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Is God a Trinity... Part V B
The Cappadocian Fathers.. Greek philosophers and Catholic Mystics

Carol Brooks

Index To All Six Sections

    Part I: Definition and Historical Background, Relying On Others To Decide What We Should Believe

    Part I B Plurality in The Godhead, The Deity of Christ & The Deity of The Holy Spirit

    Part II: Passages That Supposedly "Prove" the Trinity.

     Part III: The Holy Spirit... a Separate Person, Or The Divine Presence And Power Of The Father Himself

    Part IV: The Grammar... Can it legitimately be used to support the idea that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity

    Part V: The Cappadocian Fathers.. The doctrine of the trinity, which has remained virtually unchanged to this day, found its roots in paganism not the Bible. This largely due to the part played by three ancient Greek philosophers and mystics.

    You Are Here 001orange Part VB: The Cappadocian Fathers... Are both the Son and Spirit derived from the Father in "different ways"? Asceticism and Mysticism. The sad legacy of Neoplatonism.

    Part VI: Summary and Conclusion


Introduction... The First Council of Constantinople, The Cappadocian Fathers, Greek Philosophy, Origen... The Stone On Which They Were All Sharpened, The Interaction of Theology and Philosophy, Origen's Influence on Gregory of Nyssa's Trinitarian Doctrine


The Son Is Begotten And The Spirit Proceeds
The Cappadocian fathers, determined to distinguish how the Son and Spirit derive from the Father, decided the the Son is "begotten" of the Father, and the Spirit "proceeds" from the Father. Unfortunately for them, Jesus also spoke of 'proceeding' or 'coming from' the Father.

Asceticism and Mysticism
The Cappadocian fathers and the ‘desert fathers’
Gregory of Nyssa’s interpretation of Moses and the burning bush

Neoplatonism, Contemplative Prayer, and The New Age
Wrong doctrine is not the only legacy they left us.


Formulating the doctrine of the trinity from Greek lines of reasoning was not the only thing the Cappadocian fathers got completely wrong.

The Son Is Begotten And The Spirit Proceeds
Historian and Christian theologian Alister E. McGrath, President of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, says  (All Emphasis Added)

    Although the Cappadocian writers stress that they do not accept that either the Son or Spirit is subordinate to the Father, they nevertheless explicitly state that the Father is to be regarded as the source or fountainhead of the Trinity. The being of the Father is imparted to both the Son and the Spirit, although in different ways: the Son is "begotten" of the Father, and the Spirit "proceeds" from the Father. Gregory of Nyssa thus writes of "the one person of the Father, from whom the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds." [65]

    "These two terms are intended to express the idea that both Son and spirit derive from the father, but are derived in different ways. The vocabulary is clumsy, reflecting the fact that the Greek words involved are difficult to translate into modern English... An obvious question arises here: why should the Cappadocian fathers, and other Greek writers, spend so much time and effort on distinguishing Son and Spirit in this way?  The answer is important.  A failure to distinguish the ways in which Son and Spirit derive from the one and the same Father would lead to go on having two sons, which would have raised insurmountable problems. [66]

So are both the Son and Spirit derived from the Father in "different ways"?

Not really!

To repeat something I said before... At some point in time, we really need to stop accepting theories and explanations from others and do our own research. While the vast majority of us do not speak Hebrew or Greek, modern software programs and Interlinear Bibles have allowed us not only to examine the meaning of words but by tracing every occurrence, see how a precise word is used in the Scriptures. There is no question that the study is time consuming. I guess, how much time and effort you put into it all depends on how important Biblical truths are to you.

In this case, when we read "the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds", we can do one of two things. Take the statement at face value, or investigate the two Greek words for ourselves, one of which tells us how the Son came from the Father, and the other how the Holy Spirit comes from the Father.

Unfortunately for Gregory of Nyssa, Jesus also spoke of 'proceeding' or 'coming from' the Father.

When Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, He used the Greek word ekporeuetai

    When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from (Gk. ekporeuetai) the Father, He will testify about Me,  (John 15:26 NASB)

Interestingly, the exact form of this verb is also used, both literally and figuratively, of all manner of things that come out of something else. In the first example, Jesus is referring to a demon.

    But this kind does not go out (Gk. ekporeuetai) except by prayer and fasting." (Matthew 17:21 NASB)

    because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated (Gk. ekporeuetai) " (Mark 7:19 NASB)

    And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out (Gk. ekporeuetai) of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way.  (Revelation 11:5 NASB)

    for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out (Gk. ekporeuetai) to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.  (Revelation 16:14 NASB)

    From His mouth comes (Gk. ekporeuetai) a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.  (Revelation 19:15 NASB)

Other forms of the same verb are also used both literally and figuratively.

