Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics and About God

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

D. TheFilioque” in Theology and in Providence


We shall summarize the Orthodox position in theology, as regards the “Filioque”, by making the following, basic observations:

Firstly, with regard to Providence. “Providence” implies the actions and the acts of God, within History and Creation. We too accept that the Holy Spirit is given, is sent forth by the Son. So far, at this level, the Filioque is acceptable. However, we cannot accept it from the aspect of the eternal, the never-ending status of the Holy Trinity, where the relations between the Persons are not relations that pertain to any energies.

As far as the eternal and never-ending Trinity is concerned, we cannot accept that the Spirit also proceeds from the Son, because inside the Trinity, we have ontological relations only, and inevitably, the Cause can only be one: the Father. Because, by introducing two Causes, we will inevitably have two Gods.

In Providence, one could say it is acceptable to admit that the Spirit is also dependent on the Son; that it is a gift, given to us by the Son.  In this context, one can speak in the same way that the Apostle Paul spoke, with regard to the Spirit of Christ, i.e., that the Spirit does indeed proceed from the Father, but, It is sent forth, into Providence, via the Son. The term “proceeding from” (åêðïñåýåôáé) strictly pertains to the Spirit’s ontological dependence on the Father, within the eternal Trinity, therefore, the term “proceeding from” pertains only to the eternal status of the Trinity. The association here is strictly ontological, and the Causer is only one: the Father.

When dealing with Providence however, we do not touch on ontological associations, but only those associations that pertain to energies/actions, hence the Son’s action of sending forth the Spirit. In this way, we have a sort of Filioque, but only in regard to Providence.

In light of the above, significant confusion arose in the West, with regard to these two terms.  The (Greek) words “åêðïñåýåôáé” ( proceeding from/out of ) andðÝìðåôáé” ( sent forth by ) were translated in Latin, as both meaning “procedure”, right from the very start, in the 4th century.  This is what gave rise to the confusion.  They could not discern between these two notions, whereas in the (Greek-speaking) East they were discernable, hence the term “proceeding from” (åêðïñåýåôáé) was duly confined to the eternal, ontological aspect of the Trinity, and was not used in reference to Providence.  From the very beginning, the Filioque was applied by the West, to both aspects (ontological and Providential). This is how the confusion began, and the Filioque appeared as the offspring of precisely this confusion.  For the East, this distinction is imperative; if one does make this distinction, then he can accept the Filioque, but only in regard to Providence.  But the Filioque, in its true dimensions as defined by the West, is not only linked to Providence, but also to the eternal Trinity. And that is where we have a problem. Can one apply the Filioque to the eternal Trinity?  Let’s observe the problems that Patristic Theology encountered here.

In the 7th century, Saint Maximus was asked (because word was getting around that the Filioque was being used in the West), what his opinion was on this matter. He replied that he had examined the matter, and that the situation was as follows: 

The Latin-speaking Romans did not have respective words for expressing these two notions (“åêðïñåýåôáé” and “ðÝìðåôáé”).  They used only one word. This consequently gave rise to a confusion. We Greeks, who speak the language, must therefore show some understanding in this regard and not automatically declare the Filioque a heresy of the Westerners, because, as analytically explained in the “epistle to Marinus”, the Filioque was the product of this confusion.

In the same epistle, Saint Maximus says that during his talks with the Romans themselves about this issue, he had noticed that they also referred to Saint Cyril of Alexandria in order to support the Filioque. Saint Cyril had indeed written certain things that could have provided a basis for the Filioque.  We also have one testimony that something which was written by Saint Cyril on the subject had generated an intense reaction. It was the reaction of Theodoretus of Cyrus who was quite strident in his manner, and who commented that if Cyril was referring to the Filioque in regard to Providence, then all is well; but if he was relating it to the eternal Trinity, then he was mistaken, and this could not be accepted.

It was obvious that Cyril did not mean it, simply and strictly within the confines of Providence, as he had also allowed inferences to the eternal TrinityHe did not say “proceeds from” (åêðïñåýåôáé); he did not use this word. He used the expression that the Spirit is manifested; that it essentially originates (i.e., with regard to the Essence) from the Son also.  Given that the Essence is common to all three Persons, then the Son must necessarily precede the Spirit, from the aspect of the Essence. But, as for the Person of the Spirit in connection to the other two Persons, we cannot have the Filioque, because only the Father –as a Person- can be the Cause.  At first glance, this appears somewhat vague.

