Our meeting with the affable and stimulating Dale Tuggy on June 20th at St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox monastery a little south of Florence, Arizona, got me thinking about the Trinity again. So I pulled Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church off the shelf wherein I found a discussion of the differences between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman approaches to the doctrine. Let's take a look. Earlier this year, in January and February, we had a stimulating and deep-going discussion of Trinitarian topics which the interested reader can find here. But there was no discussion of the Orthodox line. It is high time to fill that lacuna. (Image credit.)
East and West agree that there is exactly one God in three divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They also agree that the Father is neither born of anything nor proceeds from anything, that the Son is born of the Father but does not proceed from the Father, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds but is not born. Bear in mind that 'born' and 'proceeds' in this context refer to relations that are internal to the triune Godhead, and are therefore eternal relations. I hope it is also clear that neither of these relations is one of creation. Each of the persons is eternal and uncreated.
The main difference between East and West concerns that from which the Holy Spirit proceeds. The West says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque), whereas the East says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. One can of course question whether this dispute has any clear sense, but let's assume that it does for the space of this post. I don't reckon there are any Stovian or other positivists hanging around this site. (If there are, I pronounce my anathema upon them.)
The question is whether there is any reason to prefer the one view over the other. Ware naturally thinks the Orthodox view superior (pp. 219-222). He thinks it is superior because it is able to account for the unity of the three persons without making of this unity something impersonal. His reasoning is as follows. The tripersonal God is one God, not three Gods. So the question arises as to the unity of the Godhead. What is the ground of God's unity? There is one God because there is one Father, the Father being the 'cause' or 'source' of Godhead, the principle (arche) of unity among the three. The Orthodox speak of the "monarchy of the Father." The other two persons originate from the Father. Because the principle of unity is the Father, and the Father is one of the divine persons, the principle of unity is personal in nature. So although there are three persons in one God, the unity of these three persons is itself a person, namely, the Father.
The Western view, however, issues in the result that the principle of unity is impersonal. The reasoning is along the following lines. If the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, then "the Father ceases to be the unique source of Godhead, since the Son is also a source." (219) Consequently, "...Rome finds its principle of unity in the substance or essence which all three persons share." (219) This implies that, on the Roman Catholic view, the principle of unity is impersonal. (I am merely reporting Ware's reasoning here, not endorsing it.)
And that, Ware maintains, is not good. "Late Scholastic theology, emphasizing as it does the essence at the expense of the persons, comes near to turning God into an abstract idea." (222) The concrete and personal God with whom one can have a direct and living encounter gets transmogrified into a God of the philosophers (as opposed to the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), an impersonal being whose existence needs to be proved by metaphysical arguments.
And so the Orthodox "regard the filioque as dangerous and heretical. Filioquism confuses the persons, and destroys the proper balance between unity and diversity in the Godhead." (222) God is stripped of concrete personality and made into an abstract essence. And that's not all. The Roman view gives the Holy Spirit short shrift with the result that his role in the church and in the lives of believers is downplayed. What's more, this subordination of the Holy Spirit, together with an overemphasis on the divine unity, has deleterious consequences for ecclesiology. As a result of filioquism, the church in the West has become too worldly an institution, and the excessive emphasis on divine unity has led to too much centralization and too great an emphasis on papal authority. It is worth noting in this connection that the Orthodox reject papal infallibility while accepting the infallibility of the church.
You can see, then, that for the Orthodox the filioque is quite a big deal: it is not a mere theological Spitzfindigkeit.
Ware's exposition -- which I assume is a faithful representation of the Orthodox position -- saddles filioquism with a nasty dilemma: either ditheism or semi-Sabellianism. For if the Son as well as the Father is an arche, a principle of unity in the Godhead, then the upshot is ditheism, two-God-ism. But if it is said that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son tamquam ex/ab uno principio, 'as from one principle,' then, as the Orthodox see it, the Father and the Son are confused and semi-Sabellianism is the upshot. (221)
Sabellianism or modalism is the view that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are modes or aspects of the deity. The East sees semi-Sabellianism in the West insofar as the Western view, in avoiding ditheism, merges Father and Son into one principle so that they become mere modes or aspect of that one principle.
That's the lay of the land as seen from the East. I have been concerned in this post with exposition only. Adjudication can wait for later. (He said magisterially.)