Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170625

Why, Gregory speculates, is our knowledge of God for the present fragmentary at best? His answered was that in this life we simply are too weak to view God’s nature and essence directly. Gregory held the hope that such will not always be the case. He refers to Paul’s words in first Corinthians that in the future “I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Hence, because the inherent limitations of human nature, at least in its present state, there is nothing more difficult than coming to know and speak of God well. As Gregory puts it, “the truth, then – and the whole word – is full of difficulty and obscurity; and as it were, with a small instrument we are undertaking a great work, when with merely human wisdom we pursue the knowledge of the self-existent.

Having warned both his audience and himself as to the pitfalls surrounding the practice of theological reflection, a thinking and speaking focused on the mystery and wonder of God, Gregory moves to an analysis of the Godhead in his third theological oration.
Gregory begins his third oration by describing God in Trinitarian terms. God is a “monarchy” and a “unity”, a unity grounded in an “equality of nature, and a union of mind, and an identity of motion and a convergence of its elements to unity.”

Fine, we respond to Gregory, but to speak frankly, we have no idea what you are talking about. “Fair enough,” Gregory might respond. Trinitarian language is inherently difficult, precisely because we have no genuine correspondences in creation to the reality of God’s nature. Motion is the created order, for example, means something different from motion within the Godhead. Why, then does Gregory use the word motion? It manages to convey, at least partially, the eternal movement of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Gregory’s expression, “The Father is the begetter and the emitter; without passion, of course, and without reference to time, and not in a corporeal manner. The Son is the begotten and the Holy Spirit the emission. Gregory declared that he knew not how this could be expressed in terms altogether excluding visible things. The Father begets the Son, but not in a human manner and not in time. The Son is begotten, but has always been begotten. The Holy Spirit has always been also.

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