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by Father Michael Gilligan

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Orthodox Church

To this day, the Orthodox Church uses the Nicene Creed of 381 without the filioque. Many times, the Eastern Churches have rejected the phrase as an unauthorized interpolation. Even more, they objected to the teaching it expressed, as conflicting with biblical and accepted doctrine. They said that for the Holy Spirit to proceed from the Father and the Son there would have to be two sources in the deity, whereas in the one God there can only be one source of divinity or deity.

Later, Western theologians replied to this objection by saying the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son “as from one principle.” The East, however, again objected that this formulation would emerge and confuse the persons of the Father and the Son. It was also pointed out that if Father and Son are sources of deity (and only the Holy Spirit is not), it follows that the status of the Spirit is diminished, relative to the Father and the Son, by excluding the Spirit alone as a source of divinity, while making him rather a recipient of it. Finally, if one says that the divine essence itself is the source of deity in God, then (as the Eastern theologians pointed out) another problem is created, a suggestion that the Holy Spirit proceeds from himself, since he is certainly not separate from the divine essence.

Both Patriarch Photius in 862 and Patriarch Cerularius in 1054 accused the West of heresy for introducing the filioque in the Creed. In general, except for reconciliatory pauses in 1274 and 1439, at the Second Council of Lyons and the Council of Florence, many Orthodox have repeated the charge of heresy, up to the present day. On the other hand, from the 13th century, other Orthodox have pointed out that no ecumenical council ever condemned the entire Western Church and excommunicated its members. Hence, they argued, Latins should not be denied Communion because of the filioque in their Creed.

An Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory II, of Cyprus ( 1241-1290), proposed a different formula, which has also been considered as an Orthodox “answer” to the filioque, though it does not have the status of official Orthodox doctrine. Gregory spoke of an etemalmanfestation of the Spirit by the Son. In other words, he held that the Son eternally manifests (shows forth) the Holy Spirit.

In general, even up to the time of the Council of Florence, the writings of Latin fathers were not widely read in the East; the language was not understood. Hence, the formulation of the filioque, let alone its meaning, was not readily understood in the East. Up to the present, some Western practices are still condemned as heresy by some in the East, disciplinary customs such as mandatory celibacy for priests or the use of pouring water for baptism, rather than triple immersion. There is even a Greek Church which avoids the use of electric lights in church. Some, too, speak of what they call the “heresy of ecumenism.” The Patriarch of Constantinople has accused some monks of Mount Athos, Greece, as being schismatic in spirit, because they consider the entire West to be enmired in heresy.

In the recent past, however, several Orthodox theologians have considered the filioque a new, with a view to reconciliation of East and West. Theodore Stylianopoulos, for one, provides an extensive, scholarly overview of the contemporary discussion. A “Father Chrysostom, ” following Jean Miguel Garrigues, appeals for common prayer, instead of polemicism. Twenty years after first writing The Orthodox Church, Bishop Timothy [Kalistos] Ware says that he has changed his mind; now, he considers the filioque dispute to be primarily semantic.

The Moscow patriarchate has said it does not re-baptize or even chrismate Catholics who become Orthodox; they simply repent and are welcomed. Should the conflict over Eastern Rite Catholics in Russia be resolved, the filioque dispute would perhaps not be an obstacle to full reconciliation. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has said that all that is necessary is resolution of what he calls the “Uniate” problem. For many Orthodox, then, the filioque, while still a matter of conflict, would not impede full communion of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Catholic Church

In 1274, at the Second Council of Lyons, the Catholic Church condemned those who “presume to deny” that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. One reasonable interpretation of this teaching is that those who accused the West of heresy were being condemned. It is inconceivable that the universal usage of the East or that the broad testimony of the Greek Fathers was condemned. While authoritative, this condemnation need not be considered as a teaching that would be irreversible for all time.

In the recent past, many Catholic theologians have written on the filioque, with an ecumenical intention. Yves Congar, O.P., argues that varying formulations may be seen not as contradictory but as complementary, lrenee Dalmais, OP., points out that East and West have different, yet complementary, pneumatologies, theologies of the Holy Spirit. Avery Dulles, S.J., traces the history of the filioque controversy and weighs pros and cons of several possibilities for reconciliation. Eugene Webb makes use of the pneumatology of Bernard Lonergan, S.J. No Catholic theologian for centuries has supported the previously mentioned condemnation of 1274, at the Council of Lyons.

