Therefore to understand the Scriptures is to respect what they testify of Jesus Christ, firstly that He was always God and the Son, being the Word of the Father, secondly, to understand that He took the flesh of Mary, the bearer of God, and was made man. In this way, we remain true and faithful to God Himself and allow our whole mind, body and soul to by transformed by this reality. Any watering down of this account of the Gospel means a betrayal against the Incarnation and all that is spoken through Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ speaking as the true God speaking on His own behalf, what follows is nothing but a figment of our own imagination. We become familiar with nothing. The unity of being between the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ, means we become familiar with something so very real and so very tangible that it reaches into the very depths of God Himself.
Around about the time of the Nicene Council of 325AD hypostasis and ousia were considered synonymous in their meaning and were spoken in terms of to be in reference to Exodus 3.14 (Ad Afros 4). There were endless debates on how each of these two terms were to be understood so that the Apostolic faith could be best preserved. Athanasius used these terms synonymously literally as hypostasis (ὑπόστασις) is ousia (οὐσία). In addition he also says Jesus Christ is the ground for all hypostasis or hyparxis (ὑπαρξὶς). Jesus Christ is the ground who gives us existence. His existence makes it possible for us to continue to exist for as long as He exists where death cannot undo this because He conquered death for our sake.
I believe Basil has come up with a suitable explanation in his thirty eighth epistle. In this epistle he lays out a definition of ousia and hypostasis that is very comprehensible to all. In a song here in Australia called, I am, You are, we are Australian, it has a line, We are one and we are many that highlights the complex and diverse group of people that make up who we are and what identifies us as a whole. The oneness of our nation is the nature of what ousia means. The original inhabitants, the descendants of the first settlers, the migrants from all over the world altogether define us as one nation, ousia. The many, though we are of the same ousia, our differences in external characteristics reflects the true meaning of hypostasis. Though we are one we are made of many persons who each have their defining characteristic that may make them who they are. For example, I am Stuart and my son is Ben. We are one in our humanity, or of the same being, ousia. Yet I am Stuart and not Ben and Ben is not Stuart, showing the two hypostasis. We can say humanity are one ousia but many and almost countless hypostasis. There are intrinsic, internal characteristics common to all that make us human which we call ousia and there are defining external characteristic that make us distinct from each other, what we call hypostasis. It is the same with the Trinity. The homo–ousia or one being describes the internal oneness in nature of the Father, Son and Spirit. The three-hypostasis shows their distinctive external characteristics so that the Son is all the Father and the Spirit is except Father and Spirit and the Father is all the Son and the Spirit is except Son and Spirit, and likewise the Spirit is all the Father and Son are except Father and Son. Their relationship is best defined by the term perichoresis or mutual indwelling. Perichoresis is the missing element in humanity from which Jesus Christ came to restore. The Holy Spirit has given us a deposit of this which is a taste of perichoresis and a glimpse of the way things ought to be. Though we mutually indwell in the Trinity, such is our fear and hiding, which does not exist in the Trinity, we fail to experience the mutual indwelling in each other in our communities here on earth.
To better understand perichoresis (peri-core-ay-sis) I cannot think of anything better than Dr C. Baxter Kruger’s definition which you will find on the inside back cover of some of his books”
Genuine acceptance removes fear and hiding, and creates freedom to know and to be known. In this freedom arises a fellowship and sharing so honest and open and real that the persons involved dwell in one another. There is union without loss of individual identity. When one weeps, the other tastes salt. It is only in the Triune relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit that personal relationship of this order exists, and the early church used the word “perichoresis” to describe it. The good news is that Jesus Christ has drawn us within this relationship and its fullness and life are played in each of us and in all creation.
This is what the gospel is all about! Our true and real relationship is grounded in the reality of the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit as the pattern for all human relationships. It is understanding the intrinsic value the Father, Son and Spirit have given to us and the value He has placed on every single human being. We realise we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. It is tragic when people behave in such a way that undermines this value. When we label people according to differences based on politics, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc., we dehumanise them. In some cases, so little value is placed on those who are deemed so different some will justify killing them. The most extreme case we have is the Jewish Holocaust. The gospel of our Triune God means every human being is priceless in the eyes of the Father.
When we undermine the divinity of Jesus Christ or downplay the significance of His humanity the power of the value the Triune God places on us is stripped. Rules and regulations are brought in by those in authority which must be met before any kind of worth is conditionally given. If such conditions are met then these are worthy to go to heaven. Those who refuse to comply are deemed reprobate and are going to hell. In history, this has been so much are part of Christian belief that killing the reprobate in often the most cruelest manner was justified because they were going to hell to suffer for eternity anyway.
