Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics and About God

Previous // Contents // Next


2. The transferal of the terms essence, energy and person into Theology. (The problem of freedom)

C. Augustines theology and the problem of the Filioque


On examining Augustines triadic theology, we noted the following:

Just like the Cappadocian Fathers and the other Fathers, Augustine also sought ways of expressing that supreme mystery of the Holy Trinity. In his search for those images that would at least somehow express the mystery of the Holy Trinity, Augustine resorted to the notion of the metaphysical, perfect Being who is God; which perfect, metaphysical Being Augustine had depicted on the basis of Platonic belief regarding the perfect metaphysical Being.  According to Platonism, the perfect metaphysical Being (which relates to God Himself) is the Nous (mind, intellect). Consequently, the Nous relates to God.  God equals that perfect Being, which in essence is the Nous.

However, according to Platonism, that perfect metaphysical Being who is God, as the Nous, also possesses three other characteristic elements. One of them is Memory. The perfect Nous, the perfect eing who is the Nous, possesses the characteristic of emory.  To Platonism, Memory is of special significance, because Platonism commences from the notion that the entire truth is accumulated, stored, in the past. In other words, mans soul is eternal its origin is eternal therefore, given its eternal origin, the soul is endowed with the full truth, as though it is somehow stored within it.  Memory therefore is a very important thing for Platonism. It is the source, from which truth unfolds and manifests itself.  God therefore, as a perfect metaphysical Being, possesses this source, this storage tank that contains the entire truth. God therefore possesses Memory; and that which is Memory in the case of God (and as we have already said, it is the source of life, thought, and energy of this supreme Being, this Nous, this God)  is -in Augustines dogmatic language on the Holy Trinity- referred to as the Father, because the Father according to standard Christian belief- is the source of all life in the Holy Trinity.  Thus, in using this correlation (the element of Memory), Augustine proposed a very clever means of expressing the Father. 

But in this perfect metaphysical Being, Memory is not inactive. It does not remain inert. It is Memory, because it is the storage tank the source- from which Knowledge proceeds, and from which the Truth proceeds.  The (Greek) word for Truth is - (pronounced A-lethea), which is a composite word, made up of the privative and the ending (lethe, oblivion).  In other words, (Alethea) means that which is remembered, or that which does not fall into oblivion, but rises up to the surface of Memory. Thus, the Truth comes forth from within Memory.  But Truth becomes characterized when it sees the light, through the realization of things.  And that is what is called Knowledge, i.e. when Truth comes into the light.

When a tutor implements the Socratic idea - the obstetrics method of acquiring knowledge - he too is drawing from within the pupils soul those things that the pupil supposedly always knew, because according to Platonic perception, nothing is new. The tutor gives nothing new to the pupil that the pupil didnt already know beforehand.  The pupil knows everything; every kind of knowledge is apparently already stored away, inside his soul.  Because knowledge is supposedly borne by the soul, and because each persons soul is eternal, it therefore carries knowledge inside it. Consequently, what the tutor does, is to deliver knowledge by means of the dialectic practice (dialogue). He delivers (like an obstetrician) and extracts. He extracts, until he succeeds in bringing the pupil to the stage of acknowledging: Yes, it is just as you say.  The moment in their dialogue that the pupil says It is just as you say, master, that is supposedly the moment that the child is born, so to speak. (This is the obstetrics method, in other words). That is the moment when the perennial Memory of a Truth is extracted from its storage tank, and becomes Knowledge.

So, it is from this source of Memory that Knowledge comes from, and it is in this depiction that Augustine finds a useful correlation, given that the Son is also characterized in classical and Christian terminology as the Logos.  The term Logos is a concept that contains the element of Knowledge, of reason. It is a Knowledge that is born of Memory.

But this perfect metaphysical Being again according to Platonic perception- not only has Memory and Knowledge; it also has Love, because it is attracted by the Benevolent, the Good and the Beautiful, and therefore God Who is the perfect Being, the perfect Nous- cannot lack this element of Love.  Augustine finds a correlation to the Spirit here.  So, the Spirit is the Will or the Love- that this supreme Nous has

Thus, in his work on the Holy Trinity, Augustine succeeded with the help of Platonism to somehow formulate an Apologetics of his own; i.e., to translate the dogma on the Holy Trinity into a language form that was familiar and acceptable to the intellectuals in his environment. But in attempting this, Augustine was digressing from the basic principles that the Cappadocian Fathers had outlined in the East principles which he may not have been aware of.

