The "Filioque" Clause In History And Theology -- By: Gerald Bray

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 034:1 (NA 1983)
Article: The "Filioque" Clause In History And Theology
Author: Gerald Bray


The Filioque Clause In History And Theology

Gerald Bray

I. Introduction: A. Live Issue?

The Filioque clause, properly understood, is the addition to the Latin text of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed which was first made in Spain at some time in the late fifth or early sixth century. In English translation it appears as follows in the clause relating to the Holy Spirit:

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of life who proceedeth from the Father and the Son. . .1

The addition of the clause to the creed spread fairly rapidly across Western Europe but it was not finally adopted at Rome until about 1014, and it has never been sanctioned by an Ecumenical Council of the universal church.2 The Eastern Orthodox churches have never received it and regard its insertion as a canonical irregularity which involves fundamental principles of authority and church government. As they put it, is a doctrinal statement to be accepted on the sole authority of the Bishop of Rome, or is a synod of bishops representing the whole Church necessary to establish a

point of faith? The Protestant churches have rejected Papal claims to authority3 and give only qualified approval to the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, retaining in principle only those doctrines which can be proved by the teaching of Scripture.4

The Protestant appeal to Scripture is a reminder that the canonical dispute is only one aspect of the Filioque controversy. Admittedly, it is an aspect which has been given a great deal of attention, and the tendency to regard it as of the same order as arguments about the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist, clerical celibacy or ever the propriety of allowing priests and monks to shave, has always been strong. Even leading historians are not immune to this temptation,5 and its influence has been painfully apparent in recent ecumenical discussion. Nevertheless,

responsible, theologians on all sides have felt bound to insist that behind the canonical issue there lies the more obscure but fundamental question of the doctrine expressed by the so-called double procession of the Holy Spirit. Its importance has been described by the Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky in the following terms:

Whether we like it or not, the ques...

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