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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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The Oneness of Essence, the Equality of Divinity, and the Equality of Honor of God the Son with God the Father
In earliest Christian times, until the Church's faith in the Oneness of Essence and the equality
of the Persons of the Holy Trinity had been precisely formulated in strictly defined terminology,
it happened that even those church writers who were careful to be in agreement with the
universal consciousness of the Church and had no intention to violate it with any personal views
of their own, sometimes, together with clear Orthodox thoughts, used expressions concerning the
Divinity of the Persons of the Holy Trinity which were not entirely precise and did not clearly
affirm the equality of the Persons.
This can be explained, for the most part, by the fact that in the same term some shepherds of
the Church placed one meaning and others, another meaning. The concept “essence” was expressed
in the Greek language by the word ousia, and this word was in general understood by
everyone in the same way. Using the word ousia, the Holy Fathers referred it to the concept of
“Person.” However, a lack of clarity was introduced by the use of a third word, “Hypostasis.”
Some signified by this term the “Persons” of the Holy Trinity, and others the “Essence.” This circumstance
hindered mutual understanding. Finally, following the authoritative example of St.
Basil the Great, it became accepted to understand by the word Hypostasis the Personal attributes
in the Triune Divinity.However, apart from this, there were heretics in the ancient Christian period who consciously
denied or lessened the Divinity of the Son of God. Heresies of this type were numerous
and from time to time caused strong disturbances in the Church. Such, for example, were the following
1. In the Apostolic Age — the Ebionites (after the name of the heretic Ebion). The Holy Fathers
testify that the holy Evangelist John the Theologian wrote his Gospel against them.
2. In the third century, Paul of Samosata was accused by two councils of Antioch in the
3. The most dangerous of all the heretics was Arius, the presbyter of Alexandria, in the 4th
century. Arius taught that the Word, or Son of God, received the beginning of His existence
in time, although before anything else; that He was created by God, although subsequently
God created everything through Him; that he is called the Son of God only because
He is the most perfect of all the created spirits, and has a nature which, being different
from the Father's, is not Divine.
This heretical teaching of Arius disturbed the whole Christian world, since it drew after it very
many people. In 325 the First Ecumenical Council was called against this teaching, and at this
Council 318 of the chief hierarchies of the Church unanimously expressed the ancient teaching of
Orthodoxy and condemned the false teaching of Arius. The Council triumphantly pronounced
anathema against those who say that there was a time when the Son of God did not exist, against
those who affirm that he was created, or that He is of a different essence from God the Father.
The Council composed a Symbol of Faith, which was confirmed and completed later at the Second
Ecumenical Council. The unity and equality of honor of the Son of God with God the Father
was expressed by this Council in the Symbol of Faith by these words: “of One Essence with the
After the Council, the Arian heresy was divided into three branches and continued to exist
for some decades. It was subjected to further refutation in its details at several local councils and
in the works of the great Fathers of the Church of the 4th century and part of the 5th century (Sts.
Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Gregory of
Nyssa, Epiphanius, Ambrose of Milan, Cyril of Alexandria, and others). However, the spirit of
this heresy even later found a place for itself in various false teachings both of the middle ages
and of modern times.
In answering the opinions of the Arians, the Fathers of the Church did not overlook a single
one of the passages in Holy Scripture which had been cited by the heretics in justification of their
idea of the inequality of the Son with the Father. Concerning the expressions in Sacred Scripture
which seem to speak of the inequality of the Son with the Father, one should bear in mind the
following: a) that the Lord Jesus Christ is not only God, but also became Man, and such expressions
can be referred to His humanity; b) that in addition, He, as our Redeemer, during the days
of His earthly life was in a condition of voluntary belittlement, “He humbled Himself, and became
obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:7-8). In keeping with these words of the Apostle, the Fathers
of the Church express this condition by the words ekkenosis, kenosis, which mean a pouring out,
a lessening, a belittlement “Foreseeing Thy divine self-emptying upon the cross, Habakkuk cried
out marveling” (Canon for the Matins of Great Saturday). Even when the Lord speaks of His own
Divinity, He, being sent by the Father and having come to fulfill upon the earth the will of theFather, places Himself in obedience to the Father, being One in Essence and equal in honor with
Him as the Son, giving us an example of obedience. This relationship of submission refers not to
the Essence (ousia) of the Divinity, but to the activity of the Persons in the world: the Father is
He Who sends; the Son is He Who is sent. This is the obedience of love.
