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History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.
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§ 108. The Arguments for and against the Filioque.


We proceed to the statement of the controverted doctrines and the chief arguments.

I. The Greek and Latin churches agree in holding-

(1) The personality and deity of the third Person of the holy Trinity.

(2) The eternal procession (ἐκπόρευσις, προχεσσιο) of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity.

(3) The temporal mission (πέμψις, μισσιο) of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, beginning with the day of Pentecost, and continued ever since in the church.

II. They differ on the source of the eternal procession of the Spirit, whether it be the Father alone, or the Father and the Son. The Greeks make the Son and the Spirit equally dependent on the Father, as the one and only source of the Godhead; the Latins teach an absolute co-ordination of the three Persons of the Trinity as to essence, but after all admit a certain kind of subordination as to dignity and office, namely, a subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to both. The Greeks approach the Latins by the admission that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son (this was the doctrine of Cyril of Alexandria and John of Damascus); the Latins approach the Greeks by the admission that the Spirit proceeds chiefly (principaliter) from the Father (Augustin). But little or nothing is gained by this compromise. The real question is, whether the Father is the only source of the Deity, and whether the Son and the Spirit are co-ordinate or subordinate in their dependence on the Father.

1. The Greek doctrine in its present shape. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone (ἐκ μόνου τοῦ πατρός), as the beginning (ἀρχή), cause or root (αἰτία, ῤιζη, χαυσα, ραδιξ), and fountain (πηγή) of the Godhead, and not from the Son.599599    Confessio Orth., Qu. 71 (Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, II. 349 sq.): Διδάσκει [ἡ ἀνατολικὴ ἐκκλησία] πῶς τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἃγιον ἐκπορεύεται ἐκ μόνου τοῦ Πατρὸς , ὡς πηγῆς καὶ ἀρχῆς τῆς θυότητος. Then follow the proofs from John 15:26, and the Greek fathers. In the same question, the formula καἱ ̀ἐκ̔ τοὗ υἱοὗ (Filioque) is rejected as a later adulteration. In the heat of the controversy, it was even stigmatized as a sin against the Holy Ghost. The Longer Russian Catechism, on the Eighth Article of the Nicene Creed (in Schaff’s Creeds, etc., II. 481), denies that the doctrine of the single procession admits of any change or supplement, for the following reasons: ” First, because the Orthodox Church repeats the ver y words of Christ, and his words are doubtless the exact and perfect expression of the truth. Secondly, because the Second Ecumenical Council, whose chief object was to establish the true doctrine respecting the Holy Spirit, has without doubt sufficiently set forth the same in the Creed; and the Catholic Church has acknowledged this so decidedly that the third Oecumenical Council in its seventh canon forbade the composition of any new creed.” Then the Catechism quotes the following passage from John of Damascus: ” Of the Holy Ghost, we both say that He is from the Father, and call Him the Spirit of the Father; while we nowise say that He is from the Son, but only call Him the Spirit of the Son.” (Theol., lib. l.c. 11, v. 4.)

John of Damascus, who gave the doctrine of the Greek fathers its scholastic shape, about a.d. 750, one hundred years before the controversy between Photius and Nicolas, maintained that the procession is from the Father alone, but through the Son, as mediator.600600    See the doctrine of John of Damascus, with extracts from his writings, stated by Hergenröther, Photius, I. 691 sq.; and in the proceedings of the Döllinger Conference (Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, II. 553 sq. ). Dr. Langen (Old Cath. Prof. in Bonn), in his monograph on John of Damascus (Gotha, 1879, p. 283 sq. ), thus sums up the views of this great divine on the procession: 1) The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son. 2) He does not proceed from the Son, but from the Father through the Son. 3) He is the image of the Son, as the Son is the image of the Father. 4) He forms the mediation between the Father and the Son, and is through the Son connected with the Father. The same formula, Ex Patre per Filium, was used by Tarasius, patriarch of Constantinople, who presided over the seventh oecumenical Council (787), approved by Pope Hadrian I., and was made the basis for the compromise at the Council of Ferrara (1439), and at the Old Catholic Conference at Bonn (1875). But Photius and the later Eastern controversialists dropped or rejected the per Filium, as being nearly equivalent to ex Filio or Filioque, or understood it as being applicable only to the mission of the Spirit, and emphasized the exclusiveness of the procession from the Father.601601    Langen, l.c. p. 286: ”So hat demnach die grosse Trennung zwischen Orient und Occident in diesem Lehrstücke die Folge gehabt, dass die, Auffassung des Damasceners, gleichsam in der Mitte stehend, von dem Patriarchen Tarasius amtlich approbirt und vom Papste Hadrian I. vertheidigt, weder im Orient noch im Occident zur Geltung kam. Dort galt sie als zu zweideutig und hier ward sie als unzureichend befunden.”

