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The Father Almighty

While Zizioulas’ views regarding the monarchy of the Father are, in some important respects problematic, he does offer some very helpful ways in which to understand the person of the Father, a subject woefully neglected in contemporary trinitarian theology.  A chief issue that Zizioulas illumines is the matter of the Creed which proclaims belief in “God the Father almighty”.  As Colin Gunton was fond of saying, we must not ever separate the omnipotentem from the deum patrem if we seek to avoid a demonic definition of God’s almightiness as sheer voluntaristic power.

Zizioulas helpfully notes that among the patristic fathers the primary understanding of the almightiness of the Father that is confessed in the Creed is not one which emphasizes the power to act, but rather the capacity to embrace and contain.  Thus, to confess that the Father is almighty is to confess that he embraces, encompasses and enfolds all things within his own life.  The Father’s almightiness then, does not so much mean the ability of God to do things, but rather the actuality of the infinite communio which flows from the Father to the Son in the Spirit.

This understanding of the omnipotence of God is helpful, especially insofar as it clarifies how we might helpfully re-conceptualize the idea of the the Father as the arche of the Trinity.  If the Father’s almightiness is his embracing and encompassing of that which is other than himself in communio, then the Father’s almightiness seems correlative to the Son’s kenosis and the pentecostal dispersal of the SpiritOr rather, the Father’s infinte openess, his all-encompassing actualization of difference-embraced-in-communion constitutes the ontological ground and the primal form of the inter-trinitarian kenosis about which Balthasar has written so persuasively.  In this light it becomes possible to speak about the Father as the arche of the Trinity without engendering an inappropriate subordinationism.  The Father is the source of the personhood of the Son and the Spirit insofar as he embraces them in love in the ek-static triune relations.  The Father is not so much the fount from which the Son and Spirit eternally spring as he is the circumference of the eternal and unbroken circle of Love which enfolds and constitutes them as his beloved Son in the Spirit of their love.  And it is precisely in so enfolding the Son and Spirit that Father finds his own personhood, his own fatherhood given to him in the form of the loving gift of the Son’s obedience in the Spirit.  The Father, no less than the Son and Spirit receives his personhood in the infinite and eternal circle of the triune relations.  The primal kenosis of the Trinity is from begining to end a circle of mutal self-donation and overabundance.

The Father embraces and lovingly enfolds the Son and the Spirit, and in so doing begets the Son and breaths forth the Spirit, who return to the Father a free sacrifice of love.  Inherent in this understanding of the gift structure whereby the God is God is this sort of kenotic movement in which the going-forth of the Son and Spirit in their respective  economic missions does not alienate them from the Father (as Moltmann would have it in Christ’s cry of dereliction on the Cross), but rather enfolds all created distances within the embrace of the Father, from which they are never torn, even in going into the furthest depths of the far country.

To put it another way, the almightiness of the Father is the reality that takes place when all forms of alienation and distance which seek to  interrupt the divine life in the death and descent of Christ are negated, defeated, and purgatively enfolded into the trinitarian life of communio that is the eternal coinherence of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  In short, the almightiness of the Father is the resurrection of the Son, which apocalyptically places all created reality within the new world of resurrection, bringing about the end of the old world of sin and death.  And thus, as Paul says, it is the cross of Christ which is the power and wisdom of God.  Indeed, the power and wisdom of the Father.

One Comment

  1. Drew wrote:

    I am unfamiliar with Zizoulas, but this intrigues me. The notion of almighty as embrace has quite a bit of depth in it as a notion to ground human being as that related to and or grounded in God. This certainly seems to place greater emphasis on the redemptive nature of God as expressed in the omnipotence of God as something that is able to encompass and therefore overcome death through embrace.

    This would seem to complicate a penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement as is classically rendered as well.

    Saturday, December 22, 2007 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

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