Frankish Christendom and the Estrangement of East and West IV

February 6, 2014 Length: 39:02

Fr. John concludes his account of the influence of the Franks by returning to the question of the filioque and how the papacy's resistance to its insertion in the Creed finally came to an end on the eve of the Great Schism.





Welcome back to this episode on Frankish Christendom and the estrangement of East and West. In previous segments of this episode, I’ve explained how the Franks gained influence in Western Christendom, especially during the reign of Charlemagne, and how, with that influence, they begin to alter the character of traditional Christianity there. I discussed, for instance, the policies—what I called an ideological program—of Charlemagne to identify Eastern Christians—what he called the Greeks—with heresies, presenting his empire, an empire that was acknowledged by the pope himself in 800 when Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Romans in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, acknowledging his empire as the one true Christian empire in all of Christendom. Also I discussed how Charlemagne’s liturgical reforms resulted in a kind of Frankification of Western Christendom, especially its liturgy.

In this final segment of the episode, I would like to return to the question of the filioque, which which I began the episode, by discussing the anecdote of Pope Leo III’s defense of Orthodoxy against the Frankish effort to impose the filioque in Rome. The filioque was, of course, as we remember, that word inserted into the clause about the Holy Spirit that had been given by the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father,” period. That’s how the Creed originally read. The filioque added the word, in Latin filioque, to change that, to alter it, so that it now read: “...and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” And the Son.

I noted that this was a very controversial addition because the Ecumenical Councils, especially the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon, had made it quite clear that alterations to the Creed were unacceptable, in fact, even to be met with anathema, which is why Pope Leo III, even in the time of Charlemagne himself, had made two silver shields inscribed with the Creed, without the filioque, and placed in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the very tomb of St. Peter himself.

Nevertheless, the filioque did come to prevail in Western Christendom under the influence of the Franks, and that’s the story I would like to tell now. The filioque, which claims that the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, proceeds not only from the Father but also from the Son, had a theological background within Western and even Eastern Christendom.

When discussing the filioque, one can distinguish perhaps between what can be called a theological filioquism and a credal filioquism. Theologically, the filioque—the belief that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father but also from the Son—had appeared in traditional Christianity long before Charlemagne and the Franks.

There had been for a very long time a double-procession question in traditional Christianity. Even among the Eastern Fathers such as Maximus the Confessor, the double-procession of the Holy Spirit, proceeding both from the Father and the Son, had been given consideration. For the Eastern Fathers, the Holy Spirit originates in the Person (or, in Greek, hypostasis) of the Father, and not in his essence (or ousia in Greek). It’s a very important distinction made by Eastern Fathers of the Church, and it was observed, of course, that in passages such as John 20:22, where Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” that the Holy Spirit did proceed in a certain sense from the Son, but the procession from the Son was understood as one that took place in time, in a temporal sense, and not in an eternal sense.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to his disciples as he was preparing to depart from this world through his passion, resurrection, and ascension; he promised to send them the Holy Spirit. This is found especially in that passage in John 15:26, where Jesus speaks about himself sending the Holy Spirit, but he does so by emphasizing that the Spirit, even though he will send him, proceeds from the Father. This is John 15:26. “But when the Helper comes”—the Helper being the Holy Spirit—“whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify of me.” So Jesus will send the Holy Spirit, but he emphasizes there in that statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. This was taken by Eastern Christian Fathers to indicate that the Holy Spirit’s origin is with the Person of the Father, and though Jesus sends him he only does so in time, in his ministry, preparing the way for Pentecost.

One thing that can certainly be said about the conditional Eastern acceptance of a dual-procession teaching about the Holy Spirit in traditional Christianity is that it was never formulated dogmatically. It represented a kind of theological reflection, or a theologoumenon, as it’s often called. That was the Eastern point of view.

But in the West, under the influence of St. Augustine, this theologoumenon, or theological opinion, assumed greater precision and forcefulness. Augustine wrote a treatise on the Holy Trinity—that’s what it was called: On the Trinity—in which he put forward a strong argument about the Holy Spirit proceeding both from the Father and the Son, a kind of theological filioquism. Augustine argued that God is primarily essence. He was influenced here by Neo-Platonism, according to the judgment of most scholars, and he argued that God is really, ultimately and most primarily, an essence. And as an essence, understood in a platonic sense, a neo-platonic sense, God has absolute simplicity. He is perfectly one and perfectly simple, without differentiation, through what were called in the East among the Greek Fathers the divine energies.

