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HISTORY OF THE FILIOQUE

by Thomas Ross Valentine


The actual 'Nicene Creed', the Symbol of Faith articulated by the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in A.D. 325, did not go into as much detail with regard to the Holy Spirit. It stated:

We believe in one God, the Father, almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, will come to judge the living and the dead;
And in the Holy Spirit.
But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or is subject to alteration or change -- these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematises.
[trans. from Early Christian Creeds by J.N.D. Kelly]

The teaching on the Holy Spirit was expanded by the first Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381).

And 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 one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
[Orthodox Church of America translation]

In A.D. 587, the local council of Toledo (Spain) added filioque to the Creed as an attempt to combat Arianism. (The Latin word filioque is translated in English as 'and the Son' and changes the Symbol of Faith to

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son;
who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified;

This addition was intended to emphasise the consubstantiality of the Father and Son against the Arian heresy.

From Spain, the 'filioque' spread to the Franks (present-day France). It was embraced by Charlemagne who went so far as to accuse the East of having deliberately omitted it from the ancient Creed. Pope Leo III (795-816) intervened, and forbade any interpolations or alterations in the Nicene Creed. He ordered the Creed, without filioque, to be engraved in Latin and Greek on two silver plates on the wall of St. Peter's in Rome. Nevertheless, the addition was maintained by the Franks. The dispute grew (many historians think Charlemagne used the filioque in an attempt to justify his claim to be emperor against the Emperor of the Roman Empire located in Constantinople) between East and West and was the focus of the council of Constantinople which met A.D. 879-880. This council (recognised as the Eighth Ecumenical Council by Orthodox Christians) reaffirmed the creed of A.D. 381 and declared any and all additions to the creed invalid. This council's teaching was affirmed by the patriarchs of Old Rome (John VIII), New Rome [Constantinople] (Photius), Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria and by Emperor Basil I.

Still, the filioque continued to be used by the Franks and spread to the Germans. The filioque began to be used in Rome, probably first at the coronation of Henry II in 1014. Historians see this as a passive acceptance by the pope (Benedict VIII) due to his reliance on the Germans for military protection. From that time, the Romans began adding the filioque to the creed and have continued doing so.


CRITICISM

Objection: The addition is neither from nor consistent with the Sacred Scriptures

The original phrase of the Symbol of Faith: '...believe in the Holy Spirit...who proceeds from the Father' is directly from John15:26:

An analysis of John 15:26

Examining the key words, we find

  <elthe>   active voice of <erchomai>, meaning 'to come from one place to another (used of persons arriving), to appear, make one's appearance, come before the public'
 
<parakletos>   in the widest sense, a helper, succourer, aider, assistant. More specifically, one who pleads another's cause before a judge, a pleader, defence counsellor, legal assistant, an advocate
 
<pempo>   'to dispatch', 'to send', 'to thrust in'
 
<ekporeuetai>   is derived from ek + poreuomai
 
<ek>   preposition denoting origin as in 'from', or 'out of', the point from whence the motion or action proceeds
<poreuomai>   'to traverse', 'to travel'

Thus, the most key word of the passage, <ekporeutai / ekporeuomai>, refers to the Holy Spirit's point of origin. Since that origin is 'from all eternity' (i.e. outside of time, before time began), it refers to the Holy Spirit's eternal origin and not to His temporal mission (His being sent into the world in time).

Even recent statements from the Vatican confirm this understanding.

the term <ekporeusis> as distinct from the term "proceed" (<proienai>)
can only characterize a relationship of origin to the principle without principle
of the Trinity: the Father.
Source: L'Osservatore Romano, 20 September 1995:
'The Greek and Latin Traditions Regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit'

Put in simpler terms, if I give a Rawlings baseball glove to my son he may tell others he received the glove from me, but the glove's ultimate origin is Rawlings. Similarly, we can say we receive the Holy Spirit from the Son (because the Son sent Him), but the Holy Spirit's ultimate origin is the Father.

The procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son cannot be found in Sacred Scripture. It is a man-made addition. However, because Roman Catholicism has altered the ancient Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Faith and now teaches that the Holy Spirit's eternal procession is from both the Father and the Son, it is commonplace for Roman Catholic translations of the Bible to distort the plain meaning. Here's how two Roman Catholic translations handle the passage (John 15:26).

New Jerusalem Bible   New American Bible
When the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from* the Father, he will be my witness. Translation
When the Paraclete comes, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father -- and whom I myself will send from the Father -- he will bear witness on my behalf.
* The sending of the Spirit into the world rather than the "eternal" proceeding from the Father within the Trinity. Notes
Comes from the Father: refers to the mission of the Spirit to men, not to the eternal procession of the Spirit. Compare 14:26, where the Father, not Jesus, is said to send the Spirit.

There is nothing wrong with the New Jerusalem Bible's translation. The use of 'issues from' instead of 'proceeds' is a fine translation of <ekporeuetai>, but by footnoting 'issues from' and explaining that this does not refer to the Holy Spirit's eternal procession (His ultimate origin from all eternity) but only to the sending of the Holy Spirit into the world (in time), it simply denies the truth. The New American Bible has (deliberately?) distorted the passage using the verb 'comes' in place of the far more accurate 'proceeds'. This mistranslation obscures the clear meaning of the Greek text. Its comment is essentially the same as the New Jerusalem translation: a denial of the clear meaning in favour of the Roman Catholic error. The reference to John 14:26 is a red herring. No one denies that the Holy Spirit is sent by both the Father and the Son into the world. These Roman Catholic translations would have one believe that there is nothing in Scripture that explicitly reveals the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit.

The filioque contradicts the clear and explicit teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ as found in the Holy Gospel.


Objection: The filioque undermines the HolyTrinity


Following the teaching of Plotinus (known as Neoplatonism), Augustine equated deity with the essential simplicity of the Neoplatonic 'One' (Augustine: 'Godhead is absolutely simple essence, and therefore to be is then the same as to be wise.' On the Trinity). Following the Neoplatonic teaching that being, will, and activity of the "One" were wholly indistinguishable, Augustine taught that the term 'God' did not mean directly the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the more general notion of the godhead, not as any one Person in particular. Augustine so confused Person and essence that he went so far as to refer to 'the Person of that Trinity'. [On the Trinity, 2.10.8]

Due to this emphasis on the simple essence, Roman Catholicism, following Augustine, concluded that there could be no difference between 'begetting' and 'spirating'. By ignoring the warnings of two great saints:

You ask what is the procession of the Holy Spirit? Do you tell me first what is the unbegottenness of the Father, and I will then explain to you the physiology of the generation of the Son, and the procession of the Spirit, and we shall both of us be stricken with madness for prying into the mystery of God.
Saint Gregory the Theologian

We have learned that there is a difference between generation [begetting] and procession, but the nature of the difference we in no wise understand.
Saint John of Damascus

in favour of presuppositions rooted in pagan philosophy, it becomes essential to find some way of philosophically distinguishing between the Son and the Holy Spirit. The filioque provides this: the Son's origin is the Father alone, the Holy Spirit's origin is both Father and Son.

This emphasis on simplicity reduces the identity of the three Divine Persons to relative terms to each other. As Augustine wrote:

The terms [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] are used reciprocally and in relation to each other.
On the Trinity, 6.5.6

Like the Arians who denied the full deity of Christ because He did not cause the Father (like other Neoplatonists confusing being, will, and activity), Augustine argued for the Son's divinity because He was the cause of another Divine Person (the Holy Spirit):

As the Father has life in Himself, so He has given to the Son to have life in Himself.
On the Trinity, 15.27.47

For we cannot say that the Holy Spirit is not life, while the Father is life, and the Son is life: and hence as the Father ... has life in Himself; so He has given to Him that life should proceed from Him, as it also proceeds from Himself.
On the Trinity, 15.27.48

Thus there is a subordination of Persons to attributes, and attributes to the divine essence (which is equivalent to the Neoplatonic 'One'). Augustine doesn't seem to shy away from explicitly confusing the Persons with attributes:

Because both the Father is a spirit and the Son is a spirit, and because the Father is Holy and the Son is Holy, therefore ... since the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, and certainly God is Holy, and God is a spirit, the Trinity can be called also the Holy Spirit.
On the Trinity, 5.11.12

