Monday, December 04, 2006

And the Son

Two dedications in as many days!
I dedicate this essay to Dr. Michael Liccione on the occasion of his birthday, 4 December 2006. May he celebrate many more!
There is an interesting dialogue going at among some of the (in my opinion) best bloggers on the so-called Filioque controversy. (See Sacramentum Vitae, Energies of the Trinity.) What follows is an essay that I wrote principally about Saint Anselm's treatment of this issue at the Council of Bari but also in defense of the Latin position on the Filioque. I do not see that Saint Anselm's argument can be anything but sound. It is certainly valid, and to dispute its premises would, in effect, be to beg the question against the West.

In 1978 Richard Cartwright gave a talk at North Carolina State University called “On the Logical Problem of the Trinity,” in which he argued that little progress, if any, had been made since the time of the Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century in understanding the logical relations existing among the Persons of the Trinity and that this lack of understanding suggests that the doctrine of the Trinity is itself logical nonsense. Cartwright’s method in his presentation (subsequently published in his collected Philosophical Essays) was to take as a starting point the doctrinal elements of the Quicumque Vult, the so-called Athanasian Creed, a text of uncertain origins dating roughly to the latter half of the fifth century, and to show how these elements, when construed as delimiting logical relations, cannot be reconciled with one another on key points of logical consistency. Eight hundred and eighty years earlier, at the Council of Bari in southern Italy, Saint Anselm had adopted a remarkably similar methodology but with strikingly different results. Instead of finding the doctrine of the Trinity incomprehensible, he found it to be so clear and distinct as to lead inevitably to precisely that understanding that in the West had prompted the inclusion, in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed used in the Mass, of the Filioque clause that had contributed to the Great Schism between East and West, traditionally dated to 1054 but in reality a long-simmering dispute over Church governance as much as theology. It is not entirely clear why what was so indubitably clear to Saint Anselm was so unfathomable to Richard Cartwright, though to the intervening nine centuries we may add in explanation the consideration that, while Saint Anselm summarized his work as “faith seeking understanding”, Richard Cartwright’s work can best be summarized as “putting the anal into analytic philosophy”. In this essay I intend to bridge this gap by putting the analytic into Saint Anselm’s faithful understanding. I intend to show that Saint Anselm’s treatise On the Procession of the Holy Spirit, written, as it seems, in an attempt to make the arguments he employed at the Council of Bari available to a wider audience, provides a detailed and logically rigorous defense of the consistency of the doctrine of the Trinity, a defense grounded in metaphysical principles that ought to have been both familiar and acceptable to his Greek opponents, since these principles were themselves ultimately of Greek philosophical origin.

The principal logical objection to the doctrine lies in the claim that, if we are to make any metaphysical sense of the Trinity, we are forced either to divide the substance of the Godhead or to confound the Persons of the Trinity. All the Credal formulations accepted by the Church agree that there is only one God and that this God is just one substance—ousia in the Greek Creeds, substantia in the so-called Athanasian Creed, which has only Latin versions in its earliest surviving forms. These same Creeds also agree, however, that God is three Persons, each Person being distinct from the other two. Since there is only one God who is one substance, then it is unclear in what way the three Persons are to be regarded as distinct from one another. The so-called Athanasian Creed says that “what the Father is, such is the Son and such the Holy Spirit.” If taken at face value this claim appears to suggest something like the identity of indiscernibles, since it appears to be saying that there is no property that is not shared by all three Persons. A simple and straightforward assessment of property relations as governed by the Law of Noncontradiction suggests that it is not possible for things to be both identical in this sense and distinct at the same time and in the same respect, so either the three Persons are distinct and we must divide the substance of the Godhead, or else they are identical in a traditional sense and we must confound them with one another, which is heresy. Since it is also heresy to divide the substance of the Godhead, things don’t look too good for the faith seeking understanding.

The treatise De processione Spiritus Sancti begins with a brief synopsis of what the Greeks and the Latins agree upon: there is but one God, God is also three Persons, and the relations that exist among the three Persons are in some ways symmetrical and in other ways asymmetrical. The symmetrical relations include a kind of modified identity: if God is the Father, then the Father is also God; if God is the Son, then the Son is also God. The asymetrical relations are intended to prevent the symmetrical relations from entailing heresy: although the Father is God and the Son is God and there is only one God, nevertheless the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. The symmetrical relations are thus strictly logical in character, while the asymmetrical relations are theological in character but secondarily also logical, that is, they conform to certain formal principles.

