Sunday, 25 October 2009

Why I (still) confess the filioque

In theology, Eastern Orthodoxy is the new black. These days it's harder and harder to find any serious Protestant commitment to the western confession of filioque. The denomination in which I'm teaching, for instance, omits the filioque from liturgical confessions of the Nicene Creed.

In recent Protestant theology, reluctance to confess the filioque seems to arise mainly from a general ecumenical sentiment on the one hand (as though such a confession would be impolite), and from an ill-informed and stereotyped criticism of Augustine on the other (as one finds everywhere in Colin Gunton's works, for example).

In one of my recent pneumatology classes, I tried to argue for the contemporary importance of the filioque. My argument was roughly as follows: In the preaching and worship of liberal Protestant churches, there is a good deal of emphasis on the autonomy of the Spirit. The Spirit is often invoked without reference to Christ, or to the biblical narrative, or to the events of salvation-history. We have hymns and prayers that celebrate "the Spirit" as a kind of generic Spirit of creation, a benevolent life-force that is universally active and available. The role of this Spirit, presumably, is to grant unmediated religious access to God – a kind of second saviour, an alternative to Christ. I once attended a particularly ghastly eucharist service, where the bread and wine were not once related to Christ, but simply to "the Spirit" who is at work in all the gifts of creation. Such a Spirit clearly could not be said to proceed "from the Son"!

It's precisely here that the filioque could function to safeguard the church's confession of the gospel. The role of the filioque is to tie the Spirit's work indissolubly to God's act in Christ; to confess that the action of the Spirit is part of the story of salvation-history, and not some independent avenue of God's presence in the world. A Spirit who proceeds simply "from the Father" can very easily be understood as a second way of salvation, operating remoto Christo and floating free of the events of salvation-history.

Karl Barth's defence of the filioque was partly motivated by this kind of concern. He wondered whether the Eastern church's refusal of the filioque is "a reflection of the very mystically oriented piety of the East, which, bypassing the revelation in the Son, would relate human beings directly to the original Revealer, the principium or fount of deity" (Göttingen Dogmatics, 1:129-30). (I look forward to learning much more about this when Ashgate releases David Guretzki's new book on Karl Barth and the Filioque – due out next month.)

This week I've also been immersed in Volumes 12 (Berlin, 1932-1933) and 13 (London, 1933-1935) of Bonhoeffer's Works. And I've been struck by the importance of the filioque in the struggle of the Confessing Church against the Deutsche Christen. The 1933 Bethel Confession (Bonhoeffer was one of its main writers) includes a section on the Holy Spirit which foregrounds the filioque:

"The church teaches that the Holy Spirit, true God for all eternity, is not created, not made, but proceeds from the Father and the Son.... We reject the false doctrine that the Holy Spirit can be recognized without Christ in the creation and its orders. For it is always as proceeding from the Son that the Holy Spirit judges this fallen world and establishes the new order, above all nations, of the church as the people of God. Only because the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son does the church receive its mission to all nations" (Bonhoeffer, Berlin, 1932-1933, p. 399).

The notes from a 1933 pastors' conference records a discussion of this confession between Bonhoeffer and others:
In National Socialism, it is "first nature's grace, then Christ's grace. First creation, then redemption. This goes back to liberal theology. What is decisive is that the filioque is missing. The filioque means that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The German Christians want to introduce a nature spirit, a folk [Volk] spirit, into the church, which is not judged by Christ but rather justifies itself." This is "German paganism" (Bonhoeffer, London, 1933-1935, p. 48).

As I've suggested before, liberal Protestant worship can easily degenerate into similar kinds of "paganism". A rediscovery of the theological significance of the filioque may be one way, in our time, of resisting this tendency and of preserving the christological shape of Christian confession of the Trinity.


Fat said...

But the spirit has to be an autonomous entity elsewise you cannot make the spirit female.

Aric Clark said...


I strongly disagree.

Your defense of the filioque here completely ignores the history of the clause. It didn't come about as a way to prevent protestant churches from detaching the Holy Spirit from Christ. Most of the protestant churches that are guilty of what you suggest have grown into their theology while confessing the filioque so it is also, apparently, no defense against this flaw. Furthermore, the Orthodox church has retained the centrality of Christ in the eucharist without ever having confessed the filioque. Your reasoning just doesn't work for me.

You also give no response to the dominant criticisms of the filioque - that it introduces hierarchy into the trinity, and is a western innovation never accepted by the whole church and thus not deserving of a place in our most ecumenical confession.

Does it matter if the trinity is internally egalitarian?

Does it matter if we confess what the whole church confesses?

Regardless the filioque doesn't accomplish what you seem to hope it will.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating and helpful post. Thanks Ben!

Matt Jenson said...