This confusion is also manifested in Augustine's famous definition of the Holy Spirit as the love between the Father and the Son:

Wherefore also the Holy Spirit consists in the same unity of substance, and in the same equality. For whether He is the unity of both, or the holiness, or the love, or therefore the unity because the love, and therefore the love because the holiness ... Therefore the Holy Spirit, whatever it [sic] is, is something common both to the Father and Son. But that communion itself is consubstantial and co-eternal; and if it may fitly be called friendship, let it be so called; but it is more aptly called love.
On the Trinity, 6.5.7

Logic shows how flawed this reasoning is. If the love between Father and Son establishes another Divine Person, why stop at this point? Why not posit that the love between the Father and the Holy Spirit establishes a Fourth Person of the Godhead; that the love between the Son and the Holy Spirit establishes a Fifth Person of the Godhead; that the love between the Father and the Fourth Person establishes a Sixth Person of the Godhead; that the love between the Son and the Fourth Person establishes a Seventh Person of the Godhead; that the love between the Holy Spirit and the Fourth Person establishes an Eighth Person of the Godhead; that the love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit respectively with the Fifth Person establishes a Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Person of the Godhead respectively; etc. etc. etc. Once the principle that the love between Divine Persons leads to another Divine Person, how can it be logically stopped? It is the Neoplatonic idea of a 'plurality of spheres of being, arranged in hierarchical descending order ... each sphere of being is derived from its superior, a derivation that is not a process in time or space'. [Encyclopaedia Britannica]

By beginning from a pagan philosophical presupposition of 'divine simplicity' instead of Divine Revelation, from whence we know there are three Divine Persons in one Godhead, Augustine has so confused the Divine Persons that their distinction becomes unimportant. Thus, when faced with the following question:

Does the ability to 'spirate' the Holy Spirit
come from the Godhead or from a Person?

Roman Catholics do not know how to respond. For those who recognise three distinct Persons Who have been revealed to us, it is clear that if the ability to 'spirate' is attributed to the Godhead, then there are two options: either 1) the Holy Spirit is not God (a denial of the Holy Trinity), or 2) He has the power to 'spirate' Himself (a ridiculous absurdity!). The typical Roman Catholic response is to claim the Father has given all things to the Son [Jn 3:35]. Of course, they admit that this cannot mean all things since the Father cannot give His Fatherhood to the Son (which would be an absurdity!), but they refuse to see the Fatherhood as the source of the Holy Spirit.

The entire teaching is based on a feeble attempt to employ human wisdom to explain that which is unexplainable. It is convoluted, confused, and rooted in a man-conceived god (as of the Neoplatonists) rather than the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, the God of Jesus Christ.


Objection: The addition was novel

There are plenty of Roman Catholic teachings which explicitly teach a double procession. Here are some of the more important (emphases added):

The 11th Council of Toledo, 675 We also believe that the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the Trinity is God, and that he [sic] is one and equal with God the Father and God the Son, of one substance as well as of one nature. However, he [sic] is not begotten nor created, but he [sic] proceeds from both and is the Spirit of both. We believe that the Holy Spirit is neither unbegotten nor begotten: lest, if we say unbegotten we should be asserting two Fathers; and if we said begotten we should appear to be preaching two Sons. He is called the Spirit, not only of the Father nor only of the Son but equally of the Father and of the Son. He proceeds not from the Father into the Son nor from the Son to sanctify creatures; but he [sic] is shown to have proceeded from both equally, because he [sic] is known as the love or the sanctity of both.

The 4th Lateran Council, 1215,
A definition against the Albigenses and other heretics

The Father is from no one; the Son is from the Father only; and the Holy Spirit is from both the Father and the Son equally

The 2nd Council of Lyons, 1274,
Constitution on the Procession of the Holy Spirit ...we confess that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as from two principles, but as from one; not by two spirations but by one.

