Monday, April 9, 2012

The Filioque Controversy, Part 2

Another Warning:  Heavy theological sledding ahead!  Skip this post if you are not into theology.

Why we Reject the Filioque

Most of the objections to the Filioque fall into four broad categories. Here, we shall summarize the first two of them. For more detail, consult the treatise Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit by St. Photios the Great.  All the quotes in this post are from it, and the numbers in parentheses following a quotation indicate the appropriate section of the Treatise.

1.) The Filioque destroys the equality of rank and honor among the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity .

This happens in two ways.

One is that the Filioque places the Holy Spirit a degree further from the Father than the Son is. The Son differs from the Father by only one distinction, while the Holy Spirit differs from the Father by two, “…and the Spirit's equal dignity will be blasphemed as being inferior to the Son with regard to consubstantial kinship with the Father.” (32)

The other way the Filioque violates the Holy Spirit’s equal rank is by leaving Him as the only hypostasis lacking the honor of giving rise to another hypostasis .

St. Photios, in The Mystagogy, has much indignant fun with the problem of equality of rank and dignity posed by the Filioque, suggesting various ridiculous ways his opponents could remedy the problem – for remedied it must be:

If you admit any other Cause of the Holy Trinity than the Father, says St. Photios, why not say the Holy Spirit also produces the Son?  But this confuses “each hypostasis ' unique property with the others” and mutilates them all.

Or why not assert that the three Hypostases all cause one Another? Then, of course, the Spirit would “participate in His own procession…” (6)

Or why not say the Holy Spirit, like the Father and the Son, also produces an hypostasis , making a 4th hypostasis, which would also have to be granted this honor, making a 5th, and so on ad infinitum. “Otherwise," if you keep the Filioque but do not do any of these ridiculous things to restore the Holy Spirit to equality, "you degrade Him who is worthy of equal honor.” (8)

In practice, the Holy Spirit in most denominations receives very little attention compared with the Father or the Son.  Most people who count themselves Christians do not appear to know Him, have theological work-arounds that carefully eliminate reliance upon Him, and do not know what to do with Him or why He is very important, compared with the Father and the Son.

2.) The Filioque unavoidably attributes a double cause to the Holy Spirit.

Yes, it is unavoidable.  One cannot escape this difficulty simply by asserting that it isn’t so, as when one says The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son “as from one principle”.  The Holy Spirit does not proceed from any principle, but from a Person.  The Father and the Son are not principles (let alone one principle) but  two Hypostases; two Persons.  They are one as to their common Essence, but the Holy Spirit does not flow from an Essence.  He proceeds from a Person.  An essence does not cause anything.  Nothing is begotten of an essence, nor proceeds from an essence.  An essence does nothing other than simply to be whatever it is. That is what “essence” means.

A double cause of the Holy Spirit, in turn, means “the lordly perfection of the Spirit is destroyed because it will either be ... divided in two, or it will be a composite.” (42) The Holy Spirit, in fact, is absolutely simple, absolutely and ineffably One, just like and no less than the other Hypostases of the Holy Trinity.

If one is going to wreak havoc upon the principle of the divine simplicity, then why, St. Photios asks (again indulging in much indignant fun),  “…on the basis of the same reasoning, should not a third cause [of the Persons ] appear?” (12) Or why say the Holy Spirit is the only one with two origins? Why not suppose the Others have multiple origins as well? Or, “…how is it that this godless doctrine does not make the Spirit a grandson and thus drive away the tremendous mysteries of theology with protracted nonsense?” (61)

(And if the answer to any of these “why not” questions should happen to be, “Because it isn’t scriptural,” we can only guess with what scorn St. Photios might point out the holy Scripture has already been left behind.)

There is an alternative error to this one, but if one professes the Filioque, one is forced into one error or the other.  Vladimir Lossky points out that one must either "destroy the unity by acknowledging two principles of Godhead, or one must ground the unity primarily on the common nature."  As we pointed out in an earlier post, it is the Father Who is the principle of unity within the Holy Trinity, not the Nature, aka, Essence.   It is the Father, as common Origin of the other Two, conferring His Essence upon the Son and the Holy Spirit.  If we suppose the Essence is the principle of unity in the Holy Trinity, then that Essence "overshadows the persons and transforms them into relations within the unity of the essence.” (Lossky, Vladimir, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Crestwood, New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976, p. 58.)


To imagine relations instead of Persons is obviously to imagine an impersonal and abstract God. This is not the Father of Jesus Christ, not the God revealed to us. This is a philosophical concept.

The next post of this series will examine two more of the reasons we object to the Filioque.

3 comments:

David Garner said...

"An essence does nothing other than simply to be whatever it is. That is what 'essence” means.' Indeed!

This comes up frequently in my discussion with non-Eastern Christians regarding whether we have a "sinful nature" (meaning, in that parlance, that we are "sinful" by nature, but Christ's nature is "like ours, but not 'sinful,'" which naturally raises the question -- "is it really 'like ours' then?"). Of course, natures don't sin -- persons do, and so we Orthodox avoid the problem that is raised by such notions by correctly categorizing sin to the person and not the nature. I have had more than one person accuse me of being philosophical rather than Scriptural when I point this out. So I had quite a chuckle at your 2nd to last paragraph, which struck me as particularly ironic in light of that frequent charge against us.

Thank you again for writing these. I'm looking forward to the rest.

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