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Jesus Christ God, Man and Savior Week Six: God the Son at Nicaea and Constantinople

Peter Brown, Author

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Filioque: What’s all the Fuss About?

Sharp-eyed readers will note that this creed does have one prominent difference from the one they usually hear at Sunday Mass. The original Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed said of the Holy Spirit: “he proceeds from the Father. And with the Father he is worshipped and glorified.” But at Sunday Mass you will remember (unless you attend an Eastern Rite liturgy) that we say “he proceeds from the Father and the Son” and the missalettes usually will put “and the Son” in parentheses because these words were not original to the creed, but were added in the Western Church at the behest of Pope Leo I in the 6th century—since there were Arians left who were using the lack of a Holy Spirit procession in the creed to again raise the specter of a lesser status for the Son. Nevertheless, this little word for “and the son”—“filioque” in Latin—has been the subject of immense controversy between Eastern and Western Christians over the centuries, as a Google search over the term would reveal (see also CCC 243-248).

The Eastern Orthodox are correct that filioque was not original to the ecumenical creed. But there is a basis in John’s Gospel for the Western view. The first promise by Jesus of the coming of the Spirit is that the Father will send him, in Jesus’ name (John 14:16, 26). However, Jesus later promises that he himself will send the Holy Spirit from the Father since the Spirit of Truth proceeds from the Father (John 15:26). And, in what might be termed a little Pentecost, Jesus actually bequeaths the Spirit by breathing on the disciples, empowering them to carry on his mission of forgiveness to the whole world (John 20:21-23). So it seems, as long as we remember that the Holy Spirit ultimately comes from the Father by generation, that we can speak of the Son sending him or alternatively, as the Father sending him through the Son. For this reason, the filioque is not an issue which should continue to divide Catholics from Eastern Orthodox.
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