Being as Communion (John Zizioulas)

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by BayouHuguenot, Nov 19, 2018.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Zizioulas, John. Being as Communion. St Vladimir's Seminary Press.

    Relevance of the book: Often cited in current Trinitarian discussions.

    Pros: Copious and mostly skilled use of the Fathers.

    Cons: See below.

    John Zizioulas notes that ancient Greek thought maintained a diversity in spite of apparent unity (29). Therefore, there could never be a unique “person” since everything reduced to the One. Christianity would come along and identify the hypostasis with the prosopon. In other words, the ancient teaching could now differentiate between person and nature. Person is no longer a category of being, but the hypostasis of a being. Person constitutes being (39).

    Ontology and God’s Existence

    The person of the Father is the ontological principle of God’s existence (40). The hypostasis of the Father grounds the “being” of God. This forces ontology into a “relational category”

    Athanasios made a distinction between substance and will (Contra Arianos: 1:33). He broke the closed ontology of the Greeks. To be is not the same as to will or to act. He connected the Son’s being to the substance of God, which of course, is grounded in the person of the Father. Since “substance” is grounded in the person of the Father, substance now has relational signficance.

    While “hypostasis” and “ousia” technically mean the same thing (or at least overlap)–anyway, before St Basil—several things have happened that prevent a neat identification. Hypostasis now has a relational dimension, and Athanasios rejected the distinction between primary and secondary substance (85 n. 61).

    Truth and Communion

    The Greeks were perceptive enough to know that history is in the realm of decay (2nd Law of Thermodynamics). Their reticence to history was not due to “gnostic otherworldliness,” but to common sense. If Truth is timeless and eternal, how can it interact with the changing realm of history?

    St Maximos the Confessor was the one to solve this riddle. He did so by allowing for “truth” in the movement of being (e.g., history). He proposed to see the world as genesis–>kinesis–>stasis. Thus, history is provisional but it is also meaningful: it now possesses an “end.” The truth of history is identifiable with creation, and both are moving towards the future.


    This is only a thumbnail sketch. The rest of the book deals with ecclesiological issues that are probably more relevant for Orthodox seminarians


    Zizioulas thinks the Fathers saw person simply in relational contexts. Is this true? Lucian Turcescu’s argues that it is not. The simple reason is Gregory of Nyssa had no qualms about defining a person as individual. Both Basil and Gregory, perhaps drawing upon Porphyry, saw ‘Peter’ and ‘Job’ “as unique collections of properties” (Turcescu 530). Gregory says that Job is “this man,” going so far as to write “a person (hypostasis) is also the concourse of the peculiar characteristics” (Difference between ousia and hypostasis; I understand this might have been written by Basil, but Turcescu seems to think Gregory wrote it).

    For Z. to be a person is to be a person in communion. God’s being is relational and the Trinity is the “primordial ontological concept” (Zizioulas, BaC, 16-17).

    Priority of the Father and the Sovereignty-Aseity Conviction

    The Person of the Father is the supreme category (Zizioulas 18).


    Can the Father’s radical freedom allow him to choose a world in which evil is praiseworthy (McCall 198)?

    The Father’s radical freeness seems to imply that he has different properties than the Son. Does he have different “personal” properties or different essential properties? The first is orthodox; the second is not. It’s hard to see how it can be a personal property. Personal properties are relational, but the Father’s property of radical freedom is not in relation to Son or Spirit (201).

    An Extended Analysis (McCall 202-203).

    (1) The Father alone is ultimate (Sovereignty-Aseity Conviction; SAC)

    (2) The Father is a person (SAC)

    (3) Persons exist only in communion (BAC)

    McCall spells out the above contradiction

    (4) Persons exist only in communion (BAC)

    (5) The Father is a Person (BAC and SAC)

    (6) Therefore, the Father exists only in a communion.

    But (6) contradicts (1).

    Lucian Turcescu’s “‘Person’ versus ‘Individual,’ and other Modern Misreadings of Gregory of Nyssa.” Modern Theology 18:4 October 2002.

    McCall, Thomas. Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?
  2. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    In his systematic theology Kelly addressed the differing views of the Trinity in the east, distinguishing them as follows...

    Douglas F. Kelly: (a) Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and John of Damascus
    These theologians anchored the deity of the Son and Spirit in the Person of the Father, thereby continuing a certain subordination in that they set up a ‘casual series’ or ‘structure of dependence’ among the Triune Persons, in which the second and third Persons were unequally dependent, or even ‘caused’ by the first Person (although ‘cause’ is being used in a way that precludes any coming into existence out of nothing, for these theologians say that the Son and the Spirit are equally eternal with the Father). Douglas F. Kelly, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, The God Who Is: The Holy Trinity (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008), p. 540.

    Douglas F. Kelly: (b) Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria and Epiphanius
    These theologians on the contrary understood the unity of the substance of God to be anchored in the Being of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, rather than in the Person of the Father. Douglas F. Kelly, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, The God Who Is: The Holy Trinity (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008), p. 542.

    I know that Epiphanius uses the word αὐτοθεὸς explicitly (a number of times) in reference to Christ, thus emphasizing His aseity.
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  3. Aco

    Aco Puritan Board Freshman

    I read some chapters of objections to the filioque from Zizioulas, with similar issues as you outlined, in a serbian-orthodox theological work:
    бити са другим - Релациона онтологија Јована Зизјуласа - Григорије Дурић
    (Being with Other - Relational Ontology of John Zizioulas - Grigorije Duric).

    The monarchy of the Father is central in his thinking. The argument proceeds on the bases that latin trinitarian theology (Augustine mostly taken as the object), is actually an implicit denial of monotheism.

    There are to sources for that problem according to Zizioulas:

    1. Linguistic. The Greeks used for the procession of the Son from the Father, the greek verb εκπορευεται, and for the procession of the Spirit the verb προειναι.
    While the Latins used procedere for both. Which is the source of the misunderstanding.

    2. Augustine's question in De Trinitate in book 10: „Is it possible that somebody loves that which he doesn't know?" Augustine's answer is in the negative. Thats why amongst Western theologians, according to Zizioulas, came along the conclusion that God loves through the Holy Spirit who is the nexus amoris (loving relation), and that is not possible if knowledge (without which there is no love) does not intercede. Following this, the priority over the Spirit has the Son and only through the relationship of the Father with the Son can the Spirit proceed. That is the bases of the filioque.

    Zizoulas argues against the second point that the claim that knowledge precedes love creates existential problems. Like that "mentally ill" people, who don't have a developed ability to know, couldn't actually love. That presumption would also objectify reality and we would end up to look at each others qualities and their absence, which leads to the inference that love then isn't free.
    He argues further that in eastern patristic theology it is not acceptable that the persons can be seen as energies (according to G. Palamas). Father, Son and Spirit are not names for energies or even for the substance. Properties, like knowledge and love, are not separated into persons, but they are common properties of all the persons of the Trinity. Even if those properties come from the Father, they are not identified withthe Father and are not reserved only for him. To the contrary, in such properties exist hypostatic properties which are characteristic only for some persons of the Trinity:

    - Father: unbegotten and the source/cause
    - Son: begotten
    - Spirit: procession from the source/cause

    For the eastern fathers the properties are relational and ontological.

    Contrary to Augustine and the scholastics, the fathers never allowed that the human psychological experiences are projected unto God. The Greek fathers simply said:

    "The Father is the Father because he is not the Son, and is not begotten, the Son is not the Father because he is begotten, the Spirit is not the Father for the same reason, but the he isn't the Son too because he is not begotten but proceeding.

    G. Duric later criticises Zizioulas for using a strawman against Augustine, because he never meant knowledge in the way Zizioulas criticised it.
  4. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    That seems about right. Nazianzen's 3rd Theological Oration can be quite tricky in glossing how he uses the term monarchia. I lean towards Kelly's interpretation of it, but I don't have a solid opinion on it 100%.
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