Responding to Pugliese (Reformed) on the Filioque

I had mentioned a Reformed article on the Filioque a few weeks ago, and promised a response to it.   While I am critical of the article, and I will note a number of major flaws and errors in it, I am glad Pugliese wrote it for several reasons:  1) few Calvinists, even the highly trained theologians, know anything about the Filioque beyond the few paragraphs they will read in the introductory church history books.  Pugliese’s article seeks to correct that.  2) Pugliese, whether he realizes it or not, correctly identifies Calvinist theology within its Roman Catholic foundation when he defends the Filioque.  3) While Pugliese is not as explicit as I would wish him to be, he does make a number of connections clear (e.g., the Filioque and Absolute Divine Simplicity imply one another; this will be a huge point below).  For all of that, though, there are a number of problems:

Confusing the prepositions (and using the Fathers a bit too quickly)

At the beginning of the article Pugliese identifies the heart of the issue:   The Filioque seeks to maintain that the Son is also the source of the Holy Spirit along with the Father (160).  Therefore, Pugliese then reads a lot of prepositions to mean “deriving origin from” when in fact they may not mean that.    But as any student of Greek (or English!) knows, “of” and “to” and “through” do not always mean “deriving ontological origin from.”   This is a huge case of eisogesis, but one that is rarely challenged in the Western camp.  Therefore, when Pugliese sees a church father say that the Holy Spirit proceeds through the Son, he reads it to mean, from the Son as a principle of origin.    This will be explained below with Gregory II of Cyprus.

One of Pugliese’s specific arguments is the East is wrong to say the Filioque is a later development, for he claims that many Eastern fathers accepted the Filioque.  He lists St Basil saying, “The Spirit has his being from the Son” (Contr. Eun. 3).   I don’t doubt St Basil said these words, but I do wonder the context, since Pugliese not only didn’t quote the context, but didn’t even quote the whole sentence!  In any case,  let’s look at the words.    A similar line of argument was brought against Gregory II of Cyprus.  His (shorter version) answer was that the Gregory argues that 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, 123ff).

Similar to the Basil quote, Pugliese gives no historical or even literary context to some controversial quotes.   For example, he quotes St Maximus as holding to the Filioque, yet for anyone who is even remotely aware of the literature on St Maximus, these quotes are disputed on textual grounds.  Perhaps St Maximus did affirm the Filioque, but one cannot simply go “church father shopping” without informing his audience of the context.

Perhaps I could be accused of special pleading and reading later developments into earlier statements by the Fathers.  Maybe so (but it’s what Pugliese is doing).  However, this leads to my next point: the Latins and the Greeks did not always mean the same thing by “procession.”  This is a point that even Roman Catholic scholars grant.

Fr. Jean Miguel Garrigues notes that the Arian controversy affected the way “procession” would be used in Latin theology.   The Latin west at this time did not have to face the same type of Arianism as did the East.   The language did not need to be as precise; therefore, when Latin fathers speak of the Holy Spirit in connection with Father and Son, and even use words like procedure, they are not using the words in the same was the Greeks would use expouresthai.  Therefore, it is wrong to marshal Eastern Fathers as saying the same thing as earlier Latin Western fathers.

To sum up:  Pugliese’s use of the Fathers is wrong on two counts: 1) When the Fathers use the words “from/by/through/to,” they are not saying the Spirits ontologically precedes from Father and Son, since it can be shown how the Spirit can have his existence from the Son, yet eternally exist from the Father alone.    2) The Latin fathers are not saying either what Pugliese is saying or what the Greek fathers are saying.

They are all the same (Absolute Divine Simplicity)

Further, this is not the only point where Pugliese reads later philosophical developments into earlier statements by the Fathers.  I will maintain in this section that if Absolute Divine Simplicity is necessary for the Filioque (as Pugliese maintains it is), yet the Fathers did not hold to Absolute Divine Simplicity, then the Fathers’ language on this matter cannot be interpreted in a Filioquist sense.

The doctrine of divine simplicity, to which all Christians should subscribe, means there is no composition in God.   God isn’t composed of different “parts.”  The doctrine of absolute divine simplicity, hinted at by Augustine and crystallized by Aquinas, means when God has attributes A and B, then God’s being A is identical with God’s being B.  Aquinas takes it further and says that the divine nature and the  “suppositum” (think intellectual substance or person) are the same (Aquinas, ST. Ia. Q 39. 1).  In short, Aquinas says that the Persons are not distinguished from the essence, but they are from our point of view.[i]

Pugliese’s sixth main point is that the Filioque is the only way to maintain the distinction between the Son and the Spirit (Pugliese, 171).   Pugliese is being faithful to his later Western heritage.  Pugliese defines “mutually opposed relations” as what distinguishes the members of the Trinity (171).  Yet if one doesn’t affirm absolute divine simplicity, can one affirm the Filioque?  Pugliese (correctly) thinks not.[ii] Given Pugliese’s sola scriptura background, one has to ask where Scripture identifies God as absolutely simple essence.[iii]

Pugliese’s Scriptural Arguments

This is the weakest section of the paper (Pugliese, 167-168), which is ironic given his statement that Scripture, and not the Fathers, is the ultimate authority for the Reformed (his use of the Fathers presented a lot more compelling case than his use of the Bible).   He continues with his earlier line of reasoning that “of” means “from as a source of origin.”  Unfortunately, this leads to several absurdities, which will be demonstrated below.  There is nothing particularly new in this section, since he repeats Calvin and the proof texts for the Westminster Confession of Faith.   He notes the passages (Romans 8:9, Galatians 4:6, etc.) where it speaks of the Spirit of Christ.   From this he concludes that the Spirit eternally proceeded from Christ.   There are several problems (I think he has an undistributed middle somewhere), but two shall note:   1)The Spirit is also said to be the Spirit of God, and since the Spirit is God, then on Pugliese’s gloss the Spirit should eternally proceed from himself!   2) The Spirit is also said to be the Spirit of Truth, but no one seriously thinks the Spirit hypostatically proceeds from the attribute of Truth!

