Dean Carlos Raines
If we begin with the question forming the title of this article, I suspect the response from most Clergy and nearly all Lay people would say, “What??” When told what the filioque is, they most likely would then respond, “Who cares?? What's wrong with you??”
The so-called filioque is simply a Latin combination word that translates into English as “and the Son” and is found at the end of the line in the Nicene-constantinopolitan creed that runs as follows: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
It's a simple and very familiar phrase; many of us have said it literally hundreds of times and are familiar with it. Why change it? The simplest answer is that anything that is wrong should be changed and at the earliest possible date! So why are those three words such an offense that they should be eliminated from the next Prayer Book?
First of all, they are NOT part of the Nicene-constantinopolitan creed, as shocking as that might seem. Anyone can look it up; you will not find the words of the filioque there. What you will find are the following words derived from the concluding text from the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus: A.D. 431) that gave final ratification of the Nicene Creed:
WHEN these things had been read, the holy Synod decreed that it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different (<greek>eteran</greek>) Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nicaea. But those who shall dare to compose a different faith, or to introduce or offer it to persons desiring to turn to the acknowledgment of the truth, whether from Heathenism or from Judaism, or from any heresy whatsoever, shall be deposed, if they be bishops or clergymen; bishops from the episcopate and clergymen from the clergy; and if they be laymen, they shall be anathematized.
In other words, the Nicene Creed was formally closed and any addition or subtraction would amount to a “different” Faith and result in a formal Anathema from the Fathers. So how did the filioque get into the creed?
Briefly, it was added in the late Sixth century in Spain as a result of a conflict with Arian Christians who conquered and settled there as barbaric tribes holding to that faith. Orthodox Nicene believers found that adding the words “and the Son” to the creedal faith helped them to propagandize against the Arians with a simple definition that helped the orthodox dispel their beliefs from the popular mind. This “circular theory” of the Trinity was developed from Augustine (though he never taught it as such) and the double procession was part of that theory (The Father loves the Son who Loves the Father and that Love is so Divine that it is actually a Person who is the Holy Spirit.) This usage, thought to be Augustinian, began to spread across the Western Church. As late as A.D. 800 we have a letter written to the Pope in Rome and asking permission to sing the filioque while singing the Creed in the church of the court of Charlemagne. The Pope's answer: it is not done in the Roman mass, so, permission denied. However, within the next century it was added to the Roman mass with no council's authority. This, of course, did not escape the notice of the Eastern Church (still a unified part of the undivided One, Holy and Catholic Church at that time!). The East strenuously objected, pointing out that no church could unilaterally change the Creed of an Ecumenical Council without at least the authority of a new Ecumenical Council (the last one had been in the 8th Century; the 7th Ecumenical council). Now here is what should deeply concern Anglicans about the filioque: the Western Roman Church defended its right to change the creed because they claimed the Pope had the authority to do so...a claim that was an utter novelty. This insistence was one of the main causes of the Great Schism in A.D. 1054 and is a major block in the road to unity to this very day. The filioque itself is an historical monument erected to the doctrine of Papal universal authority.
A couple of things might be noted here that give some nuance to this debate. First, the East has always been open to discussing the filioque with the possibility of accepting it if it is done so in a truly ecumenical council and a definition given that is true to the theology of the original Nicene faith. The problem is that whenever discussion has been made as to the calling of such a council (including the sad attempts at the Council of Florence in 1438), the Roman church has insisted that only the Pope can call such a council (accepted in the East) and only the Pope can ratify the canons of the council (strenuously opposed by the East for obvious reasons...). Second, the East has been walking in a kind of admission of brokenness since the Great Schism, never naming any of their councils “Ecumenical” if the Bishops of the West can not be in attendance. So they claim only 7 Ecumenical Councils; every council since then has been synodical. Yet the Western Roman Church has continued happily along, writing off the Eastern Church and calling all councils composed solely of Roman Bishops “Ecumenical Councils.” Which of these parties are closer to the spirit of Anglicanism?
So here is the deep and fundamental question; Why would Anglicans want an addition to the ancient and Ecumenical Nicene Creed based solely on the claimed authority of the Pope to override an Ecumenical Council? Why would we be on that side of the argument? We may culturally be closer to the Pope and the Roman Church, but this ecclesiastical debate forces us to the Eastern side of the argument precisely because we too thoroughly reject the monarchical basis of the Roman claims. Anglicans have from the beginning utterly rejected papal claims at infallibility and of ultimate authority even over Ecumenical Councils.
In the late 1970's there was an Anglican-Orthodox dialogue that produced a remarkable document listing the impressive areas of agreement between our churches. Partly as a result of that there were official pronouncements concerning the filioque that have, unfortunately, been lost in the more urgent concerns caused by the churches (such as the Church of Canada and the American Episcopal Church) that have recently and severely torn the net of fellowship withing the greater communion. Nevertheless, it would be good for us to review what has already been done officially by Anglicans concerning the filioque.
After the Orthodox-Anglican dialogues of the Mid-Seventies of the last century, two Lambeth Conferences concluded and published decrees that Anglican Churches rewriting prayer books should exclude the filioque. In 1978 the Anglican Communion's Lambeth Conference requested "that all member Churches of the Anglican. In 1978 Communion should consider omitting the filioque from the Nicene Creed, and that the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission through the Anglican Consultative Council should assist them in presenting the theological issues to their appropriate synodical bodies and should be responsible for any necessary consultation with other Churches of the Western tradition." In 1988 the conference "ask(ed) that further thought be given to the filioque clause, recognizing it to be a major point of disagreement (with the Orthodox) ... recommending to the provinces of the Anglican Communion that in future liturgical revisions the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed be printed without the filioque clause." These things are good to be reminded of because as recently as the report on current ACNA-Orthodox dialogue given at the Provincial Council meeting at Ridgecrest, North Carolina in June of 2012, it was recommended to the bishops that the filioque be removed from the new ACNA Prayer Book. An objection was made that this would, once again, look like an American church was unilaterally forcing upon the Anglican Communion a liturgical revision. The Archbishop concurred and the discussion basically ended without further comment or action (though perhaps and hopefully committee work continues on this very important question!). However, the point needs to be made that not one but two Lambeth Conferences have urged the removal of the filioque from new Prayer Book liturgies! That being the case, and seeing, for example, that the Global South keeps calling the churches in the north to obey Lambeth '98's call to recognize homosexual behavior as sinful, how can the ACNA possibly be found to be rebellious or presumptive or disruptive by choosing to obey the call of two Lambeth Conferences to make this change?
It seems to me that the time is right to do what should have been done 500 years ago. In this issue we need to stand with our brothers and sisters in the East and stand in our truest tradition to honor the Scriptures as faithfully exegeted by the first four Ecumenical Councils with respect to the procession of the Holy Spirit and return our Nicene Creed to that originally penned by the Fathers and given their blessing. In the same way, in some small way, we add to the call for our Roman brothers and sisters to seek with us to undo the horrific and first and worst tear in the fabric of our universal communion (the 1054 Great Schism) by admitting the Orthodox rightful objections to what was then a novelty and now has become a scandal and a block to the healing of Christ's body.