Here we have a classical example of differentiation. What does that differentiation consist of?  Well, one basic differentiation is that we can relate all the above analogically, to only one person; which means, we can theoretically refer to the dogma of the Holy Trinity by looking at only one person, who has all those elements (depending on the degree of perfection that he has attained).

According to the Cappadocian Fathers however, we cannot find a depiction of the Holy Trinity within one person. We need to use three persons. Because the characteristic of the Cappadocian Fathers theology is that: The three Persons of the Holy Trinity are not the energies of the one God, but are three complete hypostases. Subsequently, in order to present the fullness of those hypostases, the analogies must be likewise in full.  If we are to use correlations based on people, it must be of three people and not one person (or three suns, or three lit torches). We must have three, fulfilled, complete beings; thus, we have here a basic differentiation.

Augustines perception can lead to individualism, i.e., that God is like an individual with various energies and abilities and qualities, all of which can supposedly be understood as persons. But, in this way, the persons are again at risk of becoming (as they did in Savellianism, and in ancient Hellenism) merely guises; of becoming the characteristics of a one, selfsame being, and not individual, complete and fulfilled beings.  We have, therefore, in this instance, a huge differentiation. 

The Greek Fathers did not confuse, or separate, the Persons of the Holy Trinity as characteristics and in fact psychological characteristics such as Memory, Knowledge and Love- which the Greek Fathers had associated with the Nature -the one Nature- of God, and not with the three Persons.  In other words, God has one Knowledge, one Will, one Love, and not three. Nor is the one Person equivalent to Knowledge and the other Persons are nothing, or, Love is one of the three Persons who expresses Love, while the other two Persons dont.  All three Persons express it, because it is common to all three of them.  But, this is not what we refer to as hypostatic characteristics.  These are not the characteristics of the hypostases.  The characteristics of the hypostases are something else, and we have already clarified what they are. 

We therefore have a differentiation here.  With Augustine, we can see the risk of projecting onto God the psychological attributes of man; in other words, we are faced with the risk of anthropomorphism.


Other facets of Augustinian Theology

Augustine associated God with the Nous. Thus, when asked Who is the one God?, he was unable to reply with reference to the Persons of the Holy Trinity to any of the Persons of the Holy Trinity because to him, those Persons are only attributes of the Nous the one Nous and are not persons per se.  This is the way he interpreted and applied the formula the phrasing- which had prevailed, i.e., that God is one essence, three persons, i.e., by taking the term essence and linking it to God.  Thus, God the one God- is the essence, and the Persons are merely the attributes that we mentioned previously: they are the attributes of that one Nous.  In doing this, Augustine gave priority to the essence; priority to the God-Nous, from whence the Persons supposedly sprang as secondary elements.  So, in answer to the question Who is the one God? Augustines reply was : The one essence

With the Greek Fathers, we have a different situation.  To the question Who is the one God?, or, when we simply say God, the answer is The Father.  The element of Monarchy (=sovereignty) does not reside within the essence and the nature of God; it resides within the Person of the Father.  When therefore associating God with the Father, we are looking at the Biblical way of referring to God also, i.e., the God, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When the -par excellence- God is acknowledged as the Father, then we are led to realize why the Holy Trinity is embodied in the concept of one God: On the premise that the one God is the Father, and that the term father is a term that presupposes a relationship, a father can therefore not exist, if there is no son.  And naturally- the Father is not only Father to the Son, but is also Father to the Spirit, only in a different way.  Thus, both the Son and the Spirit are -from the very first moment- automatically included in the concept of the one God. 

This is extremely important, because the dogma of the Holy Trinity becomes a primary issue. You cannot speak of one God first, and then go on to speak of the Holy Trinity, as a secondary issue. I wish to stress this, because, on account of Augustine, Western Theology was led to this division in Dogmatics, which appeared during the scholastics age, and which, unfortunately, was also emulated by Orthodox Theologians, i.e., to first examine a chapter on the one God, to examine that one God Himself, His attributes, and whatever else you can imagine. And then, to examine another chapter, which refers to the Holy Trinity, as if it were ever possible for one to refer to the one God without simultaneously referring to the Holy Trinity.

But, as Augustine asserted, in order for someone to refer to the one God primarily and exclusively, one must relate God to the essence and give priority to the essence; one must say that the essence comes first, then come the Persons.  The subject is very serious, whether priority should be given to the essence or the person.  Western Theology gave priority to the essence (and there are many Orthodox who do the same).

To us Orthodox, the one God is the Father and not the one essence, and that is why the Holy Trinity is the first thing that we say about God.  The first thing that we say about God is that God is the Father. Since this is the first thing that we say, we cannot avoid acknowledging the Trinity, because the term Father is a meaning that necessarily involves the Holy Trinity.

We have here a very serious difference between East and West. Can one speak of the one God, independently of the Holy Trinity? According to Augustine in the West, this was possible. And it is indeed being done, in all the dialogues that take place nowadays, with monotheistic religions.  You can see, that this is actually being done, in the West.  Lets first come to an agreement they say- with those who believe in one God, those who are the same as us, and exclude the atheists.  The next step is to isolate the monotheists from the polytheists. Nowadays, we dont have many polytheists of course; almost none.  Polytheism has eclipsed. The other religions are all monotheistic. But what happens in such dialogues, is that we must presuppose that it is possible for us Christians to speak of God the one God- without any reference to the Holy Trinity to begin with. This is precisely where we are led -in a natural way- by Augustine and by the priority of the essence as opposed to the person.   And because Dogmatics is not an Academic subject, (i.e., something to be comprehended with the mind); Dogmatics is not only for those who study Theology in order to acquire a diploma, but it is something that concerns everyone, it must, therefore, have direct consequences existential consequences for the entire world.

And there is in fact a serious consequence here, which is:  All those who pray, what/who are they praying to? It may be possible to pray to God per se, but: is it possible for one to pray to the essence of God?  This is the perception of Augustine and of many Orthodox, who have not thought things out very well, and have related God to that which the Greek Fathers had named Divinity (or God, in this, abstract sense).  When I say: I am praying to God, to which God am I praying?    Can I pray to the one God, as the one Divinity, or, could it be, that when we say: I am praying to God we are clearly praying to one of the three Persons or to all three Persons simultaneously?  You cannot pray, you cannot personally address the essence of God, but you can pray to the one God.  So, if the one God is not the essence, then to whom are you praying?  You are of course praying to the Person of the Father.

We actually have prayers in Orthodox worship that are addressed only to the Father, as the par excellence- God. Naturally, the Holy Trinity cannot be divided; where the Father is, there the Son is and there the Spirit is.  But as for us who are addressing God (where the Persons are united and inter-embraced yet are hypostatically different), we are each what we are: individuals.  That is what allows us to pray to a specific Person: we can even pray to the Holy Spirit separately, as in the prayer Thou heavenly King, the Paraclete which is addressed to the Holy Spirit. We of course have very many prayers that are addressed to Christ, and we also have prayers addressed to the Father, which are basically all the prayers of the Divine Eucharist they are the eucharist prayers, the prayers of thanks.  The Divine Eucharist is addressed to the Father.  And if one studies the prayers of the Divine Liturgy of the first centuries and sees how they developed and arrived at the form they have in the Liturgies of the Chrysostom and Basil that we have nowadays, it will become obvious that the supplication prayer in the Divine Liturgy is a supplication that was originally addressed to the Father. This has been preserved, in the Liturgy of Basil the Great. That prayer is addressed to the Father. It is evident that we are addressing only the Father, however without this precluding the presence of the Son and the Spirit.  Nonetheless, we are addressing a person,  just as the Son (while in the flesh) addressed and prayed to the person of the Father, even though He Himself continued to be within the Father, through their inter-embracing. Therefore, the fact of His being within the Father clearly did not deter the Son from addressing the Father. This is what characterizes the hypostases.    

But in this case that we are studying, things appear extremely vague; we have Knowledge praying to Love, and Love praying to Memory. This cannot be applied to any existential experience, and even more so, to the Churchs experience of worship.  That is why in the West, in the matter of prayer, the Holy Trinity was put aside.  One can see that in the West, one prays to God generally and vaguely; it is either to the essence of God, or usually- to Christ. That is where Westerners piety and spirituality resides. Bearing in mind that Christ is a man, it is possible for one to sense Him better; it is possible to sense Him more hypostatically, as a person. Augustines theology not only made it possible to speak of one God prior to the Holy Trinity; he also made it possible to pray to the one God without necessarily praying to one specific person.

To us, the one God is undoubtedly the Father, at least from the aspect of worship (which is what determines Theology), because it is a Person to whom we are praying.  The one God is therefore the Father, in the sense that He is the One from Whom the Persons of the Holy Trinity originate. The Father is the par excellence God; He is not the essence, He is the Person of Father.

