Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics and About God

Previous // Contents // Next


4. The existential repercussions of the "Filioque"





4. Existential repercussions of the Filioque

        We have talked about the basic principles, the basic prerequisites in which Western thought moves. Now we shall examine the existential repercussions of the Filioque. The mainly existential repercussions will of course become apparent when we examine ecclesiology.  We shall now begin with a few general observations, which have to do with anthropology more than ecclesiology directly.

To comprehend the repercussions that the Filioque will have on human existence (which may sound strange, how it is possible for consequences to reach that far), we need to remember the basic principles upon which the Filioque rests.  When we say basic principles, we mean the principles that were used in order to theologically support the Filioque, especially with the help of (or rather, with the initial source being) Augustine's thought and theology.

The first basic principle is what we could call the priority of the Essence and not the Person (hypostasis). We mentioned in the previous lesson just how important this was, in order for the Filioque to be supported, because without it, we would be looking at a "bi-theism" (dual divinity). That Western theology has preserved monotheism despite having the Filioque is clearly attributed to the fact that it has not ascribed an ontological precedence to the Person, otherwise there would definitely have been a case of dual divinity, because if the sources - the ontological principals - of the Holy Spirit are two: the Father AND the Son (Who are Persons), then we would definitely have two Gods.  This was one of the chief arguments of Photius and the other post-Medieval Easterners against the Filioque, but the Westerners -as we said- have bypassed this, inasmuch as they have no need to relate the one God to the Father; instead, they relate Him to the Essence.

If the Son loved, it would be as though He is depriving the Holy Spirit of His hypostatic characteristic (which is love).  Characteristics, therefore, are the things that supposedly determine the Persons definitely. In the East, in Patristic theology, this view is unacceptable.  As we said, the names "Father", "Son" and "Holy Spirit" are not the names that denote an energy. They are not names for the Essence of course - but neither are they for an energy. And all those attributes of knowledge, omniscience, love - all those things - are common attributes of all three Persons; they are energies of all three Persons.  Therefore, even though they may all have the Father as their source - as every energy has the Father as its source, and He is the cause of everything - nevertheless these energies do not identify with the Father. The only hypostatic attributes that each Person (hypostasis) has, are: unbegottenness and causality for the Father, begottenness and cause for the Son and Logos, and procession for the Holy Spirit.  In the East, the "problem" of hypostatic status is projected through the cause.  For Western theology, the Persons are not the decisive basis for these hypostatic attributes - which are all ontological attributes on the one side, in the East and pertaining to relationships - but rather, are attributes of psychology; and what is more important, is that we shall see that they are also axiological.   And it is precisely this axiological element that is the next element, which, in regard to that second principle (that the Person (hypostasis) is determined by its attributes) can be confined to the evaluation of those two attributes, such as knowledge (for the Son) and love (for the Spirit).  These two are evaluated, and precedence is given to knowledge.

We shall therefore examine those principles upon which the Filioque is based, the repercussions that they have on human existence, and what their existential significance is.  And first of all, the precedence of the Essence and not the Person: This implies a deprivation of freedom in existence, an acceptance of necessity within existence, because if the Essence is the cause of God's existence (and not the Father), then the Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Who are free Beings as Persons) will come second and as such would be subject to the necessity of nature.  Existentially, this is interpreted as exactly the same kind of state that our experience as created beings daily confirms, in a tragic manner, because it is precisely we -as created beings- who are subject to the necessity of essence.  And this is apparent, firstly from the fact that in us, it is the essence that is precedent - it is human nature that precedes the separate individuals, the persons.... John, George, Costas.... because when they come into existence, they find human nature already there, so consequently they, as persons, are not the causes of their essence, their existence. And of course it becomes obvious from the manner of reproduction, the birth of people, that this takes place by means of existing natural laws from which no man can escape.

Thus, with regard to birth, with regard to the emergence of man, necessity does exist, because the essence is precedent. The same applies, with regard to necessity, in man's ending, death. There again, it is the essence, it is nature that determines the outcome of man's existence.  The fact that we die is already predetermined from the moment of our birth; it is not as though it is an event that appears suddenly, later on in our life.  Death does not come at a certain point in our life; it is present from the day we are born. It is inherent, from the moment of our birth, precisely because the laws of nature - the rules of the game that nature has imposed - also include death.  Immortal beings are not born in this manner. Consequently, the entire issue with existence is the problem of the person's disengagement from the laws of nature.  Because I do not want my beginning to be imposed on me by someone, nor do I wish my ending to be imposed on me by someone, by a law of nature, by a certain nature.  If I am immortal by nature, and am immortal out of necessity, then that would be a very fundamental challenge to my freedom. It may be, that I do not wish to be immortal; however, if nature is precedent, then existence itself is predetermined by nature. 

