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.

12 thoughts on “Summary of the Filioque Controversy

  1. Erick, this NEEDS to include the relationship of the Symbol of Chalcedon which defined the creeds of Nicea and Constantinople individually as perfect in regard to what they taught. THEREFORE to alter the teaching of Chalcedon by altering the creed of Constantinople needs to be treated as the first instance of a kind of modernism that would become rampant in Roman Catholicism with the rise of the Renaissance and again in the 19th century.

    Let’s be clear- the doctrinal revisionism that needs to be constructed to justify the addition of the Filioque to the creed is the SAME doctrinal revisionism used by modernists- time and place and temperament dictate a new definition and a new understanding. Even though Chalcedon defined that no heresy can legitimize the alteration of the creed of Constantinople.

    This seems unsurpassable for Rome, and this mentality is precisely the mentality of Leo III and John VIII. Why didn’t they just change the creed? Because a POPE CANNOT ALTER the doctrinal decisions of an ecumenical council. But the content of the creed of Constantinople and its specific wording is the object of the definition of an ecumenical council!

    Ergo the Pope had no authority to alter it.

    • I understand the objection, but some other information needs to be understood in order to blunt the alarm that your comment seems to suggest. What of the doctrinal revisionism of the Orthodox who arianize half their calendar of Saints by condemning the Filioque? That seems far more unsurpassable than the Latin interpolation of the Filioque. The Orthodox Church has condemned and anathematized any and all who espouse the Filioque doctrine. So we can’t even trust Leo III’s words on the locked-nature of the creed if he himself was a heretic, as all scholars recognize he was a Filioquist.

      And if we want to hand-wave that as insignificant, then how are we not doing the same thing that the modernist revisionists do?

      • You do realize right that those who fought for the truth, yet imperfectly, can still be saints right? We have St. Firmillian who basically dismisses saint Stephen’s papal authority. We have St. Augustine plainly denying the legitimacy of appealing to Rome after a pan-African synodal ruling, etc. Are all these fighters against Papal infallibility? In the same way you would say no, the Orthodox understand and accept that many Latin Fathers said certain things about the Holy Spirit.

        But this is an Evasion- the East doesn’t ACTUALLY condemn various theories of procession so much as condemning its ADDITION to the creed, which is precisely what the 879 synod under Photius exactly said. Many of our fathers have said inexact and imperfect things regarding the faith.

        But when they ceased to be corrected and correctable, as when the west at Lyons and Florence decided the Filioque was “lawfully” added to the creed (which synod did that and on what occasion by the way? Achen? Toledo? We aren’t told), this is to countermand the definition of Chalcedon. This IS the so-called impossible scenario of the Church defining against its own dogma and in opposition to it.

        And Rome did it. Alone. That’s why it’s fundamentally a schismatic act. After that the innovations in devotions appear in their bizarre excesses, you get the stigmata, which no one ever had previously, the iconography becomes pretty painted decorations, the papacy centralizes it’s authority, the clerical necromantic underground goes on the rise and the reformation breaks out.

        These are all products of situationally revisionist theology- ergo- modernism. Just compare Pico Della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man to Redemptor Hominis of JPII. It’s the same spirit, the neo-Renaissance of Vatican II and it’s quasi-ecumenical kabbalistic venture to synthesize

        It’s rather painstakingly obvious at this point a spirit has possessed Rome.

      • Chris,

        If you only knew the volume of condemnation against the Filioque that is in the official decrees of the Orthodox Church, you would quickly see how it is your position which is the one evading the obvious. How is it that you don’t know of these texts?

    • This is the text you are speaking about:

      “These things, therefore, having been expressed by us with the greatest accuracy and attention, the holy Ecumenical Synod defines that no one shall be suffered to bring forward a different faith (ἑτέραν πίστιν), nor to write, nor to put together, nor to excogitate, nor to teach it to others. But such as dare either to put together another faith, or to bring forward or to teach or to deliver a different Creed (ἕτερον σύμβολον) to as wish to be converted to the knowledge of the truth, from the Gentiles, or Jews or any heresy whatever, if they be Bishops or clerics let them be deposed, the Bishops from the Episcopate, and the clerics from the clergy; but if they be monks or laics: let them be anathematized.”