The arguments for the Greek doctrine are as follows:

(a) The words of Christ, John 15:26, understood in an exclusive sense. As this is the only passage of the Bible in which the procession of the Spirit is expressly taught, it is regarded by the Greeks as conclusive.

(b) The supremacy or monarchia of the Father. He is the source and root of the Godhead. The Son and the Spirit are subordinated to him, not indeed in essence or substance (oujsiva), which is one and the same, but in dignity and office. This is the Nicene subordinatianism. It is illustrated by the comparison of the Father with the root, the Son with the stem, the Spirit with the fruit, and such analogies as the sun, the ray, and the beam; the fire, the flame, and the light.

(c) The analogy of the eternal generation of the Son, which is likewise from the Father alone, without the agency of the Spirit.

(d) The authority of the Nicene Creed, and the Greek fathers, especially Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and John of Damascus. The Antiochean school is clearly on the Greek side; but the Alexandrian school leaned to the formula through the Son (dia; tou’ uiJou’, per Filium). The Greeks claim all the Greek fathers, and regard Augustin as the inventor of the Latin dogma of the double procession.

The Latin doctrine is charged with innovation, and with dividing the unity of the Godhead, or establishing two sources of the Deity. But the Latins replied that the procession was from one and the same source common to both the Father and the Son.

2. The Latin theory of the double procession is defended by the following arguments:

(a) The passages where Christ says that he will send the Spirit from the Father (John 15:26; 16:7); and that the Father will send the Spirit in Christ’s name (14:26); and where he breathes the Spirit on his disciples (20:22). The Greeks refer all these passages to the temporal mission of the Spirit, and understand the insufflation to be simply a symbolical act or sacramental sign of the pentecostal effusion which Christ had promised. The Latins reply that the procession and the mission are parallel processes, the one ad intra, the other ad extra.

(b) The equality of essence (oJmoousiva) of the Father and Son to the exclusion of every kind of subordinationism (since Augustin) requires the double procession. The Spirit of the Father is also the Spirit of the Son, and is termed the Spirit of Christ. But, as already remarked, Augustin admitted that the Spirit proceeds chiefly from the Father, and this after all is a kind of subordination of dignity. The Father has his being (oujsiva) from himself, the Son and the Spirit have it from the Father by way of derivation, the one by generation, the other by procession.

(c) The temporal mission of the Spirit is a reflection of his eternal procession. The Trinity of revelation is the basis of all our speculations on the Trinity of essence. We know the latter only from the former.

(d) The Nicene Creed and the Nicene fathers did not understand the procession from the Father in an exclusive sense, but rather in opposition to the Pneumatomachi who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Some Greek fathers, as Epiphanius, Cyril of Alexandria, and John of Damascus, teach the Latin doctrine. This is not the case exactly. The procession of the Spirit “through the Son,” is not equivalent to the procession “from the Son,” but implies a subordination.

(e) The Latin fathers are in favor of Filioque, especially Ambrose, Augustin, Jerome, Leo I., Gregory I.602602    Hilary of Poitiers is also quoted, as he uses the formula a Patre et Filio (Trinit. II. 29) as well as the other ex Patre per Filium. Tertullian, however, is rather on the Greek side: ”Spiritum S. non aliunde puto quam a Patre per Filium.” Adv. Prax. c. 4. So also Novatian, De Trinit.

(f) The insertion of the Filioque is as justifiable as the other and larger additions to the Apostles’ Creed and to the original Nicene Creed of 325, and was silently accepted, or at least not objected to by the Greek church until the rivalry of the Patriarch of Constantinople made it a polemical weapon against the Pope of Rome. To this the Greeks reply that the other additions are consistent and were made by common consent, but the Filioque was added without the knowledge and against the teaching of the East by churches (in Spain and France) which had nothing to do with the original production.

This controversy of the middle ages was raised from the tomb by the Old Catholic Conference held in Bonn, 1875, under the lead of the learned historian, Dr. Döllinger of Munich, and attended by a number of German Old Catholic, Greek and Russian, and high Anglican divines. An attempt was made to settle the dispute on the basis of the teaching of the fathers before the division of the Eastern and Western churches, especially the doctrine of John of Damascus, that is, the single procession of the Spirit from the Father mediated through the Son. The Filioque was surrendered as an unauthorized and unjustifiable interpolation.

But the Bonn Conference has not been sanctioned by any ecclesiastical authority, and forms only an interesting modern episode in the, history of this controversy, and in the history of the Old Catholic communion.603603    See the theses of the Conference in the Proceedings published by Dr. Reusch, Bonn, 1875, p. 80 sqq., and in Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, vol. II. 552 sqq. Formerly Dr. Döllinger, when he was still in communion with Rome, gave the usual one-sided Latin view of the Filioque-controversy, and characterized Photius as a man “of unbounded ambition, not untouched by the corruption of the court, and well versed in all its arts of intrigue.” Hist. of the Church, trans. by E. Cox, vol. III. 86. Comp. his remarks on the Council of Photius (879), quoted in § 70, p. 317.



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