ex Patre Filioque?

Jaroslav Pelikan, before his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, remarked:

If there is a special circle of the inferno described by Dante reserved for historians of theology, the principal homework assigned to that subdivision of hell for at least the first several eons of eternity may well be the thorough study of all the treatises–in Latin, Greek, Church Slavonic, and various modern languages–devoted to the inquiry: Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father only, as Eastern Christendom contends, or from both the Father and the Son (ex Patre Filioque), as the Latin Church teaches?

This controversy mind you, has seen more ink spilled than the various protestant battles over say, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, or Dispensationalism vs. Covenant Theology, or Open Theism vs. Molinism vs. Calvinism.  Like the few evangelical prostestants who have even bothered to bat an eye toward this oldest of theological battles, I find myself in some sympathy with Rome. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son?  Well, why not?  Then again, like most evangelicals, I cannot profess to be sufficiently read on the issue.  I shall proceed, nonetheless to pontificate on the matter as if I were.  Let me just take a few of issues that appear to be in serious contention:

1.  Should the west have altered the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed to include the Filioque?

It seems there might be some legitimate points on both sides.  The cannons of the Council of Ephesus in 431 expressly anathematizes anyone who adds to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.  Further, if as the Orthodox maintain, there is no authority save Christ higher than the ecumenical creeds, then the West by inserting the Filioque, appears to have overstepped its authority.  Moreover, why didn’t the West, in the spirit of charity, simply remove the addition after they learned of the strong objections by the eastern patriarchs.

Rome on the other hand argues that the Filioque is most definitely not an addition to the creed.  Rather it is a clarification.  It is not something novel, but something already contained in the faith, consitent with the meaning of the Creed.  Further, the Filioque became a vital tool in the West in the ongoing battle against Arianism, and it simply could not have been casually “removed.”

2.  Is the Filioque a dogma, a heresy, or a theologoumenon?

Well, that depends on who you ask.  In the East, many see the doctrine as heresy.  Other see it as pretty close to it, or at least something that has brought about wholesale decay in Western theology and society.  Rome sees it as dogma.  Protestants have been something of a mixed bag.  Calvin dismissed it as pseudo-controversy.  Anglicans are more than willing to drop the clause to preserve the peace.  Evangelicals…well…evangelicals have never heard of it.

And it seems everyone appeals to the Fathers on this matter: The East to Athanasios, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Palamas, and the West to Hilary, Ambrose, and Augustine.

I must say that I find it hard sometimes to understand why this is so grave a matter.  Why must it necessitate the splitting of the Church?  After all, thus far, the Spirit appears content to let the matter lie in controversy rather than hasten his Church to another ecumenical council to decide on the matter (Imagine that!  Another ecumenical council in our time!).  But my misgivings here may be due more to ignorance.  Nevertheless, I am not moved by some Eastern Orthodox polemics that the Filioque somehow “depersonalizes” the Spirit, or that it has led to authoritarianism, institutionalism, clericalism and other vile ‘isms, in the West.

At the same time, if the Filioque is interpreted in a way that denies that the Father is the sole Principle (aρχή) or Source or Fountain-head of deity, then it cannot be right. 

3.  Is there any hope for rapproachment between the East and the West

Well I trust there might be. 

Many have recomended that the West altogether simply remove the clause from the Creed.  After all, it is argued, the threat of Arianism is not as it once was.  As a matter of theology, perhaps both East and West could hold to one of the following:

— the Spirit proceeds from the Father of the Son;
— the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son;
— the Spirit proceeds from the Father and receives from the Son;
— the Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son;
— the Spirit proceeds from the Father and shines out through the Son.   

Will this one issue heal the divisions between East and West?  Probably not.  But it would help.  I cannot help but read John 17 and long for that day.


21 Responses to ex Patre Filioque?

  1. Heather says:

    Thanks for writing about such a complicated and “controversial” topic. I tend to agree with you…although I have not studied the opinions and writings of many of these scholars, I think the central issue stems from people trying to understand the trinity. From all that I have read and taught on the concept, I find this to be one of the most mysterious aspects of God’s character. I also find it fascinating that His person is so complex that most of its interworkings are left as a mystery for us to ponder.

  2. Xavier says:

    Well said Heather.

  3. Gary Veazey says:

    Is there any Scripture to reveal/support from where or from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds? If, not, why do we think He has to proceed from any part of the Trinity? He, himself, is God, like the other two persons of the Godhead. He proceeds from the Godhead on His own. He has His own ministry as do the Father and Son. I do not believe he proceeds from either one. Also, creeds are of man, Scripture is of God. We must never put man’s word above God’s Word. That is how cults and false religions begin.

  4. Xavier says:

    The language of “begotteness” and “procession” are essential and orthodox notions that help us talk about the three hypostasis in God and avoid heresies like Arianism, Modalism or Tritheism. The Son is begotten (not made) of the Father as “light from light, true God from true God” in an eternal act of generation (or begetting). The Spirit proceeds from the Father in an eternal procession. The Father Himself is niether begotten, nor proceeds. The early Christians used the language of “begotteness” (or generation) and “procession” as it reflected Scriptural languge. See concerning the Son: John 1:18; 3:16, Heb. 1:5. On the Spirit: John 14:26; 15:26.

    Whether this procession is of the Father alone or of both the Father and the Son is the matter that is disputed between the East and West and there are significant theological ramifications that result if one is true and the other false.

    Regarding the Ecumenical Creeds, they are the Creeds of the Church and not merely “of man.” They are authoritative insofar as they are true.

  5. Gary says:

    To address your last paragraph first, remember the Church is made up of people “man,” Albeit, saved man, but still man none the less. Whenever man begins to try and write creeds, many misinterpretations, personal belief prejudices, etc. begin to manifest themselves in the creed. That’s why there are so many of them. Even if a creed is as solidly based as can be on Scripture, it still is not Scripture and should not be considered as authoritative as Scripture. For me, a creed is not authoritative over me at all. True, they can be used as reminders and to demonstrate one’s (or a local church’s) beliefs, but they aren’t much different or better than a statement of faith.

    Now on to the next item at hand, concerning the Holy Spirit and the two passages in John.

    First, both John 14:26 and 15:26 use the identical Greek word “pempo” concerning the Holy Spirit being sent. John 14:26 says the Father will send Him. John 15:26 says the Son will send Him from the presence of the Father. Arndt and Gingrich say the word means “to send somone out.” Colin Brown says it speaks of the “mere fact of sending.” Vines includes information from Cremer’s Lexicon of N.T. Greek which says the word “denotes the mission He has to fulfil and the authority which backs Him.”

    Next, in John 15:26, the English word “proceeds” or “proceedeth” are translations of the Greek word “ekporeuomai” which meands “to go forth” or “to go out”; “to proceed out of.” Arndt and Gingrich say it literally means “to go out” and can also be used to mean “go in and out from.”
    Colin Brown says the word speaks of “sole descent.”

    I don’t know if this is related to this idea of “proceed” but perhaps we can gain some insight from how and when the Holy Spirit was used as recorded in Scripture. Before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was not a permanent, constant force on the earth or in believing man. The Holy Spirit came upon people (indwelled) for periods of service to God, sometimes also being taken away in times of sin and disobedience (e.g., King Saul, Samson, etc.). Since Christ’s death and resurrection, He (Christ) is no longer physically on the earth nor omnipresent all over the earth, therefore, since Pentecost the Comforter, the Holy Spirit was sent as a permanent indwelling advocate present in the lives of all believers all over the world.

    All I can tell you is that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Scripture tells us that so I believe it by faith. Each has His own particular ministry in the world and in our lives. The apple has a peel, meat, and seeds, but are all apple with different functions, but they are all still apple.

    Thanks for listening.

  6. Xavier et al. — One thing that surprised me to learn was that divisions between the “East” and the “West” head back to the 4th and 5th centuries. The major patriarchates (sp?) excommunicated one another periodically dating back to that time charging one another with Monophysitism, Monotheletism, and other various alleged heresies. So in a way, the major division between the Orthodox and the RCC was a long time in coming. If my memory serves me, the eastern patriarchs viewed the patriarchs of Rome in a special position but not in one of authority over the others (Antioch, Alexandria, etc.). On the other hand, those in Rome viewed Rome’s position as one of authority. As people are fallible power struggles ensued and were fueled by the various theological disputes that also arose. So you’re thinking, “This is nice Ben, but what’s it matter?” Well, my round about way of arguing is that this phrase has become the posterboy (if you will) for a deeper conflict of the locus of authority in the church. That is not to say that there are not key theological issues related to this phrase. The dispute just has multiple layers.

    As an evangelical I due believe scripture holds the highest place, but we would be naive to think that our theology is not influenced by church tradition passed down to us. One, it is hubris to think that we can reach understanding on our own. I’ve been reminded of how many presuppositions I hold about common things of life as I have just spent the last week in England trying to get settled for school here. I know I hold just as many presuppositions regarding theology that have been handed down from somewhere whether I realize it or not. So, we must be careful to set aside earlier traditions that have been held, confirmed, and defended by believers for centuries.

    As a related issue, we must not forget that these are some of the same people who helped solidify the canon that we use as scripture. People were involved in writing scripture, and later fallible men made decisions on which writings were to be considered authoritative for the church. I clearly don’t agree with all the things that written by these men, but we do operate by a theology of trust that they made the correct decisions about the canon so we can also give them the benefit of the doubt that their interpretations of those books have validity, if not authority. If for no other reason than many of them still spoke Greek as a their native language.

    Anyhow, I don’t want to seem contentious. I think we cannot neglect the thinking that others have done before us. Particularly, we define orthodoxy regarding belief in Christ related to his natures and his person (two ousia and one hypostasis), these are Greek philosophical terms that were later used to define and understand Christ. We now cannot neglect these “developments” in theology, nor should we neglect those creeds that define the nature of the Trinity.

    For my personal opinion (though largely uninformed), I would go with the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. For me it wins points for being concise but getting the main jist. As far as statements about God go, I agree with Psuedo-Dionysius that they all contain similarities and dissimilarities to actual truth. So any statement we derive will be limited, although helpful for our thinking about God.

  7. Keith says:

    I’ll let you scholars handle this, but concerning the creeds, man, and all that, isn’t it interesting that the Apostle Paul cited a creed in Scripture (see 1 Cor 15). (Of course, someone will run to the passage and fail to read Paul actually saying, “I am about to quote a creed…”, but it is almost universally agreed that he is doing so).

  8. Gary Veazey says:

    Does “almost universally agreed” mean the same thing as “almost always.” Contradictions. I’ll have to check it out when I get home, but what creed do you say it is (whose is it), and why would a creed be included by God as inspired Word?

  9. Gary Veazey says:

    A “creed” huh? Some creeds have been made from his words since they were written, but I wouldn’t call this a creed. If you are familiar with the background and context of First Corinthians, you will see that he is repeating teachings he had taught them before. They needed reminding of the Gospel he preached to them before. The church in Corinth was probably one of the most sinful local churches in history. They were quite carnal as can be seen in the end of chapter 2 and beginning of chapter 3. He said you couldn’t tell the difference between them and unbelievers (“mere men”). He was trying to bring them to recognition of their sins, to confess them, to come back into the fellowship with Christ, and to make Him Lord of their lives.

  10. Keith says:

    First: No, “almost always” does not mean the same thing as “almost universally agreed.” The former is a temporal statement with no verb, while the latter is a non-temporal statement with a verb referent; it means “you can count on one hand the number of Scriptural scholars that disagree”.

    Second: I suppose that “if I were familiar” with the background of the text, I would know more… Nevertheless, I know enough. Paul said “For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received.” This seems to indicate that this was a message (not only that he preached) that was passed on to him (i.e., a creed). The science of source criticism makes this “almost universally agreed” (please understand at this point that I am not interested in the least in a discussion of the merits and/or failures of this discipline).

    Third: As for your question, “why would a creed be included by God as inspired Word?” This is a really good question. We must realize that many non-canonical sources are cited throughout Scripture. Why? Well, I’m sure that you’ll have to ask God one day. I’m just not in a good position epistemically to answer that (being a finite human and all). Nevertheless, we see examples of non-canonical books being cited in Scripture a lot (e.g., Joshua 10:13; Numbers 21:14; 1 Kings 11:41, etc.)

  11. Gary Veazey says:

    The “…what I also received…” Paul is talking about is the Gospel he received directly from God (as the resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ) while being taught in the wilderness after his conversion, as well as the inspired word he received while writing it down as Scripture, authoritative Word of God. He did not receive it as a creed from man, but as God’s own inspired Word.

  12. Keith says:

    How do you know?

  13. Gary says:

    As the children’s song goes, “The Bible tells me so.” See the following:
    Acts 9:15-16; 18:9-10; 23:11; 26:16; Galations 1:8-9, 11-12, 15-18;
    Romans 1:11 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1; and Titus 1:1

  14. Keith says:

    OK, your claim is that the verses you’ve cited in parenthesis PROVE that “the Bible says” the text we’re discussing, 1 Cor. 15a, was not received by Paul as creed, but was rather received as is by him directly from the Lord “while being taught in the wilderness after his conversion.” My claim is that you cannot know that, and that your citations do nothing to change this.

    Let’s see: Acts 9:15-16- I’m not sure how these verses help you. While the text does talk about Paul, it says nothing about when Paul received the ‘teaching’ of 1 Cor 15. So, I will move on.

    Acts 18:9-10- This text tells of God encouraging Paul to continue preaching to the Corinthians. Verse 11 mentions that he stayed a year and a half doing so. Unfortunately, it says nothing about how he received the ‘teaching’ mentioned in 1 Cor 15a.

    Acts 23:11- This, too, is irrelevant; absolutely no mention of any specific teaching.

    Acts 26:16- Here is Paul’s account to King Agrippa. He affirms his divine calling, but makes no mention of any specific teaching.

    Let me make a quick interjection: Even if these verses did mention some specific teaching, you still couldn’t prove that they refer to the creed in 1 Cor 15a. You know, I was once in a Bible debate with a guy who was totally convinced Scripture “absolutely told him” that his position was right (and it may be that he was right, after all). But interestingly, instead of showing how Scripture supported his position, he kept dumping reference after reference on me, thinking he would snow me under and everyone would assume that, since he quoted so much Scripture, he was right about the Bible supporting his position. This seems to me a poor approach to debate/discussion; it is, secondly, not effective unless one can demonstrate that one’s interpretation of the verses is correct. I could insist that 2 Chronicles 2:8 proves my position, but you would not accept this because you know that my interpretation of that verse is incorrect. Notice, I fully agree that Scripture is of the highest authority, but I disagree with how it is being interpreted.

    Galatians 1:8-18- First observation: Paul is talking about something he said to the Galatians, not the Corinthians. Second, I’m not claiming that someone other than Christ revealed the Gospel to Paul. I am saying that the text of 1 Cor 15a was, well before Paul quoted it in Scripture (just as other Scriptural authors quoted sources outside the Canon), in the form of a creed, and was well-known to the members of the early Church (that is whose creed it was; it “belonged” to all Christians, and still does). Unfortunately, then, this text does nothing to prove that you are right.

  15. Keith says:

    Now is a good time to draw an important distinction (one of which you are already undoubtedly aware, but someone may be reading along that doesn’t get it). Let me try to explain it via an analogy. Suppose you are a snake expert (you know all about which are poisonous, which are not, etc.). You realize, of course, that you are not the first snake expert in the history of the world (just as Paul was not the first Christian). Now suppose that after 10 years in your successful career as a snake expert (remember, you’ve known all along which snakes are poisonous and so forth –in fact, this info was divinely revealed to you ten years ago!—just as the Gospel was revealed to Paul) you hear about a teaching among other snake experts; ‘red on black, venom lacks; red on yellow, kill a fellow’. Now, you already know this is true, but apparently all the other snake experts teach this ‘creed’ to their followers (because it is an easy way to remember very important truths). This is how we’re saying Paul used the creed in 1 Cor 15a. He already knew the Gospel (Christ revealed it to him), but he didn’t come up with the ‘creed’ himself (it was already widely used by other Christians, many of whom had known Christ longer than Paul had). However, when he heard the creed, he began using it because it made the Gospel truths easier to remember. Notice, at that time people didn’t just write things down to preserve them; things worth remembering were memorized.

    You’ll understand, I hope, if I don’t continue systematically through the rest of your proof-texts; I simply haven’t the time. I hope that the above analogy clears up our disagreement, at least to some degree. Hopefully this post has demonstrated that we are saying the same thing; that we actually agree! Good day!

  16. Gary says:

    You are correct; we do agree; however, I was trying to point out that Paul, with his God-given authority as an apostle and learning he received from the Lord Himself, was recalling in 1 Cor. 15 his learning. Could be, the form he put it in came from a possible creed of the early church. But, since Paul spent little time among believers in the early church, especially in Jerusalem where even the apostles were hesitant to accept him, I doubt his remarks came from them. Still, I believe it is better to know Scripture itself rather than something man writes down and is subject to not being inherant.

  17. Gary says:

    Hey, how about this? Let’s say Paul may be quoting form his own creed he created form his teachng and training.

  18. Wesley says:

    If he was quoting his own creed as scripture then it seems that creeds are a way validated in scripture to pass down truth to other Christians and future generations. Although this could also depend on when we date the letter in relation to Acts. Paul may have been in contact with Christians before he wrote this and would have heard the creed used.

    And if God gave us teachers (Eph 4:11), don’t that have to have some authority to teach? And if the Church is the upholder of the truth (1 Tim 3:15) doesn’t the Church have to have some authority as a whole to dispense that truth? Didn’t the Holy Spirit even guide a council of not only Apostles, but Church elders in Jerusalem to make binding decisions on the Church as a whole (Acts 15)? The reality of false teachers and the possibility of error in councils doesn’t imply councils can’t be inerrant.

  19. Xavier says:

    As far as I’m aware, it is pretty much accepted by NT commenators that Paul in I Cor. 15:3-8 is citing a tradition or creed that preceeded him and may even have been familiar to his audience. Paul does this in several instances. I Timothy 3:16 comest to mind.
    Their highly stylized form, repeated uses of “hoti” to indicate quotation among other reasons, makes it highly doubtful that Paul just made them up. The use of creeds to summarize the apostles teachings played an important role in handing down truths since most christians didn’t have a NASB or NIV handy. If the creed is a summary of the apostles teaching orally transmitted then it is authoritative.

    I would also second Wesley’s comments here on the role of the Spirit in gifting the Church with teachers and ensuring that it is “guided to all truth.” This is why it is simply not sufficient to decribe the ecumenical creeds patterned as they are after Acts 15, as “from man.”

  20. Clint says:

    I normally wouldn’t beat a dead horse, but I have spent a significant amount of time studying the “Resurrection Creed” and am very passionate for it since: 1) it is Scripture and 2) it has much apologetical leverage. Thus, to reemphasize what has already been stated, there is an overwhelming consensus among virtually all New Testament Scholars (Conservative and Liberal) that what we are dealing with in 1 Corinthians 15 is a creed. I would say that this support is actually in reference to vv. 3b-5. Yet, a large # of scholars agree that vv. 6a (though not 6b) and 7 were also original to the creed.

    However, lets not take Gary’s comments for granted, he is proposing a view that some do actually hold. Let us look over at least two views and see which one finds more evidence and support among scholars.

    The first option, held by Kenneth O. Gangel, F. W. Grosheide, Leon Morris and J.P. Lange, is typically referred to as the direct revelation view. As highlighted by Gangel, this view holds that “‘there is no indication that in vss. 3-4 Paul is reciting a fixed formula, such as is found in the Apostles’ Creed.’ And again: ‘….In Galatians 1:11-2:2 Paul is at pains to prove historically that he did not receive his Gospel from men in any manner whatsoever. This view does not hold that such a creed could have existed, just that Paul is not employing any such creed in 1 Cor. 15.

    While the reference to the Galatians passage is interesting, the case for this view does not seem altogether cogent in light of the evidence for the opposing view, otherwise known as the kerygma view. This position is seen with more favor among contemporary scholars due to its great support. In fact, John Kloppenberg writes:
    “That 1 Cor 15:3b-7 contains a pre-Pauline confessional/kerygmatic statement has been almost universally acknowledged. This is suggested both by formal and material considerations: on one hand, the use of the terms paralambanō-paradidō—which appear also in 1 Cor 11:23 in connection with the quotation of the words of institution, and again in rabbinic literature—signals the presence of older tradition. On the other hand, the fact that there is a difference in emphasis between Paul’s argument in chap. 15 (which insists on the reality of the resurrection) and vv 3-5 (which places as much emphasis on the death of Christ) suggests that it is a matter of the Pauline redaction of an earlier tradition.

    But, let us not take Kloppenberg’s word…is there any other evidence for this view? I think there is beyond a sufficient amount. Following are some evidences provided by Kirk R. MacGregor*, visiting instructor of Religion at the University of Northern Iowa:

    1) Paul prefaces the creed by reminding the Corinthians, “For I delivered (paredoka) to you as of first importance what I also recieved (parebalon), where these two words are technical terms used by rabbis for the transmission of sacred tradition.
    2)There are several words found in the creed that are found nowhere else in the Pauline corpus.
    3)There are indications that the creed has a Semitic source.

    Now while I have oversimplified these points for the sake of room, you can check them out yourself (see the source below). Note that I have admittedly not given much support for the direct revelation view. This has not been in order to build a straw man, but to allow whosoever might (Gary?) give some solid evidence for it. And, because I don’t think there is a lot of evidence for it, but please prove me wrong.

    *See ETS Journal Vol. 49, No.2

  21. Gary says:

    I’ll leave this discussion by quoting from James Denney (1856-1917, a Scottish Free Church theologian, who said,
    “There is that in the Gospel with which no one is allowed to argue. All we can do is believe or disbelieve; to give it in our life the place of the final reality to which everything else must give way, or to refuse it that place. Many people…would like to talk the Word of God over. It raises in their minds various questions thay would willingly discuss. It has aspects of interest and of difficulty which call for consideration, and so on. Perhaps there are some that confusedly shield themselves against the responsibilities of faith and unbelief by such thoughts. All that such thoughts prove, however, is that those who cherish them have never yet realized that what we are dealing with in the Gospel is God. When God speaks in Christ, He reveals His gracious will without qualification. And without qualification, we have to believe in it or refuse to believe, and so decide the controversy between ourselves and Him. God has not come into the world in Christ…to be talked about, but to become supreme reality in the lives of men, or to be excluded from that place.”

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