      The author of the Filioque was God in the New Testament as proved by the Patristic witness. Forging two God-authored texts is not falling guilty to the stipulation of this text. Otherwise, one would be condemned if we added that Christ is High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. A truth no Christian denies

      • But Erick, Pope Leo already addressed this. Do we add entire sections on the Eucharist and Mariology to the creed just because it’s true? Rather the issue is that the content is a dogmatic expression in the creed of Constantinople. And Chalcedon has defined that the expressions in it are perfect and that those expressions cannot justifiably be changed even in the context of local heresies.

        To embrace a mentality that rewrites the strictness and clarity of the meaning is to embark on the path of Protomodernism, which in itself explains the path whereby it becomes ever more prevalent in Rome after the 11th century and pandemic by the 19th.

      • Just like the wording of Ephesians 431.7 can be *interpreted* to allow for changes, so also the clinching rule of Chalcedon can be *interpreted* to allow for changes when the Church’s consciousness proves it worthy to do so. We also need to be careful in trying to argue for Eastern Orthodoxy on standards that would undermine Orthodoxy. This statement herein deserves closer attention:

        “To embrace a mentality that rewrites the strictness and clarity of the meaning is to embark on the path of Protomodernism, which in itself explains the path whereby it becomes ever more prevalent in Rome after the 11th century and pandemic by the 19th.”

        Isn’t this what the Orthodox world does in admitting ecumenical activity? That is prevalent in Moscowian and Constantinopolitan policies. How about the admission of the Russian Church on Catholic sacraments of ordination? Isn’t that a “rewriting” of the “strictness and clarity” that existed in the past? How about the certain condemnation of infants held by many Fathers, and in particular, the confession of Dositheus ?

        A typical response to this is that the Orthodox are selective on where “flexibility” can be admitted despite former “unmistakably clear” prohibitions.

        The much larger problem, as I’ve relayed to you before, is the dogmatic condemnation of the Father and Son as the one principle of the Holy Spirit. That Arianizes half the calendar. With a problem like that, the issue of the creedal interpolation is a 50 caliber bullet to the leg, only after passing through the heart of the Byzantine Orthodox progeny.

      • That’s why I agree with being an Old Calendarist anti-ecumenist. The same as your SSPX founded in extremis.

      • So all the 14 heads of the canonical Orthodox Church is swallowed up in heresy and schism, as is the Catholic Church, and to which sect am I supposed to go to in order to find Christ?

      • The distinction is between positive probable doubt and suspicion.
        Now, in Orthodoxy a failure to adhere to Orthodox doctrine renders a priests administration of the sacraments doubtful, the reason being that true aptolicity is not merely predicated upon the laying of hands in historic succession, but adherence also to the apostolic faith. Where either or both are absent, there is the erosion of apostolicity. A case in point is when, during the 9th century iconoclast fights, St. Methodios did not allow any economy in regard to repentant iconoclasts, but subjected all those who were ordained by iconoclasts after Nicea II to positive reordination. There was positive probable doubt in regard to their ordination because of the presumption that heretics have no power to ordain because the sacraments belong IN the Church, not outside it.

        Now regarding the modern circumstance, with regard to the local autocephalous churches, we have no ecumenical synod as such condemning ecumenism by name. But we have local synods, and we have the anathemas against praying with heretics. Given those things in concert with Orthodoxy’s conviction that sacraments belong properly in the bounds of the Church, and granted that the sacraments are not to be toyed with, we have cases of positive probable doubt in regard to the administration of the sacraments in the mainstream Orthodox Churches. That is, we have reason to doubt the sacramental reality because of the prolific heresies and schisms that are sanctioned and preached bareheaded in those churches. This establishes a precedent for avoiding communion with the local churches until they condemn ecumenism as a heresy.

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