If the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, the Spirit is not only representing a Spirit, but God in flesh. And if the Spirit is representing the God-man Jesus, the Intercessor between God and man, then by necessity the central place in our theology is not an incomprehensible deity whom it takes certain mystical escape to worship, but a concrete person with Whom we can identify, comprehend, and imitate in everything He did, including His works here on earth.
(A lecture delivered to the conference organized by the Mid-Atlantic Reformation Society in July 2012.)
A Russian friend of mine who volunteered some time ago to translate Reformed articles into Russian wrote me and said, “I have a problem. I don’t know how to translate rule of law in Russian.”
I replied, “Sure there should be a way. Both words have analogs in Russian.”
“It’s not that,” he said. “The very phrase, in the Russian context, means something different than what it means in the Western context. In the West, it means law as a separate authority to which all must be subject, individuals and institutions. In Russia, ‘law’ means the government and its decisions; and therefore rule of law means rule of bureaucracy. I can translate it directly but the readers won’t grasp the true meaning. The same idea means different things.”
Faith has consequences.
I know, you all have heard a different phrase: Ideas have consequences. But that is wrong. Ideas are consequences themselves. They are not original causes. We give ideas a little too much credit for shaping our world. Ideas, as concepts, or products of our mental activity, are not creative; they are creatures themselves of something greater. True, many non-Christian thinkers have tried to attach great importance to ideas and ideologies. The socialist-occultist H.G. Wells, in his Outline of History, ch. 40, said that “Human history is in essence a history of ideas.” As we will see in the next lecture, history is not that; and in fact, since ideas are derivative of something else, to say that history is history of ideas makes as much sense as to say that history is history of technology, or history of forms of property. To focus on ideas, or to make history revolve around ideas, is to focus on the mind of man as the ultimate maker of history and of man himself. But the mind of man is shaped by something greater than itself; and that is the faith of man. Ideas, reason, science, do not appear of themselves, they are only a product of what a man believes about God or gods.
Tertullian, when discussing what the Greek ideologies have done to the Christian faith in his On the Prescription of Heretics, exclaimed in Chapter 7, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem!” He ends the chapter with the statement: “With our faith, we desire no other beliefs.” And then he continues building his thought on the faith he has learned “from the porch of Solomon.” Nothing else could be the foundation of his thinking, but faith.
That’s why I said, faith has consequences.
Every culture, of course, is based on faith. And every culture is exactly the product of what we can call the “official” faith, the faith that is taken for granted by the culture, and then every other faith is compared to it and declared “mainstream” or “heretical.” Even when a culture is officially based on rituals, or on scientific laws, or on ideological construct, it is still based on faith in the ultimate nature of God, man, law, history, and the future. The faith of the pagan societies is rather vague, lurking in the background of the unconscious, behind the thick veil of myths, legends, liturgical rituals, superstitions, philosophical mesh of sophistry and positivism. Pagans do not always realize how much their ideas are shaped by what they have chosen to believe. But whether they realize it or not, whether they admit it or not, they are still based on faith.
Christianity laid the foundation for a new kind of culture, a culture in which everything was self-consciously based on faith, thought, speech, and action. The new culture that Christianity built was a creedal culture from the very beginning, because form the very beginning of the Christian life a statement of faith was required above everything else: credo, “I believe.” Thus the creeds were important part of the practice of the early church; not only later, in the era of the Councils, but from the very beginning a confession of faith defined the Church and separated it from the world, and from the false churches. A vague faith, lurking in the background of the mind, in the shadows of the unconscious, wouldn’t do anymore. A defined, communicated, and communicable faith had to be at the very beginning of everything, for whatever was not of faith, was sin. Anything, not just the religious activity, but anything that was not of faith, was sin. And therefore everything had to be based on faith, clear, understandable and understood faith.
Hence the creeds and the councils of the early church.
But for the last several centuries the church has been unable to recognize the true, total, practical value of the creeds and the councils. We have looked at them as just some kind of religious code separated from the rest of life. We have looked at them as applicable to pure theology only. We have separated the history of the church from the history of the world and of civilization; letting the two go in their separate courses. We have studied the Creeds and the Councils only in the context of the development of our modern theological doctrines; we haven’t seen them as the foundation for our modern ideas about everything, from science to education to psychology to economics to government, and to the totality of our social order today. Pagans, of course, write their histories of philosophic thought without mentioning the creeds and the councils. Christian historians, devoted to keeping the two worlds separate, write histories of the church but seldom show how what the church believed actually created a new civilization. Ironically, and to our shame, some of the best studies on how Christian theology created the modern world are written by non-Christians. We tend to separate theology from history, faith from ideas, the creeds and the councils from the formation of our social order.
In short, we have been too busy looking for the ideas and their consequences; we have not been studying the faith and its comprehensive consequences in shaping our worldview. We have left the creeds and the councils for the church and our religious activities. But to the world outside of the church we have taken only our ideas. This is dualism: separating creeds from history, from ideology, and from practice.
In 1968 a unique book was published. The author was R.J. Rushdoony, and the title was The Foundations of Social Order: Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church. It was not only the most unique book of all his books; it was unique in the history of Christendom as well. No such book has been written before, and no such book has been written since. What was unique about it was the way Rushdoony looked at the creeds and the councils: not as pure theological exercise, as everyone had before, and continued to do after. The creeds and the councils were the foundation not just of modern theology but our modern social order as well. The ideas of liberty, limited government, dignity of the individual, rule of law, etc., were to be found in the decisions of the councils. For the first time ever a Christian author looked at this part of church history based on the concept of faith has consequences, and showed how all our modern ideas are simply an outworking – faithful or twisted – of what we learned from the councils. The heresies of the early church went far beyond mere religious disagreements; they were the foundation for statism, socialism, tyranny, worship of the state, government control, etc. And the orthodox creeds fought against this by standing for the orthodox faith, and therefore for the orthodox social order: liberty, habeas corpus, limited government, separation of powers and institutions, economic deregulation and low taxes, political and legal decentralization. Rushdoony showed in his book how the decisions of the Councils had direct influence into what people believed about the state, the family, the economic realm, science, etc. Very specifically, from the very beginning he laid out the thesis:
Biblical creedalism is an assent to God’s creation, redemption, and government; it is passive because it affirms an act of redemption by the triune God of which man is simply the recipient by grace. But this passivity is the ground of true activity: man under God moves now in terms of true law, in terms of the canon of the Scripture, to exercise dominion over the earth in the name of the triune God. Christian creedalism is thus basic to Western activism, constitutionalism, and hope concerning history.
“Christian creedalism is thus basic to Western activism, constitutionalism, and hope concerning history.” I would only add: Christian creedalism is what made the West the West, and continues to define it even today, even in its very twisted form, even long after whole populations in the West have openly rejected the faith behind the creedalism that defines their culture.
Based on what I said so far, my thesis here today is that the uniqueness of the West was based on one little word added to the Nicene Creed by later Councils both in the West and in the East – I emphasize, and in the East – about which there was no fuss or complaints fuss in the first several centuries. The word is filioque, from Latin, “and from the Son.” It has to do with the Person of the Holy Spirit, and his procession, whether He proceeds from the father only, or from the Father and the Son. The idea that the Holy Spirit “proceeds” is taken from John 15:26, “the Spirit who proceeds from the Father.” The original Nicene Creed from the Council in AD 325 read, “Who proceeds from the Father.” Western theologians and priests added a word: filioque, that is, “and from the Son.”
For over three centuries the church – in the East and in the West – used both formulas without argument. In the East, Cyril of Alexandria, Athanasius, John of Damascus, argued that the verses where Jesus breathed upon the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” plainly taught that the Spirit proceeded from the Son as well. A little known council of the Persian church, the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon of AD 410, confirmed the Nicene Creed but added that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son as well. (Several years later, the Nestorian controversy started in the Persian church; a stronger emphasis on the Trinity was needed.) In the West, where the remaining Arian influence required a much stronger declaration of the nature of the Trinity, all theologians affirmed the filioque and preached and used it almost immediately after Nicaea. Augustine, of course, was a “theologian of the filioque”; but the strongest supporter of the addition was his teacher, Ambrose of Milan. Having spent much of his life in a ruler’s family and then a provincial governor himself, trained in the art of civil government, Ambrose the church minister understood very well the practical necessity of including the filioque in the creed. The third Council of Toledo in AD 589 presided over by Leander, the older brother of Isidore of Seville, codified the filioque in the Western creeds, but no one in the East reacted with disapproval for almost 40 years.
It wasn’t until AD 638 that a heretical (Monothelite) Byzantinian Emperor – Heraclius – used the filioque as a pretext against the Western orthodox theologians in his attempts to impose his heretical views of Christ. Two centuries later Photios, a political power player (later canonized by the Eastern church) appointed to the See of Constantinople by Emperor Michael III in the place of the unlawfully deposed Patriarch Ignatius, revived the controversy. Ignatius had excommunicated the Emperor for adultery, and the Western church supported Ignatius. Photios revived the controversy for political reasons. And then, of course, the mutual excommunication between the Eastern and the Western churches in the Great Schism of 1054 was entirely for political reasons, with the filioque thrown in the debate as a theological excuse. In the centuries after that the Eastern churches changed their opinion about the filioque several times, depending on the political situation.
