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Filioque is a Latin word meaning "and the Son" which was interpolated into the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed by the Church of Rome in the 11th century, one of the major factors leading to the Great Schism between East and West. This inclusion in the Creedal article regarding the Holy Spirit thus states that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son."

The inclusion of the word in the Creed is a violation of the canons of the Third Ecumenical Council in 431, which forbade and anathematized any additions to the Creed, a prohibition which was reiterated at the Eighth Ecumenical Council in 879-880.

The addition must be either a merely verbal modification, or a fully verbal and doctrinal modification. If doctrinal, then it is either an extension of the truth, or a corruption of the truth. The filioque primarily violates the canons by virtue of doctrinal doctrine deviance, rather than linguistic variance. The word was not included by the Council of Nicea nor of Constantinople, nor was another phrase, "Deum de Deo" ("God from God"); the latter was accepted as orthodox, whereas the former was not.

The term itself has been interpreted in both an Orthodox fashion and a heterodox fashion. It may be read as saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through (dia) the Son. This was the position of St Maximus the Confessor, among others. [citation needed] On this reading, the Son is not an eternal cause (aition) of the Spirit. The heterodox reading taught sees the Son, along with the Father, as an eternal cause of the Spirit. Most in the Orthodox Church consider this latter reading to be a heresy.

The description of the filioque as a heresy was iterated most clearly and definitively by the great Father and Pillar of the Church, St. Photius the Great, in his On the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit. Some in the West held an orthodox interpretation, and some in the East held the heterodox. Photius, addressing the arguments themselves, decries the heretical Triadology which strikes at the very heart of what the Church believes about God.


Early use of the Filioque

It is useful to note that a regional council in Persia in 410 introduced one of the earliest forms of the filioque in the Creed; the council specified that the Spirit proceeds from the Father "and from the Son." Coming from the rich theology of early East Syrian Christianity, this expression in this context is authentically Eastern. Therefore, the filioque cannot be attacked as a solely Western innovation, nor as something created by the Pope.

In the West, St. Augustine of Hippo taught that the Spirit came from the Father and the Son, though subordinate to neither. His theology was dominant in the West until the Middle Ages. Other Latin fathers also spoke of the Spirit proceeding from both the Father and the Son. While familiar in the West, this way of speaking was virtually unknown in the Greek-speaking, Byzantine Empire.

Although the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 had expanded and completed the Nicene Creed begun at the First Ecumenical Council, the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus, 431) had forbidden any further changes to the theology and/or wording of the Creed, except for by another Ecumenical Council. By this time, then, the text of the Nicene Creed had acquired a certain definitive authority, of ecumenical value and importance.

Rome received the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which referred to preceding councils, citing the authority of the text of the Creed. However, at this time, central Italy was in a state of collapse. In 410 and 455, Rome was vandalized and sacked by barbarian invasions. In 476, the Western Roman Empire fell, with the exile of Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor.

The filioque was first used in Toledo, Spain in 587 without the consultation or agreement of the five patriarchs of the Church at that time and in direct violation of canons of the Third Ecumenical Council that prohibited unilateral alteration of the Creed by anything short of another Ecumenical Council. The purpose of its addition in Spain was to counter a heresy that was local to that region, probably some form of Arianism brought there by the Goths (who had been missionized by the Arian bishop Wulfila). The practice spread then to France where it was repudiated at the Gentilly Council in 767.

After generations of social upheaval, strong leadership appeared in the person of Pepin the Short, king of the Franks, and his son, Charlemagne, crowned as emperor in 800. Charlemagne intended to restore the Roman Empire in the West, with himself in charge, to the chagrin of the leaders of the Eastern Roman Empire. These he denigrated, labelling them "Greeks" (and, by implication, not-Romans), despite the Roman capital being in the East and the continued use by Easterners of Roman to describe themselves. Charlemagne called for a council at Aix-la-Chapelle in 809 at which Pope Leo III forbade the use of the filioque clause and ordered that the original version of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed be engraved on silver tablets displayed at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, apparently so that his conclusion would not be overturned in the future.

