Why Theology?


Christian theology does not exist for the sake of the theologian. Theology is for the sake of the Church; it is for the sake of the challenges of the community. If it is not received by the Christian community, it has failed, for it has to echo the responses of that community. Christian theology has to be historical, and cannot be separated from contemporary issues. Christianity is an incarnational religion, which lives also within time and circumstances.

Systematic theology is a connection of the whole of Christian theology. Trinitarian theology is central and foundational to Christian theology, which has to do with the logos of theos. In the history of the development of Christian dogma, which has been played out in concrete circumstances, affecting concrete lives and palpable consequences, has been a struggle for the Christian understanding of who God is and how he related to Creation, particularly to the ones created in his image and likeness – and the foundational result has been the conception of the Trinity (which includes the attending Christology). Christians worship God, but God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Ontologically, Trinitarian theology is at the foundation of all things, for God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of all reality. All our social, human, and historical problems are rooted in Trinitarian theology. This is why the Fathers spent so much energy grounding everything they did and taught in the outworking of the reflection of the Trinitarian life in time and space, in the Church.

This is why the medieval theologians also did so; the Summa Theologiae begins with the doctrine of one God and the Trinity. This is why Barth deals with Trinitarian methodology in his first volume.

Epistemologically, on the other hand – given our fallen state which has affected our intellect, our nous, our heart – we do not know God first and foremost. Our order of knowing does not include the Trinity at the very beginning; the Fathers’ formulations were the result of a long process of reflection and development. It is the Church’s role to bring us to the road back to God, which is the road of repentance, of restoration of His image, of remembering God, and remembering us in the context of God. Exitus, reditus.

One thing that is common from the earliest fathers (Justin, Irenaeus, Origin) is the very important distinction between God in his own essence and God in relation to the created world, as known through creation and special revelation. We do not know God in his essence, but only as he has revealed himself to us, in his energies and through his effects.

Christianity affirms both the essential incomprehensibility of God and God’s condescension to reveal himself to us. We do not have an insight into the Trinitarian God apart from what he tells us. Epistemologically, the place of Trinitarian theology in systematic theology is always a controversial topic, even if Trinitarian theology always has to be the ultimate horizon of Christian theology.

Contemporary Issues

As a reaction against essentialism, and under the impact of postmodern critiques, many modern theologians have been moving more to a pluralistic tradition, beginning with Father, Son and Holy Spirit (rather than the idea of the simple divine essence). There is a discernible tendency towards social trinitarianism. Essentialism – the emphasis on the unity of the divine essence as a starting point, among other things, is seen as totalitarian.

Trinitarian theology arose because of Christology, since, without the question of the divinity of Christ, simple Jewish monotheism would have remained. If, however, Christ is divine, are there two gods, is he a lesser god, or are there other options? Many today are looking for alternatives to the traditional conceptualities.

Also, it is perceived by many contemporary theologians that there is sexism in the traditional Trinitarian theology. Some, as a reaction, do away with Trinitarian theology and invocation. Others redefine it.

Importance of the History of Trinitarian Theology

Scripture does not explicitly spell the doctrine of the Trinity as such. Trinitarian and Christological doctrines are the result of historical development, even while have roots in Scripture. The failure to understand this basic concept has, in the context of fundamentalism, crippled some conservative theologians who in turn do not engage many of the ongoing challenges presented to them in modernity.

History means contamination – by blood, power struggles, etc. This is part of any history of human ideas; the more important they are, the more blood is likely to be spilled. This has been true of revolutions such as the American, French, Russian, etc. Some enlightenment rationalists put blame in religion without realizing that ideologies of freedom (as with many other ideologies, including, for example Marxism), have always been abused by the State. State persecutions have killed millions of people.

Historically, Nicean orthodoxy has prevailed – as believed and affirmed by the Church, under divine providence and inspiration guiding infallible councils – but it was not a foregone conclusion, and at many times it seemed as though it had failed. An important question, then, is to consider whether orthodoxy can be measured by the status quo; the place of God’s providence also has to be assessed. Outside of dogmatic formulations of Ecumenical Councils, what criteria can we build Trinitarian theologies today, and how are they binding?

Essential Questions

We cannot avoid using human models, since, again, we do not have an insight into the essence of God. How do we avoid the problems inherent in any human models – anthropomorphism and its attending ideologies? It seems as though contemporary theologians are often unaware or unconcerned with these two essential problems.

Human beings historically have used ideas to oppress other people, which is the development of ideologies. Are we projecting our own ideologies in our conception of the Trinity? Are we projecting our ideologies when we want to determine who God is, and thus how our imitation of him should be? When we want to determine what is or is not important or central in Christian theology? When  we want to determine how God should me made relevant, or how we should worship him? (or her?)

Moltmann, for example, begins with a contemporary critique of oppression, and argues that monotheistic conceptions of God need to be discarded because of their inherent oppressive character. For him, it needs to be replaced with social trinitarianism, which is the only way to preserve equality. Thus, he projects his own ideas into the reconstruction of Trinitarian theology, where equality and plurality come first. Then, he derives from that theology a reconstruction of social relations and structures. This amounts to Feuerbach’s idea of theology as anthropology.

Today, under the influence of Derrida, Heidegger, and others, there are some important metaphysical categories of being, relation, etc.

  1. How do explain the unity and plurality of God using such categories?
  2. How do speak of one God as three irreducible distinct realities?
  3. How do we speak about their relations?
  4. What are the pitfalls to avoid (modalism, subordinationism, etc.)?
  5. How do we speak of the relation of the Triune God in relation to the world?

These are all important issues that still call for theology to be done today.


Jürgen Moltmann’s Trinitarian theology (part 2 of 2)

Jürgen Moltmann

Personalism and Social Trinity

Another potential difficulty in Moltmann’s theology is his concept of person. He approvingly cites the philosophical personalism of Hölderlin, Feuerbach, Buber, Ebner, Rosenstock and others who argue that the “I” can only be understood in the light of the “Thou,” i.e., it is a concept of relation. As he states, “without the social relation there can be no personality.”[1]

This is intended as a needful criticism and guard against understanding the persons of the Trinity as independent, individual centers of activity. This is also part of his criticism of Rahner, who, in Moltmann’s view, is liable to the same dead end as Barth,[2] viz., idealistic modalism.[3]

However, the concept of personality as something that does not exist apart from relationships is open to question. However corrective this may be to an overtly individualistic modern culture, and however true it may be in practice that ordinarily people develop into who they become according to the various personal influences they receive throughout their lives, it is far from universally established that the concept of person cannot be thought of except in reference to relation.

Moreover, it could be argued that from the moment one accepts a Trinitarian theology in which there is some conception of one essence and three persons (as Moltmann favorably quotes Tertullian as formulating), there is introduced a unique category that does not necessarily require a one-to-one correspondence to human persons, relations, and essences. In a Trinitarian theological framework, no person in this world (except Christ) exists in one essence with (or in) other persons, however the concepts of persons and essences are defined.

An interesting illustration of the difficulty is that Moltmann quotes from the Genesis account to substantiate his argument that one is only God’s image in fellowship with other people: “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). What is curious about this is that, given that Moltmann wants to cite the Genesis account, it is that very book which presents Adam as created first (as explained after the summary account of creation he cites, cf. Gen. 2:15-18). Presumably, in the book of Genesis, Adam was a person in the image of God before Eve ever appeared on the scene.

Moltmann’s understanding of personality being defined in terms of relationships is paramount to his construal of a social Trinity that provides a theological framework for socio-political structures. This is the main reason for Moltmann’s criticism of a monarchic understanding of the Trinity, since this monarchy is also reflected in society and politics, which, in his view, generates injustice. As a solution, a Trinitarian framework where there is equality of persons and personal relationships is posited. But there is also a theological danger here. It could be argued that in Moltmann’s social Trinity, “God” then refers to a composite of persons and relationships just as society is a composite of its constituents and their relationships, and that as persons in society coexist, define each other, and must be finite, so with each person of the Trinity.[4]

Doxological Trinity

As seen above, Moltmann’s concept of creation in relation to the Father loving and seeking responsive love of the Other (which must be a love that goes beyond the responsive love of the Son, who is not the Other), makes the distinction between immanent and economic Trinity necessary. However, Moltmann explicitly subscribes to Rahner’s dictum, “The immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity, and the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity.”

He argues that the distinction between the two would be necessary if, in the concept of God, there were really only the alternative between liberty and necessity; but, as he argued, God is love, which combines liberty and necessity in which none could be asserted without the other. For Moltmann the notion of an immanent Trinity in which God is simply by himself, without the love which communicates salvation, brings an arbitrary element into the concept of God which means a breakup of the Christian concept.[5]

It introduces a contradiction, because the God who loves the world (economic) does not correspond to the God who suffices for himself (immanent). Clearly, Moltmann gives preference and emphasis to the economic Trinity. But despite his effort to minimize the distinction between the economic and immanent Trinity, this distinction cannot be done away with completely even within his theology. Therefore, Moltmann has to ground such distinction somewhere, and his answer to this problem is to ground the immanent Trinity as a Doxological Trinity.