Arguably the most important of these formal principles is what we may call the Principle of Opposition, a principle whereby the relations in the Trinity are kept from contradicting one another by limiting their scope in such a way that consistency is virtually guaranteed, since these relations will have logical entailments only “where this is not impeded by the opposition of relation”:
The unity should never lose its consequences except when a relational opposition stands in the way, nor should the relations lose what belongs to them except when the indivisible unity stands in the way (Quatenus nec unitas amittat aliquando suum consequens, ubi non obviat aliqua relationis oppositio, nec relatio perdat quod suum est, nisi ubi obsistit unitas inseparabilis, DPSS 1, p. 181.2-4 S).
This principle is itself of Greek origin and can be traced as far back as Gregory of Nazianzus, who clearly enunciates it in Orations 20, 31, 34, and 41: there is complete identity among the three divine Persons except for the relations of origin. I shall have cause to return to the conception of identity being deployed here presently, but first a word or two about the Principle of Opposition itself. According to this principle, the unity of the Godhead serves as a primitive; all consequences of unity as such are permitted unless they contradict other fundamental relations, and all fundamental relations are permitted their consequences except in cases where an entailment would contradict the unity of the Godhead. The fundamental relations are those that define the three Persons with regard to the manner in which they stand relative to one another as source of being: the Father stands as origin or source with respect to the other two Persons in two distinct ways, as begetter (of the Son) and as source of procession (of the Holy Spirit); the Son stands as the begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit stands as that which proceeds from the Father. At this early point in the treatise Anselm does not specify in what sort of relation the Son stands to the Holy Spirit since he is sensitive to the danger of begging the question against the Greeks, but he does note that the Greeks agree both that the Holy Spirit is “God from God” (“Deus de Deo”) and that the Son is God, hence, because all sides agree that the Son sends the Holy Spirit, there is some sense in which the Holy Spirit is “from” God the Son. What the Greeks specifically objected to in this was the suggestion that the Holy Spirit was from God the Son as his origin or source of being—they insisted on a principle of monarchia according to which only God the Father could serve as an origin or source of being. In some circles monarchianism became a heretical movement that denied the subsistence of the Son, but in the sense intended here it is a perfectly orthodox concept and, indeed, it is not explicitly denied by Anselm; as we shall see, there is actually a limited sense in which he depends upon it.

Putting this point aside for the time being, it is worth taking a moment to examine the application of the principle of opposition to the relations that are agreed to by the Greeks. The Father begets the Son and the Son is begotten by the Father, but the Father and the Son are one in the sense that they are both God and there is only one God. The principle of opposition prevents us from saying that the Father is the Son or that the Son is the Father, even though this follows logically from the unity of the Godhead, because to say that the Father is the Son or that the Son is the Father would be to say that the begetter is also the begotten, which Anselm takes as even more incomprehensible than saying that the Father and the Son are both one and distinct. While distinguishing between degrees of incomprehensibility in this way may seem to us, well, somewhat incomprehensible, there are two points to keep in mind here. The first is that the Greeks do not disagree with the Latins that the Father and the Son are both one and distinct, or that the Father and the Spirit are both one and distinct, or that the Son and the Spirit are both one and distinct. What they disagree about is the precise nature of the distinction between the Son and the Spirit. So the strictly logical difficulty of saying that the begetter is also the begotten would be a far greater difficulty for them than the theological difficulty of comprehending the nature of the Trinity, which, for all parties involved, had been a matter of settled doctrine since the fourth century. Second, it is clear from examples that Anselm gives later in the treatise that the combined unity and distinctness of the Persons did not strike either him or the Greeks as all that perplexing, since he compares the situation to both complex theological analogies such as that given by Saint Augustine in his treatise De Trinitate, where he compares the Godhead to the unity of the three distinct elements in human thought, namely thinking subject, thought, and process of thinking itself, and to the homey example that apparently had its origin with the Greeks attending the Council of Bari, the unity of a spring, a stream flowing from that spring, and a pond into which that stream flows.

Let me return for a moment to the point that I mentioned in passing just now, the fact that the Greeks did not dispute the fact that the Spirit is from the Son in some sense. The polemical strength of Anselm’s treatise, as we shall see, turns on a metaphysical principle that the Greeks ought to have accepted but did not, but it is worth noting that the semantics of the doctrine tended to work against the Latins, who did not possess the rich theological language in which the doctrine of the Trinity had been defined at the Councils of the fourth century. In his own treatment of this debate in Addresses to One of his Pupils about What the Latins Allege, possibly written just prior to the Council of Bari or, at the latest, at about the same time as the De processione or shortly thereafter, Theophylact of Ochrid points out that the Latins had only one word to refer to multiple kinds of processions of the Holy Spirit. The Greeks did not deny that the Holy Spirit comes from the Son in some sense, but they were suspicious of the fact that the Latins used the very same word, procedere, to refer to the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and to the mode in which the Holy Spirit is from the Son. Theophylact points out that the Greeks use ekporeuesthai, khor├¬geisthai, metadidosthai, and pempesthai to refer to modes in which the Holy Spirit is Deus de Deo. Of these it is the first, ekporeuesthai, that refers specifically to the sense in which he is ek monou tou Patros, “from the Father alone” and, hence, of these Greek terms only ekporeuesthai refers to the procession of the Holy Spirit in the sense of how he has his being, and it does so in a special way that is peculiar to the Spirit’s relation to the Father. The Latin term procedere, to the extent that it is a translation principally of ekporeuesthai, collapses distinctions that the Greeks believed to be matters of extremely important theological import.

Theophylact was extremely patient about the inability of the Latin language to do justice to the finial theological nuances of the doctrine of the Trinity, far more so than most Greek theologians of his day, who took advantage of theological excuses to promote their own anti-Latin Church polity. In his view it was important to allow for the particularities of local practices in the various Churches, especially in the East (he appealed to the case of the Bulgarian Church to illustrate how even in the East it is essential to insure the understanding of theological terms by the lay members of the community) but also, of course, in the Latin West, and many of the differences between East and West he ascribed to cultural differences that were due ultimately to differences in language and custom. Such things were quite permissible, in his view. He drew the line, however, when it came to matters that had been settled by the decision of an Ecumenical Council, and the text of the Creed fell under this rubric. With the insertion of the Fiolioque clause the Latin West had gone too far, and his treatise represents a systematic attempt to put a stop to that sort of innovation.

In this regard another principle underlying Anselm’s text is particularly significant, which I will call the Principle of Non-ampliative inference, which permits the addition to any body of credal statements another statement that follows deductively from the same body of credal statements. The polemical point underlying this principle is, obviously, that any statement that follows deductively from the statements already accepted will be non-ampliative, that is, it will not add anything new to the already existing body of credal formulae and, hence, will not count as a genuine theological innovation. Although it remains unstated there is a clear implication in Anselm’s text that the Latin position is that materials that do not constitute theological innovation may be harmlessly inserted into canonical texts, particularly if there are pastoral reasons for doing so, as the Latins believed to be the case in the matter of the Filioque clause. The Greek position, by contrast, was that the Filioque did count as an unsupportable innovation and that, whether or not it represented an innovation, it was nevertheless contrary to the dignity of Conciliar pronouncements to augment or supplement them in any way in their liturgical settings, even for pastoral reasons. It is this latter point that is the most decisive for the Greeks, because generally speaking the Greeks did not particularly object to non-ampliative theological statements. Gregory of Nazianzus, for example, says of the Persons in Oration 39:
Three individualities or hypostases, if any prefer to call them, or persons (pros├┤pon), for we will not quarrel about names so long as the syllables amount to the same meaning…
Anselm, in short, viewed his argument as simply carrying out an explication of what was already agreed to by all sides. From his perspective the liturgical change was a done deal whether or not it had been a good idea; his goal was merely to show that the sentiment expressed by the liturgical change was not heretical. But from the Latin point of view the liturgical change had been a good idea, because it was motivated by a concern over the Spanish adoptionist controversy. So on Anselm’s account the Filioque was (a) not an innovation but a logical consequence of Trinitarian doctrine and (b) an effective barrier against heretical innovation of a very dangerous kind.

