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FR. JOHN ROMANIDES: ON THE FILIOQUE

Father John Romanides is a retired Professor of the University of Thessaloniki and continues to teach at the Patriarchal University in Lebanon.He is a representative of the Church of Greece on several dialogues with other Christian confessions. A great deal of his works and teaching can be found here

"When reading through Smaragdus' minutes of the meeting between Charlemagne's emissaries and Pope Leo III, one is struck not only by the fact that the Franks had so audaciously added the Filioque to the Creed and made it into a dogma, but also by the haughty manner in which they so authoritatively announced that the Filioque was necessary for salvation, and that it was an improvement of an already good, but not complete, doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit. This was in answer to Leo's strong hint at Frankish audacity. Leo, in turn, warned that when one attempts to improve what is good he should first be sure that in trying to improve he is not corrupting. He emphasizes that he cannot put himself in a position higher than the Fathers of the Councils, who did not omit the Filioque out of oversight or ignorance, but by divine inspiration.

The question arises, "Where in the world did the newly born Frankish theological tradition get the idea that the Filioque is an improvement of the Creed, and that it was omitted from creedal expression because of oversight or ignorance on the part of the Fathers of the Council?" Since Augustine is the only representative of Roman theology that the Franks were more or less fully acquainted with, one must turn to the Bishop of Hippo for a possible answer. I think I have found the answer in Saint Augustine's lecture delivered to the assembly of African bishops in 393. Augustine had been asked to deliver a lecture on the Creed, which he did. Later he reworked the lecture and published it. I do not see why the Creed expounded is not that of Nicaea- Constantinople, since the outline of Augustine's discourse, and the Creed are the same. Twelve years had passed since its acceptance by the Second Ecumenical Council and, if ever, this was the opportune time for assembled bishops to learn of the new, official, imperially approved creed. The bishops certainly knew their own local Creed and did not require lessons on that.

In any case, Augustine makes three basic blunders in this discourse and died many years later without ever realizing his mistakes, which were to lead the Franks and the whole of their Germanic Latin Christendom into a repetition of those same mistakes.

In his De Fide et Symbolo, Augustine makes an unbelievable naive and inaccurate statement: "With respect to the Holy Spirit, however, there has not been, on the part or learned and distinguished investigators of the Scriptures, a fuller careful enough discussion of the subject to make it possible for us to obtain an intelligent conception of what also constitutes His special individuality (proprium)."

Everyone at the Second Ecumenical Council knew well that this question was settled once and for all by the use in the Creed of the word "procession" as meaning the manner of existence of the Holy Spirit from the Father which constitutes His special individuality. Thus, the Father is unbegotten, i.e. derives His existence from no one. The Son is from the Father by generation. The Holy Spirit is from the Father, not by generation, but by procession. The Father is cause, the son and the Spirit are caused. The difference between the ones caused is the one is caused by generation, and the other by procession, and not by generation.

In any case, Augustine spent many years trying to solve this non-existent problem concerning the individuality of the Holy Spirit and, because of another set of mistakes in his understanding of revelation and theological method, came up with the Filioque. It is no wonder that the Franks, believing that Augustine had solved a theological problem which the other Roman Fathers had supposedly failed to grapple with and solve came to the conclusion that they uncovered a theologian far superior to all other Fathers. In him the Franks had a theologian far superior to all other Fathers. In him the Franks had a theologian who improved upon the teaching of the Second Ecumenical Council.

A second set of blunders made by Augustine in this same discourse is that he identified the Holy Spirit with the divinity "which the Greeks designate θεότης" and explained that this is the "love between the Father and the Son."

Augustine is aware of the fact that "those parties oppose this opinion who think that the said communion, which we call either Godhead, or Love, or Charity, is not a substance. Moreover, they require the Holy Spirit to be set forth to them according to substance; neither do they take forth to them according to substance; neither do they take it to have been otherwise impossible for the expression `God is Love' to have been used, unless love were a substance."

It is obvious that Augustine did not at all understand what the East Roman Fathers, such as Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and Saint Basil the Great, were talking about. On the one hand, they reject the idea that the Holy Spirit can be the common energies of the Father and Son known as θεότης (theotis) and love since these are not an essence or an hypostasis, whereas the Holy Spirit is an hypostasis. Indeed, the Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council required that the Holy Spirit not be identified with any common energy of the Father and Son, but they did not identify the Holy Spirit with the common essence of the Father and Son either.The Holy Spirit is an individual hypostasis with individual characteristics or properties not shared by other hypostases, but He does share fully everything the Father and Son have in common, to wit, the divine essence and all uncreated energies and powers. The Holy Spirit is an individuality who is not what is common between the Father and Son, but has in common everything the Father and Son have in common.

All his life, Augustine rejected the distinction between what the persons are and what they have (even though this is a Biblical distinction) and identified what God is with what He has. He not only never understood the distinction between
1.) the common essence and energies of the Holy Trinity and
2.) the incommunicable individualities of the divine hypostases;

but completely failed to grasp the very existence of the difference between
a.) the common divine essence and
b.) the common divine love and divinity.

He himself admits that he does not understand why a distinction is made in the Greek language between ousia and the hypostases in God. Nevertheless, he insisted that his distinctions must be accepted as a matter of faith and rendered in Latin as una essentia and tes substantiae. (De Trinitate, 5.8.10;7.4-6)

Read the whole article and others at the Romanity web site!


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