It is not a strange thing that the Filioque is such a heated point of contention between Rome and the Orthodox. It is a strange thing that it is not between Rome and Protestants. When I was a Protestant at one point it struck me, why don’t I object to the Filioque? Surely the Filioque has all the markings of things that Protestants like to object to.
The filioque has a weak scriptural base, if any at all. It doesn’t have much if any serious patristic support until the fifth century and then it is quite limited as being purely a speculation on Augustine’s part. And it doesn’t begin to become enshrined in major doctrinal formularies until begining in the 11th century. And it is responsible in part for the largest schism in the history of Christianity, not to mention an alteration of the major doctinal statement ultimately on the basis of claims to papal supremacy.
Now before any Catholic readers start thinking, “Oh no, here we go again.” I plead with them to just hear me out. Just think for a moment, why don’t Protestants object to it? I mean, I have never read Catholic apologists using it against Protestants. This doesn’t mean they haven’t but it usually just isn’t in their debate toolbox. (I wouldn’t be suprised if I found it in Bellermine.)
Now James White has been lately harping on the Catholic dogma of the Assumption of Mary. This is because he thinks he smells blood in the water. By and large he is motivated by this book. I have read the book and it is pretty good. There are a few mistakes and I think there are reasons why his thesis isn’t quite as strong as the author thinks. But put all of that aside. White thinks that it’s the cat’s meow or so he talks.
His argument seems to be something like the following. The dogma of the Assumption lacks Scriptural warrant but it also fails the Catholic test of having nascent support in the tradition and then developing later on. (I think it popped up on the radar screen later but not as a development and for different reasons-read St. Basil. And as an Orthodox Christian I don’t think it is a dogma/de fide either.) So he thinks he has a clear case of pure innovation showing that the Catholic position licenses dogmas out of whole cloth.
Now suppose further he is right, just for the sake of arument. Perhaps he is thinking that Sola Scriptura logically precludes these kinds of incidents and is therefore superior. So the idea is that Protestantism conceptually precludes these kinds of errors. But does it?
Take the Filioque. It is enshrined in the vast majority of Protestant confessions as an article of faith/de fide. And yet I at least can’t see how it can be justified via Sola Scriptura. And yet laymen and clergy alike are required to some degree or another to subscribe to it. (For my Protestant readers, just imagine a candidate for ordination being in a conservative Protestant denomination and denying it upon examination. Watch the sparks fly.) If we let White’s argument on the Assumption, go through then he has some ‘splainin’ to do for he is in relatively the same position as he charges Catholics.
Why doesn’t he howl and complain about the Filioque? Why is it part of the Confession he subscribes to and he requires his congregation to subscribe to? It will do no good to complain that it isn’t important. All the more reason to exclude it, especially when it is part of a core area of theology, namely the Trinity. The last time I checked, the Trinity was no ancillary doctrine and White doesn’t think papal supremacy is a sufficient basis for altering doctrinal statements.
Moreover, the Filioque was added to the Creed and suscribed by the force of papal perogatives alone. If ever there was a doctrine to set aflame the hearts of a Protestant, this seems like a good candidate. Either Sola Scriptura doesn’t logically preclude the innovation and codification of major theological error or very few if any Protestant bodies have been using it correctly in relation to the doctrine of God. So, why don’t Catholics go banging on White about the Filioque?
We can do a replay with other doctrines, such as divine simplicity. That certainly isn’t justifiable by Scripture alone. To argue that it is a piece of philosophical theology and not biblical theology is just to admit the point that it isn’t justifiable by Scripture and that Protestants have been requiring subscription in one form or another to non-biblical doctrines for centuries. Moreso, it is just to convict White of implicitly and unknowingly advocating a piece of philosophical theology that guides and influences his exegetical practices so that the latter doesn’t float free of the former. (I suppose like Beckwith, he’d have to be a philosopher to know that.)
If Sola Scriptura were true, when applied correctly not only should it adjudcate such matters but it should preclude such doctrines. Now it is open to White or others to argue that in this case it hasn’t been. But this just opens up a can of worms. Why hasn’t White been protestating about major non-biblical doctrines within his own tradition? And to admit that the scriptures haven’t been employed according to Sola Scriptura is to convict the vast majority of Protestant theologians of serious error, if not outright heresy. If they blow it on the doctrine of God, this undermines the likelyhood that they are using the Scriptures as a rule correctly in other areas. In fact it is a compelling piece of evidence to support the thesis that their exegesis is caught in the grip of a Platonic philosophical perspective. (Open Theists eat your heart out.)
But we can extend this to other doctrines. Take a look at the doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo. Apart from the Apocrypha, there is in fact very little support for it and nothing explicit in Scripture. Sure plenty of passages say that God made all things but the surface grammar is compatible with a belief in eternal matter. And without an appeal to tradition to normatively fix its meaning White is up an exegetical creek. In fact, some significant scholarly literature on the matter indicates that it derives from Gnosticism and was appropriated by various post-Apostolic Fathers.
On similar grounds, White dismisses the Catholic dogma of the Assumption, namely that it either was derived from Gnosticism or that there is significant conceptual dependence. (He has explicitly claimed both at different times.) Why not reject the Creation Ex Nihilo or any of the above candicates on the very same basis?
If Sola Scriptura were true, it should when used correctly produce only teachings that bind the conscience of a believer. If White and others think that it has been, then he needs to start defending those doctrines on the basis of scripture alone without an appeal to non-biblical sources to fix the meaning of a given text. If he thinks that Sola Scriptura hasn’t been employed correctly in these cases, then why doens’t he advocate changing his and other Protestant Confessions and why doesn’t he argue that the Reformers and their children screwed up the doctrine of God and/or creation due to Platonism and Gnosticism? (I encourage Catholic readers to start going through systematic theologies to start finding other doctrines that are specifically philosophical in content and run the same kind of argument. Go get’em boys!)
Now, from an Orthodox perspective this is just jim-dandy. I get to see Catholics use Orthodox arguments against Protestants and Protestants who hold doctrines as de fide without Scriptural warrant grasp at straws. Of course, White and other Protestants could avail themselves of Catholic arguments from philosophical theology but of course that wouldn’t be consistent with Sola Scriptura. And besides, what a hoot that would be to watch, Protestants using Catholic arguments to defend their dogmas. What more could I ask for? Where’s the Cracker Jacks?