An Excellent Critique of Yves Congar’s book “I believe in the Holy Spirit”



This short paper seeks to address the third volume of Yves Congar’s book: “I believe in the Holy Trinity,” and to demonstrate the doctrine of the Holy Spirit from an Eastern Perspective.

In reading this book it was immediately apparent that Congar’s view on doctrine of the unknowability of God is very essential to Trinitarian theology. The trinity in itself is also the Trinity of economy. He repeatedly stated that the Trinity is a mystery of salvation. If it were not, it would not have been revealed to us. Congar also correctly emphasizes that the theology and worship of Eastern Christianity continue to be saturated with trinitarian categories.

Since the goal of Congar’s book is ecumenical, that is to uncover the common ground of both the Eastern and Western Trinitarian Tradition, it is appropriate that we offer an Orthodox critique of some aspects of his Trinitarian theology as well as his analysis of some Eastern Fathers.


The positive points of the book can be summed up as follows:

1-Congar underlines the fact that faith was not only professed in the doxology but also was lived fundamentally both in the East and the West. This is a characterization of the early centuries of Christianity, especially the first eight.

2-Congar considers the East and the West as two sisters who love one another. By quoting what Pope Paul VI said on his return from a journey to Constantinople, Congar reveals the good intention of his book. He also mentions the meeting of Pope John Paul II with the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I where they discussed serious theological problems contained in essential chapters of the Christian faith. This is a great ecumenical endeavor to reconcile the two Churches.

3-His emphasis on an apophatic theology is in fact a rejuvenation of the Patristic Tradition. Thus he stresses that God is beyond all existence because existence as we know it in Creation is entirely contingent — and God is certainly not contingent on anything. This leads us to speak of God in negative terms, of what God is not rather than positive statements of what God is. This apophaticism is also found in the Latin speaking West, as Tertullian bears witness: “He is invisible, though He is seen; incomprehensible, though by grace revealed; beyond our conceiving, though conceived by human senses. . . . The infinite is known only to itself. Because this is so, it allows us to conceive of God — though He is beyond our conceiving.”

4-Congar also examines the issue of the eighth Council which solemnly annulled the measures against Photius. It is certain that the creed was proclaimed at this council without the Filioque.

5-Congar frankly admits that the Latin vocabulary fails to express the value that the Greeks rightly place on the term “ekporeutai” of John 15:26.

6-He recognizes the fact that Eastern Christians have never spoken of the Father and the Son as forming a single principle of active spiration.

7-Examining the theology of John of Damascus, Congar clearly states that his per filium is not the Filioque. John’s trinitarian theology denies the procession of the Spirit “from the Father and from the Son as from a single principle.”

8-Congar’s call to suppress the Filioque is an ecumenical gesture of humility and brotherhood. He asserted that the Roman Catholic Church could, under the conditions that he has outlined, suppress the Filioque in the creed, which in any event was introduced in a canonically irregular way.

9-In spite of a general inconsistency on the issue of the eternal procession of the Spirit, it is refreshing to see a noted Catholic theologian like Congar concede that the standard Catholic proof-texts from the Bible concerning the supposed procession of the Spirit “from the Son” only concerns the Spirit’s temporal sending by the Son.

10-Explaining the theology of Gregory Palamas, he stresses that God’ energies must be available for us to share in, and they must be uncreated or else we could never be deified.

This last point is important in Eastern theology. Orthodoxy differentiates between God’s essence and his activities, his self-manifestation to the world. It is axiomatic in Orthodoxy that we can not know God in his essence, for to know fully the nature of God is to be God. God in his essence is complete mystery; we can only know God in his activities, his love, his mercy, and so forth. Yet even God’s activities are mysterious: “How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways past finding out.” Essence without energy is inconceivable. As Basil the Great says: “There is no natural essence without energy, nor energy without essence. Rather, we recognize the essence by virtue of the energy, this energy manifesting and testifying to the essence. For no one has ever seen God’s essence; but we come to believe in the essence by virtue of the energy.”



Quoting Saint Augustine, Congar explains the Western way of doing theology: “Augustine made it a rule in Latin theology that an intellectus fidei or an understanding of faith should be sought through reasoning and meditation and therefore, if necessary, outside Scripture.”

On the one hand, it seems that Congar accepts that the first source of knowledge is revelation itself. On the other hand, he says that God should be sought through reasoning and meditation and that he is revealed above all in images, and metaphors.

From an Eastern point of view, revelation is not merely a communication of concepts that can be searched out by reason for a fuller understanding. God in his revelation did not simply communicate through images, metaphors and written words. Rather, He manifested Himself in person. The Eastern Tradition is based on the direct revelation of God and on direct participation in the uncreated glory. However, Eastern Tradition agrees with Congar that the expression of the revelation can be transmitted through images.


Although Congar reiterates the Eastern differentiation between the eternal and temporal procession, he tries to identify the temporal with the eternal missions, arguing:

A-If all the data of the incarnation were transposed into the eternity of the Logos, it would be necessary to say that the Son proceeds from the Father and the Holy Spirit.

B-All the New testament texts that speak of a relationship between the Spirit and the Son are concerned with the economy.

C-Christ’s sonship is eternal and the Spirit must be eternally from the Son.

Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, distinguishes between the eternal procession and the mission of the Holy Spirit in the world. God may be partially revealed in the economy by his activity, but he remains absolutely hidden in his essential being.

Congar asserts that even John 15:26, which most of the Fathers believed refers to the Spirit’s eternal procession from the Father, is actually only concerned with the temporal sending as well! In this Congar is not only in contradiction with Orthodox theologians, but many Catholic ones as well.


Congar characterizes the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

The consensus of the Eastern Tradition is that the Holy Spirit is of the Father, and is called the Father’s Spirit.

On the other hand, the Eastern Fathers profess that the Holy Spirit was revealed to us and given to us through the Son. The Holy Spirit is the force of the Father who proclaims the hidden Godhead.

In the temporal sense, however, he is called in the Eastern Tradition, the Spirit of the Son. According to Saint Paul, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit and the mind of Christ. As Basil the Great says about the Holy Spirit, writing in his treatises to the Eunomians: “That the Spirit is from God, the Apostle proclaimed clearly, saying that we have obtained the Spirit from God, and making it clear that he came through the Son, calling him the Spirit of the Son as God, and also calling him the mind of Christ, as well as the Spirit of God, just as if it were the spirit of a human being.”


“Through the Son” had – as early as St. Augustine – a causative nuance, suggestive of the Son’s co-causality. Thus, Congar states: “It is, however, impossible to deny that there are numerous indications in the writings of the fourth and fifth century Greek Fathers of the Church of a dependance on the part of the Spirit with regard to the Son in the life of the eternal Trinity.”

