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Sunday, 16 February 2014


There has been a constructive conversation on the blog Modestinus about the Filioque clause that appears in the Nicene Creed in the Latin rite - "I believe in the Holy Spirit .... who proceeds from the Father and the Son" - but is not in the Creed in the Divine Liturgy in the churches of the East, Catholic and Orthodox alike.

For the Catholic Church, it is not a "church-dividing" issue, as the unity between the Latin Church and, for instance, the Melkite and the Ruthenian Churches shows. But it is a church-dividing for Orthodox, whatever the doctrinal explanations, because the interpolation - even if justifiable according to certain past conditions - affects the Symbol of Faith agreed by Church Councils to resolve theological differences over the Person and Natures of Christ and should not be adjusted or qualified in public, liturgical proclamation of the faith without like conciliar agreement.

Before looking at the blog and its comments, which consider whether it is right or wrong to ditch Filioque in the west and then what accretions Orthodox might abandon in consideration, there are a few points we can bear in mind.

1. Filioque is not an instance of supposed papal fiat unilaterally imposing new dogma on the Church. The Roman liturgy did not admit the new word for centuries after it was introduced in other parts of the Latin west.

2. The usual explanation is that it was a vital interpolation in terms of Christian Apology in areas where Arianism was present. Bishops and priests wish to remove from the faithful's minds any hint that the Son is inferior in nature to the Father - merely Godlike or Fatherlike, rather than God incarnate. The contrary argument was that, if the Son was begotten by the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father, therefore the Father as source of Godhead for both is prior to the Son, not co-eternal. Thus there is no Trinity, Christ is true man united with a Godlike nature but not true God. Thus, counter the Catholics, if the Arians say he is not God, where is the reconciliation of Man and God, for Christ is thus no Saviour? The gloss - Filioque - and you can just hear it being loudly sung by members of the choir to trounce the unorthodox faith - serves to stress the equality, co-eternity and consubstantiality of Father and Son. A contemporary comparison is the custom of the Melkite Church to add to the formula, "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" the words "One God", to bear witness to Muslims that the Church believes not in three gods but in One God in Trinity.

3. For the 15th century reunion between East and West at the Council of Florence-Ferrara, a compromise formula - ex filio - through the Son - was proposed. This was not acceptable to the Church at Constantinople, because now the need for, rather than the expediency of, some kind of formula indicated a change to teaching and theology concerning the Trinity that had not been resolved or reconciled. But the Latin Church insists that it means nothing other than the Greek Church when, for instance in the Aposticha at Vespers for Theophany, it sings,

O Lord, when John saw You coming to him at the Jordan River, he cried out, "How do You, O Lord Who have no stain, come to me Your servant? In whose name shall I baptise You? ... In the Name of the Holy Spirit whom You grant to the faithful with the breath of Your mother?"
The Latin Roman Church and the Greek Churches in communion with each other agree that they confess the same faith in Christ and the Trinity in which the Father is the fount of Godhead.

4. Orthodox say that, if that is the case, there is no need for the Filioque to be recited in the Liturgy and so why retain it when it is not commonly agreed with the Orthodox Church, has been a cause of misunderstanding and division for a thousand years, and stands in the way for reunion now?

5. If Filioque were dropped - deleted rather than made optional - the Creed used in the Latin West and the Greek East would still not be identical. Indeed within Orthodoxy (see below on the Russian Orthodox reconciliation of Old Believers) different "recensions" of the Creed are permitted to flourish. This rather undermines the objection to Filoque on the ground that it is an addition unauthorised by an Ecumenical Council.

What follows, proceeds from Professor Adam De Ville's Roman Rights and Wrongs: What Needs to Change for East-West Unity to Happen? which has 5 points for Catholics to address and 6 for Orthodox to address - really 9 points for all to address. We carried it in full here. He advocated just dropping the clause altogether, in the light of substantial Catholic-Orthodox agreement on theology and teaching and the fact that, whatever the mutual understanding, the unilateral Western addition is so significant to the East that retaining it must count for something and nothing less than complete deletion will suffice.

As you will see, there are those who feel that it is so deeply rooted in our liturgical tradition that this will be very difficult for the West and, also, its theological tradition - which is not unorthodox, after all. The discussion ends with Modestinus' own 5 points on where Orthodoxy has to embrace some change to its own separate and unilateral development if we are reach a meeting between each other and that much hoped for unity.

