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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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The personal attributes of the Divine Persons.
The Personal or Hypostatical attributes of the All-Holy Trinity are designated thus: the Father
is unbegotten; the Son is pre-eternally begotten; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.
“Although we have been taught that there is a distinction between begetting and procession,
what this distinction consists of, and what is the begetting of the Son and the procession of the
Holy Spirit from the Father — this we do not know (St. John Damascene).
No kind of logical calculation as to what begetting and procession mean is capable of revealing
the inner mystery of the Divine life. Arbitrary conceptions can even lead to a distortion of
the Christian teaching. The very expressions that the Son is “begotten of the Father” and that the
Spirit “proceeds from the Father” are simply a precise transmission of the words of Sacred Scripture.
Of the Son it is said that he is “the only-begotten” (John 1:14; 3:16, and other places); likewise,
“from the womb before the morning star have I begotten thee” (Ps. 109:3); “The Lord said
unto Me, ‘Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee” (Ps. 2:7; the words of this Psalm are
also cited in the epistle to the Hebrews, 1:5; 5:5). The dogma of the procession of the Holy Spirit
rests upon the following direct and precise expression of the Savior: “But when the Comforter is
come, Whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth
from the Father, He shall testify of Me” (John 15:26). On the foundation of the above-cited expressions,
of the Son it is usually said, in the past tense, that He is “begotten,” and of the Spirit in
the present tense that He “proceeds.” However, these various grammatical forms of tense do not
indicate any relation to time at all. Both begetting and procession are “from all eternity,” “outside
of time.” Concerning the begetting of the Son, theological terminology sometimes also uses the
present tense form: “He is begotten from all eternity” of the Father. However, the Holy Fathers
more usually use the expression of the Symbol of Faith: “begotten.” (The English translation does not
preserve the distinction of tenses in the Russian and Greek verbs here; the single English word “begotten” is used to
translate both the reflexive, passive form of the present tense and the past participle.)
The dogma of the begetting of the Son from the Father and the procession of the Holy Spirit
from the Father shows the mystical inner relations of the Persons in God and the life of God
within Himself. One must clearly distinguish these relations which are pre-eternal, from all eternity,
and outside of time, from the manifestations of the Holy Trinity in the created world, from
the activities and manifestations of God's Providence in the world as they have been expressed in
such events as the creation of the world, the coming of the Son of God to earth, His Incarnation,
and the sending down of the Holy Spirit. These providential manifestations and activities have
been accomplished in time. In historical time the Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary by the
descent upon Her of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the
highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall becalled the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). In historical time, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at
the time of His baptism by John. In historical time, the Holy Spirit was sent down by the Son
from the Father, appearing in the form of fiery tongues. The Son came to earth through the Holy
Spirit. The Spirit is sent down by the Son in accordance with the promise, “the Comforter. . .
Whom l will send unto you from the Father” (John 15:26).
Concerning the pre-eternal begetting of the Son and the procession of the Spirit, one might
ask: “When was this begetting and this procession?” St. Gregory the Theologian replies: “This
was before when itself. You have heard about the begetting; do not be curious to know in what
form this begetting was. You have heard that the Spirit proceeds from the Father; do not be curious
to know how He proceeds.”
Although the meaning of the words “begetting” and “procession” are beyond us, this does
not decrease the importance of these conceptions in the Christian teaching regarding God They
indicate the wholeness of Divinity of the Second and Third Persons. The existence of the Son
and the Spirit rests inseparably in the very Essence of God the Father; hence we have the expressions
regarding the Son: “From the womb... have I begotten Thee” — from the womb, that is,
from the Essence. By means of the words “begotten” and “proceeds,” the existence of the Son
and the Spirit is set in opposition to any kind of creatureliness, to everything that was created and
was called by the will of God out of non-existence. An existence which comes from the Essence
of God can only be Divine and eternal; therefore the word of God says of the Son who came
down to earth: “the only begotten Son, which IS an the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18); and
concerning the Holy Spirit: “Whom I will send... which proceedeth from the Father” (Here the
grammatical present tense signifies eternity).
That which is begotten is always of the same essence as the one that begets. But that which
is created and made is of another, lower essence, and is external with relation to the Creator.