Great pushback here, Ben. I wonder, though, if there's not a bit of sleight of hand. After all, the Eastern churches will readily assert your economic point - that the Son sends the Spirit and the Spirit witnesses and unites believers to the Son in the church. It's the immanent issue that they want to take up. You'll want to give a hearty Barthian/Rahnerian push back here, and for good reason. But I thought it worth mentioning.

in said...

The peculiar thing of course is the absence of passion in debate, how none of these things really matter, it just gist to grind (and publish) how different from the time of its formulation, O Lord make us willing to kill for you and therefore willing to die for you, anything but this floating in the bath as the blood flows out and observers discuss the glowering state of the water

Evan said...

I think Aric is correct to point out that the liberal Protestant problem here is distinct from the Eastern Orthodox problem -- but I don't think that you'd deny the distinction, and I don't think it's unhelpful to bring them up alongside one another. Matt offers the appropriate answer, of course.

What might be worth pursuing further is Barth's critique of certain pneumatological aspects of Eastern mysticism, though the quote you offer from him seems to be more of a hunch, and an actual sustained argument would have to be more substantial.

Thanks for this; I haven't seen such a Protestant backlash against the filioque, but I can certainly recognize the general tendency that you mention here. And certainly the detachment occurs even more widely than specific instances of leaving out the explicit creedal affirmation. What might be interesting is to see an Eastern critique of liberal Protestant pneumatologies -- in order to see the various fronts of the debate parsed out a little further. Often the Orthodox critiques I see try to read "liberals" or some other opposition as symptomatic of much deeper Western problems... tracing liberal pneumatology all the way back to the filioque itself, for instance. A more local critique of certain constructive pneumatologies would be good to see, though.

I wonder- how receptive were your students of your arguments?

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these comments and criticisms. As it happens, one of the students' responses was very similar to Aric's: "sure thing, but can't we just achieve all that without the filioque?" At the time, I was happy just to concede the point. (After all, I was only really offering a weak argument for the contemporary usefulness of the filioque: i.e., there are certain things that you can do with the filioque. I didn't quite feel up to the challenge of arguing for its absolute necessity.)

But if I was to try to develop the argument properly, I'd probably want to do something along the lines of Evan's suggestion: i.e., to explore Barth's critique of Eastern "mysticism", in the context of Barth's simultaneous concern (never too far from the surface) about liberal Protestant pneumatologies.

And I'd also want to try to shift the burden of proof back to the Augustine-haters, since current scholarship on Augustine (Lewis Ayres, et al.) has pretty much demolished the whole set of assumptions on which these stereotyped criticisms rest. So this part of my argument would go something like: "I think Augustine rocks. If you think he's made a mistake, prove it."

Virtual Methodist said...

Personally I don't think that Augustine rocks and that the western church is still theologically and ethically unpicking the results of his juvenile sexual proclivities... But I DO think that the filioque is a useful rider within the creed, and need not infer a hierarchy in the trinity, but does emphasise the inter-relatedness. Its function is addressed within the eastern church by an emphasis on the perichoresis within the trinity... but anything that emphasises the inter-relatedness of the persons of the trinity is a good thing. The loss of that awareness in 19th-20th century liberal German protestantism led counter-intuitively to the neo-paganism of nazism. In our own day the "spirituality" of new age paganism which is begining to pervade the post-evangelical church is the worry.

brgulker said...

I think I agree with Aric on this point:

You also give no response to the dominant criticisms of the filioque - that it introduces hierarchy into the trinity, and is a western innovation never accepted by the whole church and thus not deserving of a place in our most ecumenical confession.

If one is going to arduously defend the filioque, one must somehow argue that the West had the right to unilaterally alter an ecumenical creed.

As an analogy (deeply flawed, but perhaps helpful), Luther wanted to alter the Canon by removing certain books of the Bible -- there's a reason he wasn't successful. One person, movement, sect, or branch of Christianity can't usurp the Creeds on its own gusto. There has to be a compelling theological reason to do so, and it has to be done ecumenically. Doesn't it?

I, for one, couldn't ever buy an argument in support of the filioque if it didn't actively engage this problem from the get-go.

Anonymous said...

"We reject the false doctrine that the Holy Spirit can be recognized without Christ in the creation and its orders."

Is it a true doctrine that the Father or the Son can be recognized without the Holy Spirit?

Anonymous said...

No, but what is recognized through the Spirit IS the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit has no independent word, her word is the Word. The East never forgot this logic of inseperable operation, but we (liberal protestants) have. Perhaps the filoque is the only way we can re-ignite this understanding?

Adam Kotsko said...

I say this as a great admirer of Barth, but I've always found the "theological" critique of Nazism to be weirdly disconnected from reality. For instance, Barth's self-congratulation that the church somehow did the right thing insofar as a small sect of it rejected natural theology in the midst of Nazism strikes me as downright chilling. The test here is that you could take it the opposite direction: for instance, the lack of a viable natural theology produced a disconnect between the gospel and the world, which led to the unlimited rise of technological instrumentality that was then ultimately turned against the human race itself most horrifically in Nazism, etc. Or you could say that the artificial either/or of Christ or nature led necessarily to the embrace of natural "paganism," etc. Or basically you could make up any "theological" cause you like and congratulate yourself for bravely coming down on the right side of the debate, but that doesn't make what you're saying relevant. If anything, wouldn't it have been more immediately relevant and more obviously connected to Nazism if the church had staked its identity on the opposition to anti-Semitism rather than the somewhat obscure point of natural theology?

