Not for the weak minded…

Rev. Michael Azkoul on the Filioque

14 Responses to Not for the weak minded…

  1. Dear Fr. Michael,

    I couldn’t agree with you more about God as no being at all. What is the object of our knowledge is the being-producing power of God, that is God as the divine energy. See my short post here:


  2. Fr Michael Azkoul says:

    According to Etienne Gilson, the distinction between faith and reason is formal: same truths but each “science” with its own principles and method. In Orthodoxy, reason is a function of the life in Christ. Faith and reason do not stand outside one another. There is no opposition between them, only between one faith and another, one reason and another. Thus, the philosophy of Aristotle is a function of his faith. The philosophy of Aquinas is a function of his faith. Change the faith (or life) and you change the nature of reason’s function, of the philosophy his faith produces. Orthodox never separate faith and reason. Also, remember that the acts of reason are only states of cognition. There is a higher state, gnosis, the spiritual knowing which comes from true faith, grace and dispassion.

  3. Fr Michael Azkoul says:

    Photius, I shall read your article. The Fathers teach that the object of human knowledge is being (ousia, ens). But God is not being, as Augustine and the Scholastics insist, but is hyperousios, or superessential; hence, beyond knowledge. It is because Augustine thinks that man shares in “being” common to both himself and the Deity (analogia entis) that it is possible to develop a model of the Trinity in terms of “relation of opposites.”

  4. Dear Fr. Michael,

    Welcome to the blog!

    Refuting Rome’s (and Augustine, Origen’s) view of absolute simplicity is this blog’s specialty.

    You might also want to check out my paper ‘Synergy in Christ’ further down on this blog.


  5. Fr Michael Azkoul says:

    Refutation of my analysis of Augustinian’s triadology require more than assertions to the contrary. I am not impressed with the knowledge of patristic theology on display here. Conventionally academic.
    Read his De Trinitate with care and without sectarian prejudice. His conception of the Trinity is deduced from the idea of God as being. Central to this theology is the notion of divine simplicity. Augustine allows no distinctions within; hence, the divine Persons are reduced to relations within the supreme Being. The filioque is a necessary deduction from this postulate.

  6. Fr. Oliver says:

    Perry recently introduced me to this blog/site, so I’m new here and may not visit often, but in case anyone is interested . . .

    St. Photios accepts Augustine as a Father. He also accepts Western contentions that Ambrose, Augustine, and others taught the filioque. His response is simply to note that such a group does not authoritatively outweigh an Ecumenical Council (much less Councils) and that we should cover the errors of our Fathers, lest we go the way of Ham (!).

    Just a little FYI, if it’s wanted.

  7. Daniel J.:
    I guess my own perplexity is over what dogmatizing means in the Western tradition. As nearly as I can tell, it’s a rule of preservation working in conjunction with the entire tradition, not a calcification of the views of the Church at a certain time. At least, that seems to be the way it has worked in the past; the dogmatic pronouncements are in constant dialogue with earlier and later doctrines. The notion that dogma is reducible to the particular reasons and circumstances of its adoption just doesn’t seem to match the historical development, which seems to countenance correct awareness of conclusions even despite error in the premises used to derive them. It’s much like the difference between what the author intended in Sacred Scripture and what the meaning intended by God is; they *contact* one another in the text itself without either one defining the exclusive scope of meaning. And I think this is exactly what the meaning of the Pope being unable to add to the sacred deposit means. It’s hard to imagine what sense it could make otherwise.

  8. On the last point from Mr. Prejean, I would just like to add that Fr. Azkoul, whose argument I generally find to be pretty sound, did neglect to mention that the Sixth Ecumenical Council also cited from Augustine specifically on the question of whether activity (in this case, kinesis in the Greek version, not energeia) was natural or not and the council’s Fathers called him Hagios Augoustinos in its florilegia. In my own thinking, this further conciliar recognition of St. Augustine as an authority on some things leaves the possibility for accepting those areas of Augustine where he can reasonably be understood in an Orthodox way and rejecting those where he cannot be. Plainly, the Fathers and Councils viewed his Christology as sound and Justinian used him appropriately to defend his position on the Three Chapters against the latter-day North African church’s objections. Obviously, great care must be used and we should not rely on Augustine for his teachings on predestination, for example, but it does strike me as slightly uncharitable to insist on repudiating someone today who was recognised as a Father of the Church by venerable Orthodox Fathers. The unlikely, but possible, path open to some sort of reconciliation might be the Catholic acceptance that Augustine erred in a number of ways and should not be readily used as an authority on doctrine, and should not be approached without significant qualification and reinterpretation through other Fathers. That is a rather large pill to swallow from the perspective of Western intellectual history, but it would be nothing other than affirming the patristic consensus.

    The alternative, to take Fr. Azkoul’s approach, would be to impose posthumous condemnation a la Origen on Augustine, which would create more than a few difficulties if St. Maximos, while organising the Lateran synod and accepting the florilegia produced there, accepted calling Augustine a saint and viewed his teachings on activity as Orthodox. It might seem arbitrary to pick and choose out someone’s Orthodox views from his heretical views, when we don’t do this with heresiarchs such as Severos, but in this case there must be a certain sense of economy because Augustine has been honoured as a saint by infallible councils (obviously, Severos and the like never were).

    Regarding the citation from St. Leo, I would agree with Daniel that it should be understood in another way and there is nothing in the way that Leo expressed it that would lead anyone to see double procession or procession ab utroque. As for Fr. Azkoul’s rendering, I suspect that this was possibly a choice made for English grammatical reasons. That is, in English usage one does not say that something subsists from something, but that it subsists in it. Clearly, the Latin does say ex, but saying that something subsists from something is awkward at the very least. Maybe I’m incorrect here, but it certainly sounds awkward to me to translate it the other way.

    I am only passingly familiar with Hart’s theology, but I can’t say that I have been terribly impressed by what I have seen. Whatever the reason for it is, I have reservations about how he understands anthropology, especially the integral unity of body and soul in human nature. He seems to take the view that real human life endures even after the most vital organs of the body, such as the brain, have been profoundly and permanently injured beyond all repair, and seems unaware of the respective statements of St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Anastasios of Sinai on the vital importance of the physical brain to human life and rationality to the human soul.

  9. Daniel Jones says:

    Well, Jonathan, even if I were to grant to you that Gregory of Nyssa had some Origenism in him regarding the apokatastasis (which I’m not willing to grant since I don’t think the West has had a philosophical grid on which to read him correctly), the Eastern Church didn’t build a theology around such views and dogmatize them, as the Roman Church has done with St. Augustine regarding the filioque, beatific vision, original sin as the absence of justice, immaculate conception, justification, etc.

    Azkoul’s too hard, and being an old calendarist, I don’t think he regards Augustine as a Saint–which is ridiculous. Nevertheless, I found some of the historical insites interesting regarding Photius, Mark of Ephesus, Florence, etc.


  10. I share concerns about Hart’s overall theology, although he hides it well. Apart from a twinge I had about something he said concerning recapitulation of the logoi within the Logos, it wasn’t excessively palpable (although in that instance, he did remind me a bit of Edward Moore, with whom you and Perry have persuaded me to disagree). I think the more significant point is that he sets up the theological framework and method of the Western Fathers in such a way that the whole edifice doesn’t collapse from any particular error, which strikes me as the most historically honest way to look at it. It isn’t right to ascribe strict systematization to St. Augustine as if his theology derived from philosophical arguments, as opposed to philosophical arguments being deployed to explain what he perceived to be the theology. That kind of interpretation is what leads Protestants to wrongly view Augustine as endorsing their side, and I have as little sympathy for rebuttals of Augustine based on that sort of thinking as I do for the Protestants’ claim. St. Augustine’s speculation had a Hart-like mindset, a feeling of ever more bountiful metaphor and description based on concrete need rather than a closed rational system. To a large extent, I respect Hart’s historical method irrespective of his conclusions; he seems to be thinking the way these Fathers thought.

