In this article, we will address the fundamental question of the Filioque in Christian theology which divides Catholics and Orthodox so much.
The word filioque means "and of the Son" in Latin, and refers to the addition of a clause to the creed's profession of faith, which affirms that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also from the Son.
This modification was introduced by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, but was rejected by the Orthodox Church due to its different theological interpretation of the Trinity. The Orthodox believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, while the Catholics affirm that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son together. The filioque is therefore a major point of contention between the two branches of Christianity and contributed to their separation.
We will therefore first see what is defined more precisely by the term “Filioque”. Subsequently, we will see how the Filioque is present in the Bible which will allow us thirdly to approach the point of view of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church on the subject. Finally, we will respond more specifically to the remaining objections given by the Orthodox.
What is Filioque?
The Filioque is the true doctrine according to which the Holy Spirit does not only proceed from the Father, but from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is the fruit of the eternal love that unites the Father and the Son, and therefore proceeds from both the Father and the Son. The Filioque is obviously not something invented without foundation, but rather the deduction by the Doctors and Fathers of the Church from a reality present in the Bible. We will see subsequently that the Fathers of the Church, and in particular Saint Augustine, already proclaimed themselves to be of the doctrine of the Filioque.
This reality of the Filioque, in addition to being present in the Bible, is an obligatory metaphysical reality for the good correlation of divine relationships, but we will return to it later. It is first necessary to see how the Filioque is directly introduced into the Bible in many places.
The Filioque in the Bible
- John 15:26: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify of me. » Here this verse indicates that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and testifies of Jesus Christ. Please note, the mention of the sending of the Holy Spirit “from the Father” does not mean that the Son is not involved, but rather that the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Son, who sends him with the Father.
- John 16:13-15: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own, but whatever he hears he will speak, and will tell you things to come. He will glorify me, for he will receive of what is mine to make known to you. Everything the Father has is mine; that is why I told you that the Spirit receives from what is mine to make it known to you. » We can see in this passage an indication that the Holy Spirit is receiving from Jesus Christ what he is to teach the disciples. We deduce from this that the Holy Spirit must therefore proceed from the Son, who gives him what he must communicate.
- Romans 8:9-11: “But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, the body is indeed dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. » This passage clearly expresses an indication that the Holy Spirit is called both "the Spirit of God" and "the Spirit of Christ", this implies that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, just as he proceeds from the Father .
- 1 Corinthians 2:10-11: “For God has revealed it to us by the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. Who then among men knows the things of man, except the spirit of man which is in him? Likewise no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. » We can see in this passage a similarity between the Spirit of man and the Spirit of God. This verse therefore expresses that the Spirit of God proceeds from both the Father and the Son, just as the spirit of man proceeds from himself and his human nature.
- Galatians 4:6: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father ! » Finally, we see here an indication that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Son, just as He is the Spirit of the Father, this implies that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, just as He proceeds from the Father.
The Filioque according to the Fathers of the Church
Many Fathers of the Church proclaimed themselves in favor of the Filioque. However, to begin with we will say that it is not because a greater majority did not speak out on the subject that it is a negation of the Filioque.
We will quote Photius who said "If ten or even twenty Fathers said this, six hundred or even a multitude did not say it. Who are those who offend the Fathers? Are they not those who, imprisoning the integrity of faith from these few Fathers in certain words and placing them in contradiction with the councils, prefer them to the innumerable crowd (of other Fathers)? Or are they those who choose all the other Fathers as their defenders? Who offends the blessed Augustine , Jerome and Ambrose ? Is it the one who forces them to come into contradiction with our common Master and Preceptor, or is it the one who, doing nothing of the sort, desires that all follow the decree of the common Master?
- Tertullian asserted in his letter against Praxeas: “Therefore, from the nature of these examples, I declare that I recognize two persons, God and his Word, the Father and his Son. For the root and the tree are two things, but united; the source and the stream are two species, but undivided; the sun and the ray are two forms, but adherent. Everything that comes out of another is necessarily second to that from which it comes, but without necessarily being separate from it. Now, there is a second, where there are two; there is a third, where there are three. For the third is the Spirit who proceeds from God and the Son , just as the third in relation to the root is the fruit that comes out of the tree; the third in relation to the source is the stream that comes out of the river; the third in relation to the sun is the light which comes out of the ray. None of them, however, is foreign to the principle from which it draws its properties. Likewise, the Trinity descends from the Father as from its source, through degrees which are linked indivisibly to one another without harming the monarchy, let us say better, by protecting the essence of the economy. »
- Saint Hilary of Poitier affirmed in "De Trinitate, XII, 57: "Make it, O Lord, that I always remain faithful to what I professed in the symbol of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father , in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Make me adore You, Our Father, and at the same time as You, that I adore Your Son; make me merit Your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from You through Your Son unique . Amen.”
- Saint Athanasius clearly stated: “Our holy mother Church, gathered here, condemns the authors of this heresy, that is to say the Arians, and affirms that the Holy Spirit is uncreated, true God, no one proceeding from the persons of the Father and the Son , coessential to these same persons. »
- Finally, we will end with Saint Epiphanius "Anchoratus": "The Holy Spirit is a true hypostasis, which differs in no way from the essence of the Father and the Son, which is in no way foreign to them, and drawing its nature from their own essence; but a person distinct in itself and proceeding from the persons of the Father and the Son .
There are still many examples and dozens of other Fathers of the Church who explicitly support the Filioque thesis. However, not all of the listed here would help most beginners. So, if you wish to go into even more detail on the subject of the Filioque among the Fathers of the Church, we recommend this wonderful blog article written by philosophieduchristianisme available by clicking here: "The Filioque among the Fathers of the Church" .
Responses to objections supported by the Orthodox
The Orthodox say that we can differentiate the Son from the Holy Spirit because the Son is begotten, not spirated, and the Holy Spirit spirated, not begotten.
It was Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest and most important Fathers of the Church, who refuted this objection by metaphysically explaining the doctrine of the Filioque.
He expresses in particular: “Let it not be said,” he says, “that to make this distinction between Persons, the opposition which is between affirmation and negation is sufficient: for such an opposition presupposes distinction, but does not the cause not, any being distinguishing itself from another or others by something inherent to it as substance or as an accident; that this, in fact, is not that, comes from the fact that they are distinct. Likewise, it is manifest that the truth of any negative proposition, if it concerns beings that exist, is based on the truth of an affirmative proposition: thus the truth of this negative: the Ethiopian is not white, is based on the truth of this affirmative: the Ethiopian is black. It follows from this that any difference which is constituted by the opposition of affirmation and negation must be reduced to the difference of an affirmative opposition. Therefore, it cannot be that the first reason for the distinction between the Son and the Holy Spirit is that the Son is begotten, not spirated, and the Holy Spirit spirated, not begotten, unless we presupposes between generation and spiration, and between the Son and the Holy Spirit, the distinction caused by the opposition of two affirmations, namely that the Son is spirant, and that the Holy Spirit is spirated. »
Explanation of the answer listed by Saint Thomas Aquinas:
- The Son proceeds from the Father by generation.
- The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father by spiration.
- Generation ≠ spiration. -
-“Act of generation” ≠ “Act of spiration”.
However, in Christianity the persons of the trinity are distinguished from one another by their relationship of origin. Therefore The Father is distinguished from the other two Persons of the Trinity because he is the only one to Generate. For the Son and the Holy Spirit it is already a little more complicated. Indeed, if we deny the Filioque as the Orthodox do, it is strictly impossible to distinguish the Son from the Holy Spirit because, as previously said, the distinction in the Trinity is not made according to what they are the subject of but rather according to what they are therefore this distinction must be in their original principle. Only one solution is therefore possible, the Son must be aspirant and the Holy Spirit must be inspired. This is the doctrine of the Filioque, so according to this truth the Holy Spirit does indeed proceed from the Father and the Son.
Finally, there is a reproach made by the Orthodox who insist that the Church had no right to modify the Creed affirmed at the Council of Nicaea.
Orthodox theology states that the addition of the Filioque to the symbol is illegal because it was done by the Roman Church and not an ecumenical council, and also in an inappropriate manner. However, to respond to this objection, it is necessary to take into account that the Roman Church has received unique prerogatives since its foundation, notably that the bishops of Rome exercise an infallible magisterium in the universal Church.
Therefore, the dogmatic definitions of the Roman Church and ecumenical councils are put on an equal footing. Thus, the Roman Church has the right to insert new dogmatic explanations into the symbol, including the Filioque. The Filioque is only an explicit confirmation of a truth already implicitly contained in the symbol. In fact, what is affirmed about the Father is necessarily attributed to the Son, because the Father and the Son differ only in that the Father is Father and the Son is Son. However, because of the errors that called into question the truth of the procession of the Holy Spirit of the Son, it was expedient to insert that same truth into the symbol. Thus, the Filioque is not an illegitimate addition, but an explicit interpretation of an implicitly professed truth.
The Roman Church therefore simply expressed in the symbol a pre-existing truth, fulfilling its providential role of bringing to light the truths of the faith when heresies attempt to obscure them. In short, the Roman Church acted justifiably in adding the Filioque to the symbol.
To go into more detail on the subject we recommend this magnificent article on philosophy of Christianity available right here: "The addition of the Filioque to the Symbol".
To conclude, it is therefore true to affirm that the Filioque is a true doctrine, present in the Bible and supported implicitly or explicitly by a large number of Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Finally, its existence is metaphysically obligatory for the good existence of relations between the divine Persons of the Trinity, and its addition to the Creed of the Council of Nicea is not illegal, quite the contrary.
If you would like to know more about the history of Councils in Christianity in order to better understand how the truth has persisted through the centuries, our blog article "Councils in Christian History" should be of great interest to you.