Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century

D. Blair Smith
Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology
Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte


With the appearance in the first century of the Son of God in human form, there were obvious questions about his relationship to his Father. These were based on things he said – his talk (John 12:49); and these were based on things he did – his walk (John 5:19-20). While Christians worshiped Jesus Christ as God from the beginning, in the early centuries of the Church they struggled to account for his exact relationship to the Father. Representative of some of the tensions inherent in their answers is the theology of a third century theologian, Origen of Alexandria.

Origen is one of the most consequential theologians in the history of the Church, on par in many respects with Augustine of Hippo. He is often not given the consideration he deserves, however, due to the unstable trajectories of the fanciful flights of his creative mind. As this paper takes up Trinitarian relations in the fourth century, Origen sets the table for the questions that haunted both sides of the Nicene debates. And one way of seeing the conclusions of Nicene orthodoxy – what is now called in scholarship “Pro-Nicene Trinitarianism” – is that of the victory of the better angels of the Origenian inheritance.

What portion of that inheritance concerns us? It is not, obviously, those elements within his work tinged with subordinationism, even if we understand that it did not seem to be Origen’s clear intention to subordinate the Son to the Father. For one who is known as the first systematic theologian, Origen’s theology is remarkably unsystematic in parts. On the one hand, he spends considerable effort showing how the Son possesses some of the Father’s attributes and “how the Son can be said to image those attributes” because of his unique generation.[1] On the other hand, despite the high and lofty and worthy things he said about the Son, he still saw the Son as inferior to the Father in crucial ways: For example, in places he will say the Son’s knowledge of the Father does not match the Father’s knowledge of the Father.[2] What is more, the sphere of the Son’s providence is smaller in order “to correspond to his lower level of being”[3] and his power is distinct from and dependent upon the Father’s[4].

Yet, while there is a graded Trinity in Origen (that extends to the Spirit too[5]), he introduces theological categories that become fundamental to Nicene orthodoxy. One way of viewing these categories is as, together, a rich yet flawed preface for the fourth century, a preface introducing themes that await elaboration in order to tell the full story. We will look at three in order to gain a feel for the shape of Trinitarian relations in the fourth century: First, Origen argues that the Father and Son are ‘correlative’ terms. Second, in Origen we see an eternal relating of the Son to the Father through generation. And third, within Origen’s writings there is description of a spiritual vision through which is an opening up of divine relations to include the Holy Spirit and his relationship to the Son and Father. We will take up each of these ‘theological tools’ within the Origenian inheritance before showing in the heart of this article how, when wielded in the respective hands of three fourth century theologians, they enable pro-Nicene Trinitarian conclusions.

The Origenian Inheritance


The names ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ are correlative. That is to say, there is something inherent in the name ‘Father’ that implies the existence of a child, just as the name ‘Son’ entails a parent. This seems perhaps to be an obvious point, but considering these are biblical names revealing who God is they contain an abiding logic which unlocks something fundamental about the triune character of God. As Origen notes, if God is Father, then, he is eternally. Therefore, his Son is eternal and somehow intrinsic to the being of God. In De Prin. 1.2.10 Origen says simply, “one cannot be a father apart from having a son.”[6] Peter Widdicombe provides commentary on this point by saying, “God as Father must have a Son in order to be what he is, and the Son as Son must have a Father in order to be what he is.”[7] Inherent in God’s being, then, is relation—and an eternal one at that. But how are we to understand that relation? Is this a relation between two different or similar beings, or a relation internal to the same being? For Origen, as for the fourth century writers, the status of the Son will be determined by his relationship with the Father.

Eternal Generation

Origen taught a clear doctrine of eternal generation which held up for him both the ontological relation between the Father and Son as well as the ontological disjunction between God and creation. The Son’s eternal birth places him in a unique relationship with the Father. Creation is related to God through an act manifest in time, which reveals created nature to be temporal, material, changeable, and dependent. The Son is related to God through his name revealing his birth. Because God is eternal, immutable, and immaterial, as Origen presupposes, the birth of the Son must be eternal, unchanging, and immaterial. Thus, Origen reasons in De Prin 1.2.2, the concept of eternal generation reveals the closeness in nature of the Son to the Father while at the same time maintaining the Son’s distinct existence.

Origen is aware that to speak of a birth immediately impresses upon our minds the implications of time. After all, when we think of birth we think of dates, and age, and change. Yet, when it is said of the Son that there was ‘never a time when he did not exist’, Origen explains:

For the very words, when, or never, have a temporal significance, whereas the statements we make about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit must be understood as transcending all time and all ages and all eternity (supra omne autem tempus et supra omnia saecula et supra omnem aeternitatem). For it is this Trinity alone which exceeds all comprehension, not only of temporal but even eternal intelligence. The rest of things, however, which are external to the Trinity, must be measured by ages and periods of time (in saeculis et in temporibus metienda sunt).[8]

Origen understands that while the language of generation, necessitated because of biblical description and the revelation of the divine names, has overlap with earth-bound begetting, the divine nature necessitates stripping that begetting, when applied to God, of any material or temporal connotation. The Fatherhood of God is eternal. Thus, the Son is eternal. Unlike what is means for me to be a Father, which was added to my personhood at age 29, God is Father ‘all the way down’, just as he is Son ‘all the way down’—Father and Son always and forever. These two distinct hypostases are related through an eternal generation, which both personally distinguishes them and places them on the same ontological plane at the same time.

What is more, the idea of eternal generation characterizes the Father-Son relationship as dynamic, because it entails continuous activity. Meditating on a text like Hebrews 1:3, Origen illustrates this dynamism by means of the brightness from light. The source of light is not turned on like a flip of the switch at one moment; rather, it is constant. Thus, the effulgence of God’s glory – the Son – is generated not according to the conditions of time but continuously.[9] While it is important to note how eternal generation functions in order to express the ontological status of the Son vis-à-vis his lively relationship with the eternal Father, it is also vital to discern the order of this relation. That is, the Father generates the Son and not vice versa.

Spiritual Vision

In addition to relating the Son to the Father through eternal generation, Origen brings a fully Trinitarian vision to bear when he integrates his Trinitarian theology with a transformative spiritual progression. This vision is important for the fourth century because it entails the Holy Spirit in divine work while suggesting a distinct shape to the life of the Trinity. That shape is presented in a schema which moves from the Father to the Son and to the Spirit, and then returns to the Father as the ‘goal’ with which perfection is associated. This schema is clearly seen in Origen’s De Prin. 1.3.8:

God the Father bestows on all the gift of existence; and a participation in Christ, in virtue of his being the word or reason, makes them rational. From this it follows that they are worthy of praise or blame, because they are capable alike of virtue and of wickedness. Accordingly there is also available the grace of the Holy Spirit, that those beings who are not holy in essence may be made holy by participating in this grace. When therefore they obtain first of all their existence from God the Father, and secondly their rational nature from the Word, and thirdly their holiness from the Holy Spirit, they become capable of receiving Christ afresh in this character of righteousness of God, those, that is, who have been previously sanctified through the Holy Spirit; and such as have been deemed worthy of advancing to this degree through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit obtain in addition the gift of wisdom by the power of the working of God’s Spirit (et qui in hunc gradum proficere meruerint per sanctificationem spiritus sancti, consequuntur nihilominus donum sapientiae secundum uirtutem inoperationis spiritus dei). This is what I think Paul means when he says that “to some is given the word of wisdom, to others the word of knowledge, by them same spirit (1 Cor 12:8). And while pointing out the distinction of each separate gift he refers them all to the fount of the universe when he says, “There are diversities of workings, but one God, who works all things in all” (1 Cor 12:6).[10]

We note that Origen is here describing the Trinitarian activity of God in creation but then he reverses the Trinitarian taxis in order to describe how ‘rational beings’ are perfected through ‘ascent’ from the Spirit to the Father. This is a deft mirroring of creation and redemption in the guise of a trinitarian divinization where the final stage of the progression is participation in God the Father.[11]

What is striking about this Trinitarian schema in Origen is its shape and order extends to the Holy Spirit yet is determined by the Father. What is more, just as the Father is source of the realm of creation as well as spiritual life, he is of a position to receive back the movement of spiritual growth found in his creatures inhabited by the Holy Spirit. Not surprisingly, the hierarchical element within Origen’s Trinitarian theology is pronounced within his articulation of this schema, as perfection is equated with the Father who stands as the one fully divine. Nonetheless, what shines through as potential framing influence on the fourth century is the integration of a dynamic movement among the Trinitarian persons out from and returning to the Father, which is discerned through a spiritual progression enabled by the Holy Spirit.

