Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Filioque part MMVII

If there is one issue between Orthodoxy and Rome which has been beat to death, buried, then dug up and beaten some more it is the Filioque. If you doubt me just do a brief Google search on the matter. Or better yet go take a look at the archives on Energetic Procession and Sacramentum Vitae, two excellent blogs that generally deal with things over my head. On which note Mike Liccione has just posted his latest installment on the subject. At the end of that installment he quotes a proposal that the wording of the Creed be altered (again) to read...

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life, who comes forth (ejkporeuvetai) from the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten and who proceeds (proei'si) from and through the Son in communion with the Father, and together with the Father and the Son is worship and glorified.
An interesting suggestion. But given the fact that we would require an Ecumenical Council (at least from our side's POV) to alter the Creed, wouldn't it be just easier if Rome removed the offending phrase from its version? Now I am not going to get into the issue of it's being heretical or not. That's being hashed out by people who probably translate the Sunday comics into ancient Aramaic for fun.

What to me is pretty hard to argue is that whether or not the Filioque is truly heretical when properly understood is moot. That's because the overwhelming majority of those in the pews DO NOT grasp the elaborate points Mike is making. And it is not practical to try and instruct the vast sea of ordinary laymen in the intricate points of advanced theology. They read "who proceeds from the father and the son" and foolishly believe what someone raised with a basic command of English would assume. Namely that it means what it says.

Now people like Mike and Benedict XVI and various others can hash out the finer points on the legitimacy of the Filioque, but I have a question. Why? What possible purpose does it serve? It was added illegitimately to the Creed (even Card +Ratzinger has acknowledged as much). I see no compelling reason for retaining it. And the likelihood that it is causing confusion among the Roman Catholic faithful, of whom I would hazard a guess that 99+% do NOT understand the true meaning of the Filioque as posited by Mike and other RC defenders, seems beyond doubt.

Back in the good old days before "heresy" was effectively removed from the Roman Catholic dictionary, the Holy Office (just typing the old name gives me chills) used to routinely suppress or condemn writings for a variety of reasons. One reason cited more frequently than heresy, was that the writings had a "tendency towards heresy." That would seem to be a good way of phrasing the principal objection.

In a nut shell my argument against the Filioque is this. Irrespective of whether or not it is heretical when properly understood, it is heretical as it is almost universally understood by the Roman Catholic faithful. And there is no practical way of correcting that short of removing it. It is an impediment to restored relations with the Orthodox Church. Its addition to the Creed was accomplished by means that have been publicly acknowledged by the current Pope to have been improper. And it serves no purpose which can justify its retention when weighed against the harm it is doing. The Filioque should be removed from the western creed until the issue of its orthodoxy can be resolved by a future council of the church.


Mike L said...


Two points.

1. The "vast majority" of the Catholic faithful misunderstand more than one Catholic dogma they profess, not just the filioque, in such a way as to make them "materially" heretical. Unless either (a) catechesis improves drastically, or (b) the majority of the faithful become theologians, that will continue. Alas, given the size of the Church and the ratio of laity to clergy,(a)is about as likely as (b), which is about as likely as the abolition of taxes. But I don't think that's an argument against any particular dogma or its profession. Therefore it's not an argument against the filioque.

2. I myself would have no problem with dropping the filioque from the Creed; and I'm sure the same could be said of many theologically educated Catholics, for largely the reasons you give. It could also greatly advance ecumenical relations with the East. Unfortunately, if the phrase were unilaterally deleted by Rome from the Latin Creed, a lot of people who are ignorant of theology, hostile to the Catholic Church, or both, would create a problem where none need exist. And I think that's why Rome retains the phrase in the Latin Creed.

Such people would assume that the Catholic Church no longer affirms that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Objectively that would be false, because the doctrine in question is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church which, as such, could not be repudiated without renouncing Rome's claims to doctrinal authority quite generally. That's not going to happen, council or no council. But the mere fact that a lot of people, including a lot of Catholics, would develop that false belief anyhow would be a huge problem in itself for the Catholic Church. There'd be much less of a problem if filioque were replaced by something compatible with it that both East and West could accept.

That probably won't happen, and probably shouldn't happen, without an ecumenical council including the Orthodox as well as the Catholics. But we are both keenly aware of the difficulties preventing the convocation of such a council.


Ad Orientem said...

I concur that there would certainly be some issues from people hostile to the RCC. Generally they would come from your schismatic traditionalists and various Protestant sects. However, I see very little hope of reconciling either to Rome. So frankly what they think seems to be of rather minimal importance.

As for the laity, I think a simple letter read at Mass announcing the change with an explanation that the creed was being restored to its original form would suffice. If Lay Catholics could survive what was done to their liturgies in the late 60's and throughout the 70-80's this will not even make them blink.

And of course it would be an enormous PR coup for relations with the Orthodox. Even the most conservative Orthodox would have a hard time not applauding the move. For all the reasons we both know all too well and some of which I mention in my next post, I think we have some big fences to tear down. But if there is any hope, however slight, of restoring communion this would be a logical place to take a first step.

Please forgive typos as I am writing in a bit of a hurry.


Phil said...

AO, I completely agree with your argument and have thought something like it many times while observing the filioque wars at Mike's blog and others. I also agree with your response to Mike; I understand his concerns, but find them, ultimately, unpersuasive. On the one hand, he’s relatively unconcerned with the present opinion of theologically uninformed RCs, but, on the other, he’s very concerned about the problems the omission of the filioque would cause among “people who are ignorant of theology.” Which is it? Do we need to be concerned with those that misunderstand the Church’s theological teachings, or not?

What Mike is doing – valiantly and with completely good intentions – is taking what everyone agrees was a mistake and constructing an argument that explains why, if understood in a very particular way, we can live with it. In the spirit of Occam’s Razor, I suggest there’s a solution that makes much more sense.

Anonymous said...

Dear friend, It is difficult to defend without rancor the Orthodox rejection of Filioque, without encountering some Latin apologists who slander blessed Patriarch Saint Photios the Great as uneducated ambitious and prideful.
The very thing Roman popes often are guilty of. I don't appreciate attacks on Saint Photios, or ad hominem arguments anyway.
God bless you in your journey into the Orthodox Church.
We all need to reject the Filioque with what strength we have, from God.
Scott Harrington
Holy God Holy Mighty Holy Immortal have mercy on us!