Consult any pre-21st century English or American Prayer Book and you will find in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father and the Son.” The phrase “and the Son” is a translation of the Latin term Filioque, with the opening words of Article V—“The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son”—deliberately echoing it. The term is so deeply embedded in the Latin Christian tradition, utterly innocuous to those born and raised within it, one can easily forget that it was a leading contributor to the Great Schism of 1054 between Eastern and Western Christianity.
Browne briefly narrates the history of how the Filioque arose in the Latin tradition and grew controversial both for its doctrinal content and for its lack of canonical authority, ultimately culminating in the Great Schism. However, what is perhaps of greater interest than a simple retelling of how things ended up as they did is his suggestion that East and West are closer on the substance of the matter than some might believe:
The Greeks themselves were even willing to call the Holy Ghost the Spirit of the Son; confessing that “He proceedeth from the Father, and is the Spirit of the Son.” And hence many of our divines, and even divines of the Church of Rome, have concluded that their difference on this point from the Western Church was but in modo loquendi, in manner of speech, not in fundamental truth.
Browne grants that “we may question the wisdom of adding the words Filioque to a Creed drawn up by a General Council, without the authority of a General Council.” Even so, he continues, “we…do not question the truth of the doctrine conveyed by those words, and which, we believe, was implicitly held by the divines of the Eastern Church, though they shrank from explicit exposition of it in terms.”
The question of whether East and West can be reconciled with regard to the Filioque, and how this might be accomplished, has received different answers. Some Orthodox theologians within the past century or so, such as Boris Bolotov and Sergius Bulgakov, have proposed that while Eastern and Western views on the procession of the Spirit are really distinct, they can nonetheless coexist as theologoumena, i.e., nonbinding theological opinions, rather than mutually exclusive dogmas. At the same time, other Orthodox thinkers such as Vladimir Lossky have held that the Filioque remains an impediment to communion between East and West.
Anglicans in the 20th century largely shared Browne’s assessment that East and West are substantially agreed on the nature, if not the language, of the Spirit’s procession, with Darwell Stone being one example of this:
The belief in the East has been essentially the same as in the West, though in the pressure of controversy Eastern writers have sometimes unduly minimized the work of the Son in the procession of the Holy Ghost, as, on the other hand, there have sometimes been unguarded assertions about the double procession in the West. The truth is that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principle of life. He possesses the one essence which is the substance of the Father and the Son; and the Son has part in the work of His procession; but the primary source of life in the Holy Ghost, as in the Son, is the Father.
Notwithstanding his affirmation that East and West substantially agree on the Spirit’s procession, Stone maintains that the Filioque is superior to Eastern phraseology:
The Western phrase “from the Son” has advantages over the Eastern phrase “through the Son,” because the former guards more completely the truth of the co-inherence of the Three Persons in the Godhead; and is well fitted to be, in Dr. Pusey’s words, “a great preservative against heresy, which would not have been guarded against by the Greek formula.”
Francis J. Hall similarly finds that East and West are largely comparable on this topic, though he differs from Stone in his conclusion that the Filioque does not best capture the nature of the Spirit’s procession:
Two important points of agreement are discoverable in the somewhat-diverse terminologies of the theological writers of the fourth and fifth centuries: (a) that the Father is the fountain of Deity, so that the Holy Spirit proceeds principaliter [principally] from Him, and (b) that the Son cannot be excluded from the mystery of the eternal spiration, so that in some sense the Holy Ghost also proceeds from or through Him. The sum of the matter is contained in the expression that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father through the Son” — there being but one procession, and but one principium thereof.
Nonetheless, while Hall concedes that the truth of the Spirit’s procession is better expressed in saying he proceeds “through” the Son rather than “from” the Son, he holds that the Filioque should be preserved:
The Filioque has come to serve in the West as a practically indispensable safeguard of two leading particulars of the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, and its abandonment, even in the interests of canonical regularity and reunion with the East, may not be permitted until sufficient provision has been made for a continued maintenance and assertion of the truths which the clause in question protects. These truths are  the co-equality of the Son with the Father, obscured by modern and semi-pantheistic interpretations of the homooúsios, and  the eternal relation of the Holy Spirit to the Son, which, by reason of their controversial attitude in behalf of the Father’s sole principatus, the Easterns are inclined to disregard.
This approach was mainstream within Anglicanism for much of the 20th century, with Anglicans favoring retention of the Filioque at the 1920 and 1930 Lambeth Conferences as well as the Anglican-Orthodox 1956 Moscow Conference, even as they assured the Orthodox that their understanding of the Filioque was not at odds with an Eastern understanding of the Spirit’s procession. Later in the century, however, Anglicans meeting with the Orthodox again at Moscow in 1976 finally relented and agreed that “the Filioque clause should not be included in this [Nicene] Creed.” This culminated in the 1978 Lambeth Conference formally requesting that “all member Churches of the Anglican Communion should consider omitting the Filioque from the Nicene Creed.”
