Filioque: Why The Disagreement?

The Orthodox and Catholic churches are the oldest in Christendom.  They have many things in common, and there are some things that are disagreed on.  The churches both have valid Apostolic Succession and valid sacraments.  In fact, both observe the seven sacraments instituted by Christ, and carried on by the Apostles.  A couple items that are disagreed on are the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff, and a phrase in the Nicean creed that is known as the filioque clause.  What is the filioque, and what is the objection to it by the Orthodox church?  In this paper these questions will be answered along with the Catholic response.

The western church (i.e. Catholic) uses a phrase in the creed that contains the words “and the Son” (Catholic Answers).  These three words have been one of the causes of schism between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.  This differs from the Orthodox usage that states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son (Catholic Answers).  The Orthodox position is that the filioque was an invention of the 9th century and was erroneously added to the historic creed that was ratified in Constantinople in 381 A.D. (Tim Staples).  Matthew 10:20 is also used as justification against the filioque.  That passage of scripture states, “for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:20 NRSV).  The Orthodox position also states that the filioque denies that the Father is first principle among all things.  Denying that the Father is the first principle of life is to confuse the persons of the Trinity (Tim Staples).

This is a controversy that has brewed since 1054 when the first schism between the Eastern and Western churches occurred.  The schism was briefly reconciled in 1439 at the Council of Florence but was brief (William Saunders).  The Catholic church today, as it did back then, answered the question of the filioque in several ways.  The first objection is that the filioque was erroneously added to the creed in the ninth century.  To answer this, we must look at the creed as promulgated at the Council of Constantinople in 381.  In the Greek the Creed states, “who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified” (William Saunders).  This is the Orthodox position, and coincidentally is also what we say in the creed at every mass.  When the creed was translated into Latin the filioque was added.  Church Fathers at the time stated that the two said the same thing.  Though the wording may be different, both uphold Trinitarian dogma and many theologians, on both sides, now say the two is a matter of semantics.

Another objection raised was regarding Matthew 10:20 which says the Spirit proceeds from the Father.  The Catholic church agrees with this verse wholeheartedly, but also considers other verses in holy writ.  There are many verses such as Galatians 4:6 uphold the filioque.  This passage states, “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:6 NRSV).  One verse says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and another states that He proceeds from the Son.  All three Trinitarian persons are distinctly mentioned, and The Father and the Son are described as sending the paraclete (Preuss 104) Which one is it?  When we take all passages into account, we see the answer in the wording of the filioque.  Affirming that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son in no way undermines the first principle nature of the Father.  It simply affirms scripture and reaffirms this principle.

Works Cited

Catholic Answers.  Filioque, accessed December 1, 2018.

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator., accessed November 27, 2018.

Preuss, David.  The Divine Trinity:  A Dogmatic Treatise,, accessed November 28, 2018.

Saunders, William.  The Wording of the Nicene Creed., accessed November 30, 2018.

Staples, Tim.  The Filioque Controversy., accessed November 29, 2018.

One thought on “Filioque: Why The Disagreement?

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  1. Some remarks from the Orthodox side:

    – The “inventor” of the Filioque is Augustine of Hippo, who, sadly, has been given too much authority by the Latin Church. During the first millenium, filioquism simply spread with augustinism.

    – In the Greek Fathers the expression “the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son” can mean different things, but is generally used as a short form for “the Spirit proceeds from the Father and is manifested through the Son” (Gregory the Wonderworker, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa…). The manifestation means the (temporal) mission and never the eternal procession as in the filioquist heresy.

    – The theory of a linguistic misunderstanding between East and West is very artificial and, although formally endorsed by Rome through its catechism, has been criticized by several specialists. The truth is that while the Latin word “procedere” has a very wide meaning, the Greeks commonly use two different terms: “ekporeuesthai” and “proïenai”, the first one to indicate the procession of the Spirit from the Father alone, and the other one to mean the manifestation or the sending of the Spirit (to the created world) from the Father through the Son. Yet this distinction is not absolute: Gregory of Nazianzus and Cyril of Alexandria use the second verb in the first case while Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus use the first verb in the second case. And Cyril explicitely says that “procheisthai” and “ekporeuesthai” are equivalent. You can’t explain the historical controversy by that.

    – About the Creed, canon 7 of the 3rd ecumenical council has been explained by the president of the council himself, Cyril of Alexandria, in a letter to John of Antioch:
    “We will under no conditions and by no means tolerate the making of the least change by anyone in faith defined, or, in other words, the Symbol of Faith of our holy Fathers who convened in Nicaea, composed at various times. In fact, we will not allow ourselves or others to change a word in the text of it or even to transgress a single syllable of it.”. The last sentence proves that it was the very wording of the Creed that was declared intangible.

    – The Holy Spirit being called “Spirit of the Son” doesnt mean that He proceeds from Him. Indeed, according to John of Damascus: “We worship the Holy Spirit as Spirit of God the Father, that is, proceeding from Him, and also as Spirit of the Son, because He was manifested and communicated to the creature through Him, and not because he would get his hypostasis and his existence from Him”.

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