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Filioque Sml

And The Son Again

Boulbon Altarpiece 1450

When New Zealand’s 1988 General Synod met to go through our NZ Anglican Prayer Book line by line, the Prayer Book Commission had inserted an International Consultation on English Texts (ICET) 1987 discussion draft version of the Nicene Creed. The Prayer Book Commission thought General Synod had voted it through as a place holder and that the final, printed book would have the finally-agreed ICET Nicene Creed text. I was an observer at that meeting with neither a vote nor a right to speak, but in a break suggested that the discussion text would be the one that ended up in our printed book. Unfortunately, I was correct. Our Prayer Book has a version of the “ecumenical” creed not used by any other Christians whatsoever!

Our creed, like most western versions of the creed, includes the addition, absent in the creed’s original, of “and the Son” (filioque): that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

I remembered all this when I saw a recent post by an e-friend of mine who wrote about Emmanuel Church in the City of Boston which has had this paragraph in its Sunday bulletin since last year:

Missing the filioque? A note about the Nicene Creed In the 6th century CE, a clause referring to the Holy Spirit crept into the Nicene Creed in the Church in the West (Roman) without consultation or agreement from the Church in the East (Orthodox): …Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The objections to the addition are both theological and procedural. (Is there any difference for Anglicans?) The gathering of Anglican bishops at Lambeth in 1978 requested that Anglican Churches remove the errant clause. The Episcopal Church meeting in General Convention in 1979 agreed to study the situation, and in 1985, the General Convention expressed its intention to remove the clause. In unfortunate timing, however, the revised Book of Common Prayer (BCP) had been approved in 1979, so in 1994, the General Convention agreed to remove the clause in the next revision of the BCP, whenever that is. In the meantime, since Emmanuel Church prints the creed text in our bulletins, we have removed the clause to put the Episcopal Church’s intention into practice. –plw.

For those who want/need their biblical texts, John 15:26 is the key:

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.
Ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ παράκλητος ὃν ἐγὼ πέμψω ὑμῖν παρὰ τοῦ πατρός τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται ἐκεῖνος μαρτυρήσει περὶ ἐμοῦ

The West’s addition of the filioque to the original, agreed creed is very divisive. It is a primary division between Eastern and Western Christianity.

The West quickly tends to turn things that are economical and functional into being ontological and dogmatic. And it does so here. All could agree that the economy or mission of the Holy Spirit is from the Father through the Son. But this came to be understood as an ontological truth in the West. What is at stake is the unity of God. Is each Person of the Trinity autotheos? The East insists – No. The West is not so clear (cf. John Calvin, for example). The question can be rephrased: Does the Spirit proceed from the Father’s Person, or from the Father’s Being?

Another discussion this week makes me wonder if, as a consequence of the lack of reflection around the filioque, we end up with NZ Anglicanism’s spin-the-bottle liturgical attitude of addressing whichever Person of the Trinity it stops at! There is no overarching theological dynamic in our NZ Prayer Book of being incorporated into Christ and, by the Spirit, being drawn into (and transformed into) union with God.

Read further here and here.

As a postscript for Kiwi Anglicans: Using the Nicene Creed in the version of the NZ Prayer Book is only required at ordinations. At other times, this creed “may be said or sung”. I have argued against the regular use of the creed liturgically (here, here, and here), and, in NZ Anglican services, I regularly encounter made-up “creeds” on Powerpoint where we don’t know until a split second before we all are required to proclaim it what weird and wonderful things we apparently all believe! I would much rather, if you are going to insist on making us say a creed, that we use an ecumenically, internationally agreed version of the Nicene Creed – without the addition of the filioque “and the Son”.

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34 thoughts on “And The Son Again”

  1. When I read stuff like this, I think “Who on earth is asking this question?” (Besides paid theologians.) When faith sounds like a bad math problem, what have we done?

    But maybe that’s just me.

    1. Thanks, Tracy. Isn’t it because faith so often sounds like a bad maths problem that we need to be thinking this sort of discussion through? So many times it seems God is added to a group of things and the impression is given that thereby the group increases by one object. In the West, it often seems as if the group is increased by three objects! So often, in my experience, people reject theism because it presents such a shallow understanding of God. Blessings.

