by Alvin Kimel


If there is a special circle of the inferno described by Dante reserved for historians of theology, the principal homework assigned to that subdivision of hell for at least the first several eons of eternity may well be the thorough study of all the treatises–in Latin, Greek, Church Slavonic, and various modern languages–devoted to the inquiry: Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father only, as Eastern Christendom contends, or from both the Father and the Son (ex Patre Filioque), as the Latin Church teaches? (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Melody of Theology)

With Trinity Sunday soon approaching, it seems appropriate to offer a reflection or two on the “funnest” theological controversy in the history of theology. Yes, the Filioque!

Actually, I do not have much helpful to say on the subject. I am an Anglican, after all. My eyes just glaze over whenever the Filioque discussion descends into the analytical intricacies. But I know that it’s a terribly important matter … because … it must be … After all, we’ve been fighting about it for a thousand years and surely we would not hurl our anathemas back and forth unless it was a vital issue and the integrity of the gospel was at stake and the mission of the Church hung in the balance. Surely we would never exploit this issue just to maintain the division of the Church catholic. Right?

So what are the issues?

First, there is the canonical question: Did the West have the right to insert the Filioque into the Ecumenical Creed? At least one Eastern theologian, Fr Patrick Reardon, believes that this is the crucial matter:

I believe that the filioque controversy is not about the composition of the Holy Trinity. It is a controversy about authority in the Church. The East’s objection to the filioque is formal, not material. The East’s objection has to do with a canon of the Council of Ephesus in 431, which anathematizes anyone who adds to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

I do not know if the West had the authority or not to insert the Filioque, even if it is only understood as a clarification, though I understand why it was deemed pastorally desirable to do so in light of ongoing Western confrontation with Arianism. But I agree that the West should not have done so and that it should have been removed once the Eastern Patriarchs voiced their objections. If this was the final obstacle between Rome and Constantinople, I hope that Rome would remove the Filioque from the creed without hesitation.

Second, there is the theological question: Is the Filioque heretical? Many Eastern theologians say yes; all Catholic theologians say no. The debate sure looks hopeless.

Despite all of my attempts to understand the debate, it’s impossible for me to see why this must be a church-dividing question. Someone has too much time on their hands. Putting aside for the moment the question of who is right and who is wrong, how does the Filioque enter into our preaching of the gospel? How does it affect the Church’s proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ? How does it affect our prayer and moral life? Please do not misunderstand. I am not retreating into some form of mamby-pamby anti-intellectualism. I love theology and even think it is sometimes very important. But after twenty-four years of preaching, I do not recall ever needing to preach or teach on the Filioque in any way whatsoever. I simply cannot see how it impacts our life in Christ in the Spirit at all.

Of course, that well may be because I’m a theological dunce, to which I plead guilty. But at least I’m not completely alone here. “Is it [the Filioquist controversy] not a false problem,” Sergius Bulgakov asked, “which leads inevitably to a sterile war of words?”

Would it not have been natural to expect that the existence of such a serious heresy, of such a fundamental dogmatic divergence, would penetrate into the whole life and doctrine of the two churches? For many years, as far as I have been able, I have been looking for the traces of this influence, and I have tried to understand the issues at stake, what was the living significance of this divergence, where and how it was revealed in practice. I confess that I have not succeeded in finding it; rather I should go further and simply deny its existence. This divergence exists at no point in patristic teaching on the activities of the Holy Spirit in the world, on his “mission,” his gifts, on the mysteries, on grace … We end up with a strange dogma, deprived of dogmatic power.

A dogma deprived of dogmatic power! Exactly. Except when needed as an argument against Arianism, it’s hard to see how either the assertion or the nonassertion of the Spirit’s procession from the Father and the Son affects our preaching, teaching, and praying of the catholic faith.

At this point, the disciples of Vladimir Lossky arise and begin to scream that the Filioque is the source for all ills ever inflicted upon mankind.

