Greater Father?

Greater Father? March 23, 2018

“The Father is greater than I,” says Jesus (John 14:28). Eunomius uses this to prove the ontological interiority of the Son.

Basil of Caesarea rejects that reading, of course. But his way of rejecting it is worth attending to. He doesn’t claim that Jesus is talking about His inferiority as man, as incarnate Son. He takes it as a statement about the ontological Trinity, and asks in what senses the Father might be greater.

He rules out the conclusion that the Father is greater in size (God is simple, and thus has no body or parts), power, or dignity. He concludes that the Father is greater as the “cause” of the Son, as the One who begets the Only Begotten.

In the summary of Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, “It was axiomatic that causes are greater than their effects, though typically in philosophical accounts (such as in Aristotle or Plotinus) this was construed in terms of the cause pre-eminently possessing a property which it transmits in diminished extent to another, a notion Basil would surely reject. Also, Basil must believe that the superiority of causes obtains even if in the case of Father and Son there is no priority of time. Basil believes it to be the teaching of scripture that the Father begets the Son in an entirely immaterial, passionless, and timeless manner. He believes that the biblical language about the begetting of the Son can be unambiguously affirmed, if understood in a purified way. This stretches our causal imagination, but it is still causality. Hence, the order among the persons is maintained, as is the wording of John’s Gospel” (171).

My point isn’t to defend this particular interpretation. It’s simply to call attention to two aspects of Basil’s argument: First, his treatment arises from an effort to explain and justify the biblical language; and, second, he takes Jesus’ statement as a true description of the immanent order of the Trinity. Both of these are worthy of imitation.

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