From an official standpoint, the Roman Catholic Church has not imposed the filioque on the East. The Eastern Rite Churches of the Catholic Church include, for example, the Maronites, the Melkites, and the Ruthenians. Those who returned to union with the Papacy at various dates were not required to say the “and the Son” formula in their recitation of the Creed. The Maronites, who were not out of communion with Rome, have also never used the filioque. These Eastern Christians do not consider the Western usage heretical; nor do they think in terms of medieval Scholasticism, in syllogisms, as did the theologians of Florence.

In many liturgies, when celebrating with bishops from the East, the Bishop of Rome has recited the Nicene Creed without the filoque. It is certain that Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II do not consider the filioque to be integral to the text of the Creed and that in Eastern liturgies it would not even be appropriate.

Of special importance is a recent clarification of the filioque by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. This document was prepared at the specific request of the Bishop of Rome. It is entitled The Greek and Latin Traditions Regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit.

See also the reply by Bishop loannis Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamon, a first-rate theologian, especially in ecclesiology: “One Single Source: An Orthodox response to the Clarification on the Filioque.” Another well researched response to this clarification is that of Jean Claude Larchet.

Should the Latin Church come to omit the filioque from its version of the Nicene Creed, precedent can be claimed from Pope Leo III. Tradition can be invoked from the Council of Ephesus, which, as mentioned, intended that the Creed remain unchanged, as a common profession of faith for the whole Church, East, and West.


In part, the filioque was originally proposed in order to stress more clearly the connection between the Son and the Spirit, amid circumstances in which the writings of the Greek Fathers of the Church were not available. In other words, when the filioque came into use in Spain and Gaul in the West, people there were not familiar with the more biblical idiom that predominated among the Greek Fathers.

To be more specific, the origins of the filioque in the West are to be found in the writings of certain Church Fathers in the West and especially in the anti-Arian situation of 7th-century Spain. In this context, the filioque was a means to affirm the full divinity of both the Spirit and the Son. It is not just a question of establishing a connection with the Father and his divinity; it is a question of reinforcing the profession of Catholic faith in the fact that both the Son and Spirit share the fullness of God’s nature.

It is ironic that a similar anti-Arian emphasis also strongly influenced the development of the liturgy in the East, for example, in promoting prayer to “Christ Our God,” an expression which also came to find a place in the West. (As Joseph Jungmann, S.J., has shown, this shift in mentality caused a loss in appreciation of the mediating role of Christ in the liturgy, as well as other changes in piety.)

In this case, a common adversary, namely Arianism, had profound, far-reaching effects, in the Orthodox reaction in both East and West. It should be noted that the Nicene Creed was not introduced into the celebration of the Mass in Rome until the eleventh century; in this respect, in terms of the Roman liturgy, filioque is a relatively late addition.

As noted, Church politics, authority conflicts, ethnic hostility, linguistic misunderstanding, personal rivalry, and secular motives all combined in various ways to divide East and West. More than once, the filioque dispute was used to reinforce such division. Now, with a growing spirit of charity, in accord with the will of Christ, that there be one flock (Jn 10:16; 17:22), perhaps the filioque dispute will be resolved, so that the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches may be reconciled.

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 the Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston from June 3 through June 5, 2002, for their spring session. As a result of these modem 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 Greeks call a theologumenon, a theological idea. (Similarly, the late Edward Kilmartin, S.J., proposed as a theologumenon a distinctive “mission” of the Holy Spirit to the Church, like that of the mission of the Son.)

Recently, an important, agreed statement has been made by the North American Orthodox Catholic Theological Consultation, on October 25, 2003. This document, The Fiioque: 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” 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 is for the bishops of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches to review this work and to make whatever decisions would be appropriate.

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• “Filioque,” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church Oxford, 1997, p. 611.

• John St. H. Gibaut. “The Cursus Honorum and the Western Case Against Photius,” Logos 37 (1996), 35- 73.

• Joseph Jungmann, S.J. Pastoral Liturgy. London: Challoner, 1962. [See “Christ our God,” pp. 38-48.]

• Malon H. Smith, III. And Taking Bread: Cerularius and the Azyme Controversy of 1054. Paris:
Beauschesne, 1978. [This work is still valuable for understanding cultural and theological estrangement of East and West by the turn of the millennium.]

• Timothy [Kalistos] Ware. The Orthodox Church New edition. London: Penguin, 1993, pp. 52-61.

• Timothy [Kalistos] Ware. The Orthodox Way. Revised edition. Crestwood, New York: 1995, pp.

• [World Council of Churches] /Conseil Oecumáiique des Eglises. La théologie du Saint-Esprit dans le dialogue oecuménique Document # 103 [Faith and Order] Foi et Constitution. Paris: Centurion, 1981.

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