But the Filioque is true! the West dogmatically declares. The Filioque is heresy! the East replies. And this poor Anglican is left shaking his head, wondering how everyone could be so confident on the basis of a couple controverted verses of Scripture. Ahh … but I’m a dunce … I almost forgot.

In the first millenium we seem to have had at least three different theological expressions of the Trinitarian mystery–the Cappadocian, the Alexandrian, and the Augustinian. No doubt there are others. (I do not know, for example, where Maximus the Confessor would fit in.) Within the Augustinian formulation of the Holy Trinity, the Filioque appears to be a natural and inevitable inference. Within the Cappadocian formulation the Filioque appears to be unnecessary and perhaps even wrong-headed and dangerous. Within the Alexandrian formulation the filioque, understood as some form of mediation through the Son, appears to have also been a natural inference. (Let me admit right off. I’m skating on thin ice here. I’m not a historical theologian. I am happy to be corrected.)

What this suggests to me is that a bit of humility and charity is in order. Given that we are, after all, talking about the mystery of God’s inner life, given our limited revelational data, given the obvious difficulties of trying to communicate between different theological systems, and given the historical and cultural provisionality of doctrinal claims, is it not best to withhold our anathemas? We might even discover that the Cappadocian, Alexandrian, and Augustinian visions are complementary and not contradictory.


Before you reject out of hand my eschatological suggestion that the Eastern and Western visions of the Trinity may be complementary, let me bring to your attention the Council of Florence. Joseph Gill documents that the Eastern and Western council members shared a common hermeneutical perspective: The Fathers were inspired by the Spirit; therefore, they must be in agreement, even when they appear to differ. It was this common perspective that eventually led to the conciliar agreement on the Filioque:

The Saints of both Churches had written at length on the doctrine of the Trinity. The Latin Saints, it is true, used a phraseology that was suspect to the Greek mind, for they wrote ‘From the Father and the Son’. The Greek Saints were less emphatic, but they spoke of the Spirit being produced ‘from both’ and ‘through the Son’. No Saint could err in matters of faith, for they all–this was taken almost as a definition of sanctity–were inspired by the one Holy Spirit. So what they said about the Holy Spirit, no matter how different it might seem to be, could not in actual fact be different. The divergence must be only apparent: it could not be real. if, therefore, the Latin Saints really did say ‘From the Son’ and the Greek Saints ‘Through the Son’, then these two expressions must mean the same thing and no obstacle could remain to prevent union between East and West at least as regards the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity.

On the basis of this approach, East and West were able to agree that “from the Father and the Son” was equivalent to “from the Father through the Son.” Yes, in some ways it was just a verbal agreement–though clarification was also achieved on the monarchy of the Father–but it should not be rejected merely on that basis. The Chalcedonian definition was also a verbal agreement that comprehended different way of talking about the mystery of the Incarnation, thereby maintaining the unity of the Church (excepting the monophysites, who couldn’t bring themselves to accept even the verbal agreement).

This hermeneutical perspective sounds very similar to the scriptural hermeneutic advanced by Richard Swinburne, which I have noted in a couple of my posts (see, e.g., How to Read Scripture). I am not suggesting that the testimony of the Fathers should be treated as an extension of Scripture; but the mutual recognition of the Spirit’s inspiration of both the Latin and Eastern Fathers encouraged the bishops and theologians of the Council of Florence to transcend the differences of theological formulation and to focus on their presumed common faith.

Unfortunately, the agreement did not last. Perhaps, as Yves Congar has noted, it was too great a victory for the Latins and the papacy. Or perhaps the agreement did not have a chance, given the popular ill-feeling after the sack of Constantinople. But it does offer some grounds for the hope that the East and West can eventually acknowledge the compatibility of their respective Trinitarian traditions. Also note the following condition stated by the Ukranian bishops in 1595 for reunion with Rome, which was consummated the following year:

Since there is a quarrel between the Romans and Greeks about the procession of the Holy Spirit, which greatly impede unity really for no other reason than that we do not wish to understand one another – we ask that we should not be compelled to any other creed but that we should remain with that which was handed down to us in the Holy Scriptures, in the Gospel, and in the writings of the holy Greek Doctors, that is, that the Holy Spirit proceeds, not from two sources and not by a double procession, but from one origin, from the Father through the Son.