    I agree that the filioque problem arose with St. Augustine. Where I’d minimize that is in following the various strings of argument that St. Augustine followed to reach that point. The invalidation of one particular strand (such as metaphysical error on simplicity) does not necessarily invalidate the reasoning from another source, such as Greek consensus or Scripture, and I’d argue that there is still much useful that can be gained by excising the error and allowing the remaining elements to grow in its place. Certainly, Eastern writers like Gregory of Nyssa have been rehabilitated in this way even when their individual speculations may have gone too far abroad. To treat St. Augustine or St. Anselm differently strikes me as somewhat inequitable.

  11. Daniel Jones says:


    Regardless if Fr. Azkoul mistranslates or misinterprets the Latin Fathers, which would be debatable, it can only be representative of the Origenism that is in the Church at that time. I mean look at how Gregory of Naz. botches John 6:38 on the wills of Christ.

    On Leo, eternally subsisting of that which is the Father and Son is not the same as the Holy Spirit receiving his subsistence or hypostatic existence FROM the Father and Son as Florence says. Why should you interpret it this way? 1) It seems to fit better with perichoresis and eternal manifestation and 2) Unless you want to hold Leo to teaching a type of Origenism, you better interpret that way. On Hilary, it seems that he has the economy in mind.


    I can’t say that I actually care much for Hart’s theology. I smell Origenism.

    There are plenty of Roman Catholic scholars that believe the filioque rests with Augustine. Farrell notes this in his Introduction on Photius.


  12. Patrick Cavanaugh says:

    Fr. Azkoul’s presentation of the beliefs of the West Roman Fathers seems rather weak. When St. Leo of Rome talks about the Spirit “eternally subsisting of That Which is the Father and the Son” (Sermon LXXV), or St. Hilary says that the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son as authors (De Trin., II, 29), we’re still supposed to believe that “None of the Latin Fathers taught that the Holy Spirit received His existence from
    the Son”? What’s strange is that Fr. Azkoul actually quotes from St. Leo’s sermon, but then mistranslates it, despite giving the Latin. I don’t see any way that “Ex eo quod” could be rendered “in that which” instead of “of that which”. Since when does “ex” mean “in”?

  13. In terms of rehabilitating the Latin Fathers (and arguing that there isn’t that much difference), I like David Hart’s _Beauty of the Infinite_. Some people question whether he is not simply reading his own theory back onto the Latin Fathers, though. I’ve heard that W. Norris Clarke’s _The One and the Many_ is helpful, but I haven’t had a chance to read that one yet.

    The article is tough, and I’d probably be willing to concede that the “relations of opposition” formulation is simply a poorly-chosen theological explanation for the Trinity, speculating in an area where there was already an answer. It’s an ad hoc solution to a problem that never should have existed. But one would think that Fr. Azkoul’s own rationale is a bit self-defeating, in that he is arguing that the Latin tradition was not uniform, but is at the same time willing to consign the adoption of the filioque wholly to St. Augustine’s “relations of opposition” formula. At the same time, it seems that there were several Latins who adopted similar thinking to St. Augustine on several points without endorsing his understanding of the Trinity (I’d particularly point to St. Anselm on the atonement, which is very much recapitulation theology clothed in the judicial metaphors of the West). IOW, I have no difficulty conceding that St. Augustine was wrong, but trying to cash all of the Western distinctives out of this particular error strikes me as misguided, particularly when the Scriptural themes being covered figure so prominently in the NT. It seems to me that they were explaining what *already* existed in the Tradition using imprecise instruments, rather than inventing new doctrine (much like the use of pseudo-Isidorean decretals to justify papal power). JMHO, of course. Perry will probably see such mental gymnastics as unnecessary when there is a perfectly good Eastern church to join. 😉

    Incidentally, I also agree that St. Augustine taken without the safeguards of the rest of Western tradition is almost certain to lead to massive theological error. In fact, I think that this was exactly the cause of the Reformation. It’s not a question of the Protestant errors being pure invention; they developed naturally from Western theology, but not from the totality of Western theology.

  14. Jack says:

    Could somebody suggest a good book which details the alleged differences between the Orthodox and the Catholic understanding of the relationship between faith and reason?

%d bloggers like this: