Some problems in Cappadocian theology

I spent five years reading the Cappadocians and trying to form, not only my worldview, but even my very mental habits around their theology.  It wasn’t a bad exercise.  They are rightly revered for providing the Church with a valuable grammar on Trinitarian terminology.  However, their successes look more like uneasy compromises with prevailing philosophical traditions (and before anyone accuses me of simply parroting Drake, I am making this observations from some readings in Sergei Bulgakov.  I am aware of Drake’s own criticisms of the Cappadocians, but I have not yet had time to fully read them).

The Cappadocians advance the argument that the hypostases concretize the ousia.  It’s not a bad position on first glance.  The persons of the Godhead reveal to us the essence of the Godhead.  Indeed, one can notice here a different claim than that made by Palamas and later enshrined in Orthodoxy: the hypostases (and perhaps the operations) bring the divine life to us.  Unfortunately, the Cappadocians will weaken this claim with their apophatic theology.

The problem with the above line of thought is that the Cappadocians are still working around the parameters of Aristotelian philosophy.   Consider, all three persons share/possess the ousia, but on an Aristotelian reading this means the ousia is divided between the persons, which is not what the church teaches.  As Bulgakov points out, the Cappadocians really can’t solve this problem.  They just welded the two issues together.

Another problem is the hard-line Palamite claim that we cannot import human analogies to speak of the divine life of the Trinity.   But what of the Cappadocian claim that the Father is the monarchia of the Trinity?  Is that not importing the human analogy–at least in a watered-down form–onto the Trinity?  We could say, in response, that monarchy is a divine analogy imported into the human sphere.    Besides begging the question, this would mean that monarchy is the only divinely-appointed government!  (Note the irony: I used to be a big defender of monarchy and never realized I could use this claim!).

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