I believe that most Byzantine Catholic churches, who are in full communion with Rome, no longer include the Filioque in their liturgical recitation of the Nicene Creed.

Let me cite the 1992 Reformed/Orthodox agreement on the Holy Trinity as one ray of hope:

It is in the light of this eternal perichoresis of the three Divine Persons in God, or the co-indwelling and co-inhering of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in One Another, that we are to understand the mission of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the gift of the Holy Spirit by the Son. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, but because of the unity of the Godhead in which each Person is perfectly and wholly God, he proceeds from the Father through the Son for the Spirit belongs to and is inseparable from the Being of the Father and of the Son. He receives from the Son and through him is given to us.

I wonder what Catholic theologians think about this statement. Does it satisfy the Catholic concern, especially in light of the 1995 Vatican clarification on the Filioque?

The Roman Church confesses the Filioque as dogma. This poses a problem. So what then might be required on both sides for reunion? How about this nonoriginal proposal:

(1) The West removes the Filioque from the ecumenical creed, though continuing to assert its dogmatic status for the churches of the West, and does not require the Eastern churches to affirm it as dogma.

(2) The East acknowledges the Filioque as a legitimate theologoumenon (i.e., a permissible theological opinion) and refrains from condemning it. That is to say, the East refrains from insisting, with St Photios, that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone.

See Byzantine Catholic Dr Alex Roman for a similar proposal.

Why couldn’t this work? How could either side rightly require any more than this for the purpose of unity? In a sense, this would be a return to the 6th and 7th centuries. Cf. the recommendations of the 2003 North American Orthodox/Catholic statement on the Filioque. Once the two churches are reestablished in communion, perhaps we would then discover that a nuanced Filioque is proper to both the East and West. See, e.g., the comparative discussion of St John Damascene and St Thomas Aquinas by Michael Torre.

I also commend to you the Praise of Glory web page on the Filioque.

The reconciliation of East and West is of paramount urgency for the salvation of the world. Is it not time to leave behind us the hell of the Filioque debate?

31 May 2004


So what is the point about the Filioque? Why has the Western Church fought so hard for it? I think there is an important theological apprehension underlying the Western dogmatic claim. It has been succinctly stated by Karl Rahner: “The Economic Trinity is the Immanent Trinity and vice versa.” Or as Karl Barth might put it: God truly is as he has revealed himself to be. We need not–indeed, must not–transcend or move beyond the history of God’s self-revelation in Israel and the Church to know God as he is in his inner life, for it is in this history that we encounter God as he truly is. God has made himself known in his incarnate Son, Jesus of Nazareth.

In the Western reading of the New Testament, those passages that intimately link the risen Christ with the outpouring of the Spirit upon the Church reveals something about God in his inner life:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. (Acts 2:32-33)

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

As Robert Jenson explains: “For it is the very function of trinitarian propositions to say that the relations that appear in the biblical narrative between Father, Son, and Spirit are the truth about God himself” (Systematic Theology, I:150). The purpose of the doctrine of the Trinity, in other words, is to interpret the Deity by the narrative of the Nazarene in Israel. To divorce God from this narrative renders the Trinitarian doctrine useless.

The Filioque, therefore, puts to the East the question of the relation of the economic and immanent Trinities. I agree with Catholics who reject suggestions and demands that the Western Church should renounce the Filioque as a theological blunder. The Filioque may be an unfortunate Western dogma; but its underlying concern is legitimate and vital: Has the eternal God revealed his inner life in the story of Jesus? On his blog Zadok writes: “Some strands of the Eastern tradition do not allow this argument from the story of salvation back to the immanent relationships within the Trinity, but this quickly leads us to ask whether we are also impeded from deducing the Father-Son relationship within the Trinity from the life of Jesus Christ.” Exactly.

