The Filioque: What Is at Stake? – a review

The Lord be with you

In volume 59: Numbers 1-2, the January-April 1995 issue of the Concordia Theological Quarterly, there was an article by Avery Dulles, S.J. titled “The Filioque: What Is at Stake?” A link to the article is provided at the end of this review.

“Filioque” is a Latin word which translates into English as “and the Son.” It is part of the Nicene Creed as it is commonly confessed in Western Churches when we say the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” For many it may come as a surprise that this word was not in the original Nicene Creed. In fact, in that original creed, the third article was only once sentence long and read, “We believe in the Holy Spirit.”

A second ecumenical council was held in Constantinople about six decades later and they fleshed out the third article, giving us pretty much what we have in the West today. However the word “Filioque” was not there. It read, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son …” This is how the creed is typically confessed in Eastern churches to this day.KeepFilioqueInsert_thumb

This article begins with a history of the use of the word “Filoque” in the West and the history of the tension that developed between the East and the West that came to focus on the word. This information can probably be gathered from any decent encyclopedia. The real value of the article is found in its examination of the theology expressed in the word “Filoque.”

In the end, to reject the word “Filoque” as false doctrine undermines the co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed, in reference to their divinity, the only thing truly unique and belonging to only one person of the Trinity is that the Father is the Father, the Son is the Son and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit. So, as the Athanasian Creed puts it, “The Father is not made nor created nor begotten by anyone. The Son is neither made nor created, but begotten of the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding. Thus, there is one Father, not three Fathers, one Son, not three Sons, one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.”

We should also understand that the way the creed is confessed in Eastern churches is not “wrong.” Creeds are not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of all doctrine. They do confess certain core truths. This is a “core truth” that is not explicitly confessed in the Eastern form of the creed. Of course some in the Eastern church reject this core truth, which in itself is a good argument to retain the word “Filoque.”

Dulles covers his topic well however he is clearly writing for pastors, professors and the like. Also, he is a bit dry. Some of the concepts might be hard for those not familiar with the literature to easily grasp. Still, if you wish to ponder some of the deeper spiritual meat taught in the Bible about the Godhead, this is a great little article for you to read and think about. You can find it on-line by clicking the link below.


Blessings in Christ,