Reflections on the Filioque

By Del Cole, Ralph | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Reflections on the Filioque


Del Cole, Ralph, Journal of Ecumenical Studies


I. Introduction

This essay is an attempt at a constructive approach to the filioque, being especially mindful of the present interecclesial context and the state of theological discussion, particularly contemporary Roman Catholic trinitarian theology. It is not my intention to resolve this issue of dogmatic disagreement but simply to help illuminate the discussion in light of the considerable interchange that has already taken place. The essay will proceed in three sections. First, following a review of the present state of the interecclesial discussion, a proposal will be offered to identify those theological positions that are most amenable to dialogue on this issue. Second, an examination of several trends in contemporary Roman Catholic trinitarian theology will be investigated relative to the special challenge they pose for the filioque. Third, the issue of the filioque will be situated within the broader framework of a trinitarian Spirit Christology in order to help resolve these challenges.

II. Interecclesial Context

Boundaries are important to help guide any discussion or dialogue. In this regard this essay will not rehearse the positions of extreme monopatrism on the one hand or that of extreme filioquism on the other. An example of the former would be aspects of Vladimir Lossky's work, which roots all that is wrong with Roman Catholicism in the filioque, thereby requiring that the defense of monopatrism is absolutely essential to the preservation of Orthodox ecclesiology over against Rome and its juridicism - all of this aside from the fact that Lossky's appropriation of Photian and Palamite perspectives are invaluable for any discussion of trinitarian theology. Likewise, on the Catholic side we could turn to such a figure as Bertrand de Margerie, who not only quotes Thomas Aquinas on the intimate relationship between the pope as the vicar of Christ and the filioque(1) but also contends that the triadology of the Greek Fathers necessitates the more mature speculative theology of the Latin scholastics (especially the psychological analogy) in order to resolve the relationship between the Son and the Spirit in the divine triunity. In fact, his reading of the Councils of Lyons (1274) and Ferrara-Florence (1438/39), especially the latter, nicely states the issues vis-a-vis the interecclesial context.

Does one interpret the failed decree of the Council of Ferrara-Florence (regarding a permanent and effectual union of the churches) such that the per filium should be understood in the sense that (Ad hanc intelligentiam tendit ut per hoc significetur) what the Greeks mean by "cause" (aitia) and the Latins by "principle" (principium) are in effect equivalent regarding the definition of the Son's relationship to the subsistence of the Holy Spirit? The formulae - dia tuo Huiou and filioque - are not simply interchangeable. However, are they complementary as Yves Congar argues, or, as in de Margerie's interpretation, does the decree mean that the Greek formula "suggests and prepares, in its orientation, the meaning that was explicated by the Latin formula"?(2) Well, yes, except should we not also admit, as Congar has pointed out, that the Council decree "reduced the Greek expression to the fundamentally Western meaning of its Latin equivalent"?(3) Nevertheless, Congar is positive that the reunion decree should not be dismissed by the Orthodox ("The Orthodox are wrong to reject it so completely.").(4) The debate "was both free and serious," and the filioque was added to the symbol, as the decree states, "for the sake of clarifying the truth . . . under the impact of a real need at the time."(5) This qualifier should not be underestimated for its potential in providing Catholic theology some room to maneuver on this question. Specifically, by locating the insertion of the filioque in reference to a theological need at a particular historical moment, it allows for a more dialectical reception of the decree in its attempt to relate positively the meanings of the filioque and the per filium. …

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