Filioque


Often have I heard/seen the filioque discussed, debated, and fretted about. Not often have I seen it explained clearly, cogently, succinctly and accurately. Stephen Holmes has the distinct advantage of doing precisely this in only a few words:

filioque“Within the bounds of classical Trinitarianism, the filioque debate was, in retrospect, inevitable: two relations of origin are proposed, the generation of the Son and the spiration of the Spirit. There are thus four relational terms: generating; being generated; spirating; and being spirated. These four terms then need to be divided between three hypostases. Two options appear natural and obvious: to identify the One who generates with the One who spirates [the Eastern Orthodox option], thus teaching the Father as sole cause and denying the filiqoue; or, following Thomas Aquinas, to affirm the filioque[the Western Catholic option] by making spiration a joint action of Father and Son, and so a non-hypostatic causal principle.”

The Quest for the Trinity, Stephen R. Holmes, (Kindle edition at 58%).

Putting it that way there seems to be no problem as far as theology is concerned with the filioque. Both “options” remain fully and undoubtedly within the patristic trinitarian framework. Neither “from the Father and the Son” nor “from the Father alone” are mandated by the Creed of Nicea-Constantinopel. But here the question must turn to the authority of the Creed as an expression of the mind of the Church (and thereby the voice of the Holy Spirit). Can the Creed be changed? Re-interpreted? and if so who has that authority? First and foremost authority in the Church is God’s. But who or what is God’s “organ” of speaking and acting authoritatively in the Church? The papal addition of the filioque to the Creed of Nicea-Constantinopel asserts that the Pope of Rome is that organ since the official addition to the Creed of the filioque was a papal act not a conciliar one. This is what should be controversial about the filioque. Not the theological content of the doctrine itself. Underneath the filioque lies the issue of papal authority and its limits. The Eastern Orthodox rightly question – nay strongly object to – the assertion that papal authority is not limited by tradition (including Scripture) but that tradition is (apparently) subject to papal authority. Clergy, especially bishops (including the Pope), should understand that they are “guardians of the tradition” not its inventors or innovators. It seems reasonable to me as a Western Catholic that the filioque be dropped from the Creed. This constitutes a clear message concerning authority in the Church and, it cannot be denied, an acknowledgment that in this the Eastern Orthodox are (and have always been) correct. It can also not be denied that the theology of filioque is simply classical, patristic trinitarianism and does not conflate hypostases, and certainly does not constitute a heresy. In that much the Western Catholics are (and have always been) correct.

In other words the solution to this problem, which has surfaced on my facebook feed several times in the past few weeks, is relatively straight forward. It is also as simple as it is straight forward. Drop filioque from the Creed (with its implications for papal authority) stop bitching about it being heretical (with its implication that filioque falls well within classical, patristic theological borders).

It will never happen though.

Gregory Wassen +

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About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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