Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Clarification on the Filioque?

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Clarification on the Filioque?

Article excerpt

That the doctrine of the filioque and its uncanonical insertion in the Latin creed present serious obstacles to the reconciliation of churches has long been clear. It was manifest in the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries when the Orthodox people and patriarchs rejected the compromise that had been suggested by the Second Council of Lyon and the Council of Florence. It has also been clear in the modem ecumenical movement since the Orthodox churches began to take part in the Commission on Faith and Order, in the 1920s. The conversations that have taken place since the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948, and especially since the end of Vatican Council II in 1965, have confirmed not only that the filioque presents a major problem, but also that the problem is not about to vanish. On the one hand the very life of the Orthodox churches is tied, if not directly to a denial of the Augustinian doctrine that the Spirit proceeds "from the Father and from the Son as from one principle," at least to the affirmation that the Spirit eternally originates from the Father alone. On the other hand, the Western churches and theologies generally have seen no sufficient reason to abandon the insight of St. Augustine, even if some of them are willing to remove the filioque from their official creed.

On July 6, 1982, the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church alluded to the problem of the filioque. Without examining the question at length, it formulated a basic consensus:

We can already say together that this Spirit, which proceeds from the Father as the sole source in the Trinity (John 15:26) and which has become the Spirit of our sonship (Rom. 8:15) since he is also the Spirit of the Son (Gal. 4:6), is communicated to us particularly in the Eucharist by this Son upon whom he reposes in time and in eternity (John 1:32).1

The reference to the eucharist evidently raises a secondary question regarding the experience of the Trinity in the sacrament. If one leaves this aside, the chief point is strictly Trinitarian. The Christian faith confesses the Father as the "sole source in the Trinity," that is, as the sole origin of the Second and the Third Persons.

When Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I paid a visit to Pope John Paul II in June of 1995, the pope expressed the wish, inserted in a homily, that

the traditional doctrine of the Filioque, present in the liturgical version of the Latin Credo [be clarified] in order to highlight its full harmony with what the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople of 381 confesses in its creed: the Father as the source of the whole Trinity, the one origin both of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.2

In response to this desire, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity issued a Clarification that was printed in the daily paper of Vatican City, Osservatore Romano, on September 13, 1995, under the title, "The Greek and the Latin Traditions regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit."3 As included in the Information Bulletin, this document is introduced by a short statement, in which one is informed that, as printed in Osservatore Romano, the text was "accompanied by three stars." The meaning of three stars in this context is not explained, although in journalistic convention it often implies that the anonymous source of the text is highly authoritative. Whatever three stars convey to the usual reader of the newspaper, however, this journalistic device has no standing in canon law.

In fact, it is not only the authorship, but also the canonical authority of the document, that are not clear. The text indeed declares: "We are presenting here the authentic doctrinal meaning of the Filioque. ... We are giving this authoritative interpretation . . . " we being the Pontifical Council. In any case, the document is intended to contribute to a theological reflection at the highest level. …

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