Saint John of Damascus and Thomas Aquinas on the Procession of the Holy Spirit

 St John Damascene and St Thomas Aquinas on the Procession of the Holy Spirit

19 Responses to Saint John of Damascus and Thomas Aquinas on the Procession of the Holy Spirit

  1. Todd,

    I think the glory of God for the damned will be outerdarkness and consumming fire. Metaphysically, the grace doesn’t change. If you’re hypostasis is integrated with it, it is a joyful experience (to say the least).


  2. Yes, I read it, and if I am reading it correctly St. Maximos is saying that all of nature has been redeemed by the incarnation, and that this redemption was predestined, but that salvation is determined by the hypostatic enactment of each man’s will. In other words, each man can integrate the natural virtues that he possesses as an image of God with his hypostasis, or he can fail to do that. If he unites his virtues with his hypostasis he will enjoy the vision of God, if he does not, he will damn himself. This of course helps to make sense out of the text in Romans 8 about predestination and election, which is quite helpful in arguing with Calvinists, but I would like to know how St. Maximos interprets Romans 9.

    One other thing that still is hard for me to grasp fully is the idea that the damned participate in the glory of God. Normally I had associated this with the vision of the uncreated light. But perhaps my associations of glory with the taboric light are vestiges of the Western mindset within which I was raised.

  3. Todd,

    Did you get a chance to read my paper?

    Photius (Daniel)

  4. This was a great conversation. It sounds like all of nature is predestined for redemption, but that salvation is achieve only by those who, at the level of their personal enactment of the faculty of the will, use their will properly in grace and develop the habit of virtue. Of course, I could be wrong in my reading of the conversation. =0)

  5. Perry Robinson says:


    Sure thing. I didn’t take you to be formulating a new creed. 😉

    As to the help, well, thats why they pay me the big bucks! If you happen to be wealthy I do not eschew contributions to the Perry Robinson educational fund. 😉

    If not, its a freebie. 😉

  6. David Richards says:

    Thanks Perry. For the record, I wasn’t stating any of that dogmatically, just throwing the ideas out there. Your clarifications are most helpful.

  7. Perry Robinson says:


    The gloss on nature as essence is fine as far as it goes, but we have to remember I think that nature doesn’t mean, at least on my view, the same thing as essence since there is more to a nature than essence.

    As far as personhood I think I have to disagree. The problem is that you are thinking of persons still in terms of qualities, properties or essences. Thinking of persons in this way will just set you up for the same fundamental problems down the road as contemporary Molinists have discovered in the Grounding Objection. Persons can’t be understood in terms of qualities or natures or essences since they are persons and not any of those things. If they were, it would make a distinction between person and nature at best one of degree and not of kind.

    Another thing I think that would help you would be to get your head around what exactly an attribute is as opposed to a property. I don’t think that the energies are attributes properly speaking. Attributes are our judgments of our minds about an object. Properties are features of an object.

    To tweak your stuff on Adam, I would say that the “blue print” for Adam contained being fixed in the Good or impeccability as a potentiality or capacity for Adam. This is why the commandment in the garden was so easy so that they could move on to other more difficult commandments and eventually attain to virtue-theosis. The whole plan was for them to be “as gods”, deified with the energies through habituation. But they were tricked because the devil promised them that they could get deification/virtue the easy way-immediately.

    As to other aspects of redemption, yes there is more, but the healing of human nature from going into non-being is the base if you will. As to how this might affect evangelism, well I think it motivates well the Christian conviction that Christ is judge of all and that everyone will stand before Christ on the last day. It motivates the general call and certainty of the gospel to everyone in ways that Calvinism or Open theism can’t. And I think that it enables one to see God as a “lover of mankind.” After all, if you don’t have a Good God, what Good is he?

  8. David Richards says:


    What about this understanding of nature and person?

    A nature consists of those things which are essential to a being. Our finiteness, for example, is part of our nature. If we were infinite, we would cease to be human. Likewise, God is infinite because it is His nature to be infinite. If God were not infinite, if He were not all-knowing or all-powerful, He would not be God. Those are part of His nature. Do I have that right?