Notably, while the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) has distinguished itself from the Church of England in some ways, on the subject of the Filioque it has picked up where the 1978 Lambeth Conference left off, as can be seen in this 2013 resolution from the College of Bishops titled “Concerning the Nicene Creed”:
The normative form of the Nicene Creed for the Anglican Church in North America is the original text as adopted by the Councils of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and Constantinople (381 A.D.). This form shall be rendered in English in the best and most ac-curate [sic] translation achievable.
The Anglican Church in North America acknowledges that the form of the Nicene Creed customary in the West is that of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, including the words “and the Son” (filioque), which form may be used in worship and for elucidation of doctrine.
Because we are committed to the highest level of global unity possible, the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America seeks advice of the Theological Commission of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans concerning implementation of the recommendation of the Lambeth Conference of 1978 to use the normative form of the Nicene Creed at worship.
In keeping with this resolution, the ACNA 2019 Book of Common Prayer has the Filioque printed in brackets in its version of the Nicene Creed.
Practically speaking, there may perhaps be little chance of the ACNA ever requiring member dioceses to omit the Filioque from the Nicene Creed. Even so, given the College of Bishops’ apparent interest in this course of action, it should be noted that implementing the 1978 Lambeth Conference’s recommendation would be but a half-measure. As mentioned above, Article V clearly affirms the Filioque, as do the Athanasian Creed and the Litany of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, all of which are upheld by the ACNA in their “Fundamental Declarations of the Province.” If it is resolved, then, that the Filioque should not remain, in order to be consistent one would have to go much further than merely tinkering with the Nicene Creed. The uprooting of basic Anglican foundations this would require suggests that a better approach might be to maintain, as others have done, that the Filioque is understood in a way that is consonant with a sound Eastern formulation of the Spirit’s procession.
- The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1928), 71. ↑
- For a comprehensive account of the Filioque and the controversy surrounding it both before and after the Great Schism, see A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). ↑
- Siecienski, The Filioque, 190‒92, 196‒97. ↑
- Siecienski, The Filioque, 197‒200. ↑
- Darwell Stone, Outlines of Christian Dogma, 3rd ed. (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1903), 29‒30. ↑
- Stone, Outlines, 30. ↑
- Francis J. Hall, Anglican Dogmatics: Francis J. Hall’s Dogmatic Theology, ed. John A. Porter, vol. 1, Bk. IV, The Trinity (Nashotah, WI: Nashotah House Press, 2021), 428n4. See also Hall, Anglican Dogmatics, 427‒28, 483‒86. ↑
- Hall, Anglican Dogmatics, 486n1. ↑
- Siecienski, The Filioque, 195, 207. ↑
- Anglican Communion, “The Moscow Agreed Statement 1976,” V.21.c, https://www.anglicancommunion.org/media/103815/the_moscow_statement.pdf. ↑
- Anglican Communion, “The Lambeth Conference Resolutions Archive from 1978,” Resolution 35, #3, https://www.anglicancommunion.org/media/127746/1978.pdf. ↑
- Anglican Church in North America, “Concerning the Nicene Creed,” https://bcp2019.anglicanchurch.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/61-Nicene-Creed-Resolution.pdf. ↑
- For a critical response to the literal bracketing of the Filioque, see Gavin Dunbar, “A Curate’s Egg: The ACNA Prayer Book of 2019,” The Anglican Way 1, no. 2: https://anglicanway.org/a-curates-egg-the-acna-prayer-book-of-2019/. ↑
- Anglican Church in North America, “Fundamental Declarations of the Province,” https://bcp2019.anglicanchurch.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/60-Fundamental-Declarations.pdf. ↑
April 26, 2023 @ 4:46 pm Arthur Kay
Thank you, James, for this helpful summary. It is much appreciated and the subject is sadly neglected/ignored (often in the interests of ecumenicity). I find this interesting in the context of the “real presence” of Christ’s humanity in the Eucharist. In His humanity, Jesus, seated in heaven, is absent from us on earth. Unless the Spirit proceeds from Christ to make us present to his humanity (without making his humanity boundless or deifying his humanity) I do not see how Jesus can really be present with us in the Supper. I really think the West made an advance, a Biblical advance, with the Filioque and to remove it is to regress. Our union with the East must be based on mutual submission to the truth of God’s Word.