St. Gregory Palamas and his importance on the issue of the filioque

Regarding the agreed statement of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation: The Filioque: A Church Dividing Issue?, I very much appreciate the work of historical and theological accuracy that went into it. Although, it doesn’t get into the very technical issue of what I think is grounding the two Triadologies, i.e. the simplicity of God. It is a recommended read.

A couple of paragraphs I would like to highlight from the statement that I find fascinating, and where I think the filioque discussion should be motivated towards. It has been my position, whoever has read my entries on blogs, that Palamas had solved the Triadological problem of statements in the Greek speaking Fathers that seemed to denote an eternal procession of the holy Spirit from the Father through the Son. If the Roman [Byzantine] Emperor at Florence would have allowed Mark of Ephesus to explain the essence and energies distinction–it was obvious the discussion was headed in that direction indicated by Joseph Gill SJ in his work The Council of Florence–when Dominican John Montanero asked for a clarification in the debate over the procession of the Holy Spirit, we might not be in the situation we are in now, but with a much clearer and robust understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in his procession.

Paragraphs from the agreed statement are as follows:

At the Eastern Council of Blachernae (Constantinople) in 1285, in fact, the decisions of the Council of Lyons and the pro-Latin theology of former Patriarch John XI Bekkos (1275-1282) were soundly rejected, under the leadership of Patriarch Gregory II, also known as Gregory of Cyprus (1282-1289). At the same time, this council produced a significant statement addressing the theological issue of the Filioque. While firmly rejecting the “double procession” of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, the statement spoke of an “eternal manifestation” of the Spirit through the Son. Patriarch Gregory’s language opened the way, at least, towards a deeper, more complex understanding of the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in both the East and the West. (see below) This approach was developed further by Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), in the context of his distinction between the essence and the energies of the divine persons. Unfortunately, these openings had little effect on later medieval discussions of the origin of the Spirit, in either the Eastern or the Western Church. Despite the concern shown by Byzantine theologians, from the time of Photios, to oppose both the idea of the Filioque and its addition to the Latin creed, there is no reference to it in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, a collection containing more than sixty anathemas representing the doctrinal decisions of Eastern councils through the fourteenth century.

Greek theologians, too, have often struggled to find ways of expressing a sense that the Son, who sends forth the Spirit in time, also plays a mediating role of some kind in the Spirit’s eternal being and activity. Gregory of Nyssa, for instance, explains that we can only distinguish the hypostases within the Mystery of God by “believing that one is the cause, the other is from the cause; and in that which is from the cause, we recognize yet another distinction: one is immediately from the first one, the other is through him who is immediately from the first one.” It is characteristic of the “mediation” (mesiteia) of the Son in the origin of the Spirit, he adds, that it both preserves his own unique role as Son and allows the Spirit to have a “natural relationship” to the Father. (To Ablabius: GNO III/1, 56.3-10) In the thirteenth century, the Council of Blachernae (1285), under the leadership of Constantinopolitan Patriarch Gregory II, took further steps to interpret Patristic texts that speak of the Spirit’s being “through” the Son in a sense consistent with the Orthodox tradition. The Council proposed in its Tomos that although Christian faith must maintain that the Holy Spirit receives his existence and hypostatic identity solely from the Father, who is the single cause of the divine Being, he “shines from and is manifested eternally through the Son, in the way that light shines forth and is manifest through the intermediary of the sun’s rays.” (trans. A. Papadakis, Crisis in Byzantium [St. Vladimir’s, 1996] 219) In the following century, Gregory Palamas proposed a similar interpretation of this relationship in a number of his works; in his Confession of 1351, for instance, he asserts that the Holy Spirit “has the Father as foundation, source, and cause,” but “reposes in the Son” and “is sent – that is, manifested – through the Son.” (ibid. 194) In terms of the transcendent divine energy, although not in terms of substance or hypostatic being, “the Spirit pours itself out from the Father through the Son, and, if you like, from the Son over all those worthy of it,” a communication which may even be broadly called “procession” (ekporeusis) (Apodeictic Treatise 1: trans. J. Meyendorff, A Study of Gregory Palamas [St. Vladimir’s, 1974] 231-232).

The Greek and Latin theological traditions clearly remain in some tension with each other on the fundamental issue of the Spirit’s eternal origin as a distinct divine person. By the Middle Ages, as a result of the influence of Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, Western theology almost universally conceives of the identity of each divine person as defined by its “relations of opposition” – in other words, its mutually defining relations of origin – to the other two, and concludes that the Holy Spirit would not be hypostatically distinguishable from the Son if the Spirit “proceeded” from the Father alone. In the Latin understanding of processio as a general term for “origin,” after all, it can also be said that the Son “proceeds from the Father” by being generated from him. Eastern theology, drawing on the language of John 15.26 and the Creed of 381, continues to understand the language of “procession” (ekporeusis) as denoting a unique, exclusive, and distinctive causal relationship between the Spirit and the Father, and generally confines the Son’s role to the “manifestation” and “mission” of the Spirit in the divine activities of creation and redemption. These differences, though subtle, are substantial, and the very weight of theological tradition behind both of them makes them all the more difficult to reconcile theologically with each other.

From my reading of the Fathers and from Orthodox and Catholic theologians, particularly Fr. Vladimir Lossky who seems the clearest on this issue, I have outlined what I think are 3 types of processions of the Spirit:

1) hypostatic existence: from the Father alone. εκπορεύεσθαι is the term that denotes origin of the Spirit. This was St. Photius concern and correct assessment, and this is the term used in the Nicene Creed.

