God Is Love: Bray on The Filioque Clause

November 30, 2013 — Leave a comment


I missed last week and I actually don’t have highlights for chapter 10 of God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology, which is on Christology. Bray spends most of his time on generation, both in the eternal sense and in the historical sense. He does an adequate job of defending the historically orthodox position on both, I just didn’t highlight anything. As far as chapter 11, the main thing that stood out was his comments on the filioque issue (whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son or just the Father. Western church says the former, Eastern church the latter. With that in mind, here is Bray’s thoughts on the matter:

What is the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father, and how is it best expressed? The Father represents the transcendence of divinity, and so the divine identity of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is expressed primarily in relation to him. To say that the Son is begotten of the Father and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from him is to confess that they both share the Father’s divine nature and are equal to him. Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, an assertion on which all Christians are agreed. What does the term “procession” mean? It is clearly different from “generation,” and this cannot be an accident. We cannot give the impression that the Holy Spirit is a second Son, because that would risk making him an alternative Savior. On the other hand, while “generation” is a temporal term that cannot be interpreted literally when used in the context of eternity, the same is not so true of “procession.” The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and the use of the present tense implies that this is an eternal relationship (214).

Expressed in traditional theological language, the main question in dispute has been to decide whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son (the Western position), or whether he proceeds from the Father only (the Eastern position). If it is agreed that he proceeds from both, the next question is whether there is some difference in the way that he proceeds from each of them. Do the Father and the Son act together in the procession of the Holy Spirit, so that their roles cannot be effectively distinguished from each other, or does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father through the Son, thereby maintaining a real distinction between the first two persons of the Godhead? (217)

Given this intractable situation, it is perhaps worth summarizing the many points of agreement between the East and West, so that the relatively small area of disagreement, important though it is, can be seen in its proper perspective. All Christians agree on the following:

1. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, fully God in every respect, and he proceeds from the Father.

2. He dwells in the hearts of Christians, where he acts as the Spirit of adoption, making us children of God. In this context he can be (and is) called the Spirit of the Son.

3. The Holy Spirit expresses the love of the Father for the Son, and the Son’s love for the Father is of the same degree as the Father’s love for him.

4. The Father’s love for the Son differs in some way from the Son’s love for the Father because they are different persons, though both are equally perfect and divine.

Where we disagree is the issue of whether the differences of the two loves in God are sufficient to make it impossible (or at least very unwise) to use the term “procession” to describe the Holy Spirit’s relationship to each of them indiscriminately.

Can this difference of opinion be resolved? Perhaps it can, if both sides in the discussion are prepared to look at the question objectively, with fresh eyes and a new spirit. Claiming infallibility for one’s own position on the matter is a recipe for failure. If progress is to be made, it will have to be on the basis of a paradigm that avoids the pitfalls of the “causation” model of Trinitarian relations, which has dominated the field so far. On the other hand, we must humbly recognize that greater minds than ours have struggled with this question without success, and we may never find a solution that is satisfactory to both sides.

That will no doubt come as a disappointment to many who have labored in the field of ecumenical relations, but it may also be a sign from God that our experience of him cannot be tied down to a particular formula. As the apostle Paul said, now we see in a mirror dimly; only in the world to come will we see face-to-face. Now we know in part, but then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known by God. If the resolution of this age-old difficulty has to wait until then, that may also be a sign from God that our theologies, however reasonable they may seem to us, can never fully grasp the mystery of his eternal and transcendent being. As Christians we are called to live with differences like these and admit that both sides have something to be said in their favor. In the final analysis, it is how we love one another in spite of these differences, and not how successfully we manage to prove to our own satisfaction that we are right and those who differ from us are wrong, that shows the world what it means for us to be children of God (222).


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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