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Background: this particular question arose from considering the implied ground of the following question: Does the Holy Spirit's procession from the Father and Son infringe on the co-equality of the Trinity? The author of the question assumes a Trinitarian position that is conistent with the 'Athanasian creed'*, with a view to ascertaining the legitimacy of Eastern Orthodox (doctrinal) objections to the 'filioque clause'.

My question is: How (if at all) is the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Trinity - which inludes the doctrine of 'the Monarchy of the Father' - consistent with the Athanasian creed? Particularly the following parts:

So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords.

and

And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.

I'm most interested in an Eastern Orthodox perspective, but would also welcome an explanation of how 'co-equality' is reconcileable to other views of the Trinity that include 'economic subordinationism' or 'relational surbodinationism'.


*Also known as Quicumque vult - I realise that it is not technically a creed (in the sense of being approved by an ecumenical council) and is almost certainly not authored by Athanasius of Alexandria, but it has come to be widely known by this moniker as it is judged to be wholely consistent with his Trinitarian-championing views to the extant of it's being regarded - at least in the West - as a touchstone of Trinitarian doctrine.

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Orthodoxy doesn't teach anything that contradicts the quotes from the athanasian creed in your question....the second speaks of how the Trinity transcends time..."before...after" see: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/14693/… –  Charles Alsobrook Jul 23 at 20:02
    
I'll try to work on an answer in my spare time :) –  Charles Alsobrook Jul 23 at 20:03
    
are you assuming that "Monarchy of the Father" is the same as subordinationism? –  Charles Alsobrook Jul 24 at 8:19
    
@CharlesAlsobrook Not that they are synonymous, but the former is a form of the latter. –  bruised reed Jul 24 at 8:23

4 Answers 4

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The Original Nicene Creed ( A.D. 325) is opposed to Athanasian Creed in number of ways.

The Athanasian Creed reads:

We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

So far, so good. This is definitely the Trinity of Nicea. However, it then continues:

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; and yet there are not three Lords but one Lord.

Perhaps you can tell the difference between that wording—for which no Scripture can be found—and this from the Nicene Creed, almost directly quoted from 1 Corinthians 8:6:

We believe in one God, the Father … and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God …

1 Corinthians 8:6 and the Nicene Creed say that the one God is the Father. They also say that Jesus Christ is the one Lord.

The Athanasian Creed, on the other hand, says all three persons of the Godhead are the one God and all three are the one Lord. This is the "mystery" of the modern view, but the modern view did not exist until the 4th century! In its place, the early churches—and, according to them, the apostles as well—had a clear explanation of the Trinity. It is true that the explanation is difficult, but it is clear.

The Nicene Creed reads, "We believe in one God, the Father … and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father."

To the early Church, the one God was the Father. Since the time of the Athanasian Creed, not long after Nicea, the one God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is more about terminology than it is about the actual substance of our faith in the Trinity of God. The early Church believed that there was one divine essence, and the Son and the Holy Spirit were both of that one divine essence. Thus the one God, and his divine essence, includes the Son and Holy Spirit.

However, their terminology (and Biblical terminology) is that the one God is the Father. This is the reason that Paul writes, "For us there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 8:6). It is also the reason that when Jesus prayed, he prayed, "This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3).

The reason we give for not using this terminology in modern Christianity is that the Son is regularly called God in the Scriptures (e.g., John 1:1; Tit. 2:13; there are many others). If the Son is called God, and that repeatedly, how can the Father be called the one God, both in Scripture and in the Nicene Creed?

Fortunately, Tertullian did not leave us without an explanation on this matter. He addressed it directly:

I shall follow the apostle [Paul], so that if the Father and the Son are alike to be invoked, I shall call the Father "God" and invoke Jesus Christ as "Lord."

But when Christ alone [is invoked], I shall be able to call him "God." As the same apostle says, "Of whom is Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever" [Rom. 9:5].