This is how Orthodoxy is contradistinguished, opposite Augustine.

With these Augustinian principles of the Holy Trinity in mind, we shall attempt to examine a thorny issue that had arisen between the East and the West, with regard to Triadic Theology. It is an issue that continues to preoccupy us, i.e., the famous Filioque.

The Filioque has two aspects. The one aspect is the canonical one, which is linked to the historical problem behind the appearance of the Filioque, and the other aspect is the theological one, which is linked to the justification of the Filioque by the Westerners or its rejection by the Orthodox.

In order to comprehend the theological aspect, we must definitely be well acquainted with the following two things: Augustines theology, and the Cappadocians theology. This is because the Westerners theologized the Filioque on the basis of Augustines theology, while the Eastern Orthodox rejected it, on the basis of the Cappadocians theology.

Before arriving at the theological justification or rejection of the Filioque, we should mention a few things regarding the canonical aspect, the historical aspect that the Filioque problem presents.  Filioque is the Latin expression inserted in the Creed, which means and from the Son.  In other words, that the Holy Spirit not only proceeds from the Father, but also from the Son.  This concept, this Filioque procession, existed in the West, even during the 4th century.  We find it in Ambrose mostly, but in a form that didnt create any theological problems, and also during the age of Saint Maximus, when a minor disturbance had begun to appear. Maximus, who kept in touch with Rome, was asked about it.  There is an epistle by Maximus addressed to Marinus, in which it appears that Maximus had been asked: Whats going on in Rome? They say that the Filioque exists there; to which Maximus had replied: Yes. It is a fact that this exists in the West, but the way in which they present it, is absolutely Orthodox and correct.  Therefore, it was not a theological issue during Maximus time.  We are now in the 7th century. Up until that time, we have a theologically neutral situation. In a certain strange way, the Filioque entered the everyday scene, and became the epicenter of scandal, for purely political reasons.

It was first of all inserted by the West in the Creed (the Symbol of Faith), in Spain, in the 6th century, during the 3rd Synod of Toledo. King Requarerdos, who had converted from Arianism, was like every new convert- likewise fanatically supportive of the new faith. He was positively adamant about reinforcing the anti-Arian position that the Son is God, and he found the means of doing this in the Filioque idea which, albeit existent in the West, had not yet been officially inserted in the Creed. He thenceforth proceeded to persuade that Synod to insert the Filioque in the Creed, so that it could be triumphantly confessed that the Son is equal to the Father. So far, things were more or less innocuous. But that which ensued, was the cause that opened up an entirely new age.

It was the appearance of the Franks, and the appearance of Charlemagne as the Byzantiums opposition (in the sense that he wanted to establish the genuine Roman state, as the successor of the former Roman state, whereas the Byzantine Emperor regarded himself as the successor, and the Byzantine Empire the natural continuation of the Roman Empire). In his designs to wage war against Byzantium, Charlemagne activated the Filioque, because in those times (unlike today, where nobody pays attention to a religious definition), you could start a war with a single dogmatic word. Charlemagne therefore rallied all of his troops around the Filioque theory, claiming that the Byzantines were the heretics, who didnt acknowledge it.  This entire quarrel with Byzantium was consequently an issue of faith.

But at the time, the pope had expressed his disagreement with Charlemagne. He regarded Charlemagne as a risk to his own authority as well; thus, the pope found himself supporting the side of Byzantium, and opposed to the introduction of the Filioque in the Creed.  In order to triumphantly prove this, pope Leo III instructed the inscribing of the Creed, without the Filioque, onto two plaques, which he placed visibly inside the basilica of Saint Peter.  In fact, in one of the recent conventions that took place in Rome regarding the 2nd Ecumenical Council, a Roman Catholic theologian had proposed that it would be a good move on the part of the Roman Catholic Church, to put those plaques (which had been hidden out of sight) back in their place; those plaques of pope Leo III, which have the original Symbol of Faith inscribed on them, without the Filioque.

Up until that time, the defending of the Filioque had remained a Frankish matter. Rome did not agree with it. Rome introduced the Filioque for the first time officially, only in the 11th century.  In the year 1014, and on the insistence of Frederick IV -a Frankish emperor of German descent- his coronation ceremony in Rome by the Pope was agreed upon, on the condition that the Creed would be introduced, with the inclusion of the Filioque.

