Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Filioque Controversy, Part 4

Yet another warning:  if you are seriouosly going to get into this Filioque controversy, you may like to read the three previous posts on Basic Trinitarian Theology first.

Having set forth the Orthodox objections to the Filioque, St. Photios, in his Mystagogy, next sets out to rebut the arguments of his opponents. Here they are.

1.) Scripture calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of the Son”; this implies that the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Son as well as from the Father.

But it does not. The phrase is referring, above all, to the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the Son, the fact that They have in common the divine Essence.

There are also other senses, says St. Photios, in which the phrase, "Spirit of the Son" is perfectly appropriate, none having to do with the Holy Spirit’s origin. For example:

The Spirit remains in the Son.
The Spirit is of the same nature, divinity, glory, and virtue as the Son.
The Spirit overshadowed the Virgin and caused her Child  to be conceived.
The Spirit is of the Son in the sense that He also sends Christ: (Luke 4:18)

Another sense in which the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ is that Christ is the Anointed one (indeed, “Anointed One” is the very meaning of the title, “Christ”.) He is anointed with and by the Holy Spirit. But He is anointed by the Holy Spirit as Savior of the World; in other words, as to His Humanity. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from His Humanity, St. Photios asks? Or is The Son’s Humanity pre-existent from before all ages?

Now St. Photios tackles the grammatical construction of the phrase. Christ is the “Light of the World”, which does not mean begotten by the world. “The Father of the Son” doesn’t mean the Father is caused by the Son.

In holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit is also called :
the Spirit of wisdom (Isaiah 11:2),
the Spirit of understanding (Isaiah 11:2),
the Spirit of knowledge (Isaiah 11:2),
the Spirit of love (2 Timothy 1:7),
the Spirit of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7),
the Spirit of power (2 Timothy 1:7)
the Spirit of adoption unto Sonship (Romans 8:15),
the Spirit of faith (2 Corinthians 4:13),
the Spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10),
the Spirit of counsel and might, (Isaiah 11:2),
the Spirit of godliness (I Timothy 3:16),
the Spirit of meekness. (Galatians 6:1), (1 Corinthians 4:21)
the Spirit of judgment and fire, (Isaiah 4:4).

“Why do you frown at these things: at the very gifts which He supplies and bestows?” asks St. Photios. “Is it because you would fight against a procession of the All-Holy Spirit from each of these as well?” (57)

In other words, as in the examples above, “of” does not mean originated by. The grammatical construction “[Spirit] of the Son” is a simple genitive of description and not an ablative of origin.

2.) Jesus said to His disciples, “He will glorify Me, for He shall receive of Mine and shall announce it to you. All things which the Father has are Mine. That is why I said He shall receive of Mine and shall announce it to you.” (John 16:14-15) “All things” must include breathing forth the Holy Spirit. “He shall receive of Mine” must mean the Son contributes something of His own to the Holy Spirit.

We must remember, when reading this passage, that the one thing the Father cannot give the Son (because the very idea is a contradiction in terms) is His Fatherhood. Fatherhood is not something the Father has, but is, namely the Origin of the Holy Trinity. To suppose the Father gives the Son a share in the procession of the Spirit is to suppose He makes the Son co-Origin of the Holy Trinity, a co-Father. The distinction between the Father and the Son blurs.

As a reading of the whole passage in John’s Gospel makes perfectly clear, Jesus means the Holy Spirit will tell the disciples all the rest of the things He (Jesus) has to say to them, but cannot now, “For you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

“Never, not ever,” says St. Photios, "can we "infer that receiving from someone for the sake of another necessity is identical with receiving existence by procession.” (21)

Furthermore, Jesus said “He shall receive from Mine,” but not “from Me.” Rather, from the Father, with whom Jesus in this passage is claiming equality. The Holy Spirit is receiving these things from the Father, but the Father's things are also Mine, He means.

3.) All the Western Fathers taught the Filioque. We must hold to it to be faithful to our tradition.

St. Photios deals with this assertion at great length, in paragraphs 66-84 of his treatise.

