by Father Michael Gilligan
As an addition to the Nicene Creed, in the Western Church, filioque
has been the occasion for controversy, down through the centuries.
Grammatical Analysis of Filioque
The extant Latin version of the Nicene Creed says that the Son proceeds
from the Father (qui ex Patre procedit "who from [the] Father
The Latin does not use an equivalent of the definite article, "the." The
word Patre/ "Father" is in the ablative case because it
is the object of the preposition ex/"from." In the West, filioque was
added, so that to the present the clause reads qui ex Patre
filioque procedit "Who
from [the] Father and [the] Son proceeds." Like Patre,
filio is in
the ablative case, as the object of ex. The suffix que/"and" is
the equivalent of et; it is simply added at the end of
a noun or pronoun. The word filioque, then, is neither a
clause nor a phrase. It is a single word.
The addition filioque is parallel to the similar wording
in the Creed, in the clause immediately following: qui
cum Patre et filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur/"who with
[the] Father and [the] Son at the same time is adored and glorified." At
least in some instances, copyists have been known to introduce parallel
expressions, for example, in the double narrative of the Last Supper,
within the Eucharistic Prayer. The same editing tendency may be part
of the origins of this sixth-century addition to the Creed.
In the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is said to come from the
Father and (after the Resurrection) to come from the Son as well:
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 (John 15:26).
Similarly, the Son will send the Spirit, once he is ascended:
If I fail to go, the Paraclete will never come to you; whereas
if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7).
The Spirit bears witness to Jesus as the Son of God:
Jesus Christ it is who came through water and blood... It is
the Spirit who testifies to this, and the Spirit is truth (1 John
The Spirit is also identified as the "Spirit of Christ," many times:
If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong
to Christ (Romans 8:9).
May God, the source of all patience and encouragement, enable you to
live with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus, so that
with one heart and voice you may glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ (Romans 15:5).
. . . thanks to your prayers and the support I receive from the Spirit of Jesus
Christ (1 Philippians 2:19).
In fact, the "Spirit of Christ" was given to the prophets of the Old Testament, long before the Resurrection:
The prophets investigated the times and the circumstances which
the Spirit of Christ within them was pointing to, for he predicted
the sufferings destined for Christ and the glories that would follow (1
Scripture explicitly says that Christ received the Spirit from the Father
and gave it to his Church:
This is the Jesus God has raised up, we are his witnesses. Exalted
at God's right hand, he first received the promised Holy Spirit from
the Father, then poured this Spirit out on us. This is what you now see
and hear (Acts 2:32-33).
The Spirit comes from God through Jesus Christ:
He saved us through the baptism of new birth and renewal by the
Holy Spirit. This Spirit he lavished on us through Jesus Christ our
Savior (Titus 3:5-6).
Here is the teaching of St. Augustine on this topic: I will say, however,
with absolute confidence that Father and Son and Holy Spirit, God
the creator, of one and the same substance, the almighty three, act
inseparably. But they cannot be manifested inseparably by creatures
which are so unlike them, especially material ones; just as our words
which consist of material sounds can only name Father and Son and
Holy Spirit with their own proper intervals of time, which the syllables
of each word take up, spaced off from each other by a definite separation.
In their own proper substance by which they are, the three are one,
Father and Son and Holy Spirit, without any temporal movement, without
any intervals of time or space, one and the same over all creation,
one and the same all together from eternity to eternity, like eternity
itself which is never without verity and charity. But in my words,
Father and Son and Holy Spirit are separated and cannot be said together;
and if you write them down each name has its own separate space.
Here is an example: when I name my memory, understanding, and will,
each name refers to a single thing. Yet each of these single names
is the product of all three; there is not one of these three names
which my memory and understanding and will have not produced together.
So too the trinity together produced both the Father's voice and the Son's
flesh and the Holy Spirit's dove, though each of these single things has
reference to a single person. Well, at least the example helps us to see
how this three, inseparable in itself, is manifested separately through
visible creatures, and how the three are inseparably at work in each of
the things which are mentioned as giving the proper function of manifesting
the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit.