In the East, however, theologians always emphasized the complete singleness of “beginning” or “cause” in the Holy Trinity. This is the Father’s hypostasis, “the begetting and projecting source.” While we confess the invariableness of the (divine) nature we do not deny the distinction of cause and caused, by which alone we perceive that one Person is distinguished from another. It is one thing to be the cause i.e., the Father and another to be from the cause i.e., the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Even when we recite the Creed: “I BELIEVE in one God, the Father, Almighty. . . And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages,” we comprehend that the Son was begotten alone of the Father, even if the word “alone” is left unsaid. In the same way when the Symbol says, “The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father,” we understand immediately and of necessity that he proceeds from the Father alone.

Similarly Athanasius says: “Who is God? He is the origin of every thing according to the Apostle, who said: ‘There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things,’ because from him is the Word by generation and from him the Spirit by procession.” Note the way in which he uses the expression “from him” in relation to the two Persons — nowhere is the word “alone” added. In like manner we admit that the term “alone” is implied in both.

Basil explains, “Above all, the Son is from God and the Spirit is from God, for the Son came out from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The first, however, by generation from the Father and the second inexpressibly from God.” Here the expression “from the Father” is used in a similar fashion. Thus, we understand that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone even when the word “alone” is left unstated.

Gregory the theologian says “To us there is One God, for the Godhead is One, and all that proceeds from him is referred to One, though we believe in three Persons.” The word “alone” clearly is understood.

The Lord himself spoke to the Jews: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from the Father and now I am here,” and, “Not that any one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.” Jesus never used the term “alone,” saying, “I came from the Father alone,” or, “the one who is from the Father alone?” The word “alone” is understood.


There is no clear indication in Congar’s book of whether the Spirit proceeds from the essence of the Father or from the hypostasis of the Father. The Eastern Tradition believes that the Son is from the Father, meaning the Son is begotten of the hypostasis of the Father. For the essence is one among the three hypostases, so that the generation of the Son is attributed to the hypostasis of the Father; consequently, it is impossible for the Son to be from the Spirit. Being from the Father, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the divine essence, also according to the hypostasis of the Father. For the essence of the three is absolutely one in every way, therefore the procession of the Spirit belongs to the hypostasis of the Father. Thus it is not possible for the Spirit to also come from the Son, for the Son does not have the characteristic properties of the hypostasis of the Father.

According to John of Damascus, “We recognize the difference of the Persons in three properties only; of being uncaused and Father, of being caused and Son, and of being caused and proceeding.” The hypostasis of the Son is not the “cause” but the “caused,” for John says that he has only this property. The same can be said of the Holy Spirit. We notice also that the property of the Father includes both generation and procession. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit comes forth from the Son also, then the Son will be a cause with the Father.

Gregory the theologian says: “What can not be addressed to the Spirit from the [attributes] of the Son, except the generation?” “All that the Son has the Holy Spirit has, except the sonship.” And the divine John of Damascus says: “Because of the Father, the Son and the Spirit have everything they have, that is to say, because of the fact that the Father has them, except the being unbegotten, the begetting and the procession.”

Thus, neither the Son nor the Spirit has the attributes of generation and procession. And as the Spirit doesn’t have the attribute of generation at all, so neither does the Son have the attribute of procession at all.


Congar claims that Athanasius and Basil and even the first Ecumenical Council of 381 avoided giving the title “God” to the Spirit. He also stated that in the creed, the Holy Spirit was not called God or said to be consubstantial with the Father.

In response to this, I would like to say:

A-Athanasius does not speak about the economy of Salvation without the Holy Spirit. When he speaks about the eternal existence of the Trinity, he explains John 15:26 not only in the context of the economy of salvation, but in the Eternal existence of God. He emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is not created and is consubstantial with the Father. As the Son comes forth from the Father, so the Spirit comes forth from the Father. Athanasius’ theology is revealed in the following summary of his letter to Serapion.

(a) The Spirit Uncreated

If the heretics refuse to class the Son with created things, because of the unity of the Word with the Father. . . how can they dare to call the Spirit a created thing, when he as the same unity with the Son as the Son with the Father?

(b) Yet not Begotten

If, they say, `the Spirit is not a created being nor one of the angels, but proceeds from the Father; then he is a Son also, and there are two Sons, the Spirit and the Word, and if so, how is the Word the only-begotten? The Word and the Spirit must be equal. . . Why is the Spirit not said to be begotten if he is “from the Father”? Why is he not called Son, but simply Holy Spirit? But if he is “of the Son” then the Father is the grandfather of the Spirit.’

(c) The Trinity Indivisible and Consubstantial

In Scripture the Spirit is nowhere called Son (of God) nor the Son’s son. But the Son is the Father’s Son; the Spirit, the Father’s Spirit; and thus there is one godhead of the Holy Trinity, and one faith in the Holy Trinity.

B-Basil the Great, in his polemical work against the Eunomians, writes: “All that is common to the Father and to the Son is common to the Spirit.” If the procession is common to the Father and the Son, then it must also be common to the Spirit, and the Trinity is then a quaternity, for from the Spirit will proceed yet another Spirit. Basil did not identify the common love of the Trinity with the common divine essence of the Trinity.

C-In the Creed the term Lord (Kyrios) is a rendering of the Hebrew term Jahweh, which means God.



Congar claims that Justin the Martyr made no distinction between the Logos and the Spirit. Here are some quotations from Justin the Martyr proving that he did distinguish between them:

“The most true God, the Father of righteousness… both Him, the Son, and the prophetic Spirit we worship…”

“He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic spirit in the third.”

“He foretells by the Spirit of prophecy that he will bestow meet rewards according to the merits of actions.”

According to Pseudo-Justin, “As the Son is from the Father, thus the Holy Spirit is from the Father, except for the way of existence, for the one shines forth from the light by generation, the other, even though he is light of light, did not come forth by generation, but by procession.”


Congar states that he is in agreement with T. de Regnon in believing that “the Western and the Eastern Church share the same faith, although they have approached the mystery from different points and along different ways”. Yet when writing of Photius, whom the Orthodox follow in their attitude toward the Filioque, Congar seems to believe that Photius’ theology as inconsistent with the Greek Fathers. “We must, however, take Photius’ arguments seriously without at the same time losing sight of those Fathers whose work Photius himself tended to leave aside”. Congar apparently believes that barely three pages of analysis is sufficient to “take Photius’ arguments seriously.” Congar points out that the Orthodox Church has “taken over Photius’ theology”, and this theology puts “out of the question an agreement with the West”.

According to Photius, the procession of the Holy Spirit comes not from the common nature but from the hypostasis of the Father, and is therefore unique to the Father alone. He said: “The Father is the origin [of the Son and of the Holy Spirit] not by nature, but in virtue of His hypostatic character.” For the Son to participate in the procession of the Spirit would suggest a confusion of the Father and the Son, of the two melting into a compound hypostasis. Thus the Filioque leads to a merging and blurring of the distinctive characteristics of the hypostases, provoking the charge of Sabellianism. Moreover, if the procession of the Spirit is proper to the common divine nature, then not only would the Son participate in the procession of the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit would participate in his own procession as well!