As we move now into the fourth century, we gather up these three elements of the Origenian inheritance. I will make no case claiming the fourth century writers directly appealed to Origen or were influenced by him in a one-to-one way. Any such claim is difficult to make due to pro-Nicene reticence engendered by Origen’s questionable orthodoxy. Nonetheless, Origen is unmistakably in the background and I’ve used aspects of his theology here in order to frame our story of Trinitarian relations in the fourth century. The first phase of that story, on the correlativity of Father and Son, will be told through the writings of a fellow Alexandrian, Athanasius. The second phase, on the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, will be told from the Latin theologian, Hilary of Poitiers. And the final phase, told from the writings of the great Cappadocian, Basil of Caesarea, will bring the story to a conclusion with a spiritual vision which entails the Holy Spirit and, thus, communicates a fully Trinitarian life. In each case we will see that the fourth century theologian indeed picks up a theme elaborated upon by Origen (even if he does not acknowledge it), yet furthers it in service a pro-Nicene Trinitarian theology.

Athanasius & the Correlativity of Names

All Trinitarian reflection for Athanasius starts with the names ‘Father’ and ‘Son’. Athanasius, the oft-exiled bishop from Alexandria who lived from around the turn of the fourth century until 373, riveted these names as the starting point within his theological discourse because they are both biblical (ἔγγραφον) and simple (ἁπλοῦν).[12] God is not identified in Scripture by such words as ‘maker’, ‘framer’, and ‘unoriginate’, which carry their own implications and invite a host of speculations as to God’s nature. Rather, he is simply called Father and, as Athanasius notes echoing Origen, “the word ‘Father’ is indicative of the Son (τὸ πατὴρ δηλωτικόν ἐστι τοῦ υἱοῦ)”.[13] In fact, when we use the name Father we are naming him from a very specific ‘place’: from the Son. It is only from the Son that the title Father “has its significance and its bearing (σημαίνεται καὶ ἵσταται)”.[14] In other words, what can be understood of the Father cannot be abstracted out from the very specific relationship he has with the Son, a relationship that constrains everything we can know about the Father. These two – Father and Son – are inseparable, for a relationship is inherent in the names: “the Father, qua Father, [is not] separated from the Son, – for the name carries the relationship with it, – nor is the Son expatriated from the Father (μήτε ἀπηλλοτρίωται πατὴρ υἱοῦ ᾗ πατὴρ, προκαταρκτικὸν γάρ ἐστι τῆς συναφείας τὸ ὄνομα, οὔτε ὁ υἱὸς άπῴκισται τοῦ πατρός)”.[15] According to Athanasius, we cannot set our minds on either Father or Son without immediately considering the other.

It is important to note that the names of Father and Son are revealed in the Bible. Determinative for Athanasius, as well as for all pro-Nicene theologians, was Scriptural language, because that language is truly revelatory of the way things are. While God in himself, in his Trinitarian relations, is not directly accessible to us, Athanasius firmly held the names and images in Scripture were, in their inspired exactness, specific invitations to “glean the divine mysteries that underlie them”[16] Thus, Athanasius consistently employed a strategy where he affirms, in the words of Khaled Anatolios, “the ontological correlativity of Father and Son on the basis of the linguistic correlativity by which the two are biblically named.”[17] Athanasius noted this linguistic correlativity in Scripture extended beyond simply the names “Father” and “Son.”

In order to more fully express the correlativity of the Father and Son, Scripture reveals a variety of titles (such as Word, Wisdom, Power, Image) by which Christ is identified in his relation to the Father. Athanasius called these illustrations or paradeigmata, which, when engaged with “faith and pious reasoning joined with reverence”[18], lead further into the ontological mutuality shared by the Father and Son through revealing a correlative pattern. That is to say, the divine Father is never without his Word, Wisdom, Power, or Image. Therefore, the one who has these titles – Jesus Christ – stands apart from creation and shares in “the name and being of the one God in a manner befitting all the criteria of divine perfection.”[19] Later in his career, Athanasius actually develops a technical term which becomes for him shorthand by which to say the Son is “proper to” or “belonging to” the Father: ̔ἴδιος.[20] The Son is not added to or brought inexpressibly near to the Father’s being; no, he is internal to it. When Athanasius sifts through the many implications he sees in the names Father and Son, as well as the other revealed illustrations which connect the two through a correlative pattern, the one distinguishing note he consistently strikes is “the same things are said of the Son, which are said of the Father, except his being said to be Father (τὰ αὐτὰ λέγεται περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ, ὅσα λέγεται καὶ περὶ τοῦ πατρὸς χωρὶς τοῦ λέγεσθαι πατήρ).”[21]

While the scriptural illustrations and utilization of ̔ἴδιος make increasingly clear for Athanasius that the Son is intrinsic to the Father’s being – indeed he is homoousios –, his insistence on the priority of the names Father and Son suggests the question of how they are related, and how that relation upholds both equality and distinction. This brings us to the second phase of our story on Trinitarian relations in the fourth century: on eternal generation. We will tell this story from the writings of a bishop from Gaul (modern-day France). Hilary of Poitiers lived around AD 310-367 and wrote in Latin, though, because he was exiled for a time to the Eastern part of the Empire, he interacted with Greek theologians during the crucial period around the middle of the century. Indeed, though his theology bears clear marks of influence from his Latin heritage, his exile to the East and the theological interactions it afforded added texture and depth to his understanding of the divine relations.

Hilary & Eternal Generation

Like Athanasius, Hilary’s theological reasoning began with the Trinitarian names found in the New Testament.[22] In his great Trinitarian work, De Trinitate (hereafter De Trin.), Hilary focuses on the words ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ as leading to the centrality of the nativitas to our theological understanding. This birth – the nativitas – then serves as the theological engine that generates the maintenance that Father and Son have the same nature, while also insisting that there exists a real distinction between them. With Origen, throughout his writings Hilary increasingly stressed the eternality of the Father and then, by implication, the Son. In the last book of De trin. Hilary roots the Son’s eternality in the Father through examining Exodus 3:14. The Father is called simply ‘[He] who is (qui est)’[23] and ‘[He who] always is what He is (qui quod est semper est)’[24]. Inherent to the logic of the eternity of the Son is the fundamental eternality of the Father:

To be from Him, that is to say, to be from the Father (ex Patre esse), is the birth. To be always from Him who always is is eternity – an eternity not from Himself, but from Him who is eternal (aeternitas uero non ex se, sed ab aeterno). From Him who is eternal nothing else comes except what is eternal. If that is not eternal, then neither is the Father eternal who is the author (auctor) of the generation.[25]

This emphasis on eternality cuts off the time-bound implications we associate with the word ‘birth’. There is an analogy with human birth that communicates something about the divine birth or generation but the eternal nature of the Father and the Son governs how we talk about the divine side of that analogy.[26] Consistent with eternal generation in Origen, Hilary moves the argument “outside of time”, in the words of Mark Weedman, by “grounding his doctrine in the Father’s infinite nature.”[27] His argument grounded thus, the origin of the begotten one, that is, the Son, is found in the begetter, that is, the Father, in such a way that they eternally share the same nature.

Thus, according to Hilary, there is an eternal relationship between Father and Son, and that relationship is understood through the eternal birth, or generation, of the Son from the Father. In human birth, Hilary understood that there are ‘many parts’. Like all pro-Nicene theologians, however, Hilary understood God as simple, that is, he is not composite or made up of disparate elements. Just as the Father’s eternality governs how we view the nativitas, so does divine simplicity. Hilary submits that the Father’s ‘perfect, complete, and infinite (perfecta et absoluta et infinita)’ nature does not consist of unlike parts.[28] Indeed, as eternal Father he is always Father, carrying a name that does not admit any parts or partitions so that ‘he must be the whole Father of all His own attributes (ipse sit omnium suorum…Pater totus)’.[29] As spirit, he is not composite like material things and remains unchangeable.[30] Hilary stresses that emerging from his eternality and spiritualty there is a simple wholeness to the Father’s nature that is fundamental when considering what the Father communicates to the Son though the nativitas.

To recap where we have been thus far in Hilary: A focus on the names of Father and Son leads to Hilary’s teaching on the birth. Attempting to understand that birth in divine terms leads to the nature of divinity as eternal and simple. Thus, the Father-Son relation is conceived of within the bounds of divine eternality and simplicity.[31] But to gain a fuller understanding of the relational dynamics revealed in the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, we must turn to Hilary’s teaching on the ‘gift’ that is given from the Father and received by the Son.

The order of this gift reveals a clear relational taxis between the Father and Son, an order that Hilary is not shy in emphasizing. The eternal nativitas reveals the priority of the Father as the giver, the giver of the divine nature and its attributes. In this sense, Hilary often utilizes language of irreversible order and refers to the Father as ‘author/origin/source/begetter (auctor)’[32], ‘origin/source (origo)’[33] and ‘begetter (generans or gignens)’[34]. But this language does not lead him, as some might suspect, to a judgment of the Son as less. In Book Eleven Hilary is facing an opponent who is using John 20:17 in order to introduce weakness in the Son who seemingly puts himself on the level of human beings who call on God. This is of course anathema to Hilary because it suggests that the Son has a created element in him. He responds to this by emphasizing the nativitas as establishing the equality of the Father and Son. ‘Before’ birth is not ‘nothing’, as in creation, but ‘before’ birth is the nature from which one is born:

If to be born reveals the cause of the birth (causam natiuitatis), it does not become different in kind from the nature of the author (in genere auctoris). But a birth that does not become different in kind from the nature (in genere) is certainly indebted to its author as the cause of its birth (auctori causam nativitatis suae), yet it has not renounced the nature of the author within itself (naturam tamen ex se…auctoris), because the birth of God is from nowhere else nor is it anything else. If it is from anywhere else it is not a birth; if it is something else it is not God. But, if God is from God, then God is also the Father of God the Son, the God of His birth, and the Father of His nature (Deus Pater Deo Filio et nativitati eius Deus est et naturae Pater), because the birth of God is from God and belongs to that kind of nature which God possesses (generis natura qua Deus est).[35]

This ‘kind of nature (generis natura)’ which God possesses is one where there is God the Father and God the Son, where both are Deus and yet one is Father, even Father of the Son’s nature.[36] Thus, in the nativitas the Father is the giver and the Son the receiver of the gift, making the Father the ‘author’ and, therefore, ‘greater’.[37] Yet the gift is all that the Father is in his nature, so that what the Son receives is ‘His own substance (substitutionis suae)’.[38] The dynamic at play once again in Hilary’s explanation of the nativitas reveals an irreversible order where the Father is the giver and the Son receives.

The nature of the giving and receiving is whole and eternal, so that there is no remainder in the nature the Father gives, and there is no lack in what the Son receives. And while within this dynamic language of ‘author’ and ‘greater’ emerges, this points not to something greater ‘in divinity’ in the Father. Rather, it points to his unique position as principium and draws attention to the greatness of his gift. In relation to the Son by the birth, then, Hilary uses language of the Father being ‘greater’ (maior), even while the same birth ensures the Son is ‘not less’ (minor…non est).[39] To draw the discussion in personal terms, the identity of the Father, according to Hilary, is one who always pours forth fully out of himself in order to give to another, the Son, out of love. It is the nativitas which enables this giving; and indeed, given the investment in ‘birth’ as that only which can ‘produce’ the same nature without weakening it, it is Hilary’s contention that only the birth is equipped to fully communicate the nature to another.[40]

Given Hilary’s attention to this theological concept of nativitas, it is fair to say it constitutes for him the central mystery of the faith, where the ‘first poison of … [an] unhappy spirit’ is to accommodate the faith to anything other than the birth.[41] Indeed, at the close of Book Seven we see why nativitas is for him the ‘central mystery’ that integrates so much Christian teaching:

‘[Through the birth] the Father loses nothing of himself in the Son, and the Son takes everything from the Father that a son is (totum sumit ex Patre quod Filius est) …. [T]he abiding birth of the Only-begotten is inseparable (sit inseparabilis) from the true nature of the Godhead in the Father. That is proper only to the only-begotten God, and that faith is rooted in the mystery of the true birth, and it is to the spiritual power that this work belongs, so that there is no distinction between to be and to inhere (nihil differre esse et inesse) …. [T]he birth did not bring about any distinction or loss of nobility, because the nature of the birth completes the mystery of the Godhead in the Father and the Son (quia unius in Patre et Filio diuinitatis sacramentum natiuitatis natura consummate).[42]

In our look at Hilary we began with the biblical names of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ that lead to the order of the birth. The Father’s loving gift through the nativitas which ‘enables’ the full divinity of the Son stresses the divine taxis, where the Father’s position as principium is clear. If we gave more attention to Hilary’s writings, we would see the nature of the Father’s gift and all that the nativitas enables leads to a series of elements in his thought that provide substance to the unity of the Father and Son in their co-inherence and inseparability of works. These have the effect of ‘balancing’ the shape given to the divine persons if we were to just focus upon the order of nativitas. Nonetheless, we have seen the nativitas as a theological truth enables Hilary to show how it is the Son is ordered after the Father, receives from the Father, yet is fully equal with the Father. To strike some of these notes, while opening up the divine relations to include the Spirit, we now turn to Basil of Caesarea.

Basil of Caesarea & a Fully Trinitarian Vision

In Hilary we have gained understanding of the Father and Son through their distinct relationship governed by the birth, and have established a number of foundational concepts affirmed by all pro-Nicene theologians. Moving forward deeper into the 360s and 370s Basil of Caesarea’s writings were forged in the increasing heat of sophisticated epistemological questions. Though he repeats many of Athanasius’ and Hilary’s emphases with his own theological accent, we will give attention to just a few themes from his writings in order to expand our perspective to consider how the Spirit draws out more of our understanding of Trinitarian life and, as we saw with Origen, leads to a Trinitarian vision. While Basil was zealous to uphold and substantiate the status of the Son and Spirit as fully divine as the Father is, the primary spiritual ‘space’ where he developed his Trinitarian theology was the place of worship. The worship of the church reveals the confession of the baptismal formula, which sets apart believers in the Trinitarian names. These divine names ‘save’ while also revealing a course for the believer to travel in order to become more like God. When Basil is talking about the Trinity he is also often talking about how one progresses in his or her spiritual life.

Basil is highly reliant upon two metaphors to communicate the substance of his Trinitarian theology: the metaphors of image and kinship (or likeness). These metaphors share a unique connection to the creation of humanity within Basil’s writing on Genesis 1 in the Hexaemeron. According to Basil, Adam and Eve, and all of humanity after them, were created for a worshipful vision—they were ‘created to see God’.[43] This purpose is established in the nature instilled in human beings created in the ‘image and likeness’ of God. Basil thinks the ‘image and likeness’ of Genesis 1:26 communicates not a simple parallelism but two distinct yet interconnected realities.[44] The nature of the creation of humanity then is linked within Basil’s thought to how we are saved within a spiritual vision. We will conclude with this element of Basil’s teaching. Before that, however, let us look at how Basil describes the Spirit’s relationship with the Father and Son through his explanation of the kinship metaphor in his Trinitarian theology.

