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; 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.

39 Responses to “St. Maximus on the filioque”

  1. No he didn’t. He denies that the Latins taught in that day a hypostatic origination with the Son being also a cause which is just the Augustinian and Carolingian doctrine. Go read Scienscki’s brilliant dissertation on this letter and it’s use at Florence. Mark of Ephesus put the letter forward as a basis of reunion, and the Latins denied because Maximus denied the Son was a cause, in any sense, of the hypostasis of the Spirit.


  2. bekkos Says:

    He denies that the Latins taught in that day a hypostatic origination with the Son being also a cause which is just the Augustinian and Carolingian doctrine.

    He (St. Maximus) denies that the Latins, in his day, taught the Augustinian and Carolingian doctrine. Who, pray, were the Latins that St. Maximus was defending, in that case? Can you name some of them? What is the evidence for supposing that a non-Augustinian teaching was the predominant Latin Christian viewpoint on the subject of the Trinity at the time St. Maximus was writing, and the viewpoint that he is defending in this letter? In particular, since St. Maximus is defending Pope Martin I (or, perhaps, Pope Theodore I), what evidence is there that these popes denied the Augustinian position? Don’t just refer me to a dissertation; give me some specifics, i.e., writers and texts. Who were these Latins who, in St. Maximus’s day, regarded St. Augustine as a trinitarian heretic?

    (Incidentally, it is not clear that the Son being a cause is the Augustinian doctrine. Aquinas says that the Greek tendency to think of trinitarian relations in terms of “cause” and “caused” is foreign to the Latin way of thinking, which deals simply with relations of origin. I suspect he’s right about that, and that the attempt to interpret what the Latins are saying in terms of “secondary cause” is obfuscation.)

    Go read Scienscki’s brilliant dissertation on the letter and it’s use at Florence.

    It sounds interesting; please give me a title.

    Similarly, you should go and read Alexander Alexakis on the history of the patristic sources used at the Council of Florence. In his article titled “The Greek Patristic Testimonia presented at the Council of Florence (1439) in support of the Filioque reconsidered,” Revue des Études Byzantines 58 (2000), pp. 149-165, Alexakis argues that the patristic florilegium used by the Latins at the Council of Florence, presenting Greek patristic texts favoring the Latin doctrine, originated with St. Maximus and his circle of Greek-speaking exiles at Rome in the seventh century. There are things in Alexakis’s argument that I don’t agree with, but the claim that this patristic florilegium goes back to St. Maximus seems sound. And, if it does, it is evidence that St. Maximus in fact is closer in his thinking on the Trinity to people like Bekkos and Bessarion than to people like Mark of Ephesus. Maximus sees the Latin and Greek doctrines to be compatible; Mark of Ephesus doesn’t.

    Mark of Ephesus put the letter forward as a basis of reunion, and the Latins denied because Maximus denied the Son was a cause, in any sense, of the hypostasis of the Spirit.

    I don’t have the book at hand, but I distinctly remember reading in Gill’s The Council of Florence that this letter of St. Maximus to Marinus formed a central part of Bessarion’s argument for union; Bessarion claimed that, if St. Maximus sees the Latins as orthodox, then we should see the Latins as orthodox; if St. Maximus sees the Latins as not viewing the Son as a distinct cause, then we should not see them as doing this, either. This letter seems to have played a fairly large role in Bessarion’s reasoning; to say that “the Latins denied” this letter seems false; they undoubtedly denied the interpretation Mark of Ephesus was putting on it, which was that the Son has no role whatsoever to play in the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit; the Latins could not affirm that without denying all of Latin patristic tradition and most of Greek patristic tradition as well.

    When I say that St. Maximus, like John Bekkos, saw the filioque as orthodox, I do not mean that he thought we should all become Augustinians and replace Greek patristic tradition with Latin thought. I mean that he saw the Augustinian doctrine and the traditional Eastern teaching as compatible. In one of his letters, St. Maximus writes:

    We do not bring forth mere sounds without signification, but along with the sounds we signify conceptions. Because of this, I have often found the godbearing fathers to run counter to one another in sound, but never in meaning; for the mystery of our salvation does not consist in syllables, but in notions and realities. Those whose minds are set upon the notions make peace, while, by the realities, they establish souls in the truth.

    I think St. Maximus holds Augustine, who was recognized as a saint by the ecumenical councils, to be one of the “godbearing fathers.” You evidently don’t. I think you’re wrong.

    Your argument about St. Maximus is based on the myth of the non-Augustinian West, the West that avoided the Augustinian defilement and remained Orthodox in a Photian sense. There are others who push this myth; Jean-Claude Larchet is probably the most educated of the ones that I’ve read, but it’s still nonsense. When I compare St. Maximus’s irenicism and good sense with the bombast coming from Mark of Ephesus, of which you recently gave a choice sample on your blog, I think one would have to be embarrassed to equate the one with the other. I would agree that Maximus strives to balance the Western point of view with an Eastern perspective. But the view that Maximus is anti-Augustinian, a defender of the pure East against Western defilement, is, as I have stated above, an an-historical cartoon.

    The simple fact remains that, in this, one of the earliest witnesses to a dispute between East and West over the filioque, St. Maximus defends the Western teaching as orthodox.