Moltmann argues that there can be no real theology without the expression of praise, thanksgiving and adoration. In theology, we know only insofar as we love.[6] Therefore, in the early church, doxological knowledge of God is called theologia in the real sense, being distinguished from the doctrine of salvation, the oeconomia Dei. As such, the economic Trinity is the object of proclamation (kerygma), whereas the immanent Trinity is the content of doxological theology. This is reinforced by the idea that we do not merely give thanks to the giver for the gifts he has given; we actually worship him for what he is, for he himself is good.[7]

Therefore, we worship the Trinity as it is in itself (God in se) because what it has done in history (God pros nobis) but there is only one, single Trinity, and only one single divine history of salvation; thus, the triune God can only appear in history as he is in himself and in no other way. One cannot think of God in the abstract, he argues, for if we know God and worship him based on his historical acts, God is from eternity to eternity the “crucified God.”[8] For Moltmann, then, the cross stands not only in the economic Trinity (i.e., in the history of salvation), but also in the immanent Trinity.[9]

By affirming a fundamental identity of the immanent and the economic Trinity, Moltmann, paradoxically, does not mean to erase all distinctions between them, but, as he argues, to bring out the interaction between substance an revelation, the “inwardness” and the “outwardness” of the triune God. In fact, the surrender of the Son on the cross has a retroactive effect on the Father and causes infinite pain; therefore, the economic Trinity has a retroactive effect on the immanent Trinity.[10] The pain of the cross determines the inner life of the triune God from eternity to eternity.

This account clearly requires that the immanent Trinity, worshipped in praise and thanksgiving, is revealed by the economic Trinity which acts in the world and elicits the responsive love expressed in doxology. The danger here, however, is that Moltmann’s concept of human relationships as determining the concept of person, without proper caveats in regards to the uniqueness of the Trinity, coupled with the idea of an economic Trinity as a mirror of the immanent Trinity,[11] might eliminate altogether any trace of mystery in the Trinity. This is precisely James P. Mackey’s criticism of Moltmann. Mackey argues that Moltmann’s theology is

a refusal to accept classic Trinitarian theology . . . a rejection of the very move that finally made it orthodox, namely the move . . . that prevented us from taking our story of God’s encounter with us in history, from taking our myth, literally, as an analysis and description in its key terms of God’s own inner being.”[12]

This, Mackey states, was what the Arians did; they extrapolated from biblical statements of the subordination of the Son to the Father to an inner life of God in which there is a difference in divine status. Mackey approvingly quotes Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, in saying that the creed of Nicaea is the first step in the critical demythologizing of Christian discourse.

Mackey argues that we know no more than the fact that there is some self-differentiation in the inner being of the God who is present and active in creation, in the historical Jesus and in the Spirit, but that gives us no knowledge of the being of God.[13] This is an important criticism, for if indeed the mystery of the Triune God is at least compromised, if not made reducible to analogous human relationships of love and thankfulness, then the very doxological theology for which Moltmann argues will be seriously undermined. Worship, praise and thanksgiving become no longer qualitatively different, but only quantitatively different, that that offered to any other human benefactor.

A possible rejoinder is that Mackey might be advocating such a sharp distinction between God in himself and God revealed, so as to almost import a Kantian separation between the two, where a “noumenal” Trinity is utterly unknowable. This seems to be go beyond Calvin’s argument (which Mackey approvingly cites) that the point of contact between the economic and immanent Trinity lies in the accommodation God makes in revealing himself to us, finite and sinful beings. That is to say, the economic Trinity is neither a clear mirror of the immanent Trinity, nor an arbitrary revelation of something that is absolutely unknown.

Another difficulty inherent in Moltmann’s grounding of the immanent Trinity in the doxological Trinity is the implication that what we worship is not really the Trinity, but merely our reflection upon the Trinity. That is to say, if doxological theology is not worshipping the economic Trinity, it is worshipping a merely conceptual, artificial, and arbitrary construal of the Trinity in itself. This is Ted Peters’ criticism of Moltmann. Peters complains,

“I think that for Moltmann there finally can be only one Trinity, the economic Trinity . . . the immanent Trinity is the product of pious imagination, and abstraction from the concrete economy of the divine life which is actualized in history.”[14]

Also as Randall Otto argues, the immanent Trinity in Moltmann’s theology seems to be robbed of reality, becoming a passive product of an historical process, and the result is a Trinity so open as to be threatened with loss of transcendence by being dependent upon the contingencies of history.[15] Moreover, the desire to posit an immanent Trinity in a doxological Trinity implies that God is more than his actions in the world; but this seems to prove too much for Moltmann. In other words, if the triune God is not merely the sum total of his activities in salvation history, in what way does the immanent Trinity transcend the economic Trinity?


Moltmann has made many important contributions to theology, and to the doctrine of the Trinity in particular. His emphasis on the necessity of a robust Trinitarian theology is a needful corrective to often unclear theological systems and statements. His social trinitarianism is also a fertile field for a vital theological contribution to society, politics, and interpersonal relationships. Moltmann certainly is not a tritheist, as some imply, and he brings to the fore important aspects of God’s love in relation to creation. However, there are difficulties in his concepts of personality, in his formulations of the immanent Trinity, and in his development of the doxological Trinity that need to be corrected and fine-tuned for a more consistent systematic program.