    Personhood, then, would refer to how these essential qualities are employed by the individual. What makes people unique is that their personalities specialize in different things. All people have a measure of creativity, but a jazz musician might be more creative than an accountant.

    When I was going to a private Christian school in Eighth grade, the Bible textbook was on the attributes of God. The idea seemed to be that the more we knew about God’s immutability the more we knew about God. But what I have learned from this blog and others like it is that one cannot expect to compile list of God’s attributes and understand God, no more than one can expect to know me by compiling a list of my favorite drink, color, movie, composer, book of the Bible, etc. God’s personhood exceeds His nature, and because of that, knowledge of Him as a person — and therefore a direct encounter with Him — is necessary to KNOWING Him.

    Mapping this view onto Adam, I see that in the Orthodox view, Adam’s nature was not perfected — because perfection is not part of the blueprint for human nature. Innocence is. But Adam, in his innocence, could have turned from the serpent’s temptation, but instead chose to turn from God. Why he turned from God is a problem for Calvinists. If his nature was perfected, he would not have done that. Or this means that even after Christians are perfect, there is the risk that they will fall from perfection. But the Calvinist quick answer to this seems to be that God predestined Adam’s fall. In which case, Adam would not be morally responsible for his decision, etc.

    A question: is there another aspect to the redemption of human nature, other than being saved from annihilation? How does this idea of a redeemed nature but an unreconciled personhood affect evangelism, or should it?

  9. Dave,

    Yes, Gods activities are just as much deity as the divine essence. So you can look at it the way that there is more to the divine nature than the divine essence. God’s nature is wider than his essence. A more helpful way to distinguish the universal and the particular in salvation is between redemption and salvation-everyone is redeemed but not everyone is saved. The former is irresistibly willed by God while the latter depends in part on the hypostatic employment of the will by the creature.

    I think this view maps on very nicely to the biblical corpus with respect to universal call and particular salvation.
    Daniel and I have been tinkering with John 6 for some time. Basically I think there is a play between the personal (particular) and the natural (general) in John 6. From v 37 forward that distinction is unpacked. Those who come to Christ and those who come to Christ with faith. V. 39 is key because it speaks of those raised up in the neuter and consequently in a general sense. Since resurrection is all over the place in the passage I think it fits well and I think it fits well because the point of the chapter is that Christ is the source of life. (other passages such as Eph 1:10 should light up as well.)

    As to person and nature, there is a whole body of philosophical literature that I have yet to dig into. I have only a rough idea of the difference but I am constrained by Christian theology to hold that there is a difference. Roughly nature is what a thing is, its qualities, essence, nature, etc-pick your metaphysic here. Persons subsist or exist within a nature so as to depend on it in some sense. But natures do not exhaust what it is to be a person. You can think of it in terms of recent conversation in the philosophy of mind, where mind supervenes or depends on brain such that you never have minds without brains, but this doesn’t imply that mind is exhausted by brain or identical to it. Similarly, water is H20, but wetness doesn’t seem to be inter-theoretically reducible to H20. I think you are exactly right, that qua persons we are not exhaustively defined by our natures but by our use f them. This is why sin is personal and not natural and why you cannot inherit sin strictly speaking.

    You aren’t the only one who likes the fact that this view tosses out the dichotomy between freedom and the divine prerogatives. On my view for God to predestine people at the level of personhood would be to vindicate the devil’s claims. You can think of it in terms of a dilemma. Either it is the case that God, in order to save his creation has to frustrate his own will by overriding the will for humans to be free or he has to let them go into annihilation and then God’s will is again frustrated since humans will not exist forever. On the satanic thinking, God cannot do either.

    I believe that God drags everyone along, but only at the level of nature. It just so happens that the persons subsist in the nature that gets dragged along so that everyone is saved from non-being but how they are going to spend it is up to them. Asceticism then is a vital part of salvation since it is the personal employment of our nature in freedom turning back to God. In my view, Calvinism and Open Theism both rest on the same faulty assumptions-one is just as wrong as the other. You are exactly right, that is what I was trying to bring out over on Clifton’s blog, but the Calvinists didn’t have “eyes to see” as it were. The only way to get them to do so, at least in my experience is to generate internal dilemmas or contradictions for their system. This was in part what I was trying to do with the question of the fall. On their view, if Adam is created perfectly good and only does what he desires to do, then he should only ever do good things. If on the other hand you posit some defect in his nature then you run into Manicheanism and Gnosticism, which is exactly where they went. (surprise)

  10. David Richards says:

    Thanks Perry.

    I think I see what you’re saying. The predestinations of God are uncreated energies, much as any action of God is part of His uncreated energies. So God wills everyone to be like Christ, and Christ saves everyone at the level of nature, but the personal choice to partake of the life of God and Christ is given to us?

    This seems to be what you were saying in your comments on Kevin’s blog during the whole soteriology dia-blog. Death means annihilation, but Christ’s work saved everyone from such a fate. The thing is, not everyone is reconciled. And this helps clarify what I have been ruminating over for awhile: the difference between the universal message of salvation found in the Bible, and the reconciliation which
    it is clear not everyone will participate in.

    I find this interpretation of John 6:39 most fascinating. Usually it has been used to argue eternal security, but this reading seems more
    consistent with the rest of Scripture, which by no means teaches perseverence. So, not to sound stupid or anything, but how exactly might we define nature and person? The example I use when trying to explain the distinction to a friend is that people naturally have certain attributes, like creativity and the ability to love. But people are not defined by these things which inhere in their nature, but by how they use these things. What makes people different is not whether they have a nature predestinated for good and a totally depraved nature created for destruction (which is gnostic heresy), but how much creativity they employ or whether they freely choose to love. I hope I have that right. It gets frustrating knowing the difference only by example, so how might we define nature and person?

    I like the fact that this view smashes the false dichotomy of God’s omnipotence/man’s free-will. Along the same lines, I have argued with people that God being all-powerful does not require Him to use the power He has, because God may not be summed up in a list of personality traits. This seems to me like a simple way of saying that
    what is in His nature (all-powerfulness) is distinct from what He chooses to do with His libertarian free-will. So He has all the power
    to force the sinner to repent, but He chooses not to force the sinner to repent. The problem with the Calvinistic doctrine of irresistable
    grace, then, is that it confuses these two ideas and says that if God calls the sinner to repentance, the sinner cannot help but respond to the call. Basically, God is dragging him along.

    Indeed, it seems that Calvinism relies on faulty Trinitarianism and Christology to make its points.

  11. Perry Robinson aka Acolyte says:


    Gregory N botches it in the Fourth Theological Oration commenting on John 6:38. He thinks that it means, first that human nature is naturally opposed to God. When Christ says “not my own will” Gregory is thinking of it as the human nature opposed to God. This is false because nothing of nature is opposed to God. This is because sin is personal and not natural. Even after the fall, human nature qua human nature is still good, though weakened in power, strength and integrity. Taken to an extreme this kind of thinking can lead one to Manicheanism where human nature is evil or Calvinist thinking where human nature is somehow naturally opposed to God. The dialectic then becomes sin and grace as opposed to nature and grace, leading to either to Pelagianism or Calvinism, which IMHO are two sides of the same coin.

    Second, Gregory N thinks that Christ has only one will with the Father. In so far as the persons of the Trinity have only one will, this is correct. But in so far as the Incarnate Christ goes, he is wrong. The problem is that like his predecessors following in Origen’s train, the only way he can distinguish between will as a faculty of nature is by contradictory properties and hence opposition. If he makes this move, he clearly sees that this will lead to Christ being in opposition to God and hence sinning. Since this is impossible, a human will in Christ has to be sublimated to the level of a desire, as opposed to a full personal volition, in opposition to God. Christ then becomes the primary case of predestination since in him the divine suppresses human nature and will (Similar to Karl Barth’s view of Christ as the predestined Son). You can find this thinking in Aquinas as well at Summa Theologia IIIpt, art. 18, qu 5.

