The Theological Background
At the foundation of the filioque controversy between Franks and Romans lie essential differences in theological method, theological subject matter, spirituality, and, therefore, also in the understanding of the very nature of doctrine and of the development of the language or of terms in which doctrine is expressed.
When reading through Smaragdus’ minutes of the meeting between Charlemagne’s emissaries and Pope Leo III, one is struck not only by the fact that the Franks had so audaciously added the filioque to the Creed and made it into a dogma, but also by the haughty manner in which they so authoritatively announced that the filioque was necessary for salvation, and that it was an improvement of an already good, but not complete, doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. This was in answer to Leo’s strong hint at Frankish audacity. Leo, in turn, warned that when one attempts to improve what is good he should first be sure that in trying to improve he is not corrupting. He emphasizes that he cannot put himself in a position higher than the Fathers of the Synods, who did not omit the filioque out of oversight or ignorance, but by divine inspiration.
The question arises, “Where in the world did the newly born Frankish theological tradition get the idea that the filioque is an improvement of the Creed, and that it was omitted from creedal expression because of oversight or ignorance on the part of the Fathers of the Synod?” Since Augustine is the only representative of Roman theology that the Franks were more or less fully acquainted with, one must turn to the Bishop of Hippo for a possible answer. I think I have found the answer in Saint Augustine’s lecture delivered to the assembly of African bishops in 393. Augustine had been asked to deliver a lecture on the Creed, which he did. Later he reworked the lecture and published it. I do not see why the Creed expounded is not that of Nicaea-Constantinople, since the outline of Augustine’s discourse and the Creed are the same. Twelve years had passed since its acceptance by the Second Ecumenical Synod and, if ever, this was the opportune time for assembled bishops to learn of the new, official, imperially approved creed. The bishops certainly knew their own local Creed and did not require lessons on that. In any case, Augustine makes three basic blunders in this discourse and died many years later without ever realizing his mistakes, which were to lead the Franks and the whole of their Germanic Latin Christendom into a repetition of those same mistakes.
In his De Fide et Symbolo, Augustine makes an unbelievable naive and inaccurate statement: “With respect to the Holy Spirit, however, there has not been, on the part of learned and distinguished investigators of the Scriptures, a fuller careful enough discussion of the subject to make it possible for us to obtain an intelligent conception of what also constitutes His special individuality (proprium).”
Everyone at the Second Ecumenical Synod knew well that this question was settled once and for all by the use in the Creed of the word procession as meaning the manner of existence of the Holy Spirit from the Father which constitutes His special individuality. Thus, the Father is unbegotten, i.e. derives His existence from no one. The Son is from the Father by generation. The Holy Spirit is from the Father, not by generation, but by procession. The Father is cause, the Son and the Spirit are caused. The difference between the ones caused is the one is caused by generation, and the other by procession, and not by generation.
In any case, Augustine spent many years trying to solve this non-existent problem concerning the individuality of the Holy Spirit and, because of another set of mistakes in his understanding of revelation and theological method, came up with the filioque.
It is no wonder that the Franks, believing that Augustine had solved a theological problem which the other Roman Fathers had supposedly failed to grapple with and solve came to the conclusion that they uncovered a theologian far superior to all other Fathers. In him the Franks had a theologian who improved upon the teaching of the Second Ecumenical Synod.
A second set of blunders made by Augustine in this same discourse is that he identified the Holy Spirit with the divinity “which the Greeks designate qeovth~” and explained that this is the “love between the Father and the Son.”
The third and most disturbing blunder in Augustine’s approach to the question before us is that his theological method is not only pure speculation on what one accepts by faith (for the purpose of intellectually understanding as much as one’s reason allows by either illumination or ecstatic intuition), but is a speculation which is transferred from the individual speculating believer to a speculating church, which, like an individual, understands the dogmas better with the passage of time.
Thus, the Church awaits a discussion about the Holy Spirit “Full enough or careful enough to make it possible for us to obtain an intelligent conception of what also constitutes His special individuality (proprium).”
The most amazing thing is the fact that Augustine begins with seeking out the individual properties of the Holy Spirit and immediately reduces Him to what is common to the Father and Son. However, in his later additions to his De Trinitate, he insists that the Holy Spirit is an individual substance of the Holy Trinity completely equal to the other two substances and possessing the same essence as we saw.
In any case, the Augustinian idea that the Church herself goes through a process of attaining a deeper and better understanding of her dogmas or teachings was made the very basis of the Frankish propaganda that the filioque is a deeper and better understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, adding it to the Creed is an improvement upon the faith of the Romans who had allowed themselves to become lazy and slothful on such an important matter. This, of course, raises the whole question concerning the relationship between revelation and verbal and iconic or symbolic expressions of revelation.
For Augustine, there is no distinction between revelation and conceptual intuition of revelation. Whether revelation is given directly to human reason, or to human reason by means of creatures, or created symbols, it is always the human intellect itself which is being illumined or given vision to. The vision of God itself is an intellectual experience, even though above the powers of reason without appropriate grace.
In contrast to this Augustinian approach to language and concepts concerning God, we have the Patristic position expressed by Saint Gregory the Theologian against the Eunomians. Plato had claimed that it is difficuIt to conceive of God but, to define Him in words is an impossibility. Saint Gregory disagrees with this and emphasizes that “it is impossible to express Him, and yet, more impossible to conceive Him. For that which may be conceived may perhaps be made clear by language, if not fairly well, at any rate imperfectly…”
The most important element in Patristic epistemology is that the partial knowability of the divine actions or energies, and the absolute and radical unknowability and incommunicability of the divine essence is not a result of philosophical or theological speculation, as it is in Paul of Samosata, Arianism, and Nestorianism, but of the personal experience of revelation or participation in the uncreated glory of God by means of vision or theoria. Saint Gregory defines a theologian as one who has reached this theoria by means of purification and illumination, and not by means of dialectical speculation. Thus, the authority for Christian truth is not the written words of the Bible, which cannot in themselves either express God or convey an adequate concept concerning God, but rather the individual apostle, prophet, or saint who is glorified in God.
Because the Franks, following Augustine, neither understood the Patristic position on this subject, nor were they willing from the heights of their majestic feudal nobility to listen to “Greeks” explain these distinctions, they went about raiding the Patristic texts. They took passages out of context in order to prove that for all the Fathers, as supposedly in the case of Augustine, the fact that the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit means that the Holy Spirit derives His existence from the Father and Son.
The Fathers always claimed that generation and procession are what distinguish the Son from the Holy Spirit. Since the Son is the only begotten Son of God, procession is different from generation. Otherwise, we would have two Sons, in which case there is no only begotten Son. For the Fathers this was both a biblical fact and a mystery to be treated with due respect. To ask what generation and procession are is as ridiculous as asking what the divine essence is. Only energies of God may be known, and then only in so far as the creature can receive.
In contrast to this, Augustine set out to explain what generation is. He identified generation with what the other Roman Fathers called actions or energies of God which are common to the Holy Trinity. Thus, procession ended up being these same energies. The difference between the Son and the Spirit was that the Son is from one and the Holy Spirit from two.
When he began his De Trinitate, Augustine promised that he would explain why the Son and the Holy Spirit are not brothers. After completing his twelfth book, his friends stole and published this work in an unfinished and uncorrected form. In Book 15.45, Augustine admits that he cannot explain why the Holy Spirit is not a Son of the Father and brother of the Logos, and proposes that we will learn this in the next life.
In his Rectractationun, Augustine explains how he intended to exiain what had happened in another writing and not publish his De Trinitate himself. However, his friends prevailed upon him, and he simply corrected the books as much as he could and finished the work with which he was not really satisfied.
What is most remarkable is that the spiritual and cultural descendants of the Franks are still claiming that Augustine is the authority par excellence on the Patristic doctrine of the Holy Trinity!
Whereas no Greek-speaking Roman Father ever used the expression that the Holy Spirit proceeds (ejkporeuvetai) from the Father and Son, both Ambrose and Augustine use this expression. Since Ambrose was so dependent on such Greek-speaking experts as Basil the Great and Didymos the Blind, particularly his work on the Holy Spirit, one would expect that he would follow Eastern usage.
It seems, however, that at the time of the death of Ambrose, before the Second Ecumenical Synod, the term procession had been adopted by Didymos as the hypostatic individuality of the Holy Spirit. It had not been used by Saint Basil (only in his letter 38 he seems to be using procession as Gregory the Theologian) or by Saint Gregory of Nyssa before the Second Ecumenical Synod. Of the Cappadocian Fathers, only Saint Gregory the Theologian uses very clearly in his Theological Orations what became the final formulation of the Church on the matter at the Second Ecumenical Synod.
Evidently, because Augustine transformed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity into a speculative exercise of philosophical acumen, the simple, schematic and biblical nature of the doctrine in the East Roman (Orthodox) tradition had been lost sight of by those stemming from the scholastic tradition.
Thus, the history of the doctrine of the Trinity has been reduced to searching out the development of such concepts and terminology as three persons or hypostases, one essence, homoousios, personal or hypostatic properties, one divinity, etc.
The summary of the Patristic theological method is perhaps sufficient to indicate the nonspeculative method by which the Fathers theologize and interpret the Bible. The method is simple and-the result is schematic. Stated simply and arithmetically, the whole doctrine of the Trinity may be broken down into two simple statements as far as the filioque is concerned. (1) What is common in the Holy Trinity is common to and identical in all three persons or hypostases. (2) What is hypostatic, or hypostatic property, or manner of existence is individual, and belongs only to one person or hypostasis of the Holy Trinity. Thus, we have tav koinav and tav ajkoinwvnhta, what is common and what is incommunically individual.
Having this in mind, one realizes why the West and East Romans did not take the Frankish filioque very seriously as a theological position, especially as one which was supposed to improve upon the Creed of the Second Ecumenical Synod.
However, the Romans had to take the Franks themselves seriously, because they backed up their fantastic theological claims with an unbelievable self-confidence and with a sharp sword. What they lacked in historical insight, they made up with “nobility” of descent, and a strong will to back up their arguments with muscle and steel.
In any case, it may be useful in terminating this section to emphasize the simplicity of the Roman position and the humor with which the filioque was confronted. We may recapture this Roman humor about the Latin filioque with two syllogistic jokes from the Great Photios which may explain some of the fury of Frankish reaction against him.
“Everything, therefore, which is seen and spoken of in the all-holy and consubstantial and coessential Trinity, is either common to all, or belongs to one only of the three: but the projection (probolhv) of the Spirit, is neither common, nor, as they say, does it belong to any one of them alone (may propitiation be upon us, and the blasphemy turned upon their heads). Therefore, the projection of the Spirit is not at all in the lifegiving and all-perfect Trinity.”
In other words, the Holy Spirit must then derive His existence outside of the Holy Trinity since everything in the Trinity is common to all or belongs to one only.
“For otherwise, if all things common to the Father and the Son, are in any case common to the Spirit, …and the procession from them is common to the Father and the Son, the Spirit therefore will then proceed from himself: and He will be principle (ajrchv) of himself, and both cause and caused: a thing which even the myths of the Greeks never fabricated.”
Keeping in mind the fact that the Fathers always began their thoughts about the Holy Trinity from their personal experience of the Angel of the Lord and Great Counselor made man and Christ, one only then understands the problematic underlying the Arian/Eunomian crisis, i.e., whether this concrete person derives His existence from the essence or hypostasis of the Father or from non-being by the will of the Father. Had the tradition understood the method of theologizing about God as Augustine did, there would never have been an Arian or Eunomian heresy. Those who reach glorification (theosis) know by this experience that whatever has its existence from non-being by the will of God is a creature, and whoever and whatever is not from non-being, but from the Father is uncreated. Between the created and the uncreated, there is no similarity whatsoever.  Before the Cappadocian Fathers gave their weight to the distinction between the three divine hypostases (uJpostavsei~) and the one divine essence, many Orthodox Church leaders avoided speaking either about one essence or one hypostasis since this smacked of Sabellian and Samosatene Monarchianism. Many preferred to speak about the Son as deriving His existence from the Father’s essence and as being like the Father in essence (oJmoiouvsio~) Saint Athanasios explains that this is exactly what is meant by (oJmoouvsio~)—coessential. It is clear that the Orthodox were not searching for a common faith but rather for common terminology and common concepts to express their common experience in the Body of Christ.
Equally important is the fact that the Cappadocians lent their weight to the distinction between the Father as cause (ai[tio~) and the Son and the Holy Spirit as caused (aijtiatav). Coupled with the manners of existence (trovpoi uJpavrxew~) of generation and procession, these terms mean that the Father causes the existence of the Son by generation and of the Holy Spirit by procession and not by generation. Of course, the Father being from no one (ejx oujdenov~) derives His existence neither from himself nor from another. Actually, Saint Basil pokes fun at Eunomios for being the first to say such an obvious thing and thereby manifest his frivolousness and wordiness. Furthermore, neither the essence nor the natural energy of the Father have a cause or manner of existence. The Father possesses them by His very nature and communicates them to the Son in order that they possess them by nature likewise. Thus, the manner by which the uncaused Father exists, and by which the Son and the Holy Spirit receive their existence from the Father, are not to be confused with the Father’s communicating His essence and energy to the Son and the Holy Spirit. It would, indeed, be strange to speak about the Father as causing the existence of His own essence and energy along with the hypostases of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It also must be emphasized that for the Fathers who composed the creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople neither generation nor procession mean energy or action. This was the position of the heretics condemned. The Arians claimed that the Son is the product of the will of God. The Eunomians supported a more original but bizarre position that the uncreated energy of the Father is identical with His essence, that the Son is the product of a simple created energy of God, that the Holy Spirit is the product of a single energy of the Son, and that each created species is the product of a special energy of the Holy Spirit, there being as many created energies as there are species. Otherwise, if the Holy Spirit has only one created energy, then there would be only one species of things in creation. It is in the light of these heresies also that one must appreciate that generation and procession in the Creed in no way mean energy or action.
However, when the Franks began raiding the Fathers for arguments to support their addition to the Creed, they picked up the categories of manner of existence, cause and caused, and identified these with Augustine’s generation and procession, thus transforming the old Western Orthodox filioque into their heretical one. This confusion is nowhere so clear than during the debates at the Council of Florence where the Franks used the terms cause and caused as identical with their generation and procession, and supported their claim that the Father and the Son are one cause of the procession of the Holy Spirit. Thus, they became completely confused over Maximos who explains that for the West of his time, the Son is not the cause of the existence of the Holy Spirit, so that in this sense the Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Father. That Anastasios the Librarian repeats this is ample evidence of the confusion of both the Franks and their spiritual and theological descendants.*** For the Fathers, no name or concept gives any understanding of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Saint Gregory the Theologian, e.g., is clear on this as we saw. He ridicules his opponents with a characteristic taunt: “Do tell me what is the unbegotteness of the Father, and I will explain to you the physiology of the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit, and we shall both of us be frenzy-stricken for prying into the mystery of God’’17 Names and concepts about God give to those who reach theoria understanding not of the mystery, but of the dogma and its purpose. In the experience of glorification, knowledge about God, along with prayer, prophecy and faith are abolished. Only love remains (1 Cor. 13, 8-13; 14,1). The mystery remains, and will always remain, even when one sees God in Christ face to face and is known by God as Paul was (I Cor. 13.12).
(End of Part IV)