29 January 2009

Issues etc. on the filioque

The Lutheran radio program "Issues Etc." featured a discussion of the filioque--the western addition "and the Son" to the Creed of Constantinople. Speaking on behalf of Lutherans was Pr. Peter Bender, well known in LCMS circles for his catechetical work. I will try to summarize his main points and respond to them.

1. A key point of his defense of the filioque is the notion that in the eastern church, Jesus and his atoning work does not have center stage as it does in the western church. They are diminished, according to Pr. Bender, in the Eastern church.

It is difficult to respond to a charge of this sort, because it is painted with so broad a brush. Pointing out the numerous feasts of the Holy Cross, the fact that (unlike most Lutheran parishes today) the Eucharist is the center of our liturgical life, every Sunday we read a resurrection gospel etc. would be met with "those are exceptions." Perhaps the best response is to point Pr. Bender and others to the liturgy of Great and Holy Friday, with its sparkling-clear presentation of Christ's work for us.

2. Pr. Bender conflates the economic and immanent Trinity, claiming that because Jesus gives the Spirit in time to the Church, therefore the Spirit proceeds from him in eternity.

Those who make this claim would do well to ponder our Lord's baptism--a revelation in time of the eternal Trinity. There the Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son, just as the Orthodox faithfully teach.

3. When an email pointed out that the Bible speaks of the Spirit as proceeding from the Father (Jn 14:26), Pr. Bender replied that the whole of John 14-17 has to be taken together.

For someone so sensitive to the words of Holy Scripture, there remains this question: why do the Spirit-inspired Scriptures never speak of the Spirit as proceeding from the Son, but only speak of him proceeding from the Father? In the context of John 14:26, it would have been simple for the Lord to speak of the Spirit "who proceeds from the Father and from me." John 14-17 as a whole is plainly speaking of the economic work of the Trinity. Is the Holy Spirit the "Spirit of the Son"? Of course he is, because the Son sends to the Church in time the One who proceeds from the Father in eternity.

4. Pr. Bender says that the third ecumenical council, the council of Toledo in Spain (589 AD), added the word filioque to the Creed.

It is true that the Council of Toledo added "filioque". But Toledo was not an ecumenical council, it was a local council. The Third Ecumenical Council was Ephesus, in 431 AD. I would have passed over this point in silence, because it betrays an embarrassing lack of knowledge of the Church's history; but it was no misspeaking, since Pr. Bender first alluded to it and then spoke of it explicitly. Nor, by the way, is the Nicene Creed an expansion of the Apostles' Creed.


Chris Grindstaff said...

I nearly fell out of my chair when I read #4. How on earth can a Lutheran pastor educated in an LC-MS seminary make such a fundamental mistake? Amazing. I'm not trying to pile on Pr. Bender, who I am sure is a fine man. It's just that I've heard supposedly "knowledgeable" Lutheran pastors make many outrageous and factually incorrect claims about the Church and her history before, and it disturbs me that many who hear such things simply accept them as truth.

Adam Roe said...

On point one, when Lutherans make this charge they are effectually stating that Orthodox Christians should focus exclusively on the second Person of the Godhead. One must ask in response, where are the first and second Persons of the Godhead in the western bodies; in particular the Reformation Era bodies? Indeed, one could perhaps make the case that Lutheranism is the natural end result of the filioque, for Lutheranism hinges on the elevation of Christ to the role of First Principle rather than begotten and receptive. On this point, Vladimir Lossky makes a very helpful observation as it relates to those bodies that have adopted the filioque:

The personal relationship of man to the living God is no longer a relationship to the Trinity, but rather has as its object the person of Christ, who reveals to us the divine nature...relying primarily upon the humanity of the incarnate Word; one might also say that it is this which becomes the anchor of their salvation.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...


I was gobsmacked too.


Another way to look at it is this: Christ *is* the Son of the Father, who became flesh and by his work won for us the Spirit. When he is disconnected from the Father and the Spirit, he is no longer the Christ of the Scriptures.

Thanks for posting, both of you!

Trent said...

After reading your post, I listened to the interview and the one before it that day on Issued Etc. A couple of thoughts. One, it always amazes me how little Lutheran's know of Orthodox theology, yet how much they are willing to say. Two, re: the interview on St. John Chrysostom. Listening to Lutheran's complement St. John Chrysostom reminds me of when staunch Reformed say such glowing things about Luther, both of which leave one saying, yes, but..or..now for the rest of the story...Look no further than the prayer that Pr. Weedon quoted, one wonders why he stopped quoting it when he did? Maybe it would have been a little less "golden-mouthed" to the listening audience if he said the whole thing.

