XXX: The “Filoque”

Q: I have heard of something called the “filoque” clause. What is it?

A:   Filoque is Latin for “and (from) the son.” This word, affirming the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son, is not part of the original Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (completed in AD 381). But within three centuries of its composition it was added to the Creed by the Western Church. The doctrine of “double procession” first appears in the teachings of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine in the 4th Century, and the term was first included in creeds in Spain in the 5th Century (probably as a safeguard against the heresy of Arianism). The term itself was officially adopted at the Third Council of Toledo in 569. Its use spread widely in the West, eventually being adopted in Rome around 1000.

Support for the double procession is found in several New Testament passages, especially John 16:13-15, Galatians 4:6, and Romans 8:9. The Eastern Churches (Orthodox), however, violently opposed this intrusion into the text of the Creed, arguing that if a change was to be made the whole Church must agree to it; and moreover, that the “filioque” was theologically untrue since there must be a single source of divinity in the Godhead.

The theological controversy surrounding the doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Spirit contributed to the great schism (division) of the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic) Churches in 1054. When in the last half of the 16th Century Lutherans engaged in a theological dialogue with the Orthodox Church at Constantinople, disagreement concerning this doctrine proved to be a major stumbling block, the Lutherans defending the “double procession” and the Eastern Churches contending that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.

Although some Churches in the Western tradition have excised the “filioque” from the Creed (or, at least, made it optional). The Lutheran Church in accord with Scripture and Tradition, continues to affirm that the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son.

Adapted from About Being Lutheran © Lutheran Liturgical Renewal 1991. Used by permission.