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#130322 12/23/02 11:57 PM
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On a thread in the East-West Forum dealing with the filioque:

https://www.byzcath.org/cgibin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=4;t=000779;p=8

Andrew Rubis was bothered by the Scriptural source of the Trinity icon. Traditionally, this icon is believed to have arisen from Genesis 18 in which Abraham is greeted by three visitors. He, Rubis, correctly states that often this same scene is depicted with Sarah and Abraham serving the visitors. This broader icon is better known as "The Hospitality of Abraham". He questions the appropriateness of "reading into" the Genesis account the typology of the three visitors representing the three Persons of the Trinity and ponders that this was a rather late development. He also questions as to whether Andrei Rublev was correct in depicting the Trinity in this fashion. I now wish to reply but thought it was best done as a separate new thread.

The first known depiction of this Genesis story can be found in the catacombs of Italy and can be dated to about 350. (What else was going on at this time? Could it have been, perhaps, the great Christological debates?)

It is true that these earliest versions depicted "The Hospitality..." story. However, it became very clear very early on that this icon was closely associated with the Eucharistic celebration (i.e. the depiction was often placed close to the sanctuary).

This theme was mostly unknown in the East with no known depictions prior to about the 7th century. However, it is not known if this was a true lack or was the result of the widespread destruction of icons during the iconoclastic period.

The Trinity as depicted by Rublev pre-dates him. His, however, remains perhaps the best iconic depiction of any topic. It is very clear that his choice and purpose were deliberate.

Rublev was a monk in the St. Sergius (of Radonezh)-Holy Trinity monastery in the late 14th-early 15th centuries. (He painted this icon about 1511.) These monks were especially committed to the concept of the Unity of the Trinity and with the ideal that it served as the example for all believers to lay aside their disagreements. That is, they believed that by contemplating this Mystery, all divisions among peoples would end.

Interestingly, at this time the Church was combatting a heresy (like there was a time when we weren't!) known as the Strigol'niks or the Judaizers who denied the doctrine of the Trinity. There was also a very active iconoclastic movement he was dealing with at the time. (My kind of saint; he single-handedly defeats two heresies at the same time!)

Now, Andrew Rubis (as opposed to Andrei Rublev)also mainatained that to refute this interpretation of the Trinity and to stay with the Scriptural story of "The Hospitality of Abraham" as a simple story is entirely Orthodox. While I understand his point, I have to, as respectfully as possible, disagree with him.

The Trinity icon is actually the official icon of Pentecost Sunday. The icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit (fiery tongues and all) is actually the icon for Pentecost Monday. This is not meant to demean or degrade "The Descent" icon in any way. Rather, the more important meaning of the Pentecost is its exclamation of the Trinity. The Descent is also significant which is why it has its own day. The feast is just that big!

So, if the Pentecost icon is the icon of the Trinity, and if the official icon of the Trinity is the Old Testament version (Rublev, and others), then, it is an essential dictum that the three visitors of the Genesis story is a typology of the Trinity.

John

#130323 12/24/02 02:32 PM
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How does that compare with the Trinity being depicted as God the Father enthroned holding his Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit shown in the form of a dove? I've since this type of Holy Trinity depicted in Byzantine iconography, is it proper to depict an image of God the Father or is this just borrowing from the Latin imagery of God the Father??

Ung-Certez

#130324 12/24/02 04:13 PM
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Dear John,

Thank you for your considerate and most respectful response.

As I said in my original post, Rublev's depiction (or other depictions without Abraham and Sarah and with the title "Holy Trinity") is not the traditional depiction and title used for the first 1,500 years of the New Testament Church for this particular Genesis account. 1,500 years vs. 500 years to me makes one traditional and the other "new" or "non-traditional." Usually, we call the Rublevian interpretation the "Trinitarian" one (not to imply that the first is anti-Trinitarian but simply non-Trinitarian).

These additions and subtractions to the traditional depiction and title I characterized as "highly suspect" in the sense that they proceeded outside of a declaration by the universal Church on a matter as critical as the depiction and labeling of an image as the very God Head.

