Sabellius says: “The same is the Father, the same is the Son, the same is the Holy Spirit. They are three names, but names for the same reality.. Do we have one or three Gods?” (meaning, of course, that we have only one God, the Divine monarchy). Father, Son, and Spirit are names, they are prosopa (countenances, faces), but they are not independent beings. They cannot be applied in the same way; they are effective in consecutive energies. One follows the other, but they are always the same in different faces. It is God in three countenances, acting in history in different faces and in different acts. The prosopon (countenance) of the Father appears in His work as creator and law-giver. The prosopon of the Son appears from the birth to the ascension of Jesus. The countenance of the Spirit appears, since the ascension of Jesus, as the life-giver. But it is always the same monarchic Father-God.
Therefore it is not adequate to speak of a trius in Heaven. There is no transcendent, no heavenly Trinity. The Father is equal with the two others. But it is always the same. And something else happens in this way of thinking: the Trinity is historical, instead of being transcendent; it is “economical,” in the sense of oikumene , building a house – the Trinity is “built up” in history. It is a very important idea for the future, where we often have the idea of a historical Trinity.
If Sabellius says that the same God is essentially in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and that there are only differences of faces, of appearances, of manifestations, then of course he means to say, with this, that they are all homo-ousios, they have the same essence, the same Divine power of being, as one could call it. They are not three beings, but they have the same power of being, and three manifestations. This trend was strong, although it was finally condemned, but it never disappeared. And it reappears as a strong monotheistic trend, even in Augustine, and through him in the whole of Western theology. This was the opposition to the Logos Christology. If you are able to distinguish these two basic trends, then you have an insight into what was going on in these seemingly incomprehensible and sophisticated fights about an iota in homoousios.and homoiousios. There was much more than abstract concepts behind it There was a monotheistic trend against a trend to establish Divine hierarchies between God and man. The East, very much dependent on Plato, Plotinus, and Origen, was interested all the time in hierarchical essences between God and man. (This of course would make Christ a half-God, as we shall see,) The West, and some groups in the East, were interested in the Divine monarchy on the one side, and the humanity of Jesus on the other. These two tendencies fought – the .Trinitarian struggle and the Christological struggle. We, as bearers of the Western attitude, feel immediately nearer to the Western type of thinking, and the whole difficulty for you in these lectures on the history of Christian thought in understanding what is really going on, is largely based on the fact that we are Westerners and not Easterners, in this sense; that for us the problem of hierarchies is an abstract one, and not a problem of living realities. But in order to understand what was going on in these fights, we must understand first of all the Eastern world-view, the hierarchical world-view.
Now I come to the Trinitarian struggle itself. First we must see how the Trinitarian problem developed after Origen in the sphere of Origenistic thinking. Origen was so great in his constructive power that he conquered all competitors, also the Monarchianistic and Sabellian theologians. But more than this, his Christology was so much impregnated with mystical piety that his formulas could become formulas of a creed. This is very important to understand. Don’t forget that when the Greek thinkers produced a confession, a creed, this seems to us abstract philosophy, but for them it was the mystical intuition of essences, of powers of being. For instance, in Caesarea in Asia Minor a creed was already used which added to the symbol used in baptism Origenistic mystical formulas This confession stated: “We believe in Jesus Christ, the Logos of God, God from God, Light from Light, Life from Life, first- born of all creatures, generated out of the Father before all generations.” Now this is philosophy and at the same time mysticism. It is that way of philosophy which was ruling at the end of the ancient period. It is Hellenistic and not classical Greek philosophy. And Hellenistic philosophy is united with the mystical traditions of the East. Therefore such seemingly abstract philosophical concepts could become mystical confessions.