A Short History of the Filioque Addition
Are Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism the same?
The word Filioque if Latin for and from the Son. (The word, by the way, is usually pronounced, "Fili-o-kway.") Several centuries before the Great Schism some parts of the Western Church inserted this word into the Latin translation of the Nicene Creed, in the section dealing with the Holy Spirit, thus teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and from the Son.

The Pope of Rome at first refused to approve an official addition of the Filioque, though it was tolerated in some areas formally under his jurisdiction. Pope Leo III, however, had the Creed in its original form engraved on silver tablets and deposited at the tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica. The Pope formally approved the anathematization of the Filioque by the union council of 879, which healed the Photian Schism. But under pressure from the medieval German rulers and hierarchy, Rome finally accepted it in 1014.

Damaging Effects of the Filioque
It would seem that the Filioque was added in good faith - those who originally wrote it into the Creed hoped thereby to stress the full divinity of Christ in the face of Arian denials thereof. But this unauthorized addition to the Ecumenical Creed ahs nevertheless wreaked havoc in Church life: If for nothing else it was a major cause in the Great Schism. That is because the Filioque distorts the doctrine of the Trinity and as a result, the doctrine of the Church. (A basic change in the "house plan" alters the consequent "building.")

The Filioque's distortion of the doctrine of the Trinity also led directly to the oftlamented "neglect" of the Holy Spirit in the Western Church, which same neglect the Charismatic Movement in this century set out to heal. And the Filioque damagingly affects sacramental teaching and practice as well.

The Scriptural Witness
According to the Biblical witness, God is revealed as One God, but God is also revealed as three distinct Divine Persons. In the Scriptures we are clearly presented with God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit Who is equal to the Son and "Who proceeds from the Father." (John 15:26; also John 14"16.)

Now it almost goes without saying that all this language about the ineffable (i.e., unspeakable) God is human language. But one does need to say something about that after all. God is indeed invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible and infinite, but God is also the Lord Who has revealed Himself to us. The Incarnate Word speaks human words; the Word of God is written in the words of humankind. But what sort of revelation would we have if it were not present in human terms and written in human language? What other language would a human being understand?

A revelation from God in the language of porpoises or elephants, or even angelic language would hardly do anything for the human race! This is not said to be flippant, but we have heard belabored the rather obvious point that God's revelation is in human terms, as if that means we can know nothing about God and His will for us! We need to be clear about what the Church teaches on this matter before we go on.

The language that the Church uses to speak about God is indeed human language, but it is inspired human language, God-chosen language through which the Lord makes Himself known. And yes, since only God Himself is absolute, this is "relative" language. But the language of God's self-revelation is absolutely relative with relation to God, and in relation to contrary statements about God, it is absolutely correct. So when we speak of the Son's being "begotten" of the Father and the Spirit's "proceeding" from the Father, we are indeed using human terminology and human analogies - but terminology and analogies which God Himself has given us.

The verb "proceed" as used in the Bible and the Creed is often confused with "to send." To put that another way, people tend to confuse the eternal Procession of the Holy Spirit wit the temporal Mission of the Spirit. The Procession refers to the Holy Spirit's relationship to the Father - the Spirit proceeds eternally only from the Father. The temporal Mission, i.e., the Sending of the Holy Spirit into our time and space is an entirely different matter.

We can say that the Son and the Spirit "send each other" into the world and into our lives. For in the temporal Mission, the Holy Spirit does come from, and through, the Son, in the sense that the Spirit is sent into the world by the Son. But at the same time we also see revealed in the Scriptures that in His turn the Spirit also participates in sending the Son into the world.

While a case might be made for calling these sendings of the Son and the Spirit into the world "processions," such usage only muddies the water. We need to maintain a clear distinction in our minds between the Holy Spirit'' eternal Procession from, or out of, the Father, and His mission into the world. Much confusion about the Filioque results from not making that distinction, and this writer would not be surprised if the well-meaning people who first added the term to the Creed were confused precisely on that point. The Spirit is indeed sent from the through the Son, but the Spirit does not eternally proceed either from or through the Son.

The Scriptural image of the Son's being eternally begotten of the Father, and the Spirit's eternal procession from the Father, presents the Godhead to us not only as One Divine Being, but also as a family of three distinct Persons. In Orthodox teaching, the Father is the Unique Source of the Godhead, but the Son eternally begotten by the Father, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father, are also equally God. We know God as One God precisely for that reason: the Son and the Spirit, Who come forth from the Father, share fully and equally in His One Essence.