I did not state that Rublev's depiction was invalid or that I sought to "refute" it. What I did point out in further posts is that if one accepts the "Trinitarian" interpretation of the icon and the scriptural passage behind it, then one must necessarily accept that two persons of the Holy Trinity visited Lot in Sodom and Gomorah, if one would be consistent in one's interpretation.

And the fathers have always insisted on consistent interpretation of scripture.

However, I have yet to find a supporter of the "Trinitarian" interpretation of the icon and scriptural passage even willing to go in that direction. It is as if they are more interested in Rublev and his icon than the word of God underpinning it! Please remember, that I write "as if."

What do you think about the visitors to Lot's home?

With love in Christ on the Eve of His Nativity.

#130325 12/24/02 04:45 PM
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Dear UC:

On the previous thread, there is a link to a depiction such as you describe from Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. To your knowledge is this depiction somewhat common, or is it an isolated example? Have you seen it in any of our church buildings?

djs

#130326 12/24/02 05:05 PM
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Djs, in some of the newly-decorated Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Churches, new Byzantine icons depicting the Trinity in three persons have installed. I'm also wondering myself if this was common early on in the Eastren Churches. I'm just don't know if this is a new concept in traditional Byzantine iconography?

U-C

#130327 12/24/02 09:05 PM
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With the other icon of "the Trinity" to which Ung-Certez refers, the problem is not entirely with the depiction but more with the title "Holy Trinity." This other icon has traditionally been called "the Vision of Daniel" since that is exactly what it is, from Chapter 7 of Daniel. It has "the ancient of days" seated on the throne and before him comes another figure, "one like the son of man." But in the scriptural vision, there is no dove as we often find in modern depictions. Why did later iconographers incorrectly add in this dove? Weren't these the same iconographers who changed the name of the depiction from "the Vision of Daniel" to "the Holy Trinity?"

So we should see then that they added a dove so that they could call the icon "the Holy Trinity," or possibly, in calling it "the Holy Trinity" they felt obligated to add a dove.

This linkage was made because they already had an accepted Trinitarian icon to borrow from!!!! Get this now, even I interpret this next icon as Trinitarian!

The worship of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit became manifest for men at the Theophany (sound of God). This is the baptism of the Lord where the Father proclaimed his pleasure in His Son and sent the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, to confirm the truthfulness of his word (paraphrasing the Troparion).

The only problem was that with this icon of the Theophany, one still could not show simple folk a picture of "the Holy Trinity" since only the Father's voice was heard. If they had labeled the Theophany icon as "the Holy Trinity," some simple folks might have mistaken John the Forerunner as one of the three persons of the Trinity. So they were careful.

As we hear from Petrus above, Rublev's icon and its title came out as part of a necessary polemic against heresy.

I'm not an expert on the dates of the changes made to the icon of "the Vision of Daniel," but these changes may also have been part of a necessary polemic against some other heresy.

This discussion started in the subforum regarding the filioque, not by accident. The modification of prayers, litugical practices, iconography, and even our Holy Symbol of Faith have often been implemented locally to combat heresies. That does not mean that these modifications must be universally accepted everywhere prior to an ecumenical synod!

Again, wishing all the brothers and sisters a most blessed feast of the Nativity.

With love in Christ.

#130328 12/27/02 12:52 AM
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Christ is born!

Glorify Him!

This is in response to Mr. Rubis above. I hope this does not take take the tone of a personal attack as I consider this a purely intellectual theological exercise.

This topic was actually dealt with in detail by St. Augustine in his treatise on The Trinity. Just by virtue of the fact that he dealt with it at length implies, at least to me, that this discussion was alreay somewhat known during the time of its writing (estimated to be between 400-420).

First he gives credence to St. Stephen, a timely reference as we celebrate his feast tomorrow. He notes that in Acts 7:2 we read:

The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia.

While this refers to Genesis Chapter 12, it still raises the question as to how the incomprehensible God appeared to Abraham.

He then brings up the Lot problem as you suggest. He has two problems with it. First, and most directly, he highlights Genesis 19:17 in which Lot says:

Pray Lord, since your servant has found favor before you...

Why would he reference Lord, if the angels had already departed "the Lord"? Also, why would he refer to them in the singular again?