    One last point. St. Maximus, in his Question 63 to Thalassius (PG 90, 672), writes, “For just as the Holy Spirit exists, by nature, according to substance, as belonging to the Father, so also does he, according to substance, belong to the Son, in that, in an ineffable way, he proceeds substantially from the Father through the begotten Son.” That might be a better statement of the point St. Maximus is making in the letter to Marinus. The “from” properly belongs to the Spirit’s relation to the Father; the Father is the Spirit’s originating cause. But the “through” of the Spirit’s relation to the Son is not negotiable; it is not just something accidental to the Spirit’s being. It belongs to the Spirit’s existence that he exist from the Father, through the Son. The Latins, St. Maximus says, because of their difference of language, express this in terms of the Holy Spirit’s being from the Father and the Son. He says that this is orthodox. You evidently think otherwise.


  3. A. Edward Siecienski. “The Use of Maximus the Confessor’s Writing on the Filioque at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–1439).” Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Dissertation Services, 2005.

    You may also want to peruse the book: “Crisis in Byzantium: The Filioque Controversy in the Patriarchate of Gregory II of Cyprus (1283–1289),” by Aristeides Papadakis, published by Fordham University Press in 1983.

  4. Pfft…you don’t have anything to offer here that isn’t fully dealt with in Siecienski’s dissertation (a Roman Catholic)–the bearers of Maximus’s trinitarian lineage are traced through Gregory of Cyprus (how ironic!) and Gregory Palamas. He gets some things wrong with regard to Photios and Mark (He argues that they don’t have a fully developed eternal energetic procession as Gregory of Cyprus, yes THAT Gregory of Cyprus, and Gregory Palamas; I think Siecienski is wrong on that point since Mark was EXCLUDED from discussing the essence-energy distinction by the emperor when demanded to do so by the Latins–the debate between he and Montanero was turning about that distinction), but the argument you are using to support Maximus he argues *directly* against. In the mean time, I don’t have the time to go do your homework for you when a monograph is out there that deals these exact questions.

    Two books you need to read:

    Free Choice in Saint Maximus the Confessor – Joseph P. Farrell

    “The Use of Saint Maximus the Confessor’s Writings on the filioque at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439)” – Edward A. Siecienski


  5. Rusty Says:

    uhm, you still didn’t give the man a title of the dissertation that he *must* read. Heh.

  6. bekkos Says:


    Thank you for the bibliographical information. I knew Farrell in graduate school, and have no personal animus against him. But I found his introduction to the Mystagogy tendentious, and his translation of Photius’s treatise sloppy and inaccurate in places; this led me to think, perhaps wrongly, that I would not learn much from his study of St. Maximus on free will. As for doing my homework for me, I never requested that of you, sir. That you answer uncivilly suggests that you are unable to give an honest reply, and would rather brush people off with an air of superior wisdom than attend to their questions. I will look for the Farrell and Siecienski books, and see if they make any plausible case for the things they assert — and if, in some way, they address my objections to your position, since you do not condescend to do so yourself.


  7. Peter,

    Tendentious or not, every writer has a purpose. There is no non-tendentious piece of writing. You as a patristic scholar should know better than to toss out such a notion. The man also has a revised translation of that work, but I prefer that a person get the conceptual ground right more so than the absolute syntax. None I’ve seen are as good as Farrell here.

    I was short with you because it’s quite easy to see some fundamental mistakes here that you are making with regard to Maximus and I get tired of the usual RC that comes to my blog that “knows better.” I came to the same conclusion independent and prior to ever reading Siecienski dissertation. It’s just worthy of note that someone came to that conclusion on the RC side of the fence. I do not have the time or the space in a blog post to do justice to your request.

    Anyways, it’s not hard to see that Augustine’s Neo-Platonism influenced his doctrine of God. Absolute divine simplicity seemed to be the driving factor for him otherwise he would not have confuse person and nature as badly as he did, and it is not difficult for the honest reader to see it incompatible with Christian doctrine and really just pagan.


  8. bekkos Says:


    I would agree that the question of absolute divine simplicity is not likely to get clarified in a few blog comments. I would also agree that Augustine’s Neo-Platonism influenced his doctrine of God in an important way — as Platonism influenced most of the fathers in one way or another; certainly one can see such influence in the Cappadocians, and Dionysius the Areopagite, and Maximus the Confessor, and in much of the ascetic tradition of the Eastern Church. The basic question you are raising is whether Augustine’s doctrine of absolute divine simplicity amounts to, in the final analysis, a pagan deformation of Christian teaching or a legitimate Christian appropriation of a philosophical theme.

    It may well be that there are problems with Augustine’s thought; I wouldn’t want to have to defend everything he says, e.g., about the malice of infants at the breast. More to the point, I think his movement, at the beginning of the De Trinitate, to interpret Old Testament theophanies as manifestations, not of the Son, but of any one of the persons of the Trinity indiscriminately, does have serious implications. But, on the question of divine simplicity, I think Augustine is less of an innovator than you and Farrell make him out to be, and I certainly wouldn’t call him a pagan. In brief, I think that Augustine is a rather idiosyncratic, logically overzealous, but essentially conservative exponent of traditional Latin Nicene orthodoxy. To get a sense of what Augustine is up to, I think one has to be aware of the differences between Latin and Greek Christian thought that already existed before him, and the differences between various schools of Greek Christian thought, some of which he was closer to and from some of which he was further away.