    I think there is a lot of good in Origen. I do not mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I also agree with the condemnations though I think they apply more to his later followers than to him personally. Origen in my view inherits problems that he cannot solve, much like Augustine. He takes, much like Augustine, what seems to him the least problematic view, that of preserving the image of God in man (freedom) over against full integration into the Good. Augustine takes full integration into the Good over preserving the freedom of the image of God in man. They are two sides of the same coin and ironically enough both end in a kind of predestinarianism. Origen in so far as there is a never ending cycle of falls and returns in which souls exist (similar to Plotinus for example) and Augustine in so far as individuals are inevitably destined to union with the one simple Good.

    I think in the tradition, Maximus pretty well flushes out any remaining Origenism. Sometimes it pops up here and there but for the most part I think Eastern Christianity (Chalcedonian) have flushed the problematic elements of Origen’s Platonism down the historical and ecclesiastical toilet. This is one reason why you don’t get massive fights over grace, predestination and free will in the east and why they are constant fights in the west.

    As to predestinations, you are right to note a specific equivocation with respect to “predestination.” That term can be employed in lots of senses. In the sense of the divine energies I mean to say that they are the divine plans, divine wills, archetypes, prototypes, logoi, for the essences of creatures. The idea would be similar though significantly different from the western conception of the divine ideas. One difference would be that the logoi or energies are not in and identical to the divine essence and with each other as is the case with the western view of the divine ideas in protestant and Catholic theology. The energies as predestinations are related to the essences of creatures as what God eternally and irresistibly wills for those creatures. The devil’s intention in bringing sin into the world was to frustrate God’s eternal will or predestination for humanity by bringing about its annihilation or non-existence. By getting humans to sin they would turn away or become “unplugged” from the source of their existence and hence die going, body and soul, into non-existence. (This is why the Devil is called Beelzebub-Lord of the Flies/Corruption) By frustrating God’s will, he would then demonstrate his equality with God. Christ rescues human nature from annihilation thereby vindicating (justifying) God’s claim to be God (omnipotent) without violating human nature, making God primary recipient of any declarative justification-human justification is secondary and derivative (this helps to bring the Johannine and Pauline corpus together). Since human nature is by divine irresistible will given a measure of libertarian freedom, if God saved humanity universally at the level of personhood, this would violate God’s eternal will or predestination for humanity and the devil would also be victorious. Calvinists, ironically enough, when arguing for Total Depravity and for their view of monergism, are thereby arguing for the vindication of the claims of the Devil, namely that God has to act on humanity in such a way that eliminates humanity’s libertarian freedom which is grounded in the image/icon of God. The idea being that God is free with libertarian freedom and humans are made in God’s icon or image and they also enjoy a measure of libertarian freedom. Calvinism then conflates the categories of person and nature. There is nothing more to a person on a Calvinist reading than an instance of a nature. This is how you get the nonsense in Jonathan Edwards concerning natures determining agent’s actions. (You also get the motivation to gloss persons as relations, which has obvious ties in to the Filioque controversy and an Augustinian view of the Trinity and Existentialist philosophy) This is only possible if we conflate the two categories. This conflation also leads to obvious problems in Christology and the Trinity since both of those doctrines depend on a strong metaphysical distinction between person and nature. Predestination for Calvinism, because it conflates person and nature is only predestination at the level of this conflated person/nature. This is why they cannot make a distinction between everyone being predestined to everlasting existence or life on the one hand and human freedom determining how one spends that everlasting existence, as the Orthodox do. Passages such as 1 Tim 4:10, 2 Pet 2:1 and John 6:39 should come to mind here. This is why for Calvinists, it is an either/or proposition. Either humans have free will or God’s position as God is retained but not both. Open View and Process Theists hold to the same fundamental assumptions here as the Calvinists, they just take the other horn of the dilemma. Not to be rhetorical, nasty or rude, but given the sketch of the devil’s intention above, you can easily see how Calvinist and Open Theism both depeond on satanic theological convictions.
    You can also see the implicit Origenism in Calvinist views on eternal punishment. Take the Gerstner/Edwards model of eternal punishment. God continuously punishes people because they keep on sinning in hell. So person A sins by their anger at God for initially punishing them in hell, so God has to punish them for that sin of anger. Then they are angry at God for that punishment so God has to punish them again ad infinitum. If God refrains from punishment, then God’s justice is compromised so the Calvinist argues. In some sense the eternal existence of the damned is required in order for God’s justice to be made manifest and in order for God to be God since given the Reformed adherence to ADS, God just *is* his justice. This kind of thinking is how Calvinists move people into accepting their view “Hey, if you don’t say that God eternally punishes them, then you have denied that God is really just and hence has denied himself, which the Bible says is impossible.” The position though depends on the assumption that God needs and is dependent on evil and sin in order to manifest his justice, which I take to be flat out false because I take dualism to be flat out false. I am arguing here in part for the absolute independence of the Good from evil. God doesn’t need the reprobate or evil to manifest his justice. As you can see, I think Origen’s dialectic is all over the place and motivates, at least in part, all kinds of theological and philosophical views and problems. I hope this helps to make clear what is going on in my head.