    Festus then answered that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave (ekporeuesthai) shortly. (Acts 25:4 NASB)

    As He was setting out (Gk. ekporeuomenou) on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  (Mark 10:17 NASB)

    As He was going out (Gk. ekporeuomenou) of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" (Mark 13:1 NASB)

    A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out (Gk. ekporeuomenou)of their mouths.  (Revelation 9:18 NASB)

    Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from (Gk. ekporeuomenon) the throne of God and of the Lamb, (Revelation 22:1 NASB)

    So he began saying to the crowds who were going out (Gk. ekporeuomenois) to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  (Luke 3:7 NASB)

    And the report about Him was spreading (Gk. exeporeueto) into every locality in the surrounding district. (Luke 4:37 NASB)

On two separate occasions Jesus told believing Jews that He had "come forth" from the Father. In the second example, He used one form of the Greek word exerchomai, while the disciples used another form of the same word.

    Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth (Gk. exelthon) and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent (Gr. apostello) Me.  (John 8:42 NASB)

    "I came forth (Gk. exelthon) from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father." His disciples *said, "Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. "Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from (Gk. exelthes) God." (John 16:28-30 NASB)

Note: In John 8:42 above Jesus also used the Greek word apostello which means to send out (properly on a mission). In other words, He said He proceeded from and was "sent by" the Father.

In the New Testament, exelthon is used in a variety of different situations

    "Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out (Gk. exelthon) to meet the bridegroom.  (Matthew 25:1 NASB)

    The Pharisees came out (Gk. exelthon) and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. (Mark 8:11 NASB)

     You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left (Gk. exelthon) Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone;  (Philippians 4:15 NASB)

    and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out (Gk. exelthon) of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes.  (Revelation 15:6 NASB)

And, other forms of the verb exerchomai are also used both literally and figuratively.

    This news spread (Gk. exelthen) throughout all that land.  (Matthew 9:26 NASB)

    And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out (Gk. exelthen) of him, and the boy was cured at once. (Matthew 17:18 NASB)

    Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out (Gk. exelthen) of the temple from the throne, saying, "It is done."  (Revelation 16:17 NASB)

    And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from (Gk. exercheto) Him and healing them all.  (Luke 6:19 NASB)

    and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out (Gk. exelelythei)  (Luke 8:2 NASB)

    But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out (Gk. exelthousa) because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. (Acts 28:3 NASB)

Is There Any Difference Between The Two Verbs
There seems to be absolutely no difference in the practical use of either verb. Both are used in the sense of traveling from a point of origin, including physically emerging from something... be it a city, a building, the earth, or someone's body.

That fact that both verbs say exactly the same thing is clearly seen in the story of a demon possessed boy, related in Matthew 17.

In verse 21 the Greek verb used is a form of ekporeuetai that Jesus used to say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father

    But this kind does not go out (Gk. ekporeuetai) except by prayer and fasting." (Matthew 17:21 NASB)

Just a couple of verses earlier, Jesus used a form of the Greek verb exerchomai, which is the same verb He used when He told the disciples that He Himself came forth from the Father

    And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out (Gk. exelthen) of him, and the boy was cured at once. (Matthew 17:18 NASB)

Also Matthew and Luke each use one of the two verbs in exactly the same situation.

    This news spread (Gk. exelthen. Strong's #1831) throughout all that land.  (Matthew 9:26 NASB)

    And the report about Him was spreading (Gk. exeporeueto. Strong's #1607) into every locality in the surrounding district. (Luke 4:37 NASB)

The Son is "Begotten" of the Father
The Cappadocian fathers wrote that Jesus and the Holy Spirit derive from the Father in "different" ways, i.e. "the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds".

There is no question that when the Bible says the Son was begotten, it is speaking of His earthly birth. In most of the verses concerning the incarnation, the Greek word monogenes, which means 'only born' or 'sole'  is used. Examples include

    And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten (Gk. monogenes) from the Father, full of grace and truth... No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten (Gk. monogenes) God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.  (John 1:14, 18 NASB)

    "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten (Gk. monogenes) Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life...He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten (Gk. monogenes) Son of God (John 3:16, 18 NASB)

The same word is used of Abraham's son Isaac.

    By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten (Gk. monogene) son;  (Hebrews 11:17 NASB)

However, they forgot or ignored the verses in which Jesus, said He proceeded from the Father. However, there could not have been any particular point in time when Jesus proceeded from the Father, because He too was from everlasting. Although Jesus "came out" of the Father, He and the Father have always been.

And no, failure to distinguish the ways in which Son and Spirit derive from the one and the same Father does not lead to the "insurmountable" problem of God having two sons. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God Himself and Christ is called a "Son" because in His earthly incarnation, He was "begotten" of the Father. 

Much to the contrary, if the Holy Spirit is a separate third person of the trinity Jesus would have had two Fathers. He Himself said God was his father as did Luke. However, Matthew tells us that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

    that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'You are My Son; today I have begotten (Gk. gennao) You.' (Acts 13:33 NASB)

    But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived (Gk. gennao) in her is of the Holy Spirit.  (Matthew 1:20 NASB)

Sadly, this false doctrine is not the only legacy left us by the Cappadocian Fathers and others of their ilk ...

Asceticism and Mysticism

Gregory of Nazianzus
once wrote...

    No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking of escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of That One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the Rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light. [67]

Basil, Archbishop of Cæsarea
The web site of the orthodox church in America (cited earlier) says this of Basil, Archbishop of Cæsarea (Emphasis Added)

    wishing to acquire a guide to the knowledge of truth, the saint undertook a journey into Egypt, Syria and Palestine, to meet the great Christian ascetics dwelling there. On returning to Cappadocia, he decided to do as they did. He distributed his wealth to the needy, then settled on the opposite side of the river not far from his mother Emilia and sister Macrina, gathering around him monks living a cenobitic life. By his letters, Basil drew his good friend Gregory the Theologian to the monastery... In their solitude, Sts Basil and Gregory occupied themselves in an intense study of Holy Scripture. They were guided by the writings of the Fathers and commentators of the past, especially the good writings of Origen. From all these works they compiled an anthology called Philokalia. [68]

Note: The contemplative prayer movement in the contemporary church can be traced back to the desert fathers who first promoted the 'Mantra' as a way to get closer to God.

Although he stayed at the monastery only for about five years, it is during this period that Basil "compiled what was to be known as "the Rule of St. Basil", which has shaped the monasticism in the Eastern Church for centuries. [69] Benedict, founder of the order of the Benedictine monks, is said to have drawn quite heavily on Basil's rules.

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395)
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Gregory as a (Emphasis Added)

     philosophical theologian and mystic, leader of the orthodox party in the 4th-century Christian controversies over the doctrine of the Trinity. Primarily a scholar, he wrote many theological, mystical, and monastic works in which he balanced Platonic and Christian traditions. [70]

Marianne Dorman's Catholic web site says (Emphasis Added)

    The last years of his life seem to have been dedicated to his most sublime mystical works, including the Life of Moses, in which he relies on Origen's approach to drawing out the mystical meaning of scriptural texts where they might not be obvious at first glance. It is here that he gives us his vision of eternal life as forever stretching towards God (epektasis) Some of his other exegetico-mystical works included his homilies on the Song of Songs, On Ecclesiastes, On the inscriptions of the Psalms, On the Beatitudes and On the Lord's Prayer. [71]

The following is an outstanding example of the mystical meanings that Gregory of Nyssa read into Biblical accounts.

    It seems to me that, already, the great Moses knew about this mystery by means of the light in which God appeared to him, when he saw the bush burning without being consumed. For Moses said: "I wish to go up closer and observe this great vision.” I believe that the term "go up closer" does not indicate motion in space but a drawing near in time. What was prefigured at that time in the flame of the bush was openly manifested in the mystery of the Virgin, once an intermediate space of time had passed. As on the mountain the bush burned but was not consumed, so the Virgin gave birth to the light and was not corrupted. Nor should you consider the comparison to the bush to be embarrassing, for it prefigures the God-bearing body of the Virgin. [72]

Neoplatonism, Contemplative Prayer, and The New AgeThe blog, A Contemplative Faith, by Carl McColman speaks of Gregory of Nyssa's influence on mysticism through the ages. [Emphasis Added]

    As a mystic, Gregory is perhaps most important as a neoplatonic Christian, who wrote about God's infinity and therefore ultimate unknowability. Like Gregory, we who seek god move from ignorance to illumination, back into a darkness as we seek the ultimately incomprehensible God. [73]

Please read that again... "As a mystic, Gregory is perhaps most important as a neoplatonic Christian".

So what is Neoplatonism?
Neoplatonism is considered the last of the great pagan philosophies, developed by Plotinus in the 3rd century A.D. Although its original form was altered by his followers, neoplatonism has had a lasting influence on Western metaphysics and mysticism. According to The Free Dictionary,

    It is based on Platonism with elements of mysticism and some Judaic and Christian concepts and posits a single source from which all existence emanates and with which an individual soul can be mystically united. [74]

    people potentially sought a life in which the individual soul would rise through contemplation to the level of intelligence (the Divine Mind) and then through mystic union would be absorbed in the One itself. [75]

In other words, Neoplatonism was very concerned with divine union -  the highest activities being contemplation and unio mystica (mystical union or the union of the individual human soul with the Godhead).

