Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Some Notes on Filioque

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Some Notes on Filioque

Article excerpt

(ProQuest Information and Learning: Foreign text omitted)

At the Minneapolis General Convention of 1976, a lay deputy moved to end debate on whether or not to omit the phrase "and the Son" from the text of the Nicene Creed in the Proposed Book of Common Prayer with the following speech: "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Spirit incomprehensible. Let's vote."

It is a remarkable fact that after nearly fourteen centuries, during which it has troubled the Church repeatedly, filioque remains an ecumenical stumbling block. The phrase has acquired along the way an unhappy freight of theological pride and acrimony and has served as the scapegoat for political controversies with which it had nothing to do. This paper is written to untangle and clarify the historical and theological problems of filioque, and to elicit a response from Anglican theologians.

Certain parallels suggest themselves between filioque and homoousios.1 For one thing both words served as the focus for both a theological debate and a power struggle. Such a situation is never far from a faith based on incarnation, since God has entrusted to mortal and sinful men and women the ministry of reconciliation. Theology cannot simply be divorced from power, and these instances are simply salient examples of a general state of affairs. Nevertheless we have to try to sort out theological from political considerations both to understand what has happened in either case and to decide on appropriate action in the case of filioque. For another thing, words are frail carriers of truth, especially when they have to describe deity. Even Athanasius was able to recognize that the word homoousios had certain liabilities. It had, for example, been condemned by the Synod of Antioch in 268 as the word used by Paul of Samosata to elaborate his monarchian idea of the relation of the Son to the Father. Athanasius also recognized that the word homoiousios might be used in an Orthodox sense.2 Similarly, filioque, as we shall see, has liabilities as have its alternatives; and alternatives may be recognized as also communicating the truth. From a strictly theoretical point of view, there is no real virtue in the word as such, or its omission, as surely and necessarily expressing the truth about God. In this case, as always, one must simply do the best one can with the words and the traditions available, and acknowledge at the end, as at the beginning, incomprehensible mystery.

The discussion of the relation of Son to Spirit prior to the insertion of filioque in the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed by the Council of Toledo in 589.

Scripture can be cited to support any Trinitarian heresy, and it is difficult to prove conclusively from the New Testament even the Trinitarian structure of God. There is some clear witness to binitarianism. "The Lord is the Spirit,"3 for example. The binitarian strain in early literature is well known.4

As far as the relation of Spirit to Father is concerned, the clearest word, picked up in the original text of the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed is John's: "But when your Advocate has come, whom I will send you from the Father-the Spirit of truth that issues from the Father-he will bear witness to me."5 This scriptural passage has continued the essential vocabulary to the relationship of Spirit to Trinity. The Spirit proceeds from the Father.

On the other hand, the Son is certainly involved in the sending of the Spirit, as that passage itself indicates, and as the breathing of the Spirit upon the community gathered in the Upper Room confirms. At least as far as the activity of God in his dealings with humanity (the economy) is concerned, Scripture testifies that the Son dispenses the Spirit.fi Moreover, the Spirit is often identified as the Spirit of Christ, or the Spirit of Jesus.7 The Spirit is received by mortals on earth through the Son and has the character of the Son.

We must acknowledge that these texts do not give us enough grounds for deciding whether there is a difference between God in himself, an immanent Trinity, and this economy. …

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