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

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The filioque VIII

In the "insanely long" combox to my post of June 9 "A rad-trad converts," I finally broke down and summed up for my long-time Orthodox interlocutor Photios Jones the current state of my thinking about the filioque issue. Naturally Photios had a good deal to say in reply, even though I had indicated that I felt the combox was not the place to continue the discussion and left open the possibility of continuing elsewhere. Well, now that I see fellow philosopher Brandon at Siris weighing in on the issue, I see the occasion to continue.

Before I get to the substance of the matter, two observations are in order. One is that, in my view, the sole good purpose to be served by discussing the filioque at this stage of history is to exhibit how the Catholic dogma thereof is compatible with what Orthodoxy is concerned above all to uphold: the doctrine of the "monarchy of the Father" (MF), meaning that the Father is the sole fons et origo of the Godhead. That is the necessary point of departure for any effort to move the issue off the polemical dime it has occupied for so many centuries. My other preliminary observation is that most of my critics, whether Orthodox or Catholic, tend to see my efforts on the filioque as discontinuous, if not downright incompatible, with what the Catholic Church has dogmatically defined on the subject: to wit, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son "as from one principle" (quasi ab uno principio). Of course the Orthodox tend to see that as, ceteris paribus, a plus, and the Catholics as a minus. But that is usually how theologizing that tries to move the state of a given question forward is greeted—whether or not the theologizing in question turns out to be sound. If and where somebody can demonstrate that I am in error, I will happily concede the point; and of course I submit my efforts to the judgment of the Magisterium, supposing that I will ever be fortunate enough to see them actually noticed at that level.

With that said, I issue a final caveat: if you have to ask what any of Greek or Latin terms in what follows mean, read no further than that term. This one is for the true nerds.

Here's what I substantively wrote in the aforementioned combox:

First, my position takes for granted three things: the truth of the definitions of Lyons and Florence on the filioque; the truth of the main assertions of the Vatican's 1995 white paper on the filioque (a document you know well); and the logical compatibility of the Lyons-Florence definitions with the "monarchy of the Father." As the historical record of discussion shows, the bishops who signed on to the Florentine definition of the filioque accepted that compatibility, else they could not have signed on in good conscience. Said compatibility is also implied by CCC 248. Second and accordingly, the sole question that concerns me is how the two doctrines are compatible....

The key step is to recognize the polyvalence of the Latin word
causa. If the two doctrines are compatible, then the Son cannot be understood to be a "cause" of the Spirit in the sense of ekpoureusis—a kind of causation which, ad intra, belongs solely to the Father. So, assuming that the Son is, with the Father, a "cause" of the Spirit, that must be in at least one sense of causa other than that of ekpoureusis. The Latin theological tradition recognizes many senses of the term causa, e.g. the "four causes" postulated by Aristotle. The main conclusion I've reached is that, in order to get at the relevant sense of causa, it must be recognized that the two Trinitarian processions are somehow mutually interdependent. Conceptually speaking, if two activities A and B depend on each other, then there's a sense of 'cause' in which the products of A and B respectively are causes of each other. In the present case, it follows that there's a sense in which spirituque is as true as filioque, and it's that consequence which irritates my Latin brethren. So, given the traditional taxis of Father, Son, and Spirit, what I need to work out is the sense in which filiation has a certain priority over spiration. From that standpoint, even though both spirituque and filioque are true, the mutual interdependence of filation and spiration is asymmetrical, with the former having priority over the latter. My work is far from complete even in conception because I haven't been able to give much thought to the asymmetricality I feel obliged to acknowledge.

I'm not working in the dark; I've read a number of Fathers and Doctors of the Church, both East and West, on the subject. I pray about this. But I'm not sure that the effort involved in going further would be worthwhile. It seems to me that the effort would be worthwhile only given insight into the inner life of the Trinity that I'm not sure anybody can reasonably claim to have. So, all I've tried to do is sketch out a logical space where the dogmatic
affirmations of East and West can be understood as mutually compatible. I think I've made some modest progress on that.

Those who are interested in seeing just what progress, if any, I've made can do a search on the term filioque within this blog. But my hunch is that anybody who's read this post this far has already read that earlier stuff.

As I've said, Photios had a good deal to say in response to that comment of mine. Much of it was praise not criticism. But one point he made included both:

...I think you still need to work out how the Father and Son are "one principle," and the Spirit not also be "one principle." Causa is not really the term that the Latins use to describe the relation, but rather principle. Causa is used more of how God relates to creation if I'm not mistaken. So when we say "cause" we mean ekpoureusis. Proienai is a type of cause, but not a relation of origin, or express the uniqueness of hypostatic origination. It is within THIS CONTEXT I see your interpretation being the greatest benefit.

Before I get to those comments of Photios' that caught Brandon's eye, I want to respond to that passage.

From both the record of discussion and the relevant decree at the Council of Florence, it is evident that most of the Latins were disposed to use the terms causa and principium as synonyms in this context. What led them to use the latter rather than the former in the final dogmatic definition is that the Greeks, for old and understandable reasons, were wont to treat the Latin causa as a cognate for the Greek ekporeusis, meaning 'origination', so that only the Father is to be seen as the originating "cause" of both the Son and the Spirit. That is nothing other than a formulation of MF. Now as I interpret both Florence and earlier Western conciliar statements on the filioque, the Latins were willing to concede this point. They did not believe that the filioque was to be interpreted as being incompatible with MF. Nor, I would add, should they have believed that; that much is also implied by the Vatican's 1995 white paper on the filioque.

As for the Spirit's not also being "one principle" (with the Father?), I'm not sure what Photios is talking about. From the claim, which I make, that the Son's coming forth from the Father is in some way dependent on the Spirit's coming forth from the Father, it does not follow that the Son comes forth from the Father and the Spirit in the same way in which the Spirit comes forth from the Father and the Son. Hence, on the (disputed) hypothesis that there is a sense in which it can be said that the Son comes forth from the Father and the Spirit "as from one principle," that would not be the sense in which Lyons II and Florence defined the Spirit's procession from the Father and the Son "as from one principle." If the Son can be said to come forth from the Father and the Spirit as from one principle, that would be more like what's suggested in Photios' point (3) below, to which I do not object. So I don't think I've got a problem just yet. One problem at a time, please.

What caught Brandon's eye in Photios' comments also caught mine:

One must be able to fit together these unique things from the Fathers:
(1) The Father as sole cause and originator of Son and Spirit *as* relation of origin (one by genesis, the other by ekpoureusis). - St. Photios
(2) The taxical order of the Persons coming forth: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, expressing their consubstantiality - Sts. Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor
(3) The Spirit rests in the Son as his object, the Son's existence from the Father is the Sprits aim for Spiration. - St. Gregory of Cyprus II
(4) The Spirit as bond of love between Father and Son, because it is this bond of love as the energy of the Spirit that is common to all. - St. Gregory Palamas, St. Augustine, St. Gregory of Cyprus II. This is how the Gregory's interpret Augustine anyway.

What doesn't fit well here is the Carolingian and Scholastic view of 'relations of opposition' since there is no step of two-ness in the Trinity, and dialectic can only consider two and not three.

Like Brandon, I basically disagree with the last sentence. Since Brandon's exposition of what's wrong here seems correct to me, I shall not pursue the matter further in the body of this post.

Nonetheless Photios' (1)-(4) are all true, and I am familiar with them from my patristic reading. I also agree that any adequate account of the filioque must take account of them. So, how would I take account of them on my current theory?

Well, for one thing, the Augustinian idea that the Spirit is the "bond of love" between the Father and the Son, which is what Photios' point (4) alludes to, can be interpreted in a weaker or a stronger sense. In the weaker sense, it means only what St. Gregory Palamas says: that the loving activity (energeia) of the Spirit within the Godhead is the love uniting the Father and the Son. That much can be and has been called the "energetic procession" of the Spirit ex Patri filioque and is not, I believe, in dispute. What is in dispute is the Augustinian idea taken in the stronger sense, viz., that it is also the Spirit as hypostasis (or: prosopon, "person") who is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. In this stronger sense, the Holy Spirit-qua-hypostasis must be thought to proceed ex Patri filioque because, as the Spirit of both uniting them both, his existence is logically posterior to and dependent on that of the Father and the Son. As I understand the matter, it is to that idea among others that the 9th-century bishop Photios the Great so strongly objected, in his Mystagogia, as incompatible with MF.

I doubt that the dogma of the filioque, as defined by Lyons II and Florence, needs to be interpreted in terms of the stronger nexus amoris idea. The Orthodox present at those councils certainly did not do so. But given Photios Jones' point (3), there might be a way to salvage the stronger interpretation.

Thus we could say that the Father, as sole producing cause of the Spirit, produces the Spirit precisely for the sake of the Son. From this standpoint, the Father is like the efficient cause of the Spirit, and the Son like the final cause of the Spirit. Thus the Spirit can be said to "proceed" or come forth from the Father and the Son "as from one principle" because the one principle is the Father not only as Father of the Son, but as the one who eternally and perfectly loves the Son in generating him. Photios Jones cites Gregory of Cyprus on the general point, but I think we could also cite Gregory of Nyssa for greater specificity of the kind I'm striving for. For an extended presentation of what that might yield, go here.

Let me stress that I am offering only sketches of a theory that I look to refine in light of criticisms and further suggestions. The purpose of such a theory is not to strive for greater knowledge of the Trinity's inner life than the Fathers and Doctors of the Church attained. Any such purpose would be laughable hubris on my part. My sole purpose is to logically reconcile those ways of speaking about the Trinitarian processions to which both sides are dogmatically committed.
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