Volf’s critique of Zizioulas

I normally do not agree with Miroslav Volf on many points, but he has a perceptive critique of John Zizioulas’s Being as Communion project.  I wrote this a long time ago as a rejoinder to what Orthodox Bridge would say to my critique of Palamas.  They never critiqued it, so I never posted this.  However, Volf’s coments are enlightening in the context of Pannenberg’s treatment of the Trinity.

I stand by what I have written in response to Arakaki’s article on Calvinism, especially as it relates to the Trinity.   That said, there are several aspects I would change:

John Zizioulas:  Mr Arakaki based much of his work off of the brilliant patristic theologian John Zizioulas.  Zizioulas’s thesis that the hypostasis of the Father constitutes the ground of the other two hypostases in the Godhead is a strong one.  I was initially hesitant to rebut it since I cut my “trinitarian” teeth on much of Zizioulas.    I had suspected (back then) that there were weaknesses to Zizioulas, but I couldn’t put my finger on them.  I now think I can voice them better.  I have since come across Miroslav Volf’s After Our Likeness, which deals extensively with Zizoulas.

For Zizioulas, their is an asymmetry in the Trinity.  The Father as aitia (cause).  The Cause has to be a person, otherwise there would be no grounds for prioritizing person over essence.  The monarchia of the Father is the grounds of distinguishing the persons.  There is no mutual reciprocal causality, for then there would be no way of distinguishing the persons.  Volf wonders, though, why the monarchy of the Father is the only grounds for unity in the Godhead.  Whatever merits there are in Zizioulas’s construction, it is by no means clear that the alternative to his project is the prioritizing of substance.

In short, Volf writes,

“Zizioulas distinguishes between being constituted (the Son and the Spirit through the Father) and the Father being conditioned (The Father by the Son and the Spirit).  If one presumes that the Father alone is the constituitive entity within the Godhead, then, as we have already seen, it is difficult not to ascribe priority to the person before the communion.  If, on the other hand, one takes seriously the notion of the Father as conditioned by the Son and the Spirit, then the differences between the persons risk being leveled.  If the Father is conditioned by the Son and the Spirit, then he is constituted by them.  That is, he is God only as Father. As soon as one allows innertrinitarian reciprocity, the innertrinitarian asymmetry seems to vanish (After Our Likeness, 80).