In brief, the Scriptures, the Creed, the Fathers and the Liturgy present the Trinity paradoxically: God is One Being Who is Three Persons, and this Trinity is a hierarchy of equal Persons.

[A simple way to understand the distinction between Person and Essence (i.e., Being or Substance) in God is as follows: "Person" refers to Who God Is, i.e., God's "Who-ness." In terms of Who God Is, God is Three Persons. Essence (i.e., Being, Substance, and also Nature) refers to God's "What-ness." In terms of What God Is, He Is One Being.]

The Filioque has the effect of obscuring this Scriptural vision of God as hierarchical family of equal Persons. The Holy Spirit becomes and "also ran," some sort of impersonal force which flows out of the Father and the Son, rather than a Divine Person Who proceeds from the Father, and Who Is the equal Partner of the Son. That is why St. Irenaeos of Lyons refers to the Son and the Spirit as the two Hands of the Father.

With the Holy Spirit as an Equal Person "missing," form the Godhead, the Son, the express Image of the Father, is "left alone." The Trinity then becomes a "Binity." That leads people to see Jesus either as merely a human image of God, or at the other extreme, to view Christ as "another God." Either way, the Scriptural vision of the Trinity is radically distorted.

Filioque and the Doctrine of the Church
Orthodox theologians have long viewed the Roman doctrine of the Church as a direct result of the Filioque. For the Church becomes no longer a Communion of equals dwelling together in a hierarchy of honor, but rather a monolithic collective dominated by one person. In reaction to that, both the Protestant Reformation and the current widespread rebellion in the Roman Church have moved to the other extreme. The Church is now viewed as a collection of individuals, each doing his or her own thing, or as a democratic organization in which the majority rules. The Orthodox Catholic Trinitarian vision of God is lost by any of these extremes.

One imagines an apologist for the Roman view of the Church saying, "But your Orthodox view of the Trinity confirms the Roman Catholic view of the church: Just as the Father is the Source of the Trinity, so the Pope is the Source of the Church." The Orthodox answer is that in the Trinity, the Persons are all equal; the Father is, so to speak, First-Among-Equals.

The Church, reflecting the Trinitarian model, by her very nature always has one Bishop who is first-among-equals. But in Orthodox Tradition, rooted in the primitive Church, this does not have to be any particular Bishop (all Bishops are successors of Peter,) but any Bishop the Church agrees upon to be first-among-equals. Jerusalem was obviously the First See in the primitive Church, in which St. James held the Primacy. Peter was the Apostolic Founder of the See of Antioch long before he went to Rome. Rome's position as First See developed by "popular consent," as it were, and the first Ecumenical Councils formally confirmed that position. When, from the Orthodox viewpoint, Rome moved out of the Orthodox Communion, Constantinople, again by common consent, because first-among-equals.

The Filioque and Other Issues
Given a distorted view of the Trinity, society and marriage cease to be seen as relationships of personal communion in which equal persons find their place in a hierarchy of responsibility, honor and authority. These relationships become a collective dominated by a tyrant, or at the other extreme a society of chaos in which each man (which, of course, includes women) is a law unto himself. (If Orthodoxy is no stranger to political tyrants and chauvinist husbands, the problem is not her theology, but rather, because people do not always apply theology to areas of life where it obviously does apply. Byzantium, by the way, often did rather well shaping her society on Trinitarian principles, in spite of the notable personal faults and failures of many of her leaders.)

In the Orthodox Church's mystical rites (i.e., Sacraments) the duality of the Son and the Spirit is sacramentally symbolized. The Eucharistic Consecration is revealed as the divine action of both the Son and the Spirit. For the bread and wine are consecrated by the Word of the Father and by the action of the Holy Spirit. (The Epiklesis in the Orthodox Liturgy, by the way, is not the Consecration - it is the culmination and completion of the Consecration, which is accomplished by the Two Hands of the Father, the Word and the Spirit.)

In the rites of the Christian Initiation, in water Baptism, the neophyte is grafted into the Body of the Son by the operation of the Holy Spirit, and in Chrismation, he is baptized by the Holy Spirit to be a "little Christ" so to speak, i.e., an anointed one. In all the mysteries of the Church, the Two Hands of the Father operate in concert.

Just one little word, "Filioque," but look at the damage it has done and is still doing! Clearly this is no question of nitpicking semantics, but a basic question of the Faith. That is why the Orthodox Catholic Church has always seen it as a major issue.

Provided by The Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, New York, New York; Fr. Christopher Calin, priest-in-charge.
Copyright © 1999  OrthodoxNet.  All rights reserved.