Catechesis Church History Scripture Theology

Filioque (“and from the Son”)

…and in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and Son together is worshiped and glorified…

Filioque is a Latin word meaning “and the Son” which was added to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed by the Church of Rome in the 11th century, one of the major factors leading to the Great Schism between East and West. This inclusion in the Creedal article regarding the Holy Spirit thus states that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

A strong defense for the Orthodox dogmatic teaching about the Holy Trinity follows from two saints: St. Photios the Great (9th c.) and St Theophylact of Bulgaria (11th c.).

St. Photios the Great (9th century)

  • The Son cannot serve as an intermediary between the Father and the Spirit because the Spirit is not a property of the Son.
  • If two principles, two sources, exist in the divinity, then the unity of the divinity would be destroyed.
  • If the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, His procession from the Father alone would of necessity be either perfect or imperfect.
    • If it is imperfect, then procession from two Persons would be much more contrived and less perfect than procession from one Person alone.
    • If it is not imperfect, then why would it be necessary for Him to proceed from the Son also?
  • If the Son participates in the quality of property of the Father’s own Person, then the Son and the Spirit lose their own personal distinctions.
    • Here one falls into semi-Sabellianism [modalism]. The proposition that in the divinity there exist two principles, one which is independent and the other which receives its origin from the first, destroys the very root of the Christian conceptions of God…
  • The filioque actually divides the hypostasis of the Father into two parts, or else the hypostasis of the Son becomes a part of the hypostasis of the Father.
  • By the filioque teaching, the Holy Spirit is two degrees or steps removed from the Father, and thus has a much lower rank than the Son.
  • If the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also, then of the three Divine Persons, the Holy Spirit alone has more than one origin or principle.
  • By teaching of the procession from the Son also, the Father and the Son end up being closer to each other than the Father and the Spirit, since the Son possesses not only the Father’s nature but also the property of His Person.
  • The procession of the Spirit from the Son is either the same as that from the Father, or else it is different, in which case there exists an opposition in the Holy Trinity.
  • A dual procession cannot be reconciled with the principle: that which is not common to all three Persons belongs exclusively to one of the Three Persons.
  • If the Spirit proceeds also from the Son, why then would something not proceed from the Spirit, so that thereby the balance between the Divine Persons would be maintained?
  • By the teaching that the Spirit proceeds from the Son also, the Father appears partial towards the Son.
  • The Father is either a greater source of the Spirit than the Son, or a lesser source.
    • If greater, the dignity of the Son is insulted;
    • if lesser that insults the dignity of the Father.
  • The Latins [Roman Catholics] make the Son greater than the Spirit, for they consider Him a principle, irreverently placing Him closer to the Father.
  • By introducing a dual principle into the Holy Trinity as they do, the Latins offend the Son, for by making Him a source of that which already has a source, they thus render Him unnecessary as a source.
  • They [Roman Catholics] also divide the Holy Spirit into two parts: one from the Father and one from the Son.
  • In the Holy Trinity, which is united in an indivisible unity, all three hypostases are inviolable…
  • If by the begetting of the Son, the power was thereby given to the Son that the Holy Spirit would proceed from Him, how, then would His Sonship itself not be destroyed when He, who Himself has a source, became a source of another who is equal to Him and is of the same nature as He?
  • According to the filioque teaching, it is impossible to see why the Holy Spirit could not be called a grandson!
  • If the Father is the source of the Son, who is the second source of the Spirit, then the Father is both the immediate and the mediated source of the Holy Spirit!
  • A dual source in the divinity inescapably concludes in a dual result; therefore, the Person of the Spirit must be dual.
  • Accordingly, the teaching of the filioque introduces into the divinity two principles, a dyarchy, which destroys the unity of the divinity, the monarchy of the Father.

-St. Photios. Encyclical Epistle to teh Eastern Patriarchs. On the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit. B#69, pp.51-52

St. Theophylact of Bulgaria (11th century)

…It is one thing ‘to proceed ‘and quite another ‘to be bestowed‘.

  • to proceed: expresses the property of the Spirit’s existence, for just as the Son exists by being begotten by the Father, so the Spirit exists by proceeding from the Father
  • to be bestowed: does not signify a property of existence, but rather indicates enrichment and distribution.

Illustration: A king brings riches from his own treasury to his son who receives these riches to have as his own and to distribute to those whom he found well-pleasing.

  • The king is the Father
  • The riches (to speak in imagery) are the Spirit…
  • The son of the king is the Father’s Son to whom the Spirit belongs and through whom it is bestowed.
  • You see that the Spirit, as we know, does not proceed from the Son, but is bestowed through the Son (see above for comparison)

[Also], when the Son breathed on the apostles and said “Receive the Holy Spirit” in John 20:22, He only bestows on them a gift of the Holy Spirit, that being the gift to forgive or retain sins as stated in verse 23…

“So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

John 20:21-23

Consequently, it follows that if He did bestow the Spirit at that time, the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost was either superfluous or, if not superfluous, [it was a descent] of another Spirit. What sort of Spirit was this, then, seeing that the Church obviously venerates only one Spirit as the Holy Spirit? Therefore if breathing upon His disciples [in John 20:22] the Lord bestowed the Holy Spirit Itself, and not just one gift of the Spirit (i.e. the gift to forgive or retain sins), it follows that what descended on the day of Pentecost was not the Holy Spirit.

…For us ‘there is but one God’ (1 Cor 8:6), and one Source of Those from Him, the Father.

  • He is the Father of the Son and the Origin of the Spirit – just as one sun is the source of the sunbeam and of light or warmth.
  • Both light and warmth are present in the sunbeam, just as the Spirit is present in the Son
  • The light belongs to the sunbeam, just as the Spirit belongs to the Son – yet both are from one source, the sun.

[Finally, the Holy Apostle and Theologian] John presents the Son to us as speaking of ‘the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father’ (Jn 15:26).

– St. Theophylact of Bulgaria. The Life of St. Clement of Ohrid. Chapter VIII, (quoted from The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox p 66)

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