The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy

By Papadakis, Aristeides | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2011 | Go to article overview

The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy


Papadakis, Aristeides, The Catholic Historical Review


The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy. By A. Edward Siecienski. [Oxford Studies in Historical Theology] (New York: Oxford University Press. 2010. Pp. xii, 355. $49.95. ISBN 978-0-195-37204-5.)

A. Edward Siecienski dutifully reminds us that his account is by no means "a complete history" of the filioque (pp. 1 5, 21 5). If one thing is clear, the doctrinal debate generated by this famous addendum to the Nicene Creed still awaits final resolution. This is a relatively slim volume; if endnotes are excluded, the text's ten chapters total some 200 pages, whereas the history of the controversy stretches back nearly two millennia. It is certainly an ambitious, well-told story. That it manages to weave together in a timely manner a highly accessible tapestry that is also credible and even ecumenically valuable is no small achievement.

The origin of this controversy stems from the portentous resolve of the Western Church to add the phrase "and the Son" (filioque) to the creed. Eastern Christendom, it is fair to say, found the clause unsettling and promptly challenged it. If anything, it implicitly questioned the Spirit's eternal dependence on the Father. Not only was tampering with an ecumenical text inadmissible but also the idea of a "double procession" of the Spirit- from the Father and the Son- was an egregious error. Fittingly, the author begins his historical reconstruction with an analysis of the New Testament evidence. He then moves briskly to assess the patristic material, particularly the contributions of Ss. Maximus the Confessor and Augustine. Several chapters follow that describe the battles and debates of the Carolingian era and the high Middle Ages. The latter period especially was a turning point in terms of developments. The final chapters leapfrog to the dawn of the twenty-first century with a valuable critical survey of contemporary trends.

Although this is a straightforward historical guide, it also often reads as a detailed who's who of the subject.The approach in a way is a deft solution to the following difficult question: How does one chronicle a centuries-long controversy, with its myriad polarized participants and often-complex commentaries? On the other hand, the author never treats the wider historical and political context of the subject as secondary. Siecienski is also on secure ground when arguing that his topic was never some trivial tussle among theologians. The facts are indeed otherwise. To top it off, the author is suitably short on confessional bias and sustained angry polemic; clearing the air of old prejudices is undeniably useful. These strengths bring a level of balance, even freshness, to his account.

The author gives pride of place to Maximus the Confessor (f662), who is viewed as providing a powerful piece of promising Latin apologetic. Maximus was convinced the filioque did not ascribe causality to the Son; if anything, the Latins believed that the Spirit receives its hypostatic derivation solely from the Father, the one cause (mia aitia) of its primordial cominginto-being. …

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