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The Filioque: a Church-Dividing Issue?

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The Filioque: a Church-Dividing Issue? An Agreed statement of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation Saint Paul's College, Washington, D.C.

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, Georgetown University, Washington, DC

October, 2003

From 1999 until 2003, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation has focused its discussions on an issue that has been identified, for more than twelve centuries, as one of the root causes of division between our Churches: our divergent ways of conceiving and speaking about the origin of the Holy Spirit within the inner life of the triune God. Although both of our traditions profess “the faith of Nicaea” as the normative expression of our understanding of God and God’s involvement in his creation, and take as the classical statement of that faith the revised version of the Nicene creed associated with the First Council of Constantinople of 381, most Catholics and other Western Christians have used, since at least the late sixth century, a Latin version of that Creed, which adds to its confession that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” the word Filioque: “and from the Son”. For most Western Christians, this term continues to be a part of the central formulation of their faith, a formulation proclaimed in the liturgy and used as the basis of catechesis and theological reflection. It is, for Catholics and most Protestants, simply a part of the ordinary teaching of the Church, and as such, integral to their understanding of the dogma of the Holy Trinity. Yet since at least the late eighth century, the presence of this term in the Western version of the Creed has been a source of scandal for Eastern Christians, both because of the Trinitarian theology it expresses, and because it had been adopted by a growing number of Churches in the West into the canonical formulation of a received ecumenical council without corresponding ecumenical agreement. As the medieval rift between Eastern and Western Christians grew more serious, the theology associated with the term Filioque, and the issues of Church structure and authority raised by its adoption, grew into a symbol of difference, a classic token of what each side of divided Christendom has found lacking or distorted in the other.

Our common study of this question has involved our Consultation in much shared research, prayerful reflection and intense discussion. It is our hope that many of the papers produced by our members during this process will be published together, as the scholarly context for our common statement. A subject as complicated as this, from both the historical and the theological point of view, calls for detailed explanation if the real issues are to be clearly seen. Our discussions and our common statement will not, by themselves, put an end to centuries of disagreement among our Churches. We do hope, however, that they will contribute to the growth of mutual understanding and respect, and that in God’s time our Churches will no longer find a cause for separation in the way we think and speak about the origin of that Spirit, whose fruit is love and peace (see Gal 5.22).

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