Without the Son the Father Has Neither Existence Nor Name

Many people fear that the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son implies a sort of subordination of the Son to the Father, as the Son is dependent upon the Father for his being.  However, Gregory is able to reverse this sentiment and say that the Father is dependent on the Son for his being.  To be a father, after all, is to have a son.  Gregory explains:

For he who truly believes in the One sees in the One Him Who is completely united with Him in truth, and deity, and essence, and life, and wisdom, and in all attributes whatsoever: or, if he does not see in the One Him Who is all these it is in nothing that he believes. For without the Son the Father has neither existence nor name, any more than the Powerful without the Power, or the Wise without Wisdom. For Christ is ‘the Power of God and the Wisdom of God,’ so that he who imagines he sees the One God apart from power, truth, wisdom, life, or the true light, either sees nothing at all or else assuredly that which is evil. For the withdrawal of the good attributes becomes a positing and origination of evil.

~ Against Eunomius 2.4

Ungenerate and Unoriginate

Gregory freely admits that ungenerate is simply a way to say Father (Against Eunomius 1.37) He prefers the revealed terms of Father, Son, and Spirit to any systematic terms like ungenerate and generate, but he understands the necessity of the latter given the heresies of his day.

He is concerned with guarding the eternality and uncreatedness of the Son, however, and so he grants this admission when it comes to the use of “generate”:

In our view, the ‘native dignity’ of God consists in godhead itself, wisdom, power, goodness, judgment, justice, strength, mercy, truth, creativeness, domination, invisibility, everlastingness, and every other quality named in the inspired writings to magnify his glory; and we affirm that every one of them is properly and inalienably found in the Son, recognizing difference only in respect of unoriginateness; and even that we do not exclude the Son from, according to all its meanings. But let no carping critic attack this statement as if we were attempting to exhibit the Very Son as ungenerate; for we hold that one who maintains that is no less impious than an Anomoean. But since the meanings of ‘origin’ are various, and suggest many ideas, there are some of them in which the title ‘unoriginate’ is not inapplicable to the Son. When, for instance, this word has the meaning of ‘deriving existence from no cause whatever,’ then we confess that it is peculiar to the Father; but when the question is about ‘origin’ in its other meanings (since any creature or time or order has an origin), then we attribute the being superior to origin to the Son as well, and we believe that that whereby all thins were made is beyond the origin of creation, and the idea of time, and the sequence of order. So He, Who on the ground of His subsistence is not without an origin, possessed in every other view an undoubted unoriginatedness; and while the Father is unoriginate and Ungenerate, the Son is unoriginate in the way we have said, though not ungenerate.

~ Against Eunomius 1.33

Notice that the Son is without origin when it comes to our concept of time and coming into being. The Son is superior to all such concepts of origin. His generation from the Father is purely within the transcendent and simple essence. When it comes to relations with the creation, the Son is without origin. When it comes to the relations within the godhead, His cause is the Father’s own essence, which is His own essence as well.

Nyssa on the Unity of Divine Operations

In On “Not Three Gods”, Gregory mentions that the persons of the Godhead are united by their operations (works).  This manner of speaking has been accosted for the purpose of social formulations of the Trinity, but a careful reading of the way in which Gregory employs the divine operations should dissuade us of any such notion within his own writings.  It is not that the Father works, the Son works, and the Spirit works, and their works happen to match up, as if they were synchronized swimmers, but rather the work of the Father is the work of the Son and the Spirit.  It is the same work.  The work itself moves from Father, to Son, and to Spirit.  Gregory explains:

Since, then, the character of the superintending and beholding power is one, in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as has been said in our previous argument, issuing from the Father as from a spring, brought into operation by the Son, and perfecting its grace by the power of the Spirit, and since no operation is separated in respect of the Persons, being fulfilled by each individually apart from that which is joined with Him in our contemplation, but all providence, care, and superintendence of all, alike of things in the sensible creation and of those of supramundane nature, and that power which preserves the things which are, and corrects those which are amiss, and instructs those which are ordered aright, is one, and not three, being, indeed, directed by the Holy Trinity, yet not severed by a threefold division according to the number of the Persons contemplated in the Faith, so that each of the acts, contemplated by itself should be the work of the Father alone, or of the Son peculiarly, or of the Holy Spirit separately, but while, as the Apostle says, the one and the selfsame Spirit divides His good gifts to every man severally, the motion of good proceeding from the Spirit is not without beginning; — we find that the power which we conceive as preceding in this motion, which is the Only-begotten God, is the maker of all things; without Him no existent thing attains to the beginning of its being: and again, this same source of good issues from the will of the Father.