Polemically Anselm seems to have regarded his task principally as a logical one, that is, he appears to take it for granted that if he can show how the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son follows from Trinitarian doctrine accepted by all parties then the matter will be settled, at least for anyone who is rational. Liturgical matters can be left to the individual Churches, but doctrinal matters must be grounded in consensus, and consensus must be grounded in reason. In light of this it is curious that Anselm did not provide any analysis in the De processione of the concepts of identity and unity that are deployed in the doctrine of the Trinity as he understood it. According to the Principle of Opposition, the unity of the Godhead is a primitive, and this unity is to be understood in terms of the identity relations that exist between the three Persons and the Godhead itself: the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and there is exactly one God, so at the very least the Father is identical to God and the Son is identical to God and the Holy Spirit is identical to God. Beyond this the Principle of Opposition will not permit us to go, since the principle dictates that the Father may not be identical either to the Son or to the Holy Spirit, nor may the Son and the Holy Spirit be identical to each other—the three Persons must be distinct. And yet this distinctness of Persons is precisely what troubles one the most, from a logical point of view, in light of the unity of the Godhead. Identity relations as they are commonly understood would entail, from these starting points, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all identical to each other, and this suggests that there are not really three distinct Persons in the Godhead, but only three different aspects under which the concept of God can be understood, and this is clearly far too weak for Christian purposes, bordering, as it does, on the heretical view known as modalism.
Cartwright suggests that it is possible that Anselm endorsed, in De Incarnatione Verbi, a form of identity that was also defended by Peter Geach in his paper “Identity” (Rev. Met. 21 (1967) 3-12). On this view, we may formulate the identity relations of the Trinity in the following way:
If something is a God, then anything that is a God is the same God as it.
Cartwright describes this sameness relation as being similar to counting novels on a shelf:
We assign the number 1 to some novel on the shelf and to whatever on the shelf is the same novel; if, after this, no novel on the shelf remains unnumbered, there is exactly one novel on the shelf.
Clearly this description falls short of a definition of sameness since it appeals to the very notion under consideration as part of the description, but one gets the idea. However, it will be quite useless as a definition of identity in the Trinity since however one may like to count one’s books it is clear that there is a difference between type and token and tokens that are numerically distinct are distinct entities whether or not they are of the same type. Cartwright himself notes that this definition of sameness leads to doctrinal error if it is taken as an explication of the statement from the so-called Athanasian Creed that
What the Father is, such is the Son and such the Holy Spirit.
If one understands this in Geach’s sense, then we may infer that if the Father is a different Person than the Son, then the Son is a different person than the Son; or if the Father is unbegotten, then the Son is unbegotten. Clearly this will not do, and it is worth pointing out that while Cartwright cites the De Incarnatione by name in support of his attribution of this view to Anselm, he does not document precisely where Anselm allegedly adopts this view in that text, and there seems to be clear evidence to the contrary in that same text when Anselm says in section three that if we take the unity of the Persons to mean that the distinct Persons share literally every property then we will fall into the heresy of Sabellius and there will be one Person and not three.

Indeed, it seems to be precisely for these reasons that he introduces the Principle of Opposition in the De processione. To avoid seeming like an ad hoc solution to a rather serious problem, however, the Principle of Opposition needs to be supplemented with an account of sameness that preserves the unity of the Godhead while preventing the identification of the Persons with one another. Anselm accomplishes this with a principle that I take to be by far his most important and original contribution to this debate—what I shall call the Principle of Distribution. The principle is introduced in section 1 but is most clearly stated in section 15:
If we should consider the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in pairs, it is clear from what I have said that it is necessary either that one of the pair is from the other, since the other is not from that one, or that that one is not from the other, since the other is from that one. For example, if we should pair the Father and the Son, we perceive that the Son is from the Father, since the Father is not from him, and that the Father is not from the Son, since the Son is from the Father. And similarly, if we should consider the Father and the Holy Spirit, we find that the Holy Spirit is from the Father, since the Father is not from him, and that the Father is not from the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is from him. So also, if we should explore how the Son and the Holy Spirit are related to one another, we shall understand that the Holy Spirit is from the Son, since the Son is not from him, and that the Son is not from the holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is from the Son. Therefore, what I said before [in section 1] is evident, that the aforementioned relations, although they are in one thing, cannot let their plurality be absorbed in the unity nor can the unity let its uniqueness be absorbed in the relations.
This is a deucedly clever analysis, both from a theological and a polemical point of view. Polemically the argument ought to have appealed to the Greeks on account of their own clearly stated interest in the proper way to understand the expression “true God from true God”. Anselm suggests that the property of being either Deus or Deus de Deo is central to his own position regarding the status of the Filioque clause. Theologically the argument deploys a Platonic essentialism that also ought to have appealed to the Greeks if for no other reason than its manifest origin in Greek metaphysics but that apparently fell rather flat. The Godhead contains, as a matter of its essence, the asymmetrical relational property pair “from/not from”, and it is this fundamental relational property that defines the relations between the three Persons. Just as the Father begets the Son, the Son is begotten—that is, a non begetter, establishing the Father as the “from” and the Son as the “not from” elements of the relation when they are brought into comparison. Just as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, the Father is a non proceeder, establishing the Father again as the “from” element and this time the Holy Spirit as the “not from” element in the relation. Since it is possible for the Son and the Holy Spirit to be considered as a pair, the full essence of the unified Godhead must still be present, otherwise it is not really a unified substance shared by all three Persons. If the “from/not from” asymmetrical relational property is an essential element of that substance, and if that substance is truly a unified singular, then it is necessary that the property will be present in any pairing of Persons, including the pairing of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Since the Son is evidently “not from” the Holy Spirit, we can infer that the Holy Spirit is “from” the Son, and not merely through the Son as by an instrument, per Filium, as the Greeks insisted, but from the Son as source, proceeding from him just as he proceeds from the Father, since the relational property must apply in the same way to every pairing. This point would have been very difficult for the Greeks to accept, and they could not have tried to apply Gregory of Nazianzus’ semantic equivalence rule here even if they had wanted to, since this is manifestly not the same sort of Double Procession that had been advocated by Saint Augustine and provisionally accepted by such Eastern Fathers as Saint Cyril of Alexandria. It was, in fact, in order to nuance the facts about Double Procession that the several Greek technical terms for modes of procession had been developed in the first place, and ex hypothesi those terms did not carry the same meanings as required by Gregory. Taken individually, then, every Person of the Trinity is in fact the same with respect to having the disjunctive property “God who is either from or not from God as origin or source”; taken as pairs, the disjunct collapses into the respective Personal relations, either “God who is from God as origin or source” or “God who is not from God as origin or source”. This is a sameness relation that preserves both unity and distinctness.

