A Controversy that Illuminates the Godhead
In about the 6th century AD there was a controversy that caused a major stir in Orthodox Europe which has come to be known as the Filioque Controversy. The word filioque is the Latin meaning "from the Son" and is an expression that was inserted into the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed at the third council of Toledo in AD 589 in opposition to those who held that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father. The purpose of this addition was to establish as dogma once and for all that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Though we cannot be sure why this insertion took place at this time it was probably a reaction to Arianism (of which the Jehovah's Witnesses are a modern example) which maintained that Christ was a lesser god to the Father. In AD 767 the Eastern Church (based in Constantinople/Byzantium) accused the Western Church (based in Rome) of heresy on this point as well as charging it with sacrilege in corrupting the creed of the universal church by adding the word filioque. Initially the Western Church, under Pope Leo III, compromised by omitting the offending word yet all the while maintaining the doctrine, before adding it to the creed under Pope Nicholas I. It has ever since been included in the Western (Catholic and Protestant) creeds in defiance of the Eastern Orthodox Church which regards the affair as a blasphemy.
Now why should we as New Covenant Christians be interested in a creed that we do not use? And is such a distinction regarding the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) important? If coming to an understanding of what or who the Godhead consists then, yes, this is an important matter, for it will very much alter our perspective of the purpose of life.
To begin with, the Western Church has always admitted that the insertion of filioque cannot be justified by the words of Scripture itself but by deductions of Scripture, in other words, by interpretation. And whilst interpretation is, to be sure, both commendable and necessary, we must be careful not to enshrine into dogma a point of theology that may legitimately be interpreted in different ways.
First the Scriptures in question used as proof-texts by the Western Churches: "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal.4:6, KJV). "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom.8:9, KJV).
One of the first remarks we are obliged to make is that the word "spirit" has numerous meanings and may be used in both the impersonal as well as the personal sense. It is for this reason that throughout the Bible that the Spirit is described in both masculine, feminine and neutral terms. In our English language we use the word to refer either to a person (e.g. "there is a spirit walking around the graveyard") or to the charisma of a person (e.g. "John has a warm spirit about him") which the context usually reveals. The same indistinction exists in the Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma), both of which are better rendered as "breath", the meaning of which which may onlly be resolved by the context of their usage. It is because of this problem that Christendom has divided over the issue of what or who the Spirit is, some maintaining that it is no more than an impersonal divine emanation ("breath") and others that He/She/It is a veritable Person. New Covenant Christians have always maintained that the word "Spirit" may be rendered in either way, the situation of the word in the text usually rendering a clear verdict on whether a personal or impersonal usage may be ascribed.
As we look at the two key texts above in Galatians and Romans we see at once that it is impossible to say with any degree of certainy that a Person is being referred to. The very expression "spirit of" implies possession, so that the "spirit of Picasso" is the spirit, influence or charisma that belongs to "Picasso". Thus the "Spirit of God" and the "Spirit of Christ" may just as easily refer to the influence or charisma of the Father and of Christ as distinct Personages as to an independent Personage called "The Holy Spirit".
To obtain a final resolution of this matter, as they suppose, Western divines appeal to the sayings of John the Apostle who writes: "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" (Jn.15:26, KJV). "Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you" (Jn.16:7, KJV).
From the point-of-view of the Western Churches, there are problems with these passages also which speak of the "Comforter" (Gk. paraklêtos), also rendered as Paraclete, Councelor, or Exhorter - literallly translated, "one called alongside" (see also Jn.14:16). Firstly, it is very clear that the origin of the Paraclete is the Father, not the Son even though Yah'shua (Jesus) has the authority to call upon the Paraclete to be sent (Jn.15:26). Thus we may say that the primary "attachment" or "association" of the Paraclete is with the Father. Secondly, the Paraclete is not able to minister to believers whilst Christ is upon the earth, indicating some sort of primacy on the part of Christ. These two observations appear, at first glance, to be contradictory, for in the first the Spirit is shown to have a closer association to the Father than to the Son, and in the second, the Son is seen to exercise some sort of authority or possess some pre-eminence over the Paraclete. And it is such apparent "contradictions" that led early Church theologians to speculate as to the relationship between the three members of the Godhead, leading to many theological and intellectual contortions to get the Scriptures to harmonise. It is astonishing that it took the Western and Eastern Churches so long to arrive at a Godhead doctrine, to then finally disagree. Brilliant a formulation though the Trinity Doctrine may be (which ever of the two versions you subscribe to) it is, in the final analysis a deduction based on theological mathematics rather than a divine revelation clearly stated in Scripture, and it does in fact leave out one crucial fact, viz. that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is nearly always referred to in feminine terms in the Old Testament (see Christopher C. Warren, The Trinity: The Position of the New Covenant Church of God, "The Deity of the Holy Spirit", New Covenant Press, 1999, pp.6-14). Are we to conclude that the Holy Spirit changed gender between the Old and New Covenants? Or is there perhaps another explanation?
Of the two traditions, we believe the Eastern Orthodox one is nearer the truth than the Western Catholic and Protestant ones. The Easterners, aware of the Old Testament teaching, wrestled with the gender of the Holy Spirit long and hard and at one time openly spoke of Her femaleness, referring to Her by Her Greek appellation, Sophia (lit. "wisdom"). We learn from the Old Testament, and specifically from the writings of Solomon, that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) was a special creation of God, making Her a special bosom companion in a manner not dissimilar to that of Eve to Adam. Thus we are able to understand how, as John tells us, She "proceeds" from the Father. Christ the Son, however, is not a special creation like Sophia, but is eternal and uncreated, and so equally we can understand how He occupies a place of authority over Her to the extent that He can call for Her to be sent from the Father, as also John points out. The puzzle is nearly solved and indeed would be complete were it not for the fact that the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is nearly always rendered in the masculine form as "He". It is this one (but not unimportant) point that has led many investigating the New Covenant Christian claims and teachings to shy away from the issue and to remain with the classical Trinitarian formulation(s). When pressed to harmonise the Scriptures, the reaction is either to avoid the issue together and appeal to tradition, or to seek an explanation as extra-biblical as the Trinitarian formulation which they seek to defend, viz. by turning to such traditions as kabbalism which teach that the Spirit is, in a sense, twin-gendered or hermaphrodite, a dangerous recourse indeed which ultimately leads to pantheism and occultism; for if the Spirit is hermaphrodite (both male and female simultaneously) then what is to stop us from saying that the "Father" is also, whom perhaps we should more accurately call "Father-Mother" as many New Agers do? But to do this is to overturn the Scriptures entirely and their clear witness that the Father is male. No, the kabbalistic solution is no solution at all for its doctrine is, ultimately, pagan and antithetical to the Bible. What "comfort" such a doctrine may confer in the short term cannot compensate for the gaping defects and implications such a doctrine has on the wider issue of Who God is.
So what is the solution to the masculine gender of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament? There are only two possible resolutions: (1) The influence, presence or charisma of the Godhead, consisting of both Male and Female personages, is defined in terms of the presiding autorities: and since the male Father presides over the female Holy Spirit, and as the eternally pre-existent male Son has authority to send Her from the Father, so Her presence and influence is described as "He", "His" or "Him" to honour Her Head; (2) The New Testament was originally written in Hebrew, the purer of the two languages, in which the female nature of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) would have been clearly shown, but which has now been obscured by translation, different languages attributing different genders to different nouns (as, for example in English or Russian, where we refer to our country as the "motherland" whereas in German or Scandinavian it is referred to as a "fatherland").
Though there is some considerable evidence that the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew and subsequently translated into the lingua franca of the day (most scholars agree that Matthew was originally composed in Hebrew), there is no doubt that of the two explanations the first is the more plausible, though this does not exclude the possibility that both are true. Either way, the Western and Eastern Churches' doctrines of the Godhead are defective in ommitting the female aspect of Divinity, having created, as they have, an all-male Deity. This neglect may well explain the Mariolatry that emerged in both (most pronounced in the Western Catholic Church) and the rabid schism in the Protestant Churches which have no female counterpart to the Father and Son at all: which partially explains, I suspect, the move towards liberalism and its acceptance of many New Age ideas.
There are no Fathers without Mothers as the Mormons remind us, though in defending a quite different as well as heretical teaching. The opening up of the Godhead question quite understandably leaves many Christians uneasy in a world saturated with feminism and New Age/occult mother-worship, and I sympathise with their fears that to challenge a long held dogma is an open invitation to apostacy in the form of a return of worship to the "Queen of Heaven", an idolatry for which Israel paid dearly. However, if we adhere closely to the Word we need not concern ourselves unduly, for we are not by any means turning to mother-worship in the least: To honour the Heavenly Mother is not the same as worshipping Gaia or Tammuz, for for one thing we are commanded to worship, and pray to, the Father through the Son. No other formula has ever been given us and none other ever will. Adam stands at the head of Eve and of his family for ever even as the Father stands at the head of the Mother.
I believe that the Filioque Controversy stands as a reminder to us that the classical Trinitarian model, brilliant and honourable a construction as it is (its purpose being to squash gnostic heresies), is nevertheless defective by its omissions, and should not be seen by us as anything more than a worthy speculation. In the final analysis, it is extra-Biblical, a point that seems to be lost to those who maintain that only the Bible is their rule of faith. For in being required to accept the Trinitatian formulation as a test of faith we are being asked to commit the same sin as the Mormons in demanding allegiance to other scriptures such as the Book of Mormon - we are being asked to accept the Word and the doctrines of men, however sincere and purely motivated those men may have been. In the end it is "Christianity-plus".... Christianity with a little bit extra tacked on to it, a dangerous formula if the "plus" blinds us to seeing great and glorious truths yet hidden in the Word.
The truth, however, remains - that same "Spirit of Truth" sent from God is crying out to teach us something wonderful about the Godhead - that in addition to a loving Heavenly Father there is a loving Heavenly Mother (Jn.15:26). She is a gift from God and has an active and vitally important salvational ministry. She is our Comforter sent from the Father at the request of the Son. I myself have both seen and heard Her which, I suppose, makes me somewhat biased in Her favour! Nevertheless, inspite of my personal testimony, my justification for preaching this doctrine rests ultimately with the Word. And it is to that that the Body of Christ must all finally turn to establish the truth.
This page was created on 24 January 2001
Last updated on 24 January 2001
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