The Filioque developed within the Western Church easily and without objection. The witness of the Latin Fathers must be respected, honored, and understood by the East. As the Orthodox and Catholic bishops and theologians agreed at the Council of Florence, it is the same Spirit who inspired both the Eastern and Western Trinitarian doctrinal developments. Therefore a theological reconciliation must be possible, even if at the present time, given differing conceptualities, we cannot see how. The East must refrain, therefore, from anathematizing the Filioque.

This is not to say, however, I agree with traditional Catholics that the Filioque is a matter of church-dividing consequence, for all the reasons I have already noted in earlier postings. I agree that the Western Church should not have introduced the Filioque into the ecumenical creed. I agree that it should have been removed as soon as the East strongly objected to it. Its uncanonical retention surely was a violation of the bonds of love between the two churches. I also wholeheartedly agree that it should never have been invoked at the reunion councils as a precondition for reunion. Despite the present inability of the Eastern Church to see its necessity, the fact remains that the two churches worship the Holy Trinity, despite differences in the articulation of the Trinitarian mystery. No church has the right to elevate a fine point of doctrine into a confessional, church-dividing issue. There are some dogmas that must be church-dividing, because they impact so significantly on the proclamation, discourse, worship, and common life of the Christian Church. In and of itself, the Filioque cannot be said to have this significance. Let me again cite Sergius Bulgakov in this regard:

The two sides … cannot in practice prove that there is a difference between them in their veneration of the Holy Spirit, despite their disagreement about the procession. It is very strange that a dogmatic difference that is apparently so important should have had no practical repercussions, especially when, in most cases, a dogma has such a influence on practice that it determines the religious life of the community. In the present case, however, even the most extreme presentations of schismatical thought have so far not been able to apply this pseudo-dogma to the life of the Churches or to point to any practical consequences. It is possible to say that no important heresy concerning the Holy Spirit has ever been known in the life of either the Eastern or the Western Church, yet such heresy would have been inevitable if there had been a dogmatic heresy.

If the Roman understanding of churchly and papal infallibility is correct, then, by Roman lights, the dogma of the Filioque must be able to be interpreted in a way that is not false; but this does not mean that the Church was wise in dogmatizing on this issue or that the Florentine definition is a good formulation of the dogma. It’s important for my Catholic friends to remember that the Latin understanding of conciliar and papal infallibility does not protect the Church from bad dogmas, only irretrievably bad dogmas. Humility, modesty, and charity, therefore, should be the order of the day.

The Filioque debate has had tragic consequences for the Western and Eastern churches and for the mission of the gospel in the world. It is well past time for both churches to move beyond the Filioque and to focus their ecumenical discussions on that one issue that truly divides the two communions–the Papacy.

3 June 2004


One of my readers has suggested that I prominently note the latest statement on the Filioque from the North American Catholic/Orthodox dialogue . I am happy to do so, though I hasten to point out, lest anyone think that I would ever dare to pontificate on a topic without knowing absolutely everything about it, that I in fact noted this statement in my second Filioque article. :-)

Seriously, though, the link was somewhat hidden in my article and I am happy to commend it to our readers.

And while I am noting Filioque links, I commend to you this paper on the Filioque by Metropolitan John Zizioulas. Ziziloulas’s comments on the relationship between the economic and immanent Trinities puts him in disagreement with theologians such as Rahner, Jenson, LaCugna, Pannenberg, and most (in)significantly, the Pontificator himself.

Also see Theodore Stylianopoulos’s The Filioque: Dogma, Theologoumenon or Error?

I have also found on the web a couple of unenthusiastic Orthodox responses to the North American statement HERE and THERE.

And here is an interesting Lutheran discussion.

