Please ask the next question (and answer it)

A friend loaned me Donald MacLeod’s The Person of Christ because he knew I was researching what Reformed and Evangelical theologians said about the communicatio idiomatum.  Much of the book, including the intramural Reformed debates ala Bultmann, is  irrelevant to me.  I am not interested in which Reformed guy abandoned the tradition more.  That said, Macleod, for all of my previous disagreements with him, covers the issues well.

I did find his section on the Filioque well-written, if not well-thought out.  Here is my initial response (and I take MacLeod’s position as representative of the Western Tradition, and truth be told, about as fine a short defense of the Filioque as one could ask).

MacLeod begins by asking is “The Son fully equal with the Father?” (143).  This is his paradigm for defending the Filioque.  Already, I would alert the reader that Macleod has assumed the same presuppositions as both Arianism and Eunomianism.  MacLeod praises the Easterners for their heroism against Arius et al, but notes they confused themselves in the language of causality (an odd charge, since MacLeod has been praising the Cappadocians throughout the book!).

MacLeod rightly notes that the spectre of Origen hung over the Filioque debate (145).  MacLeod is adamant that we remove any talk of causality from the discussion, thinking such threatens the full deity of the Son.  Again, we must point out that MacLeod shares with Eunomius that causation = creation from nothing.   He never proves this but merely keeps reasserting it.  In any case, when St Gregory the Theologians spoke of the monarchia, he spoke of the monarchia of the Holy Trinity.

Does of equal eternal origination?

MacLeod thinks it does.  His argument is this:  in the economic Trinity the Spirit proceeds from Christ and is seen as the Spirit “of” Christ (Romans 8:11).  Therefore, the Spirit is eternally from Christ (147).   MacLeod is aware that he must ask the question, “Are we allowed to reason back from the Economic Trinity to the Ontological Trinity?” (147).  He says that the temporal procession presupposes an eternal procession.

The logic of the argument is not as tight as MacLeod says it is.  Sure, it is not wrong per se to reason this way, but it doesn’t work every time, and even if one gives a few other verses that suggest similar parallels, one is still not justified in drawing the dual procession conclusion.  Why not?  Even if you have inductive evidence that allows for some supposition, if the opposing view can produce enough defeaters for your position, then your argument doesn’t work.

Let’s look at his argument.  Does  of equal from?  The Spirit is also called “the Spirit of God” and since the Spirit is God, then on this gloss the Spirit either comes from himself or isn’t God.   Even more, the Spirit is also called “the Spirit of Truth,” but no one maintains that the Spirit is hypostically generated from the attribute of Truth!

Secondly, even Protestant scholarship admits that Christ’s sending of the Spirit in his earthly ministry is irrelevant to the eternal procession of the Spirit.  Therefore, on these accounts MacLeod is surely not justified in reasoning from the economic Trinity to the Ontological  Trinity.

MacLeod himself seems to be aware of the most damaging argument against dual procession.  He writes,

The remaining question is whether it is at all appropriate to speak of some kind of procession of the Son from the Father and the Spirit.  Otherwise, are we not guilty of blatant subordinationism with reference to the Third Person?  He proceeds from the Father and Son, but neither of them proceeds from Him.

MacLeod’s answer is strange (147-149).  He notes that the question is shocking, but says it shouldn’t be.   His argument is like this, “The Son glorifies the Father, as does the Spirit.  Further, the Spirit led the Son in the wilderness.”

I’m not so sure MacLeod understands the question.   We are not asking if the Son/Father can ever be the recipient of another Person’s actions, but whether the Spirit is subordinated per the Filioque because the Father and Son generate a Person, but the Spirit does not.  Macleod asks why we may not introduce a thid movement, the Spirit glorifying both Father and Son? (148).  No one denies this.  That is part of the perichoresis.

Here’s the problem: if the Son is fully divine because he has all that the Father has, including life and the ability to generate a Person, and this is the linchpin of the argument for the Son’s deity, then to be logically consistent, and to maintain that the Holy Spirit, too, is God, the Holy Spirit must also generate a Person of the Godhead.  (While denying the conclusion I drew, St Augustine used this type of reasoning in De Trinitate 15.26.57;  “For if the Son has of the Father whatever He has, then certainly he has of the Father, that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from him.”).

Notice Augustine’s reasoning:  The Son has the same life as the Father because the Son, like the Father, generates another Person.  So, does the Holy Spirit have the same life as the Son and Father?  MacLeod has written elsewhere that he does. Therefore, how does MacLeod avoid the conclusion?



One comment on “Please ask the next question (and answer it)

  1. […] short time ago I looked at Donald Macleod’s short defense of the Filioque, taken from his The Person of Christ.  Today I will look at Sinclair Ferguson’s defense of […]

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