Monarchy of the Father in Orthodoxy

It seems the main contention between the East and West over the Filioque really has to do with the doctrine of the Monarchy of the Father. The Western Church equates the Ousia with God’s existence as the Trinity, this is in part due to the fact that Aristotelean metaphysics had much more influence on western Christian thinking than it did in the East. But in the Eastern Church, God’s ousia (being) is distinct from his existence, and God in his existence is the three hypostases of the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the hypostasis of existence, he is God’s existence as existence, he is “hyper-ontological” "(above all categories of beingness) and he is logically prior to the ousia, the ousia logically “comes” from the Father since the Father is the source of the Trinity by generating the Son and spirating the Holy Spirit alone (not as a single spiration with the Son and the west teaches), and the Son and the Holy Spirit receive their divinity from the Father by sharing in the ousia of the Father. They are the hands of the Father for creation. Since the Son and Holy Spirit share in the ousia of the Father they are equally God with the Father, they are all omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, none is above or below the other ontologically and all are given the same supreme worship of Latria (the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God), but the Father does indeed occupy a place above the Son and the Holy Spirit existentially. Hence this is why Orthodox theologian Fr John Behr declares, “there is, unequivocally, but one God, and that is the Father”. The Father, in his act of free will, “causes” the Ousia of the Trinity by generating the person of the Son and spirating the person of the Holy Spirit. In the western Church the “Monarchy of the Father” has been reduced to simple “relations” between the persons of the Trinity, and for us Orthodox this appears as borderline Modalism. So ultimately, that is what I wanted to clear up for some of my friends here on CAF who don’t seem to fully understand the importance of this issue, because the East and West do have significant differences in how we view the unity of the Trinity. The west sees the unity in the Ousia, the east sees the unity in the person of the Father.

What do you think of this explanation from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity?

While it is true that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, this is because the Son is the one who sends the Spirit into the temporal world from eternity. So it is correct to characterize the Spirit proienai from the Father and the Son. This seems to have been the original understanding of the Western Church, an understanding which the Orthodox Catholic Church accepts, and indeed, even Maximus the Confessor defended accusations of heresy against the Western Church that they believed the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as if procession belonged to the hypostasis of the Son so that we can say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son ekporeusthai (i.e. that the Son eternally causes the Spirit). However, under the heavy influence of Aristotlean metaphysics, in identifying God’s hypostases with God’s ousia, this heretical understanding of the Filioque did become quite dominate in the Western Church later on, so that the procession takes in the essence from the hypostases of the Father and Son as the eternal cause of the Holy Spirit. This seems to be the view taken by the Second Council of Lyons (1272-1274) and the Council of Florence (1431-1439), and is the chief reason the Orthodox Church did not reuinite with the Roman Church since our theologians, like St. Mark of Ephesus, showed that what was being taught about the procession of the Holy Spirit in those councils was indeed heretical and this time was actually at odds with the doctrine of the Monarchy of the Father. This belief persisted throughout the West, but in recent years with mutual dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic Churches, the Roman Church seems to have “reversed”, at least slightly, to the more ancient understanding of the Filioque, although Roman Catholic theology is still heavily entrenched in Aristotelean metaphysics for defining God.

The reverse polemic is that the distinctions made by some Orthodox appears to the West as borderline Polytheism/Arianism (the latter being a historically larger problem in the East than the West). And if we’re citing citing the influence of pagan philosophers, the East was likewise influenced by Plotinus and neoplatonist practices.

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Did I say anything about philosophers? I’m speaking about the original beliefs. Over time, the Western Church came to abandon the original understanding of the Trinity for a more scholastic understanding. If I’m criticizing anyone, then I’m criticizing Aristotle, not philosophy as a whole or even all of Aristotle’s philosophy. However, Aristotealn metaphysics leads to Modalism (and even pantheism since all of being would be said to be derived from the being). The thing is, is that the Orthodox understanding IS the original understanding, so your polemics against us are simply unfounded and a complete misunderstanding of what homoiousianism (Arianism) is and homoousianism. Your understanding of the Trinity, however, has evolved towards Modalism, a heresy which was quite rampant throughout the west, whilst we have continued in the original understanding and are the original Church founded by Jesus Christ.

Regarding the bolded portions, is this badly worded? Or which is it? Is the Father alone hyper-ontological? Or are none above or below each other ontologically?

“Unequivocally.” Again, you write all three are God and then you quote a statement which allows for no equivocation of the word God and that it is properly attributed to the Father alone.

You’re reducing the real distinctions to merely logical ones, and insisting on univocity of being rather than analogy.

You really want to go down the road of labeling doctrine as heresy? Again, the reverse charge here is that your presentation of the Trinity has evolved into full polytheism. On the flip side I’ve seen Orthodox defenses of panentheism that itself would boil down to pantheism.

There are three existences of God, the hypostases of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause of the Trinity, he is the source of the ousia, the Father as his hypostasis is God above being since he is logically prior to the Ousia, the Son is the hypostasis of God as generation, and the Holy Spirit is the hypostasis of God as spiration. Both the Son and Holy Spirit are distinct existences of God, they are distinct from each other and from the Father, and they are God because they share the same being (Ousia) of the Father who causes the being by generating the Son and spirating the Holy Spirit, and since God is eternal, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. They are all ontologically and equally God, neither above nor below the other, all all powerful, all knowing, always present, fully consubstantial with each other and all due the highest form of worship Latria of which none receives more or less than any other. They are ontologically equal, but the Father as the Father is existentially prior to the Ousia which the Son and Holy Spirit share in. Not ontologically prior to the Son and Holy Spirit, but existentially. There is a distinction between God’s being, and God’s existences, what are generally referred to a persons in Western Christianity and sometimes by Eastern theologians too (although some avoid using it since person in Greek “prosopon” has Modalistic connotations). This is the Orthodox Faith.

Because the Father is God as God is, he is God as existence. So in a sense, yes only the Father is “properly” called God in that there is one God because of the Father and one divine Ousia because of the Father, and the Son shares in the Father’s Ousia, he is God from God, and the likewise the Holy Spirit is God as spiration. They are all God in their nature, they are all ontologically the same being and are ontologically equal and they do not “share” 1/3rd of the Ousia but they share in the complete fullness of God’s being. The Father in his free will eternally causes the Ousia, the Father is the cause of his nature and likewise gives his nature to the Son by generating him, and to the Holy Spirit by spiration. They are all God. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Not three gods, one God. All equal, all eternal. One God. This is the Orthodox faith.

You can read much more about it here:

Uhhh that’s exactly what Western theologians do. They reduce the hypostases to nothing more than relations in an ousia, there is no true distinction given. It’s borderline Modalism. Either something belongs to one of the hypostases or to all of them, as St. Mark of Ephesus says, to say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as one spiration would be to comingle the Father and Son as a single hypostasis. To say that there are two spiration, however, would be polytheism as it would make the Father and Son separate gods since they would be separate causes, but the Father alone is the cause, and in this way is the one God.

But the reverse charge is a complete misunderstanding of what we believe. However, western theology logically ends with Modalism.

So why didn’t that explanation settle the question then?

For some EO hierarchs it has. But for others, their first dogma has basically become Rome is wrong no matter what. No matter how much we explain ourselves–and this is not the first time–it doesn’t change their view of us. Giorgios Scholarios, a 15th century EO Patriarch who–interestingly enough defended Aristotelianism–said the following about our explanations:

for as long as they profess the Filioque in the Creed, even though they deny ten thousand times the Dyarchy (alt. trans; the two principles of Godhead) and Sabellian-like teaching, and other such things, or even should they renounce or state their intent of renouncing their teachings at some point, but still retain the Filioque, they still remain what they are.

There are Western Fathers–who the EOs uphold as orthodox–who profess the Filioque, but again some don’t want to hear it. As their saint, Mark of Ephesus stated, “The words of the western fathers and doctors, which attribute to the Son the cause of the Spirit, I never recognize.”

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