Mark Bowald said...

Thanks for this Ben, it is a timely line of inquiry.

The abstraction of the work and activities of the Holy Spirit from the material shape and character of the work of Christ is, to my mind, one of the most important and problematic theological issues in our time. And it is prevalent. Theological "reflection" on the church, worship, mission, and in my first areas of research, theological hermeneutics and the interpretation of Scripture all have been influenced deeply by this tendency.

I don't believe it is reductionist to suggest that in many of the examples one finds, the primary thing motivating the abstraction is a desire to loosen the bonds that some feel arise from the uniqueness that is normally attributed to Christ in our creeds confessions and theologies. An anonymous "Spirit" is more friendly and congenial, a divine welcome wagon.

I am deeply sympathetic to your line of thinking here as a corrective. However I doubt that winning a battle over how one reads Augustine would have much impact on many of those who desire an anonymous Spirit (and an anonymous God). Papa Gus is (for them) just another cog in the system of white (sic) oppression that is historical Christianity, just another Agent Smith in the Matrix.

David said...

Yes, many thanks Ben. Personally while agreeing with Mark on the size of the task at hand I also think that reminding those who desire a "loose canon" Holy Spirit" that their Spirit is not the Christian Holy Spirit can't hurt. It may give some pause for thought. I have found that students at least have allowed theological habits like inseparable operation to shape their thought and, as the next generation of ministers in liberal protestant denominations, the work of Ayers and others is helping with them in avoiding the old East/West tritheism/monotheism silliness. The generation who see Papa Gus as Agent Smith are beyond help, but work like Ayers' and Eugene Rogers "After the Spirit" as well as timely reminders such as Ben's from Bonhoeffer can maybe etiolate their influence on the next generation of ministers. Here's hoping! :)

d barber said...

What's wrong with paganism?

d barber said...

what i mean is -- are you saying any and all paganism is national socialism? surely not, right?

John Hartley said...

Dear Ben,

Thanks for one of the most interesting posts I've read for a long time.

I think there are two different questions about the filioque which get confused in your post: (a) is it helpful? and (b) is it true? I think they should be kept firmly apart.

I think you're quite right to draw attention to the tendency to decouple the Spirit from the Son in churches nowadays, and to say that the filioque clause is helpful in that it resists this temptation. It helpfully points us back to biblical texts in which Jesus said that he would send the Spirit, and the Spirit's ministry would be to take what was already Jesus' and make it known to the disciples, and so on. So I agree about the helpfulness of the clause.

I think the truth question is much harder to put into words. Words like "essential" and "economic" hover in my mind as I try to recall lectures on the nature of the Trinity.

It has been suggested to me that the negotiations between East and West could perhaps have been solved by adopting a clause like "proceeding from the Father through the Son", and I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. It safeguards the connection between the Spirit and the Son, for it forces us Christians to go back to Jesus in our thinking about the ministry of the Spirit - but at the same time it perhaps avoids, or at any rate reduces, the impression of a hierarchy in God's nature.

Yours in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY

Jo said...

I think that it is an interesting point that you make for the contemporary importance of the filioque and that perhaps I should indeed be more aware of connecting the Spirit to the Father or to the Son in services. However, my question would be is not the Spirit a member of the Trinity in his/her own right? Augustine does seem to imply a kind of hierarchy into the Trinity, as I think Aric mentions, is this good theology? Doctrine really isn’t my bag but I would like to know your response here.

Anonymous said...

As a regular lurker of this blog, thanks for the post. I've been moving more toward the direction of the Orthodox Church and I think it's good to listen to the pro-filioque side of things, though I have to admit that, coming from a strong Reformed Calvinist background, the "Eastern Church" sure as heck has some good grounds for rejecting it, based on what I've been reading.

Can someone please enlighten me about Barth's critique against "Eastern mysticism"? Does it have to do with a rejection of Palamas' essence/energy distinction, or the charge that it is a kind of nominalism?

That said, I think more Protestant theologians should start looking deeper into some of rich, penetrating theological insights of Alexander Schmemann and John Zizioulas, which on a more personal note have really shaken up my Reformed Protestant theological outlook of worship, Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Perhaps this is partly what Ben means by EO being the new "black."

Again, thanks for the post.


David said...

The argument usually offered for the filoque is the same one that is used against modalism. Salvation is predicated upon relationship with God. Relationship with God is predicated upon knowledge of God. Knowledge of God is given to us by God in the economy of salvation (God's revelatory self disclosure). In order for salvation then, the God we encounter in salvation history must be God as God is in himself. Otherwise we would only come to know God in the economy of salvation and not God in himself and so, not really knowing God, we couldn't have a relationship with God necessary for the fullness of salvation.

