Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ware on Trinity

(See my prefatory piece here, and please note my comment in that combox about using "Ware" vice Bishop Kallistos without any intended disrespect.)

A Catholic suggested to me that the true dispute between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is not the filioque clause or original sin/guilt, but rather the primacy of the Roman See. I give full credit to this view, but feel better about leading up to that topic rather than working down from it.

Ware discusses the Orthodox view of the Trinity in Chapter 11 (page 208 of the 2nd edition). Part of the beauty of Ware's book is manifest in this section: he presents the spectrum of views within Eastern Orthodoxy, and ably compares this to Western Catholic and Protestant beliefs. Trinitarian doctrine makes my head spin; I fear I will badly oversimplify the profound. It takes only the slightest mishandling of words on this topic to throw off the balance. I will be cautious and, Lord willing, may be able to give you a flavor of how Ware sets out the trinitarian 'landscape'. Please remember that mine is only a layman's summary.

The Orthodox make use of the 'apophatic' and 'cataphatic' expository methods. By the former, they describe a doctrine in negative terms (e.g., Jesus was not made), and by the latter, they describe it in affirmative terms (e.g., Jesus was begotten). With trinitarian doctrine, negative language is essential to balance a positive description of the relationship within the Godhead.

Ware begins with this: God is transcendent over His creation, and nothing of the created order will ever have the slightest communion with the supreme nature. But God is not cut off from His creation. Rather, He is within it. Here the Orthodox employ a distinction between God's essence and His energies. His essence remains unapproachable, but His energies come down to us. [I note, as an aside, that this distinction sounds Scholastic. Ware is elsewhere highly critical of Western subjugation to Scholasticism.]

God is not a single person, but a Trinity of persons, each of whom dwells in the other two by virtue of a perpetual movement of love. While united, God is not a unity.

"Procession" is where it gets tricky. There is a distinction between the eternal procession of the Son, and His temporal mission. So the filioque dispute is not over the outward action of the Trinity toward creation (i.e., the temporal mission), but about the eternal relations within the Godhead. In terms of the sending of the Holy Spirit to His temporal mission, East and West are in accord. But in terms of eternal procession, we are not. The Orthodox point to John 15:26 as a proof-text ("But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me." (ESV)).

The Father is the origin and cause of the Godhead [this is where my head swims, where we say that the Father 'caused' the other Persons of the Godhead, but that he did not 'make' or 'create' them...]. The 'hawk' Orthodox view says that to see Jesus as a mutual cause of the Holy Spirit is heresy as it imbalances the Trinity, leading either to ditheism or semi-Sabellianism (i.e., modalism). Under this imbalance, either there were two separate 'causes' of the Holy Spirit (leading to ditheism), or the persons of Father and Son are dangerously blurred when acting together as one 'cause'. This latter view, by confusing the Persons, destroys their uniqueness and hampers the 'monarchy' role that is ascribable to the Father alone.

Therefore, in the West the principle of unity within the Godhead flows from their shared essence and not from the person of the Father. The West has come to understand the persons of the Godhead not in terms of their personal characteristics, but in terms of the relationships within. This makes God remote and abstract, not the personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As the West wrongly stressed unity over diversity in its characterization of the Godhead, so it came to wrongly stress unity over diversity in its view of the Church.

Ware is careful to cabin how far this 'hawk' view should be taken, and he optimistically describes the 'dove' view, a view which holds much greater ecumenical hope. The 'doves' say that a critique of the Western doctrine is only effective when pushing Western views to the extreme. They note that if Orthodox views are likewise taken to the extreme, they could be seen as leading to Tritheism.

My thoughts? I must admit that the notion of eternal procession was foreign to me. I understood the filioque dispute to be about the transmission of the Holy Spirit to the created order, and, in that light, did not understand Orthodox objections to the Western view. I better understand their sensitivity now. However, my 'tritheism' feathers were ruffled as I read through this description of Orthodox teaching. It is hard to digest their sharp distinction between the Son and the Holy Spirit, and indeed between the Son and the Father.

I was also surprised by how hurriedly my Protestant views grabbed for the lifelines of Catholic theology. Especially in light of trinitarian doctrine, Protestantism is truly Western; our stomach is filled with Western tradition before we even come to the table of the Holy Scriptures to feed on the Word.