The reality of the gospel according to the ancient church preserves Jesus Christ in all His divinity and humanity so that its power is maintained entirely in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. When we tease out the implications from the reality of Jesus Christ we allow the internal and intrinsic truth of God to shine in such a way that it speaks for itself. Heresy is to begin elsewhere as if there is a truth besides Jesus Christ even though there is nowhere else the truth can be found but in Him.
By the time of the Council in Constantinople in 381AD, the church was now clear on the phrase homoousios to Patri (ὁμοούσιοσ τῷ Πατρί) and what it stood for. Though it was questioned for its non-biblical and metaphysical origin, the decades following the council of Nicaea, it was carefully given its context in Christian theology so that it preserved the bond of faith handed down from the Apostles themselves. The process of drawing from the truth of God was clarified in the most precise way from within the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Sound theological processes meant one had to lend and ear to Jesus Christ and become familiar with all He said regarding who God is in His own self. If we allow ourselves to assent to sound Godly knowledge then we can have the one and only point of reference, the One who is all the Father and the Spirit is except the Father and the Spirit, Jesus Christ our Lord, both God and Man. If we repent of all our preconceived ideas of God as nothing but lies, we have no choice but to turn to the One True God disclosed as the Man Jesus Christ, our Uncreated Light.
Cyril of Alexander uses the same method as Athanasius to show Jesus Christ is both God by nature and Man by nature who operates as one. He says in Scholia on the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten:
Desiring to investigate the Mystery of the economy with flesh of the Only Begotten, we say this, holding true doctrine and right faith, that the Word Himself out of God the Father, Very God out of Very God, the Light That is out of Light, was Incarnate and made Man, descended suffered rose from the dead: for thus defined the holy and great Synod the Symbol of the Faith;
But investigating and desiring to learn what is the true meaning of the Word being Incarnate and made Man; we see that it is not to take man in connection in regard of equality of dignity or authority or of mere community of name of sonship; but rather to be made man as we, together with His preserving to His own Nature Its being unchanged and without turn, Who economically became in assumption of flesh and blood.
One therefore is He Who before the Incarnation is called by the God-inspired Scripture, Only-Begotten, Word, God, Image, Brightness, Impress of the Person of the Father, Life, Glory, Light, Wisdom, Power, Arm, Right Hand, Most Highest, Magnificence, Lord of Sabaoth, and other like names, truly most God-befitting; and after the Incarnation, Man, Christ Jesus, Propitiation, Mediator, First-fruits of them that slept, First-begotten of the dead, Second Adam, Head of the Body the Church; the first names also following Him: for all are His, both the first and those in the last times of the world.
From Irenaeus, through to Athanasius, onto Basil and Cyril of Alexandria and others in between there is a fundamental focus on Jesus Christ being the rule of faith where this was brought to a crucial point in the Council of Nicaea in 325AD, definitively enlarged by the Council of Constantinople in 381AD and confirmed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD. Though the word homoousios was accepted into the Creed at Nicaea in 325AD, there were reservations followed by debates concerning a non-biblical, metaphysical word employed into a Christian confession of faith. As the decades followed this phrase homoousios to Patri (ὁμοούσιοσ τῷ Πατρί) stood the test of the heretical attack on bond of faith. By the Council of Constantinople there was shift in focus from the word homoousios itself to what the word stood for.
This method employed by many of the fathers of the ancient church is the very same employed by James Clerk-Maxwell and Albert Einstein in their quest to unravel the mysteries of the electro-magnetic field. Both the ancient fathers and these two giants in their fields of physics began with the importance of beginning with object itself and allowing one’s mind to become familiar with the inner reality it discloses. Maxwell and Einstein were concerned with how their objects related to each other as a whole, in particular the relationship between electricity, magnetism and light and later on in Einstein work the inclusion of gravity.