But my goal here is not to discuss the political reasons behind the controversy; nor even the theological virtues of any of the positions involved. Not to see what led to the controversy in the first place but what the consequences of it were, in terms of ideology, culture, and civilization. I want to see the social theory that the filioque produced, and therefore the social practice that followed from it. If Rushdoony is right that Christian creedalism is basic to Western culture in its totality, then an important difference in the faith statement, the credo, must cause an important difference in the culture itself between the West and the East.
What difference has it caused?
In order to understand it, we need first to understand the theological implications of this point of the creed. Theologians – even those in the West – usually limit the discussion to issues of the nature of that proceeding: what it means that the Spirit proceeds, and what kind of relationship this establishes between the persons of the Trinity. There are arguments as to whether the Spirit proceeds from the Son in the same manner He proceeds from the Father; the difference between the Greek words προϊέναι and ἐκπορεύεσθαι is invoked in the matter. We may never be able to understand the exact manner of that procession, and it is quite possible that we won’t be allowed to ever comprehend it. What is more important is for us to understand the issue involved: representation.
John 15:26, the verse which speaks about the procession of the Spirit, connects it very clearly to His economic function in the Trinity, as far as God’s creation is concerned: it is to testify of Christ, just as the disciples were supposed to testify of Him. The Greek word μαρτυρέω used in the text speaking of what the person has seen with His own eyes. The Spirit thus speaks what He has heard of Jesus, the same words that the disciples have heard of Jesus’s mouth, as He makes clear in the previous chapter, verse 26. The Spirit, being the Person of the Godhead Who is constantly with us today, and is constantly guiding us and illuminating our minds, acts as a representative of the Godhead, of the Father and of the Son. The relation of representation which has been so foundational and important for our human societies from the very beginning, did not originate with man; it was present in the Godhead in the very beginning, in the economic functions of the persons of the Godhead. We can talk about representation and delegating authority between persons in the human society today only because there is representation between the persons in the Godhead; and the Holy Spirit is the representative of the Father and the Son to us today. The Spirit’s procession is identical with His economic function.
But who does He represent? The East said, only the Father. The West said, not only the Father but the Son also. Or, if they didn’t say it that clearly, it was implied in their respective views of the procession of the Holy Spirit.
If the Spirit only proceeds from the Father, then He represents only the Father. And since the Father is a Spirit Himself (John 4:24), then we have a Spirit representing a Spirit. The representation remaining in the spiritual realm, we should expect that the revelation that comes from the testimony of the Spirit would remain strictly spiritual. A focus on the spiritual side of God would tend to separate the revelation of God from the material world; and, consequently, will leave us with little to say about our life in the material world. Even if the official doctrine doesn’t preach ontological subordinationism, the practical theology will tend to underestimate the work and the Person of Jesus Christ. We are creatures of flesh and blood, and Jesus had to “partake of the same” (Heb. 2:14) in order to free us; apparently the flesh and blood characteristic of humanity has an important part to play in our justification and sanctification. But if Jesus is not represented fully by the Spirit, then that participation was only temporary, as far as we are concerned; then in history, we are left with no intercessor of flesh and blood who communicates with us and with God. Consequently, whatever Jesus did while in flesh can not be revealed to us comprehensively, for the intercessory part of His ministry was to remain limited in time, and not related to us by the work of the Spirit.
But if the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, the Spirit is not only representing a Spirit, but God in flesh. And if the Spirit is representing the God-man Jesus, the Intercessor between God and man, then by necessity the central place in our theology is not an incomprehensible deity whom it takes certain mystical escape to worship, but a concrete person with Whom we can identify, comprehend, and imitate in everything He did, including His works here on earth. “What Would Jesus Do?” is a very Western principle, even if twisted in our day by pietistic sects; it did have a specific meaning for the Western Christianity, a meaning that was never adopted in the East. In fact, “What Would Jesus Do?” has no identifiable meaning whatsoever for an Eastern Christian. Such a question would presuppose a really intimate connection between the worshiper and Christ which can not be there if the Holy Spirit is not directly representing the Second Person of the Trinity. Christ could be imitated in the East only in the kenosis, the “self-emptying” of the believer of all material concerns, desires, and ethical struggles; the direction from the body to the spirit, emptying the body to be full in spirit. Whereas in the West, since God in flesh is represented and worshiped and obeyed, imitating Christ meant from the very beginning a movement from the spirit to the body, not emptying oneself of the physical flesh but filling the body with the Spirit, just as Christ was full with the Spirit while in His body.