Photius stressed that the Father, being the only “cause” of the Trinity, safeguards both the unity and the distinctiveness of the three Persons of the Godhead. Contrary to the assertion of critics, Photius never taught a “monopatrism” which isolated the Father from the Son and the Spirit. Rather, Photius was concerned to defend the Cappadocian theology of the Symbol against the “joint-cause” of the Filioque, asserting that the Father alone is the “cause” (of the being, attributes and powers) and the two other hypostases are “divinely caused.” To Photius, two hypostases being the “cause” of a third hypostasis meant either ditheism, two gods, or a monstrous compound Father-Son hypostasis.

Photius questions the very basis of Augustinian Trinitarianism: the notion of simplicity. This philosophical concept is really an inadequate definition for the biblical God. Simplicity acts as an acid, dissolving all the personal features of the Father into the abyss of the impersonal and utterly simple essence where they are in turn distributed to the other persons. When distinctions which characterize each of the hypostases merge and collapse into the essence in this fashion, there is ultimately nothing to prevent one from asserting that any hypostasis causes another: “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.”


Rivaling his ignorance of Photius must be Congar’s grasp of Gregory Palamas. At least here, though, there isn’t the degree of hostility that there is for Photius. Oblivious that Palamas has been studied by the Orthodox since the fourteenth century, especially by those who practice the hesychastic tradition like the monks on Mount Athos, Congar writes: “Palamas was almost completely forgotten for several centuries . . . In the nineteen-thirties and forties, however, there was a wonderful revival of interest in him and his theology. Broadly speaking, Eastern theologians have come to recognize in Palamism a clear expression of the genius and the tradition of their Church.”

What little Congar knows of Palamas comes from the Russian expatriate tradition, like Sergey Bulgakov, Vladimir Lossky and John Meyendorff. Congar of course knows nothing of Palamas’ works on the Filioque which should be translated to modern languages. It is refreshing, however, to at least see Congar admit that he is somewhat out of his depth on Palamas: “It may be because I am not sufficiently well informed, but I have to admit that I am not quite clear what Palamas thinks about his attribution to the energies or to the Person of the Holy Spirit. . . . ”

In his polemical books, Palamas clearly accused the Western theologians of his time of heterodoxy and doctrinal innovation. Palamas emphasized that the disagreement is not only a question of words, but mainly a doctrinal disagreement. He said that the Orthodox do not accept that the existence of the Holy Spirit comes from the hypostasis of the Son, while those whom he met from the West did. To him it is impossible for the East and the West to agree in their conception of God.

While struggling to express the oneness of nature, that is, the equality of the Son with the Father, Palamas maintained that those who wrote the Creed believed that it was sufficient without the addition of the Filioque: “Therefore, it is neither right nor proper to introduce this addition into the Creed, which the venerable Fathers in their meeting wrote and delivered to us, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To this Creed no one has been allowed to add or subtract anything since the Second Council of the saints. According to this council, whoever dares to add or subtract anything is put under an anathema and is excommunicated from the Church.”

He said that the one who declares that the Son also is the cause of divinity rejects the Son himself, who said clearly in the Gospel, “The Father is greater than I,” not only as man, but as God as well since the Father is the Originator of divinity. The Father is not more God than the Son. None of the Eastern Fathers ever asserted that the Son is equal to the Father according to the origin of divinity. However, Palamas confessed the equality of the Father and the Son according to nature and the superiority of the Father according to the origin of divinity, which consists of both generation and procession.

Thus it is not possible for the Son to share the attributes of the hypostasis of the Father. If he should share in the procession of the Spirit, then there are either two causes in that the procession will be found in two hypostasis (the causes are two since what is “caused” is understood to be derived from two hypostases), or we will combine the Father and the Son into a single [compound] hypostasis. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit must proceed from the Father alone immediately and instantaneously in the same manner as the Son is begotten of the Father.

For this reason, Gregory the divine leader of Nyssa, says: “Not all persons have their existence immediately from the same person, for the cause and the caused are many and varied. In the Holy Spirit, however, this thing does not happen, for the Person of the Father is one and the same, from whom the Son is begotten, and Holy Spirit proceeds. Thus we have the courage to say authoritatively that there is one God, one cause with his caused.”

If the causes are many, then there is no longer only one God: just as we are not one human being though all of us are of the same essence, so God would be no longer One.


On page XVIII, Congar states that Augustine “Spoke of the Filioque because the New Testament attributes the Spirit both to the Father and the Son.” Again Congar stresses that Augustine’s point of departure is the fact that the Spirit is said to be both of the Father and Spirit of the Son. From this it is concluded that “the Spirit then is from the Father and the Son.” This has been the basis of Western theology since the Middle Ages.

It is true that Augustine insisted that the Spirit is the Spirit of both the Father and the Son: “Scripture enables us to know in the Father the principle, auctoritas, in the Son being begotten and born, nativitas, and in the Spirit the union of the Father and the Son, Patris Filiique communitas…The Spirit is the Spirit of the two.”

“The Spirit is distinguished relationally from the two in the unity of the divine essence only by proceeding from the two as their common Spirit.”

To Augustine it seemed better to begin with the unity of the divine nature, since this is a truth which is demonstrated by reason. . . The logic of this arrangement is today commonly recognized, and in the textbooks of dogma the treatise De Deo Uno precedes that of De Deo Trino.’

Augustine therefore analyzed a series of triads, moving from more external ones to more intimate ones and from simple psychological analysis to an expression of supernatural experience. According to Augustine, “As for the Son to be born is to be from the Father, so for the Son is to be sent is to be known in his origin from the Father. In the same way, as for the Holy Spirit to be the gift of God is to proceed from the Father, so to be sent is to be known in his procession from the Father. What is more, we cannot deny that the Spirit also proceeds from the Son. . . I cannot see what he could otherwise meant when breathing on the faces of the disciples, the Lord declared: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20:20) Yet John 20:20 clearly deals with Christ’s temporal sending of the Spirit to the Apostles. Thus it is on the basis of the economy that Augustine constructs his theology of the eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, that is not as Father and as Son but as giver.

According to Augustinian theology, there can be no accidents in God. Therefore, only the substance of God, or the essence of God, is unchangeable.

Augustine illustrated the nature of the Trinity by comparing it to the individual human mind. To this end, Augustine created the Triad of “memory,” “understanding” and “will” to mirror the Trinity. The analogy is between the inner structure of the human mind and the inner being of God, because it is in the former that the latter is made known. While “memory” is the rough equivalent of the Father in this model, nevertheless, he argues that memory belongs to all three and not just to the Father. Augustine establishes the difference between Son and Spirit, as we have already seen, by appeal to the distinction. But they are three inasmuch as they are related to one another between understanding and will.

Augustine’s concept of the Spirit as the love which unites Father and Son is among the most perverted of theological ideas. All Eastern Fathers reject the idea that the Holy Spirit can be equated with the common energies of the Father and the Son like love. The Holy Spirit is an hypostasis, not an energy. The Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council specified that the Holy Spirit is not to be identified with any common energy of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is an individuality who is not what is common between the Father and Son, but has in common everything the Father and Son have in common.

This notion of love centers on the unitive function of love in relating Father to Son and thus obscures the specific hypostatic uniqueness of the Holy Spirit. Augustine was unable to conceive true otherness within the Trinity, the result of too strong an emphasis upon the unity of God. Consequently, Augustine rejected the distinction between what the persons of the Trinity are and what they have identifying what God is with what God has.

Augustine failed to understand:

A-The distinction between the common essence and the energies of the Holy Trinity.

B-The incommunicable individualities of the divine Hypostases.


At issue in the dispute on the Filioque are two incompatible concepts of the Trinity:

1-The Eastern approach where the Hypostasis of the Father is the starting point of the Trinitarian theology.

2-The Augustinian approach where God is viewed as a simple essence within which a Trinity of Persons can be understood only in terms of internal relations. In this approach, it is characteristic to begin with contemplation of the general “nature” of the Godhead.

The Eastern Tradition adopted the first concept which emphasizes the Father as the origin of the other two hypostasis. Another distinctive feature of this approach to Trinitarian theology is that there is a distinction between the nature and will of God. This distinction does not negate the simplicity of God. Indeed, if one does not accept this distinction, then it would be impossible to discern clearly between the generation of the Son and the Creation of the world. As a result, creation is deified and God arrayed among the creatures.

Everything that the Father has, the Son and the Spirit also have. The Divine Hypostases are not distinguished from one another by anything other than their correlative “peculiarities.” The hypostases abide, and are firmly established in one another. They are permanent and not interchangeable.

The Divine Hypostases does not differ from one another in essence, for, all of the Divine Nature is completely found in all of the hypostases – all of it is in the Father, all of it is in the Son, all of it is in the Holy Spirit. The names of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit signify the form of existence and the form of the reciprocal relationship of the hypostases. The procession is the manner of existence of the Holy Spirit from the Father which constitutes the Spirit’s special individuality. The Trinitarian Mystery started from the First Hypostasis as the single beginning and source of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is not the Son of the Father, but the Spirit of the Father, proceeding from the Father.

As Logos and Breath, the Son and the Holy Spirit originate from the Father. The Father is the cause, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the caused. The Orthodox would not accept the path followed at the council Florence. The Son’s consubstantiality with the Father is safeguarded without the Filioque.

Also the mysterious “mediation” of the Holy Spirit by the Son is equivalent in no way to that “causing” by the Father which is the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s hypostatic existence. So any notion about some “co-causing” by the Son is unquestionably excluded. The Logos is revealed in the Holy Spirit as the Father is revealed in the Logos. For the Logos is the herald of the Mind, and the Holy Spirit is the disclosure of the Logos. The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, rests in the Son as his power of manifestation.

There must be a clear distinction between the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit, and the Father alone causing the existence of the Holy Spirit. Generation and procession should not be confused with the divine powers and energies. God is related to the creation only by will and not by nature. The hypostatic properties are incommunicable manners of existence.

I find it fascinating that Fr. Michel Najim sees the debate of the Filioque situated on the two different concepts of divine simplicity between Rome and Orthodoxy.

Daniel Jones

30 Responses to An Excellent Critique of Yves Congar’s book “I believe in the Holy Spirit”

  1. Jack says:

    Thanks! This is difficult.

  2. “Is it not possible to transcend the person/nature distinction in the Father?”

    That’s really the underlying distinction, and the answer is “no.” The simple answer is that if it were the case, the Son and the Holy Spirit would be not-God by being not-Father. What distinguishes Father from Son from Holy Spirit is generation and procession; that is what is meant by monarchy. You might think of it as inherent to the Father being Monarch that the Father begets the Son and generates the Holy Spirit. If, on the other hand, what distinguished Father from the Son was willing and being willed, then willing would be what distinguished the Father from the Son and would not be “part” (speaking loosely, given divine simplicity) of the Godhead. Whatever distinguishes Father from Son from Holy Spirit is not part of the Godhead by definition, because the definition of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all being God is that they all have the Godhead in its totality. Thus, the mysterious process of eternally begetting cannot be an act of will; it cannot be chosen. It is inevitable, necessary from the Father having the divine ousia as the one principle of the Trinity.

  3. Jack says:


    Thanks. That is VERY confusing. It starts to sound like the persons of the Trinity “participate” in the divine nature, which strikes me as odd. Wouldn’t we then need something “beyond divine nature” to explain the existence of divine nature which would then lead us into an endless Platonic echo chamber of gnostic aeons? This is precisely why I attempted to start my question with the Monarch Himself, not the “divine essence,” as the first principle. Is it not possible to transcend the person/nature distinction in the Father?

    On this account the Father’s will and essence just IS the “divine will, essence, nature” which he completely shares with his Son and Spirit by generating them out of himself. “Apart from the Trinity there is no divine will” simply because the Father has willed from all eternity to share his person with two others. The Father sharing himself completely with two distinct persons is perichoresis. In doing so, there is sort of a divine kenosis in which the Father allows himself to be completely “used” by or “vulnerable to” His Son and His Spirit, they do what they will with him, and, in turn, the Son and Spirit participate directly and paradoxically in their own (and each other’s) unique (qua personal) eternal generation. It is the person of the Father, not a “divine form,” which from the begining is sheer infinite inconceivable (absolutely simple?) ocean of potency, a potency that is not invisible, immutable, immaterial because it is beyond visible/invisible, mutable/immutable, etc.

    I’ve probably made all kinds of mistakes here, but I don’t see the point of positing a divine nature “beyond” the Father himself. Again, I suggest there simply is no person/nature distinction here. That ontological distinction only comes about because of the Father’s fully sharing himself with two other “images.”

    Waddya think? Perhaps I can extend this to Christ, the concrete universal man “slain before the ages” whom we human persons share in completely as “images” of his enhypostatic humanity.

  4. “The question is more how can a necessity ever impinge upon the Father, who would seem to be beyond all necessity?”

    Technically, God is beyond all necessity in His divine essence even given the necessary existence of the Trinity. That’s what make the divine essence entirely unknowable. We only know God exists, and as God exists, it is necessary that God is a Trinity. Confusing, yes, but like the distinction between generation and procession, it’s something that we simply cannot know anything about other than that it is.

    “Making the Son and the Spirit ‘products’ of the Father’s will doesn’t seem to make them necessarily creatures (Arianism) or creation necessarily divine (some form of Pantheism).”

    Remember, it’s not the Father’s will; it is the divine will (will goes with nature). Perry corrected me on this error. If you move will to person rather than nature (so that there are essentially three wills in the Trinity), then you run afoul of the Cappadocian defense of the Trinity against the Eunomians (which leads into all sorts of problems). The Trinity can’t be an act of the divine will, because the divine will subsists in the Trinity. Apart from the Trinity, there is no divine will.

