Top cleric of Church of England rewrites the Nicene Creed

(Note: This entry also contains a discussion of the fraught issue of the filioque.)

The fatuous idiot who occupies the office of Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has said that it is not necessary to believe in the Virgin Birth in order to be a Christian. According to the Times of London, Williams told a radio interviewer that

Although he believed in it himself, he advised that new Christians need not fear that they had to leap over the “hurdle” of belief in the Virgin Birth before they could be “signed up.”

As Rush Limbaugh, not one to comment often on religion, very aptly pointed out today, the Virgin Birth is no more of a hurdle of belief than the Big Bang. If the entire universe came out of an infinitesimal speck, which all of us are supposed to believe today, why couldn’t Jesus Christ, the Son of God, be born of a virgin?

More importantly, Williams’s remark that one does not need to believe in the Virgin Birth in order to be a Christian is simply false. The Nicene Creed, which is the basic statement of faith that defines Christianity, and which all Christians recite aloud together in church, says, “I believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ … Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man.”

There is no room for individual preferences here. If people do not believe this statement and cannot say it, no one is requiring them to be Christian. The Archbishop of Canterbury has no business redefining the Creed of the Christian church and he should be immediately dismissed from his position.

When the Episcopal Church USA in 2003 ordained a practicing homosexual as a bishop, it crossed a red line by which it ceased to be a Christian body. If the Church of England accepts Bishop Williams’s personal opinion that the Virgin Birth is not part of the defining Creed of Christianity, then the Church of England will have passed a red line by which it will have ceased to be a Christian body.

Here is the Nicene Creed, as it appears in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, p. 71:

I BELIEVE in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, 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: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man: And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried: And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures: And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father: And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the Prophets: And I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church: I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins: And I look for the Resurrection of the dead: And the life of the world to come. Amen.

- end of initial entry -

A reader writes:

On the same page as the story on Williams there’s a link to a video on a demo in Austrailia against an Islamic school. West not dead yet!

Karen writes from England:

I am glad to see you using strong words about the Archbishop of Canterbury, an irredeemable fool who has greatly damaged the Anglican Church. Can the Queen who is Head of the Church not call for his dismissal? An apparently devout Christian, she must be appalled at his behaviour and from all accounts is quite aware of it. She is now apparently shunning a lot of the C of E clergy for her own worship and increasingly calling for her own services to be taken by strict Calvinist pastors from the Free Church of Scotland. If she can do this for her own personal worship, why can she not do the same for the rest of the population?

M. Mason writes:

This was predictable—one might say inevitable—from someone who sees Christian orthodoxy not as something fixed and eternal, but merely the result of an ever-continuing and evolving “dialogue”—a dialogue of the community of Christian faith with the rest of the world. But surprisingly, there are also those in the most unlikely quarters who would disagree with the Archbishop. Even the fatuous Islamic version of Christ’s birth as described in the Qur’an in Sura 19, as distorted as it is compared to the New Testament account, still manages to affirm that it was a virgin birth, and orthodox followers of Mohammed believe this. So, with his latest seizure of theological vomit, the metropolitan of the province of Canterbury, Primate of All England, senior archbishop of the Church of England and the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion has actually managed to sink lower in his understanding and appreciation of one of the central doctrines of Christianity than the average Muslim. He has, pursuant to this statement, also denied that Christians need to believe in the deity of Christ. Given his theological trajectory, like Bishop Joseph Sprague of the United Methodist Church before him, in my judgment it’s only a matter of time now before Rowan Williams abandons the faith wholesale.

LA replies:

Well, that’s been the clear direction of the Episcopal Church USA, with its choice of a presiding bishop who affirms blatantly non-Christian statements. I had thought that Williams—for example in trying to mediate between the EPUSA and the rest of the Anglican Communion—was marginally less nutty than EPUSA, but really, what a silly thought! These people are all so far gone it’s barely worth the trouble trying to distinguish them from each other.

