Volf’s critique of Zizioulas

I normally do not agree with Miroslav Volf on many points, but he has a perceptive critique of John Zizioulas’s Being as Communion project.  I wrote this a long time ago as a rejoinder to what Orthodox Bridge would say to my critique of Palamas.  They never critiqued it, so I never posted this.  However, Volf’s coments are enlightening in the context of Pannenberg’s treatment of the Trinity.

I stand by what I have written in response to Arakaki’s article on Calvinism, especially as it relates to the Trinity.   That said, there are several aspects I would change:

John Zizioulas:  Mr Arakaki based much of his work off of the brilliant patristic theologian John Zizioulas.  Zizioulas’s thesis that the hypostasis of the Father constitutes the ground of the other two hypostases in the Godhead is a strong one.  I was initially hesitant to rebut it since I cut my “trinitarian” teeth on much of Zizioulas.    I had suspected (back then) that there were weaknesses to Zizioulas, but I couldn’t put my finger on them.  I now think I can voice them better.  I have since come across Miroslav Volf’s After Our Likeness, which deals extensively with Zizoulas.

For Zizioulas, their is an asymmetry in the Trinity.  The Father as aitia (cause).  The Cause has to be a person, otherwise there would be no grounds for prioritizing person over essence.  The monarchia of the Father is the grounds of distinguishing the persons.  There is no mutual reciprocal causality, for then there would be no way of distinguishing the persons.  Volf wonders, though, why the monarchy of the Father is the only grounds for unity in the Godhead.  Whatever merits there are in Zizioulas’s construction, it is by no means clear that the alternative to his project is the prioritizing of substance.

In short, Volf writes,

“Zizioulas distinguishes between being constituted (the Son and the Spirit through the Father) and the Father being conditioned (The Father by the Son and the Spirit).  If one presumes that the Father alone is the constituitive entity within the Godhead, then, as we have already seen, it is difficult not to ascribe priority to the person before the communion.  If, on the other hand, one takes seriously the notion of the Father as conditioned by the Son and the Spirit, then the differences between the persons risk being leveled.  If the Father is conditioned by the Son and the Spirit, then he is constituted by them.  That is, he is God only as Father. As soon as one allows innertrinitarian reciprocity, the innertrinitarian asymmetry seems to vanish (After Our Likeness, 80).



Opening critique of Van Til

Smith, Ralph. Paradox and Truth: Rethinking Van Til on the Trinity.

NOTE: In the first few paragraphs I accidentally typed “divine essay” instead of “divine essence.” It should read “divine essence.”

The beginning of this essay will review Ralph Smith’s work on Cornelius Van Til as it relates to the Trinity.  As the essay progresses, more attention will be paid to Van Til’s Trinitarianism.  My critique seeks to be different for several reasons.  Most people who criticize Van Til focus on his apologetic method.  I really have nothing new to add in that department.

Smith’s goal is to compare and contrast the recent arguments of “social Trinitarian” Cornelius Plantinga with the unique approach of Cornelius Van Til. Supposedly, traditional Trinitarianism is stagnant and the insights of these two can revive it.

The introduction is somewhat humorous because Smith (rightly) bemoans the fact that Evangelicals have ignored the Trinity for essentially of their history, and if you take away the doctrine of the Trinity for Evangelicals, nothing will change in their day-to-day lives. At this point Smith begins reviewing Plantinga’s now-famous essay “The Threeness/Oneness Problem of the Trinity” along with a very brief survey of recent Evangelical developments of Trinitarianism. Smith wonders why none of these writers (Plantinga, Stanley Grenz, James Sire) discuss the work of Cornelius Van Til or even John Calvin. What Smith does not realize is nobody outside a microscopic subset of the Reformed world (which itself is already microscopic) has even heard of Van Til or let alone even cares. As for Calvin, contrary to what people might think, Calvin really didn’t say all that much on the Trinity. He simply repeated some conclusions while thinking he meant what the Fathers have always meant (a dubious proposition). Smith does rightly note that Van Til “stands in utter contrast to this tendency” (Smith, 2002, 18). We shall see. One suspects the irony is that Van Til will offer a solid critique of this failure but inevitably commit the same mistakes.