Click here for Part 1


[1] Moltmann, 145.

[2] Although Moltmann argues that Rahner and Barth get there through different routes.

[3] Moltmann, 148.

[4] Ted Peters. “Moltmann and the way of the Trinity.” Dialog 31 (1992): 278

[5] Moltmann, 151.

[6] Ibid., 152.

[7] Ibid., 153.

[8] Ibid., 159.

[9] Ibid., 160.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Moltmann states that “Statements about the immanent Trinity must not contradict statements about the economic Trinity. Statements about the economic Trinity must correspond to doxological statement about the immanent Trinity.” Cf. Moltmann, 154.

[12] James P. Mackey. “The Preacher, The Theologian, and The Trinity.” Theology Today, 54.3 (1997): 359-360.

[13] Ibid., 362.

[14] Peters, 277.

[15] Otto, 221-222.

Roman Catholic Theology Bibliography – From Johann Sebastian Drey to Vatican II

(This list does not include Catholic theologians whose major works appeared after Vatican II, such as Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, Hans Kung, Edward Schilleebeecxs, Johann Metz, Avery Dulles, and many of the Latin American liberation theologians.)


Johann Sebastian Drey (1777-1853)

Brief Introduction to the Study of Theology With Reference to the Scientific Standpoint and the Catholic System (1819)

Johann Adam Mohler (1796-1838)

Unity in the Church or the Principle of Catholicism Presented in the Spirit of the Church Fathers of the First Three Centuries (1825)

Symbolism (1832)

John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

     The Arians of the Fourth Century (1832)

     Parochial and Plain Sermons

     An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845)

     The Idea of a University

     “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine” (1859)

     Apologia  pro Vita Sua (1864)

     An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870)

     Via Media (1877), retitling of Lectures on the Prophetical Office viewed relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism

      Matthias Scheeben (1835-1888)

     Mysteries of Christianity (1865)

Friedrich von Hugel (1852-1925)

     The Mystical Element of Religion (1908)

     Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion (1921, 1926)

     The Reality of God (undelivered Gifford Lecture, 1931)

Alfred Loisy (1857-1940)

     Gospel and the Church (1904), response to Harnack, The Essence of Christianity

Maurice Blondel (1861-1949)


     The Letter on Apologetics; and History and Dogma

George Tyrrell (1861-1909)

     Letters from a Modernist The Letters of George Tyrrell to Wilfrid Ward, 1893-1908

A. D. Sertillanges (1863-1948)

     Saint Thomas Aquinas and His Work (1932)

     The Intellectual Life Its Spirit, Condition, and Methods (1959)

Karl Adam (1876-1966)

     The Spirit of Catholicism (1924)

     Christ Our Brother (1926)

     The Son of God (1933)

     One and Holy (1948)

     The Christ of Faith (1954)

Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

     The Phenomenon of Man

     The Divine Milieu

Romano Guardini (1885-1968)

     The Spirit of the Liturgy (1918)

     The Lord (1937)

     The End of the Modern Age (1950)

Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977)

     Transformation in Christ (1940)

     Liturgy and Personality (1943)

Erich Przywara (1889-1972)

     On Newman, Augustine, analogy of being (his major work on analogy is now in the process of being translated;  this is the book at issue between Barth and Catholicism)

Emile Mersch (1890-1940)

     The Whole Christ (1933)

     The Theology of the Mystical Body (1946)

Charles Journet (1891-1975)

     Theology of the Church (1957)

     The Meaning of Grace (1957)

     The Church of the Word Incarnate

Marie-Dominique Chenu (1895-1990)

     Aquinas and His Role in Theology

     Is Theology a Science?

     Towards Understanding St. Thomas Aquinas

     Theology of Work

Henri de Lubac (1896-1991)

     Catholicism (1950)

      The Mystery of the Supernatural (1967)

      The Splendor of the Church

      The Drama of Atheist Humanism

      Corpus Mysticum  The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages

      Medieval Exegesis  The Four Senses of Scripture

      Paradoxes of Faith

Jean Mouroux (1901-1973)

     The Meaning of Man (1948)

     I Believe The Personal Structure of Faith (1959)

     The Mystery of Time (1964)

Yves Congar (1904-1995)

     True and False Reform in the Church (1950)

     Lay People in the Church (1957)

     Mystery of the Church (1960)

     Tradition and Traditions (1966)

     I Believe in the Holy Spirit (1979)

John Courtney Murray (1904-1967)

     We Hold These Truths (1960)

Jean Danielou (1905-1974)

     God and the Ways of Knowing

      The Lord of History


      Myth and Mystery

      The Bible and the Liturgy

      Christ and Us

Josef Fuchs (1912-2005)

