Church Father Shopping Without Liturgy

From Joseph Farrell’s God, History, and Dialectic. On page 586 Farrell gives an interesting account of the rise of modern Patristic studies (ala post-Reformation).   With the possible exception of the ocassional high-church Anglican, most Protestant appeals to Church Fathers were misleading, for the post-Reformers (pardon the neologism) had purged the Fathers’ writings from their liturgical context.  Therefore, when the Protestant quotes the Fathers she is not seeing them as a living body of witnesses but merely as ancient authorities for current Protestant practices (but only when they agree).

Almost final theses on sola scriptura

  1. That which determines your authority is your authority.
  2. Scripture cannot determine its form since it does not list a canon (or even criteria for one).
  3. The Church can, though.
  4. Therefore, the Church is penultimate authority (1, 3).
  5. That which determines your authority determines how the sub-authority (or text) is to be read (1, 4).
  6. The Church determines how Scripture is to be interpreted (3, 5).
  7. Jude 3 says contend for the faith once delivered to all the saints.
  8. This delivery was made independent of a complete canon (which blocks Bahnsen’s contention that recognition of a canon is distinct from its authority.  I don’t grant that, but let’s pretend for a moment:  so what?  The apostolic deposit was made either before the canon was complete or before Jude knew of the “canon” (and I still maintain that the idea of a New Testament canon probably wasn’t known to the apostles).  Further, this “deposit” is somewhat synonymous with “tradition.”)
  9. Therefore,  “scripture” and “tradition” are not the same (8).
  10. Yet, there exists cases where “tradition” is used in a positive sense (2 Tim. 1:13-14;  2:15).

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:


Okay, so “outside the church there is no salvation…”

Roman Catholics are usually more vocal (and annoying) about this than Orthodox apologists (though, of course, the latter hold to the dictum as well).  The phrase in one form or another dates back to St Cyprian.  This phrase offends Protestants because the way it is defined excludes Protestantism from the true church.  Therefore, this means that Protestants are outside the Church.   Therefore, Protestants are “going to hell” (pronounced “hae-yul” if you are from the South).

So is this true?  Did God create Protestants simply to roast ’em forever?   Not quite.  This is an example of one taking a legitimate theological axiom–the church is the visible and physical focal point of salvation on earth–and making conclusions based on evidence a person cannot possibly have. Blessed Seraphim Rose warned against such scholastic reasoning.

My observations on St Cyrpian’s phrase:

1) Calvinists accept some form of it.   Calvin said somewhere you can’t have God as your father without the church as your mother.  Why then do Calvinists get upset when Orthodox say it?  Similarly, most Calvinists do not believe Orthodox (or Catholics) are “saved,” so why do they get mad when others return the favor?

2) It’s not entirely clear what St Cyprian “meant” by it.  Even in his own time this phrase did not always have “obvious” epistemological clarity.  Who’s in the church?  As St Augustine mused, it’s often hard to know.

3) Maybe it’s truer meaning doesn’t primarily deal with individuals at all.    Protestant and evangelical churches have a tendency to self-destruct over generations.   They simply don’t last.  Either they capitulate to modernism (and by their own admission have little or nothing to do with even the vaguest forms of Christianity) or they simply lose enough members and die, even if they maintain some form of a Christian witness.  Part of the problem is sola scriptura:  if it is ultimately “my interpretation of the Bible,” and there are 200 million of me, then there is inherently a self-mutating motion in evangelicalism.  Therefore, St Cyprian can be said to say, “outside the church, you cease to resemble a real church over the long run.”

4) I don’t think Protestants (particularly evangelicals) and Orthodox view salvation in exactly the same way.  For the Orthodox, as I understand it, salvation is not reduced to a one-time moment at a Billy Graham concert rally. Without the visible, apostolic church, you aren’t going to see the fullness of the faith.

5) On the other hand, the stupidest thing an Orthodox (or Catholic) can do is to go up to a Protestant and say, “Yup, you and your family are going to roast because you aren’t part of us.”  For one, you don’t know that.  The final judgment has not yet happened.  Secondly, you have effectively driven them away from Orthodoxy.  Good job.