As Johannes Grohe has pointed out, a regional council in Persia
in 4l0 introduced one of the earliest forms of the filioque in
the Creed; the council specified that the Spirit proceeds from the
Father “and from the Son.” Coming from the rich theology of
early East Syrian Christianity, this expression in this context is
authentically Eastern. Therefore, the fulioque cannot be
attacked as a solely Western innovation, nor as something created
by the Pope.
In the West, St. Augustine of Hippo taught that the Spirit came from the Father
and the Son, though subordinate to neither. His theology was dominant in the
West until the Middle Ages, including his theology of the Trinity. Other Latin
Fathers also spoke of the Spirit proceeding from both the Father and the Son.
While familiar in the West, this way of speaking was virtually unknown in the
Greek speaking, Eastern Roman Empire.
Here for example, is St. Augustine's teaching that the Spirit proceeds
from the Father and the Son:
But when the Father is known by someone
in time he is not said to have been sent. For he has not got anyone
else to be from or to proceed from. Wisdom says, I went forth from
the mouth of the Most High (Sir 24:5), and of the Holy Spirit he
says, He proceeds from the Father (Jn 15:26), but the Father is from
Just as the Father, then, begot and the Son was begotten, so the
Father sent and the Son was sent. But just as the begetter and the
begotten are one, so are the sender and the sent, because the Father
and the Son are one, so too the Holy Spirit is one with them, because
these three are one (1 Jn 5:7). And just as being born means for
the Son his being from the Father, so his being sent means his being
known to proceed from him.. Nor, by the way, can we say that the
Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Son as well; it is not without
point that the same Spirit is called the Spirit of the Father and
of the Son. And I cannot see what else he intended to signify when
he breathed and said Receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22). Not that
the physical breath that came from his body and was physically felt
was the substance of the Holy Spirit proceed from the Son as well
as form the Father. Surely you would have to be out of your mind
to say that it was one Spirit which he gave by breathing and another
which he sent after his ascension. No, the Spirit of God is one,
the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, the Holy Spirit who works
all ways in all men (1 Cor 12:6).
By saying then, Whom I will send you from the Father (Jn 15:26),
the Lord showed that the Spirit is both the Father's and the Son's.
Elsewhere too, when he said, whom the Father will send, he added,
in my name (Jn 14:26). He did hot however say, "whom the Father
will send from me" as he had said whom I will send from the Father (Jn
15:26), and thereby he indicated that the source of all godhead,
or if you prefer it, of all deity, is the Father. So the Spirit who
proceeds from the Father and the Son is traced back, on both counts,
to him of whom the Son is born.2
In the Latin-speaking Church, the phrase and and the Son (in Latin filioque) was
first added to the Nicene Creed at the Synod of Toledo in Spain in 447. The formula
was used in a letter from Pope Leo I to the members of that synod, responding
to heresies they were confronting. (Primarily, it was added to the Creed in order
to oppose the Arian heresy, which taught that the Son was a creature and not
God. This heresy began with Arius, a priest of Alexandria.) At the third synod
of Toledo in 589, the ruling Visigoths, who had been Arian Christians,
submitted to the Catholic Church. They were obliged to accept the Nicene Creed
with the filioque.
(In the East, Arianism was opposed, not with the filioque but rather
with an orientation of many of the prayers of the Divine Liturgy to “Christ
Our God. This development in the East, with a comparable, dogmatic concern,
occurred much earlier, in the fourth century, when Arianism in the East was widespread
and greatly controverted.)
Although the second Ecumenical Council (381) had expanded and completed the Nicene
Creed begun at the first Ecumenical Council (325), the third Ecumenical Council,
the Council of Ephesus in 431, had forbidden any further changes to it, except
for another such council. By this time, then, the text of the Nicene Creed had
acquired a certain definitive authority, of ecumenical value and importance.
Rome received the Council of Chalcedon (451), which referred to preceding councils,
citing the authority of the text of the Creed. However, at this time, central
Italy was in a state of collapse. In 410 and 455, Rome was vandalized.
In 476, the Western Roman Empire fell, with the exile of Romulus Augustulus,
the last emperor. In the West, chaos followed.
After generations of social upheaval,
strong leadership appeared in the person of Pepin the Short, king of the Franks,
and his son, Charlemagne crowned as emperor in 800. Charlemagne intended to restore
the Roman Empire in the West, with himself in charge, to the chagrin of the leaders
of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Some historians have suggested that the Franks in the ninth century
pressured the Pope to adopt the filioque in order to drive
a wedge between the Roman Church and the other patriarchates. It
is true that the filioque had come into
wide use in the West and was widely thought to be an integral part of the Creed.
Similarly, unleavened bread had come to be thought of as the normal kind of bread
for the Eucharist; diocesan priests were expected to be unmarried. In such cases,
in the West, ancient tradition was forgotten. Contemporary usage was thought
to be normative and authentic. In these matters of discipline,
the influence of the Franks is certain. They intended to exalt
Charlemagne, as the new Roman Emperor. The
Catholic religion, as they knew it, was to be part of the package.
Meanwhile, in the Byzantine East, iconoclasm was in force, from about 725
to 843. (The Second Council of Nicea, in 787, defended the use of images. However,
it was not fully received till much later; it was also misunderstood in the
West and was rejected by a Frankfort synod in 794.) As a departure from tradition,
iconoclasm served to promote estrangement of East and West for over a century.
With little communication, as well as linguistic challenges, the Byzantine
and the Latin Churches descended into increasing mutual animosity and distrust.
Within a couple of generations, in 858, a new situation came to pass. The Byzantine
Emperor Michael III removed Bishop Ignatius as Patriarch of Constantinople.
The emperor replaced him with a layman, Photius, who was the first Imperial
Secretary and Imperial Ambassador to Baghdad. However, Ignatius refused to
abdicate. Michael and Photius asked Pope Nicholas I of Rome to settle the matter.
His legates, exceeding their authority, probably under pressure from Byzantine
leadership, took part in a synod in 861 that deposed Ignatius.
In opposition to this removal of Ignatius, the Bishop of Rome supported
Ignatius as legitimate Patriarch. Moreover, contrary to existing
canons, Photius had been ordained to the office of bishop very quickly.
(Recent scholarship has shown that violation of these church laws
was the main reason the Bishop of Rome rejected the appointment of
Therefore, after the arrival of a delegation from Ignatius, in 862, Nicholas
said that Photius was deposed, as well as the bishop who ordained him and all
the clergy Photius had appointed. As would be expected, this did not go over
well in Constantinople. In 867, Photius rejected the Pope’s assertion and
objected to Latin missionaries in Bulgaria. Photius’ response cited the fihioque as
proof that Rome had a habit of overstepping its proper limits. His Encyclical
to the Eastern Patriarchs is neither gentle nor irenic.
However, the other Patriarchs (of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem) concurred
with the Pope’s choice. In 867 and 869-70,
synods in Rome and Constantinople restored Ignatius to his position as Patriarch.
In 877, after the death of Ignatius, Photius again resumed office, by order of
the emperor. He resigned in 886 when Leo VI took over as emperor. Photius spent
the rest of his life as a monk, in exile in Armenia; he is revered by the Othodox
today as a saint. He was the first important theologian to accuse Rome of innovation
in the matter of the filioque.
In the ninth century, Pope Leo III agreed with the filioque phrase
theologically but was opposed to adopting it in Rome, within the Creed, in part
because of his loyalty to the received tradition. (He also knew that the Greeks
resented the new Roman Empire in the West and Charlemagne in particular; the
Pope wanted to preserve Church unity.) In fact, Leo III had the traditional text
of the creed, without the filioque, displayed
publicly. He had the original text engraved on two silver tablets, at the tomb
of St. Peter. In any case, during the time of Pope Leo's leadership, 795-
816, there was no creed at all in the Roman Mass.
Later, in 1014, the German Emperor Henry II, of the Holy Roman Empire, visited
Rome for his coronation and found that the creed was not used during the Mass.
At his request, the Bishop of Rome added the creed, as it was known in the West
with the filioque, after the Gospel. At this time, the papacy weak
and under the influence of the Germans. For the sake of survival, the
Pope needed the military support of the emperor. This was the first time the
phrase was used in the Mass at Rome.
So, over a 600 year period, dispute over the filioque had not divided
the Church definitively; for the most part, in spite of cultural and linguistic
conflicts, the Roman and the Byzantine Churches remained in full communion.
In 1054, however, the argument contributed to the so-called Great Schism of the
East and West. There were many issues involved, in large part based on misunderstandings
between Greek and Latin traditions, as well as the irascible temperament of the
antagonists. These were Cardinal Humbertus from Rome and Patriarch Michael Cerularius
of Constantinople. In addition to the actual difference in wording and doctrine
in the filioque, a related issue was the right of the Pope to make a
change in the Nicene Creed, on his own, apart from an Ecumenical Council.
One must acknowledge, however, that the filioque was introduced in the
West first of all in Spain, then in Gaul, not in Rome, and not by the Pope’s
initiative. Centuries later, the phrase became something to argue about; for
a long time, as mentioned, it was in, no way justification for breaking Communion.
For many years after the condemnations of 1054, many Orthodox and Catholics did
not think of themselves as being in schism; neither Church, in fact, had excommunicated
the other. Many Slavic Christians saw the whole episode as a dispute among individuals.
In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas, O.P., was one of the
dominant Scholastic theologians. He dealt explicitly with the processions
of the divine persons in his Summa Theologica. While
the theology of Aquinas and other Scholastics was dominant in the
Middle Ages, for all its clarity and brilliance, it remains theology,
not Church teaching.
In 1274, the Second Council of Lyons said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from
the Father and the Son, in accord with the filioque in the contemporary
Latin version of the Nicene Creed. Reconciliation with the East, through this
council, did not last. Remembering the crusader’s sack of Constantinople
in 1204, the Byzantine Christians did not want to be reconciled with the West.
In 1283, Patriarch John Beccus, who supported reconciliation with the Latin Church,
was forced to abdicate; reunion failed.
(These crusaders were the Venetians of the Fourth Crusade who had earlier
been excommunicated for attacking other Christians. In 1204, they were getting
even for a slaughter of Venetian merchants, in rioting, that took place in 1182.
Pope Innocent III had sent them a letter, asking them not to attack Constantinople;
after hearing of the sack of the city, he lamented their action and disowned
them. Nevertheless, the people of Constantinople now had a deep hatred for the
people they called the “Latins” or the “Franks.”)
For much of the 14th century, there were two bishops, each claiming to be Pope,
each excommunicating the followers of the other. The Great Western Schism concluded
with yet a third individual claiming to be Pope and the Council of Constance.
The East could hardly seek reconciliation with a Western Church divided among
At the Council of Florence in the 15th century, Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaeologus,
Bishop Joseph, Patriarch of Constantinople, and other bishops from the East traveled
to northern Italy, in hope of reconciliation with the West.
After extensive discussion, in Ferrara, then in Florence, they acknowledged that
some Latin Fathers spoke of the procession of the Spirit differently from the
Greek Fathers. Since the general consensus of the Fathers was held to be reliable,
as a witness to common faith, the Western usage was held not to be a heresy and
not a barrier to restoration of full communion. All but one of the Orthodox bishops
present agreed and signed a decree of union between East and West, Laetentur
Coeli, in 1439.
Now, officially and publicly, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were in communion.
So, the Council of Florence helped establish a fundamental principle: The Church
must be one in its faith, its essential beliefs, but diverse in its culture,
customs, rites, and theology.
However, the reconciliation achieved at Florence was soon destroyed. Some Orthodox
faithful and bishops rejected the union. Moreover, after the Turks conquered
Constantinople in 1453, they fostered separation from the West, which remained
an adversary to Islamic political and military dominance. The Patriarch of Constantinople
now had to carry out the will of his Muslim overlord; the Church was no longer
free. Finally, the theology of Western
Scholasticism predominated among the Latin theologians and bishops and so obscured
the biblical, patristic perspective long advocated by the East, in which the
Spirit is said to proceed “from the Father” (as in the Gospel of
John) or, more often, “from
the Father through the Son” (as in many of the Fathers).
Undeniably, the filioque controversy was officially resolved, for both
Orthodox and Catholic. However, because of the historical situation, this resolution
was neither fully received nor permanently sustained.
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