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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The implicit Filioque?

As I was reading up on the first two Ecumenical Councils, I came across a fascinating tidbit of information from Protestant historian Philip Schaff's famous Nicene Fathers series. For those who don't know, the Nicene Creed we recite each Sunday actually came to us from two Ecumenical Councils. Basically, the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea in AD325 gave us the 'first half' of the Creed, up to the words "and we believe in the Holy Spirit," but stopped there. Later on at the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in AD381, we got the 'second half' of the Nicene Creed, which added everything including and after the words "and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father". What is fascinating is that it turns out these Creeds were not just invented on the spot at these Councils, but rather they existed in a few different 'versions' and were basically used as a 'statement of faith' for one's Baptism. This is an important historical detail because it means that the Filioque - the part where the Creed says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and the Son" - despite not being part of the Nicene Creed of either the Council of 325 nor 381, should not be automatically taken as a rejection of the idea itself. Nor should having the Filioque clause within the Creed be taken as 'tampering' with the Creed. (I wrote about the Filioque taught in Scripture in an older post, if you're interested.)

The best testimony for this comes from a significant Early Church Father, St Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (Cyprus). He lived from AD310-403 and is held in high regard by both East and West. He lived during both Councils but he did not attend either, making his testimony even more significant. The passage from Schaff's series says that Epiphanius used a creed as early as AD374 (i.e. a decade prior to the Second Ecumenical Council), which none the less was nearly identical to the Nicene Creed as we know it. Epiphanius tells us that this was handed on from ancient times, even from the Apostles themselves, and that it is required knowledge to get Baptized. This means that prior to the Second Ecumenical Council in AD381, certain regions were already using a longer Creed than the one from AD325. Yet we would not say these regions were 'tampering' with the Creed, since they were expounding on it without changing its meaning. 

In fact, Epiphanius gives us another Creed from at least this time (AD374) which the bishops in his region were using (see link above) also from his same famous work "The Anchor": 
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things, invisible and visible.  And in one Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, begotten of God the Father, only begotten, that is of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth, whether they be visible or invisible.  Who for us men and for our salvation came down, and was incarnate, that is to say was conceived perfectly through the Holy Ghost of the holy ever-virgin Mary, and was made man, that is to say a perfect man, receiving a soul, and body, and intellect, and all that make up a man, but without sin, not from human seed, nor [that he dwelt] in a man, but taking flesh to himself into one holy entity; not as he inspired the prophets and spake and worked [in them], but was perfectly made man, for the Word was made flesh; neither did he experience any change, nor did he convert his divine nature into the nature of man, but united it to his one holy perfection and Divinity.
For there is one Lord Jesus Christ, not two, the same is God, the same is Lord, the same is King.  He suffered in the flesh, and rose again, and ascended into heaven in the same body, and with glory he sat down at the right hand of the Father, and in the same body he will come in glory to judge both the quick and the dead, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
And we believe in the Holy Ghost, who spake in the Law, and preached in the Prophets, and descended at Jordan, and spake in the Apostles, and indwells the Saints. And thus we believe in him, that he is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the perfect Spirit, the Spirit the Comforter, uncreate, who proceedeth from the Father, receiving of the Son, and believed on. 
[We believe] in one Catholic and Apostolic Church. And in one baptism of penitence, and in the resurrection of the dead, and the just judgment of souls and bodies, and in the Kingdom of heaven and in life everlasting.
And those who say that there was a time when the Son was not, or when the Holy Ghost was not, or that either was made of that which previously had no being, or that he is of a different nature or substance, and affirm that the Son of God and the Holy Spirit are subject to change and mutation; all such the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the mother both of you and of us, anathematizes. And further we anathematize such as do not confess the resurrection of the dead, as well as all heresies which are not in accord with the true faith.
Finally, you and your children thus believing and keeping the commandments of this same faith, we trust that you will always pray for us, that we may have a share and lot in that same faith and in the keeping of these same commandments. For us make your intercessions, you and all who believe thus, and keep the commandments of the Lord in our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom and with whom, glory be to the Father with the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.  Amen. 
Notice how full of description this is compared to the standard version we recite, yet nobody would say Epiphanius was tampering with the Creed nor even teaching heresy here. What is especially noteworthy here is that Epiphanius comments upon the "proceeds from the Father" part, including various details, even such as "receiving of the Son". The way this is worded certainly suggests that the Son has some 'role' in the Holy Spirit's procession, and thus I believe Epiphanius confesses some orthodox form of Filioque here. We might word it as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.

There isn't much more I want to say, but it should be clear from this detail alone that when the Filioque appears later on in the West, that this also shouldn't automatically be taken as tampering with the Creed nor changing the Faith. Furthermore, Canon 5 of the Second Ecumenical Council of 381 is but one sentence long, yet contains another interesting detail: "In regard to the tome of the Western [Bishops], we receive those in Antioch also who confess the unity of the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." While it isn't clear which tome the Council is speaking of, the fact is the eastern bishops here are welcoming the western bishop's statement of faith, which more than likely wasn't a word-for-word yet surely expressed the same orthodoxy of this oneness of the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All this is to say that the Filioque is not something Christians should be hating one another over, much less dividing over, whether or not you think the words themselves should be there.

1 comment:

eddie said...

The issue isn't the "addition" of words to the creed. The Armenian Orthodox added an extra paragraph on content and no Eastern Orthodox are concerned. Orthodox even accept the Filioque as defined by Toledo. The problem the Orthodox have with the is Filioque is its specific definition at the Council of Florence.

Rome teaches a hypostatic Filioque which Orthodoxy deems heresy. Orthodoxy teaches an energetic Filioque - ie a Filioque that doesn't make the Son a "cause" (along with the Father) of the Spirit by a singular Spiration, but rather is caused by the Father and given to the Son.

I hope this helps