Some Thoughts on the Filioque

Trinity

Yes, I’m going there! But I don’t want to add yet another argumentative voice to this debate. Instead I’d like to non-confrontationally bring up some factors on both sides of the issue that can lead to misunderstandings from the other side. For it is my position that on this topic, as in so many others, Latins and Greeks don’t ultimately disagree on the underlying substance of the doctrine which is held, just the different particular ways in which each side chooses to profess it.

From my experience, I think that in asserting the Holy Spirit’s procession from the Father and the Son, the Latin Church wishes to emphasize the Son’s divinity. For if the divine third Person is related to both the other Persons, it is harder to fall into the errors which deny or diminish the full divinity of the second Person. So, I think the Latin formula must be understood more as a reaction against the great Christological heresies and not so much as an innovation for its own sake. If it goes too far to the other extreme, one should see it as the result of excess zeal for correct Christology, not as a challenge to the monarchy of the Father.

And this is the concern of the Greeks – that the Latins undermine the doctrine that the first Person is the one origin or source (monarchos) of the Holy Trinity. Admittedly I think there is a grain of truth here in that, from my experience, the Latins do not seem to be as attentive to this doctrine of the Father’s monarchy. Being raised in the Latin Church, I do not think I even became aware of it until studying theology in college, and only grasped it when I came home to the East. Thus, I believe Latins should clarify that the true teaching of the Filioque is not claiming the Holy Spirit has His origin in both Father and Son in the same way. Perhaps we could agree a clearer expression of the phrase’s meaning would be to state that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father and through the Son.” In this way, the Latin emphasis on the relationships between all three Persons is honored, while preserving the Greek emphasis on the Father as the one source.

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