It's a bit like salvation is predicated upon us coming to be cuplike. We must first see the cup and then be moulded into a cuplike thing in relationship with this cup (the old patristic maxim "we are transformed into the one we see"). Now if we're not seeing a cup but, instead, a toaster, then we'll relate to a toaster and be transformed into a toasterlike thing! And this is not what we ought to be transformed into!

SO, given that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son in the economy of salvation the Spirit MUST proceed from the Father and the Son in God himself. Otherwise the God we come to know in salvation is not God as He is in Himself and so we're not relating to God himself and so can't be saved (or at least have the 'fullness' of salvation - my RC roots are showing here ;) )

This is the basic argument (and there are probably other, better, ones too) but it works for me as I agree with Ben that the filoque is useful and I also agree, based on arguments such as the one above, that it's true.

David said...

And we should remember that every time someone repeats the old error that Augustine introduces hierarchy into the Trinity Lewis Ayres pinches a baby.

Alex Tracy said...

As someone who's working on these very questions in relationship to preaching, I found this post fascinating. I have to start by saying that I can appreciate Ben's concerns. Having said that, the Methodist in me is wary of restricting the role of the Holy Spirit to "simply" being the Spirit of Christ (in the sense of the Spirit that Christ gives and which comes after him into the church). I want to keep a prevenient role for the Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation that I feel is excluded by Ben's proposal. (Forgive me if I'm misreading here.) One reason for my hesitancy is the Apostle's Creed and the gospel narratives: it is the Holy Spirit which facilitates (for lack of a better word) the Incarnation itself.

It seems to me that much of contemporary theology has tried so hard to draw a straight line from Christ to the church (to avoid the church functioning as some kind of bad quasi-Derridean supplement) that we have overly conflated the work of Christ and that of the Spirit. What if we really took seriously the idea that the Spirit does establish us in a direct relationship with God, but that it is Christ's atoning work that enables that relationship to be a positive thing? Granted, talking about Christ in terms of removal of human guilt for sin is not popular these days, but I'm starting to think that old Mr. Wesley was on to something in keeping that distinction.

Anonymous said...

This is the sort of theological hair-splitting that divides and distracts Christianity.

Anonymous said...

disregarding 1500+ years of history to provide an adaptation and growing point for american protestant evangelical theology is, well, kind of ridiculous. it's completely self-absorbed... which actually reflects our time and place quite well.

Myk Habets said...

I am surprised Ben - I picked you for someone who would reject the filioque - but then again, I underestimated your committment to Barth:-) I think you have to make it clear if you are subscribing to the doctrine of doubl procssion or common procession - the disitnction is crucial, and then show, under that construct (whichever you choose), how to account for the monarchy of the Father/God or otherwise, and how to account for any subordiantionism that is there. Now that would be interesting. Of course, if you had of come to my paper at the Barth conference you would have seen my own 'solution'. You will have to wait for: Myk Habets, Filioque? Nein. A Proposal for Coherent Coinherence.’ In Trinitarian Theology After Barth. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eds. Myk Habets and Phillip Tolliday. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications. :-)

John Z said...

Fascinating post, Ben... great food for thought.

Jon said...

I'm asuming that John Z isn't John Zizioulas... Cause no doubt he would unleash all his Eastern Orthodox fury upon you!

Jo said...

Thanks David. Augustine I know but never heard of Lewis Ayres so don't think he has any chance of pinching this baby! What ever our theology it is always good to ask questions - how else do we grow?

kim fabricius said...

I appreciate what you are saying here, Ben. In my "Propositions on the Holy Spirit" I write of the advantage of the filioque providing "a specific (Christological) content and criterion for discerning the spirits, a guard against lapsing into natural theology, pantheism, and fuzzy mysticism." In the end, however, I opt for the generally accepted ecumenical phrase "from the Father through the Son". I guess my question would be: how does this expression not do the work that the filioque does? If Ayres is correct, there certainly is no cause for concern over the inseparability of the (economic) operations of the trinitarian personae, as he suggests that Augustine himself simply accepted it as part of the pro-Nicene tradition he inherited. Ayres also insists that the Cappadocians and Augustine were united in "a shared commitment to the beliefs that God was one power, nature, and activity; that there could be no degrees of divinity; [and] that the divine persons were irreducible although sharers in the divine being without ontological hierarchy." In short, I am not persuaded that the filioque clause is necessary to secure the non-negotiable point that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Son

But I have another concern, converse to your own. Granted the false humility and unacceptable religious pluralism of the liberals, what about the arrogance and exclusivism of the conservatives who refuse to acknowledge the presence in the world of (forget the "anonymous" Spirit) the "anonymous Christ", refuse to accept that the Lord may be served by those who do not knowingly know him, which I take to be the burden of the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (there will be pagans – cf. d barber – who go “Baa”)? That is, if, in theory, the filioque forestalls the vapid pneumatology of the liberals, might it not fuel the triumphalist Christology – and ecclesiology – of the conservatives?

