With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Sunday, October 08, 2006

On The Filioque

Before the proclamation of the Nicene Creed in the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, we find an intriguing dialogue between the priest and the people. The priest begins with the words, “Let us love one another, so that with one mind we may confess,” and the people conclude, saying, “The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in substance and undivided.”

Our declaration of the Trinity should be had only in a declaration of love. The unity of belief is attained only when the congregation is united together as if having one heart. This follows the teaching of St Paul who believes it is better to hold the faith together in charity (or agape love) than it is to hold the faith together by knowledge without that same charity. “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all the mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1Cor. 13:2).

When this agape was lost among the Christians, the unity of faith was also lost. Through agape one can understand the other in the best possible light; when there is no agape the other is often read in the worst possible light. Unity is preserved by agape, not theological argumentation; theological argumentation (while necessary) must only be done in the light of agape, a light which is always beautiful, otherwise it becomes divisive. The great schism between Constantinople and Rome can only be understood when we understand how political and linguistic divisions eliminated the agape between the two Sees.

We are called to proclaim faith, and with this proclamation, to declare our faith in the Holy Trinity. Some think the way to do this is to investigate the deep mysteries of God, and proclaim their own, newer understanding of this mystery, even if it divides the faithful. Yet, St Symeon the New Theologian warns us that this is not a fruitful method, because its foundation lies not in a desire to proclaim God in the unified love of faith, but with an inclination to proclaim one’s superior knowledge over and above the rest of the faithful in a prideful, self-serving manner:

It would be the sign of a rash and presumptuous soul to speak or discourse about God, to investigate all that concerns him, or to try to express what cannot be expressed, or understand what for all men is beyond understanding. This is not only the affliction of those who take it upon themselves to talk about God, but even those who try to repeat the sayings of the theologians who have been inspired by God, [sayings] with which they fought the heretics in times past and which have been handed on to us in writing. Such persons interpret these in every conceivable sense, not in order to gain spiritual profit, but to be admired by their audience at banquets and gatherings, and in order to make a name for themselves as theologians. -- St Symeon the New Theologian, “The First Theological Discourse,” in Symeon the New Theologian: The Practical and Theological Chapters & The Three Theological Discourses. Trans. Paul McGuckin. (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1994), p.107.

St Symeon establishes a caveat that all theologians should consistently reflect upon throughout their career. Their task is to edify the faith, not to dismantle it. Even if what they say can be shown to be true, this is only one aspect of their work. Theology must impart the truth with the interpretive meaning that makes the truth relevant to the faithful, and the truth should be presented in a fashion so as to attract the faithful to accept it in a loving, holistic manner. That is to say, theologians need to make their work beautiful, because beauty, as the ancients said, attracts others and produces love in its wake. Without beauty, there is no love. When we see scornful divisions among Christians, this is a sure sign that, no matter which side (if any) holds the truth, no side has kept the beauty needed to make that truth relevant.

This makes for a rather sorrowful realization when one sees that the great divide between Constantinople and the Christian East with Rome and the Christian West resides in debates on the Holy Spirit, the Lord of Beauty. The East and West do not have a real theological difference in their understanding of Holy Spirit, but they do have distinct ways in presenting this theological truth. If they held to the universal love that is required by the Christian, Constantinople and Rome would have been able to overcome their different methods for discussing the Holy Spirit: they would have been willing to read each other charitably, and seen the common profession being proclaimed by both sides, instead of trying to denounce each other for being in error.

Mutual condemnations were given from the East and the West, one to another, in 1054 on the use or lack of the use of the filioque on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. In the East, the Creed reads, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and Son is worshiped and glorified.” In the West, with the addition of the filioque, that is, the phrase, “and the son,” the Latin Creed became, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.”

Now, it must be pointed out that the West used the filioque long before 1054, and the East never included it in their rendition of the Creed. While it is a fact that the original rendition of the Creed did not include the filioque, when Rome added the filioque to deal with a local theological crisis, Constantinople and Rome remained in communion with each other. It was only during the reign of St Photius of Constantinople (c. 820 – 893) that significant theological arguments were issued by the East against the West on the inclusion of the filioque. However, there seems to be political reasons for this. When there was a dispute as to who was the rightful Patriarch of Constantinople, between Sts Ignatius and Photius, Rome rendered its decision and declared St Ignatius to be the rightful Patriarch. St Photius was enraged, and in his anger, wrote against Rome, its authority, and provided in his analysis a detailed criticism of the filioque, trying to use it as a justification for his non-compliance with Rome. When St Ignatius died, St Photius was able to restore communion with Rome. He even made his peace with St Ignatius by declaring Ignatius’ sainthood. When St Photius reestablished communion with Rome, Rome did not remove the filioque from their rendition of the Creed. Unity between the East and West was able to be had while the East and West had variant renditions of the Creed.