Finally, this is truly, absolutely, and certainly an issue of far greater complexity and importance than a layman can deduce from his reading of Scriptures. If I had to write a dissertation on the Trinity with nothing for source material but my Bible, what would my conclusion look like? I would not even come close to the refined nature of the East/West dispute. This is an issue for the Church to settle, and not for the individual.


Gil Garza said...

I recommend to you, "Rome and the Eastern Churches," by Aidan Nichols. Of particular note is chapter 7, entitled, "The Photian Schism and the Filioque."

You may appreciate the fact that the Greek word proceed, found the the 4th Gospel means something very different that the Latin procedere. This is the root of the controversy.

Thos said...


Thanks for the reading assignment; it may be some time before I get there.

I don't see how the word is amenable to such contrasting interpretations. I assume that when you say "This is the root of the controversy" you mean that this is Nichols' thesis? If it's your thesis, I'd like to hear more substance to how the word could be taken and mistaken.

I did a little digging, on your prompt, and found that "ekporeuomai" from John 15:26 can mean "to depart, be discharged, proceed, project, come from, is out going, is going out, issue, proceed out of" (per Strong's). The Latin word used in the Vulgate is "procedit", a conjugation of "procedo", which can mean "to go ahead, proceed, advance, continue".

Without having the time to read the book you recommend, it seems that the Latin translation is at least reasonable. I don't believe that Western Christian scholars were so myopic as to study the Latin alone (in fact, I know Origen and Jerome certainly did not). Therefore, I find it hard to believe that a Latin translation of this Greek word could lead scholars to widely different understandings of the nature of the Godhead.

I guess my bottom line is, if you have the time to synthesize some of Nichols' argument to help enlighten me as to how the Latin translation is the root of the filioque controversy, that would be great. If not, I certainly understand, and hopefully my studies will eventually lead me to studying this controversy with more depth.

Thanks for sharing!

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...


I didn't get into this in the post (since I was trying to stay more generally with Trinity and not dive specifically into the filioque), but I just came across Ware on the West and the filioque (p. 50). He notes that the West sought to insert the clause primarily as a defense against Arianism. It sounds from Ware that the much greater beef taken by Orthodoxy was the unilateral insertion by the Pope/the West of the clause (without resort to Council). The underlying theology (or interpretation of a word in John's Gospel) seems to have been a secondary objection (so it was procedure over substance). I'd be curious to learn if you've read a view that differs from this.

Peace in Christ,

Gil Garza said...

I'll synthesize the presentation: Ekporeuesthai signifies a going forth in which the terminus B is really distinct from the starting point A.

This kind of procession is what St. Augustine called principaliter (De Trinitate 15). The Catholic Church as always acknowledged the Father as the source of the Holy Trinity.

Procedere stresses the connection between A & B: for instance, the stroke of a pencil proceeds from point A to point B on a piece of paper. The Latin stresses the starting point of a continuous process. St. Thomas remarks in the Summa (Ia, q36, a2), that among the verbs of procession, procedere is among the broadest of all. The equivalent Greek verb would be proinai.

The Latin verb allows for a natural interpretation that, without clarification, would exclude the Son in the spiration of the Holy Spirit, making it akin to generation. The reason why the verb was chosen instead of a more precise one is because procedere is the word used in the Latin translation of the Gospels.

Due to this deficiency of the Latin and to combat Arianism, the Creed was modified in Latin only. Another example of this modification in Latin is the addition of Deum de Deo, not found in the Greek Creed.

The problem and the source of the polemic is when one translates the Latin Creed into Greek. A double sourced origin is the result, which is clearly NOT the meaning in Latin.

This is also the reason why the Creed in Greek without amendation is sufficient in Catholic liturgies.

Thos said...


I greatly appreciate you taking the time to synthesize that point. It was excellently done! This comports with Ware's less-detailed analysis, that the West used the clause to combat Arianism (that they needed to because the Latin was less precise seems quite believable). I think I misunderstand your earlier implication. I thought you were stressing that the underlying substantively different views between East and West on the nature of eternal procession was caused by this translation. I now understand better that the translation (and the apparent limitation of Latin) account more for the West's change to the Creed than for the substantive doctrinal disagreement.

But then the point that taking that Latin change and pushing it back into the Greek did foster a substantive difference is not lost on me either. Thanks!

Peace in Christ,