Friday, April 6, 2012

The Filioque Controversy, Part 1

Warning:  Another recent outbreak of verbal wrangling over this subject in the blogosphere has prompted these posts on the Filioque Controversy.  However, if you are not into theology and apologetics, this is definitely going to bore you to tears.  If you have never heard of the subject before, it is still very likely to bore you to tears.  Even if you are an inquirer into the holy Orthodox Christian faith, you probably have more pressing matters on your agenda.  This is a purely "intra-mural" issue between Orthodoxy and other traditions.

* * *


But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of me…” (John 15:26)

In the year 325, the Church met at Nicea, in what is known as the First Ecumenical Council (not counting the Council of Jerusalem, see Acts 15), to resolve several issues, especially the Arian Heresy. The Fathers of Nicea hammered out a creed. The section of the Creed dealing with the Holy Spirit read, simply: “And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit.”

The Creed was revised, especially the section on the Holy Spirit, at the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381. That Council wrote the words we say today: “And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.”

In the words of St. Photios, “the second of the seven Holy and Ecumenical Synods directly dogmatized that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. The third received it by tradition; the fourth confirmed it; the fifth supported the same doctrine; the sixth sealed it; the seventh sealed it in splendor with contests.” (St. Photios the Great, Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit, 5)

In fact, the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople I, Canon I) declared, “The profession of faith of the holy fathers who gathered in Nicaea in Bithynia is not to be abrogated, but it is to remain in force.”

The Third Council even imposed penalties on anyone who would “produce or write or compose any other creed…” The penalties were that a “bishop clearly is to be stripped of his bishopric and deposed, a cleric to be deposed from the clergy, and a lay person is to be anathematized.” Definition of the faith at Nicaea, Council of Ephesus, 6th session 22 July 431)

The Fourth Council, at Chalcedon, decreed, “This wise and saving creed, the gift of divine grace, was sufficient for a perfect understanding and establishment of religion. For its teaching about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is complete...” (Definition of the Faith, Council of Chalcedon)

In 589, in Toledo, Spain (Sometimes the date 447 is given, as there were several local/regional councils at Toledo.), a change did however appear in the Creed, in apparent ignorance of basic Trinitarian principles. The phrase, “And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father,” became, “And [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” In Latin, “and the Son” is Filioque.

One might not suppose that such a small and seemingly innocuous change could have provoked so many centuries of stormy controversy, and even have played a major part in the Great Schism between Rome and Constantinople, which has never been healed.

Yet, because the Filioque contradicts basic Trinitarian dogma in several key points, it remains unacceptable in Orthodoxy. In fact, the sum of all our objections to it is that it both presupposes and defines a different god, an abstract god, not the God we have encountered.

I'll begin the explanation of why in the next post of this series.


David Garner said...

Very nice. I am avoiding polemics during Lent as best I can, so I am going to refrain from passing these on until after Pascha. But I will pass them on after that. Looking forward to the rest of the series!