In an earlier episode, I discussed a little bit the teaching, borrowed from Aristotle, among the Greek Fathers, that there were divine energies that enabled man to participate in the life of God through synergy. Again, there’s a book written on this role of the Aristotelian concept of energies that can be read. It is a very hard book to read; it’s very serious philosophy. It’s called Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics in the Division of Christendom by David Bradshaw.

But this is what Augustine did not have in his own theological or conceptual resources: a concept of energies, of divine energies. So God is an essence that is perfectly simple and one. Therefore God is essence before Person. Essence precedes; in Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity, the essence of God precedes God’s Personhood, unlike the Eastern principle which I mentioned a moment ago, that places Personhood before essence. I can quote here a scholar of Eastern Christianity that put it this way.

One might say that, while for the Greeks there is one God because there is one Father (the Person of the Father), for the Latins there is one God because there is one essence, one divine and entirely simple Being.

Those are the words of an author named Philip Sherrard, about whom I’ll have more to say in a few minutes.

So Augustine then placed essence before Personhood. And since Jesus, the Son of God, is asserted to be of one essence with the Father in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, homoousios, of one essence, therefore the Holy Spirit, who is also God, proceeds from the Son just as he proceeds from the Father. The Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father, since both share that essence equally.

Augustine’s theological reflection in On the Trinity caught on in the West in a very, very compelling way in subsequent centuries. In the sixth century it found expression in a credal statement, often called the Athanasian Creed, though scholars don’t believe this has any direct connection to St. Athanasius himself, and in fact it may have been composed by Caesarius of Arles, who was a Western Father of the sixth century, who had a very strong Augustinian bent, as a matter of fact, and presided over the Second Council of Orange in the sixth century, where Augustinian anthropology was asserted at that council. The Athanasian Creed does possess within it the dual-procession doctrine, and this dual-procession doctrine, this theological filioquism, was approved also by the popes of Rome, with time, Gregory the Great being one of them.

Theologically speaking, then, the double-procession doctrine, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, had a place, one might argue a legitimate place, though conditional one, in the teachings of both Eastern and Western Fathers before the time of the Franks, the emphasis being placed especially by the Eastern Fathers that the dual-procession doctrine has to be conditioned by an understanding that Jesus sends the Holy Spirit only in time and not eternally.

So the question is: How did it become a point of such division between the East and the West by the time of the Great Schism of the 11th century? I received an email from a listener—and by the way, I really enjoy getting emails from listeners, so if you ever have questions about what I say in this podcast, please don’t hesitate to share them with me, and I can be reached through email through a link on the very page of the podcast itself—well, this listener asked the question which many people ask: Why does it matter? It’s just a word. The filioque is just a word. Does it really have a big impact on the character of Christianity, and by extension, for the purposes of this podcast, on the character of the civilization that traditional Christianity influenced for so many centuries—Christendom?

And the answer is: Perhaps. For if one considers the question of the filioque from an Eastern Christian point of view, one can see ways in which the assertion of this principle, the official and ultimate credal assertion of this principle, would have an impact on how people living within Christendom would understand the world, the Church, and in fact the very experience of God’s presence in this life altogether. In trying to articulate such an Eastern point of view, I can refer to the scholar I mentioned earlier named Philip Sherrard. He’s now dead, but he lived in the 20th century. He was an Englishman and taught at Oxford University, but he converted to Orthodox Christianity through an encounter he had with the faith in Greece, and wrote a lot of books from an Eastern Christian point of view. Maybe the most important of these books was entitled, The Greek East and the Latin West: A Study in the Christian Tradition. It was originally published way back in the 1950s, and he explores ways in which the whole filioque issue had an impact in his judgment—again, it’s his judgment—on the character of Christendom.

This is what he has to say. First of all, he notes that there were cosmological consequences to the development and final, official assertion of the dual-procession doctrine, namely, that by focusing on divine essence over Personhood, God was understood more and more as transcendent from this world, cosmos. It was cosmological, the consequences, in this particular case. God was understood more and more to transcend this world, even in certain ways to be aloof from it. This is what Sherrard has to say. I’ll quote him here. He wrote the following.

To regard him (God) solely as essence is not only to misconceive the nature of the Trinity, but also and as a necessary consequence, to misconceive the relationships of the Divinity with man and the world.

