The Filioque Controversy is the long-standing division between the Eastern and Western Churches, where the West added the phrase filioque (“and the Son”) to the Nicene Creed, so that the creed explains that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The historical details of the controversy are lengthy, but leave them aside for the moment.
Instead, I stumbled today across a fascinating lecture by Bojidar Marinov called “The Filioque Cause: Why the West Is West and the East Is East.” In the lecture, Marinov examines the results, rather than causes, of the development of the East and the West based on the inclusion of filioque in the Nicene Creed.
From the lecture:
What difference has it caused?
In order to understand it, we need first to understand the theological implications of this point of the creed. Theologians – even those in the West – usually limit the discussion to issues of the nature of that proceeding: what it means that the Spirit proceeds, and what kind of relationship this establishes between the persons of the Trinity. There are arguments as to whether the Spirit proceeds from the Son in the same manner He proceeds from the Father; the difference between the Greek words προϊέναι and ἐκπορεύεσθαι is invoked in the matter. We may never be able to understand the exact manner of that procession, and it is quite possible that we won’t be allowed to ever comprehend it. What is more important is for us to understand the issue involved: representation.
John 15:26, the verse which speaks about the procession of the Spirit, connects it very clearly to His economic function in the Trinity, as far as God’s creation is concerned: it is to testify of Christ, just as the disciples were supposed to testify of Him. The Greek word μαρτυρέω used in the text speaking of what the person has seen with His own eyes. The Spirit thus speaks what He has heard of Jesus, the same words that the disciples have heard of Jesus’s mouth, as He makes clear in the previous chapter, verse 26. The Spirit, being the Person of the Godhead Who is constantly with us today, and is constantly guiding us and illuminating our minds, acts as a representative of the Godhead, of the Father and of the Son. The relation of representation which has been so foundational and important for our human societies from the very beginning, did not originate with man; it was present in the Godhead in the very beginning, in the economic functions of the persons of the Godhead. We can talk about representation and delegating authority between persons in the human society today only because there is representation between the persons in the Godhead; and the Holy Spirit is the representative of the Father and the Son to us today. The Spirit’s procession is identical with His economic function.
But who does He represent? The East said, only the Father. The West said, not only the Father but the Son also. Or, if they didn’t say it that clearly, it was implied in their respective views of the procession of the Holy Spirit.
If the Spirit only proceeds from the Father, then He represents only the Father. And since the Father is a Spirit Himself (John 4:24), then we have a Spirit representing a Spirit. The representation remaining in the spiritual realm, we should expect that the revelation that comes from the testimony of the Spirit would remain strictly spiritual. A focus on the spiritual side of God would tend to separate the revelation of God from the material world; and, consequently, will leave us with little to say about our life in the material world. Even if the official doctrine doesn’t preach ontological subordinationism, the practical theology will tend to underestimate the work and the Person of Jesus Christ. We are creatures of flesh and blood, and Jesus had to “partake of the same” (Heb. 2:14) in order to free us; apparently the flesh and blood characteristic of humanity has an important part to play in our justification and sanctification. But if Jesus is not represented fully by the Spirit, then that participation was only temporary, as far as we are concerned; then in history, we are left with no intercessor of flesh and blood who communicates with us and with God. Consequently, whatever Jesus did while in flesh can not be revealed to us comprehensively, for the intercessory part of His ministry was to remain limited in time, and not related to us by the work of the Spirit.
But if the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, the Spirit is not only representing a Spirit, but God in flesh. And if the Spirit is representing the God-man Jesus, the Intercessor between God and man, then by necessity the central place in our theology is not an incomprehensible deity whom it takes certain mystical escape to worship, but a concrete person with Whom we can identify, comprehend, and imitate in everything He did, including His works here on earth. “What Would Jesus Do?” is a very Western principle, even if twisted in our day by pietistic sects; it did have a specific meaning for the Western Christianity, a meaning that was never adopted in the East. In fact, “What Would Jesus Do?” has no identifiable meaning whatsoever for an Eastern Christian. Such a question would presuppose a really intimate connection between the worshiper and Christ which can not be there if the Holy Spirit is not directly representing the Second Person of the Trinity. Christ could be imitated in the East only in the kenosis, the “self-emptying” of the believer of all material concerns, desires, and ethical struggles; the direction from the body to the spirit, emptying the body to be full in spirit. Whereas in the West, since God in flesh is represented and worshiped and obeyed, imitating Christ meant from the very beginning a movement from the spirit to the body, not emptying oneself of the physical flesh but filling the body with the Spirit, just as Christ was full with the Spirit while in His body.
The Second Person of the Trinity thus became the central figure in the Western theology, based on the filioque. Not just another saint in the Pantheon of saints, not just the biggest image in the sanctuary, among the smaller images of other venerated men, but a concrete person to be followed and imitated. Western theology thus separated radically from the East in that its focus now wasn’t on the kenosis but on the incarnation. It was the incarnation, God in flesh, the Word become flesh that was to guide the development of the Western worldview, not the emptying of the flesh. Incarnation became not only the foundation of academic and philosophical thought, it became the very foundation of Western theology. A redeemed man was supposed to be the Word incarnated, and what Western theologians meant by it was a life of practical wisdom and obedience. And therefore, a redeemed society was supposed to be the Word incarnated, and that meant a culture of practical wisdom and obedience. The Reformation did not start by challenging the theology of the Roman Church; it started by challenging its practice compared to its teachings; the Reformers required faith incarnated before they sat down to find what went wrong creedaly and theologically.
The Eastern Church was never able to understand why the hassle; the very notion of practical Christian living in what is essentially morally neutral realm, society and culture, is foreign to the East. The East wanted to empty itself of the flesh. The West wanted to fill the flesh with the Spirit, and make it live a holy life.
My interest with the Holy Spirit of late has centered on the issue of the Holy Spirit’s mediating Christ to us. This lecture affirms this emphasis, but it further makes me want to think through the Holy Spirit as he relates to Christ’s Incarnation.