January 27, 2021

Winning The War, Part VI: He Who Proceeds From The Father

FilioqueOne of the first tasks you face after converting to Orthodoxy is to decide what stance to take towards the West and towards Western Christianity.    There is a real temptation to despise the West, or even worse, to let the whole West just simmer in all the heresies you had to renounce when you were chrismated.  There are certainly Orthodox converts who feel this way.  I met one convert from the  who I believe had been so scarred by his upbringing that he couldn’t avoid seeing the diabolical fingerprints of the legalistic, liberal West all over what he called “World Orthodoxy”.  I lost contact with him when he left the Antiochian Archdiocese for a traditionalist group left over from the union of ROCOR with the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007. He is the one who told me this:

We don’t need anything the West has to offer.

Take a few minutes to think about how bold that statement is.  Laying aside my Orthodox brother’s manifest pathologies, I am going to give him the Amen.  We aren’t missing a lung, and we are not anybody else’s missing lung.   Rome’s departure diminished us neither a jot nor a tittle.  We don’t need the unifying charism and ministry of Peter, nor the Ordo Saluti, nor the Active Obedience of Christ imputed to our accounts, nor the Solas, nor the Law/Gospel distinction, nor Papal Infallibility, nor the Hermeneutical Quadrangle, nor the Baptism in the Holy Ghost with evidence of speaking in tongues, nor a born-again experience of accepting Jesus Christ into our hearts as our personal Lord and Savior.  We are not awaiting a revival, a reformation, or a renewal.  That is dogma, not Mule’s personal opinion.   A statement like that doesn’t mean that the Orthodox Church considers herself perfect, just that she isn’t going to be looking to the West to provide solutions.

Nevertheless, despite this ecclesiological arrogance, the Orthodox Church still has to deal with the West.  Dealing with the West is not an option for anybody; not the Islamic world, not the Hindu world, not the Chinese.  At this present time in history, the West, by which I mean primarily the European world north of the Danube and west of the Vistula as well as her successor states on the other side of the Atlantic, bestrides the world like a Colossus with a constellation of military might, economic power, and cultural influence unparalleled in human history.  That alone is enough reason not to turn your back on the West, but a more compelling reason is the ongoing spiritual agony of the West.

It is important to remember is that the West wasn’t always the West.  For a thousand years it was part of the Mystical Body, the Great Church that stretched from Ctesiphon to Brigantium, from the Gallarus Oratory in the far west of Ireland to the Monastery of the Virgin Mary in Asyut, in the south of Egypt.   The hagiography of the Great Church is alit with the stories of monks undertaking pilgrimages from the most remoter parts of the utter West like Pembrokeshire in Wales or Galicia in Hispania to centers of Christendom such as Constantinople or Jerusalem.  My patron saint, David of Wales, received his bishopric from the hands of the patriarch of Jerusalem in 560 AD.  The story of how the West became estranged from the East depends on what frame you want to use, history or theology.  Historically, the Carolingians are saddled with most of the blame for the destruction of the West Roman polity.  The Carolingians, having seized power from the legitimate Merovingians, encouraged their patrons the popes of Rome to assert themselves against the Imperial authority in Constantinople.  The historical story of the East-West Schism is fascinating, full of interesting characters like Pepin I, Pope Leo III, and Patriarch Photios.  The estrangement took place over a time period at least as long as the entire history of the United States of America from Jamestown until now.  However, history will have to step aside for theology for the time being.

The theological issue that separated the West from the East was the notorious filioque clause inserted by Western Christians into the Ecumenical Creed of Nicea/Constantinople.  That creed, recited by premodernist Christian congregations every Sunday, is as follows;

Here is that Creed from the 1892 Book of Common Prayer.  I love the stately liturgical English of the traditional Prayer Books:

 I BELIEVE in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible :

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God ; Begotten of his Father before all worlds,  God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father ; By whom all things were made : Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man : And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate ; He suffered and was buried : And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father : And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead ; Whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son]; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified ; Who spake by the Prophets.

And I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church : I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins : And I look for the Resurrection of the dead : And the Life of the world to come. Amen.

That phrase, “and the Son”, seems indeed like a very small thing.  As Vladimir Lossky put it, this is the only dogmatic issue separating the East from the West.  It seems like it should be a very simple issue to resolve.  “What shall we do with this… least of Rings, this trifle that Sauron fancies?”  It appears that new vigor has been injected into this centuries old debate by a [pending?] decision by the Anglican Church in North America to drop the phrase “and the Son” from the Creed as recited in their churches.