LA writes:

Since we’re speaking of a change in the Nicene Creed, it is not irrelevant to bring up the vexed subject of the filioque, the Catholic Church’s addition of the words “and the Son” to the Nicene Creed, so that it says that the Holy Spirit “proceedeth from the Father and the Son.” Wikipedia has a fascinating article on this. It’s definitely a pro-Western discussion, placing most of the blame for the East-West schism over the filioque on the East, which was news to me. The accounts I’ve previously read seemed to blame the West for arbitrarily making a change in the Creed that caused a split with the East. According to this account, the Eastern authorities repeatedly picked a fight over the filioque even before it had been fully adopted in the West, turning an issue which had been seen as a tolerable difference among different regions of the church into an irreconcilable split over dogma.

The article also takes the Western side substantively, showing how the early Church Fathers, including Augustine (and much later Aquinas), and then the Spanish and Frankish churches, affirmed that the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son centuries before it was adopted by the pope in the 11th century.

To me the filioque makes complete sense theologically, logically, and even experientially, affirming the internal relational aspect of the Trinity. It is also supported by many biblical passages.

I recently heard to my shock that some years ago the Anglican church voted to eliminate the filioque, though the change does not yet appear in prayer books and liturgy materials.

A reader writes

I think the East is more correct. The filioque makes the Holy Spirit less than the other two.

LA replies:

But the absence of the filioque makes the Son less than the Father, which was a main reason at the time for adding it. Ironically, guess which part of the Church adopted the filioque centuries before Rome? The Visigothic church in Spain. The Visigoths had of course originally been Arians. So the very people who had earlier downplayed the Son in the Arian heresy were now in the forefront of upraising him.

LA continues:

I add, however, that VFR practices tolerance on this issue and will not excommunicate opponents of the filioque.

A reader, who is Orthodox, writes:

Very, very one sided.

Doesn’t even deal with the main Orthodox objections: that changing the filioque changes God the Father, stripping him of his generative uniqueness; that it changes settled Church doctrine, and did so unilaterally; and that it is a fundamental change in the nature of the Trinity—if the filioque is right, then Nicea is wrong.

LA replies:


But, as the article seems to suggest, isn’t it the case that the filioque didn’t represent some sudden, radical change, but rather a formalization of a view that had been present and influential in the Western church since the days of the Church fathers? How would the anti-filioque arguments hold up against the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son?

Also, the Nicene creed developed. As can be seen in Wikipedia’s side-by-side comparison of the original Nicene Creed of 325 and the later version of 381 in Constanipople, the 325 version simply says concerning the Holy Spirit, “We believe … in the Holy Ghost.” The 381 version says, “We believe … in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.”

(There are other fascinating differences, such as that the 325 version includes a long section, omitted in 381, attacking the Arian belief that there was a time when the Son was not.)

LA continues:

For background on the Trinity, here a nice discussion (it only mentions the filioque in passing, to criticize it).

A dogmatic pro-filioque view is in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Most of the article is impossibly dense, but I like this:

But conditions were different in Spain after the Goths had renounced Arianism and professed the Catholic faith in the Third Synod of Toledo, 589. It cannot be acertained who first added the Filioque to the Creed; but it appears to be certain that the Creed, with the addition of the Filioque, was first sung in the Spanish Church after the conversion of the Goths. In 796 the Patriarch of Aquileia justified and adopted the same addition at the Synod of Friaul, and in 809 the Council of Aachen appears to have approved of it.

Whether one supports the filioque or not, this is a wonderful story. The Visigoths, in the act of giving up the Arian heresy and becoming Catholics, added the filioque in order to underscore their new belief in the Son as consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father. (Or is this an example of an “immigrant group” trying too hard to belong, and so changing the culture they’re joining? :-) )

It should also be noted, as explained here, that the Councils of Toledo (of which there were 18 over a period of three centuries) were councils of the Visigothic church in Spain, not councils of the Church as a whole. “At the third Council of Toledo in 589, King Recared rejected his Arian faith and accepted Catholicism, an event that led to the unification of Visigothic Spain with Catholicism as the state religion.” Though the Visigothic church was joining the Catholic church at the Third Council, the decisions of the Counil, including the addition of the filioque, pertained only to the Visigothic church, not to the whole Christian church. (Note also how Spain and the Spanish church are thought of in racial/tribal terms, “Visigothic.”)