For reasons of expediency, Rome agreed to this (expediency was usually Romes priority). The time was ripe; there had also been a dispute with Photios because Rome had insisted on imposing its policy in Bulgaria, and the matter of the Filioque had soon entered the dispute. An atmosphere of opposition between Rome and Constantinople had been created, in which dispute the Filioque had also played a certain role. So, the time was ripe in the 11th century; the Filioque was officially inserted in Romes Creed, and ever since that moment, Rome itself, together with the Franks, undertook the defence of the Filioque, to the point that in 1054 (the year of the schism between Rome and Constantinople), the Popes anathema -which Umberto had deposited on the Holy Altar of the Church of Hagia Sophia- contained the accusation that the Easterners had eliminated the Filioque from the Creed!!

Now this is very interesting, because, for centuries, the West has believed that the Easterners had eliminated the Filioque, and not that Westerners had inserted it!!

Ever since then, an entire industry of theological arguments has sprung up, on both sides. The fight for the justification or the rejection of the Filioque was now under way, with the West drawing its arguments from Augustines theory, and cultivating and further developing them with the aid of scholastic theology by Thomas Aquinatus.  We even discovered the slogan that whoever doesnt believe in the Filioque is a heretic.

On the other side, an anti-Filioque theology had developed, with the argument that whoever accepts the Filioque is a heretic. These polemics lasted for centuries. And now that we are in the present time, the theological problem has resurfaced even more acutely, mainly because of its implementation by the Slavophiles of Russia during the previous century. They were the ones who eventually headed the theology of the Émigrés (the Russian emigrants who arrived after the communist revolution in Europe), amongst whom was the protagonist who re-introduced the Filioque into the dispute between East and West, and in fact in the form of a heresy (and even worse); he was Lossky.

So, Lossky did not simply bring the Filioque back into the limelight; it was re-introduced even more exacerbated than it was during the Middle Ages. Of course todays psychological climate does not allow for exacerbations, but if you were to ask a Westerner or an Orthodox what is that which basically differentiates us, they will say it is the Filioque. And this gave a new look to the theological problematics of the Filioque.

However, the canonical aspect remains as is. It remains as a problem, which has the following form:  Does a church such as the Western one have the right to unilaterally insert a new expression in the Symbol of Faith? That is where the issue is canonical: Can there be a one-sided alteration of the Creed, when this Symbol of Faith was the product of an Ecumenical Synod?  How can one party change it, without the consent of the others?

Observation by OODE:    We need to point out here, that there have been some very important Synods related to the above matter such as the 8th, with Photios the Great (879-880); also the Hesychast Synods of 1341, 1347, 1451 (9th Ecumenical); the more recent Synods of Constantinople (1722, 1727, 1838 and others)- but also the divinely inspired saints such as Mark of Ephesus, Athanasios of Paros, Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, Nektarios of Pentapolis, who, with their evangelical, patristic and holy-synodical theological argument, outrightly condemned the Latins or pro-Latins as heretics.  Actually, as a general rule, all Synods and Patriarchal Circulars in their poemantic obligation to safeguard the people from the Franco-Latin propagandas, use intensely trenchant albeit not untrue or malevolent- characterizations.  This is also observed in the Synodical of Orthodoxy, which was included in the Triodion and is read in Monasteries.  On the basis of such Orthodox Synodic and Patristic criteria, the Rev. father Hierotheos of Nafpaktos in one of his articles stresses that there is no apostolic succession (in the bestowing of Grace and the Truth); that there are no Sacraments, nor is there any literal notion of a Church in Papism.  Otherwise, if  simple historical succession constituted a guarantee of genuine Apostolicity (Orthodox Apostolic tradition), then we would have to acknowledge it in all the other heretics and heresy leaders, which is out of the question. For example, Saint Mark of Ephesus observes:

  , , · , . : , ; , ; . ... .

English rendition:

For it was they who provided the cause of the schism, by outrightly expressing the addition (of the Filioque), which (schism) they had previously propagated through their teeth (verbally), by saying that we (Orthodox) had deviated first, when it was we who had cut them off and had removed them from the common body of the Church.  Because, tell me, which of the two applies: that the existing belief is correct, or that the addition was correctly proposed? And who, if saying they desire the addition unless they are seriously mentally deranged- would not admit the addition to be something unfitting and irreverent and preposterous? It was therefore not because we repulsed them as heretics and for this reason departed from them; but it was because they are in fact heretics, and as such, we excised them.


Greek text

Previous // Contents // Next

Transcript by B. T.

Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 20-2-2006.

Last update: 21-2-2006.