  2. Sydney Merriman-Johnson

    In Christ there is no East or West
    In Him, no South or North
    But one great fellowship of love
    Throughout the whole wide earth
    (John Oxenham – 1852-1941)

    Does it really matter if filioque procedit is included or not? , is the answer provided in John 15:26 not enough? When will the world get away from theology and preach Christianity? This is one of the reasons why modern day women and men are turning awY from the church

    1. I think, Sydney, that you are siding with my point against using creeds in worship. Although I don’t get the dichotomy between “theology and Christianity”. Blessings.

  3. To exclude the filioque would, nevertheless, put you (NZ Anglicans) at odds with the 1.2 billion Catholics of various rites. Would it not be a step backward? What would be gained by excluding it? Would it ever be possible for the layperson or clergy to ever grasp the totality of the creed, let alone understand why or why not the filioque was included or excluded? And … can we expect the faithful to put their hands over their hearts and proclaim a literal belief in all, if any, of its contents?

    1. Peter, this is incorrect. It is only the Latin Rite that adds the filioque – Eastern Catholic rites do not add it. Rome has never added it when using Greek, and the Pope is perfectly happy to recite the Creed without it (as I showed in my link). Blessings.

  4. Dear Bosco,
    Might we try an adjustment to the other side of the argument?
    (1) Notwithstanding the version of the Nicene Creed said by Eastern Catholics, the vast majority of the world’s creed saying Christians say the Nicene Creed with the filioque clause. If world Christianity were a democracy, the vote at the 2017 ecumenical council would be for the filioque clause.
    (2) The filioque clause is said because it is supportable in Scripture (e.g. John 16:7). Whatever we think about the way Rome introduced it, it is an entirely supportable theologically speaking.
    (3) There is an interesting flow on effect from the Eastern approach: God is monarchical and so are its bishops! Ministers reading this: do you want to be ruled by a patriarch who thinks he is your king? The Western approach leads to greater conciliarity … including Anglican synodicalism.
    (4) It is not as though all things Eastern are worth uniting with them over (e.g. I would quite like my translation of the Old Testament to be based on the Hebrew Old Testament).
    (5) I think of saying creeds in services as an act of worship: declaring who the God we worship is, rather than an eccentric moment in worship when we pause to make a propositional statement of faith.
    (6) Am I reading your post correctly: when we say the Nicene Creed you would like us to say the creed the Eastern Orthodox use; but you would not have us say the Nicene Creed in the liturgy with the frequency that the Eastern Orthodox say it?

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      Saying John 16:7 is an argument for the filioque is doing precisely what I argued Western supporters of the filioque do:

      The West quickly tends to turn things that are economical and functional into being ontological and dogmatic. And it does so here. All could agree that the economy or mission of the Holy Spirit is from the Father through the Son. But this came to be understood as an ontological truth in the West.

      The filioque refers to the eternal procession of the Spirit in the inner life of the Trinity and not to your reference to the historic sending of the Spirit by Christ after His death. Eastern Christians who do not accept filioque do not thereby deny John 16:7 and that Christ sends us the Spirit – as your argument would indicate.

      You are surely being ironic in arguing that the papal “Western approach leads to greater conciliarity”!

      As for which version of the First Testament you prefer – yes, very occasionally First Century Christians (the authors of the New Testament) did not find quite what they were looking for in the Greek Septuagint, and would use a quote translated from the Hebrew text, but the Bible for the early Christians, let’s be honest, even when we refer to the Hebrew today, was the Greek Septuagint.

      In those early centuries, our “creed”, our Shema, as it were, was the Eucharistic Prayer. Yes, as that Christian Shema/creed disappeared behind the iconostasis or was said in an inaudible voice distanced from the assembly, the Nicene Creed began to function and fulfil our natural desire which you express “as an act of worship: declaring who the God we worship is”. I would argue that we are still a long way from understanding/experiencing the Eucharistic Prayer as the prayer of the whole assembly – and I regularly find that its (required) “creedal” dimension is regularly removed.

      I note you make no reference to my point that in NZ Anglicanism we are regularly confronted with “made up” creeds that, without any consultation whatsoever, we are required to proclaim as the slides of the PowerPoint flick by.


