"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Spirituque: development as recovery

In the my ongoing researches into Trinitarian theology, I've come across a very interesting article by Orthodox theologian Alexander Golitzin, published in 2001, entitled "Adam, Eve, and Seth: Pneumatological reflections on an unusual image in Gregory of Nazianzus's Fifth Theological Oration. Toward the end of that article, he writes (emphasis added):

The fact, however, that Western Christians have taken the matter further, beginning chiefly (though not exclusively) with Augustine, and have raised—legitimately, I think—the question of the Second Person's part in the Spirit's origin, brings us to what I, and several other Orthodox theologians before me, feel that the ancient Semitic-Christian tradition sketched above and presupposed by Gregory can contribute to the discussion.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is the so-far-unaddressed question of the Spirit's role in the generation of the Son. What the old image of the Trinity as "family" reveals, together with the Synoptic baptismal narratives and Luke's account of the Incarnation, is a different Trinitarian taxis or model than the one we are all used to: not Father-Son-Spirit, but Father-Spirit-Son—or, and to borrow a phrase from Leonardo Boff, precisely an implied spirituque. 14 It is this other taxis which I take to be effectively presupposed both by the Eastern epicleseis over the baptismal font and the eucharistic elements, and by the witness of the Eastern ascetico-mystical tradition, which is to say, that it has its roots in the very deepest and, I would argue, most primordial levels of Christian faith and practice as the latter have been known in the East since—well, since the beginnings of Christianity itself.

Here, I think, we arrive at the real reasons—beneath and aside from the abstractions of divine narchia, relations of origin, and of the properties of ousia and hypostasis, or of the purely canonical question of proper or improper additions to the ecumenical creed—for that visceral, almost instinctively negative Eastern reaction to the filioque which I mentioned at the beginning of this essay. In a nutshell, the filioque as it stands, tout court, offends as it were the "inner ear" of Eastern Christian faith and practice, almost exactly in the way in which we would speak of the vertigo and nausea resulting from an injury to the fluids of the body's inner ear. Put more briefly still, the filioque strikes us Easterns as unacceptably lopsided. If it answers to a real need to explain in intra-Trinitarian terms the Son's sending of the Spirit, it does so at the expense of the Spirit's own active role and Person. The Latter becomes entirely passive and, in our eyes, this does not in consequence account adequately for the scriptural, liturgical, and (yes) mystical data of the Tradition which witness to His (or, if the reader prefers my ancient Syrians, Her) creative and generative power.

Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy has written very recently, and Fr. Dumitru Staniloae some time ago, of the need to restore a sense of the reciprocity in the relations between the Son and Holy Spirit.15 I would like to second that motion. As to the precise theological shape that reciprocity might take, or what formula might be found to express it adequately, I will not venture either to propose or to guess. Allow me instead to close not with my own words, but with those of a great Byzantine saint and mystic who wrote on the very eve of our millennial schism.

St. Symeon the New Theologian (+ 1022) testifies here, as so often in his works, to personal transfiguration in the visio dei. It seems to me that his words might be taken as summing up and encapsulating the legitimate insights of both halves of the now sundered Christian ecumene:

What is the "image of the heavenly man" (1 Cor. 15:49)? Listen to the divine Paul: "He is the reflection of the Glory and very stamp of the nature" and the "exact image" of God the Father (Heb. 1:3). The Son is then the icon of the Father, and the Holy Spirit the icon of the Son. Whoever, then, has seen the Son, has seen the Father, and whoever has seen the Holy Spirit, has seen the Son. As the Apostle says, "The Lord is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:7); and again: "The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words ... crying `Abba, Father!' (Rom. 8:26 and 15). He says rightly that the Lord is the Spirit when He cries "Abba, Father!", not that the Son is the Spirit—away with the thought!—but that the Son is seen and beheld in the Holy Spirit, and that never is the Son revealed without the Spirit, nor the Spirit without the Son. Instead, it is in and through the Spirit that the Son Himself cries "Abba, Father!"16

I could not agree more with both Golitzin and St. Simeon. See my earlier post on the spirituque-filioque theme.
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