Single or Double Procession?

I must quickly add this is not a new liturgical innovation at Christ Church St Laurence, but a consideration of the theology of the procession of the Holy Spirit be it ‘from the father’ as witnessed by the Church at three ecumenical councils or ‘from the Father and the Son’ as contended by Augustine, the western Church since the start of the second millennia, and as affirmed in article 5 of the 39 Articles.

In essence the issue is best illustrated in the eastern and western variations on the creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The words ‘and the Son’ in latin filioque were not in the original Nicene Creed affirmed by three ecumenical councils, but added at more regional councils from the Council of Toledo in 589 spreading in Europe and first used in Rome (without any council to approve it) for the coronation of Henry II as Holy Roman Emperor in 1014. The Eastern Churches do not include the phrase and most western churches do include it. The the Thirty Nine Articles we find.


There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. (article 1)

The Son

The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men. (article 2)

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.  (article 5)


The Son, spoken of as coming from the Father, and in terms of the Nicene Creed the words are ‘eternally begotten of the Father’. The term begotten is from Old English and Middle English and is no longer common speak. In normal usage used to describe the generation of children, most especially of a father. (Mothers were delivered of child, or gave birth, whereas father’s begat. Linguistically we no longer differentiate gender specifically like this any more, mothers and fathers ‘have’ children). The point being that this speaks of a family closeness, mutuality and connectedness. The relationship of Father and Son is eternal, that is the Son always existed, and didn’t suddenly come into being at Bethlehem. That which was eternally true revealed in Jesus.


The Spirit, spoken of as proceeding. In the first place this is to clearly distinguish that from the Son who is begotten. On the one hand the Father and the Son may seem something of anthropomorphic verbal images of God. That does not suggest in any sense that they are persons in the way that you and I are persons. The Spirit in that sense is the least anthropomorphic verbal image of God. The sense of procession, emanating from, finding its origin in God. The Holy Spirit is of God and is God, distinct from the Father and the Son and yet one with them. Each of them is God, and together they are God.

The Business of the Oecumenical Councils

By far and away the most critical business of the Oecumenical was to determine what was ‘right belief’ to give to God the ‘right glory’, to be what they came to understand as orthodox. For much of this work there was a sense of via negativa. By determining what constituted heresy they were able to eliminate it from the core of orthodoxy. The Nicene Creed established at  the Council of Nicaea 325 and somewhat expanded up at the Council of Constantinople 382 with some additions. This creed was ratified at the Council of Chalcedon 451. The Nicene Creed in this form asserts that the Spirit proceeds from the Father.


  1. Arianism. Arius was a priest from Alexandria. He put forward a non-trinitarian teach in which the Son was subordinate to the Father, and he rejected Origen’s teaching in relation to the Logos (word – understood by Christians as the Son). He argued that the word had a beginning and therefore was not eternal and so subordinate to the Father.  This teaching was entirely rejected by both the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople. Many reflect that is this one of the most durable of heresy’s and is still alive and well today.
  2. Apollinarianism. Apollinarius was a Bishop in Laodicea (Syria). He put forward a teaching that Jesus had a human body and a divine mind. In his argument with Arius he declared that the Son was Consubstantial with the Father. Whilst this passes into Orthodoxy, the sense of dividing Christ into components was deemed heresy.
  3. Adoptionism. This heresy has appeared several times, and essentially argues that Jesus was conceived/born a man and at some point adopted Divinity through the operation of the Holy Spirit, often cited moments of this are the quickening in Mary’s womb on the visit to Elizabeth, or the Descent of the Spirit at his Baptism by John. This has been deemed heresy as it subordinates The Son to the Holy Spirit, and ignores the eternal generation of the Son.
  4. Docetism. The argument of Docetism was that Jesus was entirely Divine and his physical appearance as a man was essentially an illusion. This of course was deemed heresy because it makes a fiction of the incarnation, and make the cross and resurrection only an illusion, and therefore any sense of redemption and atonement is lost.
  5. Macedonianism. Macedonius accepted the divinity of Jesus, but denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. They argued that the Spirit was the creation of the Father and the Son, but not divine.
  6. Melchisedechians. They argued that Melchizedek was another incarnation of the Divine Logos – and argued that the divine Logos was indeed the Holy Spirit.
  7. Monarchianism. Monarchism was the over emphasis of the Indivisibility and Sovereignty of the Father at the expense of the Son and the Spirit.
  8. Monophysitism. Monophysitism represented a belief that Christ’s divinity subsumed his humanity
  9. Monothelitism. Monothelitism is a little later, and argued that Christ had two natures but only one will.
  10. Nestorianism. Nestorius taught that Jesus Christ was a separate human united to, but not identical, to the divine Son of God.
  11. Patripassianism. The was the belief that the Son and the Father were so united as not to be two persons, so that the Father was crucified.
  12. Psilanthropism. Belief that Jesus was a man, not divine, with no existence before his birth
  13. Sabellianism. Sabellius taught the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three characterizations of one God. They were not three distinct “persons” in one God. This is sometimes also called modalism – suggesting that the one God simply appears or acts in different ways.