If, then, every good thing and every good name, depending on that power and purpose, which is without beginning, is brought to perfection in the power of the Spirit through the Only-begotten God, without mark of time or distinction (since there is no delay, existent or conceived, in the motion of the Divine will from the Father, through the Son, to the Spirit): and if Godhead also is one of the good names and concepts, it would not be proper to divide the name into a plurality, since the unity existing in the action prevents plural enumeration.

~ On “Not Three Gods” pg. 334-335 NPNF vol. 5

Notice that the character of God’s power is one.  His will is one.  It moves through the persons, yet is one.  There is no distinction in it, because of Gregory’s commitment to simplicity and infinity, and so it can move “through” the divine persons without ever leaving them.

Nyssa and Absolute Divine Simplicity

Bound up in his adherence to the infinity of the divine nature (which is the only pure being), is Gregory’s commitment to divine simplicity. Eunomius was content to use the terminology of “simple,” however he held to a plurality of being among the Father, Son, and Spirit. Thus, for Eunomius, each being was itself simple, but each was also distinct from one another, allowing for a variation of quality between the various beings.

Nyssa rejects this “with all his might,” and explains that simplicity applies to the single divine nature, thus admitting no variance of quality between the persons sharing that being. Simplicity and infinity, both aspects of the same concept, are what allow for total equality between the persons of the godhead. Gregory states:

We believe that the most boorish and simple-minded would not deny that the Divine Nature, blessed and transcendent as it is, was ‘single.’ That which is viewless, formless, and sizeless, cannot be conceived of as multiform and composite. But it will be clear, upon the very slightest reflection, that this view of the supreme Being as ‘simple,’ however finely they [the Eunomians- sw.] may talk of it, is quite inconsistent with the system which they have elaborated. For who does not know that, to be exact, simplicity in the case of the Holy Trinity admits of no degrees. In this case there is no mixture or conflux of qualities to think of; we comprehend a potency without parts and composition; how then, and on what grounds, could any one perceive there any differences of less and more. For he who marks differences there must perforce think of an incidence of certain qualities in the subject. He must in fact have perceived differences in largeness and smallness therein, to have introduced this conception of quantity into the question: or he must posit abundance or diminution in the matter of goodness, strength, wisdom, or of anything else that can with reverence be associated with God: and neither way will he escape the idea of composition. Nothing which posses wisdom or power or any other good, not as an external gift, but rooted in its nature, can suffer diminution in it; so that if any one says that he detects Beings greater and smaller in the Divine Nature, he is unconsciously establishing a composite and heterogeneous Deity, and thinking of the Subject as one thing and the quality, to share in which constitutes as good that which was not so before, as another. If he had been thinking of a Being really single and absolutely one, identical with goodness rather than possessing it, he would not be able to count a greater and a less in it at all. It was said, moreover, above that good can be diminished by the presence of evil alone, and that where the nature is incapable of deteriorating, there is no limit conceived of to the goodness: the unlimited, in fact, is not such owing to any relation whatever, but considered in itself escapes limitation. It is, indeed, difficult to see how a reflecting mind can conceive on infinite to be greater or less than another infinite. So that if he acknowledges the Supreme Being to be ‘single’ and homogeneous, let him grant that it is bound up with this universal attribute of simplicity and infinitude. If, on the other hand, he divides and estranges the ‘Beings’ from each other, conceiving that of the Only-begotten as another than the Father’s, and that of the Spirit as another than the Only-begotten, with a ‘more’ and ‘less’ in each case, let him be exposed now as granting simplicity in appearance only to the Deity, but in reality proving the composite in Him.

~ Against Eunomius 1.19

Let us note that Gregory takes it for granted that the Supreme Being is one and simple. He relies on this axiom to show that simplicity entails an identification of nature, and thus the Only-begotten and the Spirit, being one with the Father, share his nature and all of his attributes completely. There can be no scale of greater or lesser among these without either severing the unity of nature or making the Supreme Being composite, which would also entail that it was not, in fact, the Supreme Being.

Furthermore, if there is such as thing as “absolute” divine simplicity (over and against other formulations of simplicity), and this is itself disputed and would be anachronistic to apply to the 4th century, Gregory would most certainly be affirming absolute divine simplicity. He states that a simple being is formless and sizeless. It admits of no difference of quality. The attributes of the divine nature are not external, but rather rooted in the very nature itself.