For I should give the name of "sun" even to a sunbeam, considered by itself. But if I were mentioning the sun from which the ray emanates, I would certainly withdraw the name of sun from the mere beam. For although I do not make two suns, still I shall reckon both the sun and its ray to be as much two things—and two forms of one undivided substance—as God and his Word, as the Father and the Son. (Against Marcion 2:13).

When the Son is mentioned alone, Tertullian says, we can call him God because he is of the substance of the Father. When mentioned together, the Father is to be called God, and the Son is to be referred to as Lord.

This not only answers the question of why the Father is called the one God in Scripture, it also shows that the idea of homoousios was not new at the Council of Nicea. It was in common use even in the 2nd century (or, in Tertullian's case, the early 3rd century).

Are God and the Word Equal?

Jesus said in John 14:28, "The Father is greater than I."

Here we find another difference between the Nicene Trinity and the modern view. We modern Christians understand Jesus to be referring to himself only during his time on earth. He was living in a body as a man and submitted to the Father. It is for this reason only that the Father was greater than he.

Before and after his time on earth, however, we believe he was in all ways equal to the Father.

The Athanasian Creed agrees, asserting, "In this Trinity none is before or after another, none is greater or less than another… . the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is … equal to the Father as touching his divinity, and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood."

The Council of Nicea, however, would not agree.

Up to and including the Council of Nicea, the church believed that God was inherently greater than his Word. The Father is greater than the Son, and that's an eternal thing. God is always going to be greater than his Word, which is just part of God.

Tertullian writes:

The Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as he himself acknowledges: "My Father is greater than I" [John 14:28] ... Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son, inasmuch as he who begets is one, and he who is begotten is another." (ibid. 9)

This is a delicate issue to broach, so let's not leave it to Tertullian alone.

A.D. 150: We reasonably worship him, having learned that he is the Son of the true God himself, and holding him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 13)

A.D. 185: For if anyone should ask the reason why the Father, who has fellowship with the Son in all things, has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour and the day, he will find at present no more suitable, becoming, or safe reason than this: … For "the Father," says he, "is greater than I." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies II:28:8)

A.D. 225: Grant that there may be some individuals among the multitude of believers who are not in entire agreement with us and who incautiously assert that the Savior is the Most High God. However, we do not hold with them but rather believe him when he says, "The Father who sent me is greater than I." We would not make him whom we call Father inferior—as Celsus accuses us of doing—to the Son of God. (Origen, Against Celsus VIII:14)

A.D. 250: Who does not acknowledge that the person of the Son is second after the Father … when he finds it written: "Because he who sends me is greater than I"? (A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity 26)

A.D. 300: For it was fitting that he who was greater than all things after the Father should have the Father, who alone is greater than himself, as his witness. (Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins: Discourse VII: Procilla ch. 1)

A.D. 320: The apostolic church believes in one Father unbegotten … who is unchangeable and immutable, who is always the same … and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God… . That he is equally with the Father unchangeable and immutable, lacking in nothing, and the perfect Son, and like to the Father, we have learned. In this alone is he inferior to the Father, that he is not unbegotten … as the Lord himself has taught us when he says, "My Father is greater than I." (Alexander of Alexandria, Letter to Alexander, Bishop of the City of Constantinople, par. 12)

It is clear from these quotes, and from the consistency we see in other the early Christian writings about the Trinity, that the idea that the Father is greater than the Son is an eternal idea, not temporary while he was on earth.

The idea is unfamiliar to us, but it is not that hard to grasp. The Father is the one God, and the Son is the Word of that one God, begotten by him in eternity past. The Word of God, being in some sense "part" of God, says that the Father is greater than he is.

Otherwise he is exactly like God, in that he is of the substance and essence of God, being his Logos.

