In this essay, I will argue that the filioque insertion should be retained, as it provides the most appropriate account, grammar, of the Spirit’s origin. I shall do this by analysing the teaching of Scripture, and from this contend that the work of Christ and the Spirit points towards the origin of the Spirit in Christ. Moreover, it will be argued the filioque secures the uniqueness of each divine person.
The filioque was introduced into Christian theology by the Roman Church at the Third Council of Toledo (589), without the approval of a recognised ecumenical council. As such, it has become a contentious issue, between Western and Eastern churches. The clause concerns the inner-Trinitarian relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son, affirming that the Paraclete proceeds not just from the Father, but also the Son. To critically evaluate whether the filioque insertion was justified, I will employ the following criteria: 1) Does the teaching of Scripture motivate an account of the Trinity where the filioque provides the most appropriate grammar for Christian language; 2) Does the filioque violate the uniqueness of the divine persons as affirmed by Nicene Christianity? If the answer is ‘yes’ to (1) and ‘no’ to (2), then the filioque should be maintained as a guide to speaking about God.
In pursuing an analysis of the filioque, an immediate problem arises in how to interpret the clause. The term ‘proceeds’ is ambiguous in the relation to God, with a multiplicity of possible definitions for ‘divine procession’ (Stylianopoulos, 1979, p.25). However, the term will denote an ontological origination in this paper. That is, to say x proceeds from y is to say that y is the source of x’s existence. Procession refers to the source of the Spirit’s existence as a hypostasis who receives their substance from an Other; it denotes the movement of logical priority within the Godhead (Moltmann, 1980, p.183). On this reading, to say the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son is to contend that the Spirit’s existence is grounded in the persons of the Father and the Son.
To begin this evaluation, it is helpful to uncover why Nicene churches ascribe to the Spirit the property of proceeding from the Father. This doctrine is driven by the recognition that the Spirit is sent by the Father out of love, in order to empower Christ’s earthly ministry and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was conceived by the Spirit (Lk 1:35), baptised in the Spirit (Mt 3:16), lived by the Spirit (Lk 10:21; 1Pe 3:18), his human nature was empowered by the Spirit as seen in his preaching (Lk 4:18; Mt 12:18), miracle working (Ac 10:38), and his vindication (Ro 1:4). Incarnated, Jesus was assisted in his human nature through the reception of the Spirit in order to complete his instantiation of the Kingdom, with the Spirit sent by the Father as an expression of the Father’s love for the obedient and dutiful Son.
Furthermore, the Creed identifies that the Father sends the Spirit to the community of faith after the exaltation of Christ, so as to bring God’s people into the divine life. Christ tells the disciples that they shall receive a ‘comforter’, who will be sent by the Father to dwell with them on Earth forever (Jn 14:16). The Spirit will guide believers into all truth, directing their lives so as to draw them into the communion of the Trinity (Jn 16:13). The Spirit will indwell the Christian, sanctifying them in the desire to do God’s will, predisposed to behave in ways which glorify and enjoy the Lord (2Th 2:13; 1Pe 1:2) (Lewis, 1979, p.61). Thus, the Father is understood to be sending the Spirit to transform the world through those who are in Christ. If this is God’s self-revelation, it follows that the pattern of the Father sending the Spirit to Christ and the Church reflects the inner life of the Trinity. That is, the Father must breathe forth the Spirit within the divine life, being the origin of the Paraclete’s existence. Thus, the relationship of the Father to the Spirit in Scripture, suggests that the Spirit proceeds from the Father.
It is my contention that we observe a similar sending of the Spirit from the Son in Scripture. The love between the Father and Son is the source of spiration (Augustine, 2012, 15.17.27–18.32). On the one hand, the Father’s love for the Son is shown in the gift of the Spirit, to empower Christ’s ministry. On the other, Christ’s love for the Father is expressed in his self-offering through the Spirit, which manifests itself in the revelation of the Father and the redeeming of the world. All of his doings were intended to proclaim the glory of the Father (Jn 14:9). As the High Priest, ‘He offers to the Father that worship, that obedience, that life of love in unbroken intimate communion, which we cannot offer’ (Torrance, 1996, p.37). Furthermore, Christ offers himself as a sacrifice to fulfil the love of God for the world (Lk 22:42), climaxing in his crucifixion (Lk 23:46). Jesus’ works reciprocate the love of the Father; his intercessions to the Father for the world are made in the Spirit. Indeed, if God is love (1 Jn 4:8), then one would expect the communion of the Father and Son to be shared love, as expressed in the mutual sending of the Spirit (Barth, 1936, p.557). Thus, as we identified the Spirit’s procession from the Father with the Father’s expressed love for the Son, by implication we should identify the Spirit’s origin also with the Son, as the Spirit enables Christ to express his love for the Father.