The Second Person of the Trinity thus became the central figure in the Western theology, based on the filioque. Not just another saint in the Pantheon of saints, not just the biggest image in the sanctuary, among the smaller images of other venerated men, but a concrete person to be followed and imitated. Western theology thus separated radically from the East in that its focus now wasn’t on the kenosis but on the incarnation. It was the incarnation, God in flesh, the Word become flesh that was to guide the development of the Western worldview, not the emptying of the flesh. Incarnation became not only the foundation of academic and philosophical thought, it became the very foundation of Western theology. A redeemed man was supposed to be the Word incarnated, and what Western theologians meant by it was a life of practical wisdom and obedience. And therefore, a redeemed society was supposed to be the Word incarnated, and that meant a culture of practical wisdom and obedience. The Reformation did not start by challenging the theology of the Roman Church; it started by challenging its practice compared to its teachings; the Reformers required faith incarnated before they sat down to find what went wrong creedaly and theologically.
The Eastern Church was never able to understand why the hassle; the very notion of practical Christian living in what is essentially morally neutral realm, society and culture, is foreign to the East. The East wanted to empty itself of the flesh. The West wanted to fill the flesh with the Spirit, and make it live a holy life.
This had huge implications. And the implications were that the East, not having a concrete principle to reconcile body and spirit, developed a dialectic worldview where the demands of the spiritual realm had to live in an uneasy truce with the demands of the temporal realm. In the West, such dialectic wasn’t necessary.
Obviously, if the Spirit represents God in flesh, and if incarnation is made the foundation of all thought, then there is no dualism – and therefore no need for dialectical reconciliation – between the laws for the spiritual and for the physical world. The same spiritual laws govern both – unless, of course, we are willing to declare that the two natures in Christ were in a dialectical relationship, not perfect unity. (In fact, there are schools in the East who teach something like that. And remember, the Monothelite heresy I mentioned above was an attempt to resolve the supposed dialectical tension between Christ’s divine and His human will.) If the same spiritual laws govern all, spiritual and material world alike, then for our earthly life and experience we need no separate source of revelation or law. All we need is look back to the laws that govern our spiritual existence and experience, and apply them by case application to the material realm. There is one law for our heart and mind, and for our work and life. The faith of a man will be revealed in his works.
We should expect then the phrase “the Law of God” to mean different things in the East and in the West. In the East, since the human and the divine will of Christ are in a dialectical tension, then the Law will be a dialectical tension itself, and therefore there shouldn’t be any clear revelation as to what exactly the law for the material world and man’s activity in that world would be. An Eastern theologian who has developed the Eastern doctrine of the procession of the Spirit, shouldn’t have any clarity as to what the Law of God says to the temporal world. Only the spiritual aspect of the Law – or, to be precise, its mystical aspect, in regards to mystical piety and sanctification, not practical piety and sanctification – should be properly called “Law of God.” The laws for practical living should only be derived indirectly, through metaphorical deliberation, not through direct commandments and case applications. And indeed, the churches in Eastern Europe all publish their textbooks on the Law of God (theonomia). But these textbooks contain only instructions for painting images or building churches, information on the symbolic meaning of the clothes of the priests and the components of the liturgical rituals, and information on the lives of certain saints, focusing, of course, on hermits and their kenotic experience in the desert. What a Western reader would expect to see when he hears “Law of God,” is only contained in a small part where there are a few parables and stories, with deep mystical but shallow ethical content. As far as the judicial part of the Law is concerned, the Eastern Church seldom offers anything more than simplistic moralism.
In the West, on the other hand, the Law of God was taken to mean a different thing. It was a code for practical living and government; it was the foundation of social order. The Law of God became a rule for all life, a measuring rod (canon) for everything man thinks, says, and does. The church offered an alternative to the old pagan and imperial laws in the canon law, which was self-consciously – if imperfectly – based on the Biblical Law. The problem of dialectical tension between laws for practical living and laws for spiritual experience was absent as a rule, and re-appeared centuries later, with the lapse of the Western Church into ritualism and high-churchism. The same legal principles which governed our inheritance in Christ were used to form the laws for inheritance for earthly families; the same legal principles which were known to govern the marriage relationship between Christ and the Church were applied to the marriage code in the canon law. We as Protestants sometimes have a lot to say against Scholasticism, and for a good reason; but we often forget that the founder of Scholasticism, Anselm of Canterbury, opposed the mysticism of previous theologians, and worked to apply the Biblical worldview to many areas of life, including civil government and the institutional division of society. (He also rejected the mystical Platonic notion of his time that the original sin was transmitted through the lust of the intercourse, and declared lawful marital relationship to be holy, a small theological revolution which Luther took up and continued.) Western theology did not need outside sources to formulate law (Anselm repeated Tertullian’s and Augustine’s dictum, “I believe that I may understand”), and it did not need independent human agencies like the state or the extended family to produce social order. The laws for that social order were the same spiritual laws for the inner order in the soul of the redeemed man.
