The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy
Oxford Studies in Historical Theology
New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. ix + 355. Hardcover. $49.95.
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With thanks to Oxford University Press for this review copy!
Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, τὸ ζωοποιόν,
τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον,
τὸ σὺν Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον καὶ συνδοξαζόμενον,
τὸ λαλῆσαν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem:
Qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur:
Qui locutus est per prophetas.
And 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 worshiped and glorified,
who spake by the prophets.
Students of Church history and trinitarian theology are well aware of the controversy surrounding the addition of the term filioque (“and the Son”) to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed at the Third Council of Toledo in 589, which would cause division within the Church long before the Great Schism of 1054. Most students interested in such matters should have a general idea of the basic issues at stake and the arguments for and against each respective position. What they might not be aware of are the many particulars such as the linguistic confusion over Greek (e.g., ἐκπορευόμενον, προϊέναι) and Latin (e.g., procedere) terms for “procession” and their theological implications when used in conjunction with filioque (e.g., a denial of the Father’s monarcy, or worse yet, Sabellianism); the various local councils and synods called to discuss, defend, or condemn the filioque; the appropriation and/or abuse of patristic witnesses (both Eastern and Western) in the service of each position; or the sordid political maneuvering that took place in the varied attempts to gain or maintain power.
Edward Siecienski (Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religion at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey) does an admirable job of bringing all of these particulars to light in his easy to read narrative history of the controversy from its inception to its present. The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy is exactly that, a history of a doctrinal controversy. It is not a defense or condemnation of the filioque or filioquist theology, although Siecienski recognizes it as “first and foremost, a theological work.” (vii) It’s a book born of necessity, intending to fill a gap in modern English language history. Siecienski’s goals are modest yet ambitious; he wants to fulfill the need for “a complete and balanced presentation of the history” of the dogma of the filioque and its inclusion in the Creed “from beginning to end.” (vii)
Siecienski takes the reader through the requisite New Testament texts (chapter 1) and the works of the Greek (chapter 2) and Latin Fathers (chapter 3) that predate the controversy before spending a chapter on Maximus the Confessor (chapter 4) who was around for the early parts of the major debate and whose theology, especially as found in his Letter to Marinus, would serve a foundational role for the defenses mounted by both Eastern and Western theologians throughout the controversy. From here Siecienski provides six more chapters of manageable length (roughly twenty pages each) covering succeeding epochs of the controversy (7th to 11th century [chapter 5]; 11th to 13th century [chapter 6]; Council of Lyons to the Eve of Ferrara-Florence [chapter 7]; Council of Ferrara-Florence [chapter 8]; Florence to the Modern Era [chapter 9]; 20th to 21st century [chapter 10]) before providing copious endnotes, an extensive bibliography, and a detailed index.
In all of this Siecienski offers a competent survey suitable for students at the beginning to advanced levels. There are Greek and Latin terms and phrases peppered throughout the volume but almost always in parentheses after the English translation and always because they play an important technical role in the debate. There are no glaring omissions, be they technical terms, important theologians, or major events, although Protestants have had more to say than Siecienski seems to give them credit for, but their limited role in this book is understandable as it is relative to their limited (and late) role in the history of this debate. This is clearly an area of history that Siecienski knows well and he tells the story vividly but without unnecessary detail. To use an overused metaphor, he doesn’t miss the forest for the trees, but we see the trees well enough that we can notice their distinctive characteristics. So in all, Siecienski has accomplished his stated goals, he has provided a history of this doctrinal controversy from beginning to present, acknowledging that he couldn’t have given an account from beginning to end because the controversy still remains.
He also does as good a job as possible at remaining neutral, although if I had to guess, I might suspect that Siecienski has filioquist sympathies. This seems evident when he states that he’s “firmly convinced that Maximus’s Letter to Marinus offers a theologically sound hermeneutic capable of bringing together East and West on the issue of procession” (215), but it becomes clear through the reading of this volume that such sentiments are reserved for those who want to present the filioque as a defensible theologoumenon rather than a heresy. Maximus believed that the Spirit proceeds/comes forth (ἐκπορεύεσθαι) from the Father while he progresses/flows forth (προϊέναι) through the Son (διὰ τοῦ Υιοῦ). For Maximus, if the Latins acknowledged the Father as the sole cause (μία αἱτία) of the Spirit, which at the time of his writing they did, then their use of filioque (corresponding to προϊέναι) was within the bounds of orthodoxy.
The problem, so far as I see it, is that Western Christianity has moved beyond the affirmations of the seventh century (which had significant problems of their own) and into territory that is blatantly heretical by claiming that the “Holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son, and has his essence and his subsistent being from the Father together with the Son, and proceeds from both eternally as from one principle and a single spiration.” (170) In all of the debate recounted in this volume I’ve yet to see an explanation that adequately nullifies Photius the Great’s major objections to the the filioque in his Encyclical to the Eastern Patriarchs:
If the Son participates in the quality or property of the Father’s own hypostasis, then the Son and the Spirit lose their own personal distinctions. Here one falls into semi-Sabellianism. The proposition that in the divinity there exist two principles, one which is independent and the other which receives its origin from the first, destroys the very root of the Christian conception of God. It would be much more consistent to expound these two principles into three, for this would be more in keeping with the human understanding of the Holy Trinity.