The Catholic Encyclopedia article continues:

The decrees of this last council were examined by Pope Leo III, who approved of the doctrine conveyed by the Filioque, but gave the advice to omit the expression in the Creed. The practice of adding the Filioque was retained in spite of the papal advice, and in the middle of the eleventh century it had gained a firm foothold in Rome itself. Scholars do not agree as to the exact time of its introduction into Rome, but most assign it to the reign of Benedict VIII (1014-15)….

It is true that these councils had forbidden to introduce another faith or another Creed, and had imposed the penalty of deposition on bishops and clerics, and of excommunication on monks and laymen for transgressing this law; but the councils had not forbidden to explain the same faith or to propose the same Creed in a clearer way

Looking at the text I’ve bolded, the idea that emerges is that the Western church had refrained from changing the formal Creed, while allowing clarifications in understanding of the Creed, and that the idea of the double procession of the Holy Spirit was such a clarification. And this understanding was present in the Western church for hundreds of years prior to the formal change in the Creed in Rome in the 11th century. Which (it seems to be implied) weakens the Eastern claim that the filioque was some sudden, arbitrary change..

The passage continues:

…Besides, the conciliar decrees affected individual transgressors, as is plain from the sanction added; they did not bind the Church as a body. Finally, the Councils of Lyons and Florence did not require the Greeks to insert the Filioque into the Creed, but only to accept the Catholic doctrine of the double Procession of the Holy Ghost.

The point seems to be that the Catholics were not seeking to impose their own way on the Eastern Christians, only to have tolerance for it, and that it was the Eastern church that turned the issue into a total split.

In any case, to this day, the Eastern Orthodox church condemns the Western Catholic church as being in a state of heresy over the filioque. The Catholic church does not hold the Orthodox church as being in a state of heresy.

Reader Gilbert B. sends this from
The Filioque

All secular historians are in agreement in saying that the great events which took place in Western Europe during the 11th century transformed the religious outlook, indeed the very nature and function of religion, in the West. The Roman Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, insists that: ‘Early medieval culture (of the West) and Byzantium (sic) were closely akin—the West from the early 12th century is different from all else’. A. N. Whitehead, the great historian of science, writes in his ‘Science and the Modem World’ that the development of the West is due to ‘the medieval insistence on the rationality of God’.

Non-Orthodox historians view the external consequences of the 11th century transformation of Christianity in the West but are incapable of explaining its spiritual origins. This is because they are themselves in thrall to post-11th century Western cultural reflexes. Orthodox Christian historians escape this conditioning and are therefore interested in the internal reasons and processes behind this religious, intellectual and social transformation, in the revolution in the theological understanding of the world at the tune. We believe that these external changes are due to spiritual decline, the loss of spiritual knowledge and understanding of God and the world, as so excellently summed up above by the Scholastic Abelard, who was writing in about 1120.

In fact the statements of secular historians can be explained by the new filioque theology, officially adopted in the West and actually defended for the first time on dogmatic grounds in the 11th century. This theology, concerning the nature of God the Holy Trinity, stands at the heart of all that separates the Western denominations from the Orthodox Church. The filioque represents a loss of spiritual understanding and experience, an isolation from the life of the Church and therefore Her mystical-dogmatic teachings. The filioque, by locking up the Holy Spirit, the ‘Comforter, the Spirit of Truth’, in a relationship between God the Father and God the Son, means that all human life and activity are distanced from the source of sanctification and spiritual vitality. Man, spiritually deprived, separated from God, is left to his autonomous reason to live his life. With the filioque, God and spiritual knowledge are pushed back from man and he falls backwards into a neo-pagan renaissance of Greco-Roman humanistic rationalism, a Judeo-Christianity into which Arius, Nestorius, Pelagius and countless others had fallen before. In the filioque, man’s direct spiritual relationship with God is cut off and the Holy Spirit, in the words of Aquinas, is reduced to the mutual love of God the Father and God the Son. The filioque error leads to despiritualisation.

Once it is accepted, man’s relationship with God is left to be conducted on intellectual, philosophico-scholastic, or emotional, psycho-pietistic, planes. The experiential understanding of God’s grace and the soul, as expressed in Church teaching, is abandoned. New teachings are formulated by human intellect and emotion, to which are given the name ‘humanism’. By affirming that the Holy Spirit was no longer in the world, the rationalists implied that Christ was no longer present in the world through the Holy Spirit. From this point it was only a short step to replace Christ by a ‘Vicar’, a substitute, the Pope of Rome.

Through the centuries of spiritual decline, but worldly greatness, in the West, the Divine Presence has gradually been eliminated from almost every sphere of human life. We have now arrived at the ultimate consequence of filioque theology: contemporary Western culture, made world-wide, in which a forgotten God has been shut up m a distant heaven amid preaching that ‘God is dead’. A godless and aimless mankind yearns for a ‘saviour’ who will approve of man-worshipping humanism, that same humanism which has led to World Wars, concentration camps, the Atomic Bomb and ecological catastrophe. The name of that ‘saviour’ whom man awaits is ‘Antichrist’.

LA replies:

Well, some conservatives have said that the moment when the West went wrong and from that moment everything went downhill was the Sixties. Some say it was the A-bomb. Some say it was World War II and the world-wide ascendancy of liberalism. Some say it was Communism. Some say it was women’s franchise. Some say it was World War I. Some say it was industrialism. Some say it was the Enlightenment. Some say it was the Reformation. Some say it was the Renaissance. Some say it was nominalism. Some say it was Rome’s adoption of Christianity as the state religion. Some say it was Christianity. Some say it was the adoption of money in the eighth century B.C.

But they’re all wrong. The moment when the West went wrong and from that moment everything went downhill was—the filioque!

Here’s the core of the argument:

“The filioque represents a loss of spiritual understanding and experience, an isolation from the life of the Church and therefore Her mystical-dogmatic teachings. The filioque, by locking up the Holy Spirit, the ‘Comforter, the Spirit of Truth’, in a relationship between God the Father and God the Son, means that all human life and activity are distanced from the source of sanctification and spiritual vitality. Man, spiritually deprived, separated from God, is left to his autonomous reason to live his life….We have now arrived at the ultimate consequence of filioque theology: contemporary Western culture, made world-wide, in which a forgotten God has been shut up m a distant heaven amid preaching that ‘God is dead’.”

Now, WHY all these drastic effects would result from saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son is not explained. It’s pure portentous assertion without argument, the Higher Mumbo Jumbo … Mumbo Jumbo will hoodoo you.

Joseph writes:

I am a long time, daily, and appreciative reader of your site. I have refrained to this day from posting. However, it seems with this topic you are entering territory foreign to your experience. I do not think a condescending remark as: “… the Higher Mumbo Jumbo … Mumbo Jumbo will hoodoo you.” will add to the solution or even only the clarification of a serious conflict dividing the Church for many centuries.

If you want to come to a closer understanding of the controversy, please widen your horizon and read some of the arguments from the Orthodox side. Bishop Kallistos Ware, “The Orthodox Way”, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, NY would be a good primer. It is an easily accessible book for an inquirer into this and other topics related to the Orthodox faith. Once you have a basic understanding of the Orthodox faith, then there are literally thousands of books that will help you delve deeper into the specifics.

I hope you appreciate that Western triumphalism is not a helpful way to approach this topic.

Just for clarification, I am an Orthodox Christian.

LA replies:

I am not taking a stand against the Orthodox side in this controversy, and I was not doing so in my response to that particular passage. I think the blog entry makes it clear that I am interested in all the arguments.

When I said “Mumbo Jumbo” I was not speaking of Orthodox Christianity. Rather I meant that that particular passage gave NO ARGUMENTS. It just kept declaring portentously over and over that the filioque represented the spiritual ruin of Western man. I would be most interested in hearing how the filioque resulted in the spiritual ruin of Western man. But that would require the use of arguments.

* * *

LA writes:

This webpage has a nice concise narrative history of the filioque. It then argues that the filioque is not biblically based, since the Gospel of John says that the Spirit “proceeds” from the father, but that the Spirit will be “sent” by the Son. The article says “proceeds” means eternally, and “sent” means temporally, two different concepts which it says are improperly conflated by Catholic supporters of the filioque. The article then proceeds to an in-depth criticism of the thought of Augustine, who originated the filioque. It gets way too philosophical for me at this point, and reminds me of Edward Gibbon’s dislike of Christianity because of its over-elaborated dogma leading to constant theological strife. To me, the Trinity ought to be kept simple, something like this.

