Summary of the Filioque Controversy

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Virtual Catholic Conference

Please go and register with the Catholic Virtual Conference hosted by Pints with Aquinas (Matt Fradd) and see my full talk on the Filioque Controversy. Below are some short points that summarize and help the listener to follow along.

(1) What is the Filioque?

* The Latin word literally means “and the son”

* Origin of the Holy Spirit

* Trinity (which we will get into)

(2) What is the Filioque Controversy?

* Does the Holy Spirit have his personal existence (hypostatic existence) from the Father alone, or is the it somehow from both the Father and the Son?

* Another way of asking is this – Just like the Son is eternally produced by the Father alone by way of “generation” or “being begotten”, is the Holy Spirit eternally produced by the Father alone by way of “procession”, or is the eternal production of the Spirit’s existence by both Father and Son.

* Contrast “Economic” versus “Immanent” Trinitarian Relationship

(3) 2 Aspects of the Divergence between Catholics and Orthodox

* Doctrinal Divergence

* Liturgical or Ecclesiastical Divergence – That is, the Church developed a construction of certain creeds, one of which became singled out to represent the faith of the universal Church. The Latin West held that the literary construction of the Creed, because it was not something crafted once-and-for-all by the earthly ministry or Christ or the Apostles, is a part of Tradition which can undergo beneficial change, whereas the Greek East held firmly that the Creed cannot be altered once it was locked in place by the force of an ecumenical canon.

(4) Historical & Theological Overview of Doctrine and Liturgics

* There were various schools in the early centuries of how to speak about the unity of God and the plurality of the Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Notable Fathers who articulated a doctrine of the Trinity are Tertullian of Carthage (2nd/3rd century), Hilary of Poitiers, Novatian of Rome, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Basil the Great, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. However, for our purposes, we will be contrasting what became signature for Latin and Greek theologies on the Holy Spirit, namely, the theological trajectory of Augustine and the Cappadocian voices which are Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and  Gregory of Nyssa.

* Early writers such in the West ever since Tertullian, and even in Origen of Alexandria in the East, spoke about the Holy Spirit as having his original from the Father through the Son. In Ambrose of Milan, for the very first time, we read of an explicit statement that the Spirit is from the Father *and the Son* (Filioque). Of course, Augustine, the foremost Father of Western theology, held very clearly to the doctrine of the Filioque as shown in his De Trinitate.

* In the last part of the 4th century, The Greek view of the Trinity was largely based off the Cappadocian interpretation, which has a firm place of the Father as the sole source of all deity, out of eternally comes forth the Son and Holy Spirit by way of generation and procession. However, there is rooted in the Cappadocian theology a sense in which the Spirit comes from the Father by means of the Son, and theologians still try and make sense of precisely what they meant by this.

* By the 5th and 6th centuries, a well known creed was in use that is called the Athanasian Creed, which explicitly says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This was widely circulated and universally held in the West to have come from Athanasius, though its origins are 5th century and are clearly Augustinian in content.

* Beginning in the late 6th century and moving into the 7th century, there were a series of Councils in Toledo, Spain, wherein the Filioque was clearly taught, and there was even an instance where the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed had the Filioque clause in it, supposing it was original. Far Western theologians understood the procession of the Spirit eternally from the Son was a useful theology against Arian theology, which denied the deity of the Son of God.

* In the late 7th century, there was a famous Council held in Hatfield (680) , which is in Anglo-Saxon England, presided over by Tarasios of Canterbuy, a Greek bishop who was under the direction of Pope Vitalian. At this Council, we read according to the English chronicler Bede the Historian, that the Council professed in the eternal origin of the Spirit from both the Father and the Son.

* In the 8th century, you have the rise of the Frankish Kingdom in the West. The star theologians of Charlemagne’s court were heavily in support of the Filioque doctrine, and even supposed that the Filioque was in the original construction of the Nicene Creed. Men such as Alcuin of York, Paulinus of Aquileia, and Theodolf of Orleans all held strongly to the Filioque doctrine. It even became a point of contention between the courts of Charlemagne and the court of the Byzantine Emperor where it was far more recognized to hear that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, or from the Father through the Son (which also worried Latin Filioquists in the Frankish realm).

* It was at this time that Latin monks residing in Jerusalem at the very start of the 9th century were accused of adulterating the Creed by Greek monks in Jerusalem. They wrote to Pope Leo III to inquire into the matter, and the Pope emphatically defended the Filioque doctrine to the whole East. Under this same Pontificate, the Frankish rulers wanted to obtain Papal approval of the Filioque in the Creed, but Leo III, though he held strongly to the orthodoxy of the Filioque doctrine, did not want the Filioque clause in the Creed. He is famous for having the original Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed engraved on two silver shields and publicly displaying them in St. Peter’s Basilica, showing his resolute judgment that the Creed should not be added to.

* The controversy hit a high point with the controversy with Photius of Constantinople and the Christian Mission in Bulgaria. Latin missionaries were, for a time, preferred by the King of the Bulgars, Boris, and consequently the Greek missionaries were expelled. When these missionaries returned East, they complained of Latin practices, including the recitation of the Filioque in the Creed. Photius took his pen and wrote a famous Encyclical in 867 where he condemned Latin “errors”, including the Filioque.