A passage by Saint Gregory of Nyssa clarifies this vague point somewhat satisfactorily. In his work “That there are not three Gods” (üôé ïõê åéóß ôñåéò Èåïß), he says:

«We do not disregard the difference between that which exists as the Cause, and that which is OF the Cause». We therefore have the Cause as one thing, and secondarily, that which is OF the Cause.  In other words, the existence of God is not a simple thing; one cannot say that God simply “exists”. Gods existence includes activity, movement. Even within God’s Being – within His ontological associations –activity exists.  God is not devoid of cause; He does not exist without cause.  The cause is naturally inside His very Self, but, there is a distinction inside God: it is the distinction between the Cause and whatever originates from the cause.

 «We support the difference between the One Who exists as the Cause and the One who is OF the Cause». It is in this way -and only in this way- that we can perceive how the one Person is discerned from the other; i.e., in the belief that the Cause is one, and the other is OF the Cause.  He further says that «the distinction between the Persons inside the Holy Trinity cannot be made in any other way, except only in regard to this causality.»   With regard to the nature, with regard to the energy, we cannot make such a distinction; however we can make it, on the basis of this principle of causality. This is a principle that was introduced by the Cappadocians.  Before them, we do not find it clearly specified.

We therefore have the ability to discern the Persons, precisely because we make the distinction between the Causer and that which is OF the Causer. And he continues: «With regard to that which is OF the Cause, we have in there another distinction, whereas with regard to the Cause, it is clear that it is only the Father. When referring to “OF the cause”, we can acknowledge a further difference: That only the one of the two originates immediately from the First». He uses the word “immediately”, which implies “directly”, or, “without any intermediation”.  «The one originates immediately from the Cause, while the other originates through (=with the intermediation of) the one who originates directly from the First» The difference between the Son and the Spirit –in regard to the appearance, the existence and the origin of the two- is that the Son comes forth directly from the Father (the Cause), while the Spirit comes forth through the intermediation of the one who originates directly from the Cause, i.e., via the Son.

But why does Gregory make this distinction and observation?  He goes on to explain, that «Thus, it is in this way, with this intermediation, this intercession of the Son in the life of divinity, in divine existence, that His characteristic of ‘Only-born’ is preserved»   So, in order for the Son to remain “the Only-Born Son”, we must attribute this “immediacy” to Him, otherwise we will somehow end up with two Sons, albeit the natural, the essential association of the Spirit with the Father is not abolished, because all of divine nature also exists within the Son,  and consequently, in everything essential (as regards the nature), the Spirit likewise communes with the Father, even though it comes into existence through the intermediation of the Son.

This could be interpreted as a kind of Filioque from the aspect of God’s eternal existence; however, neither the Son nor the Spirit can be regarded as Causes. In other words, while the Son may in some way intercede for the Holy Spirit to come into existence, this does not make the Son the Causer of the Spirit. The Causer is always the Father.

In summarizing what we have said, we need to reach a conclusion, because we have before us some very delicate nuances.  We need to maintain the principle -the faith- that only the Father can be the Cause, and that the Son –on account of the Filioque- can by no means be perceived as a co-Causer of the Spirit’s existence.

Therefore, from the aspect of Providence, there is no problem. From the aspect of the eternality of the Trinity however, we have the problem whether the intercession of the Son in the procession of the Holy Spirit somehow makes the Son the Cause of the Spirit, or not.

In his epistle “To Marinus”, Saint Maximus stressed that he had discussed the issue with the Romans of his time, and had concluded that they did not imply that the Son is the Causer.  Thus, Maximus acquitted the Westerners of the accusation of heresy.  Of course, all of this had taken place during the 7th century.  Later on, when the Filioque was used by the West as a banner against the Orthodox, things changed, and they took a different turn.  In the discussions that took place, the Westerners were no longer predisposed to revoking that the Son is co-Causer along with the Father in the “procession” of the Holy Spirit, thus reducing the Filioque theory to a heresy, because it was not possible to orthodoxically embrace it.

In the Council of Florence, an attempt was made to unify the division. It was through the use of the term “through the Son”. If this had been accepted by both sides, then instead of saying “from the Son”, we would have said “through the Son” – in other words, it would have connoted the intercession of the Son that Gregory of Nyssa had mentioned.  But even this attempt failed, because neither side was willing to take a clear stance on the issue, and the West had already stabilized its own position with the expression “from the Father AND the Son”, and was not willing in any way to retract it, and replace it with the expression “THROUGH the Son”

Nowadays, fresh attempts are being made, and it will prove very interesting for one to observe where they will lead. As Orthodox theologians, we must bear in mind that every attempt –whatever it may involve, wherever it may lead- should not lead us into the obscuring of the basic premise that, within the Holy Trinity, ONLY THE FATHER is the Cause.