Before we begin we will quote a section from the falsely-named “Athanasian Creed,” which is referred to in this book:

“The Father is the Divine Essence; the Son is the Divine Essence, and the Holy Spirit is the Divine Essence, yet there are not three divine essences—but only one.”

Smith’s first chapter deals with Plantinga’s essay on the Trinity. Plantinga, following many recent moves in theology, suggests the West is fundamentally “modalist,” or something similar. Smith then reviews Plantinga’s charge by examining Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Karl Barth. In short: Augustine, due to his strong neo-Platonism and view of divine simplicity, said each person is synonymous with the divine essay. The conclusion is not hard to draw: if each person is identical with the divine essay, and the divine essay is absolutely simple and admitting of no distinctions, then each person is identical with the other. Ergo, modalism (24-26). Thomas Aquinas essentially hardens Augustine’s position. Each person is identical with the whole divine essence, yet we distinguish them by “relations of opposition,” with each person identical with his “relation.” Plantinga remarks, “If the Father, Son, and Spirit are taken as mere names for the divine essence…then this is modalism. If the statement means the Father, Son, and Spirit are taken as names of Persons, then the statement reduces persons to essences, which are abstract. Each person would be a set of properties and the three sets of properties are identical. The persons themselves would disappear” (27).

In some ways chapter two is the heart of the book: what did Van Til really mean about the trinity? Many of his critics, and not a few of his followers, have charged him with being innovative about the Trinity, with some saying he denies Nicea. As is always the case in intra-Reformed polemics, there is more heat than light and nobody knows what anyone is talking about. In some ways the discussion of this chapter will go beyond the scope of the book, since it is Smith’s most important chapter (his other chapters seek to avoid the absurdity of identifying all of God’s attributes with one another and the book ends with a call to a practical Reformed worldview. More on that later.).

I will go ahead and say that Van Til was not innovative on the Trinity, but rather restated the exact same thing Augustine said in close to the same language.i Remember, Augustine said that each of the persons was identical to the essence: the essence is identical to the attribute, and the attribute is identical to the person; ergo, the person is identical to the essence (Plantinga, quoted by Smith, 25). Van Til draws the Augustinian conclusion: the Trinity is one Person. Of course, Van Til realizes that the Trinity is also three persons, so he says that, too. Did Van Til contradict himself?  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that he didn’t.

I am quoting Introduction to Systematic Theology from memory for this next part, but I think it is fairly accurate.   Van Til goes on to say that the persons of the Trinity mutually exhaust one another.  Normally, Christian theologians would have said that the persons mutually exhaust the essence (e.g., fully posses the essence).  Van Til takes it to mean that they take on the characteristics of the other persons.  This is fundamentally wrong.  The Father does not take on the hypostatic characteristics of the Son, for the Father is not begotten!  Interestingly, this is precisely the critique Eastern Orthodox theologians make of the Filioque, and this is what critics of Van Til, who were correct to point out the error of his theology, failed to note (for they, too, held to the Filioque).

The reason that Van Til says the Trinity is one Person on one level is because he cannot fathom that the divine nature exists in “brute factuality,” and so posits the divine persons as what/who conditions the divine essence. In short, he wants to say that the “essence” is “personal.” More on that later.

The Covenant as the Missing Link

Smith suggests that covenant theology provides the missing link in Reformed Trinitarianism (73). He rightly suspects that Augustinian Triadology is at an impasse, and while he appreciates Van Til’s reworking of the Trinity, he notes it is still inadequate. He takes his definition of covenant from Jim Jordan (!!!!!!) as a “personal structural bond which joins the three persons of God in a life-giving community” (73). In one sense Reformed theology has always followed this principle in its doctrine of the Pactum Salutis, but Smith, following Abraham Kuyper, takes it even further.

