A brief explanation for those who are not familiar with this ecumenical issue:
The Western church inserted the phrase and the Son (Latin: filioque) into the Nicene (or Niceno-Constantinopolitan) Creed as we know it today: 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.
To avoid confusion: The phrase who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified belongs to the original text as confirmed by the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381). But the words and the Son in the phrase who proceeds from the Father and the Son do not belong to the original text. The filioque came into use only in the Western world. Most scholars are convinced that it was meant to stress Christ’s divine nature against the so-called Arianism (whatever that exactly was apart from an often used swear word). Arianism was quite prominent in Spain in the middle of the first millennium.
The filioque became a major topic in the Frankish-Carolingian era. Beginning in the late 8th century Emperor Charlemagne and his successors – who were largely affected by the fight against Arianism – had the most influence in the Western church. In 809 Pope Leo III confirmed the filioque as a legitimate insertion into the Creed, but he refused Charlemagne’s request to prescribe the filioque for the Creed in general. This took some strength, since Frankish theologians even blamed the East for having removed the filioque from the Nicene Creed – a quite bizarre allegation which some Eastern theologians still today consider a typical sign of Western high-handedness. Some 200 years later Pope Benedict VIII officially introduced the filioque into the Creed in 1014. The Council of Florence (1439) declared the filioque a legitimate and reasonable (but not necessary) addition, a decision which was not adopted by the Eastern churches.
Since the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church has rediscovered the original and ecumenical version of the Nicene Creed. It is used in ecumenical services, it is even used by the popes themselves when they celebrate together with Eastern fellow Christians.
As the Western church caused all the trouble, it is our obligation to make an offer for a viable ecumenical solution. This is one of the cases where the Western church should offer as much as possible and expect as little as possible from the ecumenical partner. So here comes my offer.
At this point, I must mention that there are Eastern theologians who consider the filioque itself a heretical phrase. In this case there is not much we can do except have fundamental discussions on the Trinity. My hope is we can establish that the difference between the Creed with filioque and the Creed without is nothing but a terminological difference concerning the word proceed: In a certain sense the Spirit proceeds only from the Father, in a different sense it proceeds from the Father and the Son.
But what about those who refuse the filioque because they generally refuse unilateral variations of ecumenical decisions? This is a very serious opinion which reminds the Catholic Church of its obligation to do whatever possible to eliminate ecumenical barriers.
In my eyes the Catholic Church should do the following:
- We should restore the Nicene Creed without filioque as our regular Creed in liturgy, catechisms, schoolbooks, lectures, etc.
- New musical versions of the Creed with filioque should no longer be approved for liturgical use.
- With regard to a millennial tradition, older musical compositions containing the filioque (from Gregorian Chant to contemporary composers) should be permitted to remain in use, but they should not be entitled Nicene Creed without any further clarification.
- In order to explain this continuous tradition, the words and the Son could be added e.g. in hymnals to the Nicene Creed as a footnote with a short explanation. In chant books with older compositions (such as the Graduale for Gregorian Chant) the filioque should be printed in italics with an explanatory footnote as well.
- All we should ask from the Eastern churches is that they accept the filioque as a true expression of Christian faith (legitimate in the sense of theology of the Trinity). At the same time the Catholic Church should declare that the way that the filioque was introduced was irregular (in the sense of an ecumenical ecclesiology) and must not be regarded as a model for the papacy of the future.