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3. The problem of the "Filioque"


3. The problem of the "Filioque"

The association between God and the world, and the problem of association between theology - literally - and oekonomia (providence) have already been discussed; in other words, the association between the word pertaining to God when applied to the energies, the acts of God in History and Creation in part, and the existence per se of God, independently of History. Western theology has always been captivated by an interest in providence. Given that it is a natural characteristic of Western thought to have a keen interest in History, this is also the reason it was impossible for Western theology to unshackle itself from oekonomia (providence) - from God's acts within History.

We shall now examine more specifically how its shackling to providence had also led Western theology to a certain stance towards the dogma regarding God; a stance which had caused the rift between Western and Eastern theology:  the familiar Filioque issue.  The Filioque had been created for two reasons. One reason was the inability to convey into the Latin language the more subtle meanings that the Hellenic language possessed. This inability became especially obvious in the case of the (Greek) verb «εκπορεύεται» (pron.: ek-porévetae, proceeding from, proceeding out of).  The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father; but the inability by Latin-speaking Christianity to convey this subtle meaning into the Latin language was also accompanied by the other characteristic we mentioned - the shackling of Western thought's interest to History. In other words, it was unable to separate the presence of the Holy Spirit in History, from the presence - the hypostasis - the manner of existence (of the Holy Spirit) in eternity - in the eternal God.  These two issues go hand-in-hand: the (Latin) vocabulary's inadequacy and -in a sense- an intellectual deficiency, given that the very same term that they used to translate the verb «εκπορεύεται» (ie, the Latin verb "procedere"), was also applied in reference to the eternal existence of the Holy Spirit, and not only in oekonomia (providence).  Hence their inability to distinguish any difference.  The fact that they could not see the difference is indicative of a deficiency in thought, which does not imply a lack of intelligence, but rather a fixation on certain interests - an interest in History mainly.

It never occurred to them to seek anything beyond the limits of History - to show an interest in the eternal status of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if within History -within oekonomia (providence)- it was uncontested that the Spirit was provided by the Son, and of course the prerequisite of the Father being the source of all, it was quite easy for the Westerner to generate such a confusion, by using the same verb in the instance of pre-eternal procession of the Holy Spirit and His providential presence within History.  Thus, it sounded reasonable that, even though the Filioque was not heretic to begin with, it is also not necessarily heretic or necessarily something different to what the East would have asserted.

Despite all the above, its roots still have to do with that difference between Western and Eastern mentality. The crucial point lies in distinguishing between oekonomia (providence) and theology; in the avoidance or not of that confusion;  in the question or not as to how it differs, and in whether the eternal status of God differs from the manner that God reveals Himself to us in oekonomia (providence).  The West never had this sensitivity, and that is the main reason the Filioque was favoured in principle. It would have been impossible for the Filioque to get started, if that prerequisite didn't exist.

So, we see that the Filioque was already expressed as early as the 4th century in Ambrose, without having a heretical inference. And it was in that sense that it was also used later on, especially in Spanish theology. It was inserted in the Creed, in Spain, in the 6th century - again out of an inability to distinguish between oekonomia (providence) and theology - because as we know, the Filioque was embodied in the Creed during the 3rd synod of Toledo, when king Reccared - a former Arian - who, like all neophytes and proselytes, extremely fanatic about his new faith and eager to support Christ's Divinity (in retaliation to Arianism which he had believed in until then), thought he was "reinforcing" that Divinity, if he asserted that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. By making that move, he obviously did not take into account the distinction between oekonomia (providence) and theology; he was unable to somehow contemplate on the matter, that the place of the Holy Spirit is different within the pre-eternal God and different in oekonomia (providence).  So, we again notice the existence of an obvious weakness. 

The Filioque had now become a part of the conflict between Franks and Byzantines with Charlemagne, who used it as a banner against the Byzantines.  For political reasons (he did not want to support that campaign by Charlemagne), the Pope did not allow the inclusion of the Filioque in the Creed. At the beginning of the 11th century, it was officially included in Rome and thereafter became generalized throughout the West.