     Christian Morality The Word Becomes Flesh

     Natural Law A Theological Investigation

     Human Values and Christian Morality

Bernard Haring (1912-1998)

     The Law of Christ

     Free and Faithful in Christ

Louis Bouyer (1913-2004)

      Spirit and Forms of Protestantism


      The Word, Church, and Sacrament  in Protestantism and Catholicism

      The Christian Mystery

      Mystery and Mysticism

      The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers


    Catholic Philosophers

   Joseph Marechal (1878-1944)

Jacques Maritain (1882-1973)

Louis Lavelle (1883-1951)

Etienne Gilson (1884-1978)

Gabriel Marcel (1888-1973)

Martin D’Arcy (1888-1976)

Edith Stein, St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (1891-1942)

Jean Lacroix (1900-1986)

Albert Dondeyne (1901-1985)

Mortimer J. Adler (1902-2001)

Josef Pieper (1904-1997)    Emmanuel Mounier (1905-1950)

Frederick Copleston (1907-1994)

Emerich Coreth (1919- )

Peter Geach (1916- ) and G. E. M. Anscombe (1919-2001)

Michel Henry (1922-2002)

Alasdair MacIntyre (1929- )

Charles Taylor (1931- )

Jean-Luc Marion (1946)

Jean-Louis Chretien (1952)

Jean-Yves Lacoste


Catholic Theologians after Vatican II

Karl Rahner (1904-1984)

Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984)

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)

Edward Schilleebeckx (1914- )

Avery Dulles (1918- )

Juan Luis Segundo (1925- )

Joseph Ratzinger (1927- )

Hans Kung (1928- )

Gustavo Gutierrez (1928- )

Leonardo Boff (1938- )

Jon Sobrino (1938- )

David Tracy (1939- )

Jürgen Moltmann’s Trinitarian theology (part 1)

Necessity and Freedom: God’s Love

Jürgen Moltmann

Moltmann’s project in The Trinity and the Kingdom involves answering the question of whether creation is a product of God’s nature or a product of his will. This, of course, involves answering the question of whether creation is a product of necessity or of freedom, respectively. Moltmann’s solution is to ground creation as an expression of God’s love – and it is precisely that love that combines necessity and freedom in a perfect balance, so that neither can be affirmed without the other.

On the one hand, it is impossible to conceive of a God who is not a creative God, because he is love, and love seeks responsiveness. On the other hand, love acts according to its nature, and that is freedom. Thus, God creates according to his nature, i.e.,  he creates necessarily and freely.

Necessity and freedom coincide in the nature of God, since for God to love is axiomatic, self-evident: he cannot deny himself. For God it is axiomatic to love freely, for he is God.[1] His love is his liberty and his liberty is his love, and he is not compelled to love by any outward or inward necessity, for love is self-evident for God.[2] This love, which God is and which brings about the creative act, is the same love with which God the Father loves the Son, but it is a love that seek responsiveness in creation – and the Son is not creation.

Therefore, the love with which God creates in order to be glorified in the response of his creation is intimately related to, and yet not identical in all respects, to the love with which he loves his uncreated Son.

This distinction in God’s love of self and love of the Other will be one of the main reasons for Moltmann’s upholding the distinction between the economic and the immanent Trinity. From eternity God has desired not only himself, but the world too, for he did no merely want to communicate himself to himself; he wanted to communicate himself to the one who is other than himself. This extrapolation of God’s love not only in himself but to another requires that a distinction be made between the immanent and economic love, and therefore, between the immanent and economic Trinity.

Another important consequence of his distinction in God’s love is that changes of tritheism are refuted from the outset: for a tritheistic God would have had this want of communication of love “to the one who is other than himself” already fulfilled in the other persons of the Trinity

This is reinforced by Moltmann’s concept of the Trinity in relation to the act (or rather, passion) of creation. Moltmann normally prefers to speak of God taking the Trinity as a starting point, as it has been revealed in history, to only then arrive at the God who is one essence.[3] He starts with the Persons not the essence – in an attempt to reverse what has been perceived as the Western approach since Augustine. Moltmann’s preference in starting with the Trinity to arrive at God generates an important difficulty: unless we first have some clarity on what we mean by “God,” we have no way of knowing that our Trinitarian experience is in fact related to what is properly called God.[4]

But here, he affirms that creation, as a self-limitation of God, is actually the work of the Father, which is then ascribed to the Trinity.[5] The Father creates the one who is his Other by virtue of his love of the Son, and he creates through the Son. Moltmann’s distinction between the “Other,” which is created, and the Son, who is God himself and is begotten, should make evident that charges of borderline tritheism in Moltmann’s theology are not justified.