But since the Father is the principle and source, not because of the nature of the divinity, but because of the property of the hypostasis (and the hypostasis of the Father does not include the hypostasis of the Son), the Son cannot be a principle or source. The Filioque actually divides the hypostasis of the Father into two parts, or else the hypostasis of the Son becomes a part of the hypostasis of the Father. By the Filioque teaching, the Holy Spirit is two degrees or steps removed from the Father, and thus has a much lower rank than the Son. If the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also, then of the three Divine Hypostases, the Holy Spirit alone has more than one origin or principle.
The problem is not solved by attributing spiration and procession as properties of the divine nature (ousia) rather than the distinct persons (hypostases) since in that case consubstantiality would make the Spirit proceed from himself as much as from the Father and the Son. It likewise creates more problems in that the Son would be begotten equally by Father, Spirit, and Self. By removing distinct personal properties and attributing them to the shared nature one ends up past the semi-Sabellianism that Photius warned against and ends up in full-blown Sabellianism. I’m not nearly as optimistic as Siecienski that Maximus can bridge the divide that exists between East and West since the issues are just as political as they are theological, something that is highlighted throughout this volume. Without dropping the filioque altogether from the creed I can’t see any resolution in sight. With that said, I heartily recommend this volume to anyone who has been touched by the issues surrounding the filioque, which in truth should be all Christians.
20 thoughts on “The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy”
Nick, Amen! Would that the mainstream of Evangelicalism got hold of this…the doctrine of God triune, and monotheistic Trintarianism. And here is always the Incarnation of the Logos of God. But in the Godhead the Father is always the regal, and first person! The East simply has this right!
This book looks like a must read! Thanks.
Nice review. I still say the filioque is a defensible theologoumenon. Label me a heretic : )
Perhaps in an “Augustine” manner, but Augustine is simply wrong here! And I like Augustine. :)
Ahhh…the plague of being human! While we are on this earth and apart from our dear Savior, we can never be completely right…just somewhat to almost right….This demands us to be eternally alert to stay out of the clutches of the evil one. Thanks be to God for placing us under the protection of His Holy Spirit!
Fr. Robert: Amen. And yes, I’d recommend this highly.
James: Thanks! And I’d never call you a heretic [to your face]. ;-)
Nancy: Amen. Sign my name to that comment but add “who proceeds from the Father alone” at the end of it. ;-)
I’ve had this one on my list of “maybe to buy” for a while, but it will remain there. I have yet to see in one of these books a depiction of the later history of the Filioque, in which eternal dual procession is unabmiguously shown as the doctrine of Rome and which was demanded of the East in the (Roman Catholic) ecumenical councils of Lyons II and Ferrara/Florence. Though this fact is neither ecumenically convenient nor theologically fashionable, it is historical.
A true ecumenism and a concern for historical accuracy would not shy away from such inconvenient truths. A true concern for union should be willing to renounce the errors of the past, rather than look for, as they say in bureaucratese, “a possible way forward” through misconstrual of various of the Fathers of the Church.
Kevin: That’s all in this book. It really is well done but I’m sure it’s nothing that you’ve never heard before.
I agree Nick. This book is a must read.
Craig: Glad you enjoyed it.
Not a topic one hears much about in SBC circles.
I shall have to add it to the almost eternally growing wish list.
Chuck: I think you’d enjoy it. And it’s one of OUP’s more affordable titles so that helps.
Cool! Thanks for the pointer, Nick.
Thanks for posting this review. As an EO of a somewhat conservative sort myself, I agree that Photius is right here. In fact I think it would be good for more ecumenically-minded Orthodox to take him more seriously; like Kevin said above, I think true ecumenism cannot ignore what the Church Fathers say and pretend there are no differences (if there are differences). But want to challenge my prejudices and try to read the history of the controversy in a way that pro-Filioqueists (or rather those who are sympathetic) would. Is this the right book to read?
MG: I’d say that Siecienski does as good of a job at seeming disinterested or neutral as any historian can. There’s a few places where one would think that he’s pro-filioque but I think he’s more in favor of a version that acknowledges the Spirit’s procession from the Father through the Son. So I don’t know that this would really be the book to see how a filioquist recounts the history, or at least not an ardent one who’s arguing in favor of the doctrine.
If you want a view from a filioque supporter, check this book out:
Apologetic for Filioque in Medieval Theology
James: Thanks! I’ve not read Ngien’s book but I have read a couple of his articles on the filioque. His work is definitely worth engaging.
Looking forward to reading this now. Thanks for the review Nick.
I’m curious why there are accents in the Latin quotation from the creed. Latin doesn’t carry those kinds of accents normally.
Seumas: I cut and pasted the Latin. To be honest I didn’t even notice the accents.