2) eternal energetic procession (eternal manifestation): from the Father through the Son.
This one denotes the common substance or ουσία (ousia) which the Spirit in deriving from the Father alone as Person or υπόστασις (hypostasis) receives from the Son, too, as ουσιωδώς (ousiwdws) that is, with regard to the one ουσία (ousia) common to all three persons (Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory Palamas et al). On the basis of this distinction one might argue that there is a kind of Filioque on the level of ουσία (ousia), but not of υπόστασις (hypostasis). We could also think of this one in terms of perichoresis.

The Spirit of the Word is like a love of the Father for the mysteriously begotten Word, and it is the same love that the beloved Word and Son of the Father has for the one who begot him. That love comes from the Father at the same time as it is with the Son and it naturally rests on the Son.–St. Gregory Palamas, Chapters, 36 (PG 150:1144D-1145A).

3) economic energetic procession: from the Father through the Son. This one denotes the same as the above but in acts of creation or sending a divine Person in time.

If Florence or Lyons can be rehabilitated, it’s my contention that it can only be read as #2. The wording of the dogma seems to rule out #3, and it clearly can’t be #1 without confusing generation and procession with properties of a nature.

The question then seems can it be read as #2 at all?


6 Responses to St. Gregory Palamas and his importance on the issue of the filioque

  1. Fr Michael Azkoul says:

    An Orthodox does not look for propositions to settle the “filioque” dispute. The truth about the Trinity is not settled by argument. We must obey the the Scriptures, the Fathers and the Councils, i.e., holy Tradition. It is clear that the Council of Nicea did not add the filioque clause.
    Of course, not everyone agrees on the nature of Tradition; but this raises several questions which the theology of the filioque presupposes: may we distinguish essence and energy or operations in God? May we allow that a distinction exists between the transcendent and economic Trinity? Again, by whose authority was the filioque added to the Trinity? The Pope! By this action did he not place himself above the authority of an ecumenical Council; indeed, above the Church? What does this tell us about Roman Catholic ecclesiology? Finally, does doctrine develop? Must it not, if theological and ecclesiological “innovations” of Rome to be justified?
    There is more to the debate over the filioque than some have imagined.

  2. Gentlemen:

    You might be interested in the following article:

    Weinandy, Thomas G., O.F.M. “Clarifying the Filioque: The Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue.” Communio 23, no. 2 (1996): 354-367 K.

    I have a Word version on my hard drive, which I obtained by e-mail from Fr. Weinandy, but it isn’t available online. I somebody can suggest me to a convenient way to post the whole thing here, I’d like to hear it.


  3. Jonathan Prejean says:

    Thanks for the input. Regarding the suggestion of viewing the filioque as purely economic, I don’t think that there is any question that there is an economic filioque, but I think that to assert that it is only economic faces the problem that Daniel and I discussed on the “Simplicity, Virtue and the Problem of Evil, Pt 2.” thread. Put simply, the eternal procession of ousia according to the filioque seems to be essential for the patristic understanding of perichoresis. And for Catholics in particular, the option of a solely economic filioque appears to be ruled out by the Council of Florence.

    Regarding the essence/energies distinction, I’d argue that it’s possible to form a coherent, creedal, Christian metaphysics based on something other than the categories of Greek philosophy. The one that I have in mind particularly is Xavier Zubiri’s concept of reality as a structure that is both dynamic and self-giving, which gives a somewhat more satisfying account of both the finitude of human nature and the image of God within it. But without some metaphysical account of the union of the human and the divine that doesn’t violate the creeds, be it Palamas’s or someone else’s, I think that you’re going to run into some intractable problems in trying to maintain any sort of historical continuity with Christians of ages past.

  4. Daniel Jones says:

    Regarding the distinction of essence and energy, I would say that Palamas is right and Origen, Augustine, Thomas are wrong-headed. The latter subsume God essentially under the categories of Being. Thus, God is comparable to creatures in some sense (even if the employment of our language is faulty), which I think makes Theology rationalistic. This is what follows from thinking of the Good just as Being and absolutely simple. Plato in book six of the Republic indicates that the Good is on the other side of Being. Without the essence/energy distinction the logical conclusions are necessary creation, anthropological monotheletism in the eschaton, a union with God that is a contiguity instead of a real union. (By real union I mean taking on the properties that you are united to.)

    I think the filioque needs to be a little more than just economic, like #2 which is still from all eternity. I wouldn’t say that #2 is economic, since it would be required even if God didn’t create anything at all. The filioque just can’t be #1. The real rub is this, you can’t get #2 without Palamas’s distinction. That’s the key.

    The problems Rahner raises are fairly minor compared to him having to overcome the Origenist dialectic of opposition, which I just don’t think is solvable given an Augustinian metaphysic.

    Thanks for dropping by David.

    Many years,


  5. What would you say of Moltmann’s “from the father of the Son”? I think that to appease the EO (I think they might agree with this from my limited conversations with Perry), we could say that the filioque is purely referring to the Economic Trinity and not the Immanent Trinity. And re: Palamas, what would you say of his seeming disctinction between the knowable energies and unknowable essence of God? That is where I would have to invoke Rahner’s Rule (granted he probably did not mean what I would mean by it). Anyway, these were some thoughts and questions I had for yall. May the Lord bless.


  6. Jonathan Prejean says:

    I’ll say yes, but as more grist for the mill, are there any analogies to the Antiochene schism here? It seems to me that both sides have no desire other than to affirm the filioque exactly as the Cappadocian fathers meant it, and yet, argument over the exact formula used to express the idea divides parties who share the same underlying dogma. In that instance, it took an ecumenical council to get everybody back together despite substantial agreement, so it’s not unthinkable the situation would be similar here. Granted, there has been much more theological development in this case, but the “nouvelle theologie” and ressourcement appears to have at least left the door ajar if not entirely open.

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