Another of Moltmann’s concepts that makes the distinction between immanent and economic Trinity necessary is the differentiation between the responsive love of the Son as the Logos (immanent) and as his image (economic). Through the incarnation of his Son, the Father acquires a twofold response for his love: his Son’s (which is self-evident, a matter of course) and the free response of his image, in which are included the free responses of the Son’s brothers and sisters.[6] This differentiation is impossible without making some distinction between the Son as the Logos, which refers to a relationship of God in himself, and the Son as the incarnate image of God, uniting humanity to himself and responding freely as his image in creation.

Monotheism and Monarchianism

Moltmann’s theology of creation, however, generates some tensions with other aspects of his Trinitarian theology that are difficult to resolve. For example, Moltmann rejects strict monotheism because it makes proper Christology impossible (i.e., it leads to either Arianism or Sabellianism).[7] But Moltmann also states that monotheism and monarchianism are only the names for two sides of the same thing.[8] What becomes problematic is that Moltmann sees monarchianism as intrinsically related to the rule of one over the many.[9] This of course is not problematic in and of itself, but it becomes difficult to reconcile with his idea of the Father as the one who, strictly speaking, creates, and the Son who responds. There seems to be an element of precedence, if not superiority, in the Father, loving and willing to limit himself as he may be.

This is also what Randall Otto complains about when he states that Moltmann’s adherence to the traditional concept of the Father as the “fount” or “source” of divinity within the Trinity necessitates a dubious distinction between the “constitution” and the “inner life” of the Trinity.[10] The result is that the monarchy of the Father can be affirmed in his constitution, even if not in his inner life, and that will undermine Moltmann’s project of social trinitarianism in which equality of persons and relationships is paramount.

This distinction between the constitution of the Trinity and the inner life of the Trinity emphasizes the idea that God as Father of the Son has a status different from the Son and the Spirit, and thus despite the equality of the three persons in the divine life, there is still a monarchy of the Father at the level of constitution.[11] Moltmann states that while the Son and the Spirit proceed eternally from the Father, the Father proceeds from no other divine person, and so he is the one without origin or beginning, while being himself the origin of the divine persons of the Son and the Spirit.[12] The Church Fathers would have approved of this formulation, but it is hard to see how that can contribute to Moltmann’s own social trinitarianism. His Trinitarian-based theology is meant not to support the rulers of the political establishment – as he thinks traditional theism does in legitimizing the powerful – but rather to show God’s identification with the oppressed, weak, and lowly ones.[13]


Click here for Part 2


[1] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 107.

[2] Ibid., 151.

[3] I.e., Moltmann rejects the opposite approach, viz., to start with the conceptual one-essence God to then try and arrive at the Trinity.

[4] Richard John Neuhaus. “Moltmann vs. monotheism.” Dialog 20 (1981): 240.

[5] He rejects what he calls the Augustinian tradition (in this matter), according to which creation is actually the work of the Trinity, which is then appropriated to the Father. Moltmann takes the opposite route.

[6] Moltmann, 121.

[7] In most places, Moltmann will be careful to attach the word “strict” to monotheism, i.e., he is not rejecting the idea that God is one essence, but a strictly monotheistic, unbalanced theology that undermines a robust understanding of the Trinity.

[8] Moltmann, 130.

[9] Ibid. 131.

[10] Randall E. Otto. “The use and abuse of perichoresis in recent theology.” Scottish Journal of Theology 54 no 3 (2001): 225-226.

[11] Warren McWilliams. “Trinitarian Doxology: Jürgen Moltmann on the Relation of the Economic and Immanent Trinity.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 23 (1996): 31-32.

[12] Moltmann, 165.

[13] Willis, W. Waite. Theism, atheism, and the doctrine of the Trinity: the trinitarian theologies of Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann in response to protest atheism (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1987), 178-179.

Begotten not Made – or, Why Santa Claus slaps heretics.

St Nicholas smacks Arius at the council of Nicea.

The pop icon Santa Claus is a caricature of a real person, St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, who died in 343 AD and attended the first Ecumenical Council in Nicea (325). St Nicholas is famous for his charity, care for the poor, selfless life, zeal and suffering for the faith.

Speaking of his zeal, also famous is the story that he slapped Arius in the face during the Council of Nicea. It seems as though Santa is not so jolly if you deny the deity of Christ. If you’re a heretic, you should be thankful if an empty stocking on Christmas day is all that befalls you.

The following are Arius’ claims as far as they can be gathered from Athanasius (in his Discourses Against the Arians)

  1. There is one unoriginate being, God the Father
  2. There are creatures which have been made
  3. Creatures could not have been made by the Father, so a mediator was needed
  4. The mediator was the Word, the Son
  5. There was a time when he was not, he came to be
  6. Therefore, there also was a time when God was not the Father

Common to Arius and the Fathers was the idea of Wisdom as a blueprint. Human making is mediated by an idea, a blueprint of the thing to be made. As this is applied to the Word – all things were already there in the Wisdom, in the mind of God before things were created. The mind of God is the antecedent exemplar of all things created for God creates all things according to his wisdom, his intellect.

