What if Germany had won the war? What if we hadn’t dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima? What if…? Historical fiction loves to explore what would have happened had only a single event turned out differently. In the following article, Greg Uttinger explains why the difference between free and despotic societies may well be summed up in a single word—filioque.

In 1984 ABC correspondent George Bailey wrote Armageddon in Prime Time, an analysis of the ongoing conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. Though he was writing for a secular audience, he spent a couple of paragraphs tracing that conflict to an ancient and—for most moderns—obscure theological controversy over the nature of the Holy Spirit.1George Bailey, Armageddon in Prime Time (New York: Avon Books, 1984), 37-38. Bailey (1919-2001) was an American linguist, liaison officer to the Red Army in Czechoslovakia and to the police in Berlin, CIA employee, Eastern European correspondent, biographer, editor of Kontinent magazine, and director of Radio Liberty from 1982 to 1985. He argued, or at least asserted, that the worldviews that underlay the mindset, structure, and culture of each of the two nations were rooted in what the Eastern and Western churches thought of the Holy Spirit—particularly, in what they thought of the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. This was a profound observation—and still is—since few Protestant theologians have ever paid any attention to the clause or the doctrine it represents. Fewer still have written on the cultural implications of the doctrine.

Gregory of Nazianzus who presided over part of the Council of Constantinople

To understand what the filioque is and where it came from, we must go back to the second ecumenical council, the one at Constantinople. The Council of Constantinople (381) addressed the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit. Rather than start from scratch, the bishops polished up the Nicene Creed and included a statement concerning the Holy Spirit:

We believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

This form is still in use in the Eastern Orthodox Church. But after two hundred years the Western churches began to make an addition. To the words, “who proceedeth from the Father,” they added “and the Son.” In Latin this is one word, filioque.

The filioque clause originated in Spain in the 6th Century. The Council of Toledo (589), in rejecting Arianism, issued twenty-three anathemas and inserted the filioque into the Latin text of the Nicene Creed. From Spain, use of the filioque passed into Gaul. Charlemagne asked Pope Leo III to sanction the filioque. Leo judged the doctrine orthodox, but objected to altering the ecumenical Creed. Even so, use of the filioque

Charlemagne—Coronation of an idealized king, depicted in the Sacramentary of Charles the Bald (c. 870)

continued to spread in the West and eventually won approval in Rome.

In the middle of the 11th Century, the filioque became a major point of contention between the East and West. The Eastern Church complained that the West had added the filioque illegally—that is, without an ecumenical council2Protestants have not worried much about this point. Whether the Filioque is biblical or not is logically a distinct issue.—and that the doctrine itself was fundamentally wrong and dangerous. This remains the position of the Eastern Church to this day. The Western Church confesses a double procession of the Holy Spirit, a procession from the Father and the Son.3Or double spiration. William G. T. Shedd, one of the few American theologians to write at length on this issue, provides this explanation:
Again, the Spirit, though spirated by the Father and the Son, yet proceeds not from the Father and Son as persons but from the Divine essence. His procession is from one, namely, the essence; while his spiration is by two, namely, two persons. The Father and the Son are not two essences, and therefore do not spirate the Spirit from two essences. Yet they are two persons, and as two persons having one numerical essence spirate from it the third form or mode of the essence—the Holy Spirit: their two personal acts of spiration concurring in one single procession of the Spirit. There are two spirations, because the Father and the Son are two persons; but there is only one resulting procession. –Dogmatic Theology, 2nd ed., vol. I (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980), 290.
The Eastern Church regards this as heresy.

The Testimony of the Fathers

The doctrine of the double procession was no novelty when the Council of Toledo used it in its attack on Arianism. For example, we have the testimony of these ancient writers, two of whom actually hailed from the East:4The quotations that follow have been collected by James Kiefer in Creeds, “The Filioque,” 5-7, originally available at <http://www.thefathershouse.org/creed/filioque.html>. This web site was sponsored by the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. At present the articles seems to be available at <www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/creed.filioque.txt>.