The Father is above us, the source of all being. Christ, the Son, is with us and within us, our perfect guide, making manifest to us the nature of the Father, always in perfect love and communion with the Father, and showing us how we can be the same. The Holy Spirit operates through us and through life, helping us along the way, inspiriting us, energizing us, acting through the events of this world, often in a “miraculous” or “providential” way, to advance God’s purposes.

To me this is not weird or mysterious or impossible to understand, which is the way so many people speak of the Trinity. It is an articulation of actual Christian experience. Each of these aspects of God is true. Of course they are not just “aspects” of God, which is a theologically incorrect way of putting it, but three divine Persons.

Which leads me to the only part of the Trinity that has never made personal sense to me: I’ve never “gotten” the Holy Spirit as a person. The Father is a person. The Son is a person. But when it comes to the Spirit being a person, well, that’s something I have to accept on faith.

* * *

Joseph writes:

You write:

“I would be most interested in hearing how the filioque resulted in the spiritual ruin of Western man. But that would require the use of arguments.”

I agree with you that the post by is of many words and meager flesh. I only took exception to your way of stating that fact. This is a difficult and hazardous topic and we should all strive to be as careful as possible (without sliding into PC) how we go about the discussion.

To the stated idea that the filioque resulted in the spiritual ruin of Western man, I must confess that I believe this to be true and one of the origins of our present malaise.

Here are some short and very sketchy ideas on the relation between the insertion of the filioque into the Nicene Creed and the calamitous situation we are facing today in the West.

The addition of the filioque to the Nicene Creed redefined the persons of the Holy Trinity. Instead of the Father being the origin of the Godhead, there are now two origins, the Father and the Son. Thus the personality of the Father has been changed as well as that of the Son while the Spirit has become a “lesser God”; the “relationship” of love between the Father and the Son. That “relationship”, however is within the Godhead and not an actively, acting in the world, divine person. The double procession has re-defined the Trinity into a Duality. This act of changing the creed has in fact created a new ‘god’ in the Western mind.

The moral: If we dare to redefine the Most Holy Trinity according to our whim, then we will not hesitate to redefine and reorder the whole of creation and man foremost. And do we ever try to re-make mankind!

Isn’t what we are experiencing in the West today, the logical progression from our redefinition of God?

LA replies:

Thank you for this. This is a cogent argument and exactly what I said was needed.

However, how then do you reply to Augustine’s argument in favor of the double procession? How do you call the filioque a whim-driven addition to the Creed, when the originator of the idea is one of the most respected of the Church Fathers?

LA continues:

Also, I’m not sure where I read this, but one of the Catholic articles supporting the filioque says that the High Middle Ages and the rise of the West were made possible by the filioque! So the Easterners say the filioque was the source of Western spiritual ruin; the Westerners says the filioque was the source of Western spiritual greatness.

Vincent Chiarello writes (December 25):

I truly admire the Orthodox. They, more than most Christian communities, including the Church of Rome, have kept their traditions. Indeed, one current barrier to Catholic/Orthodox rapprochement has been the Orthodox claim that the Roman Church is too “Protestantized.” Because of its fidelity, Orthodoxy has avoided being whipsawed by the events of the late 20th century, and its influence is still notable in the countries where Orthodox Christians predominate. The Orthodox Churches have, to date, also mainly immunized themselves against the PC that permeates most other religious bodies today.

Many of the submissions to VFR’s filioque thread seem to miss the fact that most religious history, including the religious wars of the 16th century, arose from political as well as religious considerations. For well over a century, but more intensely over the past 40 years, in an attempt to reestablish ties to what was referred to as an “imperfect communion,” the Roman Church has, under the initiatives of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, taken the lead in seeking a reconciliation with its Eastern Orthodox brethren, with little to show for their efforts. There is even a special Mass intended for “the healing of Schism.” Is it, then, mainly the question of the filioque that is the stumbling block? I doubt it, for what must be kept in mind is that the Orthodox do not speak as one Church, but 16 autocephalous (a term, incidentally, unknown in the ancient Church) bodies. In short, reconciliation with Orthodoxy has become increasingly difficult because of its national, not universal, nature.

