07 February 2009

One picture is worth a thousand words...

...or so goes the saying. Consider this icon of the Lord's baptism.

This icon is used for the feast of Theophany, or "God's revelation." Based on the gospel accounts, the Church sings,

"When thou, O Lord, wast baptised in the Jordan,
worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to thee,
calling thee his beloved Son.
And the Spirit in the likeness of a dove confirmed the truth of his word..."

Note the Persons of the Holy Trinity in this icon. The voice of the Father is heard from on high. The Son is baptised in the Jordan. And the Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son--just as the Church confesses.

To those visitors from the West, I ask you: What icon could depict the filioque?


Chris Jones said...

In fairness, Reverend Father, it would seem to me that the icon depicts the temporal mission of the Holy Spirit, not His eternal procession. Given that even the possibility of iconography is dependent on the Incarnation, I should think that iconography depicting the eternal relations among the persons of the Trinity would be difficult, if not impossible.

We have, after all, an icon of the Nativity of our Lord according to the flesh, but we have none, and can have none, of His begetting from eternity.

It seems to me that your question encourages the same confusion between the eternal procession and the temporal mission that poor Pr Bender fell into in that -- how shall I put this delicately -- unfortunate Issues Etc segment.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Thanks, Christopher. Let me think on this a bit more...

Ignatius said...

Chris raises an interesting point regarding temporal mission vs. eternal procession. The closest thing that we have in Iconography depicting the Holy Trinity theologically is the three visiting angels to Abraham around the Eucharistic table. However, this icon does not provide us with a “snap shot” of a temporal action of God exclusively through the person of the Holy Spirit. I love that icon because it suggests the pre-eternal uncreated reality of the Triune God, in the temporal era of Abraham, but also gives us a representation of the what is to come and what has come, in the reality of incarnate God. Can a better understanding of this icon help with the quandary of confusion or does it still beg the procession question? Should we not be confusing a Divine event with the Divine identity? Prior to God taking on flesh, can one even argue about God proceeding from God, and God? Maybe, by confusing “the eternal relations among the persons of the Trinity” with the new relationship of the Trinity with man after the incarnation, lies the problem. ???

Rdr. Ignatius

Ignatius said...

Where is the Coptic Church on this? I would assume they confess the Creed as do the Eastern Orthodox.


Fr. Gregory Hogg said...


Let me have another whack at it here.

I grant that iconography depends on the incarnation. But it doesn't follow from that fact that the icon depicts merely the temporal mission of the Holy Spirit, and not also the eternal procession. The Scriptures, no less than icons, depend on the incarnation of the Word; yet they speak of the eternal relation of the Persons when the Word says, of the Spirit, that he proceeds from the Father.

Icons show what the Scripture says. Their message is identical to that of the Scriptures on the topic that each addresses in its own medium. If icons cannot truly show us the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, how could words express it?

Strictly speaking, icons show the theological meaning in the person/event they portray, not simply its historical facticity. That's why we see St. Paul seated with the other apostles in the icon of Pentecost, for example.

If one looks at the icon of the Theophany, one sees that it shows what the Scriptures say about the relation of the Persons in the Trinity.

The Father is depicted in the blue semicircle at the top (yes, I know the strictures against portraying the Father in iconography; strictly speaking, I suppose, one could say that it's the Father's voice being portrayed). The Son is baptised in the Jordan. And the Spirit descends from the Father and rests on the Son. The icon shows us what the New Testament means when it calls the Spirit "the Spirit of Christ" and "the Spirit of the Son": not that the Spirit proceeds from the Son, but that he rests on the Son and is revealed in the Son.

Besides, is it not the Latin contention, with the filioque, that the relation between the Persons in the temporal mission is fundamentally the same as that of the Persons in eternity? If so, then the same question remains: how would one show the filioque in an icon?

Chris Jones said...

Fr Gregory,

Upon reflection, I believe you are right and I stand corrected.

The principle I suggested in my first comment, that icons can communicate only economic, not eternal, realities, cannot stand. You put your finger on my error by noting that if it were impossible for icons to show something, it would also be impossible for the Scriptures. Since the Holy Scriptures are an icon of our Lord Jesus Christ made of words, it must be so.

You are right, too, that your original question stands, to which I have no answer. In fact, I would put the question in stronger terms: not just how would one depict the filioque iconographically, but how has it been depicted in the Church's actual iconographic tradition? For if the teaching were an authentic part of the Apostolic Tradition, it would have shown up not only in abstract theologizing, but in the iconographic tradition, the liturgical tradition, the hymnographic tradition, and so forth. Even in the West, I think, there is no iconographic or hymnographic expression of the doctrine until long after the schism. (The procedenti ab utroque of Aquinas's Pange Lingua is the earliest such expression I can think of.)

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Thank you, Chris. One thing that's impressed me since I've been Orthodox is that everything in Orthodoxy-- Scriptures, icons, hymnody, etc.--all says the same thing. It's been an immense help to me. And thanks for your ongoing comments. They always make me think!