* However, because Photius ran into conflicts with Rome and the Byzantine Emperor for the questionable nature of his ordination to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the controversy changed face to healing an internal schism in the East rather than the Filioque as held by the Latin missionaries. Photius was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 869-70, but was later reinstated at the Council of 879-80, and Photius was returned to communion with Rome. The Most important note to take from this is that the Council which exonerated Photius made a “rule” or “horos” that the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed would not have any word-additions whatsoever. Rome supported this rule because it had always been the policy of Rome to maintain the creedal construction as left by the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon.

* However, over 100 years later, the coronation synod of King Henry II as the Holy Roman Emperor in 1014 concluded with the Papal Mass with the Filioque as recited in the Creed during Mass. From this point forward, Rome now joined the German practice of including the Filioque in the Creed. With this being the universal Western practice, it was sure to brew controversy when the Latins and Greeks once again faced each other in fierce dispute over their differences

* In the 11th century, the famous confrontation between the legates of Pope Leo IX  (Cardinal Humbert of Candida) and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Kerularius, proved that the Latins and Greeks were on opposite sides with respect to the Filioque. The Greeks condemned the Filioque both in its doctrine and in the interpolation of the Creed.

* There were reunion efforst in later years. At the Council of Lyons (1274), for example. Here, the Greek representatives joined in reciting the Filioque, and agreed to its theology. However, because of the lack of authentic Greek representation at this Synod, the Council never took root in the East and was ultimately repudiated by the Greeks at the Council of Blachernae in 1285. It was here at this Council that the Greeks developed a sense in which to speak of the Spirit eternally manifested through the Son according to the mode of God’s eternal energy.

* Gregory Palamas in the 14th century articulated forcefully a way in which to speak of the Spirit’s procession from the Son according to the distinct mode of God’s action or energy, but not at all in the sense of the Spirit’s personal existence. Palamas condemned the Latin filioque as a theological heresy.

* At the 2nd reunion attempt in 1439, at the Council of Florence, it was once again agreed between latin and greeks that the filioque was orthodox and that its insertion into the creed of the West was lawful and necessary. Most notably here were that Greek theologians became aware of how deeply rooted the Filioque was in the Saints and Doctors of the Latin West, a heritage that the Greeks could not simply dismiss.

* However, due to the fact that the overwhelmingly majority of Greeks in the East repudiated the Filioque, and other Latin practices, the union of Florence didn’t last more than 20 years, and it was repudiated once and for all at a Synod in Constantinople in the final part of the 15th century.

* The Greeks had 2 primary arguments against the Filioque. First, that it abrogated the Monarchy of the Fathers, and second, that it forced all three Persons to share in the active spiration of the Spirit, making it an attribute of essence rather than personality.

* Since the 15th century, Catholics and Orthodox remain strongly divided on this point, and there were no signs of any hope of healing the schism until the opening of the ecumenical dialogues in the 20th century as a result of the manifestly different approaches from both sides. Today, there has not been a reached agreement on the matter, but there are notable scholars in both the Catholic and Orthodox camps that believe the matter has moved past being a heretical breach from either side. It will take more time and faithful consideration to see how this discussion develops.

* In my opinion, the Filioque doctrine is absolutely Biblical and Patristic, and it has a heritage in the Fathers, Saints, and Doctors of the West, most notably the Father of Latin theology, Augustine of Hippo. The Orthodox Church considers this the Latin lung of their 1st millennium tree, and the Orthodox could not consistently cut if off as heretical. On the other hand, the Roman Church had strongly supported the ecclesiastical custom of having the Nicene creed, as constructed and confirmed by the 5th century, without the Filioque addition. No less than 2 Ecumenical Councils, and a Papally ratified Council in the 9th century, confirmed that the Creed would have no more word-additions or subtractions. Consequently, Rome’s adding the Filioque to the Creed was a change in her own policy, a policy that was strongly cherished by the Byzantine Greek churches under the leadership of their patriarchs. This was understood, at least, as an ecclesiastical foul by the Greeks, and it is quite understandable. With that said, the the Greeks did not only complain about the change in the creed, but went so far as to condemn the Filioque doctrine, a doctrine which is authored by God in His holy word and a tradition upheld by the Saints of the West.

(5) Conclusion to the Controversy?

* From this, the right conclusion to the matter becomes clear. Rome, at the very most, might be considered to have been guilty of a canonical foul, the nature of which does not injnure the essence or substance of the Christian faith. However, the Orthodox tradition consistently condemned the Filioque doctrine, a biblical and patristic doctrine, which does cross the line of the essence or substance of the Christian faith. Now, by today’s standards, the Catholic Church is overhwhelmingly in favor of finding ways in which to comport the Greek understanding of the Holy Spirit, to ensure that the Greek Fathers and the Latin Fathers are in harmony. Therefore, there is no threat to what should be treasured by the Orthodox heritage of theology. However, the strong condemnations against the Filioque clearly put the Orthodox side in the more egregious side of the Filioque controversy, a controversy which it might be admitted both sides are guilty of some kind of foul. It may even be speculated that Rome might have the majority of the blame, but as I’ve indicated, the nature of that fault is not along the lines of incriminating the Catholic Church of heresy. The Orthodox, however, if they double-down and sink their feet in the rejection of the Filioque as authentically defined by the Catholic Church, they run the risk of perpetuating a doctrinal crime.

* To make the resolution even easier, the Catholic Church has not required the Greek Churches to recite the Filioque in the Creed at Divine Litury. The Eastern Catholic dioceses and eparchies of the Catholic Church are not required to recite the Filioque in their services, in respect to the patrimony of the original Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

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