The Church Fathers Believed in the Filioque

It is evident with the crises in the Catholic Church concerning not only the sexual abuse crisis but also the crisis in the Liturgy after Vatican II that some Catholics have become disillusioned with the current Catholic hierarchy. From an outside perspective, some might ask why they should remain Catholic and not convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, which is known for reverent, ancient liturgies under the name of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (or St. Basil the Great at some times).

But on a deeper analysis, there is no refuge in Orthodoxy. While we often think of the Orthodox as schismatics and not as heretics, the doctrinal crisis has also affected them. In fact, the Orthodox are also heretics from the true Christian Faith in more than half a dozen ways as enumerated in my article “Should A Catholic Convert to Eastern Orthodoxy?”

The Great Schism

The Great Schism, also known as the East-West Schism, refers to the split between the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church, which began in 1054 AD. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, and the legates of Pope Leo IX excommunicated each other. This formal declaration of excommunication marked the start of yet another schism between the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church. Cultural differences, Papal authority, the Filioque controversy, and even the practice of Saturday fasting, among other differences, brought about this schism. Ultimately, of course, sin – including pride – lies at the root of every schism.

We note that the East had often fallen into schism during the first millennia, but they would also return to unity. Christological controversies, iconoclasm, and ceasaropapism were the leading causes. Usually an important patriarch or an emperor (or his wife) would lead the mad rush into heresy. Decades later, a more virtuous emperor and saintly bishops(s) would work with the Roman Pontiff to heal the schism, often with the aid of an Ecumenical Council. These include, for example, the Arian Schism (4th Century), the Nestorian and Monophysite schisms (5th Century), the Acacian Schism (484-519), the Monothelite Schism (7th Century), and the Iconoclast schisms (716-787 and 814-867).

Even the Great Schism of 1054 was meant to be ended at the Second Council of Lyons (1274 AD), the council to which St. Thomas Aquinas was headed when he fell ill and died. This Schism was in fact formally ended at the Council of Florence (see below), but the effects of these decrees were not carried out as Constantinople was conquered in 1453 by the Ottoman Moslems. Many Eastern Christians felt betrayed by the West, as their armies never arrived in time to save the Byzantine Empire. Over time, the cultural differences widened, prejudices hardened, animosities increased, and religious practices became more divergent. Thus, today, nearly 1000 years later, the East still remains in schism.

Note, the Patriarch of Moscow did not accept the decrees of the Council of Florence or acknowledge papal supremacy. Instead Russian Orthodoxy declared Moscow to be a “Third Rome” with equal authority to Rome and Constantinople. Russia therefore intentionally remained in schism. This is indeed the first and oldest “error or Russia.”

What Is the Filioque Controversy?

The Filioque controversy is the theological dispute that centers around the phrase “and the Son” (in Latin, Filioque) in the Nicene Creed, which originally stated that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father. The controversy arose between the Western and Eastern Christian churches. The Orthodox churches – and there are several that are not in communion even with one another – deny that the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, proceeds from the Father and the Son.

In the early centuries of Christianity, the Nicene Creed was widely accepted in both the Eastern (Greek-speaking) and Western (Latin-speaking) parts of the Christian world. The original version of the Nicene Creed, as established at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., declared that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father. However, the Western Church later added the phrase “and the Son” (Filioque) to affirm the double procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son. Extant records indicate that by the Third Council of Toledo (589 AD) the Roman Catholic Church had already introduced the phrase “and the Son” (Filioque in Latin). The Second Council of Lyon (1274) stated the doctrine clearly and infallibly:

“We profess faithfully and devotedly that the Holy Ghost proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as from two principles, but as from one principle; not by two spirations, but by one single spiration. This the holy Roman church, mother and mistress of all the faithful, has till now professed, preached and taught; this she firmly holds, preaches, professes and teaches; this is the unchangeable and true belief of the orthodox fathers and doctors, Latin and Greek alike.

“But because some, on account of ignorance of the said indisputable truth, have fallen into various errors, we, wishing to close the way to such errors, with the approval of the sacred council, condemn and reprove all who presume to deny that the Holy Ghost proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, or rashly to assert that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son as from two principles and not as from one.”

The Filioque Defended at the Ecumenical Councils

The Catholic Church has always sought reunion with those in the East. The Second Council of Lyon began on May 7, 1274, in the Cathedral of St. John. The Pope gave a sermon outlining his threefold plan for the Council – to unite the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, to send a Crusade to the Holy Land, and to reform the morals of the clergy. On June 29, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the entire Council and the Greek ambassadors took part in a High Mass sung by the Pope. The Credo (Nicene Creed) was sung in Latin and then again in Greek with the phrase “Qui a Patre Filioque procedit” (who proceeds from the Father and the Son) sung three times. The Greek acceptance of this doctrine was an important step towards reunion.

Yet, debate continued for centuries as this was again a point of disagreement at the Council of Florence. The Emperor and Patriarch agreed that the debates should begin, and on October 8, 1438, the delegates discussed the addition of “from the Son” (Filioque) to the Nicene Creed by the Roman Catholic Church. This was discussed in 14 public sessions until December 13, 1438. Mark Eugenicus, the Metropolitan of Ephesus, claimed that the addition of the Filioque clause to the Nicene Creed had been against the Council of Ephesus in 431. While Mark Eugenicus was the main speaker for the Greeks, the Western Church answered through several speakers. The sessions were lively, but the Latin speakers were unable to change Mark’s position.

March 1439 saw eight sessions between the 2nd and 24th where the procession of the Holy Ghost was debated. The Western Church argued that the Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and the Son while the Greek Church through Mark Eugenicus insisted that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father only. Giovanni da Montenero, a Dominican provincial of Lombardy, proved the Latin Church’s assertion through the use of Scripture, the writings of the Western and Eastern Fathers, and the Councils. Da Montenero’s presentation convinced some of his hearers but not all. The Greeks were not used to metaphysical arguments or syllogisms in their theological discussions, but they were very impressed by da Montenero’s quotes from the Eastern and Western Fathers.

Through this, a glimmer of light appeared. The Eastern Saints had stated that the Holy Ghost was produced “from both” and “through the Son” while the Western Saints wrote that the Holy Spirit came “from the Father and the Son.” Now it is obvious that Saints, whether East or West, cannot err in matters of Faith for they are inspired by the same Holy Ghost. Therefore, the words of both the Eastern and Western Saints must be true even though they expressed themselves differently. Bessarion, the Metropolitan of Nicaea and Greek delegate, phrased it this way: “The western and eastern Saints do not disagree, for the same Spirit spoke in all the Saints. Compare their works and they will be found harmonious.”

The majority of the Greek delegates voted in favor of the Filioque doctrine. There were further debates about other points of contention. It was decided that both unleaven and leaven bread would be allowed for the Eucharist. Purgatory was defined and the primacy of the Pope was affirmed. None of these questions were answered without lengthy debate, and it was not until July 5, 1439 that first the Greeks and then the Latin delegates signed the decree of union. Mark Eugenicus refused to sign the decree even after discussions with the Pope.

On Monday, July 6, there was a procession to the Cathedral in Florence followed by a Pontifical Mass. Cesarini read out the decree in Latin, asking the Pope and Latin prelates if they agreed. They all proclaimed placet (it is agreed upon). Bessarion read out the decree in Greek then requested the Emperor and the Greek prelates to acknowledge the truth of the decree. They also stated their agreement. A Te Deum was sung, and the delegates left the Cathedral praising God with psalms. The Council continued and reunited the Roman Church with other Eastern Churches – the Armenians (1439), the Copts (1442), the Syrians (1444), the Chaldeans (Nestorians), and the Maronites of Cyprus (1445). In 1443, the Council left Florence to continue at the Lateran Palace in Rome.

Yet union did not last. In the years 1450 to 1451, the Eastern Orthodox Church convened a Council in Constantinople and rejected the decree from the Council of Florence. The pro-union Patriarch was dismissed, and the Orthodox Athanasius was appointed to take his place. What was the point of those years of arguments, of careful research, of endless discussions? Even though the union did not last, several points of doctrine were discussed and defined. Giovanni da Montenero’s masterful examination of the procession of the Holy Ghost through Scripture, the writings of the ancient Fathers, and the Councils is just one example of the intricate and intense work that went into these definitions. For more on the Councils, see the book Nicea to Now.

The Church Fathers Defended the Filioque

Above all, as demonstrated through those Council debates, the Church Fathers in the West, such as St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), supported the Filioque clause. St. Augustine emphasized the unity of the Trinity and argued that the Holy Ghost’s procession from both the Father and the Son was consistent with the shared divine essence of the Trinity. Those interested in the Church’s treatment of this should look into Father Henry Chadwick’s The Early Church or Fr. John Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology, which address this well.

The Church Fathers all believed in the Filioque as well as shown in a powerful video debunking the errors of the Orthodox churches. All those who want to learn the truth should be compelled to watch that video.

Let us pray for the conversion of the Orthodox as we also pray for the end of the heresy of Modernism in the Catholic Church. May Our Lady take these intentions before the throne of Her Son!