The Council of Florence, 1438-45,
Decree for the Jacobites
The Father is not begotten; the Son is begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The Roman Catechism, I.8.6
(the official RC catechism from 1566-1994) With regard to the words immediately succeeding: "who proceeds from the Father and the Son," the faithful are to be taught that the Holy Spirit proceeds, by eternal procession, from the Father and the Son as from one principle. This is a truth taught to us by the rule of the Church [sic] from which the least departure is unwarrantable on the part of Christians.

Vatican I, 1869-70,
Dogmatic Constitution on the Principal Mysteries of the Faith For from all eternity the Father generates the Son, not in producing by emanation another essence equal to his [sic] own, but in communicating his [sic] own simple essence. And in like manner, the Holy Spirit proceeds, not by a multiplication of the essence, but he [sic] proceeds by a communication of the same singular essence by one eternal spiration from the Father and the Son as from one principle.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 246
(the new, official catechism) The Latin tradition of the Creed confesses that the Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque)." The Council of Florence in 1438 explains: "The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has his [sic] nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration . . . . And, since the Father has through generation given to the only begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he [sic] is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son."

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 248
At the outset the Eastern tradition expresses the Father's character as first origin [sic] of the Spirit. By confessing the Spirit as he "who proceeds from the Father," it affirms that he [sic] comes from the Father through the Son. The Western tradition expresses first the consubstantial communion between Father and Son, by saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque).

As can be seen from the above examples, there have been attempts to 'nuance' the older teaching with statements such as 'the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son as from one principle'. The problem with the Father and Son as 'one principle' is that the Holy Spirit, Who obviously is excluded from that principle, ends up being subordinated the fundamental problem with the filioque. Unfortunately, because of Roman Catholicism's understanding of 'development of doctrine' (another heresy), they are unable to repudiate earlier statements, even after learning they were wrong.

The above referenced article from L'Osservatore Romano is typical of these recent attempts to distance themselves from the older, explicit teachings of a double procession. The article is easily summarised: although the Greek word <ekporeuomai> which in Latin is rendered <procedit> 'can only characterize a relationship of origin to the principle' [first page of article], <procedit> can refer to either an ultimate origin or an intermediary origin. In effect, the Vatican document claims that the Latin rendering of the Symbol of Faith (what they label the Creed) is really the equivalent of:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who is sent from the Father and the Son ...

The problem with such an interpretation should be obvious. First, it is a clear change from the original meaning. Even for those who might not understand that <ekporeuomai> can only refer to ultimate origin (and, since the Holy Spirit is eternal, must refer to His eternal origin), it should be clear that this disrupts the parallel with the Symbol's explication of the Son's origin ('one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son, eternally begotten of the Father').

The Symbol declares what we believe regarding the ultimate origin of the Son. Does it not make logical sense that it would also declare what we believe regarding the ultimate origin of the Holy Spirit instead of the sending of Him into the world at a specific moment in time?

The addition of the filioque was a violation of the ancient principle established by Saint Vincent of Lerins (? - ante A.D. 450):

In the Catholic Church herself every care must be taken that we may hold fast to that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. For this is, then, truly and properly Catholic.
The Notebooks, ca. A.D. 434

The filioque certainly was not and is not something believed 'everywhere, always, and by all'. The Roman Catholic Church, by adopting something not 'truly and properly Catholic' forfeited its claim to be 'Catholic'.


Objection: The addition of the filioque was arbitrary
Even Roman Catholic historians and theologians now admit that the addition of the filioque was done arbitrarily, without consulting the East. It expressed a novel belief which was not a part of that which had been believed 'everywhere, always, and by all'. As Alexei Khomiakov wrote in The Church Is One:

Therefore the pride of reason and of illegal domination, which appropriated to itself, in opposition to the decree of the whole Church (pronounced at the Council of Ephesus), the right to add its private explanations and human hypotheses to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol is in itself an infraction of the sanctity and inviolability of the Church. Just as the very pride of the separate Churches, which dared to change the Symbol of the whole Church without the consent of their brethren, was inspired by a spirit not of love, and was a crime against God and the Church, so also their blind wisdom, which did not comprehend the mysteries of God, was a distortion of the faith; for faith is not preserved where love has grown weak.

1997, 1998 Thomas Ross Valentine


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