Let me conclude this article with a lengthy citation from St Maximus the Confessor:

Those of the Queen of cities [Constantinople] have attacked the synodal letter of the present very holy Pope, not in the case of all the chapters that he has written in it, but only in the case of two of them. One relates to the theology [of the Trinity] and according to this, says ‘the Holy Spirit also has his ekporeusis from the Son.’

The other deals with the divine incarnation. With regard to the first matter, they [the Romans] have produced the unanimous evidence of the Latin Fathers, and also of Cyril of Alexandria, from the study he made of the gospel of St. John. On the basis of these texts, they have shown that they have not made the Son the cause of the Spirit–they know in fact that the Father is the only cause of the Son and the Spirit, the one by begetting and the other by procession–but that they have manifested the procession through him and have thus shown the unity and identity of the essence.

They [the Romans] have therefore been accused of precisely those things of which it would be wrong the accuse them, whereas the former [the Byzantines] have been accused of those things it has been quite correct to accuse them [i.e., Monothelitism].

In accordance with your request I have asked the Romans to translate what is peculiar to them [the “also from the Son”] in such a way that any obscurities that may result from it will be avoided. But since the practice of writing and sending [the synodal letters] has been observed, I wonder whether they will possibly agree to doing this. It is true, of course, that they cannot reproduce their idea in a language and in words that are foreign to them as they can in their mother-tongue, just as we too cannot do. (Letter to Marinus)

3 June 2004


I return from my trip this afternoon and I discover that someone actually wants to talk about … ta dah … the Filioque! That’s certainly more exciting than sex! My thanks to Karl Thienes for responding to my posts over at St Stephen’s Musings. Karl writes:

Here is a pithy and highly simplistic answer to that question in the form of a future thesis paper statement: The rise of the Pentecostal movement and western Christendom’s desperate (and quite often heretical) attempt to recover “Spirit led” and “Spirit filled” worship and Christian faith is, in some part, a consequence of the filioque heresy.

With all respect to Karl, I do agree that this is a simplistic answer–simplistic because, as we shall see in my next posting, it is part of a popular and larger Eastern polemic for which little or no convincing evidence can be produced. I offer the following criticisms:

Pentecostalism, and its younger sister the charismatic movement, can only be understood as a variant of the American religious experience. This indigenous experience is Protestant, sectarian, nonsacramental, and individualistic. And if we allow Harold Bloom and his book The American Religion to be our guide here, this national experience represents a revival of that old time religion, gnosticism. America, Bloom asserts, is a “religion-mad country.”

The American religion is pervasive and overwhelming, however it is masked, and even our secularists, indeed even our professed atheists, are more Gnostic than humanist in their ultimate presuppositions. We are a religiously mad culture, furiously searching for the spirit, but each of us is subject and object of the one quest, which must be for the original self, a spark or breath in us that we are convinced goes back to before the Creation…. The American religion, which is so prevalent among us, masks itself as Protestant Christianity, yet has ceased to be Christian. It has kept the figure of Jesus, a very solitary and personal American Jesus, who is also the resurrected Jesus rather than the crucified Jesus or the Jesus who ascended again to the Father. I do not think that the Christian God has been retained by us…. The American Religion, for its two centuries of existence, seems to me irretrievably Gnostic. It is a knowing, by and of an uncreated self, or self-within-the-self, and the knowledge leads to freedom, a dangerous and doom-eager freedom: from nature, time, history, community, other selves.

I find myself quickly assenting to Bloom’s thesis. It strikes a deep chord within me, as I have noted in a previous post, The Gnostic in Each of Us. Bloom identifies Pentecostalism as “one of the three most vital ongoing movements” in the American Religion. If Bloom is correct, then Pentecostalism is best interpreted as a cultural instantiation of a religious experience and sensibility that has been part of the world since Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden. The Church has always had to combat the hydra of Gnosticism, both within and outside its ranks. Yet our Orthodox blogger would have us believe that the Filioque has rendered Western Christianity more vulnerable to heretical spiritual movements than Eastern Christianity. Come on, let’s be real. If this Orthodox polemic is to receive serious consideration, then it must be supported by historical and sociological evidence. Until such scholarship is forthcoming, it will continue to be rightly dismissed as what it clearly is, baseless polemic.