So for him it’s much more than just a word. It is in fact a very approach to the question of experiencing God’s divine presence in this world. Sherrard develops his argument that the West under the influence of the filioque and the dual-procession doctrine, brought more and more emphasis upon a transcendent God who was not understood as immanent through the extension of his energies, his divine energies, in this world, in this cosmos, with subsequently cosmological consequences or implications.

I want to emphasize here that Sherrard’s work is a work that brings attention to a tendency or an emphasis, and that’s important to keep in mind here. We’re talking about a process of estrangement between East and West at this particular stage in the history of Christendom, which is one grounded in emphases rather than in outright doctrines. For instance, we saw in the previous segment of this episode how a greater emphasis in the eucharistic piety of the Franks brought attention to Christ in his crucifixion, emphasizing that over Christ in his resurrection. Well, in no way did the Franks forget the resurrection or develop a piety which gave no attention or little attention to the resurrection. It was really a development of emphasis. Likewise here also, in the case of the filioque and the theological filioquism of the Franks, we can see, at least if we follow Sherrard and his argument and accept that argument—and some may not accept that argument—but we can see a greater emphasis upon God as one who has transcended from this world because of the doctrine of divine essence in the absence of divine energies.

Let me continue here quoting Sherrard in his book, The Greek East and the Latin West. For it’s here that he continues to develop the argument that, with the understanding of divine simplicity, as one that is undifferentiated, one lacking any concept of divine energies, the divine simplicity of God’s essence undermines the possibility of synergy between God and man, which of course we remember was at the very heart of the optimistic anthropology of the Greek Fathers—Basil the Great and others. So this is what Sherrard says, as he continues.

The Latins who tended to regard all distinction and multiplicity in God as irreconcilable with their concept of his entirely simple, undifferentiated nature, for them it became difficult to understand the full reality of that idea of participation (synergy) on which the Greeks insisted.

So the principle of synergy began to shrink even further into the background in light of—in the shadow of; that’s probably a better way of putting it—in the shadow of this emphasis that God is essentially an essence and therefore transcendent from the experience of life in this world. I can continue here with Sherrard elaborating this argument. He writes:

If the full reality of the idea of participation (that would be synergy) according to which Christ may be recognized as without mediation, the head and unifying principle of the local churches ceases, as it did for the Latins, to have that effective vitality it had for the Greeks, while on the contrary what becomes an overriding consideration, as it did for the Latins, is the totally transcendent and non-participable nature of God. Then, to that extent, Christ cannot be recognized as the actual head and unifying principle of the local churches in his own Person. Thus, to that extent, this head and unifying principle must be sought for elsewhere: in another head and unifying principle, which in a certain sense replaces the absent Person of Christ and is the visible representation of his invisible and totally transcendent unity.

So a very complex, even turgid, statement by Sherrard there, but one that makes the assertion that, under the influence of the dual-procession doctrine, the theological filioquism of the West during this time, that the experience of God’s presence in this world was profoundly changed. He even speaks about the absent Person of Christ in the totally transcendent concept that the filioque carried with it, according to Augustine’s theology.

So these are the arguments of Sherrard, arguments that bear upon the cosmological consequences of the filioque, of theological filioquism. But, as we heard in that last statement there which referred to local churches, these cosmological consequences bore with them ecclesiological consequences: consequences that bore on the Church herself as she was understood. Here we start to see, according to Sherrard’s argument, the emergence of a doctrine that can be called papal supremacy. In fact, it was papal supremacy that was at the heart of the coming Great Schism of 1054, which we in this podcast are headed toward.

Let me continue quoting Sherrard here as he argues how theological filioquism could not only bring about a kind of cosmological absence of God in his transcendence from the world, but also the establishment of an ecclesiology that required the presence of one supreme bishop—a pope—and papal supremacy. This is what Sherrard says. First of all, he notes that there was a tendency toward clericalism—something I already brought attention to—in the emphasis upon correction and liturgical reform that began among the Franks with Charlemagne, and a need to administer and distribute the grace of the sacraments by that clergy. If God is not understood as possessing energies that are differentiated throughout the local churches in their sacramental assemblies, but rather God as essence relates to man through grace, that grace must in turn be created grace—created, and not God himself. This would be a consistent corollary to the doctrine of God being primarily essence, a doctrine which was not, of course, accepted in the Greek East with its doctrine of divine energies in addition to God’s divine essence.