Now, together with the Chalcedonian definition, the Filioque controversy is one of the Ur-kontroverses of Christendom.   Once you set foot in it, you are setting foot in a real minefield, one that makes the Reformers vs Trent seem like the Gallipoli Campaign in World War I.   It is not my job here on iMonk to resolve the filoque controversy and heal the schisms of the churches.  Can you say not in my job description?  What I want to do is give you one Orthodox layman’s understanding of the issue with as little scholarly apparatus as possible.

To get to a lay theologian’s level on the filioque controversy, say at the level of a capable PCA ruling elder, I would think it necessary to have read the writings on the Trinity of the Cappadocian Fathers; St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa as well as the De Trinitate of St. Augustine.  I haven’t done this.  I am aware that there are pastors who read this board, so I want to tread somewhat lightly.  I want to generate a healthy controversy without passing myself off as more knowledgeable than I actually am.

The Orthodox believe that the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone is the only Triadology that preserves the identity and the diversity of the Most Blessed Trinity as equally absolute.  As Vladimir Lossky explains it:

In fact, the absolute diversity of the Three cannot be based on their relations of opposition without admitting, implicitly or explicitly, the primacy of the essence over the hypostases, by assuming a relative (and therefore secondary) basis for personal diversity, in contrast to natural identity. But that is exactly what Orthodox theology cannot admit.

The one nature and the three hypostases are presented simultaneously to our understanding, with neither prior to the other. The origin of the hypostases is not impersonal, since it is referred to the person of the Father; but it is unthinkable apart from their common possession of the same essence, the “divinity in division undivided.”

The introduction of the idea of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son as well as the Father introduces a Dyad into the Trinity, that of the Father-Son opposed to the Spirit which stands in opposition to this Unity of the Father of the Son in serving as the source of the Spirit’s procession.  In other words, it destroys the idea of a “simple Trinity”.  The Father and the Son share something together which the Spirit does not.

Whereas Western theologians would swear up and down that it wouldn’t, I cannot help believing would unconsciously place the Spirit at a level subordinate to the Father and the Son.  Indeed, in the course of the development of Western theology there appears to be a frenzied, desperate search for the missing Spirit.  What happens first is that the monarchical Papacy bloats to dizzying power in the newly independent Western church, absolutizing the Universal, only to be dismantled by the rising nation-states and fragmented into a thousand competing shards as the Particular reasserts itself.  The unity that the sovereign Spirit works in the churches in response to Christ’s High Priestly prayer is a true unity-in-diversity, which on the human plane is very sloppy in the way it works itself out.  It is neither an administrative monarchy nor a Gnostic invisible entity.  You can point to it, but you cannot circumscribe it.

In addition to the problem of the disappearance of the Spirit, you have a problem of abstraction.  If the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, then His Procession cannot be a personal procession.  It has to be from an abstract Principle or “Godness” that the Father and the Son share.  In a sense, this absolutizes the binary over the analog.  I like what Frederica Mathews-Greene said about the Orthodox Church.  We don’t have mystics or contemplatives over against actives and social-justice warriors.  God doesn’t agglutinate people into groups; here are the contemplatives over here contemplating and over there are the actives feeding the poor, and then deciding to gift them appropriately.  God deals with humanity on two levels.

First, there is what God has done for all of humanity.  It is human nature that has been restored by the Cross, the image of God in humanity.  Then, God deals with every unique human being as a person created in His image.  I think this is the reason why we don’t have different “Orders” in the Orthodox Church, just monks.  We don’t have Monastic Rules, like those of the Benedictines or the Franciscans or the Dominicans.   To be honest, we don’t even have different rules for monastic and married believers.  The same “rules” apply to both.  Marriage and monasticism are seen as equally valid, and equally difficult, means of ascent.

I’m going to go beyond my teachers and betters here.  I wonder if maybe, just maybe, the introduction of the filioque and the subsequent two-tiered architecture of the Trinity led to that most pernicious binary division of all Western separations, that between the elect and the reprobate, which in these degenerate days has decayed into a division between the churchy and the worldly.  Father Deiniol of Wales describes this graphically and explains how it interferes with his mission among the Welsh:

RTE: And what can you tell us about this remote and beautiful town?