Cartwright objected to Geach’s proposal on the reasonable grounds that it does not prevent us from inferring that there are three Gods, since on Geach’s account the distinctness of the Father from the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the distinctness of the Son from the Holy Spirit, does not preserve the unity of the Godhead: no matter how similar the content of the various editions of the novel I own, each copy is a distinct entity, and they do not have every property in common if for no other reason than they necessarily have an ordering on my shelf. While there is one sense in which my seven copies of Mister Dog can be counted as only one novel, there is an equally plausible sense in which they can be counted as seven novels of precisely the same kind. This is particularly true if you are a nominalist, and the kind term, “anything that is an edition of the novel Mister Dog”, is merely a name for the various particular entities bearing the title "Mister Dog by Margaret Wise Brown" or its equivalents, such as Monsieur Chien, Herr Hund, and the rest. For a Platonist such as Saint Anselm, however, kind terms refer to genuine substances, substances that are singulars in Ernst Tugendhat’s sense of sui generis particulars. There is only one God in the same way that, for Plato, there is only one Form of the Good. According to classical Platonism, there may be material particulars that have a share in the Forms by means of a rather vaguely defined participation relation that permits the predication of the Form name of the particular, but the Form is, strictly speaking, a singular and not a universal in the nominalist sense. In a similar way God is not a kind of entity of which the three Persons are instantiations, but rather just is the three Persons in singularity. The entities that are the Persons are not to be distinguished from one another by some principle of individuation, such as physical matter in the case of sensible particulars or intelligible matter in the case of the objects of such sciences as mathematics and geometry. Rather they can be distinguished only by virtue of the logical and theological relational properties that we have been discussing, and these properties are not properties that belong to the Persons as particulars in the way that “this particular shade of paleness” belongs to Socrates, but are rather properties that belong to the Godhead itself as a unified, singular entity.
Since the Persons are not constituted in their very being by any principle of individuation in the way that material objects are, they cannot be distinguished from one another at all unless some property of their substance does the job, and in this case that is precisely what the Principle of Distribution does. The worry now is not so much that the properties of the Persons are incompatible with the properties of the Godhead, but that Anselm’s solutions to those properties are ad hoc. In particular, the concept of sameness tempered by the Principle of Distribution together constitute an uncanny metaphysics to modern ways of understanding. The somewhat desperate claim sometimes made in this context, that the doctrine of the Trinity is supposed to be mysterious, is an obvious non-starter for the philosopher, but it is a non-starter for the theologian as well. On this point it will be salutary to quote from Cartwright again, who makes some strikingly apposite remarks (p. 193):
It will be said that a philosopher is trespassing on the territory of the theologian: the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery, beyond the capacities of human reason, and hence the tools of logic are irrelevant to it. The objection is based on a misunderstanding. The doctrine of the Trinity is indeed supposed to be a mystery. That simply means, however, that assurance of its truth cannot be provided by human reason but only by divine revelation. It is to be believed “not because of the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God who reveals it” [Vatican I]. But a mystery is not supposed to be refutable by human reason, as if a truth of reason could somehow contradict a revealed truth; on the contrary, putative refutations are supposed themselves to be refutable. Nor is a mystery supposed to be unintelligible, in the sense that the words in which it is expressed simply cannot be understood. After all, we are asked to believe the propositions expressed by the words, not simply that the words express some true propositions or other, we know not which.
Cartwright is surely right in this, and even if he is not right with regard to every possible doctrine, surely that “faith seeking understanding” will want to adopt what Cartwright says here as her motto. And yet the emphasis on intelligibility and meaning is troublesome. Much of what Anselm has to say is difficult to swallow even for an inveterate Platonist, but for the anti-Platonist and even the mere non-Platonist, it still seems less intelligible than just abandoning the doctrine altogether. After all, this is simply not what we mean by the terms “sameness” and “identity”: we mean what Leibniz said we mean. But this, too, is troublesome, since it is the custom of the analytical philosopher to insist that meanings are either stipulated or discovered through use. If the meaning of the sameness relation is merely stipulative, then there is no reason to regard our own conception of it is more objectively reliable than Anselm’s, and if meaning is use then of course there is an entire community within which Anselm’s concept of sameness is entirely meaningful, and it perhaps says something about the rest of us if we can’t make sense out of their meaning and assume that the problem lies on their side.

Saint Anselm, then, attempts to avoid confounding the Persons, without dividing the substance, of the Trinity, and he does so by means of four fundamental principles:

(1) The Principle of Opposition
(2) The Principle of Non-ampliative Inference
(3) The principle of distribution
(4) The Principle of Platonic sameness

Taken together, these principles appear to support both the logical consistency of the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed through its relational properties and the addition of the Filioque clause to the credal statement that is the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Although the Greeks did not find Anselm’s argument persuasive, it is fair to say that his metaphysical principles were not much of an innovation beyond that which was already abundant in the tradition of Greek metaphysics more generally.


CrimsonCatholic said...

I could not have asked for a better summary of Anselm!

In return, I will endeavor to explain why the Greeks were so hostile to the Principle of Opposition. Of central importance in Greek metaphysics (at least post-Origen and Plotinus) was the preservation of God as "beyond being" or "no being." As best I understand it, the reason was a rather peculiar metaphysical principle: that the realm of being was defined by ontological opposition. Thus, things had a mixture of hot/cold, being/non-being, one/many, and the like, and this is why they were knowable through dialectic. Since being and non-being were terms of ontological opposition, God had to be beyond even those, beyond the opposition of being and non-being, one and many.

The hostility to several of Anselm's premises should be evident. (1) is unacceptable because this would be viewed as imputing ontological opposition to God; (2) is objectionable because it suggests a dialectical inference where there is no ontological opposition (in God); (3) looks like the application of dialectical reasoning to God (defining the persons by this/not-this). (4) would be objectionable simply as being contradicted by the previous premises; you wouldn't be entitled to appeal to the unity of what you had just chopped into pieces with dialectical analysis.

What this analysis neglects is that there had been a rather ingenious (and parallel) solution that defined knowability purely in terms of limits on positive existence, so that the unknowability of God could be expressed in purely positive terms as a lack of limits. Of course, this concept of taking away limits was not unknown in the East, but the notion of God as being beyond dialectic foreclosed any conclusions or inferences being drawn from it. Western theologians had few qualms about running roughshod over that particular boundary, as evidenced by Anselm's own "deucedly clever analysis." But the analysis would have been too clever by half for Byzantine theologians following Pseudo-Dionysius, John Damascene, and Maximus, who would have viewed Anselm as applying dialectic beyond its proper limits. Photius's Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit is a paragon of Byzantine thinking in this regard.

Nonetheless, I think the critique is misguided. As your analysis shows, the Byzantine objections to Anselm are unsound. Perhaps the fact that Photius's reasoning has actually been shown wrong in its application to similar techniques used by Clement of Alexandria will open up the East to the idea that his critique against the West is also misguided. But I'm not holding my breath.

Stephen said...

grano1 said
"Important to remember here, though, is the separate but related matter of the West's unilateral altering of the Creed, which to the East is probably an issue as big as the doctrine of the Filioque itself. Even if the doctrine could be shown to be true, does that necessitate the changing of the Creed?"

For Orthodox, this is indeed the bigger issue. Here are the historical facts. Everyone said the Creed after Nicea-Const. without the filioque until the Orthodox Church in Spain added it as a local solution in what the 8th century. No big deal. You use leavened bread, I use unleavened, ok as local variations. It only became a problem when this newer version of the Creed with the filioque was politicized by the Franks, and made worse when they were finally able to use the Papacy (after years of Papal resistance) as an instrument to force the filioque on everyone else.

But the original Creed without the filioque is not heretical, and that it is more ancient and ubiqitous, can be no less respected than the younger version, if not more.

