“…And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father. Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. Who spoke by the prophets.”
As we saw earlier in this series, the Creed was composed at two ecumenical councils. The first part of the Creed which we have been looking at up to now was written at the Council of Nicea in 325AD. The part we are looking at now was written at the Council of Constantinople in 381AD. We may remember that the Council of Nicea met because a priest named Arius was saying that Jesus Christ was not God, so this part of the Creed clearly states that Jesus is “true God of true God.” Later on, some people were denying that the Holy Spirit was God so this addition to the Creed was made.
As we know, the part of the Creed about Jesus Christ states that the Son is “begotten (born) of the Father.” While the Creed used the term “begotten” (to be born of) to describe Jesus Christ, the Creed says that the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from the Father.
What is the difference between “begotten” and “proceed”? In fact, no one knows. The Fathers of the Church affirm that there is a difference but add that there is now way of knowing what the difference is.
The version of the Creed given in this series of articles is, of course, the version we use in the Orthodox Church. If we look at the version used in the Western churches we see it stated that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”. In other words, the Western church has added “from the Son” to the original version of the Creed. This addition is known as the ‘filioque’ which means ‘and from the Son’ in Latin.
These few words are one of the major disagreements between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. One of the earliest mentions of the filioque is found in the writing of St. Augustine. It appears also in the writings of other Western Fathers. It was first added to the Creed in Spain in the 6th century. At first, the popes resisted this addition to the Creed, but more and more people in the West used this form of the Creed so finally in 1014 the Pope ruled that ‘filioque’ should be officially added to the Creed.
So in the Orthodox Church we use the original version of the Creed. We base this on Christ’s words:
“But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me.” (Jn 15:26)
The words were added to the Creed to strengthen the doctrine that Jesus Christ is really God. But the Creed does this already. Some Orthodox theologians say that the filioque is a major heresy (false teaching) which is at the root of many negative things in the Western Church. Others say that filioque can be understood in an Orthodox way.
But all Orthodox Fathers and theologians say that the Pope had no right to alter the text of the Creed written and accepted by a long list of ecumenical councils. So this issue relates to the disagreements about the role of the Pope. For Orthodox, the Pope (if he were Orthodox) would be the first among equals of the bishops of the church, without any special power of his own. For Roman Catholics, the Pope is the infallible primate of the church. This is a fundamental disagreement between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church and until this question is resolved there can be no unity between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.
It has to be admitted that the matter of the filioque is a highly technical theological issue. However, the Fathers of the Church stress its theological importance.
But one can easily see the question about the authority of the Pope. Is his power so great that he can alter the Creed on his own authority? In other words, does the Pope have absolute authority over the other bishops of the church? The Catholics say yes, the Orthodox say no. It’s unfortunate that this division exists, but perhaps with God’s help one day it will be resolved.