St. Epiphanius of Salamis (d. 403) wrote in his Ankyrotos:
The Father always existed and the Son always existed, and the Spirit breathes from the Father and the Son; and neither is the Son created nor is the Spirit created.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, the enemy of Nestorianism, wrote in his Thesaurus (c. 424):
Since the Holy Spirit when He is in us effects our being conformed to God, and He actually proceeds from Father and Son, it is abundantly clear that He is of the divine essence, in it in essence and proceeding from it.

St. Hilary of Potiers (356-359) in his De Trinitate said the Holy Spirit “is of the Father and the Son, His Sources.” And Pope St. Leo I (d. 461) said (Sermon 75:30):
The Son is the Only-begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, not as any creature, which also is of the Father and of the Son, but as living and having power with both, and eternally subsisting of that which is the Father and the Son.

The Council of Constantinople met from May to July 381 in the Church of Hagia Irene (modern day Istanbul, Turkey)

But it was St. Augustine of Hippo who did the most to develop the doctrine of the double procession. “St. Augustine taught that the Holy Spirit is the bond of love that exists between the Father and the Son.”5Ibid., 8. Keifer writes: “From all eternity, independently of any created being, God is the Lover, the Loved, and the Love itself. And the bond of unity and love that exists between the Father and the Son proceeds from the Father and the Son.” In On the Trinity (400-416) he wrote that it is clear that the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son “since it is by Him that the Two are joined, by Him that the Begotten is loved by the Begetter, and in turn loves Him who begot Him” (XI, 5:7). Later he adds:

And yet it is not without reason that in this Trinity only the Word of God is called Son, only the Gift of God the Holy Spirit, and only He of whom the Word is begotten and 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. But this too the Father gave the Son, not as if the Son did not already exist and have it, but because whatever the Father gives the Son, He gives by begetting. He so begot Him, then, that the Gift might proceed jointly from Him, and so that the Holy Spirit would be the Spirit of both (XV, 17:29).

The Biblical Issue

The central verse in this whole debate is John 15:26:

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.

The Council of Constant-inople lifted the phrase “proceedeth from the Father” directly from Scripture and placed it in the Creed. The Spirit’s precise relationship to the Son was not a pressing question at the time, and the Council didn’t speak to it one way or the other. Yet the Eastern Church argues from the silence of the text and of the Creed: since both say “from the Father” and no more, it is wrong, the East insists, to add more. This is not necessarily true, however. “From the Father” need not exclude “and from the Son” if there is other Scriptural evidence to support the clause.

We read in Matthew of one angel at the tomb on Easter Day, and this does not contradict Luke’s statement that there were two angels. . . . Similarly, it is clear that the saying of Jesus, that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, does not contradict the statement that the Spirit proceeds also from the Son.6Ibid., 2.

Though Scripture does not say explicitly that the Spirit proceeds from the Son, it does say this:

Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Com-forter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you (John 17:7).

Even more crucial, though, is Paul’s description of the Spirit in Galatians 4:6.

And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit (or Breath) of the Son. The word is Son, not Christ or Jesus: the reference is to the ontological Trinity, to something within the Godhead, and not to the Mediator’s sending the Spirit at Pent-ecost. The Son breathes the Spirit from eternity, and therefore He has breathed or sent Him in time.

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shew it unto you (John 16:13-15).
That which the Spirit has, He has “from the Son no less than from the Father,” Turretin writes.

…and as the Son is said to be from the Father because he does not speak of himself, but of the Father (from whom he receives all things), so the Spirit ought to be said to be and to proceed from the Son because he hears and speaks from him.7Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992) 309.

Turretin was simply summarizing the standard view of the Protestant Reformers.

