by Father Michael Gilligan
Continued from page 1
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
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 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.
Chrysostom, ” following Jean Miguel Garrigues, appeals for common prayer,
instead of polemicism. Twenty years after first writing The Orthodox
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.
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,
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,
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,
1. That all involved in such dialogue expressly recognize the
limitations of our ability to make definitive assertions about the inner life
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
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
Back to Page 1