So what was left?

Effectively what was left was the Nicene Creed as modified at Constantinople. Whilst the first version of the creed was very solid in terms of the trinitarian position, taking solid aim at Arius, amongst others, the revision at Constantinople firmed up the Christology in the face of Apollinarianism.

Back to the Procession of the Holy Spirit.

Well the Nicene Creed (original) tells us that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. In this sense in neither confirms nor denies the proceeding of the Spirit from the Son, it simply affirms the proceeding of the Spirit from the Father. This indeed is a primary component of orthodoxy, and affirmed by the Church in the East and in The West. The importance of the notion of procession has to do with the importance of the unity and the diversity of the Trinity.


Augustine of Hippo developed the doctrine of the double procession. He taught that the Holy Spirit is the bond of love existing between the Father and the Son.” In On the Trinity (400-416) he wrote:

[With the Father and the Son] the Holy Spirit, too, exists in this same unit of substance and equality. For whether He be the unity of the Father and the Son, or Their holiness, or Their love, or Their unity because He is Their love, or Their love because He is Their holiness, it is clear that He is not one of the Two, 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).


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 begat 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).

Augustine’s assertion is not without merit, and undoubtedly was part of the theological debate of the time. The Alexandrian Church was perhaps misunderstood at the Council of Chalcedon, however it is clear that they struggled a bit with double procession. By and large double procession was a problem for them because of a perceived subordination of the Son. In fact double procession only makes theological sense if the Father and the Son are one in essence. Of course it remains possible to adopt a theory of an internally egalitarian trinity without adopting either Arianism or Double Procession. Perhaps part of the shortfall of the Augustinian proposition is the suggestion of how to read some passages of Scripture where the Son does not appear present or the Spirit would seem to have proceeded from the Father – such as in the Baptism of Jesus.


Thomas Aquinas, in the next millennia was also an ardent proponent of the Double Procession argument.

We ought not to say about God anything which is not found in Holy Scripture either explicitly or implicitly. But although we do not find it verbally expressed in Holy Scripture that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, still we do find it in the sense of Scripture, especially where the Son says, speaking of the Holy Spirit, He will glorify Me, because He shall receive of Mine (John 16:14). It is also a rule of Holy Scripture that whatever is said of the Father, applies to the Son, although there be added an exclusive term; except only as regards what belongs to the oppose relations, whereby the Father and the Son are distinguished from each other. For when the Lord says, No one knoweth the Son, but the Father, the idea of the Son knowing Himself is not excluded. So therefore when we say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, even though it be added that He proceeds from the Father alone, the Son would not thereby be at all excluded; because as regards being the principle of the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son are not opposed to each other, but only as regards the fact that one is the Father, and the other is the Son” (ST I, q. 36, a. 2, reply 1).

In some sense if we try to understand what Aquinas is saying here, there is an implication that there is a distinction in the way the Spirit proceeds from the Father as against the way the Spirit proceeds from the Son. The essence of that difference is found in the source of the Holy Spirit, eternal and incomprehensible, is the Father, to avoid any assertion that the Holy Spirit is the grandchild of the Father. There is no sense of subordination between the Son and the Spirit, or indeed the Father.

The Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father is not different to the Holy Spirit Proceeding from the Son. Aquinas argues effectively that the procession from the Father and the Son is correct, and that it is not correct to suggest that the procession is From the Father through the Son, as that would create a hierarchy inside the Trinity which denies consubstantial and co-eternal.

The 3rd Council of Toledo

The 3rd Council of Toledo 589, called by King Reccared, as a new convert from Arianism to a more orthodox Christianity. They were intent at the council to drive from the Church any sense of Arianism. Accordingly and in pursuit of that aim the filioque clause was inserted into the Nicene Creed. As a regional council the inference would be that they overstepped the mark in adding to or taking away from the Creed agreed by the whole Church, and especially so in light of the anathemas that were associated with adding to and taking from the creed..

The Council of Hartford

The practice of inserting the clause spread and in 680 the Council of Hartford (UK) added  it to the Nicene Creed as spoken in England. The purpose here was to defeat Monothelitism. Quite how it addresses that is another matter, and it may represent a falling into line with the conventional that was accepted by that stage in the Frankish Kingdom.


The clause was first inserted in the creed in Rome in 1014 for the Coronation of Henry II as the Holy Roman Emperor, as he was accustomed to the practice in Germany and for some reason preferred it.

Rome – Constantinople

One wonders if one really understands all this, without taking into account the relationship between the Eastern and the Western Church. In the first instance, James was the Apostle in Jerusalem, and as a largely Jewish expression at the time it was natural that the role of primacy fell to James. With the expansion of the Church, aided and assisted by the Pax Romana, and the acceptance of Peter as the Apostle of Rome those who followed gained a sense of primacy, based either upon it as the seat of Empire or as the Seat of Peter. Alexandria, Antioch and Ephesus  were also prominent due to the Apostolic foundations. As power in the empire moved from Rome to Constantinople, so the Patriarch of Constantinople grew in esteem even without the apostolic foundation. There was a sense of the conciliar about the Eastern Church, whilst the Bishop of Rome as Patriarch  of the West saw a sense of primacy, as the seat of Peter.

This drew to a head in 1054 when the Patriarch of Constantinople order the closure of the latin churches in Constantinople and the Pope excommunicated the East.

One of the big question that the Eastern Church asked was how could you change the creed agreed by the whole church. As a result theologians on both sides went to argue the case for single or double procession more fully, down clear east and west dividing lines.

Is it just a language Problem?

The best answer is probably perhaps, or perhaps not. The Eastern contemplation of the additional level suggests a concern about the implicit conditionality of the need of both the Father and the Son for the Spirit to proceed, has a sense or at least and opportunity that this might be thought of as a second level within the Trinity, which then flies in the face of everything that the Trinitarian debate has struggled to preserve.

For Augustine the principal of the eternal generation of the logos effectively resolves any sense of subjugation in the western mind, as the blossoming emanation of the two coequal partners must also of itself be of equal worth and value as uncreated. In a sense the eternal emanation of the spirit means that they are in unity of essence ‘neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance’.

Aquinas is in some sense more satisfying in the sense that it is the absolute unity of the Father and the Son that allows for the adoption of the filioque, for if the Father and the Son are absolutely one then to speak of processing for the one without processing from the other is to divide the substance, something he is not willing to do.

For the Eastern Church the predominant issue here is to ensure our grasp on Monotheism, ‘We believe in One God’ so the sense of the Fatherhood of God, as the source and origin of all that is remains critical and the sense of the being a requirement for a second source is against the sense of the Monarchical imprint of the divine.


The role of primacy in the Church in the midst of all of this is important. I remember as a young person thinking that in the days of the early church everything was perfect. I now wonder if I had read Acts chapter 15, and the council in Jerusalem. It is clear in this event that at that stage in the narrative of the Church that James as the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, was the first amongst equals. There was a sense of deference and primacy that belonged to Jerusalem. At that stage the Church was not much more than a branch of Judaism, and we were still discussing the importance of circumcision and related fairly Jewish question. Following the an uprising and the expulsion of the Christians from the synagogues, the Church quite naturally became more gentile, and coupled with that the seat of empire become more important. The association of Peter with the Roman Church, and as centre of the empire primacy moved towards Rome still in a generally more conciliar way. Over time that primacy started to inherit some of the genre of the might of empire and started to look a little more hierarchical. By the time of the 2nd Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople the city described as the New Rome and the was an expectation that primacy might also shift to Constantinople.

The relative merits of the primacy thought of as theirs by each was an underlying theme in midst of these debates. The double procession argument indeed can make some sense if your view of primacy is more hierarchical. The Eastern view of primacy was rather more conciliar and made more sense of a single procession of the Spirit as this precluded a hierarchical understanding of the Trinity.

In my view it is important to realise that the two great problems around the great schism are the filioque clause and the primacy of Rome. It was the refusal to bend on both side of the Ionian Sea that ultimately led to the fracture. In a sense the filioque become the badge of Roman Primacy. Ultimately scholars went of writing theology to support the alternate propositions. In fairness though in some sense one wonders if Aquinas was not trying to find a more middle way.

Will we Solve it?

The debate I guess has waged for 1500 years and the schism for nearly 1000 years, and one would hope that we could, however it will require some bending, some flexibