective.

Still, there is much in Garrigues’ reading of St. Gregory the Theologian that I would wholehearedly agree with — particularly his point, that, for Gregory, the Father’s greatness “does not reside in a superiority of degree of being within an order of deficient participation … but in the possibility of being archê of the communication of Godhead to two other, equal persons within the order of the communion of love.

One Response to “Garrigues on the Father”

  1. Cristian C. Says:

    I can’t wait to study this text!
    I also managed to get my hand on Swete’s ‘The Holy Spirit in the ancient Church’.


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