i) One of the traditional motivations for the monarchy of the Father is to supply a unifying principle for the Trinity. This supposedly safeguards monotheism against tritheism. On this view, the Trinity is still one God because the members of the Trinity share the same nature.
One reason the Eastern Orthodox reject double procession (i.e. the filioque clause in Latin/Western editions of the Nicene creed) is that this introduces two constitutive principles into the Trinity, for the Spirit is said to derive from both the Father and the Son. If the Trinity has one than one constitutive principle (i.e. the monarchy of the Father), the result is polytheistic. Or so goes the argument.
ii) On a related note, the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit are treated as individuating principlesto distinguish the three persons. Two take two classic formulations:
The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son (WCF 2.3)Q. 10. What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?A. It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity (WLC Q/A 10)
It’s striking that the Westminster standards rubberstamp the Nicene formulations at this juncture, despite Calvin’s reservations.
iii) There are, however, some obvious problems with the Nicene argument. To say the Father filiates the Son and spirates the Spirit has no explanatory value, for the claim is, at best, tautologous. All we’ve done is to recast a noun as a verb. This is somewhat obscured by the fact that English sometimes mixes Germanic nouns with Latin verbs. Let’s use the same language for both:
The Father filiates the filius and spirates the spiritus.
Does that explain anything? No. The verb doesn’t add anything to the concept. For the verb belongs to the same word-group as the noun. If you know what the noun means, you know what the verb means, but the verbal description doesn’t contribute anything new to your prior understanding.
It’s like saying a flower flowers, a light lights, or water waters. That doesn’t advance our understanding of the process, for the definition is circular. It leaves us where we started.
So it has no explanatory power. It’s just a pun or play on words. A purely linguistic analogy.
iv) Of course, Nicene proponents to attempt to define generation/filiation and procession/spiration by saying this means the Father conveys his nature, essence, or substance to the Son and Spirit. However, there are problems with that definition:
v) How do they derive “communication of essence” from the concept of filiation? Even if it’s true that when a man begets a son, he conveys his nature to the son, we’re working off a biological metaphor. For it’s also true that when a man begets a son, he impregnates a woman. That’s a necessary element of the same process. So how do Nicene proponents decide which aspects of the metaphor to apply to the Son? How do they determine what’s analogous and what’s disanalogous? To seize on “communication of essence” is arbitrary. The metaphor itself doesn’t single out that particular aspect.
vi) However, let’s grant the conceptual derivation in the case of filiation. By what argument do Nicene advocates derive the same concept from procession or spiration?
Even if a man conveys his essence by begetting, does he convey his essence by exhaling? How do you derive the concept of communicating one’s essence from the concept of procession or spiration?
Is this supposed to be an argument from analogy, in which we spiration is comparable to filiation? But if it’s an argument from analogy, why define spiration by reference to filiation rather than vice versa?
vii) Roger Beckwith says eternal spiration is
…symbolised, when he proceeds from Christ, by human breath (John 20:22). This is perhaps as near as we can get to a conception of the eternal procession of the Spirit, and if so it is a personal activity… if the very name of the ‘Spirit’ implies being breathed out, as seems probable (Job 27:3; 33:4; Ezek. 37:5f., 14), the idea of proceeding from God is essential to his nature,” R. Beckwith, “The Calvinist Doctrine of the Trinity.”
But why assume the Spirit is named the “Spirit” (breath, wind) to denote the effect of a process? Surely pneuma and ruach have wider connotations. The Spirit might be called “spirit” because he is invisible. Intangible. A discarnate agent.
Or he might be called “spirit” because he’s the source of life, like the breath of life. Not the effect of respiration, but the cause of respiration.
God animated Adam by breathing life into him (Gen 2:7). Conversely, to die is to expire. The Spirit reanimates the dead (Ezk 37:1-14). Divine CPR.
Or he might be called “spirit” because, like the wind, he is powerful, unpredictable, untamable (cf. Jn 3:8). Or because he’s both creative and destructive (Cf. Gen 1:2; Ps 104:30; Isa 40:7).
Or he might be called “spirit” to evoke the spoken word. Speech. He inspires the prophets.
Or he might be called “spirit” on analogy with the human soul (1 Cor 2:10-11).
Indeed, it’s likely that Scripture is exploiting all these polyvalent connotations of pneuma or ruach. It’s a very flexible metaphor.
viii) Finally, how does communication of essence differentiate the Son from the Spirit if the same essence is communicated to both? If you define generation and procession both in terms of communicating the Father’s essence, then it’s the same process. How can the same process yield different results?
And even if you say generation and procession represent different processes, if the same essence is conveyed to both the Son and the Spirit, how does the process have any differential effect? So the Nicene argument fails on its own grounds.
Keep in mind, too, that the Nicene argument has spiraled into extrascriptural speculation. It’s not as if the Bible commits us to these speculations.