What then is the status of this wisdom, this mind? According to Arius, this Wisdom and Word was prior to the creation of all things, but was itself brought into being by God (Prov. 8:22).

It is interesting to note that Arius had tons of Scripture he quoted. Which reminds us of that ongoing problem in Protestantism – what is it that the Scriptures actually mean (not just what they say)?

Who is this creature through whom all creatures came into being? The best metaphysics of the time affirmed that there were basically two kinds of beings: divine and created (out of nothing). There was a basic division between creator and creature. The question then becomes on which side the Son should be placed.

For Athanasius, it is through union with the Son that we are saved by being divinized, and so he has to be divine. As he puts it, we cannot be redeemed and united to God – divinized – if the one whom we’re united with is a semigod.

The question then becomes how to allow for the existence of two divine persons (Father, Son), while avoiding polytheism.

Athanasius argued that the wisdom and the power of God are as eternal as God himself. How then could God be distinguished from his wisdom? How can two things be distinguished that are so internally related to one another? Jesus always refers to God as his Father, and so the Father/Son language was standard. What is unique about generation is that parents generate their children and therefore the children are not the same individuals as their parents (like extensions), but different individuals; at the same time, there is a communication of the human nature, and therefore they have identical human natures. The nature a parent communicates to his child is something internal to the parent, and it is communicated in its totality. This was a perfect model of identity of nature and distinction of persons.

Can this be applied to God? This is when the moment of negation comes in. Human beings communicate the same generic human nature to their children in time; but God eternally communicates the same numerically identical nature to the Son (and the Holy Spirit).

Just as it is the whole of human nature that is communicated to the children, so in the case of divine generation; the Father communicates his own entire divine nature to the Son, and they are distinct persons. The whole divine nature is communicated, and so there is an identity of nature between the Father and the Son, so that the Son shares the same essence of the Father, being therefore a natural Son, not something created out of nothing. Everything else has the power to become sons of the Father only by participation, not by essence.

Making is an external act, and requires parts and temporality, as well as the will of the maker. In the case of the communication of the nature of the Father, this is an eternal act of divine generation. No succession of time. The Son did not begin to exist.

The language of participation and of adoption is Scriptural and used by the Fathers, as they repeatedly emphasized, especially in their discussions of theosis, that we are children by grace, but not by nature.

St Athanasius of Alexandria (298-373 AD)

One of the distinctions between human generation and divine generation is that the former involves materiality, even though it is the whole of the human nature that is communicated. It also involves time; and it is a communication of a generically identical nature, not numerically identical nature. Peter begets a man, not Peter. Human nature exists in numerically distinct individuals. No human individual can exhaust human nature, because it exists always divided and multiplied, concretized in different individuals.

Divine nature, on the other hand, is indivisible. There is only one nature, and that is the nature of the Father that is communicated to the Son and the Holy Spirit. They inhere in each other, one God fully sharing the same numerical identical nature.

What then guarantees the distinction between the persons? The model of generation has the virtue of preserving both the identity of natures and the distinction of persons. The sharing of the numerically identical nature guarantees the unity of God, and generation requires that the Son is not the same as the Father. The distinction is also maintained by the relations between the persons.

The power and monarchy of the Father lies precisely in the fact that he shares the totality of his essence and power with the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I am not capable of sharing the totality of my power with another human being. The paradox is that the almighty power of the Father is exercised in sharing the totality of his power and superiority with the Son and the Holy Spirit, eternally generating and spirating them equal to himself. This paradoxical monarchy that sublates itself refutes modern criticisms which argues that monarchy and equality of persons are mutually exclusive. This is an important aspect of Trinitarian theology that needs to be expounded in contemporary discussions.

The divine begetting is not temporally successive. The word or wisdom through which the Father makes the world cannot be a third entity, other than the Father. Athanasius insists that the Son is the natural, proper offspring of the Father. Creatures are contingent beings who need to participate in the being of God, the one who is (ὁ ὤν).

There are two ways something can be an image of something else: in a complete, perfect way, or in an imperfect way. As Plato says in the Timaeus, time is the moving image of eternity.[1] We are created in the image of God in an incomplete way, but the Son is the perfect image of the Father, because he receives the totality of the Father’s nature. God cannot find himself completely in a creature. To say that Christ is the image of the Father is to say that he is also divine and a perfect reflection and expression of the Father. We are created in the image of the Son, and only through the Son we share the image of the Father.

Athanasius also uses the term “work;” a creature is a thing made, produced. The Son is not a work because there is a difference between what is generated and what is made. This is the opposite of what Arius argued, when he equated begotten (γεννηθέντα) with made (ποιηθέντα). Things made are contingent upon the will, but not things generated. The Father’s generation of the Son is eternal, but God’s creation of the world is contingent and temporal.

Santa Claus Brought Presents and Abuse, and He Ran Out of Presents

So Saint Nicholas was one of the 318 bishops who were present at the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicea in 325 AD. This was just a few years after emperor Constantine made Christianity legal. Many bishops had been killed for the Faith by that time. Now, the whole Church gathers publicly do define doctrine.

And now a priest from Alexandria (having been trained in Antioch) will be writing pop Christian songs about how there was a time when the Son was not?

Santa Claus didn’t think so.

Neither did the council.

1,700 years later, the Church still publicly confesses, in every Divine Liturgy, what the Fathers affirmed then:

Jesus Christ is begotten (γεννηθέντα) but *not* made (οὐ ποιηθέντα) because he is of the same essence (ὁμοούσιον) as the Father.  As the Creed (later completed at the Council of Constantinople) affirms:

I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of
heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of
God, begotten of the Father before all ages;

Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father through Whom all things were made.

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

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

And He rose on the third day,
according to the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father;

And He will come again with glory to judge the living and dead. His kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of life,

Who proceeds from the Father,

Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets.

In one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the age to come.

[1] “When the father creator saw the creature which he had made moving and living, the created image of the eternal gods, he rejoiced, and in his joy determined to make the copy still more like the original; and as this was eternal, he sought to make the universe eternal, so far as might be.

Now the nature of the ideal being was everlasting, but to bestow this attribute in its fullness upon a creature was impossible. Wherefore he resolved to have a moving image of eternity, and when he set in order the heaven, he made this image eternal but moving according to number, while eternity itself rests in unity; and this image we call time. For there were no days and nights and months and years before the heaven was created, but when he constructed the heaven he created them also.

They are all parts of time, and the past and future are created species of time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence; for we say that he “was,” he “is,” he “will be,” but the truth is that “is” alone is properly attributed to him, and that “was” and “will be” only to be spoken of becoming in time, for they are motions, but that which is immovably the same cannot become older or younger by time, nor ever did or has become, or hereafter will be, older or younger, nor is subject at all to any of those states which affect moving and sensible things and of which generation is the cause. These are the forms of time, which imitates eternity and revolves according to a law of number.

Moreover, when we say that what has become is become and what becomes is becoming, and that what will become is about to become and that the non-existent is non-existent-all these are inaccurate modes of expression. But perhaps this whole subject will be more suitably discussed on some other occasion.”

The Essence and the Energies of God

Vladimir Lossky, in his book The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church argues that Orthodoxy makes three kinds of distinctions in God

1. The three hypostasis

2. The nature or essence (ousia)

3. The energies.

The Son and the Holy Spirit are personal processions, whereas the energies natural processions. The energies are inseparable from the nature, and the nature is inseparable from the three Persons.

These distinctions are of great importance for the Eastern Church’s conception of mystical life for 3 reasons:

First, the distinction of essence and energies is the dogmatic basis of the real character of all mystical experience. God, who is inaccessible in His essence, is present in His energies “as in a mirror,” remaining invisible in that which He is; “in the same way we are able to see our faces, themselves invisible to us, in a glass,” according to St. Gregory Palamas. (Sermon on the Presentation of the Holy Virgin in the Temple). Wholly unknowable in His essence, God wholly reveals Himself in His energies, which yet in no way divide His nature into two parts–knowable and unknowable–but signify two different modes of the divine existence, in the essence and outside of the essence.

Second, the doctrine makes it possible to understand how the Trinity can remain incommunicable in essence and at the same time come and dwell within us, according to the promise of Christ (John 14:23). The communication of God to us in his energies is precisely the meaning of grace (which is a very different hermeneutical grid than the West’s tendency of viewing grace mostly in penal categories). It is by God’s grace, his deifying operations in us, his energies, that he communicates himself to us. In receiving the gift–the deifying energies–one receives at the same time the indwelling of the Holy Trinity–inseparable from its natural energies and present in them in a different manner (different mode) but nonetheless truly from that in which it is present in its nature.

Third, the distinction between the essences and the energies preserves St. Peter’s words “partakers of the divine nature.” We do not become partakers of the divine nature by becoming another Person in the Trinity (which would be a hypostatic union) nor by our human essence merging into the infinite essence of God (a substantial union). Rather we are united to God in His energies, or by grace.

Lossky also points out that these distinctions do not contradict the apophatic attitude (i.e., the human necessity to describe the indescribable nature of God more in terms of what he is not than what he is) in regard to revealed truth. “On the contrary, these antinomical distinctions are dictated by a concern for safeguarding the mystery, while yet expressing the data of revelation in dogma.”  The distinction between the essence and the energies is due to the antinomy between the unknowable and the knowable, the incommunicable and the communicable. This reveals to us the mystery of God, “dwelling in the profusion of glory which is His uncreated light, His eternal Kingdom which all must enter who inherit the deified state of the age to come.”