So, as an Orthodox, I can understand why Catholics may be attached to the filioque, and as the Church in Spain during the Toledo Council was Orthodox, hey, have at it, knock yourselves out. But why do so many Catholics still feel this great urgent impulse to impose the filioque on the rest of the Church? What is the relentless motivation?

Mike L said...


From a Catholic standpoint, what bedevils discussion of the filioque issue is that we're regularly whipsawed between discussion of the doctrine itself, which is one difficult issue, and discussion of the authority with which it was added to the Creed by Rome, which is another difficult issue. Bringing up one in the context of the other inhibits discussion of either. As the 2003 SCOBA statement indicated, it would behoove us to leave the latter aside when discussing the former.

Vitae Scrutator said...


I think the authority issue is a red herring. Everyone knows that the Uniate Churches are still using the Creed without the filioque, so it is rather disingenuous of Stephen to portray Rome as trying to ram this particular issue down everyone's throat.

The issue of papal infallibility, by contrast, is perhaps more perplexing, but of course it is fully independent of this particular issue.

Vitae Scrutator said...


I'm a little puzzled. Stephen did admit that the Spanish council was orthodox, and that the doctrine is not particularly objectionable. So it can't be the forcing of the doctrine on everyone that he's objecting to--a doctrine, if true, should be believed by everyone, it's not in the same category as leavened vs. unleavened bread. So I took him to be referring to forcing the liturgical change on everyone. But I may be misunderstanding the point of his comment.

Stephen said...

Part of the ongoing interest in the filioque is its historical linkage to papal authority. Its insertion into the Creed was at first fought by the popes on the basis of the its lack of antiquity and catholicity, then inserted by later popes on the basis of papal authority(at the same time as when Eastern Christians were accused by Western Christians as having purposedly dropped the filioque!)

So, I just don't see how you can separate the elevation of the filioque to this high level apart from the process that brought it there. At root, do Catholics believe that the Pope has the unilateral universal authority to change the Creed, introducing
a)a notion that earlier Popes fought against,
b)via a new procedure that was in pretty stark constrast to that which had originally formed the Nicean-Const. creed, and
c) was loaded with its own "signs of the times', namely the waxing Franks finally wresting control of the Papacy away from the waning Romans.

If yes, esp. to a) above, then Orthodox ask what is to stop the Pope from making any number of unilateral changes, the latest of which was the change in the Roman Rite, for example.


Stephen said...

With regards to the filioque arising in Spain pre-schism, and the Orthodox not having a problem with that, here's the thing.

What do we know at a minimum? That the Creed without the filioque was the norm, formally unheretical, and agreed to and accepted for generations by the worldwide Church. Humility would instruct not changing, simply by virtue of these reasons.

That a local Church came up with something to combat a heresy in its neck of the woods, no big deal in general, especially if it stays local. Popes for generations tried to keep it that way. So why can't the filioque be relegated to the lower doctrinal status it originally had? We know the Creed without the filioque is older; is that worthy of some higher status doctrinally?


Vitae Scrutator said...


We may be at cross purposes--I agree with what you write. I don't see that the Filioque, as a matter of doctrine, really stands in the way of unity. My purpose in posting on this issue is partly theological, but principally historical. Personally, I have no problem reciting the Creed without it, in fact, I have done as much at Uniate masses and just this past Sunday I even did it at my own Latin rite parish, just to see what it would feel like. I didn't feel as though I was falling into heresy (though it is, in some sense, A Bad to do something different from what the rest of the congregation is doing--not a good sign of unity).

I see the issue nowadays as a rather minor one, but that's me. If I were invited to an Orthodox service, I would attend and say the Creed without the Filioque, because I have a view about the legitimacy of the phrasse. But if an Orthodox were willing to attend a Latin rite Mass, would he be willing to say the Creed with the Filioque? I doubt it, though I could be wrong. This suggests to me that the theological question is still important to some people, even if not to me.

Until we can reach some kind of consensus on the issue (and you're quite right, it need not be necessary that we all agree on all of the particulars--Mike Liccione has very good things to say in this regard, I think), it seems that genuine communio will still elude us.

I hope that my defense of the Western form does not leave any of my Orthodox readers with the impression that I hope and pray for anything less than full re-unification with the great Churches of the East, and I mean a unity that will be acceptable to the East without forcing them into a position where they feel that they have to compromise any of their integrity. That would not be genuine communio

Stephen said...

"But if an Orthodox were willing to attend a Latin rite Mass, would he be willing to say the Creed with the Filioque? I doubt it, though I could be wrong."

You're right, probably not. It would take another ecumenical council and acceptance in the churches for any such change.

