The reply of saint photios to the structure
and logical dynamics of the filioque
Joseph P. Farrell, St. Photios , The mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, ed. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Massachusetts 1987, óåë. 41-50
The uneasy tension in Saint Augustine's own theology between his commitment to the monarch of the Father, on the one hand (1), 91 and his philosophical definition of deity, on the other hand, had, by the time of the Carolingians, given way to an almost exclusive emphasis on the divine essence alone as the principle of deity. The Carolingians, in so doing were entirely faithful to the logic of Saint Augustine's position. But they totally ignored Saint Augustine's own discomfort with the modalist implications of his theology, and were not at all faithful to his more critical and traditional spirit. This fact intensifies the conflict between Photios and the Carolingians.
The arguments of Saint Photios may be grouped into four broad categories. Having ample precedent in earlier Patristic literature to guide his response, he will concentrate on either of the two poles of the dialectic of oppositions, driving the filioque into the multiplication of divine beings, polytheism, or reducing all beings to an absolute modalistic unity. These same precedents also serve as precedents against unity. Thus, there are two other types of arguments that Photios employs, and they are both concerned with the two types of structural subordinationism occurring in Augustinian theology. The first of these arguments deals with the ordo theologiae of essence, attributes, and persons. The second deals strictly with the subordination of the three persons themselves: with the Christological and pneumatological implications of the subordinationist structure imposed upon theology by the filioque.
As we have seen, the contrast of the divine essence to the divine pluralities of attributes and persons did one of two things logically speaking. It either made the attributes persons, or it made the persons attributes. Responding to the first alternative, Photios says that the Spirit should proceed from each attribute, since He is obviously of each attribute:
Is He not also the Spirit of fullness . . . Why do you frown at this? At the gifts, the very things that He supplies and bestows? Is it because you fight against the procession of the all-holy Spirit from each of these gifts as well? (2) 92
If this is so, says Photios, then the Latins must make each attribute a person, an “enhypostatized wisdom and truth,” (3) 93 enhypostatized, or personalized, because the attributes are what the persons are — causes, and as causes, definitions of deity. But if the attributes are thus logically prior to the persons, then, says Photios (in an almost verbatim quote of Saint Gregory of Nyssa). “It is not very possible to call the Son by name in these sayings either.” (4) 94 If the attributes cause the persons, then the Father is no longer Father, and the Son is no longer Son.
Within the trinitarian structure of persons, we saw that the dual procession of the Holy Spirit gave this specifically Christian revelation such a Neoplatonic structuring that it is hard to imagine that the names Father, Son and Holy Spirit have not simply replaced the names .One, Nous and World-soul. Saint Photios detects this structure and uses it to question the definition of simplicity itself:
Is it possible to avoid the conclusion that the Spirit has been divided into two? On the one hand, He proceeds from the Father, Who is the First cause and also unori- ginate. On the other hand, however, He proceeds from a second cause, and this cause is not underived. (5) 95
“Does it not follow,” asks Photios, “close upon this conclusion that the Spirit is, therefore, composite?” If the composite Spirit has been made the consubstantial love of “both the Father and the Son,” then “how then is the Trinity simple?” (6) 96
Saint Photios notes that the Latins, by maintaining a dual procession, have lapsed into another early heresy, making the Spirit a lesser deity because the “Spirit, Who is of equal honor and dignity is deprived of the equal prerogative of an essential procession from Himself.” (7) 97 This was, of course, nothing but “Macedonian insanity.” (8) 98 If the Spirit were to be truly God in a system where deity has been defined as cause, then, Photios says, by the same token,
another person should proceed from the Spirit, and so we should have not three but four persons. And if the fourth person is possible, then another procession is possible from that, and so on to an infinite number of processions and persons, until this doctrine is transformed into Greek polytheism. (9) 99
The force of this argument clearly recalls the Arians' own logic recorded earlier by Saint Athanasios, and indicates that the structure and presuppositions underlying the Arian heresy and the filioque are one and the same: the definition of deity as causality.
It is at this precise point that the uncanny logical accuracy of Photios posed acute difficulty for the later Western theology. The force of the previous argument was too much to ignore and some response had to be made. The one who made it was Thomas Aquinas, writing four hundred years after Photios. “Of course,” he says, “[the procession] does not proceed further within itself, but the cycle is concluded when ... it returns to the very substance from which the proceeding began.” (10) 100 But this argument would only serve to make the procession a feature of the divine essence, and not of the person of the Holy Spirit. Saint Photios is ready with a response to this aspect before Thomas ever wrote: If the dual procession were a characteristic of the divine essence and not a personal property, then all productions from the Father were features of the essence, and thus the personal procession of the Spirit from the Son, and even from the Father, was artificial and superfluous. “If He [the Spirit] is known more fully in another procession which is proper to the essence,” asks Photios, “then what precise thing does that fashioning by another person provide?” (11) 101 In other words, if one accepts the concept of personal processions which are somehow also essential, then there can be no Trinity, and the filioque will indeed be, as Father Richardson pointed out, a matter of words!
If the procession of the Holy Spirit could be a feature of the essence, then so could the Son's begottenness: thus why could not the Son be opposed to the Spirit and the Father, and the latter two may thus beget the Son? At this point it is important to recall that Saint Augustine also saw this ramification, and refused to accept it. (12) 102 Indeed, asks Photios, why should one not simply tear up the Scriptures, so as to allow “the fable that the Spirit produces the Son, thereby according the same diginity to each person by allowing each person to produce the other person?” (13) 103 The deity is defined as causality, and if each person is fully God, then each must cause the others, “for reason demands equality for each person so that each person exchanges the grace of causality indistinguishably.” (14) 104 With the word, “indistinguishably” the mask comes off the Neoplatonic simplicity, in which being, existence, will, and activity are all “wholly indistinguishable.” When Saint Augustine saw this implication of his trinitarian method, he simply denied it and said that the persons were “not interchangeably fathers to one another.” (15) 105 The same point is made by Photios:
For if, according to the reasonings of the ungodly, the specific properties of the persons are opposed and transferred to one another, then the Father - O depth of impiety! — comes under the property of being begotten and the Son will beget the Father. (16) 106
At this point, it is abundantly clear that the Neoplatonic structure is not only “bursting under the strain of its Christian contents,” but that it has altogether collapsed. The simplicity is an inadequate definition of the Christian God, for ultimately everything said about Him becomes logically equivalent to everything else said about Him: by beginning with the definition of divine essence as simple, the hypostatic feature of the Father has been distributed to every person and consequently all basis of real personal distinctions has been lost in the essence. (17) 107
In a very striking sentence, Saint Photios sums up the effects of the new dogma:
On the one hand, you firmly establish the idea that there is no source — anarchy — in Him, but at the very same time you reintroduce a source and a cause, and then go on simultaneously to transfer the distinctions of each person. (18) 108
At best, the filioque made of Western triadology a futile exercise in semantic mysticism, in gnostic gymnastics, and, at worst, it contains at every step the seeds of heresy, whether subordinationist, Sabellian, or polytheistic.
At this point, all the main figures of the controversy converge. On the one side are Saints Athanasios, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine and Photios, who, when they see the absurd implications of this theological structure, eschew it. On the other side are the Carolingians and the later scholastics, who, when they see the structure, uncritically accept and endorse it. For the Fathers, God is what He is apart from logic; for the Carolingians and Thomas Aquinas, God to some extent is what He is because He is logical. For Aquinas and the scholastic enterprise as a whole, the Spirit, because He unites the Father and the Son by His dual procession from both, becomes the divine example of the analogia entis of the Father and the Son, the expression of being common to both. The filioque is thus a necessary component of the scholastic enterprise, for it interiorizes the whole scholastic effort within the Godhead itself, making the divine essence rationally accessible through analogy. The whole embryo of the Graeco-pagan philosophical development has been
transplanted into the doctrine of the Christian God.
This simply reiterates the tension in the doctrine — inherent from the beginning. It repeats the predicament of Plotinos, for there is a fundamental limitation that the dialectic of oppositions imposes upon trinitarian relations. It can deal with only two terms, two polarities at any one time, and is thus wholly inadequate to deal with the Trinity. The logic must always, somewhere, compromise the absolute status of the Trinity by compromising the absolute divinity and person of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, it must also compromise the simplicity of the essence, for there is always an interior dialectic within it. The Trinity of persons is incomplete, for just at the precise moment when the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, the whole process, according to Aquinas, collapses back into the essence “from which the proceeding began.” There is, thus, in the doctrine of the filioque an ubiquitous, nascent binitarianism, (19) 109 a tendency that Saint Photios does not hesitate to call “semi-Sabellianism.” (20) 110
In the final analysis, the filioquist triadology has no real Trinity, but only a dyad of Father-Son opposed to Essence- Spirit. (21) 111
IMPLICATION AND CONCLUSIONS
The filioque made it possible to treat, on the basis of reason, trinitarian theology without the Trinity. “Nothing could prevent [one] from applying the same method to each of the Christian dogmas.” (22) 112 The doctrinal history of the West subsequent to the Carolingian period is the history of the application of this principle and of increasing reaction against, and finally of apathy toward, the theological enterprise. Anselm made it possible to discuss the Incarnation without Christ (23) 113 and subsequent scholastic theology extended the rational explication of theology to encompass almost all aspects of Church belief and practice. But from the broadest possible historical and ecclesiastical standpoint, it is the Augustinian doctrine of God, in which the filioque plays a prominent and pivotal role, which triggers this process. Though “this bold ambition to procure necessary reasons for revealed dogmas had never entered the mind of Augustine . . . , it was bound to follow from a merely dialectical treatment of the Christian faith.” (24) 114 The filioque, as an example of this “dialectical treatment of the Christian faith,” is a vital crux interpretum of Augustinian theology. Why, for example, could Anselm later attempt his “ontological proof” of the existence of God? Because the ontological proof was an “essentially dialectical deduction of the existence of God, whose internal necessity is that of the principle of contradiction ,” or in other words, the dialectic of oppositions. (25) 11S
This is the bottom line: there are two opposing and mutually contradictory views of God at work in the controversy. The filioque would have it that God is perfectly capable of definition, that there is some degree of logical necessity in Him. Thus,
... by the dogma of the filioque . . . the unknowable essence of God receives positive qualifications. It becomes the object of natural theology. We get a God in general, who could be the God of Descartes, or the God of Leibnitz, or to some extent the God of Voltaire and the de-Christianized Deists of the eighteenth century. (26) 116
But for Saint Photios, representing the tradition of Athanasios, and the Cappadocians, the Holy Spirit is, in characteristically Dionysian and apophatic terms, “of the essence-above- essence” and therefore “beyond the powers of reason.” (27) 117 Subsequent Orthodox triadology built on the foundation that Saint Photios laid, but also accounted for the legitimate concerns of the filioque , namely, the concern for a relationship between the Son and the Spirit. Later Byzantine theologians who followed Photios tried “to show that on the one hand a relation of origin between the Son and the Holy Spirit was not necessary, and that on the other hand, there did exist a certain relationship which distinguished Son and Holy Spirit as persons.” (28) 118 Gregory of Cyprus, the Patriarch of Constantinople from 1283-1289, described the relationship between the Son and the Spirit as one of the Spirit's eternal abiding upon the Son. (29) 119 In this, Gregory simply elaborated upon the meaning of the word “procession.” The word did not signify merely:
a simple going forth of someone from another, as for example in the case of being born; it means rather a setting forth from somewhere towards a definite goal; a departure from one person in order to reach another. When the Spirit proceeds from the Father he sets out towards the Son; the Son is the goal at which He will stop. (30) 120
Gregory's formula exposed another danger latent not only in the filioque but to some extent also in the response of Saint Photios to it. In Gregory's theology, it was impossible to separate the Son and the Spirit, for there was an eternal, personal relation between them. If this were not so, and the Holy Spirit proceeded beyond the Son as from a point of origin, then important ecclesiological ramifications would result: “in that case the faithful might possess the Spirit without being in Christ, or they might possess Christ without being in the Spirit.” (31) 121 It is precisely this “abiding of the Spirit upon the Son” which affords the theological basis in the very life of the Trinity for the fact that Orthodoxy does not separate Scripture and Tradition as two, isolated, independent and opposed sources of authority. Rather, it sees them as implying and complementing each other, both having equal weight because they are related.
From Gregory of Cyprus, later Orthodox theology inherited the concept that there was a relationship between the Son and the Spirit, and that this relationship would be destroyed if the Spirit were disengaged from the Son by proceeding beyond Him as in the filioque. Saint Gregory Palamas could thus affirm that the Spirit did not proceed in “isolation from the generation of the Son thus remaining alongside the Son, as it were, without any personal relationship to him.” (32) 122 The twentieth century Orthodox theologian Dumitru Staniloae has found in the filioque, in addition to certain ecclesiological implications, other ramifications for the pattern and structure of authority in the contemporary West. He sees in it the theological basis for confusing the Spirit with human subjectivity: without that which constitutes the distinguishing mark of divinity in this system, causality, it becomes all too easy to equate the movements of the Spirit with the movements of the human spirit. (33) 123
We would certainly be wrong in trying to estimate Saint Photios' stature as a saint or a theologian of the Church through a reading of the Mystagogy alone; but we would likewise err trying to do so without reading the Mystagogy. It is chiefly for this contribution that he is remembered in both East and West. One Roman Catholic scholar writes of his importance in no uncertain terms:
The Photian case is not merely a matter of Byzantine interest. It concerns the history of Christianity and the world, as the appraisement of Photios and his work lies at the core of the controversies that separate Eastern and Western churches. (34) 124
Photios, always tolerant of divergent practices within the Church, nevertheless responds sharply to the filioque. Yet, this response is not without cause, and has Patristic support. Sadly, his work fell on largely deaf ears, so that all the tragic consequences of the filioque did not disappear, but rather imposed upon theology an order and method fundamentally divergent from the concerns of the tradition. Thus, his sweeping indictment of the doctrine is not without justification; if th e, filioque can now only be viewed as a dispute about words, this can only indicate the absence of historical perception, or a modalist theology, or both. This means that it is not necessary merely to insist that the filioque must be dropped from Western creeds and confessions for unity to come about, but that, as Karl Rahner has so pertinently observed, there is need for the West to return to a non-Augustinian theology. (35) 125 Indeed, this means that the Augustinian ordo theologiae itself must be shunned as being ultimately contradictory to the Christian experience of God as primarily personal and concrete and not impersonal, abstract, and philosophical. In this most relevant of lights, it is easy to see why the doctrine was never a mere verbal trifle. It carried implications affecting the very nature of Christian experience. It was for Saint Photios then, and remains for us now, an issue of incalculable ecumenical, theological and spiritual urgency.
1) St. Augustine, Trinity, 4.20.29: “The Father is the beginning (principium) of the whole divinity.”
2) St. Photios, Mystagogy, p. 56.
3) Ibid. p. 24.
4) Ibid. p. 57.
5) Ibid. p. 43.
6) Ibid. p. 4.
7) Ibid. p. 38.
8) Ibid. p. 32.
9) Ibid. p. 37.
10) Acquinas, Summa contra, Volume 4, Salvation, p. 145.
11) St. Photios, Mystagogy, p. 42.
12) St. Augustine, Trinity, 5.12.13: “We do not speak of the Son of the Holy Spirit, lest the Holy Spirit be understood to be His Father.”
13) St. Photios, Mystagogy, p. 3.
15) St. Augustine, Trinity, 7.4.7.
16) St. Photios, Mystagogy, p. 17.
17) Ibid. p. 18.
18) Ibid. p. 14.
19) Ibid. pp. 9, 12, 15.
20) Ibid. p. 9.
21) In this regard, St. Photios points out that there is no hypostatic property which is shared by two persons. Anything which can be said to be common to more than one person is said about the essence. But anything which cannot be said about all three persons therefore belongs only to one of the three persons ( Mystagogy, p. 63). In this he echoes St. Basil the Great, “Letter 33 to Gregory,” concerning the differences of ousia and hypostasis.
22) Gilson, Reason and Revelation, p. 26.
23) Anselm, Cur Deus Homo (St. Anselm: Basic Writings), trans.
N. Deane (Chicago, 1981), p. 177. Anselm's own succinct statement on his methodology cannot be improved upon: In fine leaving Christ out of view (as if nothing had ever been known of him), it proves, by absolute reasons, the impossibility that any man should be saved without him.”
24) Gilson, Reason and Revelation, p. 27.
25) Ibid., p. 25 (emphasis mine).
26) Lossky, “Procession,” p. 88.
27) St. Photios, Mystagogy, p. 6.
28) Staniloae, neology and the Church, p. 15.
29) Ibid., pp. 20-21.
30) Ibid., p. 22.
31) Ibid., p. 26.
32) Ibid., p. 30.
33) Ibid., p. 43.
34) Francis Dvornik, The Photian Schism (Cambridge, 1970), p. 15.
35) John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (Crestwood, 1978), p. 213. Cf. Karl Rahner, “Current Problems,” p. 188. But this evaluation needs to be tempered with the fact that Rahner, in his book The Trinity, still employs methods and concerns (for example, the concern for the Latin idea of taxis ) more or less peculiar to the Roman Church. Another important and recent contribution to the growing awareness of the problems of the filioque in the West is Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, edited by Lukas Vischer.