Monday, 30 June 2008

On ecumenism and the filioque

***This post has been amended***

At the Pallium Mass, Pope Benedict XVI and Ecumenical Patriarch Batholomew I recited together together the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed - sans filioque - in Greek.

How should we interpret this move?

There are a number of ways of interpreting this. First, at one level it is nothing new. Pope John Paul II did this on a number of occasions.

But Pope Benedict XVI in my observation tends to be rather more deliberate in the statements he makes with these sort of gestures.

Secondly, a commenter has pointed out to me that it is quite common to omit the filioque when the Creed is said in Greek, even in the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Perhaps, but it still seems to me that standing with someone and reciting the Creed strongly implies that we actually believe the same things.

Is there a theological issue around the filioque?

The reality is that the Orthodox have in the past regarded the Catholic position on the filioque as heretical, and from the Catholic side, the filioque has been defined as dogma.

There is a lot of history behind the filioque ("And the son'). It wasn't part of the Creed as it was formulated at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

It was added to the Creed in the West informally at first, in various dioceses to counter heresy. It then became standard in the West.

Part of the reason the misunderstanding arose is that its theological basis was developed by St Augustine, whose works were virtually unknown in the East before the schism (and largely rejected as heretical afterwards). It is noteworthy then, that the Patriarch explicitly mentioned St Augustine in his homily at Vespers.

Among Western apologists, it has become fashionable over the last few years to argue that the Western addition represented expediency only, and so could readily be removed in response to Eastern objections (which are partly about the authority to change a Creed mandated by an Ecumenical Council).

The trouble is, the filioque does have a theological history in the West, and is important to the way we explain the Trinity. There have been many - ultimately unsuccessful - attempts to resolve the issue through theological discussions between East and West from the twelfth century onwards.

There are however some plausible arguments to the effect that the two positions were only apparently contradictory, and are capable of reconciliation if one correctly understood the differing theological perspectives of the two sides. Some good minds have long devoted themselves to trying to build a case to persuade both sides on this with greater and lesser degrees of success (with more success on the Western side than the Eastern at least up until now as far as I can gather). I've seen reports that the Pope is in this camp.

So how should we understand the Pope’s gesture?

A commenter on the New Liturgical Movement blog, Colman, speaking from an Orthodox perspective, captures a reaction to this move that I suspect will be that of many, namely that this was not a prudent move:

"The developments at the Vatican and within the Latin Church in general are truly wonderful.

The generosity of the Pope to the EP is a remarkable effort of hospitality.

However, I wish that such premature events should not take place. We are not one. As most of the Latin's on the list think the Orthodox left the Church sometime ago.

The Orthodox, of whom I am one, likewise think the Latins left the Church in schism or heresy sometime ago.

Until the matter is cleared up, perhaps the EP could avoid giving such scandal to the bulk of the Orthodox by avoiding participation in liturgical events by those we consider heterodox.

These acts don't further unity but rather consternation with the bulk of the Orthodox Churches. Also, the eastern touch could be provided by any number of uniate clergy.

I love and am grateful for the desire for unity but until there is unity why act like there is?"

There are two alternatives though, that we should consider. One approach is to argue that the statement is effectively that each side respects the others position and now views them as not being inconsistent.

The Pope has argued in the past that the Orthodox might be able to be reconciled to the Church on the basis that they would not have to explicitly accept any defined dogmas post-1054 (just not reject them as heretical).

In a sense this is akin to the approach many traditionalists take, sticking with earlier formulations of the Church's teaching in the face of more recent if it is good enough for traditionalists, why not as a means of taking another step forward in reconciling the Orthodox!

The second possibility is to argue that they are making a statement that filioque is not really a substantive point of theological dispute between the Church and the Orthodox any more.

Whichever way you interpret it, it is interesting that the Patriarch proclaimed the Year of St Paul for his Church as well. This all seems to me to hint at the possibility that significant progress is being made. Seems like our prayers for unity should also be focusing on the Orthodox at the moment!


Joshua said...

Please remember, before reading too much into this, that the Filioque has never been added into the Creed in Greek, and Rome has never required its addition in Greek: for the good reason that in Greek it would have entirely the wrong nuance, one that the Latin doesn't suffer - you see, in Greek, to say "and from the Son" makes the point that the Son is a second principle of the Holy Spirit, since "kai ek" is a much stronger combination of conjunction and particle in its Greek theological import, while of course the Church has always taught that the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son as from a single principle. To say Filioque in Latin doesn't convey the same actually heretical sense; and this linguistic difference explains why Easterners prefer "dia", "through", which safeguards the unicity of the principle. All this I learnt from some very learned articles in The Roman Observer some years ago.

So the recitation of the Creed in Greek was absolutely correct as done, and would have been most incorrect otherwise.

Terra said...


There is something to what you are saying. The problem is this. The Church teaches that the filioque is a dogma. Any appearnace of backing away from it needs therefore to be explained.

The Catholic Encyclopedia puts it thus:

"The rejection of the Filioque, or the double Procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and Son, and the denial of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff constitute even today the principal errors of the Greek church. While outside the Church doubt as to the double Procession of the Holy Ghost grew into open denial, inside the Church the doctrine of the Filioque was declared to be a dogma of faith in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), the Second council of Lyons (1274), and the Council of Florence (1438-1445). Thus the Church proposed in a clear and authoritative form the teaching of Sacred Scripture and tradition on the Procession of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity."

Terra said...

PS Wikipedia notwithstanding, my understanding is that the filioque is used in Eastern rite Catholic churches - but it is not compulsory in the Greek version.

Terra said...

PS Wikipedia notwithstanding, my understanding is that the filioque is used in Eastern rite Catholic churches - but it is not compulsory in the Greek version.

David said...

Some years ago, I read a review (in "The Latin Mass") of a book on the Russian Orthodox that ended thus "For readers who are dyspeptic, antiquarian, nationalist, cranky, bearded fanatics, it might even inspire you to join the Eastern Orthodox. But if you, like me, yearn for the sack of Byzantium to become a feast day of the Church, and feel wistful when you muse that one brief shining moment when there was a French speaking Catholic Crusader kingdom there...".

That sort of uncharitable attitude ought to be left behind because, well, yes, our prayers for unity ought to be focused upon the dyspeptic, cranky folks, be they Orthodox or SSPX! Like it or not, we have more in common with them (as this topic attests) than some would like to admit.

Speaking of ecumenism:

The Anglicans at the moment don't know whether they are Arthur or Martha (which is a real problem when Arthur wants to marry Arthur, and Martha wants to do the connubials with Martha before a rainbow-sash bedecked "priestess" or "bishopette").

And I'll believe that ecumenism vis-a-vis the wilder shores of protestantism is working when we see one of those Nuremburg-Rally type protestant congregations (like the Hillsong folks) praying the Holy Rosary. Honestly, it's hard enough to get our own "with-it", "just call me Bob" Fathers to pray the rosary or kneel before the Blessed Sacrament these days...

Moreover, we're so busy gutting and protestantizing the WYD Stations of the Cross so that Peter Jensen doesn't go Jihadi on us (in Cardinal Pell's own see!) that, I fear we will struggle to convert anyone to anything resembling the true faith.

Here endeth my sour-faced traddie controversiallist comment for today!

Terra said...

I laughed out loud at that quote David!

A recent editorial in Christian Order though reflects a similarly negative view of the Orthodox:

While I'm not personally much attracted to the Greek Fathers or eastern spirituality (although their liturgy is kind of cool!), I do think our concern for orthodoxy born of the last forty years can lead us to an excessive distrust of other theological approaches.

There are genuine theological issues that need to be resolved properly, but as you say, the fact that we may not much like these various groups doesn't mean we shouldn't pray for them.

And oh dear, the Anglicans. What a shame the only ones who know whether they are Martha or Arthur are so confused about who the whore of Babylon really is!

Joshua said...
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Joshua said...
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Terra said...
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Collin Michael Nunis said...

@Terra: Just because the Filioque is not added into the Creed in Greek, it does not mean that it is not believed. But having said that, whether it is "through the Son" or "and the Son", you can't deny one thing: The Son plays an important role in the procession of the Holy Spirit.