What is the filioque?
It is the phrase in italics in the quote below:
- And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
- who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
- who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.
In the West, we accept the legitimacy of the Holy Spirit coming from both the Father and the Son, God the Spirit and God in the Flesh.
In the East, the Orthodox Church denies that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.
A little error leads to a lot of tyranny, mysticism, lawlessness, and delusions, as we will see below.
A Russian friend of mine who volunteered some time ago to translate Reformed articles into Russian wrote me and said, “I have a problem. I don’t know how to translate rule of law in Russian.”
I replied, “Sure there should be a way. Both words have analogs in Russian.”
“It’s not that,” he said. “The very phrase, in the Russian context, means something different than what it means in the Western context. In the West, it means law as a separate authority to which all must be subject, individuals and institutions. In Russia, ‘law’ means the government and its decisions; and therefore rule of law means rule of bureaucracy. I can translate it directly but the readers won’t grasp the true meaning. The same idea means different things.”
Faith has consequences.
I know, you all have heard a different phrase: Ideas have consequences. But that is wrong. Ideas are consequences themselves. They are not original causes.
Rushdoony showed in his book [The Foundations of Social Order: Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church] how the decisions of the Councils had direct influence into what people believed about the state, the family, the economic realm, science, etc. Very specifically, from the very beginning he laid out the thesis:
Biblical creedalism is an assent to God’s creation, redemption, and government; it is passive because it affirms an act of redemption by the triune God of which man is simply the recipient by grace. But this passivity is the ground of true activity: man under God moves now in terms of true law, in terms of the canon of the Scripture, to exercise dominion over the earth in the name of the triune God. Christian creedalism is thus basic to Western activism, constitutionalism, and hope concerning history.
“Christian creedalism is thus basic to Western activism, constitutionalism, and hope concerning history.” I would only add: Christian creedalism is what made the West the West, and continues to define it even today, even in its very twisted form, even long after whole populations in the West have openly rejected the faith behind the creedalism that defines their culture.
Based on what I said so far, my thesis here today is that the uniqueness of the West was based on one little word added to the Nicene Creed by later Councils both in the West and in the East – I emphasize, and in the East – about which there was no fuss or complaints fuss in the first several centuries. The word is filioque, from Latin, “and from the Son.” It has to do with the Person of the Holy Spirit, and his procession, whether He proceeds from the father only, or from the Father and the Son. The idea that the Holy Spirit “proceeds” is taken from John 15:26, “the Spirit who proceeds from the Father.” The original Nicene Creed from the Council in AD 325 read, “Who proceeds from the Father.” Western theologians and priests added a word: filioque, that is, “and from the Son.”
If the Spirit only proceeds from the Father, then He represents only the Father. And since the Father is a Spirit Himself (John 4:24), then we have a Spirit representing a Spirit. The representation remaining in the spiritual realm, we should expect that the revelation that comes from the testimony of the Spirit would remain strictly spiritual. A focus on the spiritual side of God would tend to separate the revelation of God from the material world; and, consequently, will leave us with little to say about our life in the material world. Even if the official doctrine doesn’t preach ontological subordinationism, the practical theology will tend to underestimate the work and the Person of Jesus Christ. We are creatures of flesh and blood, and Jesus had to “partake of the same” (Heb. 2:14) in order to free us; apparently the flesh and blood characteristic of humanity has an important part to play in our justification and sanctification. But if Jesus is not represented fully by the Spirit, then that participation was only temporary, as far as we are concerned; then in history, we are left with no intercessor of flesh and blood who communicates with us and with God. Consequently, whatever Jesus did while in flesh can not be revealed to us comprehensively, for the intercessory part of His ministry was to remain limited in time, and not related to us by the work of the Spirit.