First, he excoriates the Filioquists for leveling this charge at their fathers. He tells them none of their Fathers wished to affirm anything contrary to what Jesus taught. He says that if their Fathers had been rebuked and corrected, they would humbly have accepted the correction. To suppose otherwise is to slander them. As it happens, due to historical circumstances, the Western Fathers never had “your advantages [of being corrected]”. Therefore we can say that if, although “in other things they are the equals of the best [Fathers] they did fall into some error …by some negligence or oversight — for such is the human condition — “ at least it is not the case that when they were corrected they either contradicted the Church or were obstinately disobedient; so why should you do this? St. Photios tells the proponents of the Filioque he does “not admit that what you assert was so plainly taught by those blessed men.” But if is was, their spiritual children ought to “imitate the sons of Noah” and cover their fathers’ shame. Instead, he tells them, ”you publish abroad the shame of those whom you call your Fathers.” (70)

Next, St. Photios lists numerous Western Fathers who clearly did not teach the Filioque, some of whom even contended against it, including some popes of Rome. In fact, the popes resisted the Filioque for centuries, and it wasn’t until the year 1014 that it appeared in Rome with papal sanction. The occasion was the crowning of Henry II. When he arrived in Rome for the event, he noticed that, per the Roman custom, the Creed was not included in the Roman mass. He made a special request for it, in the form to which he was accustomed. Henry regarded the Emperor (himself) as supreme even over Church affairs. The pope, who already believed in the doctrine of Filioque anyway, was very weak and needed the Emperor’s military support. He granted the request.

4.) It was necessary in the West to add the Filioque to the Creed to counter the Arian heresy, which taught that the Son was not God, but a creature.

The East had to contend with Arianism every bit as much as the West. In fact, the Councils at Nicaea and Constantinople, which forged the Creed, met for the very purpose of combating Arianism, and Arianism was the impetus for writing the Creed – without any Filioque.

5.) The Filioque simply clarifies what the Fathers meant. They did not say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, nor did they intend to teach it. THAT in fact is the new doctrine.

The Fathers of the Councils pondered and vigorously debated every single word they wrote. It is inconceivable they meant anything other than what they affirmed not once but repeatedly, over centuries.

This is all the more so, since immediately after the phrase “proceeds from the Father,” they added, “Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified…” If they did not forget “and the Son” in the second phrase, neither did they forget it in the first.

6.) Eastern Fathers said, “through the Son” and that is another way of saying what the Filioque means.

Eastern Fathers also said the Holy Spirit was sent by the Son. But through the Son and by the Son both mean other things entirely.

“By the Son” refers not to the Holy Spirit’s eternal procession, but to the fact that Christ sends the Holy Spirit to us in history. Jesus said, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of me…” (John 15:26)

“Through the Son” usually refers to the entirely different doctrine of Perichoresis. Perichoresis has nothing to do with the doctrine that the Holy Spirit owes His Being in some way, in any way, in whole or in part, to the Son.

It is quite possible that some Eastern Fathers got it wrong; it isn't as though certain of the Western Fathers had any monopoly on error.  We have a saying, whose origin I do not know, that about 80% of the Fathers got it right about 80% of the time.  But in general, it is safe to say the phrase "through the Son" was not being used to mean anything like the Filioque.

7.) The whole controversy is only a semantic difference; we all mean the same thing, but one has to add the Filioque to the Latin to make it mean the same thing the Greek means without it.

If this were true, the solution to the controversy would be blindingly obvious: let them change their semantics, who think it all means the same thing.  Let them delete the Filioque. Or if the Latin really is incurable without the Filioque, use the Greek. Of course that hasn’t happened. Moreover, the few voices among the Filioquists in favor of dropping the word still insist on retaining the teaching, this demand itself contradicting the assertion that the Creed means the same thing with or without the Filioque.

With the Filioque, God (in our minds) becomes a tri-partite Essence, an abstract, impersonal product of philosophy. Note carefully:  Our salvation is completely undone if it means union with God and God turns out to be an abstraction.

Viewed from a certain perspective, however, there is one very desirable thing about the Filioque. Take the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son and combine it with the title, “Vicar of Christ” (the Son’s regent on earth), and it enhances that title immeasurably, as any bearer of it readily appreciates.