Here at the Pappas Patristics Institute I’m having the chance to help with a course on the Filioque. The institute is held at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, though many of the participants come from a variety of religious backgrounds. It’s great to see such an interest in the Fathers.
In our Filioque course this morning we read some excerpts from Gregory Nazianzus’ oration on the Holy Spirit (31). He states that his purpose in writing this section is:
ἵνα τὸ ἀσύγχυτον σώζηται τῶν τριῶν ὑποστάσεων ἐν τῇ μιᾷ φύσει τε ἀξίᾳ θεότητος
“In order to safeguard the distinction of the three hypostases in the single nature and dignity of the Godhead.”
Thus, for Gregory, the issue is protecting the individual hypostases from Sabellianism, which he identifies in the same passage. He stresses John 15.26’s use of “procession” as a hypostatic quality of the Holy Spirit.
We also read a bit from Hilary of Poitiers in Book VIII of De Trinitate. Throughout he stresses the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. He makes the point that the Holy Spirit receives from the Son in Jn 16 and is said in 15.26 to proceed from the Father. Does the Spirit receive from the Son alone? Of course not. This would be absurd to Hilary. Likewise, does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father alone? Hilary would say no. Proceeding is like receiving in that both Son and Father participate.
The issue seems to be where one’s theological emphases are. For Hilary, he has to argue against Arianism. Arianism tried to say that the Son was of a different nature than the Father, overstating the distinction between the hypostases, so Hilary works to show the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. What the Father does, the Son does. Gregory, on the other hand, is dealing with Sabellians (Modalists) for whom there was absolutely no distinction between the hypostases, thus he has to stress the particular hypostatic qualities of each person within the Trinity. Therefore when he comes to Jn 15.26, he cannot say that proceeding (τὸ ἐκπορευτὸν) is like sending, giving, or any other term the Latins use, because that would wreck his argument. He has to find something in Scripture to keep the Holy Spirit hypostatically unique in order to fend off Modalism.
The instructor for the course made a good point concerning these texts: we’re essentially looking at a train wreck that won’t happen for another 400 years. The beliefs of each are wholly orthodox, but the trajectories of these texts point to future problems. As a Catholic, I’m quite happy to be here discussing these ideas with others, particularly my Orthodox brothers and sisters. We’re far from gathering around the altar and singing Te Deum, but it never hurts to truly understand the position of another.