The metaphor of kinship, according to Basil, emerges from the divine names of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’, and he focuses on the first and second persons of the Trinity in relation to this metaphor within his early three-part theological work opposing Eunomius, Contra Eunomium (hereafter Eun.). In very brief summary, Basil defends the singularity of divinity through there being one Father: “The Father is he who provides to another the beginning of being in a nature similar to his own (τοῦ εἶναι κατὰ τὴν ὁμοίαν ἑαυτῷ φύσιν τὴν ἀρχὴν παρασχών), whereas the Son is he who has the beginning of his being from another in a begotten way (τοῦ γεννητῶς εἶναι τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐσχηκώς).”[45] This order of the Son’s nature originating in the Father, where the one principle of the Father gives ‘shape’ to the Father-Son relation, is in accord with the contours of relations we explored through nativitas in Hilary. Yet in chapter eighteen of Basil’s later work, Du Spiritu Sancto (hereafter Spir.), he draws the Spirit into the kinship metaphor. After speaking of the divine unity being found in the “communion of the Godhead (τῇ κοινωνίᾳ τῆς θεότητος)”, Basil explains how each of the divine persons, including the Spirit, is proclaimed “singly (μοναδικῶς)”.[46] The Spirit is “uniquely named (μοναχῶς ἐκφωνεῖσθαι)” and so shares “kinship (οἰκείωσιν)” with the Father and Son who are also uniquely named: “He is joined through the one Son to the one Father, and through himself, he completes the famed and blessed Trinity (δι᾽ ἑνὸς Υἱοῦ τῷ ἑνὶ Πατρὶ συναπτόμενον, καὶ δι᾽ἑαυτοῦ συμπληροῦν τὴν πολυύμνητον καὶ μακαρίαν Τριάδα˙).”[47] By this association Basil is clearly arguing against the Holy Spirit being counted among the ‘multitude’ of creation. The Spirit, rather, shares kinship with the Father and Son. Basil is working this metaphor to include the Spirit with the other persons in communion in nature. He also uses it to explain how he sees the Spirit as proceeding from the Father.

Basil does not spend a lot of time explaining the precise way the Spirit proceeds from the Father. As we saw with Athanasius and Hilary, with the Son the ‘relational logic’ of the names does a lot of work on its own, especially as it leads to reflecting upon ‘begetting’. The ‘Holy Spirit’ has, however, no such obvious tie to the Father as the Son does. Yet, as we have just seen, Basil draws the Spirit into the kinship metaphor within Spir. as the one who ‘completes’ the Trinity. While Basil argues for the Spirit’s affinity through counting him as ‘one’, as with the Father and Son, and not with the ‘multitude’ of created things, he also briefly attempts to account for the way in which the Spirit might ‘come’ from the Father. The Spirit, Basil says,

comes forth from God, not begottenly as the Son does, but as the breath of his mouth (ὡς Πνεῦμα στόματος αὐτοῦ). Now this mouth is not at all a bodily member, and the breath is not an emitted blast of air, but there is a mouth in a way appropriate to God and the Spirit is a living substance, the lordly power of holiness (τὸ στόμα θεοπρεπῶς, καὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα οὐσία ζῶσα, ἁγιασμοῦ κυρία). While the kinship (οἰκειότητος) is thus made clear, the manner of its existence (τοῦ δὲ τρόπου τῆς ὑπάρξεως) remains unspeakable.[48]

It is obvious Basil is attempting to account for the biblical meaning of ‘spirit’ as breath. He associates this, then, to the ‘mouth’ of the Father who is the source of the breath. We see in such a metaphor a ‘proceeding’ that in some way parallels the begetting of the Son. Both have their origin in the one Father, and the manner in which one is begotten and the other is breathed forth is ineffable yet true.

Basil does not end there in relating the Spirit, for the language of Romans 8:9 (“Spirit of Christ”) compels him also to relate the Spirit to the Son. As the Father is seen in the Son, so the Son is seen in the Spirit (John 16:14). The Spirit manifests the wisdom, power and greatness of Christ and so brings to him glory. What follows in Spir. 18 is a relational explanation ‘from glory’ where as the Son returns to the Father he speaks of the glory he has brought to him on earth (John 17:4). The Son then sends the Spirit who will finish the work of the Son and, thereby, bring glory to him through revealing him (the Son- John 16:14) to the world. There is a glory that, though forward in time in God’s unfolding mission on earth, moves ‘back’ from the Spirit to the Son—the same move that went ‘back’ from the Son to the Father in his earthly ministry. At the same time, the Father glorifies the Son (John 12:28), and the Spirit is glorified through “the communion he has with the Father and the Son as well as through the witness of the Only-begotten (τὸ Πνεῦμα διὰ τῆς πρὸς Πατέρα καὶ Υἱὸν κοινωνίας, καὶ διὰ τῆς τοῦ Μονογενοῦς μαρτυρίας)”[49]. What can we make of these ‘circles of glory’ among the divine persons that move from the Spirit to the Son and from the Son to the Father, or from the Father to the Son and to the Spirit through their communion? There is a logic to kinship, for Basil, where what results from the begetting or the ‘breathing forth’ is an obvious communion where each of the persons receives glory. Yet, the glory received by the respective persons ‘travels’ along the expected lines introduced by the primacy of the Father. That is to say, the glory travels ‘back’ to the Father from the Spirit through the Son; and it goes forth from the Father to the Son, even from the Son to the Spirit.[50]

It is this Basilean notion of ‘return to the Father’ present within the Godhead, which we saw shadowed in Origen, that provides a bridge for us to consider the spiritual vision within Basil’s thought, a vision enabled by the Spirit and also carrying this notion of ‘return to the Father’. Repeatedly, throughout his corpus, Basil highlights the ‘grammar’ of worship as resource for Trinitarian reflection (a grammar planted within the Church’s liturgy by Scripture). That is to say, what is confessed in the baptismal formula, for example, provides the initial language and framework for understanding God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is that Trinitarian faith that not only saves humanity, according to Basil; it also provides the names that honor God in worship.[51] To deny those to whom one has been sealed in baptism is to deny the grace received there. To affirm is to have the “power of piety (τὴν δύναμιν τῆς εὐσεβείας)” and understand the “distinctive character (τὸν οἱονεὶ χαρακτῆρα τῆς λατρείας)” of Christian worship.[52] It was Basil’s wish for his theology, no matter how many ‘refinements’ it went through in the midst of controversy, to express or ‘make sense’ of the language of prayer and worship.

What is confessed simply at baptism and marks the distinctive character of Christian worship becomes, for the Christian, the outline for one’s faith and, consequently, for one’s own spiritual growth in that faith. Given Basil’s belief that we have been ‘created to see God’, and our spiritual growth is in some way a ‘return’ to our created purpose, Basil’s Trinitarian theology, including a glimpse into the divine relations, emerges from this spiritual vision. This is clearly seen in an integrative passage from Spir. 18:

The way…to knowledge of God (ὁδὸς τῆς θεογνωσίας) is from the one Spirit, through the one Son, to the one Father. And conversely the goodness and holiness by nature and the royal dignity (ἡ φυσικὴ ἀγαθότης, καὶ ὁ κατὰ φύσιν ἁγιασμός, καὶ τὸ βασιλικὸν ἀξίωμα) reach from the Father, through the Only-begotten, to the Spirit. In this way the persons are confessed and the pious dogma of the monarchy does not fall away (̔αἱ ὑποστάσεις ὁμολογοῦνται, καὶ τὸ εὐσεβὲς δόγμα τῆς μοναρχίας οὐ διαπίπτει).[53]

The lines delineated within this spiritually programmatic quote demonstrate that for those created to ‘see God’ and redeemed to ‘return to the Father’ the clarifying vision of Christians begins with the work of the Spirit.[54] It is only ‘in’ the Spirit that Christians make way through the Son to the Father.

