Linguistic achievement and scriptural exegesis in the Trinitarian theology of Basil of Caesarea

Stephen Marc Hildebrand, Fordham University


This dissertation makes two basic points. First, it sets out both Basil's enduring theological vision and the historical development of his Trinitarian thought. Secondly, it discerns the scriptural foundations of Basil's Trinitarian theology. In Against Eunomius Basil first articulated his theological vision, the heart of which is God's transcendence and simplicity. Basil's Trinitarian theology developed in four distinct stages. The first stage is characterized by his preference for homoios kat' ousian over homoousios. A new stage emerges with the letter to Maximus. Basil reveals his preference for homoousios over homoios and its cognates. The third and fourth stages are marked by the emergence of prosôpon and hypostasis as technical terms for the divine plurality. In his polemic against the Sabellians Basil urged that three prosôpa be confessed in order to avoid the error of modalism. Through his polemic with the Paulinians at Antioch Basil realized that the only way to safeguard prosôpa from a modalistic interpretation was to distinguish between ousia and hypostasis and use prosôpon with hypostasis as the word for what is three in God. This fourfold development constitutes Basil's linguistic achievement. Basil's linguistic achievement is not the last word on his Trinitarian thought, for the Trinitarian controversy was not just over language but also over the right interpretation of Scripture. Basil's understanding of the Father and the Son is discovered to be grounded most basically in Jn 14:9 and similar texts, and his understanding of the Holy Spirit, in 1 Cor 12:3. These texts ground Basil's Trinitarian theology because they perfectly express what Basil considers to be the truth about the Trinity. Jn 14:9 expresses what it means for the Son to be divinely begotten and to be Image and Resplendence. 1 Cor 12:3 explains what it means for the Holy Spirit to be the Spirit of knowledge and wisdom, and what it means to worship in Spirit and in Truth.

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Recommended Citation

Hildebrand, Stephen Marc, "Linguistic achievement and scriptural exegesis in the Trinitarian theology of Basil of Caesarea" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3045126.