Up until that time, various theological fermentations - which directly had to do with Western theology - had been taking place, the basic one being Augustine's assimilation by the West. Augustine's theology is clearly Western, in the following points:  He too had trouble distinguishing between theology and oekonomia (providence), and furthermore (given his keen interest in psychology), the experiencing of Man's relations with God.  He struggled to comprehend the mystery of God - and to formulate it - with the help of psychological portrayals. And those portrayals are familiar. They are borrowed from Platonic philosophy, but are adapted to the mindset of the post-Augustine Westerner.  Augustine had taken Platonism's notion of the "Nous" and applied it to God - ie, God was the par excellence Nous - then, by handling this meaning in a psychological manner, he reached the conclusion - again with the help of Platonism - that the Nous embodies three basic elements: Memory, which is the source from within which thought and knowledge are drawn; Knowledge, which springs from within memory and is the logos (the means) by which the Nous recognizes itself. And the third element is Volition or Love, with which the Nous loves itself, because that Nous - God - also identifies with Plato's absolute good, which that Nous attracts towards itself. This attraction is an imperative element in the definition of good - in the notion of good.  Attraction is the eros/love that the good, the benevolent inspires, and consequently, given that there is nothing else beyond its own self, the benevolent or the good loves itself.  Memory, therefore, as the source of all existence, and the logos as the knowledge of itself - with which the Nous is understood - and love, as the bond that joins and makes the Nous love itself by means of the logos - these form the basic lattice of inter-relations, with which the Holy Trinity could be comprehended. Thus, psychological experiences were transfused into the Holy Trinity, and that was the immense slip-up of Western theology with Augustine - which -again- is linked to that blurred distinction between theology and oekonomia (providence).  Energies and psychological situations were therefore projected within the eternal God, which had basically been borrowed from Historical experience. This immediately gave rise to the following question:  If the logos is the knowledge of God - the means by which He knows Himself - and the Spirit is love - by which God loves Himself - is it possible for God to love something that He does not have previous knowledge of?  Immediately arising is the question of the priority of knowledge vis-à-vis love.  This is a very decisive question. Augustine had already posed it, and had provided the answer, which Thomas Aquinas later repeated, in his argumentation in support of the Filioque.

Augustine had posed the following question: Is it possible for someone to love something that he has no previous knowledge of?  The answer according to him is negative: in order to love something, you must know it previously. If that is indeed how things are, then by loving Himself through the Holy Spirit Who is the Nexus Amores (the bond of love), God cannot possibly act - cannot love - without the intermediary element of knowledge, which is the knowledge by the Logos and Son. It is through the Son and Logos that God knows Himself. Consequently, the love of God (which relates to the Spirit) can only come after knowledge; or, only if the knowledge of God (through the Son and Logos) has been realized beforehand. Therefore, the Logos has priority, and the Spirit can only come from that relationship between Father and Son. The Filioque was thus based on the principle that knowledge precedes love.  In the Scholastics who analyzed all these things even more, all the above have the form of logical thoughts - of relationships between opposites - and this signifies that because persons are seen as relationships and the Spirit is likewise a relationship, a relationship cannot originate from a person; instead, for a relationship to occur, it must originate from another Father-Son relationship, in order to show the Spirit as a relationship. 

What is important, is that throughout the attempt to justify the Filioque, Western theology worked on the principle that the individual's psychological experiences can be transferred into the existence of God. In other words, it was unable to work with complete apophatism with regard to psychological experiences - something that we can observe, in the East.

In the East, psychological experiences could not be transferred into the eternal existence of God.  It was for this reason that the Hellenic Fathers had never given a definite content to the Persons of the Holy Trinity, except only to say that:  The Father is the Father, because He is not a Son (for the Father is unbegotten); the Son is not a Father (for a Son is begotten); the Spirit is likewise not a Father (for the same reason) - but He is also not a Son (because the Spirit is not begotten, but proceeds from).  Now, what that "definite content" is, and what it means to "proceed from" and "not begotten", the Fathers never permitted themselves to be preoccupied with these details. They did not allow any other content to be given either, because if they had, they would have been obliged to borrow analogies from psychological experiences (the way Augustine had) and subsequently ascribe anthropomorphic situations to God. The Fathers therefore of the East had limited themselves to this simple discernment regarding the Triadic existence of God, and they discerned between the relations that the Triadic existence of God has eternally, and the relations that He embarks on with us, during oekonomia (providence).

With Augustine - and later on with the Scholastics - the West created this confusion, for lack of that sensitivity to discern between oekonomia (providence) and theology. This was one of the problems which had been created - and it was a characteristically Western one, because we can see that it was continued, even after the period of Scholasticism in the West, when the Reformation placed new bases for the subject of God.  The Reformation returned to the Bible and refused to speak of God - outside the cadres in which the word pertaining to God appears in the Bible - because the Bible speaks of the acts and the energies of God within oekonomia (providence) - within History.

