The One and the Many

We talk about God being one and many. The ‘Many’ are the three Persons of the Trinity, but what or who is the ‘One’? The Eastern Orthodox theologian, John Zizioulas, argues that the ‘One’ is not the total, overall unity, but the Father. For Zizioulas the one and the many are mutually constitutive. The Father is the ‘Head’ of the Trinity, just as Christ is the Head of the Church and the man is the head of the woman. Christ is a member of the Church, just as the Father is one of the ‘Many’ (three Persons of the Trinity). However, both Christ and the Father secure the oneness of the Church and the Trinity respectively as the many are constituted relative to them.

I find this approach attractive in a number of respects. However, it seems to differ from the common Western approach, which seems to be that of regarding the perichoresis of Persons as the one nature. I was wondering what others think of this.

Is there any way in which we can bring the two approaches together somehow? The unity of the Trinity is found in a Personal structural bond. The Father is the absolute Person. The Son is the ‘language’ of the Trinity, the One in whom God comes to know Himself. The Spirit is the bond of communion.

When we talk about the ‘one flesh’ union between man and wife, what particularly does that ‘one flesh’ union consist in? Is the headship of the husband an aspect of this one flesh union? I think that it is. Is the self-giving in which the husband gives himself to the wife and the wife to the husband an aspect of this one flesh union? I think that it is. Can the concrete union in biological offspring be an aspect of this one flesh union? One could argue that it is.

Is the unity of the Godhead something similar in character, to the degree that it cannot be reduced to one single thing (e.g. it does not consist in the Father being the arche alone)? The divine unity of self-knowledge is perhaps primarily to be associated with the Son; the divine unity of communion may be primarily associated with the Spirit; the arche of divine personhood is the Father. The unity of the Trinity is found in the Father’s begetting of the Son in the Spirit. Within this act of eternal generation, each of the Persons secures the divine unity in a particular way. However, we must recognize the complex character of divine unity and resist the temptation to think that we have said everything about the oneness of God when we have spoken, as Zizioulas does, about the Father as the arche of the Triune Persons.


About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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8 Responses to The One and the Many

  1. Matt says:

    I have just been reading Zizioulas’ Being and Communion, and was struck by this very same question. It does seem to be motivated not a little by Eastern anti-filioque bias.

    I appreciated Z’s explanation of the hypostatizing love of the Father constituting the Son’s being, rather than some autonomous ousia being behind it. He suggests that the meaning of ousia was changed by the Church’s credal work. I still tend to think that it was a bad move to try to explain the Trinity in terms of ousia at all; N.T. Wright’s view of Christ’s deity, e.g. in The Challenge of Jesus, seems much more Biblically grounded and less Hellenic and philosophical.

    I am frustrated at the lack of dialogue between Reformed thinkers and Zizioulas. I would like to know what Ralph Smith thinks of his ideas.

  2. Kate says:

    Dogmatics lessons -on the Triunal hypostasis and related issues- by prof.Zizioulas located in this website (some chapters still under construction in English and Greek)

  3. Al says:

    Thank you very much, Kate. Those look very interesting. I have linked to them in this post above.

  4. Kate says:

    Zizioulas dogmatics lessons in English can be found here, for anyone interested in his analyses:

  5. Kate says:

    Excuse my repetition – I hadn’t noticed that my previous message was posted.

  6. Kate says:

    Another book that may be of interest is: “Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries by John D. Zizioulas” (in English)

  7. Pingback: alastair.adversaria » Zizioulas

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