Monday, November 16, 2009

Why the Filioque must go

Periodically one hears Roman Catholics explain the filioque using their concept of Doctrinal Development. The current position of the Roman Church they argue is that when they say "from" they really mean "through." To which my response has always been that it is a nice distinction but irrelevant since filioque in Latin means "from" and that is certainly the wording employed in the English translation of the Creed of the Council of Lyons.

Lex Orandi Lex Credendi

The wording affirms a double procession irrespective of current "understanding." Said double procession is heretical. It's a non-negotiable point from an Orthodox perspective. We can not recite a heretical creed or be in communion with those reciting one.

But just as important, perhaps even more so, is the point I have repeatedly attempted to make to Catholics. What well versed theologians in their ivory towers understand is a whole different world from what the layman in the pews understands. He reads "from" and not being in possession of advanced degrees in theology he takes the wording at face value. Ergo "from" means "from."

Clearly large numbers of Catholics have not gotten the memo that the double procession has been developed away. For some evidence I would refer the reader to a recent post over at the Traditional Catholic blog Rorate Caeli. The post expressly defends the filioque and a casual glance at the comments suggests that the double procession remains a point of carved in stone dogma for these Catholic traditionalists.

I believe the aforementioned blog post is the best refutation I have read in a long time of the many Catholics (and some Orthodox) who periodically spout off about how the filioque doesn't matter and Rome has "fixed" its interpretation to make it Orthodox. No they haven't. And clearly to the extent that there has been some movement on their part no one in the pews seems to have gotten the word.

The filioque is patently heretical and it must go.

-Inscription of Pope Leo III on a pair of silver tablest with the Creed (sans Filioque) placed in St Peter's Basilica in repudiation of the alteration to the Symbol of Faith.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

What I always say to Catholics is, if what you mean by "filioque" is the same thing we Orthodox mean without it, and if, as you say, it therefore makes no difference - then the solution is simple. Just drop it.

But they don't and they won't, clearly demonstrating that the word does make the Creed mean something different with than without it.

It's what I call a "papal doctrine," meaning one which has the effect of enhancing or bolstering papal prestige or authority. The Holy Spirit proceeds from or through the Son and the Son's Vicar on Earth is the pope. Connect the dots and you have the Holy Spirit's activities on Earth in the custody of the pope.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

It's a good post over there; thanks for the reference.

The comments are still pretty confused though, aren't they?


John (Ad Orientem) said...

Yes. You do see some considerable confusion within the ranks over there.


Michael said...

Thank you for this post. I cannot agree more. I used to take part in a forum in which a then Orthodox poster stated that western Christianity is essentially unitarian. I didn't understand this until I stopped reading it with my convert mind and tried to actually understand the points being made and, actually, he was right.

The way they parse the Creed implies that the "one God" in which we profess belief refers to all three Persons instead of the Father, which is the original (and only grammatically-sensible) meaning. This is quite different from the way we do in the Orthodox Church, and reading the Cappadocean Fathers made me understand just how problematic this is. After all, how better to learn the intended meaning of the Creed than to turn to those who were instrumental in its composition?

Before that point, the filioque to me was a point of difference, and one on which I accepted the Orthodox position because I am Orthodx and believe Orthodoxy to be true. However, upon gaining a better understanding of the difference between our respecive understandings of the Creed, I see just how bizarre the double-procession teaching is. Its logical conclusions are so far removed from anything known to Christian theology that it can only be reconciled with the sort of fudging that has been happening lately.

It must go and the Creed must be returned to its original parsing.

Josephus Flavius said...

Are people still posting on the filioque? This must be the 10 millionth post on it. I'm sure Rome is well aware of the issue.

Anonymous said...

The article in question was more concerned with "liberal theologians" such as Congar, etc; than with the filioque as such.
The blog is for those who think the R.C. Church should remain in the 15th century.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Oh, well, people have been discussing it for a thousand years (and Rome has been well aware of all the issues involved for even longer than that); why stop now?


Michael said...

As long as there are those who wish to pretend it away, creating some sort of false unity, there will be those of us who speak up against it.

Bob Glassmeyer said...

Very well said, Joh.

Often when I attend Mass I drop the filioque during the Creed.

Some of the ivory tower theologians make life very interesting for the rest of the faithful. For one thing, they think we're too stupid to know what words like consubstantial mean. For centuries it's posed no problem for us, and now some of these theologians turn it into a problem.

Don't even get me started on the rewriting of hymns...

Your point is well worth considering, John.

Michael said...

""To which my response has always been that it is a nice distinction but irrelevant since filioque in Latin means "from" ""

Well that is incorrect. Filioque does not mean "from." It means and (ex=from) the Son. The phrase is "Qui ex Patre Filioque procedit."

