Scriptural Evidence for the Filioque

The controversy over the Filioque is one of the major points of contention between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. A basic description of the controversy, from Wikipedia, is as follows:

Filioque, Latin for “and (from) the Son”, is a phrase included in some forms of the Nicene Creed but not others, and which has been the subject of great controversy between Eastern and Western churches. The controversial phrase is shown here…

We 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.

Whether one includes that phrase, and exactly how the phrase is translated and understood, can have important implications for how one understands the central Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. To some, the phrase implies a serious underestimation of the Father’s role in the Trinity; to others, denial of what it expresses implies a serious underestimation of the role of the Son in the Trinity. Over time, the phrase became a symbol of conflict between East and West, although (see below) there have been attempts at resolving the conflict. Among the early attempts at harmonization are the works of Maximus the Confessor, who notably was sainted independently by both Eastern and Western churches.

The Filioque is included in the form of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed used in most Western Christian churches since at least the 6th century. It was accepted by the popes only in 1014, and is rejected by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches. It was not in the Greek text of this Creed, attributed to the Second Ecumenical Council (the First Council of Constantinople), which says that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father”, without additions of any kind, such as “and the Son” or “alone”:

Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, τὸ ζῳοποιόν, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον
(And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, from the Father proceeding).

The Latin text now in use in the Western Church speaks of the Holy Spirit as proceeding “from the Father and the Son”.

Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum, et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit
(And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and giver of life, who from the Father and the Son proceeds).

Differences over this doctrine and the question of papal primacy have been and remain primary causes of schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Western churches. The Filioque has been an ongoing source of conflict between the East and West, contributing, in part, to the East–West Schism of 1054 and proving to be an obstacle to attempts to reunify the two sides.1

Recently, I stumbled onto Nick’s Catholic Blog and an article entitled “The Filioque proved in Revelation 22:1.” Nick argues that Revelation 22:1 gives us a picture of the Trinity. Nick provides a good deal of argumentation, and I don’t want to rehash it all here. But I do want to lay out an overview of his argument and look a little bit closer at the Greek.

Revelation 22:1 “Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

A couple of significant points in this passage:

1. We know that “life-giving water” is a name that Jesus gives for the Holy Spirit.  This is recorded in John’s Gospel.  Tradition holds that the Apostle John is the author of both the Gospel and Revelation.

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water* will flow from within him.’” He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet,* because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39).

This passage also provides support for the credal claim that the Holy Spirit is the giver of life.

2. The river of life-giving water is flowing from the throne of God (the Father) and of the the Lamb (the Son).

3. In Greek, Revelation 22:1 reads: “Καὶ ἔδειξέν μοι καθαρὸν ποταμὸν ὕδατος ζωῆς λαμπρὸν ὡς κρύσταλλον ἐκπορευόμενον ἐκ τοῦ θρόνου τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἀρνίου” (Stephanus Textus Receptus 1550).

Note that the Creed, as accepted by the Orthodox Church uses the same word Revelation 22:1 uses for “flowing.” The Creed states, “Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, τὸ ζῳοποιόν,τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον.” The relevant word, here is “ἐκπορευόμενον” which is used with the genitive in the Creed and Revelation 22:1. It seems reasonable to translate Revelation 22:1 as saying that the life-giving river is proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

One might counter that Revelation is highly symbolic, and it is difficult to discern definitive theological teaching from the text. This is true. I don’t consider Revelation 22:1 a definitive proof for the Filioque. I accept the teaching because I believe in the authority of the Catholic Church. But I would point to this passage as good evidence in favor of it, and I am pleased to have discovered that evidence through Nick’s Catholic Blog!

Here is some more information, for those interested:

An overview of the controversy from a Catholic perspective can be found here. An Orthodox perspective can be found here. Also, here is a Catholic-Orthodox dialogue on the matter. And here is some hope that the issue may be resolved at some point in the future. That is my hope. St. Pope John Paul II said, “In this perspective an expression which I have frequently employed finds its deepest meaning: the Church must breathe with her two lungs! In the first millennium of the history of Christianity, this expression refers primarily to the relationship between Byzantium and Rome.”2 Indeed, I pray that there will be unity between East and West, and perhaps it will come when the Pope who only has one lung meets with the Patriarch of Constantinople in 2025 (see here).

1Filioque. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved July 5, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filioque
2John Paul, II. 1995. Ut Unum Sint. Retrived July 5, 2014, from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25051995_ut-unum-sint_en.html

Posted on July 5, 2014, in Nature of God. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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