Ambiguam I – The Monad and the Triad

The Holy Trinity by the hand of Andrei Rublev

The Holy Trinity
by the hand of
Andrei Rublev

From Saint Gregory the Theologian’s First Oration on the Son:

For this reason the Monad from the beginning moved toward a dyad and at the Trinity came to a halt.

And again, from his Second Oration on Peace:

The Monad moved on account of its abundance, the dyad was surpassed — for it is beyond matter and form, out of which bodies are made — the Trinity was defined, on account of its perfection.

If, while considering the apparent contradiction, O servant of God, you were at a loss regarding the real agreement, it would nevertheless not be possible for two statements to be more unified in meaning than these. for the phrase “the dyad was surpassed” means the same thing as “not coming to a halt in the dyad,” just as the phrase “the Trinity was defined” means the same thing as the “movement of the Monad comes to a halt in the Trinity.” For we believe in a monarchy that is neither begrudging of its bounty (in the sense of being restricted to a single person), nor disorderly (in the sense of being poured out ad infinitum), but which is constituted by a Trinity that is equal in honor by nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “whose wealth is their identity of nature and the single manifestation of their splendor,” and whose “divinity is neither poured out beyond these three, lest we introduce a multitude of gods, nor bounded within them, lest we be condemned for poverty in divinity.”

This is not, however, a causal explanation for the cause of beings, which is itself beyond all being, but the demonstration of a pious opinion about it, since the Godhead is a Monad (but not a dyad), and a Trinity (but not a multitude), for it is without beginning, bodily form, or internal strife. For the Monad is truly a Monad: it is not the origin of the things that come after it, as if it had expanded after a state of contraction, like something naturally poured out and proliferating into a multitude, but is rather the inherently personal reality of the consubstantial Trinity. And the Trinity is truly a Trinity, not the sum of a divisible number, (for it is not an aggregation of monads, that it might suffer division), but the inherently essential subsistence of the three-personed Monad. The Trinity is truly a Monad, for such it is; and the Monad is truly a Trinity, for as such it subsists, since there is one Godhead that in essence is a Monad and in subsistence a Trinity.

And finally, having heard the word “movement,” you wondered how the Godhead, which is beyond infinity, is said to “move,” understand that movement is something that happens to us, and not to the Godhead. For first we are illumined by the principle of its being, after which we are enlightened regarding the mode of its subsistence, for the fact of being is always grasped before the manner of being. Thus the “movement” of the Godhead is the knowledge — through illumination — of its existence and how it subsists, manifested to those who are able to receive it.

St Maximus the Confessor, The Ambigua to Thomas

On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The "Ambigua," Volume I

How can the impure lay hands on the pure?

Icon of St Maximus the Confessor, making his defense before the imperial court.

Icon of St Maximus the Confessor

But as for me, how can I say Jesus is Lord, when I have not yet received the Spirit of holiness? How can I speak of the Lord’s powers when I am mute, having firmly closed my intellect through attachment to corruptible things? How can I render audible even some of His praises when I am deaf? For the ear of my soul, on account of my love for the passions, is entirely turned away fro the blessed voice of the Word. How will the Word, who by nature conquers` the world, but does not appear to the world, appear to me, conquered as I am by the world, since He is essentially unknowable to minds enamored of material things? How would it not be an act of insolence for a profane man to rush in among sacred things, and for the impure to lay hands on the pure?

St Maximus the Confessor, The Ambigua to Thomas

On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The "Ambigua," Volume I