Finally, Gregory gives us the most straightforward affirmation of simplicity when he identifies the divine nature with the good. It does not merely possess goodness. It is identical with goodness. He identifies the essence of God with the attribute or property of goodness.

And so we have Gregory the Augustinian and Gregory the Thomist. We have Gregory the Western scholastic “essence-minded” theologian.

Nyssa on Essence and Energies

Eunomius had relied on Aristotelian metaphysics to construct a theology where the Son and Spirit were “energies” of the Father. In Eunomius’ thought, this also entailed that they were distinct from the Father’s essence and of a lower quality.

In rejecting this way of thinking, Gregory gives us some insights on his own understanding of the relationship between essence and energies, and in keeping with his commitment to simplicity (of which we will have more to say in a bit), he identifies the energy with the essence. Thus, even if the Son and the Spirit were energies of the Father, they would also be of his essence. Gregory writes:

But it is worth a moment’s while now to consider how energies ‘follow’ [Eunomius’ terminology sw.] beings: what these energies are essentially: whether different to the beings which they ‘follow,’ or part of them, and of their inmost nature: and then, if different, how and whence they arise: if the same, how they have got cut off from them, and instead of co-existing ‘follow’ them externally only. This is necessary, for we cannot learn all at once from his words, whether some natural necessity compels the ‘energy,’ whatever that may be, to ‘follow’ the being, in the way heat and vapor follow fire, and the various exhalations the bodies which produce them. Still I do not think that he would affirm that we should consider the being of God to be something heterogeneous and composite, having the energy inalienably contained in the idea of itself, like an ‘accident’ in some subject-matter: he must mean that the beings, deliberately and voluntarily moved, produce by themselves the desired result. But, if this be so, who would style this free result of intention as one of its external consequences? We have never heard of such an expression used in common parlance in such cases; the energy of the worker of anything is not said to ‘follow’ that worker. We cannot separate one from the other and leave one behind by itself: but, when one mentions the energy, one comprehends in the idea that which is moved with the energy, and when one mentions the worker one implies at once the unmentioned energy.

An illustration will make our meaning clearer. We say a man works in iron, or in wood, or in anything else. This single expression conveys at once the idea of the working and of the artificer, so that if we withdraw the one, the other has no existence. If then they are thus thought of together, i.e. the energy and he who exercises it, how in this case can there be said to “follow” upon the first being the energy which produces the second being, like a sort of go-between to both, and neither coalescing with the nature of the first, nor combining with the second: separated from the first because it is not its very nature, but only the exercise of its nature, and from that which results afterwards because it does not therein reproduce a mere energy, but an active being.

~Against Eunomius 1.17

Notice that for Gregory the essence and the energy cannot be separated, and the one is comprehended by mention of the other. When he writes that the energy is “not its very nature,” we see that this is a negative hypothetical. It is one option that he is placing in his opponent’s mouth and rejecting because of its incompatibility with the fact that the Son and Spirit are active beings.

Even if the Son and Spirit were energies of the Father, and Gregory does not believe that this is the full case at all, they would still be of the Father’s essence, and thus equal in dignity, worth, honor, etc.

Nyssa on the Infinity of the Good

In his treatise Against Eunomius, Gregory begins with a discussion on “pure being,” which is, by necessity of its pure being-ness, infinite. All else that “be’s” is only able to do so as it moves towards that which is pure being. That which is totally pure is also infinite, for it lacks all detractive motion. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since they share the divine being, are all equally infinite and incapable of admitting gradations among themselves. Gregory explains:

Good, as long as it is incapable of its opposite, has no bounds to its goodness: its opposite alone can circumscribe it, as we may see by particular examples. Strength is stopped only when weakness seizes it; life is limited by death alone; darkness is the ending of light: in a word, every good is checked by its opposite, and by that alone. If then he supposes that the nature of the Only-begotten and of the Spirit can change for the worse, then he plainly diminishes the conception of their goodness, making them capable of being associated with their opposites. But if the Divine and unalterable nature is incapable of degeneracy, as even our foes allow, we must regard it as absolutely unlimited in its goodness: and the unlimited is the same as the infinite. But to suppose excess and defect in the infinite and unlimited is to the last degree unreasonable: for how can the idea of infinitude remain, if we posited increase and loss in it? We get the idea of excess only by a comparison of limits: where there is no limit, we cannot think of any excess.

~Against Eunomius 1.15

Since there cannot be excess in pure being, it must be the case that the Son and Holy Spirit are also infinite, without any greater or lesser. To make them “less” is to put them on the other side of the infinite/finite divide, and thus to steal away their divine nature.