    Since I’ll assume you have a fair background in the history of doctrine, I will simply say that it seems to me that Augustine is closer, theologically, to that school of thought in the East (sometimes designated “Old Nicenes”) that took hypostasis and ousia as being, if not completely synonymous terms, then at least nearly synonymous, such that it remains right to say (as the original Creed of Nicaea said) that the Son is begotten ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρός, from the substance of the Father, and that he is not ἐξ ἄλλης οὐσίας ἢ ὑποστάσεως, out of some other substance or hypostasis. The Latins always took hypostasis to mean, in the first place, what they themselves meant by substantia, since the Greek and Latin terms were cognate; and they were always pretty suspicious about the Greek attempts to interpret hypostasis to mean what they themselves signified by persona; they thought it veered on a sort of tritheism.

    What is vital to take into account, and what Farrell, I think, does not sufficiently take into account, is that the fathers of the fourth century, men like St. Athanasius and the Cappadocians, were vitally aware of the problem of misunderstanding both between Greek-speaking Christians and between Christians of East and West. In 362, at the council of Alexandria, St. Athanasius accepted the homoiousians as holding essentially the same faith as the strict Nicene Christians; and this policy of his was lauded and followed by men like St. Gregory the Theologian. Even though there may actually have been some fairly serious intellectual differences between Old Nicene and New Nicene groups, St. Gregory held it necessary to minimize those differences and to assert that their differences were essentially verbal; both believed in the real distinction of the Three and their real Unity.

    In certain respects, I think St. Gregory’s doctrine of divine unity is very comparable to that of Augustine. Both of them, I think, see two aspects to that unity: one can consider unity among the persons of the Trinity both from the point of view of the persons in their relations to one another — and in this sense, as Gregory says, “the unity is the Father, from whom, and to whom, the order of persons runs its course”; and, on the other hand, one can consider this unity with respect to each person, viewed in himself, or in relation to himself. Viewed in himself, what one sees in each of the divine persons is the one Godhead, which is the same in each, and in all three. My study of St. Gregory’s poems and other writings persuades me that this is how he actually views the question of divine unity; and it is very similar to the way Augustine later treats the same question, when, in the De Trinitate, he differentiates between viewing the persons ad aliquid (=πρός τι) and ad se — that is, between viewing them in relation to each other, and viewing them in themselves or in relation to themselves (De Trinitate V.6.7). In both writers, relation to the other is the sphere in which one recognizes the person; relation to self is the sphere in which one recognizes ousia, the common nature.

    If Augustine is able to say that the persons, in some sense, are really identified with the nature that they share, Gregory is able to say this, too. “For the Godhead is one in three, and the three are one, in whom the Godhead is, or to speak more accurately, who are the Godhead” (or. 39.11; PG 36.344D; NPNF ii.7, pp. 355f.).

    Perhaps that is enough for the present note. It is certainly does not suffice for a demonstration; but I think it gives evidence in favor of the possibility that, even on issues of divine simplicity and the differentiation between person and nature, Augustine is not quite as foreign to the thought of the classic fathers of the Greek Church as Joseph Farrell and you make him out to be. It is the lack of consideration for evidence like this in Farrell’s introduction to Photius’ Mystagogy that makes me describe that introduction as tendentious. Augustine has his own idiosyncrasies, and things in which most Christians would not want to follow him. But he is not a pagan. And I don’t think St. Maximus took him to be one.


  9. Peter,

    Let me ask you a question. Do you think you are clear just exactly what our objections to the filioque are and what those objections are related to? They go much much deeper than canonical issues that are usually deployed by some Orthodox. If you know Farrell and his work, like you say you do, you should be able to list them fairly easy. Before I invest anymore time here on this matter, I’d really like to see your familiarity of what you think the problem is here.


  10. bekkos Says:


    I have to drive to Boston in a few minutes, and do not have a copy of Farrell’s book with me, so I shall speak briefly and from memory of what I read some years ago. Farrell’s point is that the doctrine of absolute divine simplicity introduces into Christian doctrine a kind of necessitarian emanationism that undermines the notion of divine freedom. He thinks (as does Photius) that the Filioque, by confusing the notions of person and nature, removes any rational explanation for the Trinity being confined to the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; at least implicitly, it suggests that the Holy Spirit, if divine, should be cause of another divine person himself, and so on ad infinitum. Farrell’s contention, in the Introduction to the his Mystagogy translation, is that that is precisely the schema of Neo-Platonist emanationism, a kind of necessary overflowing of divinity into lower and lower levels, until one reaches the mundane level of material being. He thinks that is what Augustine’s teaching on the procession of the Holy Spirit implies. He thinks it is the hidden basis of everything that is wrong with the West.

    My point, which you describe as canonical but is, I think, theological, is that, first, Augustine does not invent the teaching that the Holy Spirit owes his existence, not only to the Father, but also, in some way, to the Son; this was already standard Latin theology, and the theology of many Greek Christian writers; second, the background to Augustine’s Filioque doctrine is at least as much the disagreements, within orthodox Christianity, over the meaning of substance as it is any dependence upon a Neo-Platonic schema; third, fathers like St. Athanasius and St. Gregory recognized that such disagreements about substance did not necessarily entail that one group was orthodox and the other heretical; fourth, my guess is that they would have applied this irenic principle to Augustine’s thought on the Trinity, and would have found an acceptable interpretation of it, and that this is exactly what St. Maximus, in his letter to Marinus, is doing some centuries later.

    Doubtless I have not reproduced here all the fine points of Farrell’s argument, and have not mentioned the whole essence/energies aspect of the question; nevertheless, I think I have sufficiently stated his main point. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get on the road.


  11. Incidentally, it is not clear that the Son being a cause is the Augustinian doctrine. Aquinas says that the Greek tendency to think of trinitarian relations in terms of “cause” and “caused” is foreign to the Latin way of thinking, which deals simply with relations of origin. I suspect he’s right about that, and that the attempt to interpret what the Latins are saying in terms of “secondary cause” is obfuscation.

    I can’t figure out what is scarier: that stubborn insistence on a particular metaphysical account of causality has been the primary reason for a Church-rending schism or that there are still people willing to accept counter-factual conspiracy theories to avoid accepting it.

    The real irony is that the men who were most hesistant to throw gasoline on this particular bonfire (i.e., the Popes Leo, Vigilius, and Honorius) are vilified, while the ones who were probably talking out of turn in terms of understanding Western theology (i.e., Photius, Mark Eugenicus, and Gregory Palamas) are revered. One can argue that the latter had better excuses than the former, but we in the West can at least admit the mistakes of the Popes in understanding the East. But the notion that the filioque or the psychological analogy might be misunderstood when parsed in terms of Platonic causality is treated as heresy, no matter how strong the facts to support it!

    Blessings on your endeavor to restore some reason to the dialogue on this subject, even if some people don’t want to hear it.

  12. Peter,

    Those things are all true, and how Western Christian doctrine, whether Protestant or Catholic, have found solutions to those problems doesn’t seem apparent to this writer or Farrell. In fact, they keep reoccuring and re-producing themselves in theology. Why do the Origenist problematic(s) not reproduce themselves anymore after the Triumph of Orthodoxy?

    The question is how those things came about in Western Theology. I mean what you say is true about what Farrell thinks about divine simplicity, but the issue is deeper and traced more carefully in Free Choice in Saint Maximus the Confessor and then even more in a global scale of all heresy in his monster work God, History, and Dialectic. Here the title removes the mask somewhat. We see the reproduction of these problems being a product of a disordered relationship between faith and reason. That is, the adoption of dialectical theology as being the path to solving theological questions. Dr. Farrell traces the path and adoption and it’s trends of rejection both east AND west in his work. I wrote about this relationship in a paper about Trinitarian structures in Gregory of Nyssa and Eunomios (which I think I could’ve replaced with Augustine with some different nuances) that you might find interesting. Do a search on my blog if you are interested…

    I believe Eunomius and Augustine represent two sides of the same coin of Triadological dialectics that Photios was aware of. Augustine along the path of Sabellianism (or what Photios accorded “Semi-Sabellianism”) and Eunomios in Polytheism. The former in his view of what we might think if we start from abstract concepts (a divine “essence”) and the latter far more dogmatic in reducing Persons to Beings.

    Once you get the overall paradigm, trend, and structure down of how we do theology, I don’t see HOW on a theological basis you can read Maximus as thinking that manifests (proienai) means a hypostatic origination of a person or even on an exegetical basis either as from an Uncaused-Cause or a Caused-Cause.

    Another error that you are making is that manifests, coming-forth pigeon holes me into a strict economical reading of the text that you accuse Photios of doing between theology and economy. Though I believe Photios wasn’t addressing the issue of the common energy manifested in and through the persons of the Trinity as this relates to Theology (rather dealing with the Carolingian confusion of principle and cause in the Trinity), the direct question IS dealt with by Gregory of Cyprus and Palamas in which they draw on Maximos and the Cappadocian Fathers where this eternal energetic procession is in form. I find there thinking far more harmonious on the topic and makes better since of the not only of the grammar but also of the overall grid that they assume from Maximos and the Cappadocian Fathers.


  13. “We declare that when holy doctors and fathers say that the holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, this bears the sense that thereby also the Son should be signified, according to the Greeks indeed as cause, and according to the Latins as principle of the subsistence of the holy Spirit, just like the Father.” –Council of Florence

    I can easily replace what I said about “cause” and say “principle” in doing theology whether Latin or Greek. The argument stands. On this question at least in understanding patristic theology about transplanting the concept of “principle” and “cause” from one to the other, Florence is correct.


  14. And Latin doesn’t deal with Relations of Origin, it deals with relations of opposition. Opposition is what constitutes the persons for Aquinas, instead of the PERSONS and their PERSONAL PROPERTIES being the BASIS of the relationship.


  15. “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….”

    Here’s the other reason Maximos has the energetic procession in mind. He says unity and identity of essence. In other words, He’s talking about a procession that the persons’ have IN COMMON. All of them, because the essence is absolutely in common. To take Bekkos’ route or the Latin interpretation, is awkward and makes no sense to say that the unity of essence is had by the Father and Son and Spirit if the Spirit isn’t also included as a Principle and Cause too of His own procession, otherwise there is no union of essence. But that is a sufficient reductio of that thinking…


  16. bekkos Says:


    You say a number of things in the foregoing comments. I will try to respond to a few of them.

    First, a simple point. You write:

    And Latin doesn’t deal with Relations of Origin, it deals with relations of opposition. Opposition is what constitutes the persons for Aquinas, instead of the PERSONS and their PERSONAL PROPERTIES being the BASIS of the relationship.

    If I am not mistaken, Aquinas teaches that relations of opposition, in the Trinity, are founded upon the fact of “procession,” i.e., upon one person’s originating from another. “Relations of opposition” simply means that, to be a person, one has to be the person one is and not somebody else. Father is neither Son nor Holy Spirit; Son is neither Father nor Holy Spirit; Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son. To that extent, the persons are opposed, i.e., logically distinguished from one another. Aquinas, like most Latin theologians, thinks that this logical differentiation presupposes, in the Trinity, origination; he thinks that, if a relation of origination were lacking between two divine persons, these persons would be insufficiently distinguished from one another.

    It is not only Thomas Aquinas, or Latin theology, that thinks this. St. Gregory of Nyssa himself, in his work On the Lord’s Prayer, Book III, points to the necessity of differentiating between Son and Holy Spirit through (arguably) some sort of relationship of origin between them. He says:

    “Now, as it is common to the Son and the Spirit to exist in a not-ungenerated way, in order that no confusion arise as to the underlying subject, one must again seek out the unconfused difference in their properties, so that both what is common may be preserved, and what is proper to each may not be confused. For the one is called by Holy Scripture ‘the Only-Begotten Son of the Father,’ and the word leaves his property at that; but the Spirit both is said to be from the Father, and is further testified to be from the Son” [or, according to some manuscripts, “of the Son”]. For, it says, ‘if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (Rom 8:9). Therefore the Spirit, who is from God, is also the Spirit of Christ; but the Son, who is from God, neither is nor is said to be ‘of the Spirit,’ nor does this relative order become reversed.”

    At the very least (that is, even if one rejects the reading that contains the word ἐκ, although that reading is found in some very old manuscripts), St. Gregory of Nyssa is saying here that a relation has to be posited between the Son and the Holy Spirit if one is really to distinguish between them; further, the result of identifying such a relation is that an order of the persons is established. Both the Son and the Holy Spirit are from the Father; but the Holy Spirit is properly said to be of the Son, and not vice versa. One of the objections that has been made to Photian theology is that it makes any objective order of the persons unthinkable; indeed, Nilus Cabasilas in the fourteenth century explicitly declares that the order in which the persons are conventionally stated (Father-Son-Holy Spirit) has to do only with the way the persons are manifested to us in time and has nothing to do with who they are in their eternal being. Whatever St. Gregory of Nyssa is saying in the above-cited passage, he is not saying that.

    The view of Nilus Cabasilas, that trinitarian order relates only to us, not to the persons in themselves, strikes me as coming dangerously close to subjectivism, and it arguably illustrates the danger some people have seen in this “energies of the Trinity” language. If what proceeds eternally through and from the Son is, not the Holy Spirit himself, but the Holy Spirit’s manifestation (as Gregory of Cyprus put it) or energy (as Gregory Palamas preferred to state it), and if it is the reception of such energy or manifestation that is the content and goal of Christian experience, then the reception of the energy seems to take the place of the concrete reception of the person of the Holy Spirit. And together with this displacement of the person, the basis of our knowledge of God as Trinity, arguably, is undermined. Why do we confess God as Trinity? Because we know the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Our knowledge of God as Trinity presupposes that what dwells in us is, not an energy lacking hypostasis, but the person, or hypostasis, of the Holy Spirit, who (to be sure) manifests his being in us in an energetic, active way, through working in us spiritual gifts. If the Holy Spirit’s manifestation or energy is eternally through or from the Son, but the Holy Spirit’s person is not eternally through or from the Son, then it becomes unclear just what the Holy Spirit’s manifestation manifests.

    The claim I think Bekkos is trying to make is that there is no getting around the Son when one tries to think of the being of the Holy Spirit. There is an order of the persons, and this order of the persons is real; it pertains to their being, not just to their manifestation. We trust the manifestation to manifest who they really are. St. Athanasius says that, as the Son is the image of the Father, so the Holy Spirit is the image of the Son. St. Basil says that it is through the Son that the Holy Spirit is joined to the Father. Bekkos is simply insisting that this order, this “through,” is not expendable.

    How is this necessary “through” to be expressed in terms of cause? If one says that the Son is a “cause” of the procession of the Holy Spirit, does one not then contradict what St. Maximus says in this letter to Marinus, that “the Father is the only cause of the Son and the Spirit”? But if, on the other hand, one says that the Son is not in some way cause of the procession of the Holy Spirit, how is this “through” necessary? Gregory of Cyprus tries to get around the problem by asserting that “through” refers to manifestation, not being. Bekkos sees that as a non-solution, for two reasons: first, by introducing a separation between God’s being and God’s self-manifestation, it undermines the basis of our trusting that self-manifestation to manifest who God really is; secondly, it also fails, in Bekkos’s view, to make sense of what the fathers actually say about the Son and Holy Spirit. St. Gregory of Nyssa, for instance, towards the end of the first book of his Contra Eunomium, speaks of the Son as being prior to the Holy Spirit “only in a theoretical way, in respect of cause.” Again, the fathers frequently speak of the Father, in a strictly trinitarian context, as “first” or “initial cause,” προκαταρκτικὴ αἰτία, a usage which, in itself, suggests that there is also a causality in God that is not first or initial. It is probably again worth quoting St. Gregory of Nyssa:

    “While we confess the invariable character of the nature, we do not deny the difference in respect of cause, and that which is caused, by which alone we apprehend that one Person is distinguished from another; — by our belief, that is, that one is the Cause, and another is of the Cause; and again in that which is of the Cause we recognize another distinction. For one is directly from the First, and another by (διὰ) that which is directly from the First; so that the attribute of being Only-begotten abides without doubt in the Son, and the mediation (μεσιτεία) of the Son, while it guards his attribute of being Only-begotten, does not shut out the Spirit from his relation by way of nature to the Father.”

    In this passage from the work To Ablabius: On Not Three Gods, St. Gregory of Nyssa affirms the necessary mediation of the Son, not only as regards the Holy Spirit’s manifestation, but also, plainly, as regards the Holy Spirit’s being. He moves from speaking of the “Cause” to speaking of the “First” (the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers translation probably begs the question by translating this as “first Cause”). He differentiates between those who are Caused: there is one who is caused immediately from the Father (the Son), and one who is caused from the Father in a mediated way (the Holy Spirit). Does this mediation of the Spirit imply a differentiation also in the Cause? Would the Holy Spirit be caused by the Father in a mediated way if the Son in no way participated in the Father’s causality?

    For Bekkos, as I have said before, a passage from St. Basil the Great is key. When the Father is spoken of as “only Cause” in the Trinity, it does not mean that the Son has no causality, but that all the Son’s causality is referred back to the Father. Essentially, Bekkos has a choice: he can say, with Photius, that “cause” is an incommunicable attribute of the Father, and, in that way, deny that there is any real mediation of the being of the Holy Spirit; or he can say, with St. Basil, that any causality ascribed to the Son in the procession of the Holy Spirit is referred back to the Father, the προκαταρκτικὴ αἰτία. The former choice consigns the entire theological tradition of the Christian West to the rubbish bin of history, along with much of the theological tradition of the Christian East; the latter choice sees the theological traditions of the Christian East and West to be essentially compatible. Bekkos takes the latter choice. And that view of the Son’s causality is doubtless what the bishops at the Council of Florence also had in mind when they declared that, “when the holy doctors and fathers say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, this bears the sense that thereby also the Son should be signified, according to the Greeks indeed as cause, and according to the Latins as principle of the subsistence of the Holy Spirit, just like the Father.”

    At some point, perhaps, I will take a look at your essay on St. Gregory of Nyssa and Eunomius. For the time being, however, I have to say that you are mostly ignoring the points I have been repeatedly making in previous responses to you — such as the point that Augustine did not invent the idea that the Holy Spirit has some ontological dependence upon the Son, and the point that there were different understandings of substance even among the fathers, and that, nevertheless, the fathers labored to preserve the unity of the Church and to remain in communion with one another, as well as the point that, since Maximus is plainly defending the Latin-speaking Church and its trinitarian usage in his letter to Marinus, then the burden of proof is up to you to produce evidence that the Latins he is speaking about share your own anti-Augustinianism. I could perhaps go on here and reply to other points you are making in some of your latest comments. But I doubt that it would change your mind, and I don’t feel like repeating myself.

    I would only add one thing. Theology, as the fathers repeatedly stress, is dangerous; it is not a mere intellectual game, or an internet spectator sport. Bad theology can destroy the soul; it can pervert human society and one’s relation to the natural world. If one is holding to bad theology, there is only one right course, which is repentance. I have had too much experience of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church to think that the Orthodox Church holds fundamentally to some false doctrine about God, or to think that Orthodox Christians need to repent of being Orthodox. But I also have had too much experience of ill-informed, half-baked argumentation from some Orthodox Christians to accept the view that all Christians who are not Orthodox are heretics, that they need to repent of their own theological inheritance, and that there is no other possible basis for Christian reconciliation than for the West to cease being the West. Perhaps repentance is needed by everyone, if we are to see truth and good in the other. Certainly it is needed by me; perhaps it is needed by you.

    I need to return to my proper work of translating Bekkos; for this reason, I am now closing this post to further comments.


  17. I would recommend you read my paper until you comment again. I deal with the exact texts you prescibe in my paper. And my arguments are anything but half-baked. Fr. David Balas took them VERY seriously and said to me it was the best challenge to his understanding of Gregory of Nyssa he has seen from any student he has had, especially my constant emphasis on dialectic and theological method, so I would suggest that you should take me seriously. Of course, much of my style and approach to the problem comes from my personal dialogues with +Photios Farrell (Dr. Farrell).

    Your making a common error in thinking that energy and person are somehow seperable in the dia tou Yiou phrases. The emaphsis is that it is a COMMON procession, one that is natural, what is natural is energy and of the essence: rooted in the nature. It’s part of the ordo theologiae. I think we need to talk more. I didn’t realize you were an professed Orthodox christian. If I would’ve known this, perhaps a rash judgment, I would’ve taken a different tone.


  18. You are also correct that you probably won’t change my mind. I’ve read too much of a detailed analysis on Latin theology from Dr. Farrell that I’m too convinced of the myth of Latin Triadology vs. Greek Triadology. There’s just one Catholic and Patristic theology and those who have distorted and usurped it gnostic style. There is no conceptual difference between Irenaeus, Hilary, Athanasius, Ambrose, and the Cappadocians. Terminology differences, yes. There are movements towards and away from Hellenism both East and West.


  19. The worry about an indwelling energy as opposed to a hypostasis seems like a mistake, for the same reason that one can think of my acts as somehow acts of Perry without being my acts. I am present in my acts. There is no separation between energy and person. 2nd, I don’t think we would need to deny that the hypostasis of the Spirit is energetically and eternally manifested through the Son and I think that allays some of your worries. But at some point, isn’t it the point of the theologia that it all becomes unclear?

    Gregory doesn’t seem to be positing persons as relations. And he doesn’t seem to be giving a philosophical analysis of what constitutes a person. He seems to stick fairly close to biblical terms. In fact, he seems to deny that any conceptual analysis is possible on pain of insanity. Gregory may not in the citation you provided be explicitly denying any epistemological move from economia to theologia, but he isn’t giving a conceptual analysis of the persons either.

