Glossary of Trinitarian Terms, Part 5

We continue our series on important terms to know about regarding different characteristics and attributes about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A couple of different beliefs that have inaccurately viewed the Trinity are explored today. There are a couple of terms that we explore today that provide us more clarity as we continue building a Trinitarian foundation. Pay special attention to Ousia, perichoresis, and person. Each will help us develop our theology better when trying to put all of this together in the future.

Nestorianism: A Christological view supposedly purported by Nestorius (d. 451) that defended the full humanity and deity of Jesus Christ, but seemed to have so separated the two natures as to lose the single self-consciousness of the Savior; deemed heretical by the West at Chalcedon, Nestorian faith extended into the East and continues today as Assyrian Christianity. See Chalcedonian Definition, Hypostasis.

Nicene Creed (325): The definitive standard of Trinitarian faith set forth at the Nicene (or 1st Ecumenical) Council that declares the consubstantiality (homoousios) of the Son with the Father, while anathematizing the views of Arius. See Arianism, Consubstantial, Homoousios.

Ontology: Literally, the “study of being,” the philosophical investigation of the fundamental properties that constitute the nature of existence; popularly, the ontological Trinity is synonymous with the Immanent Trinity.

Ousia: The Greek word for “being” or “substance,” parallel with the Latin substantia. See Essence, Nature, Substance.

Panentheism: Denoting at least two perspectives, panentheism can mean that (1) God includes the world as part of the divine being, the world being God, yet God exists as more than the world; or (2) combining classical theism with pantheism, the view that God infiltrates all things, but that his Being is more than the universe.

Pantheism: The view that God is everything and everything is God; the pantheist seeks to deny (transcend) individual consciousness so as to obtain oneness with the All-Inclusive. Some forms of pantheism understand the world as illusion, the only reality being God; other forms identify the world (universe) itself as God.

Patripassianism: The belief associated with Modalism that the Father (patri) became incarnate, was born of a virgin, and suffered (passion) and died on a cross; i.e., a denial of the eternal personal distinction between the Father and the Son; deemed heretical. See Modalism, Sabellianism.

Perichoresis: (from Gk. peri “around” + choreuo “dance in chorus”) A doctrine evident in the Cappadocians and developed by John of Damascus, that each member of the Godhead indwells or interpenetrates the other without confusion of personal distinction (Jn 14:9-11; 17:21). See Latin Circumincession and Circuminsession.

Person: Concepts of person (Gk. prosopon, hypostasis, Lat. persona) have differed from Boethian individual rationality to Buddhist and postmodern visions of a mere knot of social relationships. From a Trinitarian perspective, person is best conceived as a center of self-consciousness existing in relationship to others; this entails (1) full self-consciousness (“I am”), (2) the I-Thou reality of self distinct from other persons (“the Word was with God”); and (3) the capacity of perichoresis (“I am in the Father and the Father in me”). See Hypostasis, Substance.

Platonism: Inspired by Plato in the 4th c. B.C., Platonism’s supreme Idea of the Good, eternal realities above the present world, and the creation of the world were attractive bridges for the Apologists to argue for Christian faith, with sometimes reciprocal influences such as divine impassibility and a Platonic theory of knowledge. See Neo-Platonism.

Pneumatomachians: (Lit. “Spirit-fighters”) Those aligned with Macedonius of Constantinople (also called Macedonians) who affirmed the homoousios of the Father and the Son, but denied the personal deity of the Holy Spirit; deemed heretical. See Binitarianism.


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