Thus, if we were to pose the question: "Why is God immortal?" one reply could be: "because He is immortal by nature - because nature determines God's immortality".  That would mean we are looking at a compulsory immortality of God, and its corresponding item would be a compulsory immortality of our own.  One could ask why that would be problematic, existentially speaking.  Of course not everyone has existential concerns, and in fact in this form - of freedom.  And there indeed are those who aren't preoccupied with it. Naturally everyone is preoccupied with the matter of death. However, there are also people who aren't concerned with the matter of death; in fact those who have received a strong dose of the Christian faith are those who can become entirely indifferent. People die, and they are not in the least concerned; thus, that ultimate enemy that bothers Paul, that preoccupies all of the Holy Bible, and whose vanquishing was the Resurrection of Christ, is made to look as though it is of no significance.  But death is precisely the thing that preoccupies man, because of his non-acceptance of nature.  If he does accept nature, he does not worry about death.  He also does not worry about his own existence - the beginning of his existence... he is in the state of an animal.  An animal is not preoccupied in this manner; it adapts to the laws of nature. The difference with man is that he is existentially preoccupied with these matters and refuses to accept death, however he also refuses compulsory existence when he reaches the point of freely choosing between living or not living.  These are the characteristics of man.  He cannot avoid being preoccupied existentially, if he wants to be a human and does not want to be an animal.  Thus, if it is an existential problem if I am to exist or not exist freely, then it is an existential problem if the Essence does or does not precede the Person.  We therefore have serious repercussions here, in the event of a theological vindication of the Filioque.

Now let us go to the second characteristic - to the attributes, and in fact the psychological ones.  If the identity of a Person  (hypostasis)  is dependent on the psychological, the natural attributes, then, in the event that those attributes (or, we could say - the abilities of the individual) are absent, then we must also have an absence of the Person; in other words, the Person  (hypostasis)  collapses and also disappears.  If my par excellence hypostatic attribute is to be logical, to have reasoning and knowledge, and supposing that for whatever reason my reasoning, my logicality and my knowledge do not function, do not exist any more, then I will also be losing my personal identity.  The same applies reversely - which is equally interesting nowadays, following Darwin's theory (which we must admit has basically become accepted, otherwise we cut ourselves off from biology and biologists), this truth is common. Thus, if -according to Darwin's theory- logicality also exists in animals, then man loses, because if man is judged on the basis of logic and his cognitive ability, he loses his characteristic of a Person.  If my characteristic as a Person  (hypostasis)  were dependent on my logicality, then when I lose my logicality, I lose my Person  (hypostasis)  also. This is of tremendous importance in everyday existence - in man's existence.

Intensely discussed nowadays, is at which point in time a human becomes a person, and at which point he is a person.  Westerners maintain that an individual becomes a person, when he acquires a conscience. The more his conscience develops, the more the Person  (hypostasis)  develops.  This definitely creates huge problems, because in this way, we risk seeing as less persons - or even not at all as persons - those individuals who are mentally challenged and incapable of the more subtle and profound and lofty processes of the conscience. Consequently, in our existence, an elitism is thus created and the Person  (hypostasis)  identifies with his abilities - and not with what he is, regardless of his abilities and in spite of them.  Take for example the hypostatic element of the Holy Spirit which (according to the Westerners) is love:  If love is that which renders someone a person, then one who hates cannot be a person.  And yet, Satan - the one who par excellence hates - is a person, because he is free.  Therefore, it is other things that characterize and make the Person  (hypostasis)  into a person, not these attributes.  From the moment that we identify the Person  (hypostasis)  by those attributes, then we indeed create problems for existence - and especially the problem (again) of freedom, because the Person  (hypostasis)  is thus determined definitely, by objective values.  Thus, the priority of the Essence on the one hand and this axiological stance on the other, both lead very clearly to an evaluation by the theoreticians - the classical ones - of the Filioque in the West, which has formidable repercussions on our existence.  

Evaluating between knowledge and love. The placing of knowledge before love is one of the basic excuses that Augustine and Thomas Aquinas give for the Filioque. If the Son is knowledge and the Spirit is love, then the Spirit must originate from the Son also (Latin, Filioque), because knowledge precedes love.  This is a basic postulate  which we observe in Augustine and is repeated in Thomas Aquinas.

But this precedence of knowledge versus love creates huge existential problems. First of all, we cannot ensure that everyone is capable of knowledge, because we subsequently risk degrading them as persons if they do not possess knowledge, and secondly, if knowledge precedes love, then again the objective reality that knowledge will perceive through the intellect will determine and restrict the freedom of love - in other words, it will be "I love because I know".  That was the basic position of the ancient Hellenes:  We love, because we recognize what is benevolent and good.  Socrates also believed that if all people acquired the knowledge of good, then no-one would be bad in this world.  To know does not signify that your freedom to do or not do something is curtailed.  Freedom, precisely, is about will and love; to love or to hate someone is not subject to the objective data of knowledge, because then we would be loving only those who are good and that would definitely be one of the consequences, i.e., the reason we love would now become the necessity that makes us love.

If you read Sykoutris' Introduction on Plato's Republic, you will notice that he provides an excellent analysis - he compares the Platonic notion of love -"eros"- to the Christian one and he shows that, although for the ancient Hellene, in order to love there must be a reason, one cannot (supposedly) love sincerely and properly if it is only done without any reason, nor can it be justified.  As he states therein, if Satan were to ask God why He loves mankind, it would put Him in a tight spot to answer. And that is precisely where God's love for sinners is found. How is that possible? An ancient Hellene would never love a sinner, because a sinner is by definition abhorrent. An evil Person  (hypostasis)  is repulsive, and he therefore lacks an objective sense of knowledge. Objective knowledge takes precedence there: you know that a Person  (hypostasis)  is good, you know that he is "advanced" in knowledge, you know of his virtues, you know all these things and that is why you come to love him. And when they ask you WHY you love that person, you have an answer ready, because that reason is already there, and because that reason implies an objective knowledge. But when you love WITHOUT a reason, then knowledge does not precede love - love precedes knowledge... Knowledge is cast out.

Now, the question is whether in human existence it is worth paying attention to these things and preserve them, or not. To be concerned about them or not be concerned,  The entire Gospel - the essence of the Christian Faith - hinges on these things. Well, the Gospel actually liberates us precisely from that necessity. And if we read it in that spirit, we will see that it is nothing more than a proclamation of our liberation from necessity and from nature (because of the transcendence of death), but also from knowledge - in the sense of the logic that gives knowledge priority and compels love to be pursuant to it.  The Filioque cannot be justified philosophically and theologically, if we pull the rug from under it with all the things we said. It will collapse. That is why I place so much importance on the existential repercussions and inevitably on theology, and I believe that both are intertwined and both influence each other.

If someone were to ask me what had precedence in Western theology - an erroneous theology or an erroneous existential placement - it will be difficult for me to answer... and I might perhaps be inclined to reply that it was the latter.



Q: We mentioned earlier that love does not constitute knowledge...

A: Knowledge as a prerequisite, yes.  Love can contain knowledge and it can lead to knowledge, but knowledge is not a prerequisite for love.  Love does not function within the necessity of knowledge.

Q: But doesn't the relationship between two persons demand knowledge, in order for them to proceed to love?

: No. That is exactly the point that we are stressing: that knowledge does NOT lead to love. When a mother loves her child, what does she "know" about the child?  When a child loves its mother, what does it "know" about its mother? Of course these are natural loves, but that is not important. What is important, is that this knowledge - the knowledge that is developed by the mind - first of all is not necessary and secondly, it is dangerous if regarded as a prerequisite, because it confines love, ie., to love or to not love a Person  (hypostasis)  based on his characteristics.  There is of course the perception that "the more two persons get to know each other, the more they love each other".  These, in my opinion, are foolish things. Because if this principle applied, then absolutely no marriage could break up and no divorces could exist, inasmuch as the progress of years would mean that couples would know each other more and more and they would necessarily have to love each other even more.  These things aren't even found within natural law - much more so within the realm of freedom (which freedom must have the potential to love, in defiance of knowledge), where, by "knowing" the other, you might discover that he is evil. What would happen with love in such a case? If love continues or increases in defiance of this knowledge, then that knowledge will not have led to love; obviously love will have ignored that knowledge. 

Q: Exactly, but isn't knowledge an element that will hinder us from loving? 

: Yes, if it becomes a condition for loving, it will surely hinder us from loving. That is to say, if it actually becomes a condition - that loving depends on knowledge - then knowledge definitely has been given precedence.  But it may not necessarily constitute a condition per se, in which case, it doesn't hurt.  But in the Filioque, knowledge definitely constitutes a prerequisite for loving God.  These things may have seemed far-fetched, but if one stops to think what would have become of the Filioque if we were to remove those principles, then it would become obvious that it isn't that far-fetched.

Q: What we have said so far, pertains to "horizontal" communication - that is, in the personal relations between people - and not to "vertical" communication. Can we say that the exact same things apply in vertical communication - the love of God?

: We certainly can.

Q: The Fathers have spoken somewhere about "two faiths and two knowledges".  Does that mean there are two kinds of faith? And two kinds of knowledge?  The first is the faith in something that you know nothing about. Then comes the faith where you learn something naturally, through nature around you etc..  Later on comes the faith by which you have acquired full knowledge of that thing, and finally, the knowledge of God and of man.  I think Maximus somewhere has given a quartet of correlations... By following up on that line of thought: in the case of a theumen (a "deified" person), who has delved far into a profound spirituality, can we say that the experience which he has undergone is the outcome of his knowledge or his love? In other words, he has a knowledge of God and therefore loves Him - or does he love God because he has attained knowledge of Him?

: No. It is because he loves God that he has come to know Him.  The principle that underlies the entire course of ascesis and theosis (deification) - which we should not confine to this form alone - is, for Eastern monasticism, the forsaking of our own will and our obedience to God's commandments. And that is where knowledge takes a beating; because, if you examine matters with logic and with knowledge, you will never be able to give a reason for that kind of obedience - and especially to God's law, which, for all ascetics is the greatest of irrationalities one could say - as it totally transcends human powers. That is why so many pose the question - even nowadays - people who want to put knowledge first and ask for example "Why do you fast?"  What can you say to them?  There are of course apologetics that pertain to fasting; hence someone might reply that it is good for his health, another might say he strives to renounce the flesh and cultivate the spirit, etc... All of these reasons that are given - these examples of knowledge - are totally irrelevant to the true explanation behind fasting.  I have used fasting as an example, because everything is a form of fasting; everything about ascesis defies every form of logic when accepting God's law, Whose law asks irrational things of you.  When you are told to "turn the other cheek when slapped on the one...", what kind of logic supports that demand?  And certainly no ancient Hellene could ever accept such a thing.  Knowledge says that if I turn the other cheek, the offender might kill me.  But here, we are told "No, go ahead, and jump into God's mercy".  Show trust, in defiance of every objective knowledge: that yes, you might even be killed, you might even reach the point of the Cross as Christ had, but there is always the Resurrection. And that is the most irrational thing of all.

Q: But God's condescension towards man is always precedent. In other words, doesn't God descend first? Doesn't He come first, with some kind of an Energy?

: Of course, in order for you to reach the point of proceeding to that irrational love, it is absolutely certain that God and the Holy Spirit will cultivate it. But that doesn't negate your freedom - you are still free to say yes or no. God helps, the Holy Spirit collaborates, but you are not deprived of your freedom. They do not make you forcibly say "yes" to an Elder, or say "yes" to God's law, or say "yes" to death, "yes" to sin"... That is your free choice. Man's self-government is by no means abolished by God.

Q: Older apologetes used to say (and this is what seems strange to me) that "no-one has lost his senses, so that although they can see the light, they still pluck out their eyes".  The way the matter is being placed now, we could say that we could pluck out our eyes, if we wanted to...

: Of course we can! There is no greater truth than that.  For example, Socrates would never have accepted that it could be possible for one who knew the value of light to pluck out his eyes. And this kind of priority to knowledge -according to their perception- prevailed for entire centuries.  The power of freedom was ignored. It is rooted within the Bible, but in our own time, if one were to notice how much it was exalted - how much it had been brought to the fore (for example by Dostoevsky) - it would become obvious that man's freedom is far greater than every kind of necessity that originates from knowledge and reasoning; and that man in fact can do - and in fact does - the most irrational things.  And that, precisely, is the majesty of man... Don't let it seem strange to you, because in essence, man is saying "no" to his existence (and thus also introducing "death"); it is by means of that very freedom that he also says "yes" to God, and God has no intention of depriving him of it. 

Q: Apart from knowledge being the cause for someone to love (which is something that we reject), I would now like to add the option of objective knowledge" that is, its purpose or the quid pro quo it may aspire to. In other words, I love someone, not only because I know them, but also because I anticipate receiving something that they can offer; I love them, because there actually is a purpose to this activity - this action of mine.

: To be precise, it does not exist, because knowledge has two aspects: the causal and the teleological aspect. The teleological aspect however is causal, because its aspiration becomes the cause for which something takes place. Thus, if we say that by pushing this table here, a result will ensue; but this is a knowledge, not only with regard to the pushing but also to the result thereof; and it is on the basis of this knowledge (of the result) that I judge and place myself respectively, therefore the cause can also be teleological.


Previous // Contents // Next

Transcript by: T. B.

Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 6-11-2010.

Last update: 6-11-2010.