I am still curious about what, if any, limits to the power of the Pope to change the liturgy exist among Catholics. To most Orthodox, there appear to be none, but that outlook has its own baggage, so I'd be curious as to what Catholics believe.


Acolyte4236 said...

Jonathan wrote,

"What this analysis neglects is that there had been a rather ingenious (and parallel) solution that defined knowability purely in terms of limits on positive existence, so that the unknowability of God could be expressed in purely positive terms as a lack of limits."

What Jonathan neglects is that this is exactly the solution proposed by Plotinus. This is all over the place in the 6th Ennead.

CrimsonCatholic said...

What Jonathan neglects is that this is exactly the solution proposed by Plotinus. This is all over the place in the 6th Ennead.

No, Plotinus's concept of infinity is both distinctive and later in time than the common sources from which a number of authors were working relatively independently, and Plotinus's position was not accepted uncritically. As an example, Plotinus deals differently with quantity and magnitude in the Sixth Ennead that Aristotle does, and it would appear that several Christian authors take a view more like Aristotle than Plotinus (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, as in City of God 12:18; also, cf. Marius Victorinus in the letter to Candidus 1.3.27 and Origen, who follow Plotinus relatively closely). I would view this statement as an example of the neglect, not a response to it.

David Manley said...

Hi Scott. As an analytic philosopher and someone on the border between RCism and Orthodoxy, I was very interested in your post. I have a question which I hope you might address: You say that Anselm's argument is valid, but I'm not sure exactly how you think it should be stated. For instance, it's unclear to me whether what you call 'the principle of distribution' is supposed to apply to relations within the Godhead generally, or just to the case of procession. If the former, how do we avoid the conclusion that either the Spirit has to be begotten of the Father or vice versa? If the latter, how is it not just a straightforward insistence on the filioque (that is, one of the premises just is the conclusion). In the first case the argument isn't sound; in the second it's not cogent. There are other possible readings of the argument, even as amplified here, that are invalid. Could you just provide the actual premises, as you understand them, rather than the names of the principles? This would help me. Thanks.

Vitae Scrutator said...

Hi David

That's a great question. I should have been more explicit. Anselm takes certain things for granted that were already accepted by the Greeks, and I neglected to spell all of those things out. In particular, he and the Greeks agree that both the Spirit and the Son are from God but in different modes. The Spirit is distinguished from the Son by being neither begotten nor a begetter, but a proceedure; the Son, by contrast, does not proceed but is begotten and not a begetter. Since this was never in dispute it was argued for, but it is made explicit at the beginning of Anselm's treatise.

So the Spirit is from God by proceeding but is neither begotten nor does he beget; the Son is from God by being begotten and not by proceeding. The only question at issue is the nature of the Spirit's procession--is it from both the Father and the Son or just from the Father; and if it is also from the Son is it from the Son in the same sense as it is from the Father?

If you take the Spirit and the Father as a pair, you still have a Person that is God as source and a Person that is God from God, but the question of whether the Spirit is begotten does not arise, since the disjunctive property is only at the level of "God/from God"--it does not penetrate to the level of the manner of being "from God".

I hope that helps.

Vitae Scrutator said...

I can't believe you can't edit a comment after you leave it. Of course I meant to say that the Spirit is a proceeder, not a proceedure.

Zach said...

Dear Dr. Carson,
I am a Catholic interested in theology who stumbled upon your post (admittedly some three years after it was written). Although I accept the doctrine of the Filioque and the principle of non-ampliative interference, I'm not sure I understand (3).
St. Anselm seems to say that when taken in pairs, each of the persons of the Gohead must have the relation of from/not from, and so when the Son and Spirit are taken in a pair evidence from Scripture and Tradition militates toward the Spirit deriving His being from the Son, and that this is necessary to maintain personal distinctions in the Godhead. But wouldn't the Son derviving his being from the Father by means of gerneration, and the Spirit deriving his being from the Father by means of Spiration, which I have been told are two entirely different ways of receiving one's being (although I could be misinformed), be sufficient to maintain distinction between the Spirit and the Son? If it is contradictory to say that the Generated is also the Spirated, would we need St. Anselm's argument? It just seems to me that an Easterner could get out of this by taking that view, and I was hoping you could respond and help me understand the issue better.

Zach said...

Sorry for all the typos, although I do still hope for a response.

Homily for Requiem Mass of Michael Carson, 20 November 2021

  Readings OT: Wisdom 3:1-6, 9 [2, short form] Ps: 25 [2] NT: Romans 8:31b-35, 37-39 [6] Alleluia verse: John 6:39 [...