A Critical Assessment of the Filioque -- By: Miles S. Mullin II

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 17:3 (Summer 2000)
Article: A Critical Assessment of the Filioque
Author: Miles S. Mullin II

A Critical Assessment of the Filioque

Miles S. Mullin II

M.Div. Student
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587


Among the theological differences between Western churches (Roman Catholic, Protestant) and Eastern Orthodox churches, no issue has been as divisive as the debate over the filioque. Filioque, which means “and the Son” was inserted into the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed at some unidentified time in the history of Western theology. The insertion was neither necessary for a proper understanding of the Holy Spirit’s place within the Trinity, nor was it required by practical considerations of His role in salvation history.1 When assessing the controversy historically, biblically and philosophically, one finds that the insertion of the filioque is a dangerous theological exercise that calls into question the basic tenets of the Nicene faith.

Historical Background

During the Trinitarian controversy of the fourth century, the Eastern church dealt decisively with the Arian and Neo-Arian heresies. They accomplished this through much debate that culminated in a series of councils. At the councils, bishops met and discussed the issues related to the Trinity. Through the drafting of creeds, these bishops established the parameters for orthodoxy in the issue of the Trinity. The most well-known and significant of these councils were Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381). Both of these councils produced a creed that described the participants’ affirmations concerning the Trinity. The product of Constantinople was in many ways a revision and expansion of the Nicene creed. The final creed came to be known as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan (N-C)2 creed and represented what was known as the Nicene faith. For years this creed served as a litmus test for orthodoxy.3 Its acceptance and dominance as the “orthodox” view was largely a result of the “theological work of Athanasius of Alexandria and the three Cappadocian fathers: Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa.”4 The Constantinopolitan creed, as an expansion

of the Nicene creed, said much more about the Holy Spirit due to the writings and influence of these Fathers.5 Their response was precipitated by the rise of the pneumatomachians who denied the full deity of the Holy Spirit.6 Wher...

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