But if the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, the Spirit is not only representing a Spirit, but God in flesh. And if the Spirit is representing the God-man Jesus, the Intercessor between God and man, then by necessity the central place in our theology is not an incomprehensible deity whom it takes certain mystical escape to worship, but a concrete person with Whom we can identify, comprehend, and imitate in everything He did, including His works here on earth. “What Would Jesus Do?” is a very Western principle, even if twisted in our day by pietistic sects; it did have a specific meaning for the Western Christianity, a meaning that was never adopted in the East. In fact, “What Would Jesus Do?” has no identifiable meaning whatsoever for an Eastern Christian. Such a question would presuppose a really intimate connection between the worshiper and Christ which can not be there if the Holy Spirit is not directly representing the Second Person of the Trinity. Christ could be imitated in the East only in the kenosis, the “self-emptying” of the believer of all material concerns, desires, and ethical struggles; the direction from the body to the spirit, emptying the body to be full in spirit. Whereas in the West, since God in flesh is represented and worshiped and obeyed, imitating Christ meant from the very beginning a movement from the spirit to the body, not emptying oneself of the physical flesh but filling the body with the Spirit, just as Christ was full with the Spirit while in His body.
The Second Person of the Trinity thus became the central figure in the Western theology, based on the filioque. Not just another saint in the Pantheon of saints, not just the biggest image in the sanctuary, among the smaller images of other venerated men, but a concrete person to be followed and imitated. Western theology thus separated radically from the East in that its focus now wasn’t on the kenosis but on the incarnation. It was the incarnation, God in flesh, the Word become flesh that was to guide the development of the Western worldview, not the emptying of the flesh. Incarnation became not only the foundation of academic and philosophical thought, it became the very foundation of Western theology. A redeemed man was supposed to be the Word incarnated, and what Western theologians meant by it was a life of practical wisdom and obedience. And therefore, a redeemed society was supposed to be the Word incarnated, and that meant a culture of practical wisdom and obedience. The Reformation did not start by challenging the theology of the Roman Church; it started by challenging its practice compared to its teachings; the Reformers required faith incarnated before they sat down to find what went wrong creedaly and theologically.
The Eastern Church was never able to understand why the hassle; the very notion of practical Christian living in what is essentially morally neutral realm, society and culture, is foreign to the East. The East wanted to empty itself of the flesh. The West wanted to fill the flesh with the Spirit, and make it live a holy life.
[…skipped a lot of great stuff here: read the full article yourself!…]
Faith has consequences. What started as an innocent difference in wording, by one word only, actually led over a long period of time to a huge and not so innocent difference in faith, then ideology, then social practice, then culture. The changes were not immediate, but even as early as the 9th and the 10th centuries it was visible. The Western Church was compiling the Canon Law; the Eastern Church was compiling the Lives of the Saints. The Western Church was fighting kings and emperors over the validity of the old royal/pagan laws; the Eastern Church was writing treatises on the emperors as divine legislators. The Western Church was developing the idea of practical imitation of Christ; the Eastern Church was developing the idea of the mystical imitation of Christ. Christ’s place in the representative work of the Spirit made the difference. The filioque made the difference.
It is important also to note that in some churches in the West who have surrendered their theological heritage to statism, there are moves to reject the filioque once again. This rejection is most determined in the Anglican Church, which for the last several centuries has been – much like the churches in the East – simply an arm of the state, an extension of the political power. In the 1980s the Church of England, and in the 1990s the Episcopal Church in the USA dropped the filioque from their creeds and from the Book of Common Prayer. The Ecumenical Movement – openly leftist and liberal and statist – also from the beginning rejected the filioque as divisive and unnecessary part of the faith. This shouldn’t surprise us; as an article of the faith it helped build the West into what it is. A return to the statism, tyranny, and heretical and pagan dominance of the pre-Christian ages must first deal with that specific part of doctrine which was most responsible for the legal and cultural revolution which gave us the foundations for liberty, rule of law, and worldview based on the incarnation of the Son of God.
Faith has consequences.
Jesus taught us that every jot and tittle of the Law is significant (Matthew 5:18).
He isn’t joking.