The term Filioque is a Latin phrase meaning “and from the Son”. It was added to the original Nicene Creed and indicates that the Holy Spirit originates from both the Father and the Son. It has been the subject of controversy between Eastern and Western Christianity as many Orthodox Churches reject the theology of the filioque. Whether the term is included can have important implications for how one understands the doctrine of the Trinity.
Orthodox Churches object to the filioque due to the belief that it denies the Father as the principle “source” of the life of the Godhead, thus contradicting the nature of the Trinity. Also, because they believe it contradicts Jesus Himself, who says in John 15:26 that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, but makes no mention of “the Father and the Son”.
The Catholic Church agrees with the Orthodox that the Father is the first origin of the divine life of the Trinity, but further clarifies that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from both Father and Son -from the Father in principle and through the Son in spiration. The addition of the filioque is simply a development of the Creed that in no way contradicts the earlier version of the Creed. For example, the original Apostle’s Creed did not have the section of the Nicene Creed that says the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, consubstantial with the Father.” This was added as a reaction to the Macedonian heresy that denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
The Fathers of the Church, especially Athanasius of Alexandria, Cyril of Alexandria and Epiphanius of Salamis, viewed Scriptural verses such as John 20:22 (“He breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit”) as grounds for saying that the Spirit “proceeds substantially from both” the Father and the Son. Other verses call the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of the Son”, or “the Spirit of Christ” (Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:9, Philippians 1:19) and the Gospel of John (14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7) refers to Jesus as sending the Holy Spirit.
Semantics plays a large role in the disagreement. The Eastern Churches used the Greek word ekporeusis to refer to the principle and “first” origin of the Holy Spirit. The Western Churches, however, used the Latin word procedit (“proceeds”), which can be translated as both ekporeusis and as proienai, a word used by Greek fathers to refer to the Son’s role, while maintaining the Father’s role as the “first” origin of the Holy Spirit. The Eastern concept of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father through the Son has been viewed as more closely resembling the Catholic understanding of the Trinity.
The Historical Development of the Doctrine:
Church Father Quotes:
Tertullian of Carthage
“I believe that the Spirit proceeds not otherwise than from the Father through the Son” (Against Praxeas 4:1 [A.D. 216]).
Origen of Alexandria
“We believe, however, that there are three persons: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and we believe none to be unbegotten except the Father. We admit, as more pious and true, that all things were produced through the Word, and that the Holy Spirit is the most excellent and the first in order of all that was produced by the Father through Christ” (Commentaries on John 2:6 [A.D. 229]).
Maximus the Confessor
“By nature the Holy Spirit in his being takes substantially his origin from the Father through the Son who is begotten (Questions to Thalassium 63 [A.D. 254]).
Gregory the Wonderworker
“[There is] one Holy Spirit, having substance from God, and who is manifested through the Son; image of the Son, perfect of the perfect; life, the cause of living; holy fountain; sanctity, the dispenser of sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father who is above all and in all, and God the Son who is through all. Perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty neither divided nor estranged” (Confession of Faith [A.D. 265]).
Hilary of Poitiers
“Concerning the Holy Spirit . . . it is not necessary to speak of him who must be acknowledged, who is from the Father and the Son, his sources” (The Trinity 2:29 [A.D. 357]).
“In the fact that before times eternal your [the Father’s] only-begotten [Son] was born of you, when we put an end to every ambiguity of words and difficulty of understanding, there remains only this: he was born. So too, even if I do not g.asp it in my understanding, I hold fast in my consciousness to the fact that your Holy Spirit is from you through him” (ibid., 12:56).
Didymus the Blind
“As we have understood discussions . . . about the incorporeal natures, so too it is now to be recognized that the Holy Spirit receives from the Son that which he was of his own nature. . . . So too the Son is said to receive from the Father the very things by which he subsists. For neither has the Son anything else except those things given him by the Father, nor has the Holy Spirit any other substance than that given him by the Son” (The Holy Spirit 37 [A.D. 362]).
Epiphanius of Salamis
“The Father always existed and the Son always existed, and the Spirit breathes from the Father and the Son” (The Man Well-Anchored 75 [A.D. 374]).
Basil The Great
“Through the Son, who is one, he [the Holy Spirit] is joined to the Father, one who is one, and by himself completes the Blessed Trinity” (The Holy Spirit 18:45 [A.D. 375]).
“[T]he goodness of [the divine] nature, the holiness of [that] nature, and the royal dignity reach from the Father through the only-begotten [Son] to the Holy Spirit. Since we confess the persons in this manner, there is no infringing upon the holy dogma of the monarchy” (ibid., 18:47).
Ambrose of Milan
“Just as the Father is the fount of life, so too, there are many who have stated that the Son is designated as the fount of life. It is said, for example that with you, Almighty God, your Son is the fount of life, that is, the fount of the Holy Spirit” (The Holy Spirit 1:15:152 [A.D. 381]).
“The Holy Spirit, when he proceeds from the Father and the Son, does not separate himself from the Father and does not separate himself from the Son” (ibid., 1:2:120).
Gregory of Nyssa
“[The] Father conveys the notion of unoriginate, unbegotten, and Father always; the only-begotten Son is understood along with the Father, coming from him but inseparably joined to him. Through the Son and with the Father, immediately and before any vague and unfounded concept interposes between them, the Holy Spirit is also perceived conjointly” (Against Eunomius 1 [A.D. 382]).
The Athanasian Creed
“[W]e venerate one God in the Trinity, and the Trinity in oneness. . . . The Father was not made nor created nor begotten by anyone. The Son is from the Father alone, not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son, not made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding” (Athanasian Creed [A.D. 400]).
Augustine of Hippo
“[I]t must be confessed that the Father and the Son are the principle of the Holy Spirit, not two principles, but just as the Father and the Son are one God . . . relative to the Holy Spirit, they are one principle” (The Trinity 5:14:15 [A.D. 408]).
“[The one] from whom principally the Holy Spirit proceeds is called God the Father. I have added the term ‘principally’ because the Holy Spirit is found to proceed also from the Son” (ibid., 15:17:29).
“Why, then, should we not believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son, when he is the Spirit also of the Son? For if the Holy Spirit did not proceed from him, when he showed himself to his disciples after his resurrection he would not have breathed upon them, saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ [John 20:22]. For what else did he signify by that breathing upon them except that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from him” (Homilies on John 99:8 [A.D. 416]).
Cyril of Alexandria
“Since the Holy Spirit when he is in us effects our being conformed to God, and he actually proceeds from the Father and Son, it is abundantly clear that he is of the divine essence, in it in essence and proceeding from it” (Treasury of the Holy Trinity, thesis 34 [A.D. 424]).
“[T]he Holy Spirit flows from the Father in the Son” (ibid.).
Council of Toledo
“We believe in one true God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, maker of the visible and the invisible. . . . The Spirit is also the Paraclete, who is himself neither the Father nor the Son, but proceeding from the Father and the Son. Therefore the Father is unbegotten, the Son is begotten, the Paraclete is not begotten but proceeding from the Father and the Son” (Council of Toledo [A.D. 447]).
Fulgence of Ruspe
“Hold most firmly and never doubt in the least that the only God the Son, who is one person of the Trinity, is the Son of the only God the Father; but the Holy Spirit himself also one person of the Trinity, is Spirit not of the Father only, but of Father and of Son together” (The Rule of Faith 53 [A.D. 524]).
“Hold most firmly and never doubt in the least that the same Holy Spirit who is Spirit of the Father and of the Son, proceeds from the Father and the Son” (ibid., 54).
John of Damascus
“Likewise we believe also in one Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life . . . in all things like to the Father and Son; proceeding from the Father and communicated through the Son” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 8 [A.D. 712]).
“And the Holy Spirit is the power of the Father revealing the hidden mysteries of his divinity, proceeding from the Father through the Son in a manner known to himself, but different from that of generation” (ibid., 12).
“I say that God is always Father since he has always his Word [the Son] coming from himself and, through his Word, the Spirit issuing from him” (Dialogue Against the Manicheans 5 [A.D. 728]).
Council of Nicaea II
“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, proceeding from the Father through the Son” (Profession of Faith [A.D. 787]).
Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware
“The filioque controversy which has separated us for so many centuries is more than a mere technicality, but it is not insoluble. Qualifying the firm position taken when I wrote [my book] The Orthodox Church twenty years ago, I now believe, after further study, that the problem is more in the area of semantics and different emphases than in any basic doctrinal differences” (Diakonia, quoted from Elias Zoghby’s A Voice from the Byzantine East, 43).