Michael said...

Read pages 161 - 191 regarding the "Filioque" clause. It shows that even the Eastern Church Fathers recognized that the Holy Ghost procedes from the Father and the Son and that this is the Apostolic teaching that must be believed by all.

Will R. Huysman said...

Dear John,
If "the Filioque is patently heretical," then it's not much use to quote Pope St. Leo III of Rome, who openly confessed, in his letter to all the Eastern Churches, his belief in "the Holy Spirit, proceeding equally from the Father and from the Son, consubstantial, coeternal with the Father and the Son. The Father, complete God in Himself, the Son, complete God begotten of the Father, the Holy Spirit, complete God proceeding from the Father and the Son..."{1} The saintly pope's actions are probably explainable, in large part, in terms of his understanding of the nuances of ἐκπορευόμενον vs. προείναι and his sensitivity to the Byzantines' nationalistic resistance to any organic creedal clarifications that transcended "the limits of Byzantine culture and experience."{2}

God bless you and yours,
Will R. Huysman

{1} Swete, H. B. On the History of the Doctrine of the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Apostolic Age to the Death of Charlemagne. Cambridge and London, 1876. p. 230. The Latin reads, "Spiritum Sanctum a Patre et a Filio aequaliter procedentem, consubstantialem, coaeternum Patri et Filio. Pater plenus Deus in se, Filius plenus Deus a Patre genitus, Spiritus Sanctus plenus Deus a Patre et Filio procedens."
{2} Bonocore, Mark J. "Filioque: A Response to Eastern Orthodox Objections." The Catholic Legate. 12 Dec. 2006. 17 Nov. 2009

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Leo III ws privately supportive of the heretical double procession (which is why he is not generally recognized as a saint in the East). However he clearly understood the limits of his office and that neither he nor anyone else had the authority to unilaterally alter the Creed in violation of the canons of the OEcumenical Councils.

Yours in ICXC

Anonymous said...


i suggest you stop obsessing over what we recite in the creed. worry about us when you guys figure out the basics of contraception and divorce.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

If Catholics are of the opinion that contraception and divorce are on a higher level of importance than tampering with the Symbol of Faith I can only add that to my list of reasons for concern over continued talk of "reunion."


jason said...

Christ did command no divorce but did not make a statement about the double procession being heretical or for that matter no ecumenical council has declared the double procession as heretical (but i think it should be to conform more closely with the Creed in Greek, which is the normative form for the Catholic Church) Besides we will all be one church in 75 years anyways.

Jason S

jason said...

Just to clarify the Catholic Church should drop it and I think with Pope BXVI being the best Orthodox patristic scholar on hand today it probably will be pretty soon.

Anonymous said...

IMO, filioque is a minor issue. We just don't have enough scriptural evidence or evidence from church history to support one view or the other.

IMO, the key heresy is not filioque but the belief in "Doctrinal Development". It basically says, we know more than the church fathers, so we're free to add doctrines as we see fit and even contradict previously agreed upon creeds and doctrines.

There is no "Doctrinal Development". There never was until the schism. The ecumenical councils did not define doctrine -- they defined heresy. There is a huge difference. In defining heresy, we're defining the boundaries of speculation. "I don't know how the Trinity is composed. That's a mystery. But we know for certain that it's not modalism or 3 gods or .... So don't teach that".

Anonymous said...

One more point about the heresy of "Doctrinal Development" -- it saws off the branch the Catholic Church is standing on.

Quite simply it states that ecumenical councils are fallible, in need of correction by the Pope in at a future date. The Church (both the Pope and the ecumenical councils) can err in matters of doctrine. Thus all the ecumenical councils and all of tradition could be flawed....Perhaps in the definition of the cannon, the church added some invalid books or removed some important books...say from one of the heretics. Why couldn't it happen? After all if the Church (both the Pope and the ecumenical councils) got some doctrines wrong, perhaps the Holy Spirit isn't guiding the Church after all....Ultraliberals rejoice, "Doctrinal Development" supports your cause.

I'm really surprised someone as learned as Pope Benedict doesn't see the fundamental crisis that Pope Leo III created when he went against the decrees of the Church and declared those who had faith in the Church to be heretics.

Anonymous said...

Leo III was only following Leo the Great in that respect, who in 447 wrote thus to a Spanish bishop:

Thus, in the first chapter it is shown what impious notions they hold concerning the divine Trinity, when they assert that there is one and the same person of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, as though the same God should at one time be named Father, at another time Son, at another time Holy Spirit; and as though there were not one Who begat, another Who is begotten, another Who proceeds from both.

The Latin reads:

primo itaque capitulo demonstratur quam impie sentiant de Trinitate divina, qui et Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti unam atque eandem asserunt esse personam, tamquam idem Deus nunc Pater nunc Filius nunc Spiritus Sanctus nominetur; nec alius sit qui genuit, alius qui genitus est, alius qui de utroque procedit.

