Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Very Brief Primer on the Filioque

The Filioque is a phrase added to the Nicene Creed in Western Christianity. The original text of the Nicene Creed (really, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed) states that the Holy Spirit is “τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον,” “the One out of the Father proceeding.” In the currently-used Latin text, it is stated that the Holy Spirit is “Qui ex Patre Filioque procedit,” “Who out of the Father and the Son proceeds.” Originally, the Latin did not have the “and the Son” (Filioque); the phrase appeared in other creeds beginning around the 5th century, and it began to be added to the Nicene Creed in the 8th century. It was added to combat a heresy related to Arianism that had sprung up in the West, especially among the Goths, a heresy that denied the consubstantiality of all three Persons of the Trinity. The phrase also fit in with the Latin theological tradition and the way it discussed the Holy Spirit’s relation to the Father and the Son. In the East, however, the theological tradition discussed this relation differently; not only that, but when the Filioque was translated into Greek, it became a heretical statement. In the Greek, the word for “proceeding” in the Nicene Creed connotes a relation of origin or causality, while the Latin word has a broader meaning; thus, if the Filioque is added to the Greek text, it states that the Holy Spirit has His origin and cause in both the Father and the Son separately, a belief that is heretical and has never been accepted in the West either. The East thus thought that the West was denying the monarchy of the Father, that is, the doctrine that the Father is the origin and source of the other two Persons of the Trinity. The West, though, was really trying to highlight the consubstantiality of the Persons. Due to these linguistic issues and the growing tension between the West and East for various reasons, this misunderstanding and difference of theological expression became a key issue, as each side saw the other as teaching heresy. The truth of the matter is that many of the basic doctrines are the same in both the West and the East, though the nuances are still debatable: the Father is the ultimate cause and primordial source of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is consubstantial with both the Father and the Son, all operations of the Trinity are the work of all three Persons, and the Holy Spirit is sent to mankind in time through the Son. Because of the possibility of misunderstanding and the respect for the differing theological expressions, the Catholic Church recognizes that the Filioque cannot be added to the Greek text of the Nicene Creed, and She does not force Eastern Christians to use it even in translations, although She admits its use among Western Christians. All of the theological issues are still not resolved, but much work has been done to heal the past wounds, and work to reconcile the two theological traditions is still being done.

Besides the theological issues of the Filioque, there is also the ecclesiological issue, that is, that the Pope added the Filioque to the Nicene Creed without the consent of an ecumenical council. The Nicene Creed was ratified by numerous ecumenical councils in its original Greek text, and these councils stated that a different faith than this could not be proclaimed; the East took this to mean that the Creed could not be changed or added to, at least without an ecumenical council’s approval. However, the Pope, following a growing tradition in the West, accepted the addition of the Filioque to the Creed solely by his own authority. Many Eastern Christians view this as an illegitimate use of papal authority. As issues regarding the correct meaning of the papal primacy are still being debated, this issue has yet to be resolved.

In summary, the Filioque controversy involves two sets of issues: theological and ecclesiological. The ecclesiological issues are still being debated. While many of the theological issues have been reconciled, many are still being discussed; what is clear, though, is that adding the Filioque is neither a necessity for orthodoxy nor a heretical act. The West is justified in using the Filioque and the East is justified in not using it while a dogmatic consensus is still in progress.

Nota Bene: The above piece is incredibly condensed and brief, as the issues involved are very complex and the historical details are exceedingly numerous.  More information can be found on the fairly comprehensive Wikipedia article on the Filioque, the 1995 document Greek and Latin Traditions Regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the 2003 document The Filioque: A Church-Dividing Issue?: An Agreed Statement by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation.

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