Sinclair Ferguson on the Filioque

A 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 the Filioque, taken from his The Holy Spirit (they are part of the same Contours of Christian Theology series published by InterVarsityPress).  First things first: I have tremendous respect for Sinclair Ferguson.  He is a Scotsman (!) and a true gentleman.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him twice (he signed my copy of The Holy Spirit) and in his talk on NT Wright, he remained serene at all times (proving himself to be an anomaly within the Reformed professorial camp).    I will first summarize Ferguson’s position and then respond:

{1} Ferguson rightly understands that the economic sending of the Spirit by Christ is not immediately obvious to be teh eternal proceeding of the Spirit from the Father and Son (pp. 72-73).

{2} Ferguson thinks the Cappadocian model–The Father as cause of both Spirit and Son–introduces subordinationism into the Trinity.  However, according to Ferguson the Western church really did not have a good model until Calvin’s autotheos.  (75).

{3} Ferguson says God must be (ontologically) what he reveals himself to be (economically).  The Father and Son send the spirit in economy; therefore, they must also send him in eternity (75).  Also notes this maintains the relationship between Spirit and Son.

{4} However, Ferguson admits the standard Protestant exegesis of John 14:26 and 15:26 is faulty, but he goes right on to assert that pempso (I will send) and ekpourei (proceeds) mean the same thing.  How does Ferguson respond to this obviously flawed exegesis?   He maintains that the integrity of theology means that God must be who he reveals himself to be (76).

{5}  Ferguson repeats the standard line that since the Spirit is “of” Christ, the Spirit must eternally proceed  from Christ (77).

{6} Ferguson argues that without the Filioque we would have a lacunae in our knowledge of God.  We would have knowledge of the Father’s ontological relationship between Son and Spirit but we would not have knowledge of the ontological relationship between Son and Spirit (77).


Per {2} I deny that the Cappadocians are using causation in the Arian sense.   Orthodoxy denies that causation equals the creation of deity (per Arius and Eunomius), but that the Son and Spirit derive their deity from the Father (eternally). It goes  back to an Arian presupposition that causality = deity; therefore, since the Son and Spirit are caused by the Father, they are lesser deities.  Of course, I doubt that Ferguson has this chain of reasoning in mind, and admittedly for late Western minds this is exactly what causality connotes, but on the Cappadocians’ own terms, this is not how they are using causality.

Per {3} and {4} we agree that God must be who he reveals himself to be.   We also agree with Ferguson that Protestant exegesis is faulty.  What’s going on here?  As Ferguson notes (but then ignores) pempso and expourei are not the same word.  Per the economy, Christ says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father.   Ferguson wants symmetry between economy and ontology–there it is.

Ferguson does have a valid point on the relation between Son and Spirit (and in addressing this I believe I can shed some more light on the above paragraph).  According to Gregory II of Cyprus,

The Spirit exists from the Father but has existence through the Son. The former denotes mode of origin. The latter denotes the eternal manifestation. The former is the internal life of the Trinity. The latter is the external self-revelation of God (Papadakis, Crisis in Byzantium, 123ff). Thus, God exists not only in his essence but outside his essence. It is not the internal essence that is revealed but rather the divine life. Further, the Spirit goes forth and shines in the Son independent of mode of origin.

In saying all of this Gregory II anticipated St Gregory Palamas. The divine energies is God’s sanctifying grace which comes from the Father and from the Son in the Spirit (127). AP notes, “This manifestation, however, Gregory hastens to emphasize, is separate from God’s person and essence, for the divine is alone participable through its energies and manifestation. That is to say, God is unparticiable apart from his external revelation, or energies, or charismata, through which he is exclusively known. Otherwise, Christ, in breathing on his apostles, would have given them the very essence and hypostasis of the Spirit (127-128).

What is the eternal relation between Son and Spirit?  The Son eternally manifests the Spirit.  The Spirit shines forth through the Son, yet does not have his existence from him.   Therefore, Christ can say that the Spirit proceeds (eternally) from the Father but is sent (economically) from the Son, yet there is no asymmetry.

Per {5} we must point out that of =/= from.  Here is a reductio:  the Spirit is also said to be the Spirit of God (Romans 8:11).  Therefore, given the above gloss, the Spirit is either not God or he proceeds from himself.   Further, the Spirit is also said to be the spirit of “truth,” yet no one seriously maintains that the Spirit hypostatically proceeds from the attribute of truth!

Per {6} I believe I’ve answered part of this above with the excursus on Gregory II.  I would note one other thing.  I do find it odd that Ferguson is so concerned with knowing the inner essence of the Godhead.  Given that he was employed at a Van Tillian institution, I find this Clarkian reasoning quite strange.  I would simply deny–and I am standing with Van Til, I think–that we should claim to know the ontological structure of God.  True, Ferguson might mean something else and I don’t want to attribute a false position to him, for his comment was strange.  The Church, per her response to Eunomius, has always looked wary at claims to univocal knowledge of God.  Of course, I know Ferguson would deny univocal knowledge of God, but that is what his comment looks like.