Smith notes that traditional Reformed theology “proposes something Van Til objects to” (84), the idea that the essence of God is an impersonal substratum (it’s hard to follow the discussion at this point, since Van Til fully subscribes to the Augustinian view of divine simplicity). Without fully acknowledging the problem his definition of divine simplicity entails, Smith, in order to speak meaningfully about the attributes of God in a way that doesn’t simply reduce each to the other (and thereby make any talk of the attributes irrelevant, which is apparently the case), suggests that the “covenant” allows these words to really come into their expressive nature (85).

Following this framework, Smith goes on suggest that attributes like “love,” even the idea of “love,” make sense only in the context of “covenant,” a suggestion, which if flawed in the sense of placing an analogical limit on the Trinity, is fundamentally correct: love’s definition must come from the Bible, not from cheap, American culture.

Criticism and Conclusion

This book is both useful and frustrating. Smith has done an able job surveying and simply (no pun intended) explaining many difficulties in modern Trinitarianism. His discussion of Augustine’s unique revision of divine simplicity is remarkably helpful and succinct (even if Smith is unaware of his own presupposition). The book’s section on covenant has many helpful insights that detach “justification” from its forensic setting within Reformed theology (or better, to show that the forensic category is itself relational and covenantal). Smith utilizes humor where appropriate (the footnote response to Norman Geisler’s (and evangelicalism in general) neutered view of God and Politics is almost worth the price of the book!).

The book is frustrating because Smith (1) fully realizes the difficulty Augustine’s take on simplicity entails, but (2) never challenges it and assumes—without argumentation—that this is always what the Church has believed. With these two points he tries to resuscitate Van Til’s Trinitarianism: in other words, he/Van Til identifies Augustine’s problem, yet posit an equally problematic response and call the whole thing “a paradox.”

So, can one call the divine essence “personal?” St John of Damascus said that every heresy deconstructed on the same point: they all identify person and nature. What would a personal essence look like? Would it be ascribing personal attributes to the essence? Or rather, would it simply be tha that the essence has some abstract notion of “personality?” If the former then Van Til has added another person to the Trinity. If the latter, then he is back at the very thing he set out to reject: abstract notions of the Trinity.

While one should be very careful in reading modern notions of “personality/personalism” back into ancient expressions (a mistake Van Til appears to be making), there is a point of similarity, though: personality implies a person doing the acting/self-expressing/whatever, which leads us back to the main problem: it adds another person to the Trinity.

The next part of the criticism is the hardest to write: The Van Tillian project, if the above few paragraps are true, has failed and failed at the most fundamental level. If you err on the Trinity, while you may be personally holy person, your theology necessarily will be flawed in every point. Indeed, is not Smith’s claim that the Trinity should not only affect, but effect every other aspect of our theology? Indeed it should. I say this having spent seven years trying to orient my entire mental outlook around Van Tillian epistemology.
Smith seems to miss this point. He notes Van Til was innovative in saying that the persons of the Trinity “mutually exhaust one another” (whatever that means), but that’s not the point his critics charged him on: they thought Van Til was innovative in identifying the Trinity as one person—but that is precisely what Western Triadology has been tempted to, and sometimes explicitly says that!

J. B. Aitken

Doctrine of Corporate Person Defended

One of the newer weapons in the arsenal of some convert apologists is the “person-nature” distinction.  It basically argues that the person is the “who” that does the action.  The nature is the “what.”  On the most basic level it is a fine distinction.  One has to use it in Trinitarian theology.  Person isn’t nature, otherwise the Trinity falls apart.  Many Easterners, however, use this distinction as an architectonic template for all of theology.  Admittedly, it is quite attractive.  The most cogent defense of it is by Joseph Farrell (see the one on Babylon’s Banksters, Part Six–roughly 25 minutes into it).  In short, it goes like this:

  • The doctrine of the corporate person (by that he means something akin what the West teaches about all of man’s representation in Adam) confuses the person nature distinction.  It is defined by a group of persons who unite into one larger group of “person” by their respectivefunctions.
  • Obviously, this is the foundation for the medieval notion of the corporation.
  • Directly tied to Western conception of original sin.
  • The cash-value aspect of this is that I can’t be responsible for what another person does.