William Tighe

Diego said...

Hello there!
Very good post. However, it isn't just the Roman Church which is faithful to the filioque. Most other churches of the western tradition use the same credal statement.
It is not so simple to 'just drop it' like other poeple have suggested here.
I am writing a review for Fr Thomas Weinandy's book ('The Father's Spirit of Sonship')i where the author tries to creatively bridge the docrinal gap between 'East and 'West'. I must admit that I came to the conclusion that the filioque is deeply rooted in Western Theology and is a plausible answer to many theological issues.

Josephus Flavius said...

Now, 15 iterations after my comment, aren't you glad you brought up the f-word? :)

Anonymous said...

Diego, it may be plausible. It may be correct, but if it is, then the Pope and ecumenical councils are fallible in drafting the Nicene Creed, then the Church is fallible in matters of doctrine. Papal infallibility is gone (since the Pope agreed to the original Nicene Creed). Arguments against the Reformation are gone (since the Church can no longer have certainty about doctrine). The Roman Catholic church is in deep trouble.

Yes the West is caught between a rock and a hard place. But to accept Filioque is to be caught between a rock and a sharp place. Ultimately, it will have to find its way out.

Diego said...

Well there is a sort of way out... the doctrine of Development of Doctrine. hahaha. No kidding!!
From my personal and humble point of view I think that it isn't a crucial matter. The important thing is that the WHOLE Church still has the Holy Spirit to confort and guide her.
I don't know why but I cynically believe that it isn't a fundamental matter for the re-union of Catholic and Orthodox. It was the manner in which Rome rose to power and tried to shove down the Orthodox throats this doctrine that is unacceptable. If Rome reworked papal authority and co. it would make things a lot easier without touching the Most Holy Trinity. Don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Well there is another way and you hint at it, but I doubt Rome would have the guts to do it.

Essentially, that Vatican can declare that decisions on doctrine can only be made by the WHOLE Church. After the schism, the Church was fragmented so any ecumenical council East or West, after that schism is fallible since the decision was not made by the WHOLE Church.

This would definitely open the doors to unity, but there would place the Vatican in a tough spot since it would like to affirm some councils such as Second Vatican, so it gives up power to define doctrine, it would have to give up being the Roman Catholic Church.

IMO, the way around this is, before the papal declaration, if the Eastern churches would vote on all key Western ecumenical councils and affirm all councils that are compatible with Orthodoxy while rejecting the councils (or parts of the councils) that are not. In effect, this would be a full ecumenical council of the Church -- the West just agreed to parts of the doctrines before the East did. When the dust settles, I don't know how what percent of the doctrines the Vatican hold would be upheld, but the whole process would require a lot of trust by the Orthodox Church and humility by the Catholic Church to even be possible.

Anonymous said...

The vatican has made room for the idea that the Church is incomplete without the East. A single act of courage by a singularly courageous pope could throw open the door. A united Church or 'infallability' is a choice on both sides, but Rome, so to speak, holds the keys.

William Tighe said...

"Essentially, that Vatican can declare that decisions on doctrine can only be made by the WHOLE Church. After the schism, the Church was fragmented so any ecumenical council East or West, after that schism is fallible since the decision was not made by the WHOLE Church."

I have to say (forgive me!) that this seems rather thoughtless. If we're going to speak of the "WHOLE Church" in the way you've incautiously written, the Copts, Armenians, Ethiopians, Syrians and perhaps even Assyrians will want their "votes" to be "counted," too; and so will you put up the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh councils for shuffling and winnowing, too? If not, why not? If so, I see "comic possibilities" for haggling, pick 'n mixing, that would demand a Ronald Knox redivivus to write an update to his "Reunion All Around" (1914).

Seriously, though, if you seem to be working on a model of "the Church" as Catholicism + Orthodoxy, I see no reason at all not to make it Catholicism + Orthodoxy + Oriental Orthodox + "Assyrian" Church of the East. And since such an ecclesiology is thoroughly Anglican in its provenance and presuppositions (the "Branch Theory" dusted off and offered for sale again) I don't see why a few Anglican remnants ought to be invited in, too.

This whole notion seems, as the English say, "too clever by half."

Anonymous said...

John, Your post is altogether silly & pretentious. The procession of the Spirit happens in an ineffable way. The word "through" is just as liable to misinterpretation as the words "and from."

Of you already know that but you always have the urgent need to convince others and yourself, that your jump from on form of schism to another was as a result of some great epiphany.

It turns out you're basically nobody, "ecclesiologically" speaking. At whenever time it is ordained by God that the Churches would be re-united, they will be re-united, with the 'Filioque' intact.