  12. “No. He’s arguing that St. Thomas does not have a way to distinguish the manner in which things are cause of one another, and the Greeks do. “Cause” is equivocal between the cases in Latin, but not in Greek.”

    Perhaps the inherent vagueness in this Latin formulation is why, as an Easterner, I am uncomfortable with the “filioque,” because it appears to be open to an interpretation that is clearly erroneous, i.e., an interpretation which makes the Son a principle, source, or cause of the subsistent existence of the Holy Spirit. As a consequence, when I read what the Council of Florence defined, saying: “In the name of the holy Trinity, Father, Son and holy Spirit, we define, with the approval of this holy universal council of Florence, that the following truth of faith shall be believed and accepted by all Christians and thus shall all profess it: that the holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son, and has his essence and his subsistent being from the Father together with the Son, and proceeds from both eternally as from one principle and a single spiration.” I cannot help but see that the Latin Church has confused the hypostatic properties of the Father and the Son. Generation and procession are personal (hypostatic) properties of the Father alone, and so He alone is the principle, source, and cause of the hypostasis of the Son and the hypostasis of the Spirit. I think the Latin Church will need to clarify exactly what it means by the “filioque” in order to exclude any idea that the Son is involved in the hypostatic origin of the Holy Spirit.

  13. David,

    See my paper Synergy in Christ for Gregory’s goof. I also have a footnote where Maximus calls the logoi or energies, predeterminations and wills.


  14. David Richards says:

    Oops, one more question.

    What is the patristic support for this idea of God’s predestinations as uncreated energies?

  15. David Richards says:

    Perry, I have a few questions.

    On the Pontificator’s blog you said that you think Gregory Nazianzus “goofed bad” on the human will of Christ. Could you expound on why you think this is, and in what way(s) he “goofed”? Is this, in your opinion, due to the influence of Origen? If so, then should we remove any Origenistic influence on Eastern Christianity? That is, is there nothing good or commendable about his theology?

    Another thing: in your paper “Anglicans in Exile” you briefly mention that God’s predestinations are uncreated energies. Would you explain what you mean by this? And how does this differ from, say, Calvin’s conception of predestination, or the rest of Western theology, which you noted is largely “Predestinarian”?

    Thanks in advance.


  16. No. He’s arguing that St. Thomas does not have a way to distinguish the manner in which things are cause of one another, and the Greeks do. “Cause” is equivocal between the cases in Latin, but not in Greek.

  17. Is the author of the article arguing that because the Holy Spirit returns to the Father from the Son, that the Son and the Father then act as a single cause of the origin of the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit?

  18. I’ll forward it to him.

  19. Charlie Brown says:

    I’m slightly perplexed at how to e-mail you.
    Can you read my address?
    I would like to ask a question.
    Cordially, CB

%d bloggers like this: