• Matt O'Reilly

More Thoughts on Dividing the Trinity: A Zizioulian (!) Approach

Is it possible for the Trinity to be divided? And if it is, what would be the consequences? Yesterday, I posted briefly on whether Mark 15:34 could be interpreted as positing an essential division between the Father and the Son; today I want to consider the issue theologically through the lens of the work of John D. Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamon and significant theologian in the Greek Orthodox tradition.

Zizioulas has controversially argued that God is not a necessary being; that is, God does not exist necessarily but instead continuously affirms his free will to exist by begetting the Son and bringing forth the Spirit. Here’s a quote from his book, Being as Communion, in which he fleshes this out a bit:

Thus when we say that God “is,” we do not bind the personal freedom of God-the being of God in not an ontological “necessity” or a simple “reality” for God-but we ascribe the being of God to His personal freedom. In a more analytical way this means that God, as Father and not as substance, perpetually confirms through “being” His free will to exist. And it is precisely His trinitarian existence that constitutes this confirmation: the Father out of love-that is, freely-begets the Son and brings forth the Spirit. If God exists, He exists because the Father exists, that is He who out of love freely begets the Son and brings forth the Spirit. Thus God as person-as the hypostasis of the Father-makes the one divine substance to be that which it is: the one God (41).

Now plenty of theologians reject Zizioulas’ claim that God is not a necessary being. In fact, all of my philosophy of religion textbooks from college and seminary argue the contrary, that God is indeed a necessary being (which is simply to say: if God exists, then he must exist; he is unable to not exist). I think this is often an Eastern/Western debate and isn’t really what I’m interested in discussing here. But it is duly noted and now out of the way.

My interest is in applying Zizioulas’ perspective to the comments by Marva Dawn discussed in my last post. She has claimed that when Christ cried out from the cross lamenting his forsakenness, that at that moment the Father and the Son were separated.

For Zizioulas, though, the very essence of God is bound up in the Father’s eternal begetting of the Son. Indeed, the Father’s ongoing confirmation of his free will to exist is bound up in his perpetual begetting of the Son. If the Father and the Son were to be ontologically divided, which is to say that the Father would cease begetting the Son, for their union is in this ongoing begetting, even if only momentarily, God would (freely) cease to exist. God the Father continually confirms his free will to exist by bringing forth the Son; if he were to cease and the two were divided, God would have freely chosen not to exist. The obvious implication of this is that everything that God continually upholds and sustains would also cease to exist, namely all creation including all of us.

So, could the Trinity be divided? From a Zizioulian perspective: yes. But then there would be no more Trinity, and God, along with everything else, would cease to exist. And we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Since we’re all still here, I guess we know what he would say to her proposal.

What do you think? Could the Trinity be divided? If so, what would be the consequences?


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