This short paper seeks to address the third volume of Yves Congar's book: "I believe in the Holy Trinity," and to demonstrate the doctrine of the Holy Spirit from an Eastern Perspective.

In reading this book it was immediately apparent that Congar's view on doctrine of the unknowability of God is very essential to Trinitarian theology. The trinity in itself is also the Trinity of economy. He repeatedly stated that the Trinity is a mystery of salvation. If it were not, it would not have been revealed to us. Congar also correctly emphasizes that the theology and worship of Eastern Christianity continue to be saturated with trinitarian categories.

Since the goal of Congar's book is ecumenical, that is to uncover the common ground of both the Eastern and Western Trinitarian Tradition, it is appropriate that we offer an Orthodox critique of some aspects of his Trinitarian theology as well as his analysis of some Eastern Fathers.


The positive points of the book can be summed up as follows:

1-Congar underlines the fact that faith was not only professed in the doxology but also was lived fundamentally both in the East and the West. This is a characterization of the early centuries of Christianity, especially the first eight.

2-Congar considers the East and the West as two sisters who love one another. By quoting what Pope Paul VI said on his return from a journey to Constantinople, Congar reveals the good intention of his book. He also mentions the meeting of Pope John Paul II with the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I where they discussed serious theological problems contained in essential chapters of the Christian faith. This is a great ecumenical endeavor to reconcile the two Churches.

3-His emphasis on an apophatic theology is in fact a rejuvenation of the Patristic Tradition. Thus he stresses that God is beyond all existence because existence as we know it in Creation is entirely contingent -- and God is certainly not contingent on anything. This leads us to speak of God in negative terms, of what God is not rather than positive statements of what God is. This apophaticism is also found in the Latin speaking West, as Tertullian bears witness: "He is invisible, though He is seen; incomprehensible, though by grace revealed; beyond our conceiving, though conceived by human senses. . . . The infinite is known only to itself. Because this is so, it allows us to conceive of God -- though He is beyond our conceiving."

4-Congar also examines the issue of the eighth Council which solemnly annulled the measures against Photius. It is certain that the creed was proclaimed at this council without the Filioque.

5-Congar frankly admits that the Latin vocabulary fails to express the value that the Greeks rightly place on the term "ekporeutai" of John 15:26.

6-He recognizes the fact that Eastern Christians have never spoken of the Father and the Son as forming a single principle of active spiration.

7-Examining the theology of John of Damascus, Congar clearly states that his per filium is not the Filioque. John's trinitarian theology denies the procession of the Spirit "from the Father and from the Son as from a single principle."

8-Congar's call to suppress the Filioque is an ecumenical gesture of humility and brotherhood. He asserted that the Roman Catholic Church could, under the conditions that he has outlined, suppress the Filioque in the creed, which in any event was introduced in a canonically irregular way.

9-In spite of a general inconsistency on the issue of the eternal procession of the Spirit, it is refreshing to see a noted Catholic theologian like Congar concede that the standard Catholic proof-texts from the Bible concerning the supposed procession of the Spirit "from the Son" only concerns the Spiritís temporal sending by the Son.

10-Explaining the theology of Gregory Palamas, he stresses that God' energies must be available for us to share in, and they must be uncreated or else we could never be deified.

This last point is important in Eastern theology. Orthodoxy differentiates between Godís essence and his activities, his self-manifestation to the world. It is axiomatic in Orthodoxy that we can not know God in his essence, for to know fully the nature of God is to be God. God in his essence is complete mystery; we can only know God in his activities, his love, his mercy, and so forth. Yet even Godís activities are mysterious: "How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways past finding out." Essence without energy is inconceivable. As Basil the Great says: "There is no natural essence without energy, nor energy without essence. Rather, we recognize the essence by virtue of the energy, this energy manifesting and testifying to the essence. For no one has ever seen Godís essence; but we come to believe in the essence by virtue of the energy."



Quoting Saint Augustine, Congar explains the Western way of doing theology: "Augustine made it a rule in Latin theology that an intellectus fidei or an understanding of faith should be sought through reasoning and meditation and therefore, if necessary, outside Scripture."

On the one hand, it seems that Congar accepts that the first source of knowledge is revelation itself. On the other hand, he says that God should be sought through reasoning and meditation and that he is revealed above all in images, and metaphors.

From an Eastern point of view, revelation is not merely a communication of concepts that can be searched out by reason for a fuller understanding. God in his revelation did not simply communicate through images, metaphors and written words. Rather, He manifested Himself in person. The Eastern Tradition is based on the direct revelation of God and on direct participation in the uncreated glory. However, Eastern Tradition agrees with Congar that the expression of the revelation can be transmitted through images.


Although Congar reiterates the Eastern differentiation between the eternal and temporal procession, he tries to identify the temporal with the eternal missions, arguing:

A-If all the data of the incarnation were transposed into the eternity of the Logos, it would be necessary to say that the Son proceeds from the Father and the Holy Spirit.

B-All the New testament texts that speak of a relationship between the Spirit and the Son are concerned with the economy.

C-Christ's sonship is eternal and the Spirit must be eternally from the Son.

Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, distinguishes between the eternal procession and the mission of the Holy Spirit in the world. God may be partially revealed in the economy by his activity, but he remains absolutely hidden in his essential being.

Congar asserts that even John 15:26, which most of the Fathers believed refers to the Spiritís eternal procession from the Father, is actually only concerned with the temporal sending as well! In this Congar is not only in contradiction with Orthodox theologians, but many Catholic ones as well.


Congar characterizes the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

The consensus of the Eastern Tradition is that the Holy Spirit is of the Father, and is called the Father's Spirit.

On the other hand, the Eastern Fathers profess that the Holy Spirit was revealed to us and given to us through the Son. The Holy Spirit is the force of the Father who proclaims the hidden Godhead.

In the temporal sense, however, he is called in the Eastern Tradition, the Spirit of the Son. According to Saint Paul, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit and the mind of Christ. As Basil the Great says about the Holy Spirit, writing in his treatises to the Eunomians: "That the Spirit is from God, the Apostle proclaimed clearly, saying that we have obtained the Spirit from God, and making it clear that he came through the Son, calling him the Spirit of the Son as God, and also calling him the mind of Christ, as well as the Spirit of God, just as if it were the spirit of a human being."


"Through the Son" had - as early as St. Augustine - a causative nuance, suggestive of the Son's co-causality. Thus, Congar states: "It is, however, impossible to deny that there are numerous indications in the writings of the fourth and fifth century Greek Fathers of the Church of a dependance on the part of the Spirit with regard to the Son in the life of the eternal Trinity."

In the East, however, theologians always emphasized the complete singleness of "beginning" or "cause" in the Holy Trinity. This is the Father's hypostasis, "the begetting and projecting source." While we confess the invariableness of the (divine) nature we do not deny the distinction of cause and caused, by which alone we perceive that one Person is distinguished from another. It is one thing to be the cause i.e., the Father and another to be from the cause i.e., the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Even when we recite the Creed: "I BELIEVE in one God, the Father, Almighty. . . And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages," we comprehend that the Son was begotten alone of the Father, even if the word "alone" is left unsaid. In the same way when the Symbol says, "The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father," we understand immediately and of necessity that he proceeds from the Father alone.

Similarly Athanasius says: "Who is God? He is the origin of every thing according to the Apostle, who said: ĎThere is one God, the Father, from whom are all things,' because from him is the Word by generation and from him the Spirit by procession." Note the way in which he uses the expression "from him" in relation to the two Persons -- nowhere is the word "alone" added. In like manner we admit that the term "alone" is implied in both.

Basil explains, "Above all, the Son is from God and the Spirit is from God, for the Son came out from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The first, however, by generation from the Father and the second inexpressibly from God." Here the expression "from the Father" is used in a similar fashion. Thus, we understand that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone even when the word "alone" is left unstated.

Gregory the theologian says "To us there is One God, for the Godhead is One, and all that proceeds from him is referred to One, though we believe in three Persons." The word "alone" clearly is understood.

The Lord himself spoke to the Jews: "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from the Father and now I am here," and, "Not that any one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father." Jesus never used the term "alone," saying, "I came from the Father alone," or, "the one who is from the Father alone?" The word "alone" is understood.


There is no clear indication in Congar's book of whether the Spirit proceeds from the essence of the Father or from the hypostasis of the Father. The Eastern Tradition believes that the Son is from the Father, meaning the Son is begotten of the hypostasis of the Father. For the essence is one among the three hypostases, so that the generation of the Son is attributed to the hypostasis of the Father; consequently, it is impossible for the Son to be from the Spirit. Being from the Father, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the divine essence, also according to the hypostasis of the Father. For the essence of the three is absolutely one in every way, therefore the procession of the Spirit belongs to the hypostasis of the Father. Thus it is not possible for the Spirit to also come from the Son, for the Son does not have the characteristic properties of the hypostasis of the Father.

According to John of Damascus, "We recognize the difference of the Persons in three properties only; of being uncaused and Father, of being caused and Son, and of being caused and proceeding." The hypostasis of the Son is not the "cause" but the "caused," for John says that he has only this property. The same can be said of the Holy Spirit. We notice also that the property of the Father includes both generation and procession. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit comes forth from the Son also, then the Son will be a cause with the Father.

Gregory the theologian says: "What can not be addressed to the Spirit from the [attributes] of the Son, except the generation?" "All that the Son has the Holy Spirit has, except the sonship." And the divine John of Damascus says: "Because of the Father, the Son and the Spirit have everything they have, that is to say, because of the fact that the Father has them, except the being unbegotten, the begetting and the procession."

Thus, neither the Son nor the Spirit has the attributes of generation and procession. And as the Spirit doesn't have the attribute of generation at all, so neither does the Son have the attribute of procession at all.


Congar claims that Athanasius and Basil and even the first Ecumenical Council of 381 avoided giving the title "God" to the Spirit. He also stated that in the creed, the Holy Spirit was not called God or said to be consubstantial with the Father.

In response to this, I would like to say:

A-Athanasius does not speak about the economy of Salvation without the Holy Spirit. When he speaks about the eternal existence of the Trinity, he explains John 15:26 not only in the context of the economy of salvation, but in the Eternal existence of God. He emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is not created and is consubstantial with the Father. As the Son comes forth from the Father, so the Spirit comes forth from the Father. Athanasius' theology is revealed in the following summary of his letter to Serapion.

(a) The Spirit Uncreated

If the heretics refuse to class the Son with created things, because of the unity of the Word with the Father. . . how can they dare to call the Spirit a created thing, when he as the same unity with the Son as the Son with the Father?

(b) Yet not Begotten

If, they say, `the Spirit is not a created being nor one of the angels, but proceeds from the Father; then he is a Son also, and there are two Sons, the Spirit and the Word, and if so, how is the Word the only-begotten? The Word and the Spirit must be equal. . . Why is the Spirit not said to be begotten if he is "from the Father"? Why is he not called Son, but simply Holy Spirit? But if he is "of the Son" then the Father is the grandfather of the Spirit.'

(c) The Trinity Indivisible and Consubstantial

In Scripture the Spirit is nowhere called Son (of God) nor the Son's son. But the Son is the Father's Son; the Spirit, the Father's Spirit; and thus there is one godhead of the Holy Trinity, and one faith in the Holy Trinity.

B-Basil the Great, in his polemical work against the Eunomians, writes: "All that is common to the Father and to the Son is common to the Spirit." If the procession is common to the Father and the Son, then it must also be common to the Spirit, and the Trinity is then a quaternity, for from the Spirit will proceed yet another Spirit. Basil did not identify the common love of the Trinity with the common divine essence of the Trinity.

C-In the Creed the term Lord (Kyrios) is a rendering of the Hebrew term Jahweh, which means God.



Congar claims that Justin the Martyr made no distinction between the Logos and the Spirit. Here are some quotations from Justin the Martyr proving that he did distinguish between them:

"The most true God, the Father of righteousness... both Him, the Son, and the prophetic Spirit we worship..."

"He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic spirit in the third."

"He foretells by the Spirit of prophecy that he will bestow meet rewards according to the merits of actions."

According to Pseudo-Justin, "As the Son is from the Father, thus the Holy Spirit is from the Father, except for the way of existence, for the one shines forth from the light by generation, the other, even though he is light of light, did not come forth by generation, but by procession."


Congar states that he is in agreement with T. de Regnon in believing that "the Western and the Eastern Church share the same faith, although they have approached the mystery from different points and along different ways". Yet when writing of Photius, whom the Orthodox follow in their attitude toward the Filioque, Congar seems to believe that Photiusí theology as inconsistent with the Greek Fathers. "We must, however, take Photiusí arguments seriously without at the same time losing sight of those Fathers whose work Photius himself tended to leave aside". Congar apparently believes that barely three pages of analysis is sufficient to "take Photiusí arguments seriously." Congar points out that the Orthodox Church has "taken over Photiusí theology", and this theology puts "out of the question an agreement with the West".

According to Photius, the procession of the Holy Spirit comes not from the common nature but from the hypostasis of the Father, and is therefore unique to the Father alone. He said: "The Father is the origin [of the Son and of the Holy Spirit] not by nature, but in virtue of His hypostatic character." For the Son to participate in the procession of the Spirit would suggest a confusion of the Father and the Son, of the two melting into a compound hypostasis. Thus the Filioque leads to a merging and blurring of the distinctive characteristics of the hypostases, provoking the charge of Sabellianism. Moreover, if the procession of the Spirit is proper to the common divine nature, then not only would the Son participate in the procession of the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit would participate in his own procession as well!

Photius stressed that the Father, being the only "cause" of the Trinity, safeguards both the unity and the distinctiveness of the three Persons of the Godhead. Contrary to the assertion of critics, Photius never taught a "monopatrism" which isolated the Father from the Son and the Spirit. Rather, Photius was concerned to defend the Cappadocian theology of the Symbol against the "joint-cause" of the Filioque, asserting that the Father alone is the "cause" (of the being, attributes and powers) and the two other hypostases are "divinely caused." To Photius, two hypostases being the "cause" of a third hypostasis meant either ditheism, two gods, or a monstrous compound Father-Son hypostasis.

Photius questions the very basis of Augustinian Trinitarianism: the notion of simplicity. This philosophical concept is really an inadequate definition for the biblical God. Simplicity acts as an acid, dissolving all the personal features of the Father into the abyss of the impersonal and utterly simple essence where they are in turn distributed to the other persons. When distinctions which characterize each of the hypostases merge and collapse into the essence in this fashion, there is ultimately nothing to prevent one from asserting that any hypostasis causes another: "For if, according to the reasonings of the ungodly, the specific properties of the persons are opposed and transferred to one another, then the Father -- O depth of impiety! -- comes under the property of being begotten and the Son will beget the Father."


Rivaling his ignorance of Photius must be Congarís grasp of Gregory Palamas. At least here, though, there isn't the degree of hostility that there is for Photius. Oblivious that Palamas has been studied by the Orthodox since the fourteenth century, especially by those who practice the hesychastic tradition like the monks on Mount Athos, Congar writes: "Palamas was almost completely forgotten for several centuries . . . In the nineteen-thirties and forties, however, there was a wonderful revival of interest in him and his theology. Broadly speaking, Eastern theologians have come to recognize in Palamism a clear expression of the genius and the tradition of their Church."

What little Congar knows of Palamas comes from the Russian expatriate tradition, like Sergey Bulgakov, Vladimir Lossky and John Meyendorff. Congar of course knows nothing of Palamasí works on the Filioque which should be translated to modern languages. It is refreshing, however, to at least see Congar admit that he is somewhat out of his depth on Palamas: "It may be because I am not sufficiently well informed, but I have to admit that I am not quite clear what Palamas thinks about his attribution to the energies or to the Person of the Holy Spirit. . . . "

In his polemical books, Palamas clearly accused the Western theologians of his time of heterodoxy and doctrinal innovation. Palamas emphasized that the disagreement is not only a question of words, but mainly a doctrinal disagreement. He said that the Orthodox do not accept that the existence of the Holy Spirit comes from the hypostasis of the Son, while those whom he met from the West did. To him it is impossible for the East and the West to agree in their conception of God.

While struggling to express the oneness of nature, that is, the equality of the Son with the Father, Palamas maintained that those who wrote the Creed believed that it was sufficient without the addition of the Filioque: "Therefore, it is neither right nor proper to introduce this addition into the Creed, which the venerable Fathers in their meeting wrote and delivered to us, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To this Creed no one has been allowed to add or subtract anything since the Second Council of the saints. According to this council, whoever dares to add or subtract anything is put under an anathema and is excommunicated from the Church."

He said that the one who declares that the Son also is the cause of divinity rejects the Son himself, who said clearly in the Gospel, "The Father is greater than I," not only as man, but as God as well since the Father is the Originator of divinity. The Father is not more God than the Son. None of the Eastern Fathers ever asserted that the Son is equal to the Father according to the origin of divinity. However, Palamas confessed the equality of the Father and the Son according to nature and the superiority of the Father according to the origin of divinity, which consists of both generation and procession.

Thus it is not possible for the Son to share the attributes of the hypostasis of the Father. If he should share in the procession of the Spirit, then there are either two causes in that the procession will be found in two hypostasis (the causes are two since what is "caused" is understood to be derived from two hypostases), or we will combine the Father and the Son into a single [compound] hypostasis. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit must proceed from the Father alone immediately and instantaneously in the same manner as the Son is begotten of the Father.

For this reason, Gregory the divine leader of Nyssa, says: "Not all persons have their existence immediately from the same person, for the cause and the caused are many and varied. In the Holy Spirit, however, this thing does not happen, for the Person of the Father is one and the same, from whom the Son is begotten, and Holy Spirit proceeds. Thus we have the courage to say authoritatively that there is one God, one cause with his caused."

If the causes are many, then there is no longer only one God: just as we are not one human being though all of us are of the same essence, so God would be no longer One.



On page XVIII, Congar states that Augustine "Spoke of the Filioque because the New Testament attributes the Spirit both to the Father and the Son." Again Congar stresses that Augustine's point of departure is the fact that the Spirit is said to be both of the Father and Spirit of the Son. From this it is concluded that "the Spirit then is from the Father and the Son." This has been the basis of Western theology since the Middle Ages.

It is true that Augustine insisted that the Spirit is the Spirit of both the Father and the Son: "Scripture enables us to know in the Father the principle, auctoritas, in the Son being begotten and born, nativitas, and in the Spirit the union of the Father and the Son, Patris Filiique communitas...The Spirit is the Spirit of the two."

"The Spirit is distinguished relationally from the two in the unity of the divine essence only by proceeding from the two as their common Spirit."

To Augustine it seemed better to begin with the unity of the divine nature, since this is a truth which is demonstrated by reason. . . The logic of this arrangement is today commonly recognized, and in the textbooks of dogma the treatise De Deo Uno precedes that of De Deo Trino.'

Augustine therefore analyzed a series of triads, moving from more external ones to more intimate ones and from simple psychological analysis to an expression of supernatural experience. According to Augustine, "As for the Son to be born is to be from the Father, so for the Son is to be sent is to be known in his origin from the Father. In the same way, as for the Holy Spirit to be the gift of God is to proceed from the Father, so to be sent is to be known in his procession from the Father. What is more, we cannot deny that the Spirit also proceeds from the Son. . . I cannot see what he could otherwise meant when breathing on the faces of the disciples, the Lord declared: "Receive the Holy Spirit." (Jn 20:20) Yet John 20:20 clearly deals with Christ's temporal sending of the Spirit to the Apostles. Thus it is on the basis of the economy that Augustine constructs his theology of the eternal procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, that is not as Father and as Son but as giver.

According to Augustinian theology, there can be no accidents in God. Therefore, only the substance of God, or the essence of God, is unchangeable.

Augustine illustrated the nature of the Trinity by comparing it to the individual human mind. To this end, Augustine created the Triad of "memory," "understanding" and "will" to mirror the Trinity. The analogy is between the inner structure of the human mind and the inner being of God, because it is in the former that the latter is made known. While "memory" is the rough equivalent of the Father in this model, nevertheless, he argues that memory belongs to all three and not just to the Father. Augustine establishes the difference between Son and Spirit, as we have already seen, by appeal to the distinction. But they are three inasmuch as they are related to one another between understanding and will.

Augustine's concept of the Spirit as the love which unites Father and Son is among the most perverted of theological ideas. All Eastern Fathers reject the idea that the Holy Spirit can be equated with the common energies of the Father and the Son like love. The Holy Spirit is an hypostasis, not an energy. The Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council specified that the Holy Spirit is not to be identified with any common energy of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is an individuality who is not what is common between the Father and Son, but has in common everything the Father and Son have in common.

This notion of love centers on the unitive function of love in relating Father to Son and thus obscures the specific hypostatic uniqueness of the Holy Spirit. Augustine was unable to conceive true otherness within the Trinity, the result of too strong an emphasis upon the unity of God. Consequently, Augustine rejected the distinction between what the persons of the Trinity are and what they have identifying what God is with what God has.

Augustine failed to understand:

A-The distinction between the common essence and the energies of the Holy Trinity.

B-The incommunicable individualities of the divine Hypostases.


At issue in the dispute on the Filioque are two incompatible concepts of the Trinity:

1-The Eastern approach where the Hypostasis of the Father is the starting point of the Trinitarian theology.

2-The Augustinian approach where God is viewed as a simple essence within which a Trinity of Persons can be understood only in terms of internal relations. In this approach, it is characteristic to begin with contemplation of the general "nature" of the Godhead.

The Eastern Tradition adopted the first concept which emphasizes the Father as the origin of the other two hypostasis. Another distinctive feature of this approach to Trinitarian theology is that there is a distinction between the nature and will of God. This distinction does not negate the simplicity of God. Indeed, if one does not accept this distinction, then it would be impossible to discern clearly between the generation of the Son and the Creation of the world. As a result, creation is deified and God arrayed among the creatures.

Everything that the Father has, the Son and the Spirit also have. The Divine Hypostases are not distinguished from one another by anything other than their correlative "peculiarities." The hypostases abide, and are firmly established in one another. They are permanent and not interchangeable.

The Divine Hypostases does not differ from one another in essence, for, all of the Divine Nature is completely found in all of the hypostases - all of it is in the Father, all of it is in the Son, all of it is in the Holy Spirit. The names of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit signify the form of existence and the form of the reciprocal relationship of the hypostases. The procession is the manner of existence of the Holy Spirit from the Father which constitutes the Spirit's special individuality. The Trinitarian Mystery started from the First Hypostasis as the single beginning and source of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is not the Son of the Father, but the Spirit of the Father, proceeding from the Father.

As Logos and Breath, the Son and the Holy Spirit originate from the Father. The Father is the cause, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the caused. The Orthodox would not accept the path followed at the council Florence. The Son's consubstantiality with the Father is safeguarded without the Filioque.

Also the mysterious "mediation" of the Holy Spirit by the Son is equivalent in no way to that "causing" by the Father which is the beginning of the Holy Spirit's hypostatic existence. So any notion about some "co-causing" by the Son is unquestionably excluded. The Logos is revealed in the Holy Spirit as the Father is revealed in the Logos. For the Logos is the herald of the Mind, and the Holy Spirit is the disclosure of the Logos. The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, rests in the Son as his power of manifestation.

There must be a clear distinction between the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit, and the Father alone causing the existence of the Holy Spirit. Generation and procession should not be confused with the divine powers and energies. God is related to the creation only by will and not by nature. The hypostatic properties are incommunicable manners of existence.