Does the Holy Spirit proceed only from the Father—or also from the Son?
Protestants and Roman Catholics might immediately answer the latter and wonder why their Orthodox friends protest. Historically one of the major obstacles to Christian unity across the East-West divide, the Filioque—the part of the Latin translation of the Nicene Creed claiming the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son—still bedevils Trinitarian theologians today.
How can the church possibly achieve unity in the face of this dogmatic difference, implacable for over a millennium? Giulio Maspero shows us how the answer can be found in history. In the fourth century, when Pneumatomachians denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the Cappadocian Fathers came to a relational understanding of the most elusive person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit was conceived of as the glory and power eternally exchanged between the Father and the Son. In fact, this understanding is still fundamentally shared by Eastern and Western Christians. Examining Syriac traditions as an example, Maspero observes that both Syriac and Latin lack the linguistic precision to describe the nature of the Holy Spirit’s procession from the Trinity in the same way as Greek, hence the ambiguous Filioque.
Yet what might be seen on the surface as a mere translation error reveals deep questions about the triune nature of God. With rigorous theological argument, Maspero ultimately proposes a way forward for East and West—one based not on centuries of polemics, but on a common tradition established by the Greek Fathers. Essential reading for the ecumenically minded theologian, Rethinking the Filioque with the Greek Fathers takes a crucial step toward Christian unity.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Sarah Coakley
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: History or Theology?
1. Images and Models: Origen’s Legacy
2. The Turning Point: From the Third to the Fourth Century
3. The Pneumatomachian Crisis: Generation and Procession
4. Gregory of Nyssa: The Spirit’s Theologian
5. The Surprise: A Greek Filioque?
6. The Litmus Test: Syriac Theology and Translations
7. Another Surprise: Greek Psychological Analogies
8. Augustine’s Question: Western Metaphysical Poverty
Conclusion: An Ecumenical Proposal
“For centuries, theologians on both sides of the Filioque debate have used the patristic corpus as a weapon, each firmly believing that the fathers supported their position and each armed with dozens of prooftexts to prove it. In this remarkable book Father Maspero ‘flips the script’ and instead seeks to understand the Fathers’ trinitarian writings in context, especially in light of their battle against the Pneumatomachians. With objectivity, clarity, and great skill, the author guides the reader through the patristic corpus, East and West, demonstrating that there is something akin to a consensus partum on the active but not causal role played by the Son in the Spirit’s procession. In this way, Father Maspero shows a way out of the stale dialectic between procession ‘from the Father alone’ and procession ‘from the Son,’ between essentialism and personalism, and offers real hope that in looking back a new way forward may be found.”
—A. Edward Siecienski, author of The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy
“In Rethinking the Filioque with the Church Fathers, Giulio Maspero makes the compelling argument that the Filioque need not be viewed as the source of hopeless theological division. Rather, through an analysis of major Eastern Fathers, especially Gregory of Nyssa with his ontology of relations, Maspero makes the case that the Spirit’s double procession can be conceived of in a way that satisfies Western concerns for the Son’s immanent and economic role without compromising the Eastern concern for the monarchia of the Father who is first cause and source of all. Like the historical theologians of the last century whose study of medieval and early modern theories of justification opened the door for the lifting of anathemas between Catholics and Lutherans, Maspero challenges theologians to consider the possibility that East and West might come together affirming the Western Filioque grounded on classical Eastern pneumatology.”
—J. Warren Smith, Duke Divinity School
“After decades of ecumenical discussion, the topic of the Filioque remains a continuing source of disagreement. The best way forward is to take a step back, breathe deeply, and return to our common sources in the Patristic period. When we do so with a willingness to see the particular questions that shaped those writers, new options open before us. It is just such a journey that Maspero leads us; he is always attentive to modern debates, but ever drawing us back to the best of starting points. This text is a very welcome addition to the literature on this complex topic and can only serve to aid the dialogue between East and West.”
—Lewis Ayres, Durham University
“Reaching back behind the ‘Filioquist’ polemics of the medieval period to examine developments from Origen to Gregory of Nyssa and beyond, Maspero demonstrates how the main line of Greek Trinitarian theology saw an active, but not causal, role of the Son in the procession of the Spirit and also utilized psychological analogies, all within an epistemology of apophatic reserve. Maspero thus offers a way for East and West to share in the common mystery of faith—a very welcome offering indeed.”
—John Behr, University of Aberdeen