Which brings me to my final point. Filioque or no filioque, the (literally) crucial thing, I think, is (as Rowan Williams writes) the "suspicion of pneumatology as something tempted to bypass the cross." But then Blake – your picture – could have told you that.

Mark Bowald said...

Three years ago I thought it might be interesting to read through the 5 volumes of Augustine's Tractates on John to see if I could detect some patterns as to how the hermeneutic he sketches in De Doctrina Christiana looked in practice. I was, as of then, unaware of Ayres work on the subject or the controvery surrounding Augustine's supposed separation of Trinitarian agency.

One of the interesting things that emerged clearly in my reading was that Augustine consistently saw all three members of the Trinity acting equally and perenially when one member was indicated in the narrative. I summarized this and presented it at a conference in Toronto at which Ayres gave a keynote. (Along with John Webster: The two of them together on stage for a lengthy q and a at one point.....the best 90 minutes I have spent at a conference in years...)

I am subsequently convinced that Ayres is correct about Augustine, and also of the benefit that Ben points to in working out contemporary implications of "the clause." Maybe someone will take up this task and assist in also sorting out the real from the imagined dangers of "hierarchy"?

scott kirkland said...

Interesting post Ben, thanks. What do you make of Weinandy's reformulation that the Father begets the Son in/by the Spirit? I think that his thesis could potentially alleviate your concerns over the autonomous Spirit, but also prevents Christology being severed from Pneumatology unhelpfully.

Anonymous said...

The phrase Aric uses — “a Western innovation never accepted by the whole church” — is very telling. For what it does is to reduce “the whole church” to Eastern Orthodoxy. After all, if the statement had read “a Western innovation never accepted by the Orthodox,” it would have been factually true. But if “the whole church” is substituted, then a reduction has occurred. Obviously, “the whole church” is divided on this question.

For myself, as a member of the PC(USA), the creeds are authoritative only insofar as they are adopted and promulgated by my church – and interpreted by our confessions. That’s our polity. I would have to become something else to depart from it. The problem for us today is that most theologians operate as independent contractors, rather than as doctors of a particular church. And their “ecumenism” points back to a phase of the church’s existence which no longer exists.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with the necessity of the filioque, I think we should watch out not to chain down the Spirit, just because it's more convenient for us in the sense that errors are less likely to be made.
The wind blows where it wishes etc.

Btw it seems to me the problems described in the post (liberal theology's thinking every flower blooming is the living spirit at work, or the paganism of nazi germany and what it called christianity) are just as much problems of lack of balance in the Trinity, sometimes forgetting Christ or the Father.
A focus only on the Father or a focus only on the Son can have just as devastating consequences.
I'm not sure the filioque is really the point where the errors are made instead of just imbalanced ways of thinking of the Trinity.

Aric Clark said...


You've sparked some good conversation here. Props for that. I've certainly been thinking about it the past few days.

One thought that is recurring for me is that I don't think the standard narrative around Barth and Barmen is very helpful. It is the fallacy of using a Hitler analogy in an argument. Everything to do with national-socialism is so out of bounds, so patently immoral that everyone is forced to agree with your conclusions. Barth was right. The German Christians were wrong. Natural theology leads to the holocaust. Boom. Argument over.

I know you aren't saying anything as simple as that, but do you really mean to imply that the filioque somehow has the power to prevent genocide? Or that contemporary protestant pneumatologies are really analogous to theological justifications of the final solution?

Does doctrine even function this way? Seems to me that there are plenty of doctrinally orthodox people who are total assholes, and heterodox folks who are quite saintly. Is it likely that any doctrine, no matter how sound, is a good defense against evil?

Aric Clark said...

@ Anonymous,

My statement was not intended as a reduction the way you describe. I did not say the filioque was rejected by the whole church - which would indeed have limited the whole church to eastern orthodoxy, but rather that it had not been accepted by the whole church. It obviously has been accepted by some, even the majority, of the church. The usual standard for the ecumenical confessions however has been "the whole church", which the filioque clause does not meet. I am a pastor in the PC(USA) and that fact matters to me more than the accident of history which places my denomination in the western stream, and thus the filioque confessing, branch of the church.

Hill said...

How would you handle the doctrines defined at Chalcedon? There are still very vibrant branches of Christianity that formally reject them. This issue doesn't manifest itself as clearly in the Creed, but would you feel uncomfortable confessing that Christ is one person with two natures, one divine and one human, given that this was not accepted by a significant portion of the church?

nate kerr said...

Ben and others:

Just a quick thought before I head to bed. I'm tired so hopefully this is coherent. But I've been thinking about this today and wanted to post if only to avoid the fact that not doing so would prevent me from sleeping.