  5. Cyril Jenkins says:


    There are three accounts of what went on at Rheims, and all differ to a such a degree that we know they represent three separate witnesses. Otto of Freising, as I said, was not there; John of Salisbury was, as was Geoffrey of Auxerre. Geoffrey was a Cistercian, and every bit the lackey of Bernard of Clairvaux. It is he who says that Gilbert was condemned, but this is not at all clear, is denied by Otto, and is given the slight by John of Salisbury as well. Otto’s account, theologically, is the most precise and detailed. John’s account (the one cited by most historians as the most reliable) maintains that Gilbert confessed that what he was being condemned for, he never said, and that this was merely the recordings of some of his students, many of whom he maintained were too stupid to know what he was talking about. (Being a teacher, I can both sympathize and empathize completely.) Most of the cardinals present were willing to clear Gilbert, but Bernard went right to the pope who vacillated. In the end, the condemnations against Gilbert were cut up before those in attendance, by which it menat that the sentences were condemned, but Gilbert was not (this is where the accounts differ, and Geoffrey maintains that he was). Gilbert returned to his see and nothing else came of the matter (giving the nod to Otto’s account). There is no recorded condemnation of Gilbert, only of his putative thesis, none of which were ever stated were his, but this did not stop Bernard from continuing to write against him.

    I shall try to read this blog after I take my mother to the airport tomorrow.

    In Christ,

  6. Jack says:


    Thanks. As an irenic RC struggling through the detrius of the schism, I always find your comments enlightening.

    I guess the “necessity” I am curious about here is particularly with regard to the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit not creation. The question is more how can a necessity ever impinge upon the Father, who would seem to be beyond all necessity? Making the Son and the Spirit “products” of the Father’s will doesn’t seem to make them necessarily creatures (Arianism) or creation necessarily divine (some form of Pantheism). Rather, could they not be simply two different ways (ex dio and ex nihilo)that the Father “created”?

  7. I agree with Mr. Jenkins that Gilbert was not condemned at Rheims or anywhere else (and poor Gerhoch tried to get his students’ ideas condemned, too, all to no avail and Gerhoch’s misfortune). Gilbert was tried at Rheims, but the result was what Southern characterised as a stalemate between Bernard and his allies and Gilbert and the schoolmen who were defending his methods. Otto is definitely the best and clearest source on the council, as far as I know right now, and he explains Gilbert’s position very well. (Incidentally, the way Mr. Jenkins describes Otto’s use of this episode to make his larger argument is very helpful to my thinking about Otto.) Many of the secondary writings on Gilbert seem to find him far more obscure than he seems to have been in reality. Perhaps the reason why there are repeated errors about Gilbert’s status after Rheims is a potential confusion of having one’s ideas put under official scrutiny and having them actually condemned.

    My initial impression about Marius Victorinus is that he might be arguing for God as superessential, but I am not yet familiar enough with his work to say for certain. I have only just begun his Against Arius in the last few weeks, so I will get back to you all on that in the coming weeks. He does not make arguments in the way that I remember Augustine arguing. In fact, his style of argument reminds me most of a much later Greek Father, St. Anastasios of Sinai, whose Adversus Monotheletas I read this spring. As St. Anastasios does with the doctrine of the two wills, Marius has his proposition of the consubstantiality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he shows through example after example that this is so, attacking the problem from every possible angle. This has a tendency of becoming very repetitive, but it also illustrates all the various truths of the Faith that hinge on the one proposition that he is defending. Where St. Anastasios poses rhetorical questions (“How would Christ have been able to do this without a human will and activity?”, etc.) Marius runs through Candidus’ objections one by one, as well as formulating other possible objections to serve as springboards for the rest of his argument. He attends to the etymology and meaning of his terms with great intensity. He also appears to be more at ease with Greek terms than some of his fourth century contemporaries in the west. But these are all very rough impressions, and if I am off the mark here I would be glad to hear from anyone more acquainted with his thought.

  8. Daniel L.:
    You said:
    “Thus, in the earlier Christological controversies the Fathers might very well have accepted that monophysites did not intend to deny Christ’s humanity and in fact confessed a sort of unconfused union of both natures (as Armenian historians never tire of telling those of us who study Byzantium), but what mattered to the Fathers was that the logic of their terminology and arguments necessarily implied such a denial (i.e., because there cannot be two natures in a nature, saying one nature after the Incarnation necessarily means denying one of the two, etc.).”

    Good analogy, and I think that my own view of the filioque has been influenced by sympathy for the attempted reconciliation with the Oriental Orthodox on the subject of monophysitism. Unfortunately, in the case of both the heirs to monophysitism and Nestorianism, it appears that the attempts to appeal to previous Alexandrian and Antiochene tradition are in vain (IOW, it was not actually the case that their spiritual predecessors believed what those groups are willing to concede today). In the case of East and West, it appears to be a case of genuine mistake, as opposed to the case of either the Copts or the Chaldeans/Assyrians. It may simply be partiality to Latin claims on my part, but in looking at the totality of the behavior in each instance, I believe that a line was crossed with Monophysitism and Nestorianism that was not crossed with the filioque. As far as the implications of the position go, that requires some clear meaning of the words themselves. Recalling the Antiochene schism, it seems clear that jumping to condemnation of the alleged “implications” of a doctrinal formulation can be unwise when there is a genuine misunderstanding. So perhaps I am excessively optimistic, but the filioque issue particularly strikes me as a particularly pernicious incident of friendly fire, and I feel that if we can stop shooting, we might realize that we are indeed on the same side. And since you mention St. Maximos particularly, I’ll note that he defended Roman orthodoxy based on the same argument (that Latin theology did not distinguish between kinds of causation as Greek theology did).

    Please do continue updating us on Marius Victorinus. I am extremely curious about his position, and I haven’t been able to find nearly as much information about him as I would like. That’s one area where I simply lack sufficient familiarity (although from Perry’s comments and the dialogue on the point, it seems that we’re all in the dark a bit).

    “Am I right to understand that there is one common divine intellect and will but three modes of use?”

    “Modes of use” suggests modalism; “personal uses” is clearer. Now what counts as a personal use is one of the big mysteries in Triadology. One thing that I like about Zubiri is that he construes person in terms of “his-ownness,” so that the personal uses of divine faculties would relate to ownership of the use my the person, rather than a “mode” of use. But generally, the question of what a “person” really is remains one of the more obscure areas of Christian philosophy.

    “Also, doesn’t the Father’s begetting of the Son and the Spirit ‘by nature’ suggest some form of determinism?”

    Yes, and that is what makes the discussion that Daniel and Perry are having so extraordinarily important. St. Athanasius, in defending the Trinity against the Arians, argues precisely that the Son and the Holy Spirit are necessary in a way that creation is not. That’s why Calvinism is such a dangerous error. If (as Calvin and Luther argue) nature dictates choice, then one simply cannot avoid either monotheletism or pantheism (and Protestants tend toward the former, although Zwingli gravitated toward the latter). This is also why it is so important to perceive the extent to which Ss. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas can be rehabilitated from any tendency (if they indeed had such a tendency) in this direction.

  9. Daniel Jones says:


    If you look at Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma regarding the entry on the divine attributes being really identical to each other and identical with the divine essence (de fide; Ott’s words). He also says that Gilbert was condemned at Rheims by the Pope. The Catholic Encyclopedia, if I remember correctly, goes back and forth on that issue too, and seems to have contradictory data. Why do you think Ott, Pelikan and others botched this?