      1. Hi Bosco
        Let em put a key critical question to you again:
        Are you arguing that we should respect EO’s continuing commitment to the NC without the filioque but not their continuing saying of the NC in eucharistic services?

        I personally do not much come across creedal statements popped onto Powerpoint screens we have not previously agreed to. (In fact I cannot recall the last time that happened). I tend to come across services without a creed!

        We could argue the filioque, theologically, Scripturally is this and that and not really have the space in comment format to do subtle questions and distinctions justice. So let me attempt to put things another way: if East and West can agree on the eternal procession of the Spirit that may not lead to agreement to retain or omit the filioque but rather to a different form of words.

        No irony re conciliarity: Rome is (IMHO) more conciliar in its decision making (prior to papal announcements); and Rome is more intent on increasing communion (cf inclusion of Eastern rite Catholics) whereas getting all EO patriarchs in same room and agreeing … never happens.

        Yes, Bible for first Christians was largely the Greek OT (I do not disagree with EO on that simple statement of fact). Where I disagree is with continuing to use Greek OT for our Bible. Not least we are tight to read an OT based on the languages of the Scriptures Jesus himself was familiar with. That is, I would struggle to be in union with EO if a price to be paid was rejection of Hebrew based OT in favour of Greek OT.

        1. I guess, Peter, I’m not wanting to press it to the binary limits that you are asking of me. I’m essentially wanting to (re)open a discussion and (re)create some awareness.

          We must move in quite different circles! Why do the communities you’ve visited not use the Creed in worship? Using the Creed is our inherited tradition. Are they not using it because they don’t accept the filioque? Are they not using it because they don’t agree with (some of) what it declares? Are they not using it “to save time”? Are they not using it because they have renewed the understanding within their whole community that the assembly’s creed is the renewed (fully credal) Eucharistic Prayer?

          I am not so naive to think that my ideas will affect Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox recitation-of-the-Creed practices. And let me stress that I am not trying to soften accepting the Creed’s teachings (quite the opposite!) But I think that the historic, agreed Creed should be left alone. This means that the filioque is understood as a “pious opinion” – acceptable but not required (like, say, belief in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary – or other Marian positions).


          1. I think it is a twofold reservation about the creed, and nothing to do with content.
            1. Yes, Time saving.
            2. Saying something together of such length is a genre (is that the right word?) which does not fit with the style of some services (cf. dropping versicles and responses).
            In some instances an acceptable alternative is to sing the creed (or some credal song) as that fits with the service style.
            What we Pakeha do not have developed is the beautiful chanting of the creed which Maori have.

          2. Thanks, Peter. So you do experience “credal songs” in the “creed slot”. Unlike other Anglican provinces, we have no canon of agreed hymns and songs. I have regularly been at Anglican services where the congregation is required to sing words that I simply cannot accept.

            If a congregation is not used to saying things together “of such length” that is a strong warning sign that their experience of the psalter has died. I begin my day by praying several psalms aloud – that is the Judeo-Christian tradition. We lose that at our peril.

            I notice that (many) Pakeha have reduced Te Reo content in their services rather than increased it. We do not need to develop an English version of the chanting – Pakeha could simply enrich the service by “the beautiful chanting of the creed which Maori have”.


  5. Last Sunday after the church service, a man asked me when did you find him?
    I replyed, he has always been with me.
    Meaning god. My question is, do we need to find the son first? I didn’t. I’M learning about his story now, through my own choice.
    Blessed Ruth

    1. Just as in any relationship, Ruth, I don’t think there is a particular template that must be followed. And there will also always be those who insist that his/her own pathway is the only pathway that can be followed. Go well on your journey – I’ll pray for you; please pray for me. Blessings.

      1. Good Morning Bosco,
        To proceed through the son, I feel there is the inherented danger of worshipping a false god, as we have always seen on earth to date.
        The forgotten son of god, , needs I feel to be placed again at the right hand side of god. Is this not the calling in the creed? John 15/26 can be misleading I feel, in as much as the forgotten son, named Jesus or is that too personal for the Anglican church? A pause to ponder, Thank-you again Bosco, for the insights Here!