Furthermore, he reaches farther into Genesis to develop this conundrum. In Genesis chapter 22 we find the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. We know that it is God who told Abraham to sacrifice his son. However, and astonishingly, an angel intercedes and provides a reprieve. Now are we to assume that an angel has the authority to override God Himself? Or are we to assume that the angel and God are, in some sense, the same Being? In Genesis 22:12 we read:

Now I know that you fear God, and for my sake have not spared your beloved son.

Do we believe that "my sake" refers to an angel? Abraham was going to sacrifice his beloved son for the sake of an angel? Furthermore, in Genesis 22:13 we read:

...And Abraham named that place The Lord has seen, so that there is a saying today, "on the mountain the Lord was seen".

Ultimately, if I'm reading him correctly, Augustine concludes that it does not matter whether you believe that Abraham encountered the Trinitarian God or three angels. He utilizes the "burning bush" as an example of God's theophany. Therefore, God may appear in whatever guise "They" see fit. In this sense, the three angels, like the burning bush, are a theophany of the Trinity. That is, the angels are an appropriate "physical" approximation of the Trinitarian God.

(I may need to revive my thread on "Are Angels Persons". This discussion has given me an idea.)

John

#130329 12/27/02 12:55 AM
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Dear Mr. Rubis,

In support of your theory, see the Apochryphal "Testament of Abraham" in which the Archangel Michael appears to be one of the angels who visited Abraham.

John

#130330 12/27/02 01:17 AM
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Kudos to djs who found this rendering. I add it here primarily because I think it is pretty cool!

http://www.xxc.ru/english/foto/inside/s01/f003.htm

I offer the following scriptural passages in support of God the Father. The depictions of the Son, and the Spirit are so well known that they do not need scriptural support:

"I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days..." (Dn 7:13)

"I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of Days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool." (Dn 7:9)

John

#130331 12/27/02 03:35 AM
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The Old Believers declared the "old man" and the "dove" depictions of the Holy Trinity to be improper.

They do accept the Rublev-style depictions of the Holy Trinity, which is a wonder of theology when one really contemplates Rublev's icon.

As Petrus well pointed out, this type of depiction of the Trinity sans Abraham's hospitality was extant before Rublev, and Rublev may actually have gotten the idea for this icon from his teacher Theophanes the Cretan who was one of the most well versed and experienced iconographers of his time.

#130332 12/27/02 04:13 AM
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I posted the link on the other thread because of the comment of Andrew J. Rubis:

Quote
What about the universal canon prohibiting depiction of God the Father! (I'll look it up and cite it in the next post.)
My question is: is there in fact such a universal canon? And if so, is the linked fresco, obviously a depiction of the Trinity - with the dove and the child holding the "Logos" banner - recognized as a violation of that canon?

djs

#130333 12/27/02 04:46 PM
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Dear John,

As is the fashion on this forum, please call me "Andrew" and have no concern for how I might misconstrue your remarks. You yourself have been very clear, considerate, and kind. As a Christian, even if you were to curse me (which you haven't) I would be obligated to bless you. May the Lord bless you!

I actually have some of Augustine's works at home. Could you cite the source for his Trinitarian commentary for us?

I think anyone who reads the Genesis 18 account and doesn't see a visit by God the Lord is clearly wrong. "And the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham..." But if it is true that "no man can see God" then we do enter into this problem of the many divine manifestations to Abraham, Moses, etc.

But if we accept significance that Lot refers to two men as "the Lord" then we must also look for significance in the fact that he refers to them as "lords" (plural). We need to be consistent in explaining these manifestation. And from your most recent post, it appears that you are in agreement with this attempt at consistency.

This is how I arrive there:

At the sacrifice of Issac, the angel called out to Abraham at the Lord's order, he does the Lord's will, and delivers the Lord's message, but he can't possibly be thought of as the same being or somehow exercising his own will. In other words, let's not add fog to mist. We already have our task cut out trying to discern what the words of the scripture mean, without reading too much into them. Part of the problem is in trying to separate the Lord's words and his actions. We should not do this. When He wills He acts. The angel is just his agent.