It is just as easy to flip the Orthodox polemic and point to Pentecostalism as a good example of what happens when Christian Faith is cut loose from the Filioque. If the Filioque does anything, it insists that the Spirit must be always interpreted as the Spirit of Jesus. Thus Karl Barth argues that the Eastern model of the Trinity, with God the Father at the top and the eternal Son and the Spirit shooting off independently from the Father, renders Orthodoxy vulnerable to a Christ-less mysticism. Is Barth’s criticism accurate? Beats me. I know next to nothing about the history of Russian religion, so I’m inclined to take Barth’s polemic with the same grain of salt that I take with Karl’s.

Thomas Smail, no stranger to the charismatic movement, offers an important reminder in this regard, however:

If the relationship of Son and Spirit in their work on earth is as close and intimate as all these New Testament writers insist, their relationship within the eternal life of God himself must be equally close. If Son and Spirit are the two hands of God, as Irenaeus taught, they are, on all the New Testament evidence, closely clasped hands. It will not do in a credal statement to speak only of the Spirit’s relation to the Father and to remain silent about his relation to the Son.

Such a silence can indeed have dangerous practical consequences. If in our thinking we loosen the connection between Christ and the Spirit, we are in danger of severing one of the nerve-centres of the New Testament gospel. If the Son and the Spirit are seen as semi-independent expressions of the divine life of the Father, it might be possible to be in the Spirit without being in the Son and so to have a relationship to God that is not mediated by Jesus, to try to reach the Father by some other spiritual path than the one true and living way he has given. (The Giving Gift: The Holy Spirit in Person, p. 125).


Karl writes:

The Filioque, by altering western Christendom’s understanding of the relationships within the Trinity, radically “depersonalized” the Holy Spirit in worship, piety, and theology.

There are two claims here that need our attention:

First, did the Filioque alter the Western understanding of the Trinity? This assumes that there was in fact a “completed” Western understanding of the Trinity before the formulation of the Filioque which could then be changed by it; but in fact the Western understanding was fluid and developing during the first six centuries of the Church’s history. The Filioque emerged early, uncontroverisally, and organically in this development, as evidenced, for example, by its presence in the once-popular Quicumque vult (early 5th century?). It was this fact that so surprised the Eastern participants at the Council of Florence. For the first time they were introduced to the pervasive presence of the Filioque amongst the Western Fathers. This broad testimony significantly contributed to their assent to the final conciliar agreement: “Till now we never knew the Latin Saints nor read them: now however we have come to know them, have read them and approve them.”

Here is, I believe, a real problem for contemporary Orthodoxy. What are the Orthodox churches going to do with the Western Fathers? They venerate many of them as saints, yet most of them believed and taught the Filioque, in one form or another–St Ambrose, St Hilary, St Augustine, St Jerome, St Leo, St Gregory, St Fulgentius of Ruspe, and of course other Latin Fathers not venerated by the East, for example, St Isidore of Seville and St Avitus. The Filioque wasn’t imposed upon an unwilling Western Church nor can it be dismissed as the idiosyncratic blunder of the bishop of Hippo. It developed naturally in the Western Church’s theological reflection on the mystery of God’s Trinitarian revelation. Given the integral status of the Filioque within this reflection, is Orthodoxy prepared to assert that the West moved into heresy as early as, say, the fourth century? As Bessarion declared to his fellow Greeks at the Council of Florence:

So the Saints who taught the Filioque are heretics! The western and the eastern Saints do not disagree, for the same Spirit spoke in all the Saints. Compare their works and they will be found harmonious.