Could it be said that the filioque (and there is some support for this in Augustine) is also concretely about the way in which the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ as only and without reserve the Spirit of the singular human being Jesus. Sure, Eastern Orthodoxy articulates the way in which the Spirit proceeds from the Father, through the Son. But is it perhaps the case the Eastern Orthodox thought is here driven by an understanding of the "cosmic Christ" in which the Son/Logos is in surplus of the human Jesus? So the "Son" through whom the Spirit proceeds and by whom the Spirit is sent is the cosmic Christ as a kind of logos asarkos? This would be a stronger argument of the filioque than the "weak argument" you were admittedly offering. The problem then with the East (and I am over-generalizing here, to be sure) is not just its "mysticism" divorced from the Son (as with Barth), but precisely its Christ-mysticism.

J said...

The catholics themselves grant the "filioque" was added. Really, it's not so much theological as political; western kings and nobles used the filioque (and papists) as a bargaining chip when they wanted to affirm their power, and call the greeks, russians, slavs infidels, or something.

That said, the Eastern church fathers were not mistaken in perceiving the mystic Christ of the gospels (esp. Iohannes). Nor was Augustine. They weren't nominalists, but closer to neo-platonism, however troubling to calvinists (or anglican-calvinists). The nominalism--and naturalism-- crept in with ... Aristotle, arguably (and perhaps the filioque itself)

Anonymous said...


The fact that you are a PC(USA) pastor leads me to ask another question. It is one of the central theological commitments of the Reformed tradition that creeds and confessions are reformable; they are not taken as bearing absolute material authority. They can be changed when the people of God become convinced, in the light of Holy Scripture, that they need to be. The Westminster Confession, for example, has undergone several changes. We all understand that - and the need for it. But creeds too only have a relatively binding authority. That is true even of the Nicene Creed. A proposed change of the Creed (even one which calls only for the restoration of the original text) would involve a change in our Book of Confessions (which would be subject to a barrier procedure as you know). The question then becomes: on what grounds would you argue for a restoration of the original text? The mere fact that the Orthodox don't accept the Western addition? In all honesty, I have to say that the Orthodox position has been, from the beginning, as much and as little an "accident of history" as the Reformed acceptance of the Western addition. On both sides, serious theological considerations were in play in the decisions made - which means that the case can only be decided theologically, not historically. And that also means: in a manner that is faithful to the witness of Scripture. The fact that the Orthodox don't accept the filioque proves nothing where the truth of that doctrine is concerned.

In any event, you are obviously free to bring a proposed overture to the church, asking for a rejection of the filioque. But I would think that, in a Reformed church, the argument that something is not accepted by the Orthodox cannot, by itself, be decisive. It provides an occasion for a discussion, nothing more.

Anonymous said...


Can you point me into a direction where I could learn more about Barth's criticism of the East of its "'mysticism' divorced from the Son (as with Barth)."

This keep popping up and I'm not sure what that really means.

Permit me to quote from Vladimir Lossky's "Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.":

"For St. Maximus the incarnation and deification correspond to one another; they mutually imply each other. God descends to the world and becomes man, and man is raised towards divine fullness and becomes god, because this union of two natures, the divine and the human, has been determined in the eternal counsel of God, and because it is the final end for which the world was created out of nothing. One would suppose from some modern critics that St. Maximus held a doctrine similar to Dons Scotus: if original sin had not taken place, Christ would have become incarnate anyhow, in order to unite created being and the divine nature in Himself. However, as we have seen, when examining the teachings of St. Maximus on creation, Adam was destined to unite in his own being the different spheres of the cosmos, in order that deification might be conferred upon them, through union with God. If these unions and successive 'syntheses' that surmount the natural divisions are brought about by Christ, it is because Adam failed in his vocation. Christ achieves them successively by following the order which was assigned to the first Adam."

Derek D.

Anonymous said...

The quote is found from pp. 136-137.

Lossky goes to great lengths to point out that when the Eastern Orthodox talk about "mysticism," they are first and foremost referring to deification/divinization/theosis, as properly understood within the framework of the dogmas of the Church. Further, Lossky lays out how deification necessarily involves the economy of all three persons of the Trinity.

That said, and that said alone, is what has me baffled with what has been said here on this blog, on Barth's critique of the "mysticism" of the East, as if it where some vague, subjective enterprise.

Derek D.

nate kerr said...


In addition to the passage from Gottingen Dogmatics that Ben points to in his post above, I'm thinking of those passages throughout Church Dogmatics II/1, where Barth speaks of the tendency to interpret faith "in the direction of mysticism," understood as a relation of God's "immediacy" to some "mysterious interior level" of humanity (57). He explicitly associates this with what he calls the "hesychastic" teachings of Gregory Palamas, whose "doctrine of an eternal and uncreated light which could yet be communicated to the creature" led in the "Greek Church" to an "imperious desire to have a direct mystical experience of the power of God" (331-32). For Barth, this mysticism is explicitly a denial of participation in God as mediated by the man Jesus, the crucified Son of God (56).

Now, I'm not saying that Barth got Palamas and the East right here at all. Panayiotis Nellas's book Deification in Christ clearly confirms the Christic framework for deification in the East, and Georgios Mantzaridis’s The Deification of Man shows how this Christic logic is thoroughly at work in Palamas. This is why I described the mysticism of the East as a "Christ-mysticism." Your quote from Lossky and your explanation of it actually confirms my suspicions here, though. Deification is "in Christ" as the "pattern" for the Incarnation is in principle distinct from the singular human being Jesus of Nazareth. The incarnation is accidental to the eternal existence of the Son (though "fitting," no doubt) and successive with regards to the "order assigned to the first Adam." Part of Barth's criticism of mysticism is that it forgets the precise nature of the divine "before" that is God's eternity (624), which for Barth is the eternal decision to be "God with us" in Jesus Christ. My only point is that the filioque only really makes sense if that eternal divine "before" is the singular human being Jesus of Nazareth. I'm not sure the East has ever thought this consistently. I'm not sure it has been thought consistently in the West either; but insofar as it has, this has been (the good) part of what has pushed it in the direction of confessing the filioque.

Tyler Wittman said...


Is the copy of the Gottingen Dogmatics you linked to a combination of vols 1 & 2? Or is it just vol 1? I'm having trouble finding a vol 2 anywhere online.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Tyler. The Göttingen Dogmatics is published as 3 volumes in German. The first two German volumes were translated and published as a single English volume. Eerdmans has always planned to publish a translation of the remaining volume, but I have no idea if or when it will appear (or if any of the translation has been done).

Tyler Wittman said...

That clears things up, thanks!

You know, if your German is good and you have some extra time on your hands, you could always call Eerdmans up . . .

Anonymous said...

Not just Gunton but Zizioulas and Jenson find problems with Augustine's handling of this issue - but maybe they are not as informed as you (and more inclined to stereotypes)! LOL

Acolyte4236 said...

Regardless of De Regnon or not, Augustine’s view was speculative at the time and in that sense and to that degree innovative.

The two options given are that the procession is hypostatic or temporal, but since there is a real need for an eternal procession, it must be hypostatic. But if there is space for a procession that is eternal and not hypostatic, then why go the further route of positing a hypostatic procession when you can secure everything a hypostatic procession does by say the eternal energetic procession through the Son articulated by say Gregory of Cyprus or the “shinning forth” mentioned by Maximus?

Acolyte4236 said...


You do a fine job of summarizing the theological argument for the filioque based on an isomorphic relationship between the economia and the theologia. I’d offer a few objections/problems to consider.

First, it depends on the kind of divine simplicity that Augustine endorses from middle/late Platonism. Without it, the inference from the economia to the theologia won’t go through. And from a Protestant perspective, one is going to have a hard time finding an exegetical ground for that notion of simplicity.

Second, the skeptical worry is ill founded for it turns on the assumption that the activities are anhypostatic, that is the persons are not in their activities. One doesn’t have to have exhaustive disclosure to have genuine disclosure. Revelation can still be genuine without isomorphism here.

Third, why assume that if the divine essence is always unknowable that what we know of God in his activities isn’t also genuinely divine? Again, this is only a problem if we hold to the kind of simplicity that Augustine thinks is necessary.

Fourth, the Spirit is said to be sent in the economy, not to proceed in the economy. The Spirit is always and only said in Scripture to proceed from the Father.

Acolyte4236 said...

Anon to Aric,

You seem to want to make some hay about the fact that for the Reformed,the creeds are of derivative authority and that the question nees to be settled on theological grounds and not historical.

I would push this even further, which I think presents a serious problem for the view you are advancing. The teaching has to be justified not on theological grounds, but exegetical grounds and that first, and I dare say without the aid of philosophical theology and specific committments from it or at least some form of it, the exegetical case for the Filioque is at this point self admitedly by Protestant exegetes, conservative or liberal is rather weak to non-existent.

Acolyte4236 said...

Nate Kerr,

If Barth’s criticism were right, then Rahner is wrong since Rahner’s rule as a key principle in the argument for the Filioque was in the service of the goal of a direct knowledge of God in the beatific vision. One it seems can’t maintain both points against the Orthodox.

As for his gloss on the mediation of Christ, he is right to see the locus there, which is just to say that they do not have the same Christologies, particularly when Barth attributes a Gnomic will to Christ. I suspect it is due to the overall Reformed view sketched by Muller in his Christ and the Decree. The Orthodox simply differ with Barth and the Reformed tradition on the notion of Christ as predestined.