Such an object exists in Christian theology where the crucial word homoousios gives as a stable point of the only reality we have available to us in the Person and work of Jesus Christ regarding all the ways and works of God. We understand the Incarnate Word, the man Jesus Christ is of the same being with the Father. The fathers drew this out to include the Holy Spirit as of the same being with the Father and the Son. In Jesus Christ, God defines Himself in His own Person. With the Spirit of Christ in us we can intuitively know this for ourselves in a way it becomes clear to us at any level of understanding we have whether it be of eloquence of limited capacity. Once we grasp such a reality, it takes a hold of us making it almost impossible to shake off. Beginning with the Apostles, a foundation was laid down that was built upon by the ancient church from the beginning and is held through the centuries to the Council of Nicaea in 325AD where Athanasius said, This enables us to see, brethren, that they of Nicæa breathe the spirit of Scripture (Ad Afros 4). Other synods and councils were held by the Arians to try and formulate a doctrine of their own and make it formal. However, these synods numbering as many as ten or more at that time could never come to any agreement simply because their starting point was not as sound as the Bishops of Nicaea. When Jesus Christ is stripped of His divinity and a wedge is place between the Father and the Son then we lose the objective point from which we draw the truth. It becomes a game of semantics with right fighters vying for prestige and power trying to prove their truth is truer than any other truth. Reality becomes whatever anyone chooses to make it. Eloquence take priority over revealed truth in Jesus Christ. One has to become familiar with a string of logically deducted scriptures rather than the very Person of God disclosed as the Man Jesus Christ.
George Florovsky quotes Gregory Nazianzen in reference to the fathers, “in the manner of the Apostles, not in that of Aristotle ἀλιευτικιῶς ουκ ἀριστοτελικῶς (Hom. 23.12).” The gospel is a proclamation begun by the Apostles from which we take up and continue to proclaim. It has to proceed in this meaningful way otherwise it will have no conviction resulting in endless arguments trying to establish what is the most convincing. Our conversations, therefore, must have a common reference and guidance which can only result from encountering the Living Christ and acknowledging all that He is, as both God and Saviour.
It is the same manner as in 1John 1.1-7:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of the Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.
We see this also in Cyril of Alexandria in his 52nd letter:
Blessed Peter handed on in his successors what he received. Who would we wish to be separated from the doctrine of the one who the master taught was first among the apostles? He was not instructed by hearing him through someone else; a statement he read did not instruct him; he was taught by the mouth of the teacher along with the other apostles. He did not endure an inquiry into what was written in Scripture nor into who wrote it; he received an absolute and simple faith and one which had no controversy, in which we indeed ought always to meditate upon and remain in, so that, by following the apostles in the true meaning of the word, we may deserve to be among those who are apostolic. No small burden, no small labour weighs us, namely, that the Church of the Lord may be without stain.
Further, he also says:
Ep. 67; For they “who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word” did not hand on to us that he was one Son and another, as I said, but one and the same, God and man at the same time, the only begotten and the first-born, in order that he might have the first title as God, and the second as man, when he “was born among many brethren” having assumed likeness to ourselves and not having joined another man to himself, as it seemed good for some persons to think, but really and truly become man and not relinquishing being what he was. For being God by nature and impassible, for this reason he voluntarily suffered in his own flesh. For he has not given the body of some one else for us, but the only begotten Word of God himself offered himself, after he became man, and an immaculate victim of God the Father.
let nothing further be allowed for novelty because it is proper that nothing be added to our ancient tradition. Let the lucid and clear faith of our ancestors be disturbed by no admixture or uncleanness.
Epistle 55.43 According, let us flee the destructive innovations of those who have chosen to think thus because we consider them enemies of the truth, and let us rather follow the doctrines of the holy Fathers and the tradition of the holy apostles and evangelists. It was the incarnate Word himself speaking in them, through whom and with whom there be to God the Father, honour, glory and power with the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Again I refer to Psalm 36.9, For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light. In us is nothing but darkness. Our dark knowing must be brought to light only in the Light of Jesus Christ. Through fellowship with Him, assenting to all that He is, familiarising ourselves with all that God as this Man taught, understanding fully the significance of what it means for the Creator to become the creature, we too will also walk in His light and truly see Light, the very fountain of life. If pure logical thinking cannot yield any knowledge of our empirical world and establishing prepositions are fruitless in our pursuit of reality, how much more so is the case if we employ such methods in theology? This is what Gregory Nazianzen accused the heretics of practising as they tried to ignore the reality in Jesus Christ. They believed their logic regarding the ways and works of God was more powerful than the revealed God in Jesus Christ. The ancient church relied on the testimony of the Apostles in the whole of the New Testament Scriptures as well as the Old Testament as the reliable foundation from which to draw the truth from the Living God Himself. They did not have to think their way to God. Instead, the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ shows us His reality bringing to an end any kind of guess work. George Florovsky says, “Theology” is not an end in itself. It is always but a way. Theology, and even “dogmas,” present no more than an “intellectual contour” of the revealed truth, and a “noetic” testimony to it. Only in the act of faith is this “contour” filled with content. Christological formulas are fully meaningful only for those who have encountered the Living Christ, and have received and acknowledged Him as God and Saviour, and are dwelling by faith in Him, in His body, the church (Bible Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View, p. 109).