There is much wisdom in the above and the West certainly took the idea of the corporate person in extremely deleterious ways.  However, to say that it isn’t “biblical” or that it is “unfair” goes too far.  Let’s look at some texts.  I am deliberately leaving off Romans 5:12.  In 2 Samuel 21 David is being punished for Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites.  On a surface level at least, this is the clearest rebuttal to the idea that Federal Representation is unbiblical and unjust.  In 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, we see something akin to the body being defined by the functions of the members.  Granted, it’s not a 1:1 correlation of the corporate person.

While those who reject Federal Headship in Romans 5:12 can still do so on some exegetical grounds, I hope the above texts remove the objection that the idea of Federal Headship is unjust.  One man’s actions, so we see, can represent another’s.

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:  http://anthonyflood.com/farrellphotios.htm


Coming Review on Reformed Filioque Article

I was browsing EBSCO host today and came across an article in the Westminster Theological Journal.  It is titled “How Important is the Filioque for Reformed Orthodoxy?” by Mark Pugliese.   I have my initial response to it, which I will outline below, but I want to do a fuller response later.

The Negatives

There really isn’t much new in this essay.  He repeats a lot of the standard Western arguments (e.g., the immanent trinity is identical to the ontological trinity in every way, and even beyond that).  He assumes that Jesus’ breathing on the disciples proves Christ ontologically originating the Holy Spirit in eternity.  He does not argue this point but merely asserts it.  He spends about four pages demonstrating that the Reformed confessions adhere to the Filioque.  (I assumed this was a given).  About the only strong line of evidence he gives is a list of quotes from the Fathers that seem to profess something like the Filioque (of course, he is using a very crass version of the “word = concept” fallacy, but there are a few quotes to make one pause.  Ironically, the author believes Scripture is the ultimate–and practically only real–authority is Scripture, not the Fathers).  My ultimate beef is that the arguments in the paper do not live up to the title:  I want to see how Reformed theology depends on the Filioque, which is what the title suggest but does not deliver.


I’m fairly certain that only a handful of readers of WTJ recognized this, but Pugliese made very clear the connection between absolute divine simplicity and the filioque.  Of course, he didn’t spell this out in those specific words, but he did say that without the Filioque you could not tell the difference between the Son and the Holy Spirit.   I disagree, but I am glad he makes the connection (since the two depend on one another;  this is an important point because all of the Eastern Fathers he thinks supported the Filioque also rejected absolute divine simplicity).


Responding to Wayne Grudem on the Filioque

A dear and learned friend of mine gave me some advice while I am on my theological journey:  given my background in theology, and the various positions of which I am aware, I might have to spend extra time thinking through a lot of issues.   Practically, this means I have to do a lot of extra reading from Evangelical and Reformed sources.

Given that Triadology is a “deal-breaker” for me, I started reading Reformed and Evangelical accounts of the Trinity.   I’ve already discussed Ferguson and MacLeod, and I am about to discuss Grudem; I probably won’t do too many more on this topic since they tend to use the same arguments.

Wayne Grudem

Ten years ago his Systematic Theology was the second one I had read.  I haven’t read all of the evangelical systematic theologies (since a new one comes out every month), but I have read a lot and I still think Grudem’s remains the best, and it is officially used by dozens of evangelical and baptist seminaries.  Unlike other systematic theologies, Grudem’s doesn’t feel like one is reading a theological dictionary.  He can actually write (most academics can’t).   While Grudem’s arguments are not the most erudite, they are nonetheless representative of the Evangelical position.

The Filioque Footnote

That being said, there isn’t too much of an argument, and Grudem thinks the Filioque discussion is largely a waste of time.  He calls it a “insignificant doctrinal point” (246) and “an obscure point of doctrine” (247).

He argues, similarly to Ferguson and Macleod (though interestingly, Louis Berkhof does not make this argument), that what happens in the economy is necessarily an analogy to what happens in the ontological Trinity.  In other words, if the Son sends (Gk. pempso) the Spirit in time, this necessarily means the Spirit proceeds (Gk. ekpourei) from the Son in eternity.


