The Preceding Trinitarian Definition
The Son and the Spirit are co-essential, or consubstantial, with the Father (homoousios with the Father). Properly speaking, there is one God, the Father. He eternally begets and spirates (or breathes forth) his Son and his Spirit, who, being eternally produced from the Father’s own being, are all that it means to be God.
The Beginnings of the Filioque [“and the Son”] Dispute
In the midst of the second struggle against the iconoclasts, another dispute began, one which cut to the heart of the rule of faith.
Some statements by the fourth century saints Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose of Milan stated that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.
Augustine (354-430) wrote of the Father and the Son as sources for the Spirit’s existence. At times, he wrote of the Spirit being the bond in love that joins the Father and the Son. Augustine’s starting point is not that there is “one God, the Father.” Rather, for Augustine, the one God is “the Trinity itself” (De Trinitate). The reason for this seems to be that Augustine was not living in the East and having to address the details of the issues that confronted the East between the first and third ecumenical councils. Augustine knew the orthodox/catholic faith to be that there is one God in three persons and that this was revealed through the ministry of one person, Jesus Christ, who existed in two natures. In other words, he knew the summaries, but did not have to invest himself in the largely Eastern controversies.
One Christian source for Augustine was Marius Victorinus (ca. AD 280-365), who strongly connected the Son and the Spirit in order to argue against Arians.
In 589, a local council, the Council of Toledo, in Toledo, Spain, condemned local Arians. When the council cited the Creed, it said “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son [filioque].” It seems that they may have thought the Creed itself originally included these words.
The Conflict Begins
In 796 or 797, Paulinus, bishop of Aquileia, held a council for the region of Friuli (the part of Italy containing Aquileia). Given the task of addressing radical, adoptionist Arians, Paulinus’ council spent a fair amount of time addressing the subject of the filioque, arguing that a council could add something to the Creed. Paulinus of Aquileia’s main line of argumentation is that interpolation (or even subtraction!) can occur (in his case by the council of Friuli) if the addition or subtraction does not go against the Fathers’ “intention” and “a blameless discernment.”
It used to be thought the debate reached an early head in 806, when some Western monks in a Latin monastery in Jerusalem began singing the filioque in the Creed, but current scholarship now disputes that. A summary may be found in Tia Kolbaba’s Inventing Latin Heretics: Byzantines and the Filioque in the Ninth Century. I might review the book on here some day, but for now, I turn to my summary of this dispute.
Boris, Pope Nicholas I, Ignatius of Constantinople, and Photios of Constantinople
In 865, Boris, the leader of the people in what is today Bulgaria, decided to become a Christian. Boris had flexed his military muscle but Byzantium flexed its military muscle in turn. Boris asked Photios to baptize him and Emperor Michael III to be his godfather.
Photios (patriarch from 858-67 and again from 878-886), sent missionaries into Bulgaria. When Boris did not get all of the concessions he wanted from Constantinople (especially his own patriarch for his capital city) he asked for Rome’s help and sent the Byzantine missionaries back to Constantinople. The missionaries reported on the different practices of the Latin missionaries they encounter. A significant difference is the filioque.
In response, Photios issued an encyclical to the major Eastern sees, wherein he condemned the filioque and calls for a council to address the issue. This council met in 867 and condemned the filioque and Pope Nicholas I. Later that same year, a new emperor took the throne (almost certainly through leading the murder plot that killed Emperor Michael). Photios submitted his resignation and Ignatius, Photios’ predecessor, is re-instated.
In the meantime, supporters of Ignatius had gone to Rome and told the pope an exaggerated story of how Photios became patriarch. In 867, Nicholas I died. In 869, his successor, Hadrian II, sent representatives to Constantinople who demanded that a council be held to undo Photios’ 867 council and to condemn Photios. The 869 council condemned Photios’ earlier actions and reinstated Ignatios.
In 877, Ignatius died and Photios was re-elected as patriarch of Constantinople.
In 879-80, however, another council convened in Constantinople, with the desire to settle the matter between Hadrian II’s successor, Pope John VIII, and Photios. At this council, the papal legates pressed for a Roman-centric perspective, but signed the conciliar documents, documents which reveal a more “ecumenical” mindset. At this council, it was proclaimed that whatever Rome decides within her jurisdiction, Constantinople must accept and vice-versa. Also, all additions to the Creed were condemned. No addition was to be made (following the 3rd and 4th Ecumenical Councils), which meant the filioque was prohibited. The question of the jurisdiction of Illyricum (Bulgaria) was left to the emperor to decide and he did decide to give the jurisdiction back to Rome, but little ever came of this, as Bulgaria was now looking toward the East and Byzantine Orthodoxy remained the dominant form of Christianity in Bulgaria from then on.
Pope John VIII wrote to Photios sometime after the council to assure Photios that Rome does not support the filioque, but rather “We judge them [those who say filioque] with Judas because they have done as he did, since, although it is not the Body of Christ which they subject to death, they nevertheless bring schism to the faithful who are his members.” He concluded, however, by arguing for a slow decrease in its usage since many in the West had been saying it for some time.
This council did not completely settle matters, however. In 883, Photios wrote to the patriarch of Aquileia, encouraging him to listen to the pope (John VIII) and to note the stance of Pope Leo III earlier. He also provided arguments against the filioque. Things did not improve, and traditionally, people have believed he shortly thereafter he wrote his On the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, but Tia Kolbaba has justly suggested the document, at least as we have it today, was actually not written by Photios.
“All that the Father has is mine. Because of this, I said that he [the Spirit] receives what is mine and proclaims [it] to you.”
Central arguments put forth by the West
The most basic Western concern was that the East was “Arianizing” by refusing the filioque.
Ratramnus of Corbie (786-860) became a key spokesperson for the West and presented at least three major lines of defense.
1)The New Testament clearly speaks of the Spirit as being the Spirit “of the Son.” This is, indeed, one of his most important apologetics, with an exegesis of Galatians 4.6 playing a key role.
2)Ratramnus builds on John 16.15 to say that whatever the Spirit receives must refer to an eternal reception and so the Spirit receives the substance of His being from the Son.
3)Ratramnus argues that the pope has the power equal to or greater than an Ecumenical Council and can, should he so desire, interpolate the Creed at will.
St. Photios’ main arguments against the filioque
Photios objects to the filioque for four central reaons (each of which may be found in his Letter to the Patriarch of Aquileia).
1)He objects to a change in the Creed. According to both Ephesus and Chalcedon, the Creed may not be altered. At the very least, any change would require an ecumenical council.
2)The filioque confuses hypostatic (personal) and natural properties. So, he argues that if the Son receives divinity from the Father and part of what he receives is property of producing of another, then the Spirit must also receive that ability if he is truly divine because the ability to produce another being who is fully God would be a “natural” quality, not the quality if the person of the Father. This criticism is the main objection because if there is a divine, or Godly, property that is part of what it means to be God and the Spirit does not have it, then the Spirit is not fully God.
3)He says the filioque also argues against the perfection of God, as the Father apparently needs the Son’s help. Also, if there are two causes, then the Spirit is a composite being, which calls into question his perfection as well.
4)Exegetically, Photios notes that Jesus says “of mine,” not of me, meaning the “mine” is something He has received, such that the Spirit is eternally and ontologically from the Father and the Son is sending Him in view of God’s mission into the world. He also notes that the West dogmatizes that the Father proceeds from the Son since the Bible says “Father of the Son.” And what does the West do with phrases like “Spirit of power” or “Spirit of Wisdom”? That is to say, “the Spirit of His Son” is not a subjective genitive or a genitive of sources.