Some historians have suggested that the Franks in the 9th century pressured the Pope to adopt the filioque in order to drive a wedge between the Roman Church and the other patriarchates. Despite this action, the filioque had come into wide use in the West and became widely thought to be an integral part of the Creed, while Rome, renowned for its stability and conservatism, resisted. Similarly, unleavened bread had come to be thought of as normative for the Eucharist; diocesan priests were expected to be unmarried. In such cases, in the West, ancient tradition was forgotten. Contemporary usage was thought to be normative and authentic. In these matters of discipline, the influence of the Franks is certain. They intended to exalt Charlemagne, as the new Roman Emperor. The Catholic religion, as they knew it, was to be part of the package. Meanwhile, from c. 726 to 843, the Eastern Roman Empire, under the thumb of successive emperors, was dominated by the heresy of iconoclasm. Both Franks and Greeks, in their own way, departed from ancient tradition. Unlike the East, however, where iconoclasm was repudiated at the Seventh Ecumenical Council and the use of icons later confirmed by the Empress Theodora, the West to date never recovered from its departure.

The "Photian" Schism

Within a couple of generations, in 858, a new situation came to pass. The Eastern Emperor Michael III removed Ignatius I as patriarch of Constantinople. The emperor replaced him with a layman, St. Photius the Great, who was the first Imperial Secretary and Imperial Ambassador to Baghdad. However, Ignatius refused to bow to secular authority. Michael and Photius invited Pope Nicholas I of Rome to send legates to preside over a synod in Constantinople to settle the matter. With the council, the legates confirmed the patriarchate of Photius, much to Nicholas's chagrin, who then declared that they had "exceeded their authority."

In opposition to this removal of Ignatius, the bishop of Rome supported Ignatius as legitimate patriarch. Moreover, in violation to existing canons, Photius had been ordained to the office of bishop very quickly. Some scholarship suggests that violation of these canons was the main reason the bishop of Rome rejected the appointment of Photius, though other major actions by Nicholas to bolster his power and position as pope puts his intervention in Eastern ecclesiastical matters more firmly in the context of his general programme of the growth of papal monarchy.

Therefore, after the arrival of an embassy from Ignatius, in 862, Nicholas said that Photius was deposed, as well as the bishop who ordained him and all the clergy Photius had appointed. The sheer temerity of this action did not even generate a response from Constantinople. However, several years later in 867, Photius finally rejected the Pope's assertion, particularly because of the activities of Latin missionaries in Bulgaria, who were, as St. Photius says, turning the Orthodox Christians there away from their pure faith and leading them into heresy—most notably, the filioque. Photius' response cited the filioque as proof that Rome had a habit of overstepping its proper limits.

In 867 and 869-70, synods in Rome and Constantinople (the Robber Council of 869-870) restored Ignatius to his position as patriarch and deposed Photius. In 877, after the death of Ignatius, Photius again resumed office, by order of the emperor and by the request of Ignatius himself, to whom Photius had been reconciled. In 879-880, he was officially restored to his see and the filioque effectively condemned by the Eighth Ecumenical Council, a council at which papal legates participated and which the current pope, John VIII, eventually confirmed. He was deposed in 886 when Leo VI took over as emperor, who had had a dispute with his father and turned his animosity for his father toward one of his father's friends, Photius. Photius spent the rest of his life as a monk in exile in Armenia; he is revered by the Orthodox today as a saint, one of the great Pillars of Orthodoxy. He was the first important theologian to accuse Rome of heresy in the matter of the filioque.

Rome capitulates to Filioquist pressure

In the ninth century, Pope Leo III of Rome agreed with the filioque phrase theologically but was opposed to adopting it in Rome. In fact, Leo had the traditional text of the Creed, without the filioque, displayed publicly, having the original text engraved on two silver tablets, at the tomb of St. Peter. In any case, during the time of Pope Leo's leadership, 795-816, there was no Creed at all in the Roman Mass.

Later, in 1014, the German Emperor Henry II of the Holy Roman Empire visited Rome for his coronation and found that the Creed was not used during the Mass. At his request, the bishop of Rome added the Creed, as it was known in the West with the filioque, after the Gospel. This was the first time the Creed in the Mass at Rome.

Thus, over nearly six centuries, dispute over the filioque had not divided the Church definitively; for the most part, in spite of cultural and linguistic conflicts, the Eastern and Western Churches remained in full communion.

In 1054, however, the argument contributed to the Great Schism of the East and West, and the West went so far as to accuse the East of heresy for not accepting the theology of the filioque. There were many other issues involved, in large part based on misunderstandings between Greek and Latin traditions. In addition to the actual difference in wording and doctrine in the filioque, a related issue was the right of the Pope to make a change in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed on his own for exclusive use in the Roman liturgy, apart from an Ecumenical Council.

Attempted reunions and the Filioque after the Schism

In the thirteenth century, philosophical theologian and Roman saint Thomas Aquinas was one of the dominant Scholastic theologians. He dealt explicitly with the processions of the divine Persons in his Summa Theologica. While the theology of Aquinas and other Scholastics was dominant in the Western Middle Ages, for all its apparent clarity and brilliance, it remains theology, not official Roman Catholic Church teaching.

In 1274, the Second Council of Lyons said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, in accord with the filioque in the contemporary Latin version of the Nicene Creed. Reconciliation with the East, through this council, did not last. Remembering the Crusaders' sack of Constantinople in 1204, Eastern Orthodox Christians did not want to be reconciled with the West in terms of capitulation to Latin Triadology and ecclesiology. In 1283, Patriarch John Beccus, who supported reconciliation with the Latin Church, was forced to abdicate; reunion failed.

The Crusaders in question were the Venetians of the Fourth Crusade, who had earlier been excommunicated for attacking other Christians. In 1204, they were avenging the slaughter of Venetian merchants, in rioting, that took place in 1182. Pope Innocent III had sent them a letter, asking them not to attack Constantinople; after hearing of the sack of the city, he lamented their action and disowned them. Nevertheless, the people of Constantinople had a deep hatred for the people they called the "Latins" or the "Franks," and of course the Western church's major "endowment" from the spoils carried away now still largely rests in the hands of the Vatican.

For much of the 14th century, there were two bishops, each claiming to be Pope, each excommunicating the followers of the other. The Great Western Schism concluded with yet a third individual claiming to be Pope and the Council of Constance. The East could hardly seek reconciliation with a Western Church divided against itself. (In the middle of the century, about a third of Western Europe died of the Black Death with no help from the East.)

At the Council of Florence in 1439, Emperor John VIII Palaeologus, Patriarch Joseph of Constantinople, and other bishops from the East travelled to northern Italy in hope of reconciliation with the West, mainly in order to solicit military assistance to fend off the encroaching Turkish invaders. After extensive discussion, in Ferrara, then in Florence, they acknowledged that some Latin Fathers spoke of the procession of the Spirit differently from the Greek Fathers. Since the general consensus of the Fathers was held to be reliable, as a witness to common faith, the Western usage was held not to be a heresy and not a barrier to restoration of full communion. All the Eastern patriarchs bishops present, but one, agreed and signed a decree of union between East and West, Laetentur Coeli in 1439. The one bishop who refused to sign and was later heralded as a Pillar of Orthodoxy by the Church was St. Mark of Ephesus, who followed in the footsteps of the previous Pillar of Orthodoxy, St. Photius the Great.

Officially and publicly, the Roman and the Orthodox Church were back in communion. However, the reconciliation achieved at Florence was soon destroyed, founded as it was on a compromise of faith. Numerous Orthodox faithful and bishops rejected the union, saying that the council's teachings were incorrect and therefore not ecumenical. Moreover, after the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, they fostered separation from the West, which remained an adversary to Islamic political and military dominance. Furthermore, the patriarch, Gennadius, was also one of the bishops who had repudiated the reunion of Florence on his own initiative.

Undeniably, the filioque controversy was at least officially resolved, for both Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christians. However, because of the historical situation and because of the different ecclesiologies of the East and West, this resolution was neither fully received nor permanently sustained.

In December of 1452, a reunion liturgy was held at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople at which the Pope's name was commemorated and the filioque used in the Creed; some clergy and laity boycotted it. On the evening of May 28, 1453, however, another liturgy was held which also commemorated the Pope and used the filioque, which was not boycotted.

Recent discussions and statements

Dialogue on this and other subjects is continuing. The filioque clause was the main subject discussed at the 62nd meeting of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, which met at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (Brookline, Massachusetts) from June 3 through June 5, 2002, for their spring session. As a result of these modern discussions, it has been suggested that the Orthodox could accept an "economic" filioque that states that the Holy Spirit, who originates in the Father alone, was sent to the Church "through the Son" (as the Paraclete), but this is not official Orthodox doctrine. It is what the Fathers call a theologoumenon, a theological opinion. (Similarly, the late Edward Kilmartin, S.J., proposed as a theologoumenon a "mission" of the Holy Spirit to the Church.)