That said, I’d offer this friendly suggestion as a way to think about this. It is not that the incarnation is accidental to the eternal existence of the Son, but rather energetic, which is neither accidental nor substantial in Aristotle’s first sense of substance. The East’s view then straddles this metaphysical divide without the need for predestination applying to Christ in the way the Reformed tradition tended to see it. Since Christ is the imago dei the incarnation was the plan all along. We are made in his image, not the other way around. Christ is not then, contra Augustine and Thomas, the paradigm example of predestination and grace because this framework is built on the back of an Arian subordinating and dialectical framework.

Anonymous said...

@ Derek:
Maximus does indeed have a supralapsarian christology. I will be exploring this in an article soon.


David said...

Thank you, Acolyte, for your thoughtful and nuanced responses. I don't think we're that far apart at all. I'm not really married to the filoque, in fact I offered my students (last year in a course on the Trinity) a $100 dollar prize if they could write an essay showing me why it mattered. While assuming I would be unconvinced no matter what I was willing to pay out on an approach that focussed on the doctrine of revelation, and would probably also have paid out for an argument similar to the one Ben made. My money though stayed in my wallet!
So I don't actually think my summation works either. Not because the principle (that if salvation is predicated upon knowledge of God and we only know God in God's self disclosure then the God revealed in the economy must be not different from God in Godself) is wrong, but simply that the God we meet in revelation gives no indication of the Spirt's proceeding from the Son, or at least none so clear that I'd not happily agree to differ over it.
I think, echoing some of your points, that I would take very seriously Augustine's claim that "It was through that Wisdom that all things were made; and that Wisdom passes also into holy souls and makes them friends of God". I don't think of Augustine's account of revelation as a removal of a veil allowing for a "sight" or a disclosure of information but the removal of the veil, rather, is spatial, the veil more akin to the veil of the temple, removed to allow for an encounter, a flow between God's self and the receiver of this in faith.
I argued in a little book called Nietzsche and Theology that Barth, in fact, shares this Augustinian understanding as revelation is a gift, not about God but, of God.
The very intimacy of this encounter means that we see from such a close embrace that we can't see perfectly clearly. I think the procession of the Spirit is suitably hazy and there's no way I'd "go to the mattresses" over it.

Dick Wolff said...

I find that helpful. Not being an academic, much of what's written above loses me, but it seems to me there's a fourth 'person' involved in the scene: namely, me/us the subjective perceiver/s. I've long been left quite cold by talk of 'essence' and 'substance' which feel static and obscure whereas the images in Scripture seem to be much more dynamic and relational.
Seems to me that underlying this is the question of revelation : "how do I have a relationship with God, and can I ever know that I have?" And the Spirit, it seems to me, is the means by which that relationship is initiated by God and marked as an experience of the most holy God, not the experience of some other (created) god or spirit - of which there are many (as Kim Fabricius suggests).
As a result, I cannot get too excited about the right sequence of the dynamic process that the filioque seems to be describing - doesn't Acts recall Peter being surprised that some Christians he came across had never heard of let alone received the Holy Spirit? - but I'm much more interested in the question of discernment of the spirits.

Rod said...

What a great blog conversation! There seems to be two main issues mixed together here...

1. How does the inclusion/exclusion of the filoque clause affect our understanding of the 'nature' of God (for want of a better term)?

2. Was it okay to change the only truly 'ecumenical' creed in history, regardless of how much our theological understanding has developed?

For me, the Nicene Creed is a reminder of the attempt of the early church to articulate what the church confesses in common, given the understanding at the time. I doubt those who formed it expected us to be debating it 1600 years later, in much the same way Paul didn't really have us in mind when writing the letters!

When I say the Nicene Creed, my understanding of the Trinity is not limited to the words on the page (as if we can somehow capture God with words anyway!). The inclusion/exclusion of the filoque does not 'lock in' any particular theological understanding or position. Rather, it is a reminder for me of what happens when the church works together in affirming their faith in our awesome and mysterious God.

I wonder what legacy can be left by the Body of Christ today... what truly ecumenical words and actions can be done today, that will be discussed (and blogged?) by the faithful of tomorrow?

Scott R. Harrington said...

To fail to read the great work of Christian theology, "The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit" is to fail to understand the Filioque controversy. To fail to understand John 15:26 is to fail to understand why the Filioque is heretical; Christ says it is heretical, because He says the "Spirit proceeds from the Father" alone. See: Joseph P. Farrell, trans. St. Photios. The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press. God bless all of you. In Erie PA USA Scott R. Harrington

Anonymous said...

"... even today the East still regards this Filioque as a falsification of the old ecumenical creed and as clear heresy. However, similarly, to the present day those Catholic and Protetsant dogmatic theologians of the West who attempt to make what is claimed to be the central dogma of Christianity credible to their contemporaries with every possible modernization and new argument (usually in vain) hardly seem to be aware that they are interpreting the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit no so much in the light of the New Testament as in the light of Augustine" [HANS KUNG, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH: A SHORT HISTORY. New York: Modern Library, 2001; p. 51.]. In Erie PA USA Scott R. Harrington

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