The Significance of the Filioque Question
Smaragdus records how the emissaries of Charlemagne complained that Pope Leo III was making an issue of only four syllables. Of course, four syllables are not many. Nevertheless, their implications are such that Latin or Frankish Christendom embarked on a history of theology and ecclesiastical practice which may have been quite different had the Franks paid attention to the “Greeks.”
I will indicate some of the implications of the presuppositions of the filioque issue which present problems today.
1 ) Even a superficial study of today’s histories of dogma and biblical scholarship reveals the peculiar fact that Protestant, Anglican, Papal, and some Orthodox theologians accept the First and Second Ecumenical Synods only formally. This is so because there is at least an identity of teaching between Orthodox and Arians, which does not exist between Orthodox and Latins, about the real appearances of the Logos to the Old Testament prophets and the identity of this Logos with the Logos made flesh in the New Testament. This, as we saw, was the agreed foundation of debate for the determination of whether the Logos seen by the prophets is created or uncreated. This identification of the Logos in the Old Testament is the very basis of the teachings of all the Roman Ecumenical Synods.
We emphasize that the East Roman (Orthodox) Fathers never abandoned this reading of the Old Testament theophanies. This is the teaching of all the West Roman Fathers, with the single exception of Augustine, who, confused as usual over what the Fathers teach, rejects as blasphemous the idea that the prophets could have seen the Logos with their bodily eyes and, indeed, in fire, darkness, cloud, etc.
The Arians and Eunomians had used, as the Gnostics before them, the visibility of the Logos to the prophets to prove that He was a lower being than God and a creature. Augustine agrees with the Arians and Eunomians that the prophets saw a created Angel, created fire, cloud, light, darkness, etc., but he argues against them that none of these was the Logos himself, but symbols by means of which God or the whole Trinity is seen and heard.
Augustine had no patience with the teaching that the Angel of the Lord, the fire, the glory, the cloud, and the Pentecostal tongues of fire, were verbal symbols of the uncreated realities immediately communicated with by the prophets and apostles, since for him this would mean that all this language pointed to a vision of the divine substance. For the bishop of Hippo this vision is identical to the whole of what is uncreated, and could be seen only by a Neoplatonic type ecstasy of the soul, out of the body within the sphere of timeless and motionless eternity transcending all discursive reasoning. Since this is not what he found in the Bible, the visions therein described are not verbal symbols of real visions of God, but of creatures symbolizing eternal realities. The created verbal symbols of the Bible became created objective symbols. In other words, words which symbolized uncreated energies like fire, etc., became objectively real created fires, clouds, tongues, etc.
2) This failure of Augustine to distinguish between the divine essence and its natural energies (of which some are communicated to the friends of God), led to a very peculiar reading of the Bible, wherein creatures or symbols come into existence in order to convey a divine message, and then pass out of existence. Thus, the Bible becomes full of unbelievable miracles and a text dictated by God.
3) Besides this, the biblical concept of heaven and hell also becomes distorted, since the eternal fires of hell and the outer darkness become creatures also whereas, they are the uncreated glory of God as seen by those who refuse to love. Thus, one ends up with the three-story universe problem, with God in a place, etc., necessitating a demythologizing of the Bible in order to salvage whatever one can of a quaint Christian tradition for modern man. However, it is not the Bible itself which needs demythologizing, but the Augustinian Franco-Latin tradition and the caricature which it passed off in the West as “Greek” Patristic theology.
4) By not taking the above-mentioned foundations of Roman Patristic theology of the Ecumenical Synods seriously as the key to interpreting the Bible, modern biblical scholars have applied presuppositions latent in Augustine with such methodical consistency that they have destroyed the unity and identity of the Old and New Testaments, and have allowed themselves to be swayed by Judaic interpretations of the Old Testament rejected by Christ himself. Thus, instead of dealing with the concrete person of the Angel of God, Lord of Glory, Angel of Great Council, Wisdom of God and identifying Him with the Logos made flesh and Christ, and accepting this as the doctrine of the Trinity, most, if not all, Western scholars have ended up identifying Christ only with Old Testament Messiahship, and equating the doctrine of the Trinity with the development of extra Biblical Trinitarian terminology within what is really not a Patristic framework, but an Augustinian one. Thus, the so-called “Greek” Fathers are still read in the light of Augustine, with the Russians after Peter Mogila joining in.
5) Another most devastating result of the Augustinian presuppositions of the filioque is the destruction of the prophetic and apostolic understanding of grace and its replacement with the whole system of created graces distributed in Latin Christendom by the hocus pocus of the clergy.
For the Bible and the Fathers, grace is the uncreated glory and rule (basileiva) of God seen by the prophets, apostles, and saints and participated in by the faithful followers of the prophets and the apostles. The source of this glory and rule is the Father who, in begetting the Logos, and projecting the Spirit, communicates this glory and rule so that the Son and the Spirit are also by nature one source of grace with the Father. This uncreated grace and rule (basileiva) is participated in by the faithful according to their preparedness for reception, and is seen by the friends of God who have become gods by grace.
Because the Frankish filioque presupposes the identity of uncreated divine essence and energy, and because participation in the divine essence is impossible, the Latin tradition was led automatically into accepting communicated grace as created, leading to its objectification and magical priestly manipulation.
On the other hand, the reduction by Augustine of this revealed glory and rule (basileiva) to the status of a creature has misled modern biblical scholars into the endless discussions concerning the coming of the “Kingdom” (basileiva should rather be rule) without realizing its identity with the uncreated glory and grace of God.19
In the patristic tradition, all dogma or truth is experienced in glorification. The final form of glorification is that of Pentecost, in which the apostles were led by the Spirit into all the truth, as promised by Christ at the Last Supper. Since Pentecost, every incident of the glorification of a saint, (in other words, of a saint having a vision of God’s uncreated glory in Christ as its source), is an extension of Pentecost at various levels of intensity.
This experience includes all of man, but at the same time transcends all of man, including man’s intellect. Thus, the experience remains a mystery to the intellect, and cannot be conveyed intellectually to another. Thus, language can point to, but cannot convey, this experience. The spiritual father can guide a person to, but cannot produce, the experience which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
When, therefore, the Fathers add terms to the biblical language concerning God and His relation to the world like hypostasis, ousia, physis, homoousios, etc., they are not doing this because they are improving current understanding as over against a former age. Pentecost cannot be improved upon. All they are doing is defending the Pentecostal experience which transcends words, in the language of their time, because a particular heresy leads away from, and not to, this experience, which means spiritual death to those led astray.
For the Fathers, authority is not only the Bible, but the Bible plus those glorified or divinized as the prophets and apostles. The Bible is not in itself either inspired or infallible. It becomes inspired and infallible within the communion of saints because they have the experience of divine glory described in the Bible.
The presuppositions of the Frankish (“Latin”) filioque are not founded on this experience of glory. Anyone can claim to speak with authority and understanding. However, we Orthodox follow the Fathers and accept only those as authority who, like the apostles, have reached a degree of Pentecostal glorification.
Within this frame of reference, there can be no institutionalized or guaranteed form of infallibility, outside of the tradition of spirituality which leads to theoria, mentioned above, by St. Gregory the Theologian.
What is true of the Bible is true of the Synods, which, like the Bible, express in symbols that which transcends symbols and is known by means of those who have reached theoria. It is for this reason that the Synods appeal to the authority, not only of the Fathers in the Bible, but also to the Fathers of all ages, since the Fathers of all ages participate in the same truth which is God’s glory in Christ.
For this reason, Pope Leo III told the Franks in no uncertain terms that the Fathers left the filioque out of the Creed neither because of ignorance nor by omission, but by divine inspiration. However the implications of the Frankish filioque were not accepted by all Roman Christians in the Western Roman provinces conquered by Franco-Latin Christendom and its scholastic theology. Remnants of Roman biblical orthodoxy and piety have survived and all parts may one day be reassembled, as the full implications of the Patristic tradition make themselves known, and spirituality, as the basis of doctrine, becomes the center of our studies.
1. The European and Middle Eastern parts of the Roman Empire were carved out of areas which, among other linguistic elements, contained two bands, the Celtic and the Greek, which ran parallel to each other from the Atlantic to the Middle East. The Celtic band was north of the Greek band, except in Asia Minor, where Galatia had the Greek band to the east, the north, and the south. Northern Italy itself was part of the Celtic band and Southern Italy a part of the Greek band (here called Magna Graecia) which in the West covered Southern Spain, Gaul, and their Mediterranean islands. Due consideration should be given to the fact that both the Celtic and Greek bands were east and west of Roman Italy. The Romans first took over the Greek and Celtic parts of Italy and then the Greek and Celtic speaking peoples of the two bands. The Celtic band was almost completely Latinized, whereas the Greek band, not only remained intact, but was even expanded by the Roman policy of completing the Hellenization of the Eastern provinces initiated by the Macedonians. The reason why the Celtic band, but not the Greek band, was Latinized was that the Romans were themselves bilingual in fact and in sentiment, since in the time of their explosive expansion they spoke both Latin and Greek, with a strong preference for the latter. Thus, one is obliged to speak of both the Western and Eastern parts of European Romania in terms of a Latin North and a Greek South, but certainly not of a Latin West and a Greek East, which is a Frankish myth, fabricated for the propagandistic reasons described in Lecture I, which survives in text books until today. Indeed, the Galatians of Asia Minor were in the fourth century still speaking the same dialect as the Treveri of the province of Belgica in the Roman diocese of Gaul. (Albert Grenier, Les Gaulois [Paris, 1970], p. 115.) That the Latin West/Greek East division of Europe is a Frankish myth is still witnessed to today by some 25 million Romans in the Balkans, who speak Romance dialects, and by the Greek-speaking inhabitants of the Balkans and the Middle East, who call themselves Romans. It should be noted that it is very possible that the Galatians of Asia Minor still spoke the same language as the ancestors of the Waloons in the area of the Ardennes when the legate of Pope John XV, Abbot Leo, was at Mouzon pronouncing the condemnation of Gerbert d’Aurillac in 995
2. Migne, PL 89:744.
3. For a review of the historical and doctrinal aspects of this question, see J. S. Romanides, The Filioque, Anglican Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Discussions, St. Albans 1975—Moscow 1976 (Athens, 1978).
4. Matthew 5.8.
5. Epistle 2.
6. Theological Oration 1.5.
7. Ibid. 1.3.
8. On the relations between the Johanine and Synoptic gospel traditions see my study, “Justin Martyr and the Fourth Gospel,” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 4 (1958-59), pp. 115-39.
9. PL 102.971 ff. For interpretation of these minutes and related matters see my JH Dogmatikhv kaiv Sumbolikhv th`~ jOrqodovxou Kaqolikh`~ jEkklhsiva~, pp. 340-78.
12. Theological Orations, 2.4.
14. J. N. Karmiris, Tav Dogmatikav kaiv Sumbolikav Mnhmei`a th`~ jOrqodovxou Kaqolikh`~ jEkklhsiva~, Athens 1966, Vol. 1, p. 325.
15. Ibid, p. 324.
16. De Synodis, 41.
17. Theological Orations, 5.8.
18. Besides the works mentioned in footnotes above, see my study, “Justin Martyr and the Fourth Gospel,” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 4 (1958-59), 115-39.