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.