  10. Perry Robinson says:

    Since all of you seem to be having so much fun and Diane over at Pontifications has reached “repeat” mode on our conversation regarding monothelitism and Honorius I shall jump in here.

    One minor thing that I am not clear on is where Marius Victorinus falls here. E. Gilson cashes him out as fundamentally different than Augustine with respect to God as being/esse. Gilson thinks that MV holds God to be beyond being while Augustine ends up identifying God with the second hypostasis of late platonism and hence being. Mary Clark’s article in Blumenthaul’s collection on Christianity and Neo-Platonism reads MV as making the same fundamental move as Augustine. It would be interesting to know if Gilson is mistaken here. It might also be worthwhile to know why Marius would make the Augustinian move. What precedents in late platonism would motivate it.

    Other than that, Jack’s question deserves some attention.

  11. Cyril Jenkins says:


    I have not had time to read this as thoroughly as I would like, but one point I shall make quickly. As I have never ever gotten to say this before, and shall in all likelihood never get to do so again, Jaroslav Pelikan is wrong. Gilbert de Poitiers was not condemned at Rheims in 1148 (or any other year). The most fulsome account of this is recorded by Otto, bishop of Freising, and like Gilbert’s chief antagonist, Bernard of Clairvaux, was a Cistercian, but also Gilbert’s student. Otto gives a detailed and theologically full account of the whole matter, taking great relish in Gilbert’s acquittal by none other than Eugenius III (another Cistercian). Otto uses this whole occasion, and Gilbert’s innocence as a trope in his biography of Frederick Barbarossa to show that the Spirit of the prophet is not always with the prophet (since Bernard was wrong about Gilbert, he may well also have been wrong about the second crusade). I don’t know why Pelikan says Gilbert was condemned (Gilson has it correct that he was acquitted), but it is all there in Otto who gives us the details (though he was not present at Rheims, but was instead getting his ass kicked by the Turks in Asia Minor–though unlike the other chronicler of that Crusade, Odo of Deuil, Louis VII’s chaplain, he does not blame the whole debacle on the Greeks, nor like Bernard, on Latin sins (per se), but on a misguided prophet. I look forward to reading the post.


  12. Jack says:

    Jonathan and Daniel(s),

    Thanks. This is a fascinating discussion. I’m finding the [o]rthodox focus on hypostatic peculiarity and the distinction between theology and ecomony very helpful in avoiding a sort of misty unitarianism. Am I right to understand that there is one common divine intellect and will but three modes of use? Also, doesn’t the Father’s begetting of the Son and the Spirit “by nature” suggest some form of determinism? I’ve got a long way to go.

  13. Thanks for the clarification, Mr. Prejean. It is easy to get wires crossed, as we just saw. Your argument about Latin intention in the filioque does make sense, certainly for later defenders of filioque. The earliest Spanish and Carolingian interpolations seem to me to be answers to the specific problems of Arianism and Adoptianism, which required an emphasis in both cases on the divinity and equality of the Son, making filioque at that point very much an emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s origin from the hypostases (or substantiae, as they would have said) of Father and Son. Perhaps I am just assuming that, but it seems to me that the earlier insistence on filioque served a polemical function that the later apologies did not fully embrace.

    On the other hand, whatever the Latin intention was it is a long-standing theological habit of the Greek Fathers (not only the Greeks did this, but they practiced it with greater intensity) not to attend to what someone intended when he confesses erroneous doctrine, but what the logical implications of that doctrine will be. (In heresiological literature, there is a sort of tautology that anyone who teaches false doctrine cannot have had orthodox intentions, but we can set that aside for a moment.) In fairness, St. Gregory of Cyprus insists that disputes be over theological realities and not simply terms, but he assumes that theological statements have certain necessary consequences based on their definitions, and for that reason he considered filioque, and Bekkos’ defense of it, anathema.

    Thus, in the earlier Christological controversies the Fathers might very well have accepted that monophysites did not intend to deny Christ’s humanity and in fact confessed a sort of unconfused union of both natures (as Armenian historians never tire of telling those of us who study Byzantium), but what mattered to the Fathers was that the logic of their terminology and arguments necessarily implied such a denial (i.e., because there cannot be two natures in a nature, saying one nature after the Incarnation necessarily means denying one of the two, etc.).

    Though St. Photios was not aware of the historical reasons or controversies that led the Latins to embrace filioque, it would not have mattered to him very much, just as the monophysite desire not to endorse Nestorianism did not excuse rejecting Chalcedon in the eyes of the Fathers of the later councils. St. Photios was responding in the same fashion that a St. Maximos or St. John Damascene had responded to their opponents: whatever their intention, their statements were demonstrably erroneous and the result of those statements was something very pernicious. Of course, he was only going to interpret the concepts in dispute according to the definitions that he understood (this is almost inevitable in any dispute), but based on those concepts he could see no value in the filioque and a great deal of danger. Some may find that theological habit inherently too polemical, but that seems to me to be the way that the Fathers have approached doctrine throughout history and I do not know that it can be separated from the mind of the Fathers that we are trying to emulate.

    Separately, I have been doing some reading in Marius Victorinus and found that he has a rather ingenious, if circuitous, way of defending the Monarchy of the Father without subordination in the Trinity. He argues that because God is Spirit, thus His substance is Spirit, and since the Spirit proceeds from the Father, all substance comes from the Father. It is interesting how he uses Jn. 15:26 in some cases to refer to Spirit as the entire Godhead and in others to refer to the Holy Spirit, but I think his usage, albeit occasionally confusing, makes a great deal of sense. Reading through some of his work, it occurred to me that his use of the concept of the Holy Spirit as the “bond” between Father and Son, which has often seemed to Orthodox theologians to be a de-personalising or subordinating tendency in treatment of the Holy Spirit, could be understood very easily as an expression of something similar to eternal manifestation. Also, his view of calling the Holy Spirit the image of the Son is that this is, not surprisingly, a result of the consubstantiality of Spirit and Son. In spite of the tendentious, pro-filioque introduction to the edition I am reading, I can find nothing so far in Marius Victorinus that would suggest that he held anything like this doctrine. That is a hopeful discovery for the prospects of mutual agreement and understanding.

  14. Daniel L.:
    I think I put existence and having existence in reverse order above, and that error is probably the source of confusion. I agree with what you just said (viz., that there is a difference between hypostatic origin and shared existence according to perichoresis). Where we differ is that I don’t think the filioque was intended by the Latins to relate to hypostatic origin rather than shared existence. Rather, the Latin defense stemmed from the inability of Latin theology to distinguish between the two; in other words, they were crafting an answer to a problem that didn’t really exist. They perceived that the Eastern view denied the shared existence of the Holy Spirit through the Son (perichoresis), and they replied by reasserting the filioque. Because Latin theology was not cognizant of the difference between hypostatic origin and shared existence, they did not rightly understand the Eastern objection, and their response was in turn misunderstood by the East. While it seems odd that such a monumental conflict could turn on such mutual misunderstanding, there was a similar difficulty with the Nicene creed, suggesting that it’s not as incredible as one might think, particularly given the increasing cultural tensions between East and West.