In fact, even while quoting Jesus as saying that the Father is greater, Tertullian refers to the Son as equal to the Father. Immediately after quoting Prov. 8:22, he writes:

Thus does he make him equal to him; for by proceeding from himself he became his first-begotten Son, because begotten before all things. (Against Praxeas Chapter 7)

CONCLUSION

The Athanasian Creed does not reflect the Orthodox teaching of the Trinity.Clearly, the Orthodox who uses the Original Nicene Creed of 325 knows that the Father is not greater than the Son although not in nature but only in role and function. The Son and Spirit are equal to the Father in nature but subordinate in eternal relations.The Son begotten, the Spirit proceeds and the Father, the singular source [monarchy] of the two. This is like the teaching of functional subordination and ontological equality. Also, of immanent Trinity and economic Trinity combined with it.

SOURCES

http://mychristianity.tripod.com/essays/subordination.html

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Trinity

http://www.christian-history.org/trinity-heresy.html

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Thankyou, I appreciate the effort you've gone to in this answer. It seems reading between the lines, that you're asserting that the 'Athanasian creed' is not fully consistent with the Orthodox conception of the Trinity (especially where it says 'none is greater') - would that be a fair statement? –  bruised reed Jul 28 at 7:48
    
Yes indeed. Also, I edited my answer. :) –  Radz Matthew Co Brown Jul 28 at 7:50
    
I agree with the Nicene Creed version of the Trinity because it is fully biblical than the Athanasian Creed. But I agree with the Filioque. The HS proceeds from the Father through the Son or from both as of a single source. –  Radz Matthew Co Brown Jul 28 at 7:53
    
I edited it just now. –  Radz Matthew Co Brown Jul 28 at 7:58
    
I don't think 1 Cor 8:6 can mean that only the father is God or only Jesus is lord. It looks like a parallelism to me. It is arguing against idolatry by showing how the classic Jewish statement that there is one God applies to Christians: both the father and the son are the creator of everything. This verse is equating them, to show that both should be called both God and lord. If you had quoted the whole verse it would be much easier to see. –  curiousdannii Jul 28 at 8:08

Firstly, it must be stated that thousands of holy and learned souls have discussed and debated this controversial area of theology over the course of many centuries, and I for one do not pretend to be either holy or learned. My inadequacy in answering this question is cause for considerable hesitation.

But, since this is such a provocative question...how can I resist?


There is nothing inherently contradictory between Orthodox Trinitarian Theology and the Athanasian Creed.

The Athanasian Creed is actually considered to be one of the foundational sources of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

From the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website:

THE ATHANASIAN CREED

The next source of the teachings of the Orthodox Church (after Scripture, the Apostle's Creed, and the Creed of Nicea-Constantinople) is the Athanasian Creed, which was written and used by the Western part of the Church and later accepted by the Eastern part, though not used in its liturgical life. This Creed is a source because it states the Orthodox teaching of the faith of the Church. This Creed was not written by Athanasius, but attributed to him, and is believed by some to have been written by St. Ambrose in Latin. It is believed to have been written in either the fourth or fifth century.

The only line in the Athanasian Creed that might raise an eyebrow is about the procession of the Holy Spirit.

From Orthodoxwiki:

The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

Notice that it says the Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son. It does not say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Fr. Thomas Hopko comments on this:

So Jesus can say, “I will send you the Spirit,” because the Spirit is his Spirit, but it’s the Spirit of God that is in Jesus because he’s the Son of God. The Word of God and the Spirit of God are both of God. The Cappadocian Fathers—Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa—will simply say the archē of divinity, the principium divinitatis in Latin, the archē theotitos, is the Father alone. The Father is the cause. The Father is the source of the Spirit and of the Son: the Son, by way of generation or procession, being born, he’s a Son; and the Holy Spirit, breathed forth or proceeding from God the Father.


The doctrine of the "Monarchy of the Father" has never been considered by the Orthodox Church to be the same as subordinationism.

