The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy

The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy

The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy

The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy

Synopsis

Among the issues that have divided Eastern and Western Christians throughout the centuries, few have had as long and interesting a history as the question of the filioque. Christians everywhere confess their faith in the ancient words of the Nicene Creed. But rather than serve as a source of unity, the Creed has been one of the chief sources of division, as East and West profess their faith in the Trinitarian God using different language. In the Orthodox East, the faithful professtheir belief in "the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father." In the West, however, they say they believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father "and the Son"-in Latin "filioque." For over a millennium Christendom's greatest minds have addressed and debated the question (sometimes inrather polemical terms) in the belief that the theological issues at stake were central to an orthodox understanding of the trinitarian God. To most modern people, this may seem like a trivial matter, and indeed most ordinary Christians would be hard pressed to explain the doctrine behind this phrase. In the history of Christianity, however, these words have played an immense role, and the story behind them deserves to be told. For to tell the story of the filioque is to tell of the rise andfall of empires, of crusades launched and repelled, of holy men willing to die for the faith, and of worldly men willing to use it for their own political ends. It is, perhaps, one of the most interesting stories in all of Christendom, filled with characters and events that would make even the bestdramatists envious.The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy is the first complete English language history of the filioque written in over a century. Beginning with the biblical texts and ending with recent agreements on the place and meaning of the filioque, this book traces the history of the doctrine and the controversy that has surrounded it. From the Greek and Latin fathers, the ninth-century debates, the Councils of Lyons and Ferrara-Florence, to the twentieth- and twenty-firstcentury-theologians and dialogues that have come closer than ever to solving this thorny problem, Edward Siecienski explores the strange and fascinating history behind one of the greatest ecumenical rifts in Christendom.

Excerpt

Jaroslav Pelikan, the famed historian of dogma, once wrote:

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 a thorough study of all
the treatises … 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 as the Latin
Church teaches?

I remember reading this early in my graduate studies, and realize now that I should have taken it as a warning of what lay ahead should I pursue my interest in the history of the filioque. Yet despite Pelikan’s admonition, I voluntarily confined myself to this “Hell” for the better part of the next decade in the hopes of understanding one of Christianity’s longest and most acrimonious debates.

Why? The historian Barbara Tuchman once said that there is no trick in getting someone interested in history—all one needs to do is to tell a good story. The history of the filioque is perhaps one of the most interesting stories in all of Christendom. It is, ultimately, a tragic tale insomuch as the filioque became the source and focus of a schism between East and West that has endured for well over a millennium. And yet it is also a story filled with characters and events that would make even the best dramatists envious. For to tell the story of the filioque one must tell of the rise and fall of empires, of crusades launched . . .

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