  15. Jack–yes, I think your statement about eternal manifestation is basically correct, but I would add that eternal manifestation presupposes perichoresis among all Three Persons. It is a statement about the Spirit’s existence in the dynamic inner life of the Trinity and the unconfused coinherence of the Three in communion. As I understand the Latin defense of the filioque at Florence, filioque means something quite different and also introduces a potential hierarchy of Persons within the Trinity. I am obliged to believe that Orthodox triadology was always significantly different from that of Florence, because St. Mark Evgenikos regarded it as such and based his view on the inheritance of Sts. Gregory of Cyprus and Thessalonika (Palamas).

    Perhaps I explained the distinction between existing and having existence incorrectly, or perhaps I have misunderstood Mr. Prejean. For St. Gregory of Cyprus, as for Papadakis, having existence refers to hypostatic origin, because of the doctrine of the Monarchy and the Cappadocian habit of conceiving of hypostasis as logically prior. The Spirit has His existence from the Father, as He proceeds from the Father alone. Existing is the category that refers to the way in which the Three are in perfect communion: the Spirit exists from and through the Son because of their shared communion in the essence. Thus we may say that He is the Spirit of the Son or the Image of the Son, because He is consubstantial with Him.

    Lastly, I would have to disagree that statements about the Spirit existing per Filium are related to procession. That is what I had been hoping I was conveying. This was St. Gregory of Cyprus’ main argument and the reason why he developed an alternative expression to explain to what it really was referring.

  16. Oops. Meant to delete “Latin theology, lacking” above. Sorry.

  17. “Do either of you see any possiblity whatsoever of some sort of resolution between Orthodox triadology and the triadology of Florence or, in your humble fallible opinion, does a choice betwixt the two simply have to be made?”

    I’ll point out that Latin theology, lacking a distinction between hypostatic origin and the flow of ousia to the hypostasis (or as Papadakis put it, between existing and having existence) simply never existed in Latin theology. Subsistentia is absolutely equivocal between those two cases, and you can see St. Augustine struggling with understanding the Greek view in that regard in On the Holy Trinity VII:7-12. When Florence says that the Holy Spirit draws his subsistence from the Father and the Son, I don’t think that it was intended to specify one or the other of these cases (indeed, I don’t think that it could possibly have been, the distinction not even being cognizable in Latin theology). Because the term subsistence is itself equivocal, we should evaluate what Florence was *trying* to say in light of the stated aim of affirming both Greek and Latin understandings by affirming the patristic understanding of “from the Father through the Son,” and in that case, it appears sufficiently clear that the patristic understanding was referring to procession according to ousia.

    Of course, if the Greek delegation had been allowed to speak at greater length, the problem could have been solved. Also, it might have served to clarify the Greek resistance to the modification of the Nicene symbol (because Latins did not perceive the difference in existing and having existence, they did not see the different subjects of the Latin creed and the Nicene creed). But councils do not always express everything in the best possible manner, and while these uncertainties create enormous practical difficulties (indeed, I wonder whether Catholicism ought not return to the Greek version of the creed simply as a gesture of good faith), I do not believe that there is actually an either/or dichotomy between Catholic and Orthodox Christians on this issue.

  18. Jack says:


    Do you understand Lyons-Florence to preclude an understanding of the filioque that refers to eternal manifestation? And, am I right to see that this idea of an eternal manifestation of the Spirit attempts to capture *how* the Spirit exists (from the Son) but not the Spirit’s origin (Father alone)? Do either of you see any possiblity whatsoever of some sort of resolution between Orthodox triadology and the triadology of Florence or, in your humble fallible opinion, does a choice betwixt the two simply have to be made?


  19. I agree–St. Photios would have found the eternal manifestation doctrine compatible and simply the logical elaboration of the monarchy of the Father. Regardless of how Filioque might be understood in other contexts, such as how the Spirit exists, I think it would have been the position of Photios that additions to the Creed were by then unnecessary and dangerous, in addition to being non-conciliar.

    Papadakis is a great scholar, and he presents history and theology in a combination that is very satisfying for readers interested in either field. It is unfortunate that he has retired and won’t be bringing out that much more. I can also recommend his Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy.

  20. I just ordered the book “Crisis in Byzantium” by Aristeides Papadakis last week, looks like I made a good purchase.

  21. Daniel Jones says:


    Since the debate between St. Photius and the Carolingians consisted of the hypostatic origin of the Holy Spirit, Photius wouldn’t have had any problem over an eternal manifestation filioque. Though he would’ve still objected to this kind of filioque in the Creed since the Greek word means origin, but not with the theology without contradicting the entire Greek Patristic Tradition.


  22. Yes, Mr. Prejean, it is encouraging. I think we have good reason to believe we are on to something if the Fathers have endorsed it.

    My apologies–my memory failed me about the date of the council of Blachernae. After consulting Papadakis, I see that the council and the Tomos were both in 1285. I was associating them with the restoration of Orthodoxy in 1283 (and they are related, of course), but I am embarrassed to say that my recall of the date was quite incorrect.

    Looking over Papadakis’ explanation, I noticed that I failed to note that in St. Gregory’s teaching of eternal manifestation it is possible to say that the Holy Spirit is eternally manifested through the Son and that the Spirit is “from” the Son in the sense of the eternal personal relationship between them. This underlines how eternal manifestation provided an answer to the objections to St. Photios’ ab Patre solo formulation.

    Thus St. Gregory says in the Tomos: “Indeed, the very Paraclete shines forth and is manifest eternally through the Son, in the same way that light shines forth and is manifest through the intermediary of the sun’s rays; it further denotes the bestowing, giving, and sending of the Spirit to us. It does, however, mean that it subsists through the Son and from the Son, and that it receives its being through Him and from Him.” (Tomos, sec. 4, Papadakis, p.219)

    Papadakis restates St. Gregory’s bold claim that, if understood in terms of eternal manifestation, one could refer to the Spirit existing from the Son (of course, this would not be the Filioque as it is said in the western version of the Creed or with regard to procession as such, but simply a use of a similar phrase in a radically different context).

    An important point, perhaps obvious to everyone here, that I also should have made is that eternal manifestation is how we should understood the eternal, personal relationship of the Spirit and Son (how the Spirit exists (huparchei)), whereas the hypostatic property of proceeding refers to the source of the Spirit’s existence (whence the Spirit has its existence (huparxin echein)). Papadakis reminded me that the distinction between existing and having existence is vital to understanding eternal manifestation and explaining various patristic statements about the Spirit and the Son accordingly.

    I have not been able to locate the problematic section in Papadakis that was bothering me earlier. If I find it, I’ll let you all know.

  23. Glad to see so many people sharing our opinion on eternal manifestations. It gives me even more confidence that we are onto something.

  24. Thanks, Daniel. I’m glad my statements about eternal manifestation seemed clear and correct. I owe my understanding of the doctrine of eternal manifestation mainly to Aristeides Papadakis’ Crisis in Byzantium and the Tomos of 1283 contained in the appendix thereof, in addition to some of Fr. Meyendorff’s brief remarks about it in his study of St. Gregory. Prof. Papadakis generally does a fine job of explaining the history surrounding the council of 1283 and the Tomos, and he understands the theology very well. I seem to recall some problem with one part of his explanation, but it has been several years since I last read it and I would need to look at it again to explain my objections.

  25. Daniel Jones says:


    Regarding your idea of eternal manifestation, you nailed it by my lights. Excellent.

    Daniel Jones

  26. Thanks for your responses, and thanks for having me here.

    My acquaintance with Gilbert is very minimal: Pelikan’s summary in Growth of Medieval Theology, Fichtenau and Southern’s summaries of him in their books on the high middle ages and Otto of Freising’s account of the council of Rheims. Otto’s favourable account is the most helpful in explaining what Gilbert was trying to say, and it was his account that reminded me of St. Gregory’s statement about multiple realities in God: essence, hypostases and energies. As Otto described it, Gilbert was concerned to preserve these “realities” in their integrity as well. Beyond that, it is hard to say if there is much agreement. Gilbert was still bounded by the Augustinian tradition’s privileging of essence, which is why he could not make the argument that he needed to explain his position more clearly. I believe he was trying to understand hypostasis in its more precise meaning of subsistence, which suggests he was inclining toward a Cappadocian logic of the concrete, that is to say fully realised, existence of Divine Being in the hypostases. But these are only impressions. Beyond this, I am doubtful that Gilbert’s theology would have been compatible with St. Gregory’s.

    In response to Mr. Kaster’s post, I couldn’t agree more about the potential confusion of essence and hypostasis in the scholastics. The same confusion appears often in scholastic Christology, as I understand it, thanks to the odd term suppositum, which is frequently equivalent to hypostasis, and the preoccupation with a peculiar understanding of “individual human nature” that claims to follow St. John Damascene but produces something that seems a lot more like a quasi-Nestorianism. Aquinas has to labour mightily to avoid the Nestorian implications of the idea of a human suppositum.

    As for the doctrine of eternal manifestation, this is, unless I am very much mistaken, a principally theological doctrine that accounts for the perichoretic, eternal relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Son in the Godhead, and it is distinct from the activity of the Holy Spirit in the energies and in the charismata that He bestows upon men. It is in the latter sense that some Fathers have said per Filium or dia Hiou, and this is where we agree on the Son’s economic sending of the Spirit.

    I will need to read more of Marius Victorinus before I can describe his views in more detail. More on that another time, perhaps.

  27. Daniel Jones says:

    Daniel Larison,

    Thanks for visiting the blog.

    Regarding, Gilbert of Poiters and his condemnation at Rheims, I don’t know enough about his theology to say that it is equivalent or compatible with Gregory Palamas. Part of the problem would be the notion of Being. Which notion of Being did he hold to? If he held to an essentially Neo-Platonic Plotinian notion of Being that is part of the Augustinian tradition, and also, posited a Real distinction in God, I can’t help but think that this would imply composition in God. But if he didn’t that would be a different story.


  28. I can only speak for myself on this, but as a Byzantine Catholic I can accept a “filioque” if it is, as you indicated, at the level of divine energy alone. This manifestation of the Spirit from the Son in the divine energy is an eternal reality, because the energies are eternal and uncreated, but this type of “filioque” may not be acceptable to the Latin Church.

    The clarification issued by the Vatican in the mid 1990s on the “filioque” appears to endorse a type of this energetic manifestation by highlighting the distinction to be made between the existential hypostatic origin of the Spirit from the hypostasis of the Father alone, and the essential communion that exists between the three hypostases, but I have read some articles by Catholic (Latin) authors who think that the clarification fails to express fully the Western doctrine on the procession of the Spirit. I spoke about this briefly in a post at “Pontifications.”

    I think that the “filioque” as it is taught by the Scholastics is a problem, because it ultimately leads to a confusion of essence and hypsostasis in God. If the essence of God and the three hypostases are identical, as Aquinas asserts in the Summa (ST, Prima Pars, Q. 39, A. 1), it follows that trinitarian theology will inevitably collapse into a form of modalism. To identify essence and hypostasis leads to insurmountable problems both in triadology and christology.

    I will admit that at this point I don’t really have a solution to this problem, other than to recommend rejecting elements of the Scholastic theological synthesis.

    I am not familiar with the theology of Marius Victorinus, and so I cannot really speak to that.

    As far as the essence / energy distinction is concerned, I have come to believe that the distinction, without a separation, of God’s essence and His uncreated energies is a fundamental theological postulate, for it allows man to have a real participation in God’s life and glory, but without simultaneously falling into pantheism. In my opinion it is the only way to make sense of the doctrine of theosis.

    I’m sure Daniel can give a better response to your post than I have, especially as it concerns the problems with the Western notion of absolute divine simplicity.

  29. The article was very informative. Since Congar was apparently largely unfamiliar with late Byzantine theological developments in any detail, it is no surprise that Fr. Michael Najim did not discuss the concept of eternal manifestation of the Holy Spirit affirmed in the Tomos of 1283. However, it would have been a powerful corrective to the evident confusion in Congar’s grasp of the difference between the Spirit’s economic activity and His theological life with the Father and the Son. St. Gregory of Cyprus presented a very eloquent and subtle argument for understanding, insofar as it is possible, the Holy Spirit in the life of the Trinity. I’m sure you have discussed this here at length elsewhere, but I’d be interested to see what your thoughts are on that in relation to the review.

    Incidentally, I was made aware not too long ago in a discussion with a Byzantine Catholic gentleman that the one disagreement between Orthodox and Catholics he found to be the most serious was the essence-energy and related essence-existence distinctions in St. Gregory Palamas’ theology. As you have been discussing here for some time, the main dividing line does indeed seem to be over the concept of divine simplicity. This identification of God as essentia is a powerful part of Catholic theology that seems unshakeable. As I have recently found in my reading, it seems that Gilbert of Poitiers was one of the only scholastics to attack this problem head-on with his sometimes obscure and awkwardly stated distinction between essence and God, understanding more accurately from the Greek Fathers that strict identity between the two did violence to the integrity and reality of the hypostases. There is much to criticise in Gilbert, of course, but it is noteworthy that one of the scholastics best acquainted with the Greek patristic inheritance saw the problems with divine simplicity.

    From my brief acquaintance with another Latin theologian, I found some strong affinities between the Cappadocians and Marius Victorinus. Am I imagining this affinity, or do you think M. Victorinus is reliable, from an Orthodox perspective, in his Trinitarian theology? The tendentious introduction to the Fathers of the Church series edition of his Trinitarian works inists that he taught something effectively akin to the Filioque, but this was not in the least convincing.

  30. This is a great article, and I agree completely with his analysis of the necessary distinction that must be made between hypostasis and essence. The failure to make this distinction leads inextricably to a Modalist understanding of the Trinity.

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