This led to the emergence of the most unique religious culture the world has ever seen: a culture of judicial religion. Of course, Israel had it in the old times, but not united with faith (Heb. 4:1-2). The West – especially after the 11th century – gradually turned into a judicial culture defined by a common faith, based on a transcendental Law independent – or at least nominally independent – of human interference. New concepts appeared, and among them the most important for the emergence of a judicial culture: the rule of law as separate from the rule by diktat or by the ruler’s whim. The Law assumed an independent existence in the new culture, an invisible presence which forced even the powerful of the day to comply with its demands. It was not a tool in the hands of the kings to perpetuate their power; it was the character of Christ embodied, presented in “flesh,” so to speak, in the body of the society. A judicial culture was created on the basis of a judicial religion, and the judicial culture established the practical sovereignty of God in history by establishing the sovereignty of His Law.
In the East, where Christ was not represented directly in the work of the Holy Spirit, the confusion of what the laws for the temporal realm were supposed to be grew deeper and deeper. If Christ, God in flesh, couldn’t speak directly to here and now, someone else had to speak. And someone else was the Emperor.
Thus, in the East, the dialectical tension between material and spiritual created by the limitation on the procession of the Holy Spirit eventually produced legislative dualism. God laid down the laws for the spirits; Caesar established the laws for the bodies of men. The church thus needed the state not as an institution under the Law of God; it needed it as a Legislator beside the Law of God, to fill in the void left when Word become flesh was given only a secondary place in theology. At the end, the state started legislating the Church itself; and there was no theological principle the Church could lean on to preserve its integrity. It was at the mercy of its political masters.
Faith has consequences. What started as an innocent difference in wording, by one word only, actually led over a long period of time to a huge and not so innocent difference in faith, then ideology, then social practice, then culture. The changes were not immediate, but even as early as the 9th and the 10th centuries it was visible. The Western Church was compiling the Canon Law; the Eastern Church was compiling the Lives of the Saints. The Western Church was fighting kings and emperors over the validity of the old royal/pagan laws; the Eastern Church was writing treatises on the emperors as divine legislators. The Western Church was developing the idea of practical imitation of Christ; the Eastern Church was developing the idea of the mystical imitation of Christ. Christ’s place in the representative work of the Spirit made the difference. The filioque made the difference.
Even in our societies today the difference is obvious, even though some places in the West have completely lost any memory of the creeds and the councils and of their value in shaping the Western civilization. We still have historical memory as a culture, as Rushdoony pointed in one of his articles, and we still live in the historical shadow of Christendom. I venture to say that no matter how it looks to us today, we will never lose that historical memory again: there is simply nothing it can be replaced with. Philosophical paganism is dead for all practical purposes, and political paganism never built civilizations. The importance of the Second Person of the Trinity in the foundation of the Western worldview is what made the West be what it is: a judicial society based on a judicial religion, as over against the dualistic society based on a mystical religion, as in the East.
It is important also to note that in some churches in the West who have surrendered their theological heritage to statism, there are moves to reject the filioque once again. This rejection is most determined in the Anglican Church, which for the last several centuries has been – much like the churches in the East – simply an arm of the state, an extension of the political power. In the 1980s the Church of England, and in the 1990s the Episcopal Church in the USA dropped the filioque from their creeds and from the Book of Common Prayer. The Ecumenical Movement – openly leftist and liberal and statist – also from the beginning rejected the filioque as divisive and unnecessary part of the faith. This shouldn’t surprise us; as an article of the faith it helped build the West into what it is. A return to the statism, tyranny, and heretical and pagan dominance of the pre-Christian ages must first deal with that specific part of doctrine which was most responsible for the legal and cultural revolution which gave us the foundations for liberty, rule of law, and worldview based on the incarnation of the Son of God.
Faith has consequences.
[Editor’s note: The link (URL) to the article source is unavailable and has been removed.]