Furthermore, the continuing activity of Christ in the community of faith indicates that the Spirit proceeds from the Son. As has been said, the Father sends the Spirit to God’s people in the aftermath of the ascension to make them citizens of heaven. The question arises as to how this process is enacted (Athanasius, 2012, ch.54). To be in the Spirit means one is made a ‘partaker’ in the divine life, where one is assumed into a ‘sphere of the direct and immediate activity of God’ (Torrance, 1975, p.234-5). This indwelling is only possible because of the incarnation; when the Son took on a human nature, ‘the self-sanctification of Christ through his own Spirit’ enabled humanity to receive the Spirit (Ibid.) That is, the ‘radical liberty and creativity’ found in Jesus’ reconstruction of the human being and its identity is witnessed by the Church in the activity of the Holy Spirit (Williams, 2000, p.140). The Church’s experience of renewal by the indwelling presence of God’s love (Eph 1), initiated by the incarnation and continued by the Paraclete, leads to the conclusion that there is a mutual intimacy of the Son and Spirit in the immanent Trinity (Gal 4:6). Moreover, the Son sends the Spirit into the world to continue the instantiation of God’s Kingdom (Jn 1:33b; Acts 2:33). Thus, the salvific work of Christ, as continued by the Spirit, suggests that the most appropriate grammar for describing this event is by inserting the filioque clause. Therefore, the Son’s love for the Father and Jesus’ prolonged presence in the community of faith through the Spirit motivates the use of the filioque when using language about God.
One objection to this clause is that it undermines the uniqueness of the three persons, which is essential in Nicene Christianity. In particular, it can be said to compromise the individuality of the Father. As both Father and Son are affirmed to be the source of Paraclete’s procession by the filioque, it follows on this interpretation that they are both the origin of the Spirit’s divine existence. This indicates that there is a ‘double procession’ within God: that from the Father, and that from the Son. Yet this diminishes the distinguishing features of the Father. The individual properties in terms of ontological origin determine the distinctness of each divine person. The Father is understood to be ‘unbegotten’ or uncaused, the Son is ‘begotten’ or generated, and the Spirit ‘proceeds’. Thus, the Father is to be understood as the unique source of the divine existence, as the origin of the other two persons (Stylianopoulos, 1979, p.26). This is ‘his hypostatic distinguishing quality’, that which makes Him different (Ritschl, 1979, p.12). If we affirm that the Son is also the source of the Spirit’s being, then we compromise the Father’s unique role as the sole cause of existence within the Godhead. By making the Son an origin like the Father, the filioque degrades the movement of direction within God of moving out from the Father towards the Son (Fiddes, 2000, p.80). Hence, it is argued the filioque is inappropriate theologically as it violates the uniqueness of the Father, a mark of Nicene Christianity.
However, I will contend that the filioque actually secures the uniqueness of the Father, Son and Spirit. Leibniz’s Law of the Identity of Indiscernibles states that:
For any P, Q; if P has exactly all the same properties as Q, then P is identical with Q. That is, P and Q are the same substance. (Leibniz, 1969)
The allegation made against the filioque is it makes the Father the same person as the Son, and thus violates the distinctiveness of the persons as affirmed at Nicea. However, utilising Leibniz’s Law one can refute this claim: the Father cannot be the Son because He is unbegotten, and the Son cannot be the Father because He is begotten. That means they do not share all the same properties, and so are unique persons. Furthermore, the Spirit is not identical with the Father or the Son; whereas the Spirit possesses the property of proceeding from the Father and the Son, neither the Father nor the Son retains this property. Thus, each person’s hypostatic distinguishing qualities are maintained, and thus the uniqueness of the persons is secured by the filioque.
By contrast, the neglect of the filioque undermines the distinction of the Son and Spirit. For if the Son is generated by the Father, and the Spirit is generated from the Father, then there is no property to distinguish the persons: they are the same hypostasis. Proponents of this position often appeal to the ‘logical priority’ of the Son over the Spirit, contending whereas the Son is begotten of the Father, the Spirit proceeds from the Father (Nazianzus, 1994, 5.25). That is, the mode of generation is different in that the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds. However, since the generation of the Son and Spirit is prior to creation, there is no method to distinguish begetting and procession. For if the generation of the Son and Spirit is simultaneous, their origins are existentially identical, entailing their ontological origination is the same. Nevertheless, if the Father and the Son are the source of the Spirit’s existence, we can differentiate being begotten from proceeding in relation to God; being begotten denotes generation solely from the Father, whereas procession refers to the derivation from both the Father and the Son. Given this, the Son is begotten, whereas the Spirit must proceed. Therefore, the filioque ensures the uniqueness of the divine persons, and as such does not violate individuality of the divine persons.
In conclusion, I have argued that the filioque should be affirmed as the most appropriate grammar for speaking about the Spirit’s origin. I contended that the teachings of Scripture motivate us to employ the filioque due to the communion of Father and Son as expressed in the sending and utilising of the Spirit in the life of Christ and the close activity of the Son and Spirit in redemptive activity. The objection was raised that the filioque may compromise the individuality of the Father, thus violating a teaching of Nicene theology. Yet it was demonstrated that the clause secures the distinct reality of the divine persons, in contrast to opposing views. Therefore, because the filioque is motivated by Scripture and does not compromise the distinctness of the persons, it follows it should be regarded as the best conceptual framework for describing the source of the Spirit.
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 This paper includes assumptions which are beyond the scope of this essay to defend:
· The Scriptures alone are authoritative, supreme and sufficient for Christian faith and praxis.
· The Economic Trinity is the Immanent Trinity (Barth, 1936, p.548; Rahner, 1970, p.22).