In summary, then, within the order of redemption, the Father ‘reaches’ to draw worshippers to himself through the grace he orders within the divine persons—a grace that travels along the lines introduced by the eternal position of the Father. Indeed, the grace reaches down from those who have been timelessly ordered in such a way that they can perfectly reveal the purpose of the Father. For the human being, the purpose was established in the beginning, created ‘according to the image’ and ‘according to the likeness’. In redemption, this purpose to be like God is reawakened and the Father reaches through the Son and by the Spirit to draw worshippers to a contemplative vision where they find themselves increasingly ‘according to the likeness’ of God. Thus, we must get ‘inside’ the Trinity, through redemption, and progress from one’s baptism through spiritual worship and discipleship in order to see God for who he is. That greater vision carries with it a corresponding growth in likeness where we stand in relation to the Father by grace in adoption as the Son does by nature. Within this vision of ‘return to the Father’, the Trinitarian relations are made manifest in Basil’s theology.

This emphasis on the Spirit and the corresponding spiritual vision leading to the Father is an expansion upon what is present within Athanasius’ and Hilary’s Trinitarian thought. While they both undoubtedly affirm the Spirit within the Trinity, with Athanasius even writing several letters on the Holy Spirit (his Letters to Serapion referenced above), the nature of his relationships within the Trinity is expanded within Basil’s teaching. Basil of course wrote within a later period where the Spirit’s status was increasingly in question. Attention to the Spirit, and the fullness of a Trinity of persons, had the consequence of expanding the pro-Nicene vision Trinitarian relations. The eternally giving Father that we glimpsed within Hilary’s thought attending to the nativitas is matched to some extent within Basil’s thought in the procession of the Spirit. Even more description is given to the Spirit within the economy of creation and salvation. We see in Basil’s theology where the order of the creating and saving realities mirrors the ordered reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is especially clear as Basil gives attention to the Spirit.

Yet, as the Father’s movement extends to the Spirit we note it does not terminate upon the Spirit. There is an implication of return, where the Father is the principle and end of the eternal rhythm of divine life—he is the terminus a quo and terminus ad quem. The procession and sending of the Spirit, as described by Basil, are crucial for an understanding of the divine life that includes a ‘return to the Father’. And it introduces a dynamic that reveals something more about the Father’s identity than is revealed in the names or in nativitas or generation. Yes, though the descriptions and words change depending on the theologian being referenced, we can speak within pro-Nicene Trinitarian theology of a superabundant fruitfulness of the Father seen in generation and even procession. There is, in Hilary’s terms, a self-giving love as he gives of himself to establish equality among each of the divine persons. This brings about the Father’s completeness or ‘perfection’ because it pictures his identity as the giver. And yet, in Basil’s terms, the Son and Spirit are not the same nor twins. Giving attention to the Spirit and his relationship with the Father draws out something not already expressed in the Son’s relationship with the Father. The mirrored realities of ‘return’, in the divine life and in the saving economy, suggest in the Spirit we see the openness of the Father and the divine life. However, this openness is bounded by the Spirit, and because of the Spirit’s relationship with the Father, always returns to him in glory.


I want to conclude my talk on the Trinitarian relations in the fourth century by mentioning – appropriately enough – three implications of what has been discussed. The first two of these implications cannot be elaborated upon here, but hopefully they provide an entrée into the inherent logic of pro-Nicene theological reasoning. The third implication seems central to many of the Trinitarian questions within evangelicalism today, so I will give it further explanation.

The first implication of the Trinitarian relations in the fourth century that we have observed is that the basic distinction within all of reality is not between the Father and the Son, or the Son and the Spirit, but between God and the world. Many early theologians fell off the orthodox wagon when they tried to relate the Son to the Father while maintaining some measure – no matter how thin – of this basic distinction. When the basic distinction in reality is, rather, between God and the world, once it has been established that the Son and Spirit are on the divine Creator side, their ontological status falls into place.

The second implication is that as the pro-Nicene theologians gave increasing attention to the relation of the Son to the Father, and then the Spirit to the Son and Father, they were led to articulate the unity of the persons in distinct ways. Athanasius, for example, organically reasoned from his notion of ̔ἴδιος to those of the mutual indwelling or co-inherence of the persons from John chapters 10 and 14.[55] This strong union language does not lead Athanasius the Father and Son “discharged into each other (ἀντεμβιβαζόμενοι εἰς ἀλλήλους)”[56]. They remain distinct. Still, as a result of sharing the same nature, Athanasius taught that the “[Son] is in the Father and the Father in the Son; for the Godhead of the Son is the Father’s, and it is in the Son (̔αὐτὸς ἐν τῷ πατρί ἐστι, καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ υἱῷ˙ ἡ γὰρ τοῦ υἱοῦ θεότης τοῦ πατρός ἐστι, καὶ αὐτὴ ἐν τῷ υἱῷ ἐστι).”[57]

This emphasis on the mutual indwelling of the persons that we find within pro-Nicene Trinitarianism provided the conceptual grounding for furthering understanding of God’s unity through the inseparability of God’s acts. Hilary, for example, references John 5 to say every work must be referred to both of them, the Father and the Son, where the nature of operation in each is in no way different. This comports, for him, with the logic of the birth where the Son comes not from himself and so does the Father’s work; but given there is no separation in the birth, the same power from the same nature is manifest in the same works: “He is the Son because he can do nothing of himself; he is God because he himself does the same things as the Father does (Filius est, quia ab se nihil potest. Deus est, quia quaecumque Pater facit, et ipse eadem facit.).”[58] We see here the unity of the Father and Son is tied to their inseparable works. Indeed, the inseparable works are a manifestation of their unity where that which emerges from the ‘second birth’ (that is, the incarnate Christ’s birth from the virgin Mary) reveals what is true of the ‘first’: ‘I and the Father are one’.[59]

The inseparable operations among the Father and Son are clearly extended to the Spirit as well, beginning with Athanasius’ writings on the Holy Spirit. While this doctrine is a product of close theological reasoning, it provides its own pathways for the theologian to reason from the inseparability of the operations, back to one power behind those operations, and from that power to one nature shared among the three. The doctrine of the inseparability of the Trinity’s external acts in the created order, and the associated teachings on one power and nature in God is, according to Michel Barnes, a hallmark of late pro-Nicene Trinitarian theology.[60]

After seeing the fundamental ontological divide being between what is God and everything else, and then notions of unity expressed in terms of co-inherence and the united work of the divine persons, we turn to our third implication. One of the challenges faced when studying Trinitarian relations in the fourth century is getting a sense of the order and balance between the persons. This question of the divine ‘shape,’ as we might call it, is one still with us, which has produced no little controversy of late. This question continues to bring us back to the Father.

Interestingly enough, looking at the Father in the fourth-century is done in via—by way of understanding the Son and Spirit’s respective relationships with him. The result is, as we have seen, a primacy of the Father within the Godhead without the subordination of the Son or Spirit, a clear order without any ‘ontological degradation’ among the persons. Hilary and then Basil’s rapt attention to the dynamics at play in the divine birth and the procession of the Spirit reveal unique strategies leading to an understanding of a Father who ensures the equality of the persons of the Godhead. As the Son and Spirit come from the Father, the Father communicates himself—language such as completion is used; the Father is somehow perfected. So not only do the Son and Spirit find their eternal existence from the Father, the Father himself communicates who he is as one superabundant and fruitful.

However, because this fecundity does not draw attention to itself, but, as it were, pours itself into others, there is a mysterious element as we press into a deeper knowledge of his person where we are always led to that which recedes beyond our grasp. This mystery leads to tensions within our speech as we seek to describe the Father’s primacy along with his enabling of unity, inseparability, and even co-inherence among the divine persons. There is reciprocity of relations and not unilateral dependence. We could even further this tension by giving attention to the dynamic flowing out and returning from and to the Father that we see in Basil (as well as, I should say, other pro-Nicene theologians), where the divine life is lively, even flowing out into humanity where God’s elect are drawn into divine communion by the Spirit uniting us to the Son before the Father. This movement of Trinitarian grace mirrors the natural movement of the Spirit and Son as they return to their source, the Father. In such a picture there is taxis – order – but that order is not static. Rather, it serves to not only provide shape for the redemptive moves of the Trinity; it shows how the divine persons are only understood in reference to each other and the dynamic life they share together.

The generative power ‘moving out’ from the Father that we see in Basil and others is not always explicitly characterized as that of ‘love’, but the ‘rhythmic’ going forth and returning has the Father as the beginning and end. Such a rhythmic reciprocity patterns the ‘give and return’ that marks the dynamics of biblical love (e.g., Ephesians 5:1-2). Fatherhood, then, has a fruitful and self-giving quality, setting love ‘in motion’ and enabling its full reception, even compelling its return. His Fatherhood is an unceasing generous fount with dynamics ‘spilling out’ of the eternal life in order to bring divine goods to creatures in and through the Son and Spirit. And for that we give thanks and praise.

Pro-Nicene Trinitarian theology is the victory of faithful attention to the actions and words of the Son and Holy Spirit revealed in Scripture and confessed in Christian worship. The story of the fourth century is seen in increasingly explaining the Trinitarian relations in a way that honors Scripture and leads believers to confess the Triune mysteries in transformational worship: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”

  1. Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 21. See, for example, De Prin. 1.2.2.
  2. Origen’s comments in De Principiis 4.4.8 (hereafter De. Prin.) might be considered inconclusive on this point. However, taken with his Commentary on John, one can reach this conclusion. See Rowan William’s characteristically nuanced discussion in pp. 205-207 of Arius: Heresy & Tradition Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001). A sample:

    Origen is obviously uncertain as to how best to characterize the Father’s transcendence of the Son in respect of knowledge, and is anxious lest excessive enthusiasm in exalting the Father may do less justice to the Son. Overall, it seems likely that he does want to say that the Father’s self-contemplation is not identical with the Son’s knowledge of the Father, but is hesitant in using any language which might suggest simply that the Son lacks some element of knowledge which the Father possesses…. In short, all that can be known of the Father’s life is known by the Son, except that the Father’s primary self-awareness remains primary and, in some very elusive sense, ‘greater’ than the capacity of the Son. What the Father brings to the relation with the Son is more than what the Son brings – which does seem to suggest an asymmetry in their mutual knowledge (p. 206, emphasis his; cf. Peter Widdicombe, The Fatherhood of God from Origen to Athanasius: Revised Edition (Oxford Theological Monographs; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 43.

  3. Stephen M. Hildebrand, “The Trinity in the Ante-Nicene Fathers,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity, eds. Gilles Emery, O.P. and Matthew Levering (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 104. The relevant passage in De Prin. that Hildebrand is referring to is the Greek fragment of 1.3.5 (SC 253:66; Butterworth, 33-34), which reads: Ὅτι ὁ μὲν θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ συνέχων τὰ πάντα φθάνει εἰς ἕκαστον τῶν ὄντων, μεταδιδοὺς ἑκάστῳ ἀπὸ τοῦ ἰδίου τὸ εἶναι, ὅπερ ἐστίν, ἐλαττόνως δὲ παρὰ τὸν πατέρα ὁ υἱὸς φθάνων ἐπὶ μόνα τὰ λογικά (δεύτερος γάρ ἐστι τοῦ πατρός). For background on the fragment behind this reading, see SC 253:64-70 and Butterworth, 33n6. In my examination of De Prin. I have made use of On First Principles, trans. G. W. Butterworth (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966).
  4. De Prin. 1.2.9; SC 252:130, 301-302; Butterworth, 23: iam non solum uapor uirtutis dei, sed uirtus ex uirtute dicenda est. For commentary on this point, see Michel René Barnes, The Power of God: Dunamis in Gregory of Nyssa’s Trinitarian Theology (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 116ff.
  5. De Prin. 1.3.5, 7.
  6. SC 252:132, 307-308; Butterworth, 23: pater non potest esse quis, si filius non sit.
  7. Widdicombe, The Fatherhood of God from Origen to Athanasius, 69.
  8. De. Prin. 4.4.1; SC 268:402, 35-43; Butterworth, 316: Nam et haec ipsa nomina temporalis uocabuli significantiam gerunt, id est quando uel numquam ; supra omne autem tempus et supra omnia saecula et supra omnem aeternitatem intellegenda sunt ea, quae de patre et filio et spiritu sancto dicuntur. Haec enim sola trinitas est, quae omnem sensum intellegentiae non solum temporalis, uerum etiam aeternalis excedit. Cetera uero, quae sunt extra trinitatem, in saeculis et in temporibus metienda sunt.
  9. Homilies on Jeremiah 9.4; SC 232:392, 73-78; Smith, 92-93: “[T]he Father…always begets (ἀεὶ γεννᾷ) [the Son]…. [L]et us consider who is our Savior: a reflection of glory. The reflection of glory has not been begotten just once and no longer begotten (οὐχὶ ἅπαξ γεγέννηται καὶ οὐχὶ γεννᾶται). But just as the light is an agent of reflection, in such a way the reflection of the glory of God is begotten.”In my examination of Homilies on Jeremiah I have made use of Origen: Homilies on Jeremiah; Homily on 1 Kings 28, trans. John Clark Smith (Fathers of the Church 97; Washington: The Catholic University of American Press, 1998).
  10. Prin. 1.3.8; SC 252:162, 272-291; Butterworth, 38: Deus pater omnibus praestat ut sin, participation uero Christi secundum id, quod uerbum (uel ratio) est, facit ea esse rationabilia. Ex quo consequens est ea uel laude digna esse uel culpa, quia et uirtutis et malitiae sunt capcia. Propter hoc consequenter adest etiam gratia spiritus sancti, ut ea quae substantialiter sancta non sunt, participatione ipsius sancta efficiantur. Cum ergo primo ut sint habeant ex deo patre, secundo ut rationabilia sint habeant ex uerbo, tertio ut sancta sint habeant ex spiritu sancto : rursum Christi secundum hoc, quod iustitia dei est, capacia efficiuntur ea, quae iam sanctificata ante fuerint per spiritum sanctum ; et qui in hunc gradum proficere meruerint per sanctificationem spiritus sancti, consequuntur nihilominus donum sapientiae secundum uirtutem inoperationis spiritus dei. Et hoc puto Paulum dicere, cum ait quibusdam sermonem dari sapientiae, aliis sermonem scientiae secundum eundem spiritum. Et designans unamquamque discretionem donorum, refert Omnia ad uniuersitatis fontem et dicit : Diuisiones sunt inoperationum, sed unus deus, qui operator omnia in omnibus.
  11. Karen Jo Torjesen details the process of ‘returning’ to the Father in Origen’s theology in Hermeneutical Procedure and Theological Method in Origen’s Exegesis (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1986), 71:

    [For perfection] there are stages which they must pass through, each of which is the appropriate preparation for the next. The work of the Holy Spirit is purification. He is the principle of holiness. Through participation in the Holy Spirit the soul itself becomes holy. This is the preparation stage which makes it possible for the soul to receive the wisdom and knowledge of Christ. As Logos, Christ is wisdom and knowledge and the soul receives the gifts of wisdom and knowledge through participation in the Logos. The final stage of this progression is participation in God the Father. Participation in the perfection of the Father means the perfection of the soul, its own complete likeness to God or divinization.