Such is the precise significance, for example, of the words of the Savior in the Gospel of
John: “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). One should note that these words are spoken
to His disciples in His farewell conversation after the words which express the idea of the fullness
of His divinity and the Unity of the Son with the Father: “If a man love me, he will keep my
words and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him”
(v. 23). In these words the Savior joins the Father and Himself in the single word “We,” and
speaks equally in the name of His Father and in His own name; but, since He has been sent by
the Father into the world (v. 24), He places Himself in a relationship of submission to the Father
A detailed examination of similar passages in Sacred Scripture (for example, Mark 13:32;
Matt. 26:39; Matt. 27:46; John 20:17) is to be found in St. Athanasius the Great (in his sermons
against the Arians), in St. Basil the Great (in his fourth book against Eunomius), in St. Gregory
the Theologian, and in others who wrote against the Arians.
However, if there are such unclear expressions in the Sacred Scripture about Jesus Christ,
there are many, one might even say innumerable, passages that testify of the Divinity of the Lord
Jesus Christ. First, the Gospel as a whole testifies of Him. Concerning separate passages, we will
indicate here only a few of the more important ones. Some of these passages say that the Son of
God is true God; others state that He is equal to the Father: still others say that He is One in Essence
with the Father.
It is essential to keep in mind that to call the Lord Jesus Christ God — theos — in itself
speaks of the fullness of Divinity in Him. Speaking of the Son, the Apostle Paul says that “in
Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
The following shows that the Son of God is true God: a. He is directly called God in Sacred
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The
same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not
made anything that was made” (John 1:1-3).
“Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16).
“And we know that the Son of God is come and hath given us an understanding that we may
know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the
true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).
“. . . Of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, Who is over all, God blessed forever.
Amen” (Rom. 9:5).
“My Lord and my God” — the exclamation of the Apostle Thomas (John 20:28).
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to the whole flock, over the which the Holy Spirit
hath made you bishops, to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own
blood” (Acts 20:28).
“We should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that
blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus
2:12-13). That the title of “great God” belongs here to Jesus Christ is made clear for us from thesentence construction in the Greek language (a common article for the words “God and Savior”),
as well as from the context of this chapter.
b. He is called the “Only-begotten”:
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as
of the only-begotten of the Father” (John 1:14, 18).
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth
in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
c. He is equal in honor to the Father:
“My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17).
For what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19).
“For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth
whom He will” (John 5:21).
“For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself”
“That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).
d. He is One in Essence with the Father:
“I and My Father are one” (John 10:30) — in Greek, en esmen, one in essence.
“I am in the Father, and the Father in Me” (John 14:11; 10:38).
“All Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine” (John 17:10).
e. The word of God likewise speaks of the eternity of the Son of God:
“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which
was, and which is to come” (Rev. 1:8).
“And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with
Thee before the world was” (John 17:5).
f. Of His omnipresence:
“And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the
Son of Man which is in heaven” (John 3:13).
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of
them” (Matt. 18:20).
g. Of the Son of God as the Creator of the world:
“All things were made by Him; and without Him war not anything made that was made”
“For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are an earth, visible and
invisible, whether they be Thrones, or Dominions, or Principalities, or Powers: all things were
created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” (Col.
The word of God speaks similarly of the other Divine attributes of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As for Sacred Tradition, it contains entirely clear testimonies of the universal faith of Christians
in the first centuries in the true Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. We see the universality of
this faith in:
1) The Symbols of Faith which were used before the Council of Nicaea in every Local
2) The Confessions of Faith which were composed at the councils or in the name of a
council by the pastors of the church prior to the 4th century;3) The writings of the Apostolic Fathers and the teachers of the Church during the first centuries;
4) The written testimonies of men who were outside of Christianity and related that the
Christians worshipped “Christ as God” (for example, the letter of Pliny the Younger to
the Emperor Trajan; the testimony of the writer Celsus, who was an enemy of Christians;