And it is important to note that the Eastern Church remained in communion with the West, despite the Western confession of the Filioque in its Fathers and synods. If the Orthodox churches condemn the Filioque as heresy and a corruption of Trinitarian doctrine, they condemn the pre-schism Western Church as heretical.

Second, did the Filioque radically depersonalize the Holy Spirit in Western worship, piety, and theology? This claim, which has been so powerfully advanced by Vladimir Lossky, is difficult to evaluate. Certainly at the theological level, the personhood of the Holy Spirit is clearly declared. St Augustine has a warm and vital sense of the personhood and indwelling presence of the Spirit. Yes, the Latin Fathers do speak of the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son, and perhaps to Eastern ears this sounds like a reduction of the Spirit to an impersonal something; but this is not how this language generally works, or is intended to work, within the Western community of faith. Compare this passage from William of St Thierry (12th century):

Each of the three Divine Persons is holy, and each is a spirit, and we give the name ‘Holy Spirit’ to the Third Person precisely because He is all that the Father and Son have in common–Their divinity, Their charity, Their blessedness, Their delight in Each Other, Their holiness, and Their spiritual nature.

The Son comes from the Father by generation, and the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son in virtue of a procession which is proper to Him. But He comes principally from the Father, since it is from the Father (and not from Himself) that the Son has the power to be a co-principle of the procession of the Holy Spirit.

In virtue of His generation by the Father, the Son Who is God of God is one with God the Father. But although it is equally true that the Father and the Holy Spirit are One, it does not follow (indeed it were false to claim) that the Son receives His being from the Holy Spirit as well as from the Father.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, proceeding from them both, and He is the unity and charity of them both. It is clear that He is not a mere link between Father and Son, by means of which the Son is loved by His Father and the Father by His only begotten Son. This would make them distinct only by their participation in the Divine essence, and not in virtue of the essence itself. It would make them one by reason of another’s gift, and not by Their own unity of spirit.

That the Holy Spirit is coessential with the Father and the Son, is implied by the very fact that He proceeds from Them Both. But in that He is sent to us men, He is manifested as God’s gift to us. The Holy Spirit is so completely, so truly, God’s gift, that unless a man has the Holy Spirit, he has none of God’s gifts, and whoever has any of them, has them only in the Holy Spirit.

Many things are given to us through the Holy Spirit, but they are valueless if the chief gift of charity is lacking. And the reason why the Holy Spirit is called ‘Gift of God’ is because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit Who is given to us (Rom.5:5).

Nothing is more excellent than this gift, which ultimately differentiates between the sons of the kingdom and the children of darkness. Even if all the other gifts are lacking, charity will take us to the kingdom of God. Although faith can exist without charity, only the faith that works through love can have any value.

The Holy Spirit is the charity of the Father and the Son, by means of which they love Each Other. He is the unity in virtue of which They are one. When He is given to men, He enkindles in their hearts the love of God and of their fellow men. This same love, living in men’s hearts, is the love by which God is love….

This is ‘the Spirit of the Lord (that) fills the whole world’ (Wis 1:7) with His all-powerful goodness, appointing a perfect harmony among all creatures, and filling them all with the vast riches of His grace, according to the capacity of each….

It is He Who teaches us to pray as we ought, making us cleave to God, rendering us pleasing to God and not unworthy to have our prayers answered. He enlightens our minds, and forms love in our hearts. All this is the work of the Holy Spirit. We may even call it His own special work, if we remember that He is sufficient for this task only because He can never be separated from the Father and the Son. Whatever action the Holy Spirit performs, is done in concert with the Father and the Son from Whom He is inseparable.

Does this sound like an impersonal Spirit? Western theologians are explicit that is this very personal Spirit who comes to dwell in the hearts of the baptized, uniting each in love to the divine life of the Holy Trinity. I submit that the assertion that the Filioque has depersonalized the Spirit is groundless. On the other hand, I readily assent to the proposition that pneumatology has been undeveloped in Western theological reflection. Thanks to the 20th century recovery of the Eastern Fathers by the West and the charismatic renewal, significant theological work has now been done on the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Yves Congar’s three-volume I Believe in the Holy Spirit is a good place to begin.

Has the Filioque corrupted the piety and worship of Western Christians? I think again one has to ask: against what standard and whose standard? and what is the evidence? Theological ideas do have implications for worship and practice; but these implications are often not logical. Broad claims like this one need strong supporting historical and empirical evidence. The world is such a complicated reality. History is neither easy to diagnose nor analyze. As I have several times asserted, I cannot remember a single time as a preacher when I ever had to preach on the Filioque or wanted to preach on it, nor has it informed my pastoral ministry one whit–and I like to preach on the Spirit! The Filioque debate belongs to the ethereal regions of the arcane theological. It may be of great interest to specialized theologians; but that doesn’t mean that impacts the real world of Christian prayer and life. Many other doctrines do have such an impact; but I do not believe that this one does. I sure haven’t seen any evidence that would convince a non-partisan. I therefore find dubious the extreme claims that the Filioque is responsible, directly or indirectly, for the Papacy, clerical absolutism, empty liturgical formalism, the emergence of Pentecostalism, or American rock and roll (just kidding. I love rock & roll). I find equally dubious Western claims that the rejection of the Filioque has rendered Orthodoxy vulnerable to gnostic spiritualities.

It is true, for example, that the Spirit is not mentioned nearly as often in Western Eucharistic liturgies as in Eastern liturgies; but this only means that the West did not have to walk through many of the theological controversies that shook the East during those early centuries. In that sense, the Gregorian Latin Rite is a more primitive liturgy than what we find in the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. But this does not allow one to infer that the experience of the 6th century Western Christian was less rich, less deep, less catholic than the 6th century Eastern Christian, though it may well have been different in many ways. In any case, post-Vatican II Eucharistic liturgy (Roman, Anglican, and Lutheran) now expresses more clearly and explicitly the work of the Holy Spirit.

The complexities of history precludes simplistic answers to complex questions. I assent wholeheartedly to the following judgment of Greek Orthodox theologian Theodore Stylianopoulos:

In view of the complexities and divergent phenomena of history the charges that the filioque doctrine has led to ecclesiasticism, authoritarianism, clericalism, and even the dogma of Pope are wholly unconvincing. When strains of clericalism and ecclesiasticism develop in any Christian tradition the work of the Spirit, to be sure, is often restrained and impeded whether in the East or the West. But it does not at all follow that the specific doctrine of the filioque itself has caused such developments in the West. The West offers such a diverse picture of both authoritarian and renewal movements, and yet the whole Western world has presupposed the filioque. Roman Catholicism itself, despite the filioque, testifies to a tradition of rich spirituality and deep renewal currents. Where and how can one begin to connect this plethora of Western phenomena with the flioque and its “presuppositions” of which most people are hardly aware?

As I stated in my first post on this subject, I agree with Sergius Bulgakov that the tragic Filioque controversy has led to a “sterile war of words.” I am particularly unhappy with the extreme polemic of Vladimir Lossky, John Romanides, and Michael Azkoul, who have sought to blame the Filioque, along with St Augustine, for the theological and spiritual ills of Western Christianity. This certainly does not mean that Augustine is beyond critique; but I am happy to acknowledge that if I find myself in disagreement with Augustine, or any other doctor of the Church, I am probably wrong.

In all of my pontifications on the Filioque, my concern has been to argue that the Eastern and Western apprehensions of the Holy Trinity need to be creatively held together as complementary and mutually correcting theologies. We need to achieve an ecumenical recognition, as Congar has written, “of the legitimate difference between the two dogmatic expressions of this mystery. Each is consistent in itself, and each is impossible in the categories and vocabulary of the other side” (I believe in the Holy Spirit, III:201).

10 June 2004

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