There was a kind of inherent clericalism. There was a kind of tendency toward clericalism that came along with this theological filioquism. As a result the Holy Spirit was not understood as being differentiated through divine energies throughout the universal Church. Sherrard continues.

If the divinity is considered to be absolutely determined in this way…

Here he’s talking about the idea of an immanent and absolute simplicity of the divine nature.

...then not only will the idea of a distinction of Persons in the Trinity be reduced in significance, but also as a consequence the sense of each sacramental center, participating through the ever-present and all-pervasive energies of the Spirit in the life of the Logos, the principle of unity will be correspondingly weakened. Essence implies entire simplicity, indivisibility, non-manifestation, absolute transcendence of all relationship and all created beings. Hence, if the divinity is envisaged mainly from this point of view, it becomes difficult to understand how, at the same time, it can be fully present in and invisibly sustaining the multiplicity of created beings. It becomes difficult to understand how, at the same time, it can be fully present and indivisibly divided in the sacramental life of the many local churches.

So this is a corollary then to the doctrine of divine transcendence and divine simplicity. With this observation in place, Sherrard continues to argue how, then, the doctrine of papal supremacy grew out of theological filioquism. This is what he writes.

One might say that the emphasizing in a somewhat exclusive manner of the transcendent and indivisible nature of God, of the conception of God as the summum ens, this Supreme Being, leads to the notion of a real absence of God from the world, and hence to the idea that until his coming again, his place on earth must be taken by a visible head who claims his titles and powers and unites the visible and multiple local centers of the Church into a single organization under his directing leadership. Once such an understanding of things had become sufficiently general in Western Christendom to have practical effect, it was more or less inevitable that the bishop of Rome should be regarded as possessing this divine controlling authority.

These were some of the consequences of theological filioquism according to Philip Sherrard. But how did a theological opinion become an integral part of the very Creed itself? Credal filioquism was the effort to insert the dual-procession doctrine—theological filioquism—into the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. It first occurred in the sixth century in Spain, when Orthodox missionaries, combating Arianism, added filioque to the clause about the Holy Spirit at a council in Toledo in 589. Then under Charlemagne himself, whose liturgical reforms have been driven, as have been described in an earlier segment of this episode, by a kind of ideological campaign against the East, especially with claims that the Greeks had fallen into heresy, Charlemagne had promoted the use of the Creed throughout his empire. Charlemagne had been supported in this project by a wide range of theologians—Frankish theologians—who, using especially the arguments of Augustine in On the Trinity, claimed that the filioque was a necessary part of the Creed, even to the point of attacking the Greeks for its absence in the East.

There were a series of such theologians who advanced credal filioquism against the East, Alcuin of York, the most famous of Charlemagne’s theologians being one of them. His treatise, On the Holy Trinity, was described as the beginning of medieval theology according to Richard Haugh, who wrote a book on the advance of the filioque among the Frankish theologians. He was joined by others, such as Theodulf of Orléans who died in 821. Listeners will remember Theodulf was commissioned by Charlemagne to produce what came to be known as the Caroline books. In those books, citing Augustine as well as the Athanasian Creed, Theodulf argued that the Greek position on the filioque was simply wrong, and he went so far as to compose a work, a treatise, called On the Holy Spirit. It was commissioned also by Charlemagne, who was seeking support in a controversy with a group of monks in Jerusalem who objected to the interpolation of the filioque. In On the Holy Spirit, Theodulf used Augustine to emphasize the radical oneness of God, the divine simplicity of God, with the result that the Spirit proceeds from God’s divine essence.

The most noteworthy argument for credal filioquism came among the Franks from Ratramnus of Corbie, who died in 870. Ratramnus, living after the time of Charlemagne, actually during the time of Pope Nicholas I, who listeners will remember was the pope behind the Nicolaitan Schism in the time of Photios—well, Ratramnus had been commissioned by Pope Nicholas during that schism to address the Greek practices that were at variance with practices in the West. So Ratramnus mounted what became a very aggressive challenge to the Eastern rejection of the filioque. He presented what he called the Greek position as “false, heretical, superstitious, and irreligious.” He even accused the Greeks of blaspheming the Holy Spirit by the omission of the filioque. Ratramnus was, like other Frankish theologians, very influenced by Augustine, and that comes out in the following quote which emphasizes essence over Personhood, something I’ve emphasized in this particular segment of the episode. Ratramnus wrote:

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father because he flows from his essence, because just as the Father and the Son are of one essence, so, too, by procession from them both, the Holy Spirit receives his con-substantial existence.