  12. Contra Arianos 1.34 (hereafter Ar.) (AW 1/1.2:144). In my examination of Ar. I have made use of Anatolios’s (2004) Athanasius (1:1, 35-51; 2:2, 3, 18-82) and “Four Discourses Against the Arians,” Athanasius: Select Words and Letters, trans. J. H. Newman, ed. A. Robertson (NPNF 4; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978).
  13. Ar. 1.33 (AW 1/1.2:142).
  14. Ar. 1.34 (AW 1/1.2:144).
  15. de Sententia Dionysii 17 (AW 2/1.1:58). In my examination of de Sententia Dionysii I have made use of “On the Opinion of Dyonysius,” Athanasius: Select Words and Letters, trans. and ed. A. Robertson (NPNF 4; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978).
  16. Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius (The Early Church Fathers; New York, Routledge, 2004), 79. Anatolios elaborates on this point: “Thus, the scriptural dynamics of intertextuality by which there exists a series of linguistic correlations between the designations of the person of Christ and the characterizations of God are taken to be representative of the Trinitarian mystery of the ontologically correlativity of the Father and Son.”
  17. Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 2011), 121.
  18. Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit 1.20; PG 26: 577B; DelCogliano, Radde-Gallwitz, and Ayres, 84: ἐν πίστει καὶ εὐσεβεῖ λογισμῷ μετ᾽ εὐλαβείας. In my examination of Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit I have made use of Works of the Spirit: Athanasius the Great and Didymus the Blind, trans. by Mark DelCogliano, Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, and Lewis Ayres (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’, 2011).
  19. Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea, 114.
  20. Ar. 1.58 inter alia. Anatolios (1998) writes, “In his principal dogmatic work against the Arians, the Orationes contra Arianos, probably the single most pervasive motif employed by Athanasius is his continual reiteration that the Son is ‘proper to’ (ἴδιος) the Father, while all of creation is ‘external to’ or ‘from outside’ (ἐκτός, ἔξωθεν) the Father.” Athanasius, 102. For a history of Athanasius’s use the term ἴδιος  see Lewis Ayres, “Athanasius’ Initial Defense of The Term̔ Ὁμοούσιος: Rereading the De Decretis,” JECS 12/3 (2004): 343-344.
  21. Ar. 3.4 (AW 1/1.3:310).
  22. Holding to a modified naturalist understanding of names, Hilary could state that because a name was given by God it invites an understanding of the divine nature, that is, “the name of the thing brings us an understanding of the thing” (rei nomen intellegentiam rei adfert; De Trin. 7.10; SC 448:296, 17; McKenna, 234). When Hilary arrives at the plural names for God – “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” – these are the names of a singular nature, the nature – not names of natures (De Trin. 2.5). Revealed as they are by God in Scripture, Hilary asserts their evident meaning found in the words themselves (De Trin. 1.18; cf. 3.22). In what way, then, does one get from the names to and understanding of the divine nature? Hilary works from the Gospel of John, chapters five and ten in particular, to bring together names, nature and birth; and while the names lead to the nature, they do so by a consideration of the nativitas.In my examination of De Trin. I have made use of The Trinity, trans. by Stephen McKenna (Fathers of the Church 25; Washington: Catholic University Press, 1954).
  23. De Trin. 12.24; SC 462:416, 8; McKenna, 517.
  24. De Trin. 12.25; SC 462:418, 1-2; McKenna, 518.
  25. De Trin. 12.25; SC 462:418, 2-6; McKenna, 518: Ab eo autem esse, id est ex Patre esse, natiuitas est. Esse autem semper ab eo qui est semper aeternitas est, aeternitas uero non ex se, sed ab aeterno. Ex aeterno autem nihil aliud quam aeternum. Quodsi non aeternum, iam nec Pater qui generationis est auctor aeternus est.
  26. In De Trin. 1.19 Hilary asserts that analogies are ‘useful to man’ but beneath the dignity of God (Cf. 4.2; 6.9). Their function is to hint at divine truth, not explain.
  27. The Trinitarian Theology of Hilary of Poitiers (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae, volume 89; Boston: Brill, 2007), 194.
  28. De Trin. 8.43; SC 448:448,17; McKenna, 310.
  29. De Trin. 9.61; SC 462:142, 20; McKenna, 383.
  30. De Trinitate 12.8; SC 462:396, 9-18; McKenna, 506: Ex Spiritu enim Spiritus nascens, licet de proprietate Spiritus, per quam et ipse Spiritus, nascatur, non tamen alia ei praeterquam perfectarum adque indemutabilium causarum ad id quod nascitur causa est. Et ex causa licet perfecta adque indemutabili nascens, necesse est ex causae in causae ipsius proprietate nascatur. Proprietas autem humanarum necessitatum intra causas uteri continetur. Sed Deo non ex partibus perfecto, sed indemutabili per Spiritum quia Deus Spiritus est, non est internarum causarum naturalis necessitas. Cf. 7.30 and John 3:6.
  31. We can summarize Hilary’s teaching on the mystery of the birth in three ways: First, the birth reveals the ‘content’ of the divine nature as it is given from the Father to the Son, a nature that is first and foremost simple. Second, Hilary makes clear that the birth is ‘perfect’, so that the nature does not fluctuate in the birth (De Trin. 7.31); and, finally, the birth is ‘living’, so that there is never an innovation nor a degradation as the nature is given from the Father to the Son (De Trin. 7.27). So what is full and eternal is given from Father to the Son, and the only way to understand this gift is through the nativitas.
  32. Auctor is translated by McKenna as ‘author’ and found in various cases for the Father in De Trin. 4.9, 10, 35; 5.11; 6.13, 16, 29; 7.37; 9.61; 11.8, 11, 12; 12.17, 21, 25, 51, 52. Auctor is translated by McKenna as ‘origin’ and found in various cases with reference to the Father in De Trin. 2.1; 4.12; 9.1, 49, 55; 10.8. Auctor is translated by McKenna as ‘source’ and found in various cases with reference to the Father in De Trin. 9.45, 53. Auctor is translated by McKenna as ‘begetter’ and found in various cases with reference to the Father in De Trin. 2.14
  33. Origo translated by McKenna as ‘origin’ and found in various cases for the Father in De Trin. 6.13, 14; 8.53. Origo translated by McKenna as ‘source’ and found with reference to the Father in De Trin. 2.6.
  34. Generans translated by McKenna as ‘begetter’ and found in various cases for the Father in De Trin. 2.3; 4.10; 7.11. Gignens translated by McKenna as ‘begetter’ and found in various cases for the Father in De Trin. 2.3; 3.23; 6.10, 13.
  35. De Trin. 11.11; SC 462:314-316, 3-11; McKenna, 468: quia nasci cum causam nativitatis ostendat, non disproficit tamen in genere auctoris existere. Quod autem non disproficit in genere, debet quidem auctori causam nativitatis suae, naturam tamen ex se non amisit auctoris: quia nativitas Dei neque aliunde neque aliud est: quae si aliunde est, non nativitas est, si uero aliud est, non Deus est. Cum autem ex Deo Deus est, per id Deus Pater Deo Filio et nativitati eius Deus est et naturae Pater, quia Dei nativitas et ex Deo est, et in ea est generis natura qua Deus est. Cf. 12.25.