In addition to the filioque, another bone of contention was the Latin interpretation of “penitence.” which would lead to questions of the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. Finally, one cannot exclude the growth of papal claims, strongly resisted in the East, as a major ingredient of turmoil, but it is the filioque that needs examining.

The filioque crisis emerged when the Eastern Patriarchs were invited to Constantinople to discuss what Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the midst of internal political turmoil, considered “encroachments, (i.e., proselytizing) by the Roman Church, especially by Frankish prelates. At their gathering, Photius decried the innovations, especially the addition of the filioque to the Creed, which had been introduced in Bulgaria. True, in the first ecumenical Councils, the Creed does NOT say that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son; however, neither does it say that the Spirit proceeded eternally from the Father alone. Further, aside from the Eastern Patriarchs’ rejection of Augustine’s explanation that the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Son as well as the Father, did not the New Testament insist that the Son has “all things” from the Father, including bringing the Spirit into being? Ironically, it was the Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, who claimed that the filioque helped preserve the kergyma of the New Testament [the content of the Gospels’ proclamation about Jesus], in that there is no access to the Father, and no life in the Spirit, save through Jesus Christ.

The filioque issue has poisoned relations between the Eastern and Western Churches for centuries. More than a century ago, Pope Leo XIII’s appeal for reunion was summarily rejected by the Patriarch of Constantinople, who stated that Rome must first show her full doctrinal accord with the East up to the time of Photius. But other divisive issues may be more important than the filioque. For example, while I served at the U.S. Embassy to The Holy See, another formidable problem in the re-establishing of the Vatican’s ties to the Russian Orthodox Church was, resolving the claims for the property that had been confiscated by the Soviets and given to the Russian Orthodox Church, with no compensation to its former owners. To my knowledge, that situation continues.

Unless or until the political and economic questions that surround Orthodox/Catholic relations are resolved, little will be achieved despite the best intentions on both sides. At this juncture, discussion of the legitimacy of the addition to the filioque will have as much impact as the answer to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

LA replies:

Mr. Chiarello begins and ends by saying that political and economic issues are more important in dividing the Catholic and Orthodox church than the filioque and other doctrinal issues. But in his account the filioque and other doctrinal issues seem at least as important as the political issues that he mentions.

Mr. Chiarello replies:

Just to make the point: IMO, the filioque question will not be resolved until the political/economic questions are.

At its source, I believe that the filioque question is, ultimately, a smokescreen. It hides what is not to be seen or understood: that the Orthodox, for whatever reason, do not truly want a reconciliation with the Roman Church, for their Faith, if only because of the numbers, would be obliterated in the process.

Joseph writes:

Mr. Chiarello writes: “Unless or until the political and economic questions that surround Orthodox/Catholic relations are resolved, little will be achieved despite the best intentions on both sides. At this juncture, discussion of the legitimacy of the addition to the filioque will have as much impact as the answer to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.”

I see that Mr. Chiarello has read about the issue and had some exposure to the officials of the Orthodox Church. However, with the above statement, he also demonstrates that he has little or no understanding of the Orthodox people, who are the keepers of the faith.

He says: “In short, reconciliation with Orthodoxy has become increasingly difficult because of its national, not universal, nature”.

Well, yes, since Orthodoxy is not Rome. It is not a jurisdictional unity, but a unity in faith. Autocephalous is the term for a self-ruling local Orthodox Church. This term is a purely jurisdictional attribute and not related to the truth of faith or dogma. In this context it is projecting Roman ideas about church structure on to the Orthodox Church.

“For well over a century, but more intensely over the past 40 years, in an attempt to reestablish ties to what was referred to as an ‘imperfect communion,’ the Roman Church has, under the initiatives of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, taken the lead in seeking a reconciliation with its Eastern Orthodox brethren, with little to show for their efforts.”

Because the Orthodox Church is not an “imperfect communion” and, as an Orthodox Christian, I find this a rather offensive statement. It demonstrates how little Rome has learned in a thousand years about the Orthodox faithful and their reaction to a statement like this (the Council of Florence comes to mind). However, there is a rather simple way for Rome to come back into communion with the Orthodox Church, as have the Patriarchs already spelled out, by having the Pope make an orthodox confession. That would result in, as Mr. Chiarello correctly mentioned, that Rome will come into full doctrinal accord with the other four Patriarchs. This confession would not only include an orthodox statement on the filioque, but also an orthodox revision of the Augustinian ideas about the original sin (and following out of that, the ideas of purgatory, the immaculate conception and other novelties introduced to the faith by Rome).

However, despite Mr. Chiarello’s contention that “real estate” is the major stumbling block in the reunification of East and West, it is the assertion of universal papal jurisdiction and most of all the dogma of papal infallibility. This dogma can never be accepted by the Orthodox Church (and I believe, by most Protestants).

Mr. Chiarello’s writing about the Spirit not proceeding eternally from the Father alone, is sophistry and beside the point. The point of course is that the Council of the Whole Church has spoken and declared the creed as the only truly orthodox creed.

Since Mr. Chiarello admires Orthodoxy for its steadfastness, he must also accept the fact that the Orthodox Church will not change one iota of the faith, even at the Pope’s beckoning (or despite of it). We can have unity of the Churches only once we have unity in the faith. To reiterate the importance of the filioque question, here is the exclamation of the faithful after they recite the Nicene Creed at Vespers on the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy (commemorating the reinstatement of icons in 843):

“This is the faith of the apostles! This is the faith of the fathers! This is the Orthodox faith! This faith has established the universe!”

LA replies:

Joseph is a tough customer! In him we can see that the conviction and spirit that drove the Orthodox Church to split with the Catholic Church a millenium ago over the filioque is as strong as ever.

Vincent Chiarello replies (December 29, 2007):

It was my self-assigned task, and the purpose of my recent commentary, to examine whether the question of the filioque was, or has ever been, the most serious obstacle to an Orthodox/Catholic rapprochement. I do not believe that the central elements surrounding the filioque controversy seriously jeopardized the ecumenism sought, primarily by the Roman Church (also undertaken with the Church of England, which, thank God, appears to be a dead issue), because that effort at establishing the union of these two Churches was a chimera, and doomed long before it began, once again in earnest, after Vatican II. In reaching my conclusions, whether or not I demonstrated, “little or no understanding of the Orthodox people,” or am “guilty of projecting Roman ideas about the structure of the Orthodox Church,” I cannot say, but I do take religious beliefs seriously, including, I politely insist, those of others.

In my brief, I never introduced, because of limited space, other issues that, along with the filioque, helped sunder relations between the Churches in the East & West. I could easily have included the issue of “azymes,” the form of the communion wafer to be used, or the political changes in Byzantium which arose from an expansionist Islam. As the Mediterranean became “a Muslim lake,” most, if not all, on-going contact between East & West was severed, thereby hampering, if not excluding, any communication, including religious questions.

To insist, then, that the filioque and only the filioque and its theological ramifications is preventing the unity so sought after since 1965, is misguided. A more serious problem is that St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, in his Summa Theologica, makes the issuance of any new creed the authority of only the Supreme Pontiff. Along with most Orthodox believers, I doubt that the current pope will relinquish a doctrinal belief of the Magisterium, the supreme teaching authority of the Church.

The tradition of papal authority is an integral and essential part of the Catholic Church. Peter was “the rock” upon which Christ chose to build His Church. As early as the second century, Ignatius of Antioch claimed that the Church of Rome “presides in charity” amongst the churches, a descriptor widely used in the Patristic period. For more than a millennium, and with increasing authority, Rome’s priority depended, fundamentally, on her apostolic and Petrine character, or as it was read at the Councils, “the Roman Church has always had the primacy.” It is this issue, not the filioque, not the azymes, that is the stumbling block that does not permit Catholic/Orthodox unity, despite the best of good will, with or without my “projection of Roman ideas,” and with or without my ignorance of the Orthodox faith.

Still, despite that apparently insuperable obstacle, Catholic progressive theologians at the Second Vatican Council attempted to overcome the Eastern Schism question by offering to “extract the positive teaching of those medieval and modern Councils … with complementary supplementation from the Eastern tradition…” They also claimed that unity would enhance papal ability to offset the often baleful effects of modernism, which was, understandably, a non-starter for the Orthodox. It is my contention that a Catholic/Orthodox reunion remains a very distant hope—a hope that nevertheless remains is an integral part of all of Christianity.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 20, 2007 02:19 PM | Send

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