So, enjoy this little aside about an obscure but important thing related to The Church.
“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life” we say, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” It is at this point that you might hear my voice drop off (and if you haven’t, I bet you will now!). This is because I do not say “…and the Son.”
Why? You might be wondering if I’m secretly harboring some heretical notions, some gnostic teaching garnered from an obscure second-century text. But no, it’s nothing that elaborate. Rather, it me getting a head-start on something The Episcopal Church agreed to many years ago, and something that jibes with my convictions about the nature of the universal Church.
So, that “…and the Son” would be read as “filioque” (pronounced like the title of this essay: “philly-okay”) and is often referred to as either “the filioque” or “the filioque clause.”
This little statement is an addition to The Nicene Creed, first made in the 500s as the result of the Third Council of Toledo, at least this is the commonly-held scholarly consensus (though there is some discussion around whether or not the filioque exists before or even after this council). There is a fair degree of theological debate over the filioque, but this debate is not the major issue the wider Church has with its inclusion, which we’ll talk about a bit.
The filioque was added to the Nicene Creed as a response to the Arian heresy. Certain Goths, in the 4th century (so, not the people you sometimes see in the mall who wear lots of black and listen to synth-heavy rock music), had been converted as a result of the work of Wulfila. He was an Arian, a sect that denied that Jesus was God.* He also translated the Bible into the Gothic language, which resulted in many Goths becoming Arians. Eventually, the Goths made their way into what we would today call Spain, bringing Arianism with them and causing problems with the local orthodox Christians.
In order to help address the problem, this council decided to add “and the Son” to that part of the Creed in order to further support Jesus’ divinity, showing Him working alongside The Father.
This move caused more than a bit of consternation between the Western and Eastern Churches. This is because doing this flew in the face of the nature of the Creed’s composition, which was the product of the undivided Church. In other words, can a local province of the universal Church make an addition to a statement both agreed to and binding upon the entire Church?
This presents a few challenges to the notion of “orthodoxy.”
Theologically, there is rich and fair discussion to be had. The Gospel of Saint John, in several places, attests to Jesus sending the Holy Spirit, which would support the filioque. While certain segments of the Church worry that the filioque winds up either diminishing the power of The Father, or “subordinates” the Holy Spirit, overall there’s a degree of consensus that the addition of the filioque is not, on its own, a theologically heretical addition.
The real problem has to do with Church authority, as mentioned above. The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, currently serving on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (and one of the liturgists involved in the development of Enriching Our Worship 1) writes in her notes on the Nicene Creed in EOW1:
“The continued use of the filioque phrase by churches in the West remains a source of irritation between East and West. The unilateral altering of a Creed originally authorized by an Ecumenical Council strikes Eastern Orthodox Christians as ecclesiologically high-handed and canonically indefensible.” (EOW1 p. 76)
Historically, the filoque controversy came to a head in 1054. It was in that year that, after several councils, both the Eastern and Western Churches mutually excommunicated each other. The filioque was both a source of theological and ecclesiological consternation, with the Eastern Churches seeing it as evidence of over-reach by the Bishop of Rome (aka, The Pope). From the earliest days of The Church and into the late 800s, The Church was governed by a council of bishops known as patriarchs. The Bishop of Rome was seen as sort of “first among equals” due to his status as bishop in the (historic) capitol city. Over time, the Bishop of Rome began to see himself as the supreme bishop of The Church and eventually came to refer to his office as being the “vicar (or placeholder) of Christ.” The other churches did not agree to this.
As part of The Episcopal Church’s ongoing work to repair the divisions in The Church and to find ways to be reconciled and in as full of a relationship with different churches as we can—and also owing to a particularly close relationship The Episcopal Church has had with several Eastern Christian communities, most notably the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches—we have agreed to drop the filioque from future revisions of the Book of Common Prayer.
Dr. Meyers says of this:
“In 1976, the Anglican members of the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission said in an Agreed Statement that the filioque should not be included in the Creed because it had been introduced without the authority of an Ecumenical Council. In 1978 Anglican bishops meetings at the Lambeth Conference recommended that churches of the Anglican Communion consider omitting the filioque from the Nicene Creed. The 1985 General Convention recommended the restoration of the original wording of the Creed, once this action had been approved by the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Consultative Council. The change was then endorsed by the Lambeth Conference of 1988, the 1990 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, and the 1993 joint meeting of Anglican Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council. The 1994 General Convention affirmed the intention of the Episcopal Church to remove the filioque clause at the next revision of the Book of Common Prayer.” (EOW1 p. 76)
So this change is part of an overall Anglican shift in ecumenical relations.
Which is why I don’t say the filioque. I tend to hold to the Eastern view of ecclesiology and the heritage of the Creed. I don’t believe that we had the freedom to change that statement without the consent of the entire Church. It’s also good practice for the future.
Resolution A068, which authorized (for optional, trial use) an inclusive and expansive version of the Rite II liturgies in the BCP (the resolution that has prompted much of this discussion at The Chapel), also completely omits the filioque. EOW1 puts it in brackets and gives room for its exclusion.
For me, this is a fascinating development in that it is a move that is quite “conservative” and “traditional,” but part of a clearly “progressive” revision of our liturgy. Which is just further evidence of our quirkiness in The Episcopal Church—proof that we don’t fit too easily into any one category and are working at being faithful to (what we hope is) God’s vision for God’s Church.
*They are called “Arians” (not to be confused with “aryans” which is a WHOLE other thing) because of Arius, the bishop who first articulated the idea that Jesus was not divine. The Council of Nicea was largely called to address his teachings and the Nicene Creed was first drafted to repudiate Arianism. Legend also has it that Saint Nicholas (yes, Santa Claus) punched Arius in the face during the council, such was his passion about the divinity of Jesus. Which is why you likely see those tired memes at Christmas time with Saint Nicholas saying “I came to give presents and punch heretics and I’m all out of presents.” #NowYouKnow