Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Baptists "And the Son": The Filioque Clause in Noncreedal Theology

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

The Baptists "And the Son": The Filioque Clause in Noncreedal Theology

Article excerpt

I believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son (Lat. Filioque)].


Part of the Baptist (and, for that matter, the broader noncreedal) tradition is the dictum, "We have no creed but the Bible," which is sometimes worded "No creed but Christ." (1) Deleting the taboo creeds from our collective liturgy and polity, and unfortunately also from our collective memory, often includes circumnavigating or altogether disregarding certain creed-related theological controversies--such as the Filioque clause, the phrase translated "and the Son," which the West added to the 381 Creed. (2) How does the Filioque controversy--what C. F. D. Moule deemed an instance in "hair-splitting theology"--have an impact on our understanding of the person of the Holy Spirit and our formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, not to mention other theological concerns related thereunto? (3) I will undertake a brief historical-theological survey of the Filioque and suggest points of contact where noncreedal theology can engage the issues involved.

In discussing the "theology" of the Filioque under a distinct and separate subheading from the "history" of the clause, I do not intend to suggest that there should be such a false dichotomy between history and theology. The contributions of the many so-called contextual theologies of recent decades have shown us that there is no such thing as "noncontextual" theology; there is contextual theology, and there is contextual theology that does not admit to being such. Noncreedal theology too often falls victim to the dualistic notion that we can divorce our theological formulations from our concrete experiences. Sections on the history and theology of the Filioque emphasize the importance of context for theology, not the opposite. Before delving into these categorical discussions of the Filioque controversy, we must first define "noncreedal theology" and suggest some preliminary hopes for what noncreedal theology can offer the wider ecumenical dialogue.

What Is "Noncreedal Theology"?

Noncreedal theology claims to be the logical conclusion of the Protestant principle of sola scriptura. The Reformers countered "papalism," or the recognition of there being a dogmatic teaching office in the church invested in one person, with the notion that only matters conclusively shown to be taught in scripture were required for faith. The problem arose, however, as soon as someone asked, "What things are conclusively shown to be taught in scripture?" Very often, the ecumenical creeds were invoked as summaries of the biblical message, but of course those ancient formulas offered little help in the theological debates of the Reformation that centered around soteriology and ecclesial authority. Supplementary "confessions" were then formulated, which in some circles came to carry as much binding force as the original creeds or even the eschewed magisterium. As the Protestant Reformation splintered into denominationalism, some groups, especially those from the so-called radical arm of the Reformation, came to reject any articles, confessions, or creeds as authoritative or binding upon churches or believers, and any who attempted to promote such declarations became suspect. It is at this last point that noncreedal traditions slip from a-creedalism into anti-creedalism. Noncreedal theology, therefore, is less a cohesive branch of Christian tradition--it would be more precise in this sense to speak of noncreedal theologies--and more an approach to theological discourse.

To be clear, I am not offering an apologia for noncreedal theology as much as acknowledging the noncreedal tradition(s) and exploring points of contact with the debate over the Filioque clause. When looking to the etymology of the word "creed" (Greek/Lat. credo, "I believe"), it readily becomes apparent that some form of creedalism is inevitable in that everyone "believes" something: "no creed but Christ/the Bible" sounds very much like a creed. …

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