Richard Haugh, whom I mentioned earlier, characterized Ratramnus in the following way.

No Carolingian theologian so thoroughly mastered the triadological (that is to say the Trinitarian) thought of Augustine as Ratramnus.

Interestingly and finally, with Ratramnus, he elevated the office of the papacy over the Ecumenical Councils when discussing the matter of the filioque. What he wrote was that if the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople had the right—that was the word he used, “right”—to add to the Nicene Creed of 325, then likewise, as he put it, “this same right was given to the Romans.”

Now, as Frankish theologians pursued credal filioquism, there continued to be wide resistance from the East as well as from Rome. That resistance was most articulate in the case of Photios, Patriarch Photios, who reigned as patriarch of Constantinople from 858 to 867, and then again from 877 to 886. And while Photios had been challenged from the West, from Pope Nicholas I himself during his first reign as patriarch, during his second reign, Nicholas’ successor, Pope John VIII, gave strong support to Photios and even Photios’ writings against not only credal filioquism but theological filioquism as well. In a council held in Constantinople, the fourth council of Constantinople, from 879 to 880, Pope John VIII sent legates that, with Photios and other Church Fathers, not only confirmed Photios as patriarch but reached an agreement in banning all alterations to the Creed, with the filioque obviously in mind. This council is sometimes called by Orthodox Christians an Eighth Ecumenical Council because of its expression of agreement between Constantinople and Rome over this very important issue about interpolations to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

So how was the filioque finally interpolated into the Creed in the West? Well, this happened through a process that can be called the Frankification of the West in the two centuries following Charlemagne. As a matter of fact, it was under the Frankish pressure and influence that the Roman papacy finally came to adopt the filioque. There’s really no doubt about this. Charlemagne’s empire dissolved soon after his death, but it was reassembled in the East in the tenth century, the 900s, by Otto the Great. Otto the Great was a German, and from that time forward the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, as it came to be known, were German. Otto the Great obtained a Byzantine princess for his son to marry, and as a result, Otto II, married to her—her name was Theophano—produced an heir himself, Otto III, who was the son both of this German emperor and the Byzantine princess.

That son was Otto III; he reigned from 983 to 1002. He saw his Holy Roman Empire as a kind of New Byzantium. If Byzantium had eventually been New Rome, the Christian empire of Otto III would become a kind of New Byzantium in the West, where a Christian empire would be established that would be the one true empire of all Christendom. With that vision in place, his son, Henry II, who reigned as Holy Roman Emperor from 1002 to 1024, continued to advance the old Frankish cause of the filioque. He had close relations with the pope of Rome, Benedict VIII, who, like Leo III back in the time of Charlemagne, ran into trouble in Rome and needed the emperor to help him out of that trouble. In the case of Benedict VIII, he was actually expelled from the city, and it was necessary for Emperor Henry II to invade Italy, occupy Rome, and restore Benedict, which he did in 1014. It was through this event that the filioque finally came into permanent use in Rome, in the year 1014, having been restored to his office by Henry II, Pope Benedict VIII, solemnly crowned Henry II as emperor of the Romans in St. Peter’s Basilica itself.

The event, of course, was reminiscent of Pope Leo III’s crowning of Charlemagne in the year 800. It was during the Mass that followed the coronation at this time that the filioque, under the direct pressure of Emperor Henry II, was finally placed in the Creed. We can only imagine what that scene would have been like in 1014. Emperor Henry II, newly crowned, at his coronation, having had the pleasure to hear the filioque which his people had so long desired the papacy to adopt, having heard it sung at the Mass as part of the Creed, could now leave St. Peter’s Basilica to assume his rule over Western Christendom. As he left, he may have passed the very tomb of St. Peter. It was on that tomb, back two centuries earlier, that Pope Leo III had placed his silver shields with the Creed inscribed upon them without the filioque, claiming in so doing that he was, from love of orthodoxy, seeking to protect the faith. Henry II would have noticed on the tomb of St. Peter that there were no longer any silver shields. They had disappeared, and they have never been seen again.

Join me next time when I turn from the Franks to another Christian people that played their role in the development of Christendom in the period before the Great Schism: the Russians.