Saturday, October 13, 2007

Godzdogz, Reflections on the Filioque

We profess in the Nicene Creed: And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son)... The phrase and the Son (Latin: filioque) has been the subject of intense controversy through the centuries between Eastern and Western Christianity.

The Godzdogz blog of the English Dominican Province offers a reflection on the Filioque controversy:
This phrase is misleadingly simple. The controversy it generated – usually referred to by its Latin form, Filioque – occasioned the first great schism in Christianity between the churches of the Latin West, which accepted its inclusion in the creed, and the churches of the (largely) Greek East, which did not. What was disputed concerned who God has revealed Himself to be.

The New Testament texts that speak of the relationship between the Spirit and the Son are concerned with God’s act of revelation in the Word incarnate; even John 15:26:
When comes the Paraclete whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, which from the Father proceeds, that one will testify about me.
This of course is the reference par excellence in favour of the procession of the Spirit from the Father alone; but the word “alone” is not found in this text; rather what it deals with is the temporal mission of the Paraclete. The Latin Fathers appealed frequently to two other texts in John: 16:14-15:
That one [the Spirit of Truth] me will glorify, because of mine he will receive and will announce [it] to you. All things which has the Father mine are. Therefore I said that of mine he receives and will announce [it] to you
and 20:22:
And this having said he breathed on [them] and says to them receive [the] Holy Spirit.
If we are sons able to call God ‘Father’ that is because we have received the Spirit of his Son. Hilary of Poitiers thought that ‘of mine he will receive’ (Jn 16:14) might have the same meaning as ‘proceeds from the Father’ (De Trin. VIII, 20), while Augustine and Anselm believed that the breathing on the disciples (Jn 20:22) implied the procession of the Spirit from the Son.

The source of Latin reflection on the mystery of the Trinity was largely Augustine who developed his teaching by a rigorous exegesis of scripture. Here he is quoting himself (Tr. In Joh. Evang.99, 8-9):
I had been teaching from the evidence of the holy scriptures that the Holy Spirit proceeds from them both. I then went on to say: So if the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, why did the Son say He proceeds from the Father (Jn 15:26)? Why indeed, do you suppose, unless it was the way he was accustomed to refer even what was his very own to him from whom he had his very self? For example, that other thing he said, My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me (Jn 7:16). If in this case we can accept that it is his teaching, which he says however is not his but the Father’s, how much more should we accept in our case that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from him, seeing that he said He proceeds from the Father without also saying ‘He does not proceed from me’?
The doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son began to be proclaimed as official church teaching in the church of Spain. It was regarded as a necessary counter to a kind of Arianism prevalent among the ruling Visigoths, which regarded the Holy Spirit as a creature of the Son just as it regarded the Son as a creature of the Father. The aim of the church there was to safeguard the consubstantiality of the Word incarnate with the Father. The Spanish church’s doctrine was shared by the churches of France and England, where by the late eighth century the term Filioque is found in the creed recited at Mass each Sunday, and where moreover it was assumed that the word had always been part of the creed of Nicaea. Things rapidly became polemical, for political as well as theological reasons. In 1014 the Roman church, under pressure from the Bavarian emperor, introduced the Frankish creed, containing the Filioque, into the Mass. When the definitive break with Constantinople occurred exactly forty years later the difference over the Filioque was one of the central points of dispute.

The fundamental Orthodox objection seems to be that it is a mistake to think of the persons of the Trinity as constituted by the relationships of their origins: their distinctness as hypostases is prior to their relationships; somehow, both the distinctness and the unity of the three hypostases are derived from the first person, the Father, who is the sole beginning and the only cause of divinity, which he communicates wholly to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the inter-personal relationships of the three are richer and more dynamic than just considering their relationship in terms of origin allows – summed up in the Greek term perichoresis – in terms of which modern Orthodox theologians explain statements of the Greek Fathers that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. Aquinas decided that we can also say this, with suitable qualifications: it is a way of stating, he says, what Augustine held, that the Son receives from the Father the power of being joint origin or ‘breather forth’ of the Holy Spirit; further, he saw it as a gesture of goodwill towards the Greek position. The concern in the West is that to omit the Filioque is to play down the fact that to name the Holy Spirit is to name not only the Father but also the Son, for the Spirit is necessarily constituted within their relationship and so related to both. The one God is the Father begetting the Son in the love of the Spirit and the Son loving the Father in the same Spirit in whom he is lovingly begotten. The Son and Spirit are both ‘God of God’ and the point of the doctrine of the Filioque is to remind us of this teaching.
What is also interesting is something John Allen brought to our attention back in 2003:
Fr. Johannes Grohe, an Opus Dei priest who teaches church history at Santa Croce, spoke on the history of church councils. He offered several interesting nuggets, such as the fact that a regional council in Persia in 410 produced one of the earliest insertions of the famed "filioque" clause into the Creed, specifying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and from the Son." This council, as Grohe points out, was an Eastern affair, and its adoption of the filioque came out of the rich theological reflection of early Persian Christianity. Hence the notion that the filioque is solely an imposition of the medieval Western Church upon the East, born of later controversies between Rome and Byzantium, is historically dubious.
Meanwhile, dialog moves forward...

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