When the great schism of 1054 occurred, we see the rhetorical polemics of St Photius being elevated into theological declarations, and the East reified St Photius’ arguments as a justification for schism. They turned the filioque into a dogmatic issue, and in spite, the East called the West heretics, and the West followed suit with polemics against the East. Soon, theologians (and Saints) from both sides of the split lost the spirit of agape needed to read the theological opinions of the other side of the schism properly. Yet, if one took the time to study what is being proclaimed behind the words, one can easily see it is the same Trinitarian faith being pointed to by both sides of the schism.

The East centers its understanding of the Trinity on the monarchy of the Father. The Father, following St Gregory the Theologian, is the source or foundation for the Trinity.

But the Monarchy is that which we hold in honour. It is, however, a Monarchy that is not limited to one Person, for it is possible for Unity if at variance with itself to come into a condition of plurality; but one which is made of an equality of Nature and a Union of mind, and an identity of motion, and a convergence of its elements to unity – a thing which is impossible to the created nature – so that though numerically distinct there is no severance of Essence. Therefore Unity, having from all eternity arrived by motion at Duality, found its rest in Trinity. That is what we mean by Father and Son and Holy Ghost. The Father is the Begetter and Emitter; without passion, of course, and without reference to time, and not in a corporeal manner. The Son is the Begotten, and the Holy Spirit the Emission; for I know not how this could be expressed in terms altogether excluding visible things. -- St Gregory the Theologian, “Second Theological Oration,” in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Second Series. Ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Volume 7 (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers: 1994), p.301.
Without going into all the theological justification for their understanding, the East holds that the Father is unoriginate, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The Father has no source for his person, and the other two rely upon the Father as their source, although outside of time and without losing their respective equality to the Father.

Now, the West, it can be said, seems to differ from the East, by saying the Son shares in the generation of the Spirit. The East allows for the fact, as Scripture points out, that the Holy Spirit proceeds through the Son by his sending of the Spirit unto us (John 17:7), but they do not want to say the Spirit proceeds from the Son. However, St Basil in chapter three of On The Holy Spirit, shows us that this distinction between “from” and “through” does not have to be a real distinction. It is a linguistic distinction employed by some philosophers to divide the matter of which something is made from the instrumental manner of its making. “They have been led into this error, however, by their study of pagan writers, who apply the expressions ‘from whom’ and ‘through whom’ to things which are distinct by nature. These writers suppose that ‘from whom’ refers to the matter from which something is made, and ‘through whom’ to the instrument which assists in its making.” St Basil the Great, On The Holy Spirit. Trans. David Anderson (Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), p.19. As St Basil points out in chapter four, while this grammatical distinction can be employed as a useful tool, it is not necessary, and in fact, in the case of Scripture, this linguistic convention is not always followed “Now we admit that the Word of truth often uses these expressions in the manner just described, but we absolutely deny that the freedom of the Spirit is controlled by pagan pettiness. Rather, it appropriately varies its expression for each occasion, as the circumstances require.” Ibid, p.21. Following this argument, we can say that when the East allows for a procession of the Spirit through the Son, then they can read the Western declaration of a procession of the Spirit “from” the Son as acceptable – if it can be shown that the West continues to accept the East’s view that the Father as the ultimate, unoriginate source for the Trinity.

St Augustine is one of the great sources for the West’s understanding of the Trinity, and specifically, for the West’s use of the filioque. His notion of the Trinity became the foundation for Western theological reflection on the Trinity. Yet, when he proclaims the Spirit proceeding from the Son, he points it out as a gift of love from the Father to the Son: that is, there is still an aspect of the Spirit having the Father as a unique source, and the procession of the Spirit is a procession through the Son back to the Father as the mutual love between the Father and the Son. In Book XV of On The Trinity, St. Augustine writes “… I say, understand, that as the Father has in Himself that the Holy Spirit should proceed from Him, so has He given to the Son that the same Holy Spirit should proceed from Him, and be both apart from time: and that the Holy Spirit is so said to proceed from the Father as that it be understood that His proceeding also from the Son, is a property derived by the Son from the Father.” St Augustine, On The Trinity in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, First Series. Ed. Philip Schaff. Volume 3. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), p.225. Indeed, St Augustine wants to make it clear that the Holy Spirit, in principle, proceeds from the Father. “For the Father alone is not from another, and therefore He alone is called unbegotten, not indeed in the Scriptures, but in the usage of disputants, who employ such language as they can on so great a subject. And the Son is born of the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father principally, the Father giving the procession without any interval of time, yet in common from both” Ibid, p.225.

