Archive for the ‘Filioque’ Tag

A Glorious Mystery   Leave a comment

Above:  Symbol of the Holy Trinity

Image in the Public Domain


For Trinity Sunday, Year 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970


Almighty God, father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and giver of the Holy Spirit.

Keep us, we pray thee, steadfast before the great mystery of thy being,

and in faith which acknowledges thee to be the one eternal God.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 124


Isaiah 6:1-8

1 Peter 1:10-21

John 4:7-24


The doctrine of the Trinity, as we know it, is the result of centuries of debates and numerous ecumenical councils.  Although the word “Trinity” never occurs in the New Testament, that portion of the Bible mentions the Father (YHWH), the Son (incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth), and the Holy Spirit many times.  Some passages contradict subsequent Church doctrine.  In Pauline writings and the Gospel of John, for example, the Son is subordinate to the Father.  Furthermore, in those same epistles, the Son and the Spirit are interchangeable sometimes.  And the filoque question remains current.

The nature of God is a mystery no human being can fully solve.  So be it.  The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is the best answer in human religion.  So be it.  My Western tradition tries to explain too much; it should frolic in glorious mysteries more often.  The ultimate nature of God is one of those glorious mysteries.  So be it.

The doctrine of the Trinity invites us to give up trying to explain the nature of God and to focus instead on relating to God.  The creation, Father Robert Farrar Capon wrote in The Third Peacock, resulted from a “Trinitarian bash.”  We should, in the words of the Westminster Catechisms, glorify and fully enjoy God forever.  Love and enjoyment do not require full understanding, after all.





Authority and Grace   1 comment

St. Paul by Theophanes the Cretan

Above:  Icon of St. Paul, by Theophanes the Cretan

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God,

and open our ears to the preaching of John, that

rejoicing in your salvation, we may bring forth the fruits of repentance;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 16:1-19 (Monday)

Numbers 16:20-35 (Tuesday)

Micah 4:8-13 (Wednesday)

Isaiah 11:1-9 (All Days)

Hebrews 13:7-17 (Monday)

Acts 28:23-31 (Tuesday)

Luke 7:31-35 (Wednesday)


But a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse,

A twig shall sprout from his stock.

The spirit of the LORD shall alight upon him:

A spirit of wisdom and insight,

A spirit of counsel and valor,

A spirit of devotion and reverence for the LORD.

He shall sense the truth by his reverence for the LORD:

He shall not judge by what his eyes behold,

Nor decide by what his ears perceive.

Thus he shall judge the poor with equity

And decide with justice for the lowly of the land.

He shall strike down a land with the rod of his mouth

And slay the wicked with the breath of his lips.

Justice shall be the girdle of his loins,

And faithfulness the girdle of his waist.

The wolf shall lay down with the lamb,

The leopard lie down with the kid;

The calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together,

With a little boy to herd them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

Their young shall lie down together;

And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.

A babe shall play

Over a viper’s hole,

And an infant pass his hand

Over an adder’s den.

In all of My sacred mount

Nothing evil or vile shall be done;

For the land shall be filled with devotion to the LORD

As water covers the sea.

–Isaiah 11:1-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)


In the Torah Moses was God’s choice to lead the Hebrews for many years.  To oppose Moses, therefore, was to sin, according to that extended narrative, as it has come down to us in its final form.  Disobedience to the principles of the Law of Moses, according to the theology of subsequent biblical books, led to the destruction of two Hebrews kingdoms.  Yet, texts indicated, restoration and good times would follow the Babylonian Exile.

The theology of obeying religious leaders, which occurs in Hebrews 13, meshes well with the composite pericope from Numbers 16.  The historical context of Christian calls to obey approved religious leaders, present in the Bible as well as in early Christian writings from subsequent centuries, occurred in the context of doctrinal formation.  Doctrines did not fall from Heaven or appear magically, fully formed.  No, human beings debated them and sometimes even fought (literally) over them.  Orthodoxy, as approved church leaders have defined it, has changed over time.  For example, Origen (185-254 C.E.) was orthodox by most of the standards of his time.  Yet he became a heretic ex post facto and postmortem because the First Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.) contradicted elements of his Trinitarian theology.