Recently, an important, agreed statement has been made by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, on October 25, 2003. This document The Filioque: A Church-Dividing Issue?, provides an extensive review of Scripture, history, and theology. Especially critical are the recommendations of this consultation, for example:

  1. That all involved in such dialogue expressly recognize the limitations of our ability to make definitive assertions about the inner life of God.
  2. That, in the future, because of the progress in mutual understanding that has come about in recent decades, Orthodox and Catholics refrain from labeling as heretical the traditions of the other side on the subject of the procession of the Holy Spirit.
  3. That Orthodox and Catholic theologians distinguish more clearly between the divinity and hypostatic identity of the Holy Spirit (which is a received dogma of our Churches) and the manner of the Spirit's origin, which still awaits full and final ecumenical resolution.
  4. That those engaged in dialogue on this issue distinguish, as far as possible, the theological issues of the origin of the Holy Spirit from the ecclesiological issues of primacy and doctrinal authority in the Church, even as we pursue both questions seriously, together.
  5. That the theological dialogue between our Churches also give careful consideration to the status of later councils held in both our Churches after those seven generally received as ecumenical.
  6. That the Catholic Church, as a consequence of the normative and irrevocable dogmatic value of the Creed of 381, use the original Greek text alone in making translations of that Creed for catechetical and liturgical use.
  7. That the Catholic Church, following a growing theological consensus, and in particular the statements made by Pope Paul VI, declare that the condemnation made at the Second Council of Lyons (1274) of those "who presume to deny that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son" is no longer applicable.

In the judgment of the consultation, the question of the filioque is no longer a "Church-dividing" issue, one which would impede full reconciliation and full communion, once again. It still stands for the bishops and faithful of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches to review this work and to make whatever decisions would be appropriate.

The Filioque as heresy

There has never been a specific conciliar statement in the Eastern Orthodox Churches that defined the filioque as heresy. That being said, however, it has been regarded as heretical by multiple Orthodox saints, including Ss. Photius the Great, Mark of Ephesus, and Gregory Palamas (the three Pillars of Orthodoxy). At the Third Ecumenical Council and the "Photian" council of 879-880 (both of which Rome ratified), all changes to the theology of the Creed are anathematized. It was explicitly denounced as heretical by the non-ecumenical, 1848 Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs.

There are a number of reasons traditionally cited for the definition of the filioque as heretical, including the following:

Objections on doctrinal grounds

  • It is contrary to Scripture, particularly in John 15:26: "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me." Thus, Christ never describes the Holy Spirit as proceeding from himself, but only mentions the Spirit's procession in terms of the Father.
  • The justifications for including the filioque in the Creed—bolstering the divinity of the Son and emphasizing the unity of the Trinity—are redundant, given the original wording of the Creed. That is, the Son already is described as "light of light, very God of very God," and so forth. The Spirit also "with the Father and Son together is worshiped and glorified." Additionally, the Creed itself begins with a statement of belief in "one God."
  • Some misinterpret the filioque as distorting Triadology by making the Spirit a subordinate member of the Trinity. Traditional Triadology consists in the notion that for any given trait, it must be either common to all Persons of the Trinity or unique to one of them. Thus, Fatherhood is unique to the Father, while begottenness is unique to the Son, and procession unique to the Spirit. Godhood, however, is common to all, as is eternality, uncreatedness, and so forth. Positing that something can be shared by two Persons (i.e., being the source of the Spirit's procession) but not the other is to elevate those two Persons at the expense of the other. Thus, the balance of unity and diversity is destroyed. This interpretation does not, however, take into consideration the two kinds of procession believed by both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians as expressed by St. Maximus the Confessor.

Objections on canonical and historical grounds

  • Though not really a question of heresy, a common objection is to the means of interpolating the filioque into the Creed. That is, unlike the original adoption of the Creed at Nicea and its subsequent revision at Constantinople, the decision to interpolate the filioque into the Creed for use in the Latin Church was not done by an Ecumenical Council. Rather, it was initially inserted by the Third Synod of Toledo, Spain (589), to combat Arianism, which had arrived there from the East with the Goths.
  • Rome resisted the inclusion of the filioque for centuries. Leo III, the Pope of Rome at the time the filioque began its history in Western theology, strongly advised against its inclusion, even though he agreed with the soundness and validity of the doctrine contained in filioque.

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