When the U.S. military attacked Afghanistan we said that the U.S. attacked Afghanistan because we know that the U.S. military is just an agent of the U.S. government. (And in theory, the government is an agent of the U.S. voters/people.)

Scripture assumes that we accept that what the Lord wills he automatically achieves. His word is an action. The prophets, angels, the big fish of Jonah, the burning bush, the apostles are all just agents. (God speaks and acts through the prophets, angels, fish, bush, and apostles), but sometimes he doesn't even use an agent.

The Word and Spirit are not agents, but integral persons of God. So in trying to discern when it is his Word and Spirit vs. just an agent I would look to see how important the action is.

When he comes to fulfill his promise to Abraham at Mamre, the Word comes. When He creates the world, the Word and Spirit act directly. When he gives the Law to Moses, He speaks and uses a visual agent, the burning bush. When it comes time to fulfill the Law, the Word comes. When it is time to fill the Church, the Spirit comes. But when it is time to announce that "the Kingdom of God is at hand," He sends an agent, John the Forerunner. And to announce the Incarnation/Annunciation, an enormous event, He sends an agent, the Archangel Gabriel. Of course the action is achieved by the Spirit, but Gabriel makes the visit.

So I read the visitation to Lot, much less significant than the arrival of the Kingdom of God or Annunciation to Mary, as a visit by two agents. And even though they ate together, nowhere does it say that they "communed" with Lot as it says with the visit to Abraham. Not only do they come for a rather menial task, destroying a filthy den of iniquity, but they even say "we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord has sent us to destroy it."

In scripture, the agents say that "the Lord sent me to say or do this or that." But the Word and Spirit don't need to say this, they simply act. The agents make it clear that it is God who directs them.

I think it is true that God manifests himself through his agents, as Augustine is saying. But there may be degrees of manifestation and reasons why God sometimes uses only an agent, or a combination of His voice (Word) or Spirit and an agent's presence, or a direct sending forth of Word and Spirit. I would argue that the context of the manifestation should help us to discern this.

Manifestation of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit all at once would for me imply an occurrence of the magnitude of the Nativity and Theophany, the public beginning of the salvation of created world.

This is part of my justification for the "traditional" or "non-Trinitarian" interpretation of the Hospitality of Abraham.

With love in Christ.

#130334 12/28/02 07:25 PM
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I have followed with interest this thread and the issue of the Trinity. There is an interesting verse in Gen. 19:24 that adds interest to this visit. We are told in verse 1 that they are angels and later they tell Lot that they were sent to destroy the cities. Note the plural we used. Later the indication is singular when Lot asks for the sparing of the city of Zoar. When it comes time for the destruction of the city, the verse says "Then the LORD (Yahweh) rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD (Yahweh) out of heaven." This verse seems to indicate two LORDs, one on earth and one in heaven at the destruction of the cities. Does this act as possible grounds for the appearance of the three to Abraham being a manifestation of the Most Blessed Trinity.

I also like to use this verse for fun when I talk to Jehovah Witnesses.

Toirdealbhach

#130335 12/29/02 12:51 PM
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Dear Andrew:

I appreciate the invitation to call you by your first name. I see that, like me, you prefer to use your real name on this forum instead of a clever moniker. I find that it results in a different behavior by me. I am more charitable and open to the other's point of view.

The reference you request is Augustine's "The Trinity (aka De Trinitate) and specifically Book 3, Chapter III, paragraphs 24-26, and Book 2, Chapter 4, paragraphs 19-22.

It is unfortunate that Augustine got way off track in Book 4. At the end of book III, it appears that he will be tackling this topic head on but never gets there.

I would also like to applaud you on recognizing my simultaneous struggle with Angels. (What exactly are they?) See:

https://www.byzcath.org/cgibin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=2;t=001433

I concur with your statement on the possible magnitude of a Trinitarian theophany in the OT. I guess I need to read more before I can comment further.

John

#130336 12/29/02 12:54 PM
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djs

I am not aware of any such canon. Are you? I know that the "Rublev" Trinity is the preferred one, but I do not know of any explicit prohibition for other depictions.

John

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