Clark Carlton has a fantastic podcast on this topic.

Western Rite as the awkward elephant

This is the final summary of the debate I had with the Reformed Constitutionalist.   One of the things he pointed out, aside from ridiculing the idea that the Celts were Orthodox, is that the Western church in the early middle ages meditated on the Fathers, too.  They maintained the faith, too.  It wasn’t just the Eastern guys that had a monopoly on the Fathers.   The West had it, too, so that means that the West is just as good as the East, right?

My original answer (which is in email, which I will not divulge here) was less-than-adequate, now that I reflect up on it. I had originally asked him to prove such sources, aside from a vague reference from the well-written, but admittedly non-scholarly How the Irish Saved Civilization.   None was forthcoming.

That being said, I realized this week that the best refutation of his argument was simply to agree with his premise! As I mentioned earlier, there was yet no schism in Europe concerning the Faith.   In fact, we shouldn’t even speak of “East” and “West,” for all was Orthodox (of varying flavors, it should be admitted).  From a strictly legal point of view, which even Roman Catholics will admit, both East and West were one church, for the patriarchates were all in communion with each other (including Rome).

In fact, the Western Rite liturgy is Orthodox.  Secondly, following this point and in contradiction to many overly-zealous Eastern Orthodox apologists, the Western middle ages knew no hard and fast division between the liturgy of the Western world and the Eastern world.  Different appearances at times, but the essence was the same.  St Olga of Russia sought after German liturgists.  St Tikhon of Russia even updated and corrected the Anglican Book of Church Order (which I am not endorsing, but simply noting).















Both Eastern and Western liturgies had the epiclesis, the nunc dimitis, the te deums, etc.   There are notable differences, to be sure, but they are of degree, not kind.

So the final answer:  I agree with my interlocutor, but I also know that there was no division, whether spiritually or legally.

That’s because the church isn’t a text

St Irenaeus advanced a line of argument that would become standard among traditional Christianity:  because the Bible is so complex and deep, it can’t rightly be interpreted by any one man’s reading.  Similarly, it would not do for any community to simply read the “Bible” and that reading be authoritative (for the Gnostics would be vindicated).  No, the only reading is the apostolic reading within the one Church (which has apostolic and episcopal parameters; this is simply a summary of early Church teaching and what they said is not up for debate).

An interlocutor could object, “Suppose you are correct in saying we are misreading the Bible because the Bible is full of ambiguities, how then are you not misreading what the Church is saying on these matters?  If we are guilty of epistemic relativism in Bible reading, how are you not also guilty of epistemic relativism in ecclesial readings?.”

This bothered me for the longest time.  While it is true that most people don’t misunderstand what the Church teaches on x, y, and z (and the misunderstandings and disagreements are nowhere near as radical as the evangelical readings on the Bible), the truth of the matter is the Church is not a text.  The Church is not words.   The Church did not initially operate by “The Bible alone” (since for most early Christians in the first few centuries there was no recognizable “Bible”).   The Church was the body of Christ.  It is flesh and blood, wine and bread.  It is people.   We are not dealing with the laws of literary hermeneutics, in which the evangelical is forever forced to operate, never rising above).

Final Review of Schaff and Nevin

Final Review of the Mercersberg Theology

Part 1

Part 2

Take me to the River

Schaff wants to identify with the ancient church and with the best expressions of the medieval church.   For the longest time I, too, sough such an identification.  Yet it must be confessed that even on Schaff’s terms, any true identification is impossible.  When Schaff wants to praise the ancient and medieval church, he does so in sweeping and admittedly ambiguous terms.   When Schaff wants to praise the gains of the Reformation, he cannot do so except in condemning the abuses of the later medieval church.  If Schaff’s reading of history is correct (and it must be admitted that Schaff is truly a giant among church historians; I pay homage to the man), then the Reformed church must be seen in opposition to the earlier church.