    As for the being of the Spirit, in terms of theologia, the Spirit, nor the Son nor the Father are being given that God is beyond being. In order for there to be the kind of order you are thinking of, there would have to be intervening thingd between the persons, which would cancel out Athanasius and Cappadocian Trinitarianism concerning homoousious. There are no intervening things that be between the persons, which is why they are one in essence.

    Along with Athanasius God is beyond necessity and contingency so these categories are not applicable when thinking of the divine Persons. The Father does not generate the Son of necessity or contingently but eternally. What that amounts to, God knows.

    Distinguishing between energy or manifestion and essence doesn’t amount to a separation. I am not clear on if this is your gloss on Bekkos or Bekkos, but in any case the counter argument that it undermines genuine revelation falls rather flat.

    The language of the Father as the first cause does not of itself imply a causality in God that is not initial and here is why. It posits God as being and hence falling under the Platonic genera of same and otherness. That is the only way the implication can get moving. But God is not being and so the genera do not apply. Second, distinction does not amount to opposition and this is the great lesson of St. Maximus in his Christology. The same holds here in Trinitarianism. Initial causation does not imply a negation of not-initial cause for the same reason that Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not imply, not-F,S,HS, and hence a fourth member of the Trinity.

    As for the citation from To Ablabius: On Not Three Gods, what is the textual location of this citation as I would like to look at the Greek text. In any case, whywould mediated causation refer necessarily to hypostatic generation?

  20. Perry,

    I believe I gave both sides of the argument in my paper and I gave good reasons why we should reject the “hypostatic” origination answer as being a faithful exegesis of the text. #1 Gregory says The Spirit has a natural relation to the Father. Well it is hard to see how if that relation is mediated, and #2 A mediated origination goes counter to the structure in the Contra Eunomium corpus where Gregory argues precisely against this type of NeoPlatonic structure. It is Eunomius that has this kind of Trinitarian structure. David Bradshaw makes similar claims about the text that I do though doesn’t relate it to the inherent dialectical structure in Eunomius.


  21. […] of the Trinity blog, which have been accumulating for some time now at the bottom of my notes about St. Maximus on the filioque. The great question on my mind, in considering how to reply to them, is how to avoid empty […]

  22. joe Says:

    In case anyone is still reading, I will just say that I think it is na unwarranted assumption, both by Bessarion at Florence and here on this blog, that the Latin teaching that St. Maximos is defending in c. 680 is the same as that in question *after* Lyons and Florence. It’s pretty clear to me that Lyons and Florence significantly hardened and expanded the Latin position. Joe

  23. bekkos Says:


    I hesitate to flog this dead horse any further. But (1) at no point in my comments here do I state that nothing changed between c. 680 and 1439, or that history stood still; (2) nevertheless, I do not agree with you that Lyons and Florence “significantly hardened and expanded the Latin position.” Lyons, if it adds anything to the filioque doctrine, adds, as a dogma of the Catholic Church, that the Father and the Son do not constitute two principles or causes of the Holy Spirit’s procession, but a single principle; Florence basically adds the point that the filioque is equivalent to the Greek δια του Υιου, “through the Son.” Neither of these additions “significantly harden” the Latin position; both of them are in fact attempts to explain how the Latin and Greek positions are compatible. Perhaps they were not very successful at this; perhaps much more explaining needs to be done; e.g., the 1995 Vatican “Clarification” on the Filioque says that the Lyons statement does not mean to deny the Father’s unique role as originating cause of personal being in the divine Trinity. But if it is your claim that St. Augustine, or the Latin-speaking Christians of the seventh century whom St. Maximus is defending, would have found these later councils’ assertions abhorrent innovations, I disagree with you.

    The issue is not whether St. Maximus would have gone around proclaiming “the Father and the Son are a single principle of the Holy Spirit’s procession.” Obviously, he did not go around proclaiming this. But the question is whether he would have labeled the people who do speak this way as heretics. My own reading of St. Maximus suggests that, before he would have labeled these people heretics, he would have asked what they meant by this. If what they meant was compatible with what he himself believed to be true, he would have accepted them as brothers in Christ. I think that is what he is doing in his Letter to Marinus; I suspect that is what he would have done with Lyons and Florence.

    The question I raised quite some time ago remains unanswered. If someone wants to claim that the Latin doctrine St. Maximus defends in his Letter to Marinus is not the filioque at all in the classic, Augustinian sense, but some other teaching, compatible with the later Photian denial that the Son has any ontological role to play in the Spirit’s eternal origination from the Father, who were these Latin Photians? What evidence is there that the Christians St. Maximus came into contact with in Rome and North Africa in the seventh century, who were teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and were being attacked for this by people in Constantinople, repudiated the express teaching of St. Augustine on this matter? In all the long, verbose replies to this posting there is no real answer to this question, nor a shred of evidence presented to show that such anti-Augustinian Latins actually existed in Maximus’s day; there are bibliographical references (see Siecienski, read the great Farrell, etc.), but no names, no texts, no evidence.

    Back in January I wrote that I was closing this post to further comments; I really should have done so. Have a happy Lent, or Holy Week if that’s what you’re celebrating. Please do not take my lack of reply to comments in this thread as evidence for my agreeing with the opinions therein expressed; I simply have other business to attend to, and would rather keep Lent peaceful by avoiding fruitless acrimony.

    Peter Gilbert

  24. For those who know French, Jean Claude Larchet’s article on the filioque at Myriobiblos is worth reading:

  25. bekkos Says:

    Dear Steven,

    Thanks for the link to the Larchet article. Some of my objections above, that no textual evidence has thus far been presented for the claim that there existed a non-Augustinian Latin trinitarian tradition at the time St. Maximus was writing, and that it was a specifically non-Augustinian tradition Maximus was defending in his Letter to Marinus, are addressed in that article. I say addressed; I do not say they are addressed successfully. At some point I will post a more detailed reply to Larchet’s arguments; for the present I will simply say that the claim that St. Maximus, who had spent years in Carthage near the town where St. Augustine had served as bishop, excludes St. Augustine from the “unanimous documentary evidence of the Latin fathers” he speaks of in this letter, seems to me utterly preposterous — as does Larchet’s implicit claim that the seventh-century Roman Church considered St. Augustine a trinitarian heretic.


  26. […] [Updated on May 9th, 2008 with Dr. Peter Gilbert’s translation of St. Maximos’ letter.] […]


    It looks like Anastasius Bibliothecarius holds to my interpretation of Maximus on this question Peter. And in being a Latin, it seems odd that he would contradict his own tradition if Maximus wasn’t quite getting them right.


  28. bekkos Says:


    I have replied to your Anastasius citation in a new post:


  29. […] of Maximus the Confessor’s defense of Latin understandings of the Spirit’s Procession (be sure to read Dr Gilbert’s earlier post on that here). Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Eastern Iconology 101 for Western […]

  30. […] or enlighten themselves with Dr. Peter Gilbert’s erudite but lucid and fascinating essays on St. Maximos and the filioque and Anastasius the Librarian (from which I have profited greatly). This post will contain nothing […]

  31. […] doctrine when there was a verbal disagreement. I think that that is what St. Maximus does in his Letter to Marinus. And I am pretty certain that the underlying commonality of doctrine St. Maximus defends in that […]

  32. […] about the Holy Spirit with that of the Latin-speaking Church from at least the seventh century (cf. St. Maximus’s letter to the priest Marinus of Cyprus). And, in the thirteenth century, St. Cyril was one of the writers John Bekkos quoted most […]

  33. The letter of Maximos to Marinus can be found in Greek at the link below:

  34. […] vero (Gregorius Theologus): «Quæcunque habet Pater, ea sunt Filii, excepta causa,» alius demum (Maximus): «Etiam Romani Filium non faciunt causam Spiritus sancti.» […]

  35. Will Huysman Says:

    I clumsily misspelled Filioque in the original pingback: the link to the ongoing transcription of Gregory III Mammas should be

    Thanks and God bless!
    Will R. Huysman

  36. Brian Kelly Says:

    I admit my ignorance here. I had never known the term “cause” was used in the Father’s generation of the Son. I was taught that every cause is a principle, but not every principle is a cause. The Father is the origin of the Son as Principle. Apparently the term in Greek did not mean what it means in Latin. I was taught that the Father is the First Person as Principle not as cause. Of course the Uncaused Cause is the first argument from reason for the existence of God.

  37. The standard for Latins is not Saint Maximus the Confessor, but Anselm of Canterbury, on the procession of the Holy Spirit, and Thomas Aquinas, Contra Errores Graecorum, Maximus was defending that the Latins could be understood as saying the temporal mission of the Spirit from the Son in time; at the time that may have been so, and so Maximus was not mistaken in this, But later the Latins erred and said the hypostasis of the Spirit proceeded eternally and has His origin in both the Father and Son together eternally, and this cannot be from one principle, since the Son is not the Father. Saint Photius, Saint Gregory Palamas, and Saint Mark or Ephesus, not appreciated by the Latins and not considered to be saints (even as we do not consider Anselm and Aquinas to be saints), Photius corrected the errors of Augustine, and Augustine was mistaken to call the Holy Spirit the “mutual love” of the Father and the Son together.

  38. bekkos Says:


    In reply to your comment, I would repeat something that was said in the article:

    “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.”

    If you say that “Maximus was defending that the Latins could be understood as saying [that procession means]* the temporal mission from the Son in time,” then, first of all, why doesn’t he simply say this? St. Maximus was a subtle enough user of the Greek language to be able to employ, if he wanted to, words clearly differentiating a temporal from an eternal procession; the word he uses here, προϊέναι, is not such a clear distinguishing term; it is a general term for coming forth. Secondly, why would St. Maximus bother to defend the Latin Church’s orthodoxy by pointing to something that the Latin fathers don’t actually teach? As mentioned above, he has lived at Carthage and at Rome; he certainly knows who St. Augustine was; he is undoubtedly including him when he says that the Romans “have produced the unanimous documentary evidence of the Latin fathers”; and, with all his western contacts, he surely has some reliable knowledge of what St. Augustine taught on controversial matters like the filioque. Although you describe Augustine as teaching “errors,” that is not how St. Maximus describes him. He clearly sees him as one of the Latin fathers whose “unanimous documentary evidence” the Romans have produced in defense of their teaching, a teaching which, in this letter, St. Maximus accepts as orthodox.


    *I insert this because some words like these seem to be needed to make grammatical sense of your statement.

  39. […] This does not mean all iterations of the filioque are bad. The filioque itself is found in several pre-schism writings from saints such as Augustine and Maximus the Confessor. So, the term in of itself is not automatically wrong (though it is certainly an extrabibilical gloss going beyond John 15:26). However, the meaning to the filioque Florence gives is clearly at variance with the pre-schism explanation of its meaning. This is evidenced by not only the explanation of Saint Maximus, but also the fact the Roman Catholic faction in Florence tentatively denied the authenticity of Maximus’ explanation which is as follows: […]

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