In Augustine, the monarchy of the Father is preserved in the immanent Trinity, but there is the added benefit in his thought because the economic Trinity, the way the Trinity is revealed to us, is shown to be a reflection of the immanent Trinity. Nothing in the way God acts is accidental. The way God acts shows us something of the persons of God. The way the Spirit proceeds through the Son to us therefore shows us something of the person of the Son in the immanent Trinity. It is not, however, a double-procession of the Spirit, or a double-generation, as he expressed in Book V of On The Trinity. “If, therefore, that also which is given has him for a beginning by whom it is given, since it has received from no other source that which proceeds from him; it must be admitted that the Father and the Son are a Beginning of the Holy Spirit, not two Beginnings; but as the Father and Son are one God, and one Creator, and one Lord relatively to the creature, so are they one Beginning relatively to the Holy Spirit. But the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one Beginning in respect to the creature, as also one Creator and one God” Ibid., 95

The Western notion of the filioque must be read through charity, and must be understood as an attempt to explain the Trinity following their social-linguistic norms. Linguistic difficulties aside, both see the Father as the person who is the principal foundation of the Trinity. The West, following St Augustine, reflects upon the implications of the economic Trinity and what it signifies of the immanent Trinity. The East, ever cautious about defining anything about the Trinity, does not want to delve far into the intra-personal life of the Trinity. However, these methodological differences do not end, as some claim, with different conceptions of God, but they both preserve the one understanding of the Trinity which both sides of Christendom received from tradition.

While many scholars now do not want to establish 1054 as the official date for the schism between East and West, it clearly reflects the point in which the political agendas of partisans from both sides were finally manifest. It was not the East that was making an issue of the filioque, but it was the papal envoy, Cardinal Humbert, who issued the anathema against Constantinople, believing that Constantinople had to obey his own dictates. Charity was lost, the desire for the one heart of love needed to proclaim the Trinity was lost. Thankfully, in recent times, the desire for Christian unity, lost at the end of the first millennium, has returned. Perhaps the anger, hate, and political intrigue which allowed for partisans of both sides to denounce the other’s interpretation of the Creed can now be replaced by the love and oneness of heart needed for us to once again proclaim, “The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in substance and undivided.”



  • At 10/12/2006 3:44 AM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…

    A very illuminating post, Henry

  • At 10/13/2006 4:40 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    Thanks -- of course Brendan alreadly highlighted another aspect of the filioque discussion, that is, the question of authority. While you can can find this aspect of the debate was included here, I wanted to deal with the theological questions many Easterners have on the filioque. While, personally, I do not find the filioque debate too interesting, as a Byzantine Catholic, I have to keeep in touch with my tradition, and work with the theological questions inherent in my tradition, and not just reflect on those questions I find more intriguing.

  • At 10/15/2006 5:38 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…

    True. Though myself largely ignorant of the particularities of the filioque controversy, I find such theological dialogue with the Eastern Fathers prior to and after the divide to be very enlightening for my understanding of the Western thinkers. For instance, most recently, I find myself judging the presumed incompatibility between the Eastern Trinitarian method and the Augustinian one to be a non-issue. By looking to what cues and insights Augustine took from the Cappadocians helps to expose such "incompatibilities" as parodies.

    Pax Christi,

  • At 10/18/2006 10:25 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    I find the use of Eastern thought by the West, after the schism, to also be indicative of something going on -- that the East, contrary to the polemics of the Orthodox, sorted out and removed elements of their tradition which helped give support to the Roman side, in other words, they changed their tradition to suit their political needs.

    You will find the debates over Purgatory at Florence show this quite well. When the West would quote St Gregory of Nyssa, the East would counter: St Gregory followed the erroneous view of Origen's apokatastasis, therefore we can neglect what he has to say when we don't like his views.

    Vladimir Solovyov's "Russia and the Universal Church" put this kind of reaction of the East to the limelight and I think it a representation of why I am Catholic.

  • At 11/10/2006 1:04 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    As always, yours is a well written, historically illuminating examinaton of the 'filioque.'
    It's strage how a word as simple as 'and' can be interpreted in different ways. As I think Augustine may have indicated, to say the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son, does not necessarily mean that it proceeds from between them as if the Spirit's source were both. Instead, and means that it proceeds from the source (Father) through both.
    I tend to think that the East has a very important point as this issue relates to ecclesiology.
    When the Western creed is misunderstood, it can risk prioritizing Christology over Pnuematology. The fallout of this in ecclesiology is a neglect of the way the Spirit works, whether through charisms, persons or the community itself. It can - and at times does - give rise to a Church of people who spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament, but are unable to recognize that same Christ in their otherwise 'secular' world. It could also be suggested that the problems of clericalism, overstated dichotomy between 'religous' and 'lay' all arise from a lack of a proper Pneumatology.
    In any case, the West, at least on this issue, could do well to listen more closely to the East (though I'm not saying that the reasons for having the filioque aren't valid, just that they seem to have resulted in misintepretations of ecclesiology).
    PS: I'm really pressed on time these days, but look forward to finding time to post the second installment of Catholic Certainty, as well as continuing our lively discussion on animals and reason.


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