Throughout the Christian past orthodox leaders have disagreed with each other and with those they have labeled heretics (often accurately) in real time.  This raises a legitimate question:  Whom is one supposed to regard as authoritative.  This is an old problem.  The ultimate answer has ways been God, but even heretics have tended to agree with that answer.  Early Christianity was quite diverse–more so than historians of Christianity understood for centuries.  How was one supposed to avoid following a false teacher?  St. Paul the Apostle understood the answer as being to listen to him and his associates.  Apostolic succession was another way of establishing orthodox credentials.  There were always critics of orthodox leaders (who were no less imperfect than heretics), as there had been of Jesus and St. John the Baptist before them.

The question of who speaks for God remains a difficult one much of the time.  I think, for example, that I am generally on the right path theologically, but I know people who disagree with that opinion strongly.  My best answer to the difficult question is to evaluate people and their messages according to certain criteria, such as the following:

  1. Do they teach and practice love of others, focusing on the building up of community without sacrificing the individual to the collective?
  2. Do they teach and practice respecting the image of God in their fellow human beings, even while allowing for the reality of difficult moral quandaries relative to that issue?
  3. Do they focus on the lived example of Jesus, leading people to God via him, instead of focusing on any human personality, especially that of a living person?
  4. Do they teach and practice compassion, as opposed to legalism?

Salvation, which is for both the community and the individual, is a matter of God’s grace and human obedience.  That grace demands much of its recipients.  Go, take up your cross and follow Jesus, it says.  Share your blessings and take risks for the glory of God and the benefit of others, it requires.  Fortunately, it does not command that I have an answer for the question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or just from the Father.





Adapted from this post:


We Are All Heretics (And Many of Us Are Also Orthodox)   1 comment


Above:  Part of the Nicene Creed, According to The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Below:  Part of the Nicene Creed, According to The Orthodox Study Bible (2008)

Eastern Orthodox


Great indeed, we confess is the mystery of our religion:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated in the Spirit,

seen by angels,

preached among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

–1 Timothy 3:16, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)


Recently I completed the viewing of The Teaching Company’s 2008 thirty-six-part course, The History of Christian Theology.  The professor, Dr. Phillip Cary, of Eastern University, did an excellent job.  He was very well-informed.  He also expressed his opinions, labeling them as such.  I noticed that I disagreed with some of his subjective points.  That, however, did (and does) not bother me, for I never agree with anyone on everything;  I think too much to do that.

The bottom line regarding that course is that I look forward to watching it again and picking up details I missed the first time.  Cary is a skilled academic and an engaging speaker, one whom I like to watch.  I am, in fact, working my way through his 2004 course, Luther:  Gospel, Law, and Reformation.  Cary, a scholar of St. Augustine of Hippo, possesses an impressive grasp of comparative Christian theology.

I have spent time pondering the history of Christian theology regarding a series of disputed points and widely agreed-upon ones.  Hence topics ranging from imputed grace to baptismal regeneration to filoque (“…and the Son”) to details of Incarnational theology have been dancing vigorously upon my neurons.  (Please, O reader, do not tell the Free Lutherans that theological matters have been dancing inside my head; they would disapprove of the metaphor.)  I tell you, O reader, such material has been doing the Charleston and the Jitterbug upstairs.  (I am devout and punchy simultaneously.)

My standard of theological orthodoxy is God.  By that standard all of us are, to some extent, heretics.  I stand with the Eastern Orthodox on various points, including the insistence that we ought not to try to explain too much about certain points, such as some aspects of the Atonement.  Attempting to explain too much opens the door to heresy (as in trying to make sense of every detail of the Trinity) and minimizes the beauty of divine mystery.

Yet there is heresy and there is heresy.  Whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son, for example, is a minor point.  One of those positions is erroneous.  I do not know or care which is correct.  My brain, however, is accustomed to prompting my mouth to say

and the Son

reflexively.  Crucial, however, are other points, such as affirming the Incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth.  A great and magnificent mystery surrounds that theological reality.  I would not have it any other way.

Regardless of how orthodox we are relative to God, we are all somewhat heretical.  That is unavoidable.  Yet, as Martin Luther understood well, we stand on the sure promises of Christ, which we have no right to disbelieve and in which we must trust faithfully if they are to benefit us.  Those promises, I argue, deal with matters weightier than filoque.