Did the Filioque Ruin the West?

You’re thinking: “How could a single word, added in the sixth century to the Nicene Creed of the fourth century, whose theological implications drove a wedge between the Eastern and Western Churches, have ruined the West?” That’s a good question. Let me explain.

This is the Nicene Creed, from Wikipedia:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,who proceeds from the Father ⟨and the Son⟩.Who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.

The filioque is bolded and bracketed. The Catholics accept its addition, the Orthodox don’t. The theological disagreement is on whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or from the Father only. Sounds pretty obscure, right? That was my first thought. Let’s look at the implications.

The theology of the filioque makes the Father and the Son equal as sources of divinity. Flattening the hierarchy implicit in the Trinity does away with the Monarchy of the Father: the family relationship becomes less patriarchal and more egalitarian. The Son, with his humanity, mercy, love and sacrifice, is no longer subordinate to the Father, while the Father – the God of the Old Testament, law and tradition – is no longer sovereign. Looks like the change would elevate egalitarianism, compassion, humanity and self-sacrifice while undermining hierarchy, rules, family and tradition. Sound familiar?

It’s now possible to focus on the divinity of the Son while disregarding the Father as the origin. Iterate through the Reformation, the further splintering of the Protestant sects, and secularization, and you can eventually drop the Father’s values altogether. The filioque did not instantly metastasize into modernity, but it sure looks like the first step.

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5 Responses to Did the Filioque Ruin the West?

  1. Dismal Farmer says:

    There is no hierarchy implicit in the Trinity. God is love. Father and Son love each other and Spirit proceeds in love from them. Each is fundamentally necessary to the triune God. None can exist without the other.

    God is not a hierarchy. God is God. With 3 necessary parts.

    I wish people would read a book or two before saying stupid things about a Christianity they clearly don’t understand. None of this is advanced theology. It’s all very accessible. A certain class of idiot thinks he can personally discover something new in 2000 plus years of theological study, without ever studying.

    • Contingent, Not Arbitrary says:

      I shouldn’t have presented my layman’s understanding of the theology as authoritative; sorry about that.

      My point was that the internal structure of the Trinity has implications, by lending itself to particular kinds of misinterpretation if not otherwise. Would my post serve as an example of such a misinterpretation?

    • Contingent, Not Arbitrary says:

      Another thought: I take it you disagree with the Orthodox doctrine of “the monarchy of the Father”?
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subordinationism#Orthodox_.28Eastern.29

      Comparing the Catholic and Orthodox views of the Trinity, the Orthodox position stood out to me as obviously correct. I don’t understand why this is so; I’ve taken is as a sign to join the Orthodox faith.

      I don’t see myself discovering much new here as such. I’m taking a side in an ancient unresolved debate and pointing out some implications only apparent with recent hindsight.
      Is there another mistake I am making?

  2. dab says:

    Your reaction is very charitable, and I find your original comment quite insightful, it had never occurred to me to look for the seeds of the Reformation in the 6th century, thank you for that.

    • Contingent, Not Arbitrary says:

      Thanks for the kind words. It’s good to hear that my thoughts are appreciated.

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