  6. Thank-you Bosco, I can do one better for you, due to being involved in a praying circle,
    Many will be praying for you, plus me!
    Blessing and know we are with you ,Ruth, my home… St Mary’s Church TIMARU

    1. A lovely church building, Ruth – I’m so pleased it’s open again. Do pass on my greetings to your vicar and community. Blessings.

  7. Hi Bosco — I take your point about the difference between the mission of the Spirit and the Spirit’s essential being. Is it your contention that the Holy Spirit section of the Nicene Creed necessarily speaks exclusively of the Spirit’s being and not, partly, of the Spirit’s mission? I ask this because the section on Jesus Christ speaks of both being and mission.

    Also, John 15:26 seems to me to contain two parallel clauses both referring to mission rather than being, as D A Carson commented in his Pillar Commentary on John; and so the verse really has nothing to say on the ontological side.

    1. Thanks, John. As you know, the First Council of Nicaea (325) was dealing with the nature of Jesus against Arius – and so the Creed stopped at “And in the Holy Spirit.” (Καὶ εἰς τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα.) The First Council of Constantinople (381) expanded that ending

      Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ Κύριον, (καὶ) τὸ ζῳοποιόν, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον, τὸ σὺν Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον καὶ συνδοξαζόμενον, τὸ λαλῆσαν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν.

      Yes – I take your point that this expansion is essentially speaking of the inner life of the Trinity, though “who spake by the prophets” (“τὸ λαλῆσαν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν”) certainly is mission not merely ontology.

      I think that John 15:26 is being referenced in the ontology of the Son. John 15:26 has ἐκπορεύεται, the very same verb as in the Creed: ἐκπορευόμενον.


      1. Thank you, Bosco. My thought was that an acceptance that the Creed speaks both ontologically and economically might render the East/West dispute unnecessary. We Anglicans, and others who share the filioque clause, could accept that it refers to mission, thereby regularly reminding ourselves both of Christ’s great love for us in not leaving us alone and of our own responsibility to be guided by the Spirit in mission to others.

        Personally, I prefer the Apostle’s Creed — short and sweet!

        1. Thanks, John. I see what you are trying to do here – you are seeking to reinterpret “proceeds from the Son” to “sent by the Son”. I think that eisegesis does not really have legs. The Apostles’ Creed, of course, has no status in the East.

  8. Hi Bosco — thank you. I don’t want to take up any more time on this thread, but it seems to me at least problematic that εκπορευομαι should be translated only here in the NT with the ontological “proceed from” meaning you’re assigning to it, and elsewhere have a more physical “going away” meaning. Perhaps you can refer me to a good treatment of the subject.

    1. I think, John, that whatever “good treatment” of – I am presuming you mean – the John 15:26 text, it will be read through the Eastern or Western lens. Because, you are quite correct, ἐκπορεύομαι is used in a variety of ways I think 35 times in the New Testament. Pull the word apart: ἐκ out of πορεύομαι to go/come. The combined word stresses the source. The Latin processio has a different nuance. pro before/in front of. cedo to go. From this we get the English “proceeds”. In other words (1) Biblical proof texting is not going to solve the filioque issue – I think that the Bible can be used to support both the Western and the Eastern position (2) I think that the Greek (original Creed) and the Latin (and from it the English) are saying things differently. I think you and Peter have both been pointing to this. I feel another blog post coming on… Blessings.

  9. Thank you, Fr Bosco, for putting this again on the table! To my wit, the Scottish Episcopal Church is the only Church of the Anglican Communion, that has dropped the Filioque up to this day. And the Old-Catholic Churches of the Utrechter Union have done the same a century ago.

    It is time that the Anglicans worldwide do something about it.

    The lack of interest in this betrays the religious indifference of the bishops and theologians. Sad.

    1. Thanks, George. The discussion around this has been helpful for me – and I am thinking about a future blog post which I hope will further clarify things. Blessings.

  10. Kia Ora (love)
    Aroma (meeting)
    Manuhiri (guest)
    Tane (men)
    Tapu ( sacred)
    Whaikorero ( the art and practice of making speech)
    For Peter
    In God’s blessings
    Rutu (Ruth)

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