Implications, Theological and Otherwise

Ideas have consequences. Ideas about God have profound consequences, especially given enough time. The Dutch theologians have often had a clearer understanding of this than, say, those in the Presbyterian tradition. For example, Herman Bavinck writes:

Epiphanius of Salamis (church father, ca. 310–20 – 403), fresco at Gracanica monastery, near Lipljan in Kosovo

The three persons [in the Eastern perspective] are not viewed as three relations within the one essence, the self-unfoldment of the Godhead, but the Father is viewed as the One who imparts his being to the Son and to the Spirit. As a result, the Son and the Spirit are so coördinated that both in the same manner have their “originating cause” in the Father. In both the Father reveals himself. The Son causes us to know God: the Spirit causes us to delight in him. The Son does not reveal the Father in and through the Spirit, neither does the Spirit lead us to the Father through the Son. The two are more or less independent of each other; each leads to the Father in his own peculiar way. Thus, orthodoxy and mysticism, mind and will, are placed in antithetic relation to one another. And this peculiar relation between orthodoxy and mysticism characterizes the religious attitude prevailing in the Eastern Church. Doctrine and life are separated: doctrine is for the mind only: it is a fit object of theological speculation. Next to it and apart from it there is another fountain of life, namely the mysticism of the Spirit. This fountain does not have knowledge as its source but has its own distinct origin and nourishes the heart. Thus a false relation is established between mind and heart: ideas and emotions are separated, and the link that should bind the two in ethical union is lacking.8Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 317.

Edwin Palmer summarizes Kuyper’s analysis:

Moreover, as Abraham Kuyper has incisively pointed out, a denial of the filioque leads to an unhealthy mysticism. It tends to isolate the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives from the work of Jesus. Redemption by Christ is put in the background, while the sanctifying work of the Spirit is brought to the fore. The emphasis is more and more on the work of the Spirit in our lives, which tends to lead to an independence from Christ, the church, and the Bible. Sanctification can loom larger than justification, the subjective communion with the Spirit larger than the objective church life, and illumination by the Spirit larger than the Word.9Palmer, 18.

If the Holy Spirit can come to us apart from the Person and work of the Son, we have in effect two different paths to God, one centered in nature, including human nature, and another in the gospel. The Western Church, particularly with the Refor-mation, has rejected this downplaying of the Son with its concomitant errors.

The filioque is vitally connected with the advance of the Western church towards a strong anthropology (in connection with the doctrine of sin and grace), while the Eastern stopped in a weak Pelagian and synergistic view, crude and undeveloped. The procession only de Patre per Filium would put the church at arm’s length, so to speak, from God; that is, beyond Christ, off at an extreme, or at one side of the kingdom of divine life, rather than in the centre and bosom of that kingdom, where all things are hers. The filioque put the church, which is the temple and organ of the Holy Ghost in the work of redemption, rather be-tween the Father and the Son, partaking of their own fellowship, according to the great intercessory prayer of Christ Himself. It places the church in the meeting point, or the living circuit of the interplay, of grace and nature, of the divine and the human; thus giving scope for a strong doctrine of both nature and grace, and to a strong doctrine also of the church itself.10Yeoman, quoted by Schaff in The History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner and Company: 1867), section 131 of Vol. III. The quotation is apparently missing from later editions.
If we reject the filioque, we lose the intimate fellowship that is the Trinity. For the Holy Spirit has no immediate relationship to the Son. The Father’s Breath has no destination, nor is that Breath ever returned to Him. The “inter-communion of the persons of the Trinity” is incomplete.11Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (N. p.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974), 226.

Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria from the Basil II manuscript, 985

Rather, in such theology, the Father becomes the solitary Source and Origin of the Godhead. His unitary authority flows downward in good imperial and bureaucratic fashion to and through the Son and Spirit. In an ontological sense He is alone and isolated, receiving back nothing, only originating. He has no equal, no Fellow. In such a theology, authority is more basic than communion, and the Father’s two revelations of Himself in the gospel and in nature, in Church and State, are without any direct connection. The Son sends the Spirit, not as His own, but only as a gift borrowed from the Father. Thus, the work of the Spirit in creation takes precedence over the gospel of Christ’s penal death for sinners, and the State, the Empire, becomes a clearer manifestation of God’s glory than the preached word. The Spirit’s work in creation supplants the message of the gospel; man’s natural ability supplants God’s prevenient grace.12Rousas J. Rushdoony, Foundations of Social Order, Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church (N. p.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1972),125. A naturalistic mysticism replaces covenantal and forensic theology, for God is at least as likely to manifest Himself through icons and incense as through the preached word.

In other words, the rejection of the Filioque opens the door to Pelagianism, man’s ability to save himself by his own efforts. It also leads to mysticism with its common fruits: cultural retreat and the glorification of the power State.

The Filioque, on the other hand, means that the work of the Father and the work of the Son coincide in the operation of the Holy Spirit. There is no competition or dichotomy between Grace and Nature. Grace is the redemption and restoration of God’s creation. The Church, as the temple of the Holy Ghost, lies at the very heart of this process and in the center of the covenant love that exists within the Triune God.

Summary and Conclusion

The mysticism, cultural stagnation, and imperialism typical of Eastern Orthodox nations are logical consequences of rejecting the filioque. Sovereign grace, political liberty, and true community are logical consequences of embracing it. True, it may take a thousand years for these implications to work themselves out in history, but sooner or later ideas do have consequences, both for the Church and the world.
When George Bailey set forth his premise—that Soviet and American cultures were rooted in two different reactions to the filioque—he didn’t appeal to systematic theologies or the exegesis of Scripture. He merely pointed out what he saw. And he was in a good position to see a great deal. Bailey pointed to “the mystagogical, or spiritual, turning inward of the Greek Orthodox faith,” which he connected with “the withdrawn spirituality of the Russian orthodox tradition.” This he contrasted with “the dynamic involvement in worldly affairs characteristic of Catholicism and, to an even greater extent, of Protestantism (the lay minister in a business suit).”13Bailey, 37-38. Bailey may have exaggerated cause and effect, but at least he saw something of the theological and creedal roots of the greatest political conflict of the 20th Century. Not many Western theologians were as astute.

Endnotes   [ + ]

1. George Bailey, Armageddon in Prime Time (New York: Avon Books, 1984), 37-38. Bailey (1919-2001) was an American linguist, liaison officer to the Red Army in Czechoslovakia and to the police in Berlin, CIA employee, Eastern European correspondent, biographer, editor of Kontinent magazine, and director of Radio Liberty from 1982 to 1985.
2. Protestants have not worried much about this point. Whether the Filioque is biblical or not is logically a distinct issue.
3. Or double spiration. William G. T. Shedd, one of the few American theologians to write at length on this issue, provides this explanation:
Again, the Spirit, though spirated by the Father and the Son, yet proceeds not from the Father and Son as persons but from the Divine essence. His procession is from one, namely, the essence; while his spiration is by two, namely, two persons. The Father and the Son are not two essences, and therefore do not spirate the Spirit from two essences. Yet they are two persons, and as two persons having one numerical essence spirate from it the third form or mode of the essence—the Holy Spirit: their two personal acts of spiration concurring in one single procession of the Spirit. There are two spirations, because the Father and the Son are two persons; but there is only one resulting procession. –Dogmatic Theology, 2nd ed., vol. I (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980), 290.
4. The quotations that follow have been collected by James Kiefer in Creeds, “The Filioque,” 5-7, originally available at <http://www.thefathershouse.org/creed/filioque.html>. This web site was sponsored by the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. At present the articles seems to be available at <www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/creed.filioque.txt>.
5. Ibid., 8. Keifer writes: “From all eternity, independently of any created being, God is the Lover, the Loved, and the Love itself. And the bond of unity and love that exists between the Father and the Son proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
6. Ibid., 2.
7. Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992) 309.
8. Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 317.
9. Palmer, 18.
10. Yeoman, quoted by Schaff in The History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner and Company: 1867), section 131 of Vol. III. The quotation is apparently missing from later editions.
11. Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (N. p.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974), 226.
12. Rousas J. Rushdoony, Foundations of Social Order, Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church (N. p.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1972),125.
13. Bailey, 37-38.