On his discussion of the term homoousios, Barth noted how the fathers at the Council of Constantinople (particularly the Cappadocians) rendered it to mean “the equality of essence” between the Son and the Father while the West, which followed Athanasius (an Eastern bishop), rendered it to mean “the unity of essence” between the Son and the Father. Thus, “[p]olytheism thus became a constant threat to Eastern theology. On the other hand, it must be admitted that the idea of oneness of essence made Modalism a constant threat to Western theology.” (I/1, 439)

The difference is influenced by their different historical contexts. The problem of Athanasius was Arius who argued for the ontological difference between the Son and the Father. And this brouhaha led to the Council of Nicaea in 325. On the other hand, the Cappadocians were concerned with “the distinction and autonomy of the persons, which had received little emphasis in Athanasius” (I/1, 439). And the matter was settled in the Council of Constantinople in 381.

Hence Athanasius was asking how the Son and the Father are really One while the Cappadocians were asking how the Son and the Father are really Two. To be truly trinitarian, then, the East needs the West and the West needs the East.


2 thoughts on “Homoousios

  1. dpredie

    -in practice, “offshoots” from the West are very prone to Modalism of all sorts. “Papi Yesus”

    -i recently heard an opiniated comment from a RC adherent: “protestants worship just Jesus, and RC worship the Trinity”- whereas a biased vantage point from protestants would accuse that RC worships Virgin Mary.

    -healthy trinitarian studies should involve the East i guess

    1. septian Post author

      yeah, i still smirked whenever i heard my sister said “Father Jesus.”

      another stereotype:
      – the mainline worships the Father
      – the evangelical worships the Son
      – the charismatic worships the Spirit

      “All theological favouritisms are thus forbidden: the one-sided belief in God the Father [the deist god?] which was customary in the Enlightenment; the so-called Christocentrism which Pietism loved and still loves; and finally all the nonsense that is and can be perpetrated with isolated veneration of the Spirit.” (I/1, 395)


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