An idea has been proposed (mainly by a Russian theologian, Bolotov, who has studied this subject especially) that the Filioque should be regarded as something that can be theologized.  There is the distinction, which he basically introduced, that there are many ideas which do not constitute dogmas that affect man’s salvation. Some of them that are regarded as topics for discussion, have been considered items for theologizing, as opposed to dogmas that are not items for theologizing, that should not be subject to discussion.

So, there is a proposal for the Filioque to be regarded as an item to be theologized, but this is a proposal which was not accepted, both by the Westerners and the East.  Because even the Westerners continue to maintain (although nowadays they are tending to distance themselves from this stance, whereas in the Middle Ages they clearly supported it) that it is heresy for someone to NOT believe in the Filioque, and that belief in the Filioque comprises a dogma. Consequently, the idea of the Filioque becoming an item to be theologized was not accepted, and from time to time, it is brought up in discussions of our time, along with Bolotov’s positions, but there seems to be no progress in this direction.

Our position should be that: provided the conditions we mentioned above are applied, the Filioque can be considered an item for theologizing. We in the East have no need to introduce this, but, in the West they can use it, provided that they mean it in the appropriate sense, as they did in the 7th century. If they regard it in a manner that makes the Son a co-Causer together with the Father, then we cannot see this as an item for theologizing, but as a heresy, because it jeopardizes monarchy.  That the Father alone is the Causer, is linked to the fact that in God, we have only one principality, and that this principality is understood ontologically here. We do NOT have two causes; we do NOT have two principalities. Since we have a monarchy (=one principal), we have only one cause, and that cause coincides with the Father. Thus, literally, God is the Father.  If we introduce a second Causer (the Son), then we are at risk of acknowledging two Gods.

The West does not feel that it has this problem, because “monarchy” to them is not the one Father, but the one Essence.  The one Godfor the Westerners is the one Essence, and not the Person of the Father. Consequently, they believe they are not risking the loss of monotheism when they say “AND by the Son”.  For the West, monotheism is dependent on the one essence of God, and not the Person of the Father.  And since this is the case, the Filioque does not threaten their monotheism, because their monotheism is not dependent on the notion of the “one Cause”.

We have covered the topic of the Filioque, having seen how it was generated historically, under what premise it could have become accepted, at what point it became a heresy, and at which points it could constitute an item for theologizing.


OODE observation:   Obviously, the fact that the official Papist view does not comprehend the issue of polytheism that springs from the Filioque theory, does not mean that the problem does not exist. On the contrary, because of this differentiation, another, more serious problem is apparent:  That the Papists have in fact been worshipping A DIFFERENT GOD than the one the Orthodox Christians believe in.

While the Orthodox view is that “God is the Father”, the Papist view is clearly that “God is an IMPERSONAL ESSENCE”.  Because, when the Person of the Father is not regarded as the primary Cause, the impersonal element of an alleged Triadic Essence is acknowledged in His place.  This not only undeniably ushers Papism into idolatry, but also, as we have outlined in previous chapters, it has other, serious implications in the matter of inter-Triadic relations between the Persons, and even in what each Person is!  The entire content of Theology is distorted, and becomes totally unrecognizable.

Furthermore, by regarding the Essence as “God”, we no longer have a subservience of the Essence to the person,  instead, the Person is subservient to the Essence. In other words, the Father is no longer what He is because He thus wills it, but because He is compelled, by the Essence!    The magnitude of blasphemy that the Papist theory introduces with regard to God, is clearly obvious here.  We are shown a “God” who is  dependent on His essence;  a SUBJUGATED GOD, who functions on the basis of necessity and not on freedom and free volition, exactly like the idolaters’ “gods” who are restricted within the confines of the material universe, who are governed by “fate” and not by the free will that they supposedly possess.

Secondary consequences of the above (so that we have a better idea of the depth and the gravity of the issue) are :  Freedom –as a necessary ingredient for one’s becoming “in the likeness of God”- is abrogated, and the entire Christian dogma on salvation thereafter collapses altogether, dragging down with it the element of Love (since the persons of Divinity are defined by the Essence and not by voluntary love).  We thus end up with the god-judge-punisher of the West, whom one can only fear and hate!

For all the aforementioned reasons (and many more, which we do not need to expound here, because much has already been outlined), which are all derived from the heretical view on the “Essence God” of Augustine, it becomes evident that not only should one not agree to any union with the Papism that insists on embracing the Filioque, but we should also demand from them to relinquish altogether the Augustinian perception of an “Essence God”, if they truly wish to be re-incorporated in the Church of Christ.


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Transcript by B. T.

Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 1-3-2006.

Last update: 12-6-2006.