Another obstacle to a reunion between the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox is the filioque clause – “and the Son,” which was added to the text of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in the west to describe the procession of the Holy Spirit.
It is important to say from the outset that the Eastern and Western
Churches proclaim the same faith in the Holy Trinity, that is, that the
Holy Trinity is a mystery of unity in diversity, and of diversity in
unity. God is one and, at the same time, God is three: one essence in three Persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
However, the Eastern and Western Churches have divided over a very important matter.The difference is very technical and you may think obscure, and difficult to understand. Yet, the words “and the Son” resulted in what has come to be known “the filioque dispute” and caused much division in the Church throughout the centuries, the consequences of which are felt even today.
In the year 325, some 318 bishops gathered in Nicaea (present-day
Turkey) for an ecumenical council to discuss matters of great importance to the Church. One of their greatest achievements was the definition of the faith, revealed to them by the Holy Spirit, and composed in the form of a creed. Several years later, in 381, this creed was endorsed by the 150 bishops gathered in a new ecumenical council at Constantinople, notably with
a few additions on the Holy Spirit.
We know this creed today as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
This Creed has survived throughout the centuries as a gift of the Holy
Spirit to the Church and to the people of God. It is an expression of the basic dogmas of our faith in the Holy Trinity
This is not a trivial question since our belief in the Holy Trinity lies at
the very heart of our faith.
The words “and the Son” were added by some Fathers of the Latin
Church in the fourth century. Later, at the end of the sixth century, the
Church in Spain added them to the Creed for local usage only At that time, the Church in Spain was combating Arianism, a heresy that denied that the Son of God was truly God., added to the creed in the sixth century, to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, as a way to combat latent Arianism.The majority of the Catholic Church in communion with the Pope resisted the change. To help us understand somewhat better this difficult matter, it is worthwhile to read from The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph numbers 243-248.
As I have noted, the text of the creed was agreed upon at the First Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively, saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.
The addition of the filioque was slowly adopted throughout the west, but was seen in the east as an innovation that was unnecessary at best and heretical at worst.
Eventually the Emperor Charlemagne decreed that “and the
Son” be added to the Creed throughout the Frankish Kingdom in the West. Finally, in the eleventh century, Pope Benedict VIII added these words to the Creed throughout the Latin Church.
According to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, some Eastern Orthodox believe that the filioque is not heretical in itself, provided it is properly explained and understood, but that it is nonetheless an unauthorised addition to the creed.
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has stated that the doctrine of the filioque “cannot appear to contradict the monarchy of the Father” nor the Father’s role as the sole origin of the Spirit.
The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation in 2003 was able to sign an agreement stating that the filioque need not be a Church-dividing issue. Moreover, Catholics do not always say the filioque in the creed: whenever it is recited in the Greek language, the original text is used, and Eastern Catholic Churches do not now recite it, seeing its use as a “Latinization.”
Continued next week