Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Misconceptions about the Orthodox and the Filioque

Over at Ad Orientem the issue of filioque is being discussed some more, and the Catholic blog post that sparked it has even lengthier discussion.

There is a good deal of confusion showing up in these discussions. This post will attempt to clarify certain points about the Orthodox position.

First, let’s be clear that the issues are theological. Someone wrote that the Orthodox bishops felt slighted when the filioque was added to the Creed, and felt snubbed, as if their opinions didn’t matter. Many times (although I didn’t see it in these particular discussions) Catholics imply that the real (or at least main) issue between us has to do with forgiving past wrongs, which we supposedly have yet to do. No. None of this is about bruised episcopal egos or our alleged unforgiving attitude. The authority issue is a genuine difference in ecclesiology, and a foundational difference, at that. It’s huge. But it’s theological, not emotional.

Next, there appears to be a sort of tentative offer on the table, in which, if the Orthodox will become Catholic, they will not be required to recite the Creed with the filioque. It’s a nice gesture, but that’s all it is, a gesture, a gimmick. Eastern Catholics, I’m told, do not have to recite the filioque and never did, but they do still have to believe in it, and that’s exactly what the Orthodox cannot do. For us, it is flat out heresy. Therefore, simply not reciting it would not suffice. Even if we were also dispensed from having to believe in it, we would still be in communion with those who did recite and believe it. Even if they, too, should cease reciting it, yet still believe it, we could still not be in communion with them. The filioque has to be renounced.

Someone said s/he thought the Orthodox objection pertained only to the Divine Essence. But, said the writer, this isn’t so. We all agree the Divine Essence comes from the Father alone, but the Catholic teaching of filioque has to do with the Hypostases (Divine Persons).

The fact is, this distinction doesn't help, doesn't address any of what concerns us. We Orthodox still object even if you say it’s the Hypostasis of the Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father and the Son, and not the Essence.

The distinction we do gladly make is between the Holy Spirit as He eternally is in Himself and His being sent to the world. Clearly He is sent to us by the Son; Jesus plainly says this several times. But this distinction pertains to His mission in the created order, not to His eternal being, which is independent of creation.

Another opinion in the discussion was that clearly, the way we distinguish between the Hypostasis of the Son and the Hypostasis of the Holy Spirit is by the alleged fact that the Son has His Hypostasis from the Father alone, while the Holy Spirit has His from the Father and the Son. But this is not the Orthodox distinction. For us, what distinguishes the Son from the Holy Spirit is each one’s unique relationship to the Father: the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, while the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. Each comes form the Father, but each in a very different manner.

The currently most fashionable canard also made its predictable appearance: that the Latin really doesn’t mean “from the Father and the Son” but “from the Father through the Son.” I have never studied Latin, but one who has tells me such a translation would torture that language. Whether it would or wouldn’t matters little, though, because either way, it’s still not the Orthodox teaching. Yes, I know some Orthodox theologians have used that phrase, but that’s not what the Creed says, which outranks their opinions. It isn’t official Orthodox teaching, at least not as filioquists understand it.

The corollary to this canard is, due to linguistic differences, the Latin creed with the filioque means the same thing as the Greek creed without it. There’s no real difference, it’s all just semantics. Okay, dear Catholics, just drop it, then, if it makes no real difference to you. Strike the word. That would be a gigantic step forward for you and for our ecumenical relations.

But it does matter. The filioque issue isn’t mere semantics and it isn’t mere abstruse, nit-picking cogitations on a rarified abstraction. It matters because it shapes the respective ways we relate to the Holy Spirit, what we understand His role to be, and that in turn means everything, absolutely everything – to both sides.


Chris said...

Even if they would strike the word, Anastasia, the Catholics will still defend the theology of the filioque. Such happened at an American Orthodox-Lutheran (ELCA) dialogue where the Lutherans admitted that the filioque was added wrongly, but then went out of their way to argue that it was still correct.

Another point that seems to be glossed over or even ignored by Catholics is that though they claim that "from" is the equivalent for "through", thus per filium as opposed to ex patre filioque, the Catholics frequently crticized Eastern Bishops who suggested that per filium was acceptable. A particular instance was when the Council of Frankfort (794), comprised of Frankish and German bishops, condemned Patriarch Tarasius of Constantinople for using that particular formula.

So, when Catholics say that "through the Son" is acceptable, I detect duplicity because from their own history, "through the sun" per Filium is unacceptable and can only be "from the Son."

It's outright subordinationism and it's exactly that kind of thought that spurned Arianism in the first place.

It will never be resolved and thus the EO and the RC should never be in union, unfortunate as it is.

Byzantine, TX said...

I was curious about the line that, while the Eastern Catholics don't say the filioque they have to believe it. What does that mean? If they never pray it when does it come into their belief? Having heard innumerable homilies from Orthodox and Eastern Catholic I have never heard one that went into procession from the Godhead in a way that swung into heresy.

