Ontology and gnoseology in the Triadology of Athanasius the Great

  1. Lemma
  2. Οντολογία και γνωσιολογία στην τριαδολογία του Μ. Αθανασίου
  3. English
  4. Koutalis, Vangelis
  5. Key thinkers - Concepts of knowledge and modes of reasoning > Orthodox gnosiology - Concepts of knowledge and modes of reasoning - Concepts of knowledge and modes of reasoning > Sources of knowledge (empiricism/rationalism) - Orthodox theological tradition and practice > Patristic studies - Mutual dependence
  6. 28-11-2018
  7. Velaras, Christodoulos K. [Author]. Οντολογία και γνωσιολογία στην τριαδολογία του Μ. Αθανασίου
  8. Οντολογία και γνωσιολογία στην τριαδολογία του Μ. Αθανασίου - Thessaloniki: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Faculty of Theology, School of Theology, 1999.
  9. Athanasius of Alexandria - gnoseology - ontology - Orthodox doctrine of the Uncreated and the Created (Άκτιστο-Κτιστό) - Triadology - soteriology - Divine action
    1. <p>Velaras, Christodoulos K. [Βηλαράς, Χριστόδουλος Κ.] (1999). <em>Οντολογία και γνωσιολογία στην τριαδολογία του Μ. Αθανασίου </em>(Doctoral dissertation). Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Faculty of Theology, School of Theology.</p>
    1. The aim of this dissertation is to present the views of Athanasius of Alexandria concerning the unity of the Triadic communion, and to ascertain the way in which Church receives the mystery of the Triadic God, as well as the way in which the human beings acquire knowledge of God and the content of this knowledge.

      After a short critical review of the contemporary research on Athanasius, the author, in the first chapter of his study, examines the theological and philosophical presuppositions of Athanasius’ Triadology. From an ontological point of view, Athanasius’ conception of God presupposes, firstly, the distinction between the created reality and the uncreated creator of this reality, as well as a sharp recognition of the ontological gap between them: the Uncreated is the real being and the real life, whereas the Created comes from nothing and moves towards decay and death, if the love and the cohesive activity of God is withdrawn. The way that God exists lies beyond the scope of possible human experience and is ungraspable by the human mind. A second ontological distinction that Athanasius’ Triadology presupposes is that between nature and will. The Son of God is the offspring of the essence of the father, contrary to the created beings which are the offspring of the divine will. Here, the difference between nature and will, the attribution of primacy to nature over will, and the idea that the will forms the basis for the communication between the Uncreated and the Created, serve as pointers to the difference between the inter-Triadic life and the outer-Triadic life. The third ontological presupposition of Athanasius’ Triadology is the distinction between “theology”, understood as the perpetual existence of the persons comprising the Holy Triad, and “economy”, that is, the intervention of God, through the divine energies, in the creation and within history. The human beings are able to know God, not in the sense that they can grasp the nature of the eternal Triad, but in the sense that they can acknowledge that God is a triad of persons and that they can experience the divine unity in a realized communion between the Created and the Uncreated. Finally, from a gnoseological point of view, Athanasius’ triadological approach presupposes

      a) the conception of the human mind as an instrument directed to the knowledge of God, and of the human soul, invested as the latter is both with rationality and immortality, as a medium of communication with God, and

      b) the conception of the reality of human life as essentially relying on the participation in God, and the idea that humanity, and the whole creation as well, has been adopted by God through the Incarnation.

      The second and the third chapter of the dissertation are respectively devoted to the ontological character of the persons of the Holy Triad, and the discussion on the economy and knowledge of the triadic God. According to the author, the reaction of Athanasius to the theology of Arius should be seen as resulting from a serious difference in faith, which in its own turn is the outcome of a different soteriological perspective. The texts of Athanasius are not cosmological, but soteriological. They are not studies on the creation of the world. They are studies intended to make us understand the purpose of the divine creation. God is simple and transcendent, the Triad shares an ontological identity, since God the Father is always the principle, and the divine unity is a grid of relations between different persons that does not entail any difference in essence, but is expressed as particularity of different roles in the divine economy, in the manifestation of the undivided divine energy in the world. For Athanasius, the object of theology is not only the person of the father. Theology speaks about the Triad, and Christology is pivotal for theology, because God’s creativity is inextricably interweaved with the divine plan of salvation, and what fulfils the purpose of the divine economy is precisely the activity of the incarnate Word. The inhumanization of God, instead of implying the elimination of the ontological distinction between the Created and the Uncreated, is the divine reception of the human nature for the sake of the salvation of human beings, and this reception inaugurates a new reality in the world. One of the gnoseological consequences of the inhumanization of God is the revelation of the invisible Father. This possibility of knowing God is the possibility of acceding to the Divine Word, of entering into a new relationship of communion with God. The knowledge of God is not a intellectual process, but a real experience of love, the accomplishment of communion. Faith could be seen as the human way of activating the relationship which the original creation of the human beings “in the image of God” involved and after the human fall remained inactive. The human mind is the means through which faith is expressed. Faith, therefore, is itself a means of knowledge.

      The topic of the fourth chapter is the significance of the names of God for theology. Athanasius sees in the insistence in words a source of possible deviations from the devotional faith. There is, indeed, an essential connection between the name and the essence, but the acknowledgement of this essential connection principally means that the names of God should be regarded as signals leading to the true knowledge of God, which is to say, to the renovation of the human life, to the participation in a real relationship. A name is real in so far as the acts are real. Greek gods, for example, were not really gods because they do not have real works to display. The divine names express the divine essence, without however revealing it, owing to the gnoseological consequences of the distinction between the Created and the Uncreated. They are real, since the activity of God is real, and they also express the reality, the certainty and the stability of the inter-Triadic relationships. Through the names of God we can acquire knowledge of the reality of the divine communion, and this knowledge for the created human beings amounts to an invitation to a new life.