Pugliese does have a lengthy section dealing with the relation between the economic and ontological Trinity.    He makes the repeated argument that the economic trinity is the model by which we should base our speculations on the hypostatic relations within the ontological Trinity.  In short, it is an analogy.  Yet as Reformed theologian John Frame has stated, it is dangerous to base weighty doctrines merely on analogies (Frame, 718).  Finally, it has not yet been proven logically that the two are identical, nor if this is even a valid form of reasoning.

Filioquist Problems

Alternating Between Person and Nature

This is a difficult section because it is not entirely clear what “relations of opposition” (which is not the same thing as relations of origin) entail.  Relations of opposition mean the characteristics that differentiate the members of the Godhead.   On one hand, the act of spirating the Holy Spirit, since it is shared by both Father and Son, is not a relation of opposition.  Therefore, it is not true (at least here) that the Spirit proceeds from the essence (which Aquinas identified with the relations).   On the other hand, Boethius and Aquinas[iv] both say the relations establish the persons.  This means the relations (or essence) are ultimate and not the persons.   De Regnon was right after all.

Did the Disciples Receive the Essence of the Holy Spirit?

If it is true that the economic Trinity necessarily reflects the ontological Trinity on Filioquist grounds, one must be consistent and say that the disciples received the essence and hypostasis of the Holy Spirit when Christ breathed on them!  Yet this violates the Calvinist dictum (quoted against the Lutherans) that “the finite cannot contain the infinite.”  There is an easier way around this, and that is to abandon the presupposition that “analogy = ontology,” which is often asserted.

Pugliese’s Arian Presuppositions

Mind you, Pugliese is not an Arian.  Part of his essay wants to uphold the full deity of Christ, which I commend.   Unfortunately, he gives the game away.  His eighth thesis is that the Filioque is the only way to uphold the full deity of the Son (Pugliese, 173).  The Arians had confused the hypostatic feature of the Father (e.g., causality) with the divine essence.   They reasoned that since the Son didn’t cause another, he is not fully God.   The Filioquists agree, but reverse the conclusion:  the Son did cause another; therefore, he is God.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Both agree that the divine nature entails causality.  St Athanasius clearly rejected this line of reasoning.  He draws the absurd conclusion, given their reasoning, that the Holy Spirit, too, should cause another person (and this fourth person should cause another person, ad infinitum)!   Pugliese would reject that and often says, quoting Berkhof, that the Son communicates the entire divine essence to the Spirit. That’s not the issue, though. No one is denying that the Spirit is fully God.  Pugliese has already implicitly identified essence and causality (see his eighth thesis) that he necessitates this conclusion, whether he likes it or not.[v]


With a few exceptions, this is a very worthwhile essay.  Reformed people generally have little knowledge of the Filioque and rarely offer full arguments for its defense.  Pugliese corrects this by pointing out the Filioque’s heritage in medieval Roman Catholicism and the Reformation (note the latter’s dependence on the former).  His use of Eastern sources is questionable, misleading, and often erroneous.  Further, aside from a few citations from St Photios, and a passing comment by Papanikalaou, he offers no interaction with critical scholarly works from an Eastern perspective.  Had he interacted with Papadakis’ Crisis in Byzantium, he would have seen how a non-Filioquist structure maintains a Christo-centric soteriology (which is Pugliese’s final complaint against denying the Filioque, p. 174).

The review ends on a sad note.  While it is good to see Reformed authors interact with topics other than covenant theology and the “5 points,” and given that interaction with Patristic Christology and Triadology usually leads folks away from Geneva, it is unfortunate that this review will reinforce sloppy arguments in the Reformed camp.   On the other hand, one has to start somewhere.


Frame, John.  The Doctrine of God.   Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2002.

Lossky, Vladimir.  In the Image and Likeness of God.  Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974.

Papadakis, Aristeides.  Crisis in Byzantium.

Pugliese, Mark.   “How Important is the Filioque for Reformed Orthodoxy?” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004), 159-177.



[i] In this same passage Aquinas identifies relation with essence.  Aquinas has quoted Boethius to the effect that relation establishes person.    This means, contra the critics of neo-Palamism, that the Filioque does entail the Spirit proceeding from an impersonal source (the essence), and not from a person(s).

[ii] And one should point out that St Maximus and the Cappadocians clearly rejected Absolute Divine Simplicity.  Therefore, they can’t be seen as holding to the filioque.   (See St Basil, Letter 234; Hans urs von Balthasar, The Cosmic Liturgy, p.88.  von Balthasar maintains Maximus did hold to the Filioque, yet he also quotes where Maximus rejected absolute divine simplicity).

[iii] It will not do to say that it is a “good and necessary consequence,” for that is precisely the issue under question.  Good and necessary consequence usually ends up meaning one reads a doctrine (usually established by the institutional, visible church) into Scripture and then claiming it is the clear teaching of Scripture after all.

[iv] I understand that Pugliese wrote this essay and not Thomas Aquinas, but Pugliese is drawing from the same wells as did Aquinas and is using the same arguments.

[v] See Joseph P. Farrell’s “Introduction to St Photios’s Mystagogy,” available here: