Saturday, August 14, 2004

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto

Those who say the Daily Offices praise the Holy Trinity as they recite after Canticles and before and after the praying of the Psalms, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.” In the Early Church there were other forms of the Doxology. Let us go back to the great Cappadocian theologian, Basil, to notice one.

On September 7, 374 St Basil “the Great”, Bishop of Caesarea, was praying with his people and glorifying the Holy Trinity in two related but distinct ways:

(1) “Glory to the Father together with the Son and together with the Holy Ghost; (compare “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.”)

(2) “Glory to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.”

Some people there accused him of being illogical and contradictory in his speech by using the two doxologies.

After pondering what they said and their reasons Basil decided to write a treatise to explain that both doxologies are scriptural, orthodox and necessary. Thus we have his book, “Treatise on the Holy Spirit.”

We may say that (1) is a coordinating doxology and is intimately connected to the Great Commission of Jesus [Matthew 28] where he commands that we are to be baptized in “the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The use of the conjunction “with” or “and” places the Three Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity together on the same divine plane as Three Equals, related in a distinct order, with the Father first in order. And each of the Three receives the same glory as the other Two, for each of the Three possesses the one and the same identical Godhead/divine nature as the other Two. The Doxology using “and” has been used everywhere in the Western Church and thus occurs many times in The Book of Common Prayer, for example.

We may say that (2) is a statement of the logic of Christian worship, prayer, service and consecration, which we find stated in many ways in the New Testament and expressed in the great Liturgies of the Church. All is offered to the Father through the one Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Son of the Father, and in the Holy Spirit [in his presence and by his power]. All is so offered because all [creation & redemption] has previously come from the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. There is a descent from the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit in creation, redemption and revelation and there is an ascent to the Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit in worship, prayer and service.

Further we may say that (1) points to God as God is in Himself and unto Himself as a Trinity of Persons in His own infinity and eternity (what theologians have called “the Immanent Trinity’) while (2) points to God as He has made Himself known in the work of creation, salvation, reconciliation and redemption (what theologians have called “the Economic Trinity”). The first is the language suitable to the Confession of Faith and for opposing heresy (see e.g., the Quicunque Vult), while the second is suitable to the teaching and proclamation of the Gospel and for use in worship.

However, both forms of the doxology are needed in the one Church to be used by all in order to preserve orthodox Christian understanding of God as The Holy Trinity. If (1) stands alone then the Trinity can seem to be a doctrine that has no practical application to Christian life on earth for God in his Trinitarian bliss is remote. In contrast, if (2) stands alone then it may be interpreted (as did the ancient Arians and Semi-Arians) as meaning that the divinity of the Holy Spirit is an inferior kind to that of the Son, and the divinity of the Son is of an inferior kind to that of the Father.

In terms of the history of salvation, as we find it set forth in the Canon of the Old and New Testaments, we may say with Bishop Gregory of Nazianzus, a friend of Bishop Basil, that the divinity of the Father is revealed and recognized by the Old Testament, that the divinity of the Son is revealed and recognized by the New Testament, and the divinity of the Holy Ghost, while revealed in the New Testament is only fully recognized when the same Spirit is present and active in the Church of God. Thus the full confession of the Holy Trinity and the conscious and systematic giving of glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost as Three Persons, equal and distinct, occurs after the period of the New Testament and in the period of the ancient Fathers.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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