So, as much as things change, they remain the same. As the Bible puts it, there is nothing new under the sun.

Religious Mysticism

The ultimate goal of the mystic is personal union with God or what they see as a 'universal principle'. Themystica.com, an on-line encyclopedia of the occult, mysticism, magic, paranormal and more, defines mysticism as

    "a belief in or the pursuit in the unification with the One or some other principle; the immediate consciousness of God; or the direct experience of religious truth. [76]

The Contemplative Spirituality Movement

Contemplative Spirituality has invaded the church in a very big way, which is hardly surprising since the popular leaders in the church have taken every opportunity to tout it as a new and improved way of communicating with God.

However, don't let the word "prayer" fool you - this is a far cry from what the Bible teaches about prayer. It goes beyond thought and words and leads to an altered state of consciousness, which is supposed to provide an experiential union with the Father. Adherents are taught that "truly knowing God can only come through experiencing Him". [77] Intellectual thought, reasoning, and understanding fly out of the window in the face of how one "feels".

Many Christian mystics claim that Contemplative Prayer is rooted in the tradition of the Desert Fathers, which is as far from the truth as it gets.  Although Contemplative Prayer is widely accepted as 'Christian', eastern religions such Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism and Occult/New Age devotees have long practiced an almost identical form of 'prayer'. However, this prayer does not mean the same thing to every person experiencing it, since what is considered sacred differs from person to person. The experience is therefore interpreted according to the beliefs and practices of the practitioner. [See Section Contemplative Prayer)

Yet the same orthodox ministers and theologians who so vehemently (and rightly) condemn mysticism in the contemporary church, have no qualms about accepting a doctrine, unknown to the Bible, but formulated by men steeped in a deadly combination of mysticism and Greek philosophy.

The New Age
In a small variation, New Agers believe that the title "God" is a misnomer, since 'he' is usually considered to be an impersonal life force, consciousness or energy, present in all creation, including man. In other words, all of life is connected and a part of the whole, therefore man and God are one.

The problem, as they see it, is that man has become so absorbed in the material world that he has forgotten his very innate nature.. his divinity. He only has to rediscover it to 'become god' and accomplish whatever his little heart desires. Our preoccupation with self has allowed us to be easily persuaded us that, with the right instruction, training, and effort, we can realize our own divinity.

And, as a very important side note...

The term "New Age" is an informal term derived from astrology, which indicates that this earth, if not the cosmos, is on the verge of an evolutionary transition from the Piscean Age of rationality to the Aquarian Age of spirituality, bliss, and harmony of all things. The many headed hydra called the New Age has, over the last couple of decades, become even more sinister with every passing year. A large branch of the New Age movement believes that the utopian age will only come about under the leadership and guidance of a world leader/teacher.  They contend that Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius, Jesus, and many others were "christs", but one greater than all of them... a "World Teacher" will soon come to usher in the New Age and  lead us all to enlightenment.

The contemplative prayer movement has, in many ways, cooperated with the New Age movement, which is poised to usher in the antichrist. But you will need to read the entire article to grasp what is going on behind the scenes in our world today. [See The New Age Movement - Roots, Expansion & Diversification, Goals, and Dangers


End Notes... The Cappadocian Fathers. Part B

[65] Alister E. McGrath. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition (July 23, 2012) Paperback. Pg.

[66] ibid. Pg 61

[67] Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 40, On Holy Baptism. Preached at Constantinople Jan. 6, 381. As quoted on Interrupting the Silence, a blog by Michael K. Marsh, an Episcopalian priest in West Texas.

[68] The Orthodox Church in America. St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia.

[69] http://novices.opwest.org/wordpress/2012/10/st-basil-of-caesarea-and-his-rule/

[70] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/245703/Saint-Gregory-of-Nyssa

[71] Marianne Dorman's Catholic Website, Arianism, Macedonianism , Apollinarianism and the Cappadocian Fathers.

[72] As quoted in Weekly saying from the Fathers. St Gregory of Nyssa, On the birth of Christ

[73] Carl McColman. A Contemplative Faith.
http://www.carlmccolman.com/2005/11/02/gregory-of-nyssa-the-most-mystical-of-the-cappadocian-fathers/  Link is no longer active

[74] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Neoplatonism

[75] Plotinus and the Nature of Neoplatonism. http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Neoplatonic

[76] Alan G. Hefner. http://www.themystica.com/mystica/articles/m/mysticism.html

[77] Please Contemplate This by T.A. McMahon. The Berean Call Newsletter, 03/00


The Trinity Part IV