Isaac Cooper says:
  1. Deleting the Filioque from the Latin version of the creed would prove incredibly problematic. The authoritative Latin version of the Creed, used as the symbol of faith at Trent and Vatican I, included the Filioque. This version of the creed thus has equally authoritative status as the (differing) Greek versions used at Nicaea I and Constantinople, inasmuch as all three creeds were proclaimed by ecumenical councils.
  2. Futhermore, Lyons II and Florence defined the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son as a divinely revealed doctrine to which all members of the Church must give their assent. Deleting the Filioque from the Creed would downplay this infallible teaching of the Church. Even with a clarification that the doctrine was left intact, omitting the Filioque from the Latin version of the Creed, where it has been present for a millennium, would lead to the obfuscation of the truth.

modestinus says: 
I will say that I don’t agree with DeVille’s call to drop the Filioque from the Roman liturgy. Regardless of which text is “absolutely authoritative,” the liturgical position of the clause is fixed. It’s worth keeping in mind that the Russian Orthodox Church allows those Old Believer communities which have restored communion with it to liturgically use their recension of the Creed in Slavonic, even though it contains some noticeable variants from the generally received Greek text.
Evagrius says:
01/28/2014 at 02:33
There’s a very simple reason not to jettison the filioque ...., which is that the filioque is present in the entire canon of Western Mass settings. It would be difficult enough to ‘edit’ (i.e., gut) the chant settings. It would be sacreligious to try and do this to, say, the Missa Papae Marcelli.

Adam DeVille says:
01/28/2014 at 05:54
I’m actually not terribly in favour of dropping the filioque for all the reasons you four adumbrate above. But I’ve heard it said often enough by Orthodox (even ecumenically generous ones such as D.B. Hart) that nothing short of such deletion will do.

Chris Jones says: 
nothing short of such deletion will do
I certainly can’t speak for the Orthodox (not being one any longer), but a formal definition by Rome of the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit which:
- takes account of the difference in breadth of meaning between the Greek ekporeuo and the Latin procedere
- clearly excludes the errors that the Orthodox suspect the filioque of allowing
- grounds its teaching on the procession in the teachings of both the Greek and Latin Fathers, especially St Maximus Confessor
… would go a long way towards reassuring the Orthodox that the filioque is not heretical. In my opinion the continued liturgical use of the filioque would be acceptable if its meaning were normed by such a formal definition.
I think (and again it is one man’s opinion) that the “Clarification” that the Vatican issued a couple of decades ago is, in substance, the sort of doctrinal statement that I am talking about. It lacks only the level of authority as a doctrinal definition.
It is easier to ask Rome to say “we were unclear” for a millennium than it is to ask them to say “we were wrong” for a millennium. Altering the Creed as it is used liturgically sends the message that “we were wrong” to all of the faithful. If we can patch up the donnybrook over the filioque without sending that message, then we should.
Sure, we could do all that. It still wouldn’t satisfy some people. There’s the rub. As someone else said hereabouts recently, we keep bending over backward to accommodate the Orthodox. ....
All I see is constant demands for further concessions from Catholics. As I’ve asked before: WWTOD? What Would the Orthodox Do?
modestinus says: 
Just off the top of my head, leaving the very contentious Primacy issue to the side, I would say…
  • First, the cessation of all stereotypes concerning “Western rationalism” vs. “Eastern mysticism.” With that comes the disarming of the thoughtless polemics concerning the “carnal,” “earthly,” “delusional,” etc. nature of Western, specifically Catholic, mysticism and spirituality.
  • Second, the end of all polemics and casual condemnations of Scholasticism, Thomism, or any other Western Catholic theological school/paradigm which the Orthodox claim is “alien” to their tradition and the tradition of the first millennium of Christianity.
  • Third, full acceptance of the validity of Catholic liturgical rites with the caveat that they, no less than any other Western Catholic, has the right to criticize theological and substantive defects in the Novus Ordo Mass and revised liturgical books. (At the same time, Western Catholics, on the same basis, should be allowed to be critical of Byzantine liturgical praxis, but always in a spirit of charity and with an eye to correcting abuses.)
  • Fourth, a full affirmation of the understanding of the filioque which Chris Jones outlined above. (I’ll leave to the side its place in Western liturgy, though I still stand behind my belief that it should not be omitted.)
  • Fifth, the cessation of all arguments, polemics, and mockery of “Uniatism.” The Eastern Catholic churches have a right to exist, and the Orthodox need to get over it.
  • Sixth, a cessation of all polemics and criticism of Catholic devotional practices, ranging from the Rosary to the veneration of statues. This can also be extended to other practices which some Orthodox argue is “heretical,” including kneeling at Mass, using unleavened bread in the Mass, Holy Water, the way the Sign of the Cross is performed, Baptism by pouring, etc.
I am sure I could list more, but there’s a start. A lot could be built off of that, I think.

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