From Wikipedia:

Eastern Orthodox theologians maintain that by the expression "from the Father alone", and Photius' opposition to the Filioque, Photius was confirming what is Orthodox and consistent with church tradition. Drawing the teaching of the Father as cause alone (their interpretation of the Monarchy of the Father) from such expressions from various saints and biblical text. Such as that of Saint Irenaeus, when he called the Word and the Spirit "the two hands of God". They interpret the phrase "monarchy of the Father" differently from those who see it as not in conflict with a procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father through or from the Son. As the Father has given to the Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father.

The Father is "only (mono) father." The Son is "only begotten." The Spirit "only proceeds." Neither the Son, nor the Spirit is subordinated.

Subordination does, however, come into play with the filioque clause, simply because the procession of the Holy Spirit is now no longer unique to only one Person of the Trinity nor shared by all Persons, thus compromising the co-equality of the Persons of the Trinity.

See: BACK AT SQUARE ONE

By insistence of the Filioque, Orthodox representatives say that the West appears to deny the monarchy of Father and the Father as principle origin of the Trinity. Which would indeed be the heresy of Modalism (which states the essence of God and not the Father is the origin of, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The idea of Photius having invented that the Father is sole source of cause of the Holy Trinity is to attribute to him something that predates Photius' existence i.e. Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus and John of Damascus. "Photius never explored the deeper meaning behind the formula 'through the Son' (διὰ τοῦ Υἱοῦ), or the necessary eternal relationship between the Son and the Spirit, even though it was a traditional teaching of the previous Greek fathers."

Photius taught this in light of the teachings from Saints like Irenaeus whose Monarchy of the Father is in contrast to subordinationism, as the Orthodox officially condemned subordinationism in the 2nd council of Constantinople. That the Monarchy of Father which is in the Nicene Creed, Photius (and the Eastern Orthodox) endorse as official doctrine. As well as St. John of Damascus who taught the Holy Spirit proceeds from the being of God (as does Zizilious). Which is the Father expressed in the concept of the 'monarchy of the Father' via John 14:28 (“The Father is greater than I am”).

Orthodox officially condemned subordinationism in the 2nd council of Constantinople:

Subordinationists argued that a fully divine Son would imperil the monarchy of the Father, and they believed that any distribution of the divine substance to more than one person would indicate that God is both divisible and subject to change. As a result, they held that any person other than the Father must be created by the Father and subordinate to him. They thus argued that the Son was begotten by the Father as the firstborn of creation before time, that the Son is thus subordinate to the Father in every respect, and that the Father is the only person of the Trinity who is God in the fullest sense. This view was rejected as heresy at the Council of Nicaea in 325, which declared that the Son is not a creature but is eternally begotten from the Father. As such, the Son is as fully divine as the Father and worthy of the same worship the Father receives. The debate over these questions continued in the decades that followed, with Arius and other Subordinationists ranged against Athanasius and other defenders of the Nicene formula. A similar debate occurred regarding the Holy Spirit, and it culminated with the Council of Constantinople in 381. Following the pattern of Nicaea, this council condemned the subordination of the Spirit as heresy and argued that the Spirit is equal in dignity and worthy of the same worship as the Father and the Son.


The bottom line is...

You are confusing the conciliar Orthodox teaching of the Monarchy of the Father with the heterdox teaching of Arianism/subordinationism...

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I'm certainly not conflating Monarchy of the Father with Arianism which is not the only form of Surbodinationism. I understand the Orthodox rejection of the term as it can be viewed as perjorative, but the actual logic of doing so while still maintaining 'Monarchy of the Father' escapes me. There are a lot of words in your answer, but no clear explanation of the doctrine of the Monarchy of the Father and how in particular it is reconcileable to 'co-equality'. –  bruised reed Jul 24 at 14:11

The official Orthodox answer to this question can be seen most clearly in the answers to two questions in the Revised Catechism:

094 What difference is there between the Persons of the Holy Trinity?

God the Father is neither begotten nor proceeds from any other Person, he is the cause, source and principle. This is called the Monarchy of the Father.

etc.

and

095 Are the three Hypostases or Persons of the Most Holy Trinity all of equal majesty? Why then does Jesus say “the Father is greater than I?”

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit share equal majesty as being the eternal, uncreated Savior and Lord. The Father is true God, the Son equally true God, and the Holy Spirit true God. This ontological or essential equality was expressed by the Church by the expression “homoousion” (of the same essence) to condemn Arianism and affirm that the Son is co-eternal and co-uncreated with the Father. This does not negate different roles or functions:

Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and hold firm to the traditions as I delivered them to you. But I desire you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-3)

‘For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection under him,’ it is obvious that this excludes the one who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one (1 Corinthians 15:27-28).

When the Son says that the “Father is greater than I am,” (John 14:28) he is referring to the fact that the Father is the cause and origin, as the Holy Fathers interpret this text:

  • The Son does not say, “My Father is better than I,” lest we should conceive him to be foreign to his nature, but “greater,” not indeed in greatness nor in time, but because of his generation from the Father himself. (St Athanasius, Orations against the Arians, 1.58)

  • Since the Son’s origin (arche) is from the Father, in this respect the Father is greater, as cause and origin. This is why the Lord says, “My Father is greater than I.” Indeed, what else does the word Father signify unless being the cause and origin of that which is begotten of Him? (St Basil, Against Eunomius, 1.25)

  • Superior greatness belongs to the cause, equality to the nature.... To say that [the Father] is greater than [the Son] in his humanity is certainly true, but it is not the point here, since it is no wonder that God is greater than man... (St Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration, 30.7)
  • If anyones say that the Father is greater in so far as He is the cause of the Son, we will not dispute this. But this, however, does not make the Son to be of a different essence. (St John Chrysostom, Homily, 70)

In summary, the Orthodox position explains the Monarchy of the Father in terms of his superior greatness as 'cause, source and principle', while simultaneously maintaining co-equality amongst the Persons of the Trinity due to their being of the same essence. This, is maintained not to be contradictory to the 'Athanasian creed' which (although not used liturgically in the Orthodox churches) is recognised as sound doctrine (source).

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I still don't see how 'Monarchy of the Father' as expressed is possibly reconcileable to "And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another", but I think this is about as close as we are going to get to penetrating the mystical characteristics of Orthodox doctrine in this area. –  bruised reed Jul 24 at 15:33

Here is the Symbol of Faith of Orthodox Christians:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, True God of True God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:

Who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man;

And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;

And rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures;

And ascended into the heavens, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father;

And shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets;

In One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

I Confess one Baptism for the remission of sins.

I look for the Resurrection of the dead,

And the life of the age to come, Amen.

You can see twelve elements of the Orthodox creed. Here is no words about "the Monarchy of the Father"! It's simply to understand that whole created world is the Monarchy of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Trinity of one essence and inseparable, One God.

As the Lord Jesus Christ said (John 16:15):

All things that the Father hath are mine

ADDITION:

The Athanasian creed, if it has words about Filioque, is the heresy and does not belong to the Saint Athanasius of Alexandria! So we never consistent true Orthodox faith with the heretical Filioque even by using some auxiliary constructions like "the Monarchy of the Father".

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That is the Nicene creed, not the Athanasian creed - your answer lacks basic research. –  bruised reed May 26 at 11:46
    
I answer about "the Monarchy of the Father" with respect to the Orthodox creed. The Athanasian creed, if it has words about Filioque, is the heresy and do not belongs to the Saint Athanasius of Alexandria!!! –  DenisMath May 26 at 11:53
    
It is generally recognised that the Athanasian Creed was not written by Athanasius (or indeed written in the fourth century). It's frequently known as Quicunque Vult for precisely that reason. Moreover, this doesn't answer the question. There is plainly more to Orthodox theology than the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and the doctrine of the monarchy of the Father has traditionally been Orthodox teaching. –  lonesomeday May 26 at 17:57

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