Wednesday, May 09, 2007


In discussing the Filioque, it's often forgotten that there are in fact more than one possible Filioquist view. I was reminded of this in particular when reading Michael Liccione's post on the Filioque, which I haven't had a chance to discuss yet. Like Mike, I hold DMF -- the monarchy of the Father. Like Mike, I am a Filioquist. I even agree with a great deal of what he says in laying out his own account. However, there are a number of differences between my view of the Filioque and Mike's. For instance, I think his claim that on his account "it can also be said that the Son is begotten ex Patri spirituque," if true (I'm actually not convinced it is), would be a reductio ad absurdum of the account. For another example, I am in wholehearted agreement with CP, or at least the only reasonable and genuinely Cappodocian version of it: every real divine property must either be individual or common to all three. Unlike Mike, I don't think this is negotiable; and unlike Mike, I don't think, when properly understood, it causes any problems. And the reason, I think, is fairly clear; on my view of the Filioque, the Holy Spirit is God in his own right, with regard to possessing the essence; the Holy Spirit is from the Father alone with regard to His hypostasis; and the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son notionally. This requires some explanation. But I want to start with CP.

The only argument from CP that any Filioquist need bother with at all is the one begun by Photios; other arguments, to the extent that they can be taken seriously at all, are only versions of this. And the argument, as found in the Mystagogy, is this: Aside from the distinctively characteristic properties of the persons, whenever some property is truly possessed by distinct persons, the property shared by those persons is referred to the nature (this is, more or less, CP; I think it best not to quibble about precise formulations, because they all have to be understood a particular way in order to be consistent with things that are definitely orthodox, anyway, as we shall see). Therefore if we attribute to the Son a property distinctive of the Father, the logical consequence is to completely resolve the Father's person into the nature, extirpating the Principle of the Godhead.

Now, I think this argument is sound. I think it misses the point, since the Filioque doesn't attribute to the Son a property distinctive of the Father. But I think it's right, and identifies a point that any adequate exposition of the doctrine of Filioque must take into account. But the governing principle of the argument, or CP (in some version or other), is tricky to interpret, because while I think it's right, we must be careful as to how we understand 'shared properties'. For some properties are shared naturally and some notionally, and the two are not the same.

As Gregory of Nyssa points out it is impossible to distinguish the Persons except in respect of cause and of the cause. Thus, the Father and the Son are one in nature, and so cannot be distinguished by nature. The only way to distinguish them is by mode of existence or subsistence in that nature, i.e.: that the Son does not exist without generation, nor the Father by generation. And thus we distinguish the persons only in this way: the Father is the origin or principle, the Son is of the origin, and the Spirit is of the origin by interposition of the Son, where 'interposition' is understood to preserve his unique characteristic as the one and only begotten, despite the Spirit's also being of the origin. (It should perhaps be pointed out that Gregory's point can't be handled by the standard responses based on the essence/energies distinction, because he explicitly distinguishes the point being discussed from the essence and energies.)

But one might argue in this way. When St. Gregory makes a distinction in 'of the cause', distinguishing between (1) that which is of the cause and (2) that which is of the cause by interposition of (1), is he not assigning a property that is neither individual nor common to all? For it seems to be shared by the Spirit and the Son, and not by the Father. And the answer, I think, is clearly not. The reason is that 'of the cause' is a single description for both the Son and the Holy Spirit; but it doesn't follow from this that it posits a single property, unless we have an understanding of the term 'property' that is so expansive that even a slight difference in description would make a new property. In fact, in one phrase 'of the cause' or 'from the Father' posits two distinct properties, which is why it is susceptible of further distinction into one that is of the cause as only-begotten and another that is of the cause but by interposition.

Conversely, when I say the Father is that from which the Spirit proceeds and that by which the Son is begotten, these two descriptions, 'that from which the Spirit proceeds' and 'that by which the Son is begotten' do not indicate two distinctive properties in the Father, as if He were two people, the Origin of Procession and the Origin of the Son. In fact, the two descriptions are both incomplete and imperfect characterizations of the one distinctive property of the Father. The reason this is the converse of the point I just made about descriptions like 'from the Father' is that the reason we have to allow these descriptions, which describe two persons distinctly from another, is that they are necessary to an orthodox description of the third's distinctive property. To say that both the Son and the Spirit are from the Father is an indirect way of describing the Father's distinctive property as origin or unbegotten fontal plenitude. If we could not describe both the Son and the Spirit by this one description, 'from the Father', we would be logically committed to denying that the Father is the Principle of Godhead. Thus it is possible and, indeed, necessary, to have descriptions or notions shared by two persons and not by the third.

As I've already pointed out, though, these two-person descriptions or notions do not identify a single distinctive property, nor do they do anything more in this regard than preserve the distinctive property of the third person. They are orthodox, though -- indeed, they are necessary to orthodoxy -- and any version of CP must be understood in a way so as not to rule them out. Let those who have a problem with that take it up with the Cappadocian Fathers.

Another way to think of it is to think of it in St. Basil's terms, taking the special distinctive of the Spirit to be inseparably apprehended with the Son so as to be known "after and together with" the Son. This inseparable apprehension is in fact extremely important. Anyone who thinks they are indicating the Father are implicitly also indicating the Son from the Father and the Spirit from the Father through the Son; or they are not indicating the Father at all. Likewise, anyone who indicates the Son is indicating also the Father from whom the Son is and the Spirit who proceeds from the Father through and together with the Son, so as to be known after and together with the Son. And likewise, anyone who indicates the Holy Spirit is indicating also the Father from whom He proceeds and the Son with whom He is inseparable adjoined. We could just as easily say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests with the Son, or dwells in the Son.

Thus the question of the Filioque boils down to this: whether it is a legitimate two-person notion, or, in other words, whether it is, as understood by the West, a reasonably decent description of the way in which the Spirit is inseparably apprehended with the Son, and the Son with the Father. To say that the Spirit is from the Father and the Son is as much to say that the Father is together-with-the-Son in the procession of the Spirit, just as to say "Paul and Silvanus" is as much to say "Paul-with-Silvanus". This is why there is only one spiration; the spiration is always from the Father; but the Son is with the Father in the Spirit's being breathed forth by the Father, and thus distinctively interposes without detriment to the Spirit's full Godhead. The Son, on the other hand, is in being begotten together-with-the-Spirit from the Father(not begotten from the Father and the Spirit), and together-with-the-Father in the Spirit's proceeding, as the only-begotten who has the same Spirit as His Father.

To return to St. Photios, who is undoubtedly a saint and a God-graced theologian, but who will ever be to the West what St. Augustine is to the East: that is, a stone against which those of us who are neither saints nor God-graced theologians dash ourselves if we get too haughty. As I said, I think Photios's argument, at least in some version of it, is sound. However, I think that we Filioquists and St. Photios have been separated from each other not by any shadow of heterdoxy but by the shadow of Babel's legacy. It is right to say that properties that are not distinctive are natural; if it is understood not to require us to reject two-person descriptions like 'from the Father'. But the Filioque is such a description. It is right to say that attributing the distinctive property of the Father to the Son makes the Father an attribute of the nature and not a person. But the Filioque as presented by II Lyons and Florence does not do this. The argument contributes nothing to the dispute, at least at this point in time. If there remains an insuperable disagreement, it is elsewhere.

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