Filioque Agreement

No sooner have we been having our own discussion on this site about the Filioque (“and the Son” – absent in the original Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 325/381 AD but added solely by the West to follow directly after, “The Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father…”) than theologians from the Anglican Communion and Oriental Orthodox Churches sign an historic Agreed Statement on the Procession and Work of the Holy Spirit. [Recent discussion on this site is here and here].

I encourage you to read the whole statement. You will fairly quickly notice (if you are a regular here) that the statement very much parallels our own discussion on this site. The original creed, and how it continues to be understood in the East, is talking about the inner relationship within the Trinity – that there is a single source of the Godhead.

The West, because of the Latin difference, we need to be honest, has reinterpreted the line and understands it in terms of the activities of God and in relation to God’s world. The agreement admits,

2. Though we understand the historical circumstances that led to the addition of the Filioque, the Anglican Churches generally interpret this addition in the sense of the temporal mission of the Holy Spirit who is sent from the Father, through the Son and by the Son, to the world.

Fair comment, that for many, many people this discussion can feel like “over 1000 years ago, the Western church got a comparatively small theological matter wrong”. I want to try and get into the eastern mind, why for them it doesn’t appear to be “a comparatively small theological matter”. Sure, there’s more than this that underpins the 1054 East-West schism. But, if you work through how this appears from the two different linguistic directions (Greek and Latin), you begin to appreciate that people are talking past each other.

As we remember the 500th anniversary of the tearing the Western Church into shreds, we must not become so insular that we fail to acknowledge the Church’s rending in two in 1054.

In the historic human trajectory towards monotheism, there is always the tendency to revert back in the direction of polytheism. Perhaps this does not concern you. Misrepresenting the inner life of the Trinity, failing to understand the Godhead has a single source, soon degenerates into Bitheism and Tritheism. I have previously argued that we can develop (and encourage) a spin-the-liturgical-bottle approach where we address the Person of the Trinity that the spinning bottle stops at without any regard for the nature, action, and dynamic of that Person.

I was recently speaking to an Anglican leader who was complaining about the encouragement to use the Trinitarian ending on collects. This person’s argument was that we celebrate the Trinity once a year just as we celebrate Christ’s birth once a year. This person thought the idea of remembering the Trinity every Sunday clearly bizarre. This complaint fits with the inherited western approach of splitting the mystery of God into parts where, Sunday by Sunday, different Proper Prefaces celebrate a different aspect of this mystery. The eastern tradition is to celebrate the whole dynamic at every Eucharist. The eucharistic prayers in A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa very consciously, explicitly, and intentionally moved to the eastern approach. There are no Proper Prefaces – simply “Variations” and “Additions” to the recounting of the whole mystery of our salvation from creation through incarnation to reception of the Holy Spirit and anticipating the eschaton.

The Eucharistic Prayer itself, now, echoes the life and dynamic of the Trinity.

The discussion about the Filioque can be shifted from appearing to be majoring on minors to an encouragement for catechesis and teaching on our life with the Trinity. We are not simply gazing at God and worshipping from afar, but, in worship, we are being drawn by the Trinity into the inner life of the Trinity – a process the East calls “theosis”.

Conscious of Metropolitan Mor Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim (Syriac Orthodox Church) and Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi (Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch), who remain missing after being kidnapped in Aleppo in April 2013, conscious of the refugee crisis, I echo the statement’s conclusion:

18. In a world of enforced displacement and fearful arrival; in a world of accelerated movement; in a world of war-torn fragmentation and courageous martyrdom; the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, transcends time and space and yet inhabits both. The same Spirit is sent to commission and empower the weak to be strong, the humble to be courageous, and the poor to be comforted and blessed in a fallen world that is upheld by the providence and grace of God the Trinity who makes all things new in faith and hope and love.

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Photo source. Further photos can be found there.

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