As a point of theology I see the importance, but I also have found in discussions that there is a belief that the filioque stinks up everything. Most recently, "Those Uniates and their filioque-tinged theology."

I'm not defending the Eastern Catholic Churches per se, and I have no dog in the fight being Orthodox, but even St. Basil was willing to put up with a _lot_ of disagreement for the sake of union.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I was curious about the line that, while the Eastern Catholics don't say the filioque they have to believe it. What does that mean? If they never pray it when does it come into their belief?

Not sure. What I do know is this is no problem outside of Orthodox Christianity, because there, belief tends to be a set of concepts. Not necessarily prayers.

Maybe the filioque as a concept is imposed by The Catechism of the Catholic Church but I don't have time to look it up right now.

Byzantine, TX said...

Here you go:

246 The Latin tradition of the Creed confesses that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque)". The Council of Florence in 1438 explains: "The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has his nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration. . . . And, since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son."75

247 The affirmation of the filioque does not appear in the Creed confessed in 381 at Constantinople. But Pope St. Leo I, following an ancient Latin and Alexandrian tradition, had already confessed it dogmatically in 447,76 even before Rome, in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, came to recognize and receive the Symbol of 381. The use of this formula in the Creed was gradually admitted into the Latin liturgy (between the eighth and eleventh centuries). The introduction of the filioque into the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed by the Latin liturgy constitutes moreover, even today, a point of disagreement with the Orthodox Churches.

248 At the outset the Eastern tradition expresses the Father's character as first origin of the Spirit. By confessing the Spirit as he "who proceeds from the Father", it affirms that he comes from the Father through the Son.77 The Western tradition expresses first the consubstantial communion between Father and Son, by saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque). It says this, "legitimately and with good reason",78 for the eternal order of the divine persons in their consubstantial communion implies that the Father, as "the principle without principle",79 is the first origin of the Spirit, but also that as Father of the only Son, he is, with the Son, the single principle from which the Holy Spirit proceeds.80 This legitimate complementarity, provided it does not become rigid, does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Well, on second thought, how it enters their belief is what I said: it shapes how they understand the Holy Spirit's role and how they do or don't relate to him. One Catholic priest several years ago wanted to talk with me about the Holy Spirit, and he said something like, "Of course we believe in the Holy Spirit, too, but we just don't know what to DO with Him." Well, one wouldn't, if the Holy Spirit is tertiary to the Father and the Son and/or if virtually all His functions have been displaced by those of clergy and Pope.

As I said over at John's blog, if the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father AND the Son, and the pope is the Son's Vicar on Earth, then the workings of the Holy Spirit are in and through the Pope, under his control and done via his authority.

That's how it enters into the belief system.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thanks for providing us the text!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Actually, I'm quite taken aback at that last section (248). Did you notice the whole thing just is not factual?

And I can't believe Rome doesn't know it's false. They have very smart theologians over there.

Yeah, I guess I'm calling it a lie.

Chris said...

Section 247 of Pope Leo I confessing it is also...dubious (I am not going to say a lie even though it really looks like one).

Whether the theologians are smart or not though is immaterial. I would say the Episcopal Church has some "smart" theologians but that does not stop them from lapsing into heresy.

Anam Cara said...

I am slightly embarrassed to say that I really don't understand all the big words and what they actually mean. However, I am content to say that if the Church says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, I'm willing to accept that.

Heck, I can't even begin to understand the Trinity. I don't even fully understand myself, my actions and my motives at times. How can I expect myself to understand someone who says "My ways are not your ways, My thoughts are higher than your thoughts."?

I'm staying out of this one.....

(Yes, I know the punctuation of that next to the last sentence is probably wrong....)

Genevieve said...

"As I said over at John's blog, if the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father AND the Son, and the pope is the Son's Vicar on Earth, then the workings of the Holy Spirit are in and through the Pope, under his control and done via his authority. "

One of the things that we believe in Orthodoxy, is that the Holy Spirit is not limited. It goes where it wills. Interesting to me, that the RC church believes that it is only working through the Pope of Rome. This concept is contrary to a belief in a God of mercy. That's a big different in the faiths. The Roman Catholics have more of a church that is like a court system. The Orthodox Church is more like a hospital, where we are all sick, in need of healing by the one True Physician.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Hi, Genevieve, and welcome to my blog. (I've ahd a glimpse at your blog, too, and it's fun!)

Yes, the Catholics will agree the Holy Spirit goes where He wills, but He wills to go through the pope and the clergy under him.

Anam, come on, the only big word is "Hypostasis" which nobody understands anyway. Nobody. Just substitute "Person". IMO, that's not accurate, "Person," but it'll do.