It will a time only God know, and it will happen by the power of the Holy Spirit, whom, it just so happens, seems to have been proceeding from the Father and the Son eternally and ineffably.


John (Ad Orientem) said...

I'm going to let your comment stand on its own merit. However I will caution that while I am not averse to disagreement or even criticism, I am not a fan of the ad hominem as a form of argument. (Reference my guidelines for posting in the sidebar.) That I am a worm and the worst of sinners is well established. With that out of the way let's all try and stick to the issue at hand in future comments.

Under the mercy,

Anonymous said...


You're correct. My words were imprecise, but I don't think your clarification brings another point up. I think "The WHOLE recognizable Church" might be better terminology (I'll leave the language lawyers to define 'the whole recognizable Church' -- its beyond my capabilities). Remember the Council of Florence was accepted by the Eastern Patriarch but rejected by the rest of the Orthodox Church, so it is not without precedent to state that an ecumenical council is only valid if it is acceptable to the whole recognizable Church.

So are the Oriental Orthodox and "Assyrian" Churches a part of "the whole recognizable Church"? There are many in the Orthodox who think so, and Ecumenical efforts may see a reunion:

From what I've seen, the reunion isn't one whereby everything is thrown out. It's quite similar to the model I presented above. The Oriental Orthodox has to vote on the councils after the split (most of which they agreed with). The ones that they didn't without reservation, effort is made to go back to what the council was trying to accomplish and work from there. Once a common agreement is reached, then and only then is there full communion.

It may be that Catholicism + Orthodoxy unity will have to wait for Orthodoxy + Oriental Orthodox + "Assyrian" unity. So be it.

Diego said...

The Easter Orthodox churches such as Assyrians holds very different views on Christology, let alone the filioque.
Oh and William, why shouldn't 'Anglican Remnats be invited'?? We hold the branch theory very well although if you ask me a conciliar central authority should be envisaged for many reasons.

William Tighe said...

Well, Diego, because one thing there is that the Catholics, the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox (I'm not so sure about the Assyrians) hold in common in practice is that "Anglican churches" are Protestant bodies, that is, more like Lutheran and Reformed bodies or "ecclesial communities," than like themselves.

Diego said...

Dear William,
yes the Anglican Church is both Catholic and Reformed (never mind the outbursts of sectarian movements like GAFCOM) and yes, in some regions of the World she is in almost full communion with the Lutheran Churches (although more should be actually said about this).
However, the Anglican Church holds fast to the Western docrines - so therefore also the filioque - and to the three-fold priestly ministry. This ministry is recognised as valid by the East. Her ecclesiology is often akin to the Eastern Churches and there is a deep passion in Anglican scholarship for patristics and the faith of the 'undivided church'. Many in the Anglican Church hope and pray for a time when their Church, the Roman and the Orthodox Churches will in communion with one another to the Glory of God.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I am afraid I have to take Dr. Tighe's side on this one. Once upon a time there was some diversity of opinion with the Church on the subject of Anglican orders. No such diversity exists today. The Orthodox Church does not accept Anglican orders. None of the Orthodox churches receive Anglican clergy without ordaining them and more than a few now also insist on baptizing Anglican converts.

The problem is that there is no Anglican doctrine that can be cited as definitive. Anglicanism is all over the map. You claim that High Church Anglo-Catholicism is the real thing but your Evangelical co-religionists will say the same thing about their side. They also point to the 39 Articles which are heretical.


Diego said...

Dear John,
I beg to differ on this subject and I would like to point you towards the works of the ARCIC, William Temple, Ramsey, Williams and Hooker should you have never come across them before. They tend to define Anglican Theology quite well. However, I am sorry to have hijacked the discussion towards the subject of ecclesiology rather than stick to the systematic theology of the filioque.

Ryan said...

"The Easter Orthodox churches such as Assyrians holds very different views on Christology, let alone the filioque."

The Assyrian Church of the East (Nestorians) is not Orthodox, let alone "Eastern Orthodox." Some people are very confused about the Nestorian church and the non-Chalcedonian churches. They are very far apart. Believe you me, the non-Chalcedonians ("Oriental Orthodox") will never unify with us if we also unify with the Nestorians. They have said as much to the Roman Catholics. Here is a good summary of the Coptic church's current position:

Anthony said...

Anonymous wrote:

Remember the Council of Florence was accepted by the Eastern Patriarch but rejected by the rest of the Orthodox Church, so it is not without precedent to state that an ecumenical council is only valid if it is acceptable to the whole recognizable Church.

The patriarch, clergy, and laity of Alexandria rejected Chalcedon, which was at that time a big part of "the whole recognizable Church." Not sure how your criterion for the ecumenicity of a council passes that test.