  36. Cf. De Trin. 6.6-44.
  37. De Trin. 11.12; SC 462:316, 21-23; McKenna, 469: In eo enim quod in sese sunt, Dei ex Deo diuinitatem cognosce; in eo uero quod Pater maior est, confessionem paternae auctoritatis intellege.
  38. De Trin. 11.12; SC 462:318, 34; McKenna, 470.
  39. De Trin. 9.56 (Cf. 9.49); SC 462:132, 4; McKenna, 377.
  40. Cf. De Trin. 7.15 where Hilary says ‘There is no question regarding the fact that [the Father and Son] do not differ in equality. Besides, will anyone deny that a birth gives rise to an identical nature? From this alone can come that which is true equality, because only birth can bestow an equality of nature. But, we shall never believe that equality is present where there is a union; on the other hand, it will not be found where there is a distinction. Thus, the equality of likeness does not admit either of solitude or of diversity, because in every case of equality there is neither a difference nor is it by itself (Non enim ambigitur, quin aequalitas nihil differat. Quis porro dubitabit, quin indifferentem naturam natiuitas consequatur? Hinc enim est sola illa quae uere esse possit aequalitas: quia naturae aequalitatem sola possit praestare natiuitas. Aequalitas uero nusquam ibi esse credetur, ubi unio est; nec tamen illic repperietur, ubi differt. Ita similitudinis aequalitas nec solitudinem habet nec diuersitatem, quia omnis aequalitas nec diuersa nec sola sit.).’ SC448:306-308, 16-23; McKenna, 239-240.
  41. De Trin. 12.50; SC 462:458, 21-22; McKenna, 537: primum infelicis mentis…uirus est.
  42. De Trin. 7.41; SC 448:370, 19-35; McKenna, 270-271: Pater nihil ex suis amittit in Filio et Filius totum sumit ex Patre quod Filius est…. [M]anens unigeniti natiuitas a paternae diuinitatis sit inseparabilis ueritate. Vnigenito tantum istud Deo proprium est, et in sacramento uerae natiuitatis fides ista est, et spiritalis uirtutis hoc opus est, nihil differre esse et inesse…. [N]on differt nec degenerat natiuitas, quia unius in Patre et Filio diuinitatis sacramentum natiuitatis natura consummat.
  43. Hex. 11.15; SC 160:270, 16-17; Harrison, 61. In Hex. 11.15-17 Basil contrasts the way human beings were made with beasts whose heads incline downward. God created humans “upright” and gave a special and distinct structure, including a head that is uniquely placed so that the eyes can gaze upward – “where Christ is”. After making a spiritual association between the position of the head and eyes and humanity’s purpose of seeing God, Basil details how the physical structure of human beings supports the position of the head and eyes.
  44. Hex. 10.15.
  45. Eun. 2.22; SC 305:92, 43-51; DelCogliano and Radde-Gallwitz, 164: Πατὴρ μὲν γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἑτέρῳ τοῦ εἶναι κατὰ τὴν ὁμοίαν ἑαυτῷ φύσιν τὴν ἀρχὴν παρασχών ˙ υἱὸς δέ, ὁ ἐξ ἑτέρου τοῦ γεννητῶς εἶναι τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐσχηκώς.
  46. Spir. 18.45; SC 17 bis:406-408, 23-24; Hildebrand, 81.
  47. Spir. 18.45; SC 17 bis:408, 25-29; Hildebrand, 81.
  48. Spir. 18.46; SC 17 bis:408, 4-9; Hildebrand, 82: οὐ γεννητῶς ὡς ὁ Υἱός, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς Πνεῦμα στόματος αὐτοῦ. Πάντως δὲ οὔτε τὸ στόμα μέλος, οὔτε πνοὴ λυομένη τὸ Πνεῦμα ˙ ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ στόμα θεοπρεπῶς, καὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα οὐσία ζῶσα, ἁγιασμοῦ κυρία ˙ τῆς μὲν οἰκειότητος δηλουμένης ἐντεῦθεν, τοῦ δὲ τρόπου τῆς ὑπάρξεως ἀρρήτου φθλασσομένου. One chapter later, Basil uses ‘kinship’ again in relation to the Spirit when he says, “[T]he names for the Father and the Son are common to the Spirit who has these titles [i.e. Holy, Good, Righteous, Paraclete] because of his kinship in nature (κοινὰ τὰ ὀνόματα πρὸς Πατέρα καὶ Υἱὸν τῷ Πνεύματι, ἐκ τῆς κατὰ τὴν φύσιν οἰκειότητος τῶν προσυγοριῶν τούτων τυχόντι)” (19.48; SC 17 bis:418, 24-26; Hildebrand, 84.).
  49. Spir. 18.46; SC 17 bis:410, 32-33; Hildebrand, 82.
  50. Spir. 18.46. Basil references Matthew 12:31 (“[E]very sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”) to support this last claim. Perhaps he sees the Son glorifying the Spirit by upholding his dignity in the face of blasphemy.
  51. Spir. 18.44; SC 17 bis:402, 1-5; Hildebrand, 79, where Basil says, “When the Lord handed over ‘Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit,’ [in Matthew 28:19] he did not hand it over with number (μετὰ τοῦ ἀριθμοῦ), for he did not say ‘into the first, second, and third’, and he did not say ‘into one, two, and three’. Rather, through the holy names (δι᾽ὀνομάτων ἁγίων), he gave the knowledge of the faith that leads to salvation (τὴν γνῶσιν τῆς πρὸς σωτηρίαν ἀγούσης πίστεως ἐχαρίσατο).” Cf., Eun. 1.16, 3.5; Spir. 10.24, 11.27; Ep. 91, 151, 210.
  52. Eun. 2.22; SC 305:90, 26-27; DelCogliano and Radde-Gallwitz, 263. Cf., Spir. 11.27.
  53. Spir. 18.47; SC 17 bis:412, 17-23; Hildebrand, 83: Ἡ…ὁδὸς τῆς θεογνωσίας ἐστὶν ἀπο ἑνὸς Πνεύματος, διὰ τοῦ ἑνὸς Υἱοῦ, ἐπὶ τὸν ἕνα Πατέρα. Καὶ ἀνάπαλιν, ἡ φυσικὴ ἀγαθότης, καὶ ὁ κατὰ φύσιν ἁγιασμός, καὶ τὸ βασιλικὸν ἀξίωμα, ἐκ Πατρός, διὰ τοῦ Μονογενοῦς, ἐπὶ τὸ Πνεῦμα διήκει. Οὕτω καὶ αἱ ὑποστάσεις ὁμολογοῦνται, καὶ τὸ εὐσεβὲς δόγμα τῆς μοναρχίας οὐ διαπίπτει.
  54. In Spir. Basil highlights the Spirit’s work as united and indivisible from that of the Father and Son. He quotes 1 Corinthians 12:11 to explain, however, how the gifts given by God are understood from the ‘human point of view’. While there is unity among the divine persons in the giving of gifts, the ‘point of contact’ for humans is the Spirit: “For [Paul] begins from our point of view, since when we receive gifts, we first encounter the one who distributes them, then we consider the one who sent them, and then we turn our minds to the source and cause of them (ἐπειδὴ ὑποδεχόμενοι τὰ δῶρα, πρῶτον ἐντυγχάνομεν τῷ διανέμοντι ˙ εἶτα ἐννοοῦμεν τὸν ἀποστείλαντα ˙ εἶτα ἀνάγομεν τὴν ἐνθύμησιν ἐπὶ τὴν πηγὴν καὶ αἰτίαν τῶν ἀωαθῶν)” (16.37; SC17:376, 33-36; Hildebrand, 70).
  55. Ar. 1.59, 61; 2.12, 31; 3.1-6, 21 inter alia.
  56. Ar. 3.1.
  57. Ar. 3.5.
  58. De Trin. 7.21; SC 448:322, 36-37; McKenna, 247.
  59. An example given by Hilary of the unity of the Father and Son related to their inseparable works is the text concerning ‘hands’ found in John 10:27-30. The Son says both that no one is able to snatch believers out of his hand, and that his hand is the Father’s. The latter is true because the nature and the power are the same. Thus, we understand that though the Son fully receives the Father’s nature in the nativitas, and can say all that he receives are ‘his’, it also must be said it is the Father ‘in’ the Son (De Trin. 7.22).
  60. “One nature, One Power: Consensus Doctrine in Pro-Nicene Polemic,” SP 29 (1997): 205-23.