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Filioque clause
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Filioque clause

The early period of the Christian church was troubled by a number of dissensions about the nature and relationship of the three Persons of the Trinity. The gospel taught that the Holy Spirit is sent in time into the world by the Son from the Father (John 15:26a), but that the Spirit proceeds (eternally) from the Father (John 15:26b). Following this teaching, the universal Creed of the Church (the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as written in 325 and modified in 381 -- almost always referred to as "Nicene Creed") -- states that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father." While this Creed, and the Bible, do not say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, the connection between the Son and the Spirit is also clear, for the Scriptures teach that the Spirit rests in the Son, testifies to the Son, and is called the "Spirit of Christ" and "Spirit of [the] Son." The Church Fathers further explained that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are "of one essence" (substance) and have one common will and activity.

In the West St. Augustine of Hippo taught that the Spirit came from the Father and the Son, though subordinate to neither. The phrase 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.) At the third synod of Toledo in 589, the ruling Visigoths, who had been Arian Christians submitted to the Catholic Church and were obliged to accept the Nicene Creed with the filioque.

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. In the ninth century, Pope Leo III agreed to the filioque clause theologically, but was opposed to adopting it in worship in Rome, and insisted on using the Nicene Creed in Mass in Rome as it was expressed at the Council of Ephesus and all the Ecumenical Councils up until that time. The dispute, though it had not caused the severance of communion over a 600 year period, contributed to the Great Schism of the Eastern and Western branches in 1054. In addition to the actual difference in wording and doctrine, a related issue was the right of the Pope to unilaterally make a change to the Nicene Creed, as opposed to having an Ecumenical Council define the Creed.

Some historians have suggested that the Franks may have pressured the Pope to adopt the filioque clause in order to drive a wedge between the Roman church and the other patriarchates. At least one pope refused to do so in the 800s because of doctrinal issues, and instead sought to make the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed more prominent. A similar test of the Roman pope's supremacy came in the ninth century when there was some dispute as to whether Photius or Ignatius was Patriarch of Constantinople. The Pope of Rome unilaterally put forth Ignatius as Patriarch on his own authority and claimed to have deposed Photius. Photius's response included citation of the filioque as proof that Rome had a habit of overstepping its boundaries. However the other Patriarchs (of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem) concurred with the pope's choice and cast the decision as a conciliar one.

To this day the Orthodox Church uses the Nicene Creed of 381 without the filioque. The Eastern Churches rejected the phrase as an unauthorized interpolation, but even more, they objected to the teaching it expressed, as conflicting with biblical and accepted doctrine. They noted that for the Holy Spirit to proceed from the Father and the Son would mean there were two sources in the deity, whereas in the one God there can only be one source of divinity or deity. Later, the Western Church replied to this objection by saying the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son "as from one"; but the East again objected that this would merge and confuse the persons of the Father and the Son. It was also pointed out that if Father and Son are sources of deity, but only the Holy Spirit is not, this diminishes the Spirit's status relative to the Father and the Son, by excluding the Spirit alone as a source of divinity, while making him rather a recipient of it. Finally, if one says that the divine essence itself is the source of deity in God, then (as the Eastern theologians pointed out) this creates another problem by suggesting that the Holy Spirit proceeds from himself, since he is certainly not separate from the divine essence.

The Roman Catholic Church has not proved unwilling to negotiate on surface appearance of the topic. The Eastern-rite churches of the Catholic Church — who include the Maronites, the Melkites, the Ruthenians — returned to union with the Papacy at various dates but were not required to say the "and the Son" formula in their liturgies. They are still required to teach the underlying doctrine. This may also suggest that filioque clause dispute is merely a symptom of the larger dispute concerning papal authority.

Dialogue on this and other subjects is continuing. The filioque clause was the main subject discussed at the 62nd meeting of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, which met at Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology June 3-5, 2002, for their spring session. As a result of these modern discussions, it has been suggested that the Orthodox could accept an "economic" filioque that states that the Holy Spirit, who originates in the Father alone, was sent to the Church "through the Son" (as the Paraclete), but this is not any sort of official Orthodox doctrine.

The filioque was originally proposed, perhaps, in order to stress more clearly the connection or link between the Son and the Spirit, amid circumstances in which the writings of the Greek Fathers of the Church, which contained some of the points made in the first paragraph of this article, were not available. An Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory II, of Cyprus (1241-1290), proposed a different formula which has also been considered as an Orthodox "answer" to the filioque, though it does not have the status of official Orthodox doctrine. Gregory spoke of an eternal manifestation of the Spirit by the Son -- that is, he held that the Son eternally manifests (shows forth) the Holy Spirit.