St. Maximus on the filioque
January 21, 2008
St. Maximus the Confessor, Ad Domnum Marinum Cypri presbyterum (Letter to the priest Marinus of Cyprus), PG 91, 134D-136C.
“Those of the Queen of cities have attacked the synodal letter of the present very holy Pope (Martin I), not in the case of all the chapters that he has written in it, but only in the case of two of them. One relates to theology, because it says he says that ‘the Holy Spirit proceeds (ἐκπορεύεσθαι) also from the Son.’
“The other has to do with the divine incarnation, because he has written, ‘The Lord, as man, is without original sin.’
“With regard to the first matter, they (the Romans) have produced the unanimous documentary evidence of the Latin fathers, and also of Cyril of Alexandria, from the sacred commentary he composed on the gospel of St. John. On the basis of these texts, they have shown that they have not made the Son the cause of the Spirit — they know in fact that the Father is the only cause of the Son and the Spirit, the one by begetting and the other by procession; but [they use this expression] in order to manifest the Spirit’s coming-forth (προϊέναι) through him and, in this way, to make clear the unity and identity of the essence….
“The Romans have therefore been accused of things of which it is wrong to accuse them, whereas of the things of which the Byzantines have quite rightly been accused (viz., Monothelitism), they have, to date, made no self-defense, because neither have they gotten rid of the things introduced by them.
“But, in accordance with your request, I have asked the Romans to translate what is peculiar to them in such a way that any obscurities that may result from it will be avoided. But since the practice of writing and sending (the synodal letters) has been observed, I wonder whether they will possibly agree to doing this. One should also keep in mind that they cannot express their meaning in a language and idiom that are foreign to them as precisely as they can in their own mother-tongue, any more than we can do.”
The passage translated above originally appeared on the Catholic website http://praiseofglory.alabanza.com; this website apparently no longer exists, nor do I know the identity of the translator. I have revised the translation slightly.
St. Maximus the Confessor here denies that the Latin doctrine concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit — the teaching that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” — is heretical, as certain people in Constantinople, who held to the Monothelite heresy, were saying in his day. St. Maximus’s teaching here is not unambiguous, and both Orthodox and Catholics have claimed him as supporting their position; but at least this much seems clear: Maximus thinks that part of the reason why the Latin teaching sounds odd to Greek ears is that the Latin phrase has been translated into Greek in a misleading way; by using the Greek term ἐκπορεύεσθαι to translate the Latin procedere, the translators of Pope Martin’s document have given the impression to their Greek-speaking readers that the Latins regard the Son as an originating cause of the Spirit in the same sense that the Father is. In Maximus’s own restatement of the Latin teaching, the word προϊέναι (“coming-forth”) is used instead.
By using “coming-forth” instead of “proceed,” does Maximus intend to say that the Latin doctrine is true, provided that one understands “from the Son” as referring only to a temporal mission of the Spirit? That would be a Photian interpretation of what Maximus is saying here, but I think the passage can hardly bear that meaning: Maximus has lived in the West, and he doubtless knows that that is not what the Western Church, whose orthodoxy he is defending here, was saying.
What then about the claim that the Latin-speaking Church has not made the Son into a cause of the Spirit when it asserts that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son? How can that claim be squared with the decree of the Second Council of Lyons, that the Holy Spirit “æternaliter ex Patre & Filio, non tanquam ex duobus principiis, sed tanquam ex uno principio, non duabus spirationibus, sed unica spiratione procedit,” i.e., he “proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as though from two principles, but as though from a single principle; not with two spirations, but with a single spiration”? Some Orthodox claim that St. Maximus cannot really be defending the filioque in the sense in which that doctrine was understood in the medieval West, because Maximus explicitly affirms that the Father is the only cause in the Trinity; to speak of Father and Son together as constituting a single principle of the Holy Spirit’s procession, as the Council of Lyons does, seems to take away the Father’s position as sole cause.
Bessarion, in the fifteenth century, argued that, when St. Maximus says here that the Father is the “only cause,” he means “cause” in the sense of προκαταρκτικὴ αἰτία, that is, original, initial cause. By and large, that is Bekkos’s view, too; and I think that Bekkos is justified in seeing St. Maximus as supporting beforehand the position of the Greek unionists. For Bekkos, although Father and Son constitute a single principle of the Holy Spirit’s procession, the Father remains the sole cause, because all the Son’s causality gets referred back to the Father, according to St. Basil (see January 5th’s post, John Bekkos on unity of cause in the Trinity). Moreover, if one reads the minutes of St. Maximus’s final trial in Constantinople, it is very clear that one of the main reasons why the imperial government had St. Maximus’s tongue cut out was that he forthrightly upheld the authority of the Pope over that of the Emperor in deciding religious questions. To depict St. Maximus as anti-Western and anti-papal is to replace historical reality with a crude cartoon. All of that makes me think that the interpretation Bekkos and Bessarion give of this passage is essentially right, and that Mark of Ephesus‘s interpretation is basically wrong. St. Maximus, like John Bekkos, saw the filioque as orthodox.