The only way that Schaff can maintain his thesis that the Reformation is the fulfillment of the Catholic Church is on Hegelian—not historic— terms.  And on this reading—this Hegelian reading—I think Schaff is correct.  The Reformation is fully committed to the Augustinian dialectic[i] and refused to challenge Roman Catholicism on issues like the Filioque, and given that the dialectic is seen in terms of opposites, the Reformation can legitimately be seen as either the synthesis or antithesis of Roman Catholicism.[ii]

Can Schaff bring us to the early church?  The answer must be a clear and unequivocal “no.”  Schaff says he wants to get back to the primitive church, and I commend his intent.  Yet Schaff clearly condemns early practices like apostolic succession.  One cannot seriously maintain a desire to go back to the early church yet condemn the practices and beliefs that constituted the early church.   Further, given Schaff’s commitment to ecclesiological progress, why would he even want to go back to the early church?  Why would he even want to identify with the ancient expression of Christianity?

Who gets to be the judge?

Perhaps the most glaring issue with the Mercersburg theology is who gets to be the judge?   If Christianity is a historical process, then a number of questions follow:   how can one judge a position outside of knowledge of the final result?  This is a common critique of Hegel.  If the truth lies in the next historical moment, how are we to properly evaluate the present moment?  For the next moment will give us new knowledge on our current moment?  We are left in a perpetual state of flux.


Philip Schaff and John Williamson Nevin are to be commended for steering countless Evangelicals and Calvinists away from certain American, reductionist accounts of Christianity.  For example, Nevin’s portrayal of the Lord’s Supper is infinitely to be preferred to Charles Hodge’s spectral, memorialist view. [iii] Schaff is to be commended for calling attention back to the ancient roots of the church.  Yet, both of these men stop short from calling men to actually go back to the ancient church.  While Nevin says we feed off of the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, he makes sure we understand that we are only feeding off of Christ in a “spiritual” sense.[iv] These two men remove us from American reductions of the faith, and bring us one step closer to the ancient faith.  Unfortunately, they take us to the river, but do not cross it.

[i] With Joseph Farrell and David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom (2007) I identify the Augustinian doctrine of Absolute Divine Simplicity (e.g., God’s essence is absolutely simple and identifiable with his attributes) as dialectical.   The Reformers like Calvin did not challenge this construction but simply adopted it; see D. Z. Phillips, Whose God? Which Tradition? (Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishers, 2008), pp. 147ff.

[ii] Interestingly, the spawn of continually new sects and denominations claiming some kinship with the Reformation can be seen as new syntheses of previous dialectics.   Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists continually point to the myriads of Protestant sects and denominations, and it is a point of which Philip Schaff and John Williamson Nevin were painfully aware.  However, I do not recall any such writer suggesting that these new sects are simply a synthetic continuation of an earlier dialectic.  For if the Augustinian tradition is dialectically construed, as per the Filioque I maintain it is, then one cannot deny that the Reformation and its (step)children are new moments within the dialectic.

[iii] John Williamson Nevin, The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the holy Eucharist (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2000).  Also see Keith Mathison, Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishers, 2002), pp. 129-156.

[iv] John Williamson Nevin, The Mystical Presence, p. 55. Nevin is correct to reject later Roman views of transubstantiation, but one wonders if it is allowable to separate the flesh of Christ from the Incarnate person of Christ.   Is this not Nestorianism?  Is Christ divided?  At the end of the day Nevin says the participation in the Lord’s Supper is spiritual, and not physical.  How much different from Hodge is the position now?


Athanasius, Ad Africanus. No date.  Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Second Series) vol. 4.

—————First Discourse Against the AriansNicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Second Series).

Bradshaw, David.  2007.  Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom.  Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Farrell, Joseph P.  2008.  God, History, and Dialectic:  The Theological Foundations of the Two Europes.  No publisher.

Mathison, Keith.  2002.  Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.  Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.

Nevin, John Williamson.  2000.   The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of Calvin’s Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.  Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Origen.  No date.  Ad Africanus.  Ante Nicene Fathers.

Phillips, D. Z.  2008.  Whose God? Which Tradition? Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishers.

Schaff, Philip.  1845.  The Principle of Protestantism.  Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.