Fr. Deiniol: “So this is the town I live in, a very poor town, high levels of unemployment and many people with a sense of hopelessness. Nevertheless, they wouldn’t think of turning to church, because the Calvinist legacy is a very negative one. I’m not saying that everything was bad about the chapels; the Nonconformist tradition produced a genuine Christian spirituality with a real love of Scripture, a real love of God, and very fine hymnography, but it had a shadow side, and this shadow side was Calvinism and its censoriousness, being very judgmental and placing people in categories. It wasn’t known for its compassion for the frail and vulnerable, or for those whose lives took a negative turn.”

“The Calvinist doctrine is that God has predestined people from before the creation of the world for redemption. In other words, He has brought some human beings into existence, having already determined that they shall go to hell for eternity. They maintain that He has done this in His infinite Wisdom and that the logical contradiction between that and God’s infinite love is not for us to question and understand.

RTE:  I imagine, then, that you would have to take care to appear “good” to prove that you are one of the saved, or is that too simplistic?

Fr. Deiniol: “No, that’s very accurate. ‘How do we know who is saved?’ ‘Oh, by their fruits you shall know them.’ Accordingly, observable behavior becomes very important, and at a certain stage in the evolution of things, when conviction and faith are no longer so strongly present, this preoccupation with appearances becomes a very distinctive characteristic of these societies. That is certainly what I think happened in Wales. Also it means that people don’t look at the darker side of themselves, and don’t encounter their shadow. Darkness is then projected onto other people, so you have groups that are the scapegoats, the lowest of the low. Communities are very hierarchical and there are people right at the bottom of the pile. In Wales, this emphasis on behavior also got linked up with the Temperance Movement, which, much as it may have been needed, divided the society into two—those who went to the chapel and those who went to the pub, those who drank and those who didn’t (or at least said they didn’t drink.) To this very day, many Welsh people who go to the pub will not visit a church or chapel. The two locations are thought to be mutually exclusive locations, and those who frequent one of these places will usually hold the other place and its frequenters in contempt and think they will not be welcomed there! By now almost everybody does visit the pub, but the dichotomy persists and it is almost impossible to persuade people to visit a church.

This is one of the reasons why, when people ask me why I became Orthodox, one of my nastier replies is that I got tired of pretending I was twice-born and decided to go back to being born just once.  My son attended a large anime convention recently.  These are large events that draw a lot of young people who are fans of Japanese popular culture, and who often spend a lot of time and effort dressing up as the objects of their obsessions.  My wife and I wandered through the crowd marveling at the youthful energy and creativity on display.

I understand the appeal of something like this.  On the Metro line headed towards the convention, the anime fans mingled with another group on their way to a college football game.  It was obvious who was who.  Our society does a good job of putting people into the proper egg crates.  The sports fans were, as a whole, more prosperous and physically more attractive than the anime crowd, but when the anime fans entered the convention, they blossomed.  I saw a lot of people who didn’t fit the larger society’s standards of physical beauty proudly posing for photographs and receiving a lot of complements on their appearances.  I also saw a lot of underlying hurt in a lot of eyes that undoubtedly came from being something of a misfit in the wider worlds to which they eventually had to return.  I found myself praying that God would allow me to generate enough love in my heart to make these people feel accepted by me should I ever have any personal dealing with them, to take that wariness and caution out of their glances.

Yeah, for the sports fans too.

If I had gone as the crippled, frightened, insecure evangelical I still am in so many ways, I would have been asking God for a way to “reach them”, to “churchify” them.  I think this a result of what the Orthodox condemn as a “filioquist culture”, a man-hating culture, one that elevates abstractions and ideals over personhood.   A culture that introduces an artificial and abstract distinction into the very core of existence, into the very Triune Unity, will have no problem introducing artificial and abstract distinctions between people to their own despite.

Heresy hurts, people.  It is the most savage act you can commit.  Genocide is jaywalking by comparison.

I haven’t exhausted what I want to say about the filioque, although I always fear I have exhausted your patience.  With your continued indulgence, which always astounds me, I would like to take up the specific issue of the ACNA’s removal of the filioque clause from the Creed.  As well, I would like to offer an exhortation to my Orthodox brethren about the need to establish the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, which I think the filioque was originally crafted to address.



  1. Robert F., numo, Katharina, and Joel:

    Thank you for your comments on this post. Like I mentioned earlier, I have been reading Imonk for a decade and have always found it an interesting and benefical conversation.

    I’m very disappointed that Mule is writing posts for Imonk. When it was announced that he would be writing here, I hoped that I would be wrong about Mule and I would find his writing to be interesting and benefical. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened. I appreciate the pushback that Mule is receiving and hope that it continues.