Thus, Protestant theology made oekonomia (providence) its starting point, and had now justified the Filioque in another manner, because it was unable to conceive any other Triadic relations, except for the ones that it saw within oekonomia (providence). And what it saw within oekonomia (providence) was of course the dependence of the Holy Spirit on the Son, because it is the Son Who sends forth the Spirit. So, since the Son sends forth the Spirit in oekonomia (providence) and since everything that we can comprehend about God are those things that exist in oekonomia (providence), Protestantism was led to the conclusion that the Filioque was a necessity and therefore did not reject it. Thus, it was for different reasons (albeit in essence, deep down, because Protestantism is Western and the fact that it is Western is linked to its beginnings in oekonomia (providence) and it could not abandon it when approaching God) that Protestantism also remained attached to the Filioque. This becomes obvious, when one studies contemporary Protestant theologians. 

The Filioque in this way had revealed certain basic peculiarities of Western thought. Within these peculiarities (with regard to the Filioque) the overall problem of monotheism also became apparent. Given that the Triadic relations were conceived mainly by Augustine, then, with the help of psychological meanings, what was left as a means of expressing God's transcendence was now basically God's essence.

Thus, essence was linked to God, and psychological experiences to the Holy Trinity, following which, the Holy Trinity was rendered a secondary element of God's existence; that is, the one God was the one essence, which was precedent to the Trinity. This greatly facilitated Western theology in regard to the Filioque, because by preserving the Filioque, it was allowing it to also preserve monotheism . This could not possibly happen in Eastern theology, because Eastern theology identified the one God with the Father and not the essence.  The monarchy was the Father, and consequently, if Eastern theology had accepted the Filioque, it would have accepted two principalities in God - that is, two Gods.  In all of the conflicts over the Filioque from the 9th century onwards, this problem has been constantly resurfacing.  How can someone accept the Filioque without accepting two Gods?  But for the West there is no such problem, because the one God is the essence; he is not the Father, therefore, the "level" - so to speak - of the Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one step below.  Monotheism is not affected. Consequently, the conclusion is that the Filioque poses an opportune question: as to who the one God is; as to monotheism; as to whether the one God was the essence or if He is the Father (Who is a Person and not an essence).

From the time of the Eunomians and thereafter, it was no longer possible for the Orthodox to identify the Person of the Father with the essence, according to the grand argument of the Eunomians who were opposed to the divinity of the Son. Given that the Eunomians identified essence and Father, they would assert that since the Son is not the Father, He must logically also belong outside the essence of the Father, of God, because the essence of God, when identified with the Father, exhausts its meaning in the Father. Therefore the Son is not only outside the Father, but - because the Father relates to the essence - He is automatically outside the essence also.  This matter must be an opportune one for Patristic theology; discerning between Father and essence is opportune.  Thus, since the Father is not the essence and the essence is not the Father, it is extremely important for one to state that "one God" identifies with the Father and not the essence. With regard to what?  Mainly with regard to monarchy.  So, which is the principality, the one principality, the monarchy in God, or the source?

The one God as the one source:  If it is the Father, then the Filioque cannot remain standing unless one introduces two principalities - and subsequently two Gods.  If God is not the Father, but is the essence, then there is no risk to monarchy by the Filioque.  Consequently, Western theology was able to avoid the obstacle of dual deity by keeping the Filioque, because it gave precedence to the essence .  If we do not pay attention to these discernments between the essence and the Father, and do not insist that the Father is the one God - as the source and not the essence, the one source of Divinity - then we will be westernizing Orthodox theology in a dangerous way. That, then, is the greatest difficulty that the Filioque presents to the Orthodox.

And that is the clarification - historical and cultural - of the reasons that the Filioque found such a response in the West and why it became so deeply rooted.  The West truly feels that its very identity is threatened, if the Filioque is removed from it.  And this is not a mere stubborn adherence to their tradition; it is something that touches on the psychosynthesis of the Westerner.  Its interest in psychology and in History, to the point of transfusing them into the pre-eternal God, is what really supports the Filioque in the West, and from a dogmatic point of view, poses mainly the following question for us:  How is it possible to preserve monarchy in God, if we accept the Filioque?  We Orthodox insist that the one God is the Father. It is impossible for us to accept the Filioque, for that basic reason.  To summarize, this means that the source of Divinity - the utmost point of reference in God is, for the East, the Father, not the essence.


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Transcript by: T. B.

Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 13-1-2010.

Last update: 13-1-2010.