1.  It is by no means self-evident that there is a 1:1 connection between the actions of the Godhead in time and in eternity.   Was the Logos literally crucified in the Godhead before the creation of the world?   Was the Logos eternally incarnated before the Incarnation?   On Grudem’s reading, one has to answer “yes.”

2.  Grudem’s entire argument rests on collapsing ekpourei (to proceed) back into pempso (to send).  But one is not allowed simply to start changing the definitions of words when it suits them!  The words do not mean the same thing and only deliberately reading 9th century Trinitarian controversies back into Christ’s saying can warrant such a move.

3.  Grudem accuses the Eastern Church of distancing the Logos from the Holy Spirit (247).  I’m not entirely sure what he means by this.  What he is probably trying to say is that without the Holy Spirit as the bond of love between Father and Son (but only in the manner of proceeding from both) is that there is no eternal relation between Son and Holy Spirit. If the Eastern Church opted for a strictly and only Photian reading of the Trinity, then Grudem might have a point.  However, that’s not all the East says on the matter.   The East says the Spirit is eternally manifested by the Son.  He exists from the Father but has existence from the Son.  The former denotes mode of origin and the latter eternal manifestation.

Turning it Around

While we are engaging in logical sleight of hands, does anyone find it curious that Spanish adoptionist heresies happened roughly the same time the Council of Toledo inserted Filioque into the creed? (cf.  Pelikan, 52-58).

Works Cited

Grudem, Wayne.   Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Papadakis, Aristidies.  Crisis in Byzantium: The Filioque Controversy in the Patriarchate of Gregory II of Cyrpus (1283-1289).  Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1997.

Pelikan, Jaroslav.  The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300).  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Filioque and Alchemy

Dr Joseph Farrell has noted that after the gap between the death of the last neo-Platonic magicisan—Iamblicus and the rise of the first modern occult order, the Knights Templars, alchemy and the occult emerged in a fully mature form.   This is rather odd since occultic movements develop gradually.  How did alchemy emerge fully mature in the absence of relatively 1,000 years?

Farrell suggests that alchemy went underground in the Christian West but was studied by philosophers and occultists who masked it with Trinitarian terminology, specifically that of the Filioque.  The following is from Farrell’s The Philosopher’s Stone. Unfortunately, I only have this book in the Amazon Kindle version, which makes it impossible to reference page numbers.

Patriarch Photios of Constantinople noted that the way the Trinity was formed in the West was more appropriate to “sensory things” than to theology.  In other words, it had a specifically “physics” veneer to it.

Following the topology from Hermes Trismegistus, we see a metaphor about God:  theos, tomos, and cosmos (God, space, and Cosmos).  These three are in turn distinguished by a dialectic of opposition based on three elemental functions, each of which implies its own functional opposite.

Farrell comments that alchemy survived the Middle Ages because it was often masked behind the language of the Carolignian Shield.  While the Filioque has openly neo-platonic roots, one can also see deep but largely unsuspected roots in Egyptian hermeticism.


Smashing Piper’s Dialectic

I think I have posted about John Piper’s implicit Origenism sometime in the past. Essentially, Piper said that for God to be glorious and Lord, there must be something for him to be Lord over.   It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this makes sin necessary and creation eternal and necessary.

Still, one could respond, “Well, God is Lord, isn’t he?”   This is an example of dialectical horns at their finest, and it is a question I have wrestled with for a while.

The answer lies in St. Gregory of Nyssa.   For Nyssa, and for most of the Fathers, God’s names are names of his attributes, not his essence.    We deny that God’s essence = his attributes, and we deny that God’s names = God’s essence.  God’s names, rather, = God’s energies.  God’s names he God’s acts (i.e., creation).   Yet we do not say that God’s acts are eternal.

Still, for my part, I don’t think this question is fully answered.  At first, I simply noted that John Piper (and his legion of Christian Hedonists) had simply rehashed old Origenism in a new light.  I didn’t answer the question, though.   Now, I’ve offered a new way out of the dialectical process.  Still, there is one or two other questions that remain to be answered.


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.