Trent Sebits

ccisa said...

As a convert with Lutheran a upbringing one of the struggles of my continued conversion has been to approach prayer rightly. That is, one has to use caution and vigilance and always approach the Holy Trinity in prayer and not to divide and separate the Father from the Son, the Holy Spirit from the Father, and the Son from the Holy Spirit and so on... This can become an extremely dangerous habit if treated with a “lasai faire” attitude. In the west, and historically at the time in Spain, the intentions are/were good. However, by taking issue with the conciliar statement of faith, what essentially is being done is the drawing out of the person of Christ from the Holy Trinity. As a result of confessing the filioque for many years it subconsciously took root in my prayer life by praying to an exclusive and drawn out Christ. This cannot be done with the true Christ, because there is no place to set Him up higher, apart, or above than where He already, without beginning and end, is Glorified in the Triune God. To attempt such an act, because there can be no other direction in divine elevation, is to take Him down and set Him apart from the Holy Spirit, who as we confess, procedeth from the Father, who TOGETHER with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. It is no coincidence that the very issue of the filioque, that challenges the tri-unity of God, is central to the challenging of the unity of Christ’s Body the Church. Both the idea (filioque) and the event (the great schism) were driven by a synonymous fear that the gates of hell would prevail against Christ’s Body the Church. This fear could only be relative to a lack of faith, that is, failing to believe in Christ’s promise of un-ending victory, even in His Church. The prince of this world whispered in to the consciences of many and said that a correct understanding of the Holy Trinity will not prevail, and whispered into the ears of others that the church will not survive the world without one earthly leader in a place of power and protection. An overwhelming paradox with both issues prevails because the outcome did just the opposite; it deceived the world into believing the gates of hell did prevail in the result of a divided and broken church. Of course, as Orthodox Christian we know that this cannot be so by intrusting in the words of our Lord “That the gates of hell will not prevail against her”, and we understand that where there is brokenness and division Christ’s body can be, but Christ’s body cannot be divided and broken. The evil one does not come into our conscience with loud clashing cymbals to challenge our understanding of the communion of God and His Church, no, he sneaks in under the guise of good intentions. As Christian people and sons of the living God we must continue to fight this war waged against our understanding of God and our oneness. The undivided Trinity must continue to be confessed and taught in our parishes, to keep us vigilant, lest we individually fail to always fully and rightfully cry out Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal have mercy on us.

Rdr. Ignatius

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

I like your thought, Rdr. Ignatius, that fear led to the filioque.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Thanks for the comment, Trent. Lutherans don't like it when we say they "cherry-pick," of course. They suggest that we, too, review the fathers critically. But we don't have the same method, or we would end with similar results.

I saw a good example of this a few days ago. At the Council of Florence, citations were brought by Rome to show that the eastern fathers taught purgatory. Most of the citations were shown by the Orthodox to be erroneous interpretations. But they granted that St. Gregory Nyssa seemed to teach something like purgatory. They rejected his view on this matter because it conflicted with the other fathers. Lutherans, on the other hand, only admit such things from the fathers as seem to them to be consistent with the Holy Scriptures (as if one can understand the Scriptures apart from the mind of the Church!).

jleecbd said...

Well Father, you were much kinder in your post about that show than I was. It would be nice if Pr. Wilkens would try again, either with a Lutheran with stronger academic credentials and maybe even with someone like Fr. Hopko to provide the Orthodox perspective. Any names come to mind on the Lutheran side?

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Dear jleecbd,

Thank you for your kind words. I have always endeavoured, in my discussions with Lutherans, to stick to the issues and avoid ad hominems.

As to who might represent the Lutheran side, that's a problem. Fr. Florensky points out, in _Pillar and ground of the truth_, that non-Orthodox bodies are gatherings of like-minded people; the Orthodox Church is a gathering of people with one mind.

So there are creative-worship and traditional-worship Lutherans, confessional and church-growth Lutherans etc. etc. That is why no one individual represents "Lutheranism", and why verbal arguments with them tend to get nowhere.

I think one of the reasons I'm persona non grata with so many is that I point out the problem is not primarily conceptual (i.e. "What is the church?") as it is existential (i.e. "Who/where is the Church?"). Lutheranism is, fundamentally, a school of thought.

Acolyte4236 said...

Of all the examples of Roman supremacy as a prime example to protest, the Lutherans cling tenaciously to the Filioque. How ironic.

Of course, they can't prove the Filioque from scripture. Another zinger is to ask for scriptural proof for divine simplicity.