Is the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of "the Monarchy of the Father" consistent with the Athanasian creed?
This is a summary of an article available at Monarchy of the Father.
To answer this question, below, I first analyze and summarize the Athanasian Creed (AC), excluding its ‘anathemas’ at the beginning and at the end, and excluding the section on the incarnation. Then I compare this summary to the doctrine of the "Monarchy of the Father" of the Eastern Orthodox Church, using particularly the Catechism of the Orthodox Faith and a well-known talk on the Trinity by Fr. Thomas Hopko.
Christianity originated in the Eastern Roman Empire (in Judea) and most of the Christian theologians of the first centuries were from that area. However, the Muslim military conquests in later centuries considerably weakened Christianity in the east. At the same time, the Church in Rome grew in prominence and remained a powerful force throughout the Middle Ages. For that reason, the theology of the church in the western world today has been mostly inherited from the Church in Rome. On the other hand, the doctrinal differences that always existed between the church in the east and the west, together with the severe persecution which the church in the east suffered over many centuries, ensured that, to a greater extent than in the west, Eastern Orthodoxy retained the theology of the church fathers of the first centuries. For that reason, it is important that we take note of the teachings of that denomination.
All emphases in quotes below are added by myself.
This article analyses the Athanasian Creed (AC) and summarizes it as follows:
The Son and the Spirit came into existence timelessly from the being
or essence of the Father to form three distinct but coeternal Persons.
However, the essence remained undivided.
The Son and the Holy Spirit are equal with the Father ontologically
(in terms of essence) and functionally (in terms of roles).
Since all three Persons are uncreated, unlimited, eternal, and
Almighty, they seem to be three Gods. However, because the Father’s
essence remains undivided, there is one Almighty God with one mind and
will, existing in a Trinity.
The remainder of this article compares this summary of the Athanasian Creed (AC) with Eastern Orthodoxy (EO).
Who is God?
The AC and OE identify “God” differently.
The Greek word theos, often translated as “God,” has a wide range of meanings. For example, the New Testament uses it also to refer to false gods and to God’s people. Therefore, to specify that the true God is intended, the Bible sometimes refers to the “one God” (e.g., Mark 12:28-30; John 5:44; 1 Cor 8:6). The Nicene Creed of 325 AD followed this practice and identified the “one God” as the Father:
“We believe in one God, the Father almighty” (Nicene Creed)
The Athanasian Creed (AC) continued to use the phrase “one God” but, while the “one God” in the Nicene Creed is the Father, in the AC, formulated more than 100 years later, the “one God” is the Trinity. For example:
“We worship one God in Trinity.”
Eastern Orthodoxy, following rather the Nicene Creed, states:
“The one God in whom we believe is not the Holy Trinity. … The one God
is the Father of Jesus Christ.”
For this reason, “in Eastern Orthodoxy, the term triune God is not a traditional formula. You find the term tri-personal or tri-hypostatic Divinity. There is no tri-personal God.” (Hopko)
Although, in EO, the Son is not the “one God” or part of the “one God,” His only begotten Son “is divine with the very same divinity as the one true and living God.” For this reason, EO translates John 1:1c as “and the Word was divine” (Hopko).
EO does sometimes refer to the Trinity or to the Son as “God” but, in such instances, it uses the word “God” not in a “personal” sense to identify the “one God.” Rather, “when it is said that ‘Jesus Christ is God’ or that there is ‘one God in three Persons’, we use the word God in the qualitative sense of ‘uncreated’ or ‘divine’” (EO Catechism, question 93).
EO agrees with the AC that the Son and Holy Spirit were not created, but came forth from the being of the Father and, therefore, "are of the same essence as the Father" (Hopko).
Nevertheless, there is a significant difference between the Trinity in the AC and in EO. As discussed, while, in the AC, the “one God” is the Trinity, in EO, the “one God” is the Father alone. The following shows that this is a real difference; not only a difference in terminology:
The AC does not allow the “dividing the essence.” Consequently, the
Trinity has one single undivided essence. In this view, the term
homoousios in the Nicene Creed must be translated as “one substance.”
The one single essence and the strong emphasis on one-ness also imply
that the three Persons have one single mind and will.
When searching in EO for evidence of one-ness of essence, I did not
find it. What I did find is an emphasis on the sameness of substance.
For example, the Son “is divine with the same divinity as the one true
and living God” (Hopko). And the Son and the Spirit have “ontological
or essential equality” with the Father (EO Catechism, question 95).
Also related to the concept in the AC of an undivided essence, I found
in EO that “God the Father is thus always with and inseparable from
his Only-Begotten Son and Holy Spirit” (EO Catechism, question 90).
Therefore, while the AC teaches that the three Persons are ontologically “one” (have one single substance), in EO they are ontologically the “same,” implying three distinct substances of the same type that are eternally and inseparable together. In that case, homoousios should be translated as “same substance.”
In this respect, EO also follows the Nicene Creed, for (1) the literal meaning of the term homoousios is "same substance," (2) before Nicea homoousios meant “of generically the same substance,” and (3) the purpose of the creed was not the affirm the UNITY of the Godhead, but the DIVINITY of the Son.
And while the emphasis on one-ness in the AC implies one single mind, the emphasis on three-ness in the EO implies three distinct minds and wills. As Hopko stated, “there are three instances of divine life in perfect and total unity.”
For these reasons, the difference, where the AC identifies the Trinity as God while EO defines God as the Father only, is a real difference; not merely a difference in terminology.
Subordination in the Godhead may be classified into different categories:
In both the AC and EO, the Son and the Spirit are relationally subordinate to the Father, meaning that they came into existence from the being of the Father. This is the meaning of the phrase, “the Monarchy of the Father” (EO Catechism, question 94).
In the AC, “the Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son.” EO claims that this appears to deny the monarchy of Father. In EO, the Spirit proceeds from God (the Father) alone (Wikipedia).
EO does not deny that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, but explains that as that, because “the Christ is the Son of God on whom God the Father sends and affirms His Holy Spirit, the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ” (Hopko).
However, in the AC, since the Son was begotten by the Father, the Father remains the ultimate Source of the Spirit. For that reason, in my view, the filioque is NOT in opposition to the Monarchy of the Father.
In EO, the Son and the Spirit are functionally subordinate to the Father. The EO Catechism, question 95 states that the Son and the Spirit are ontologically (in terms of substance) equal with the Father, however, “this does not negate different roles or functions.” The question then gives examples of different functions or roles in which the Son is subordinate to the Father (1 Cor 11:2-3; 15:27-28).
The AC, on the other hand, does not seem to allow for functional subordination.
For the following reasons, it is proposed that, in EO, the Son and the Spirit are also ontologically less than (subordinate to) the Father:
Firstly, the examples above of the functional subordination of the Son point to eternal functional subordination. But eternal functional subordination implies ontological subordination. Why would the Son and the Spirit be eternally functionally subordinate unless they are also ontologically subordinate?
Secondly, if “the Father is the cause and origin,” as the EO Catechism claims, the Son and the Spirit received their substance and divinity from the Father. If that is true, and if they do not have one single substance as in the AC, then the substances of the Son and the Spirit are portions of the substance of the Father. That would mean that they are ontologically subordinate to the Father, as Tertullian also taught:
“The Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole” (Tertullian Against Praxeas, 9 (ANF 3: 604))
In the AC, the "one God" is the Trinity, existing in one single substance and mind. In EO, the "one God" is the Father, and the trinity have three distinct substances and wills.
While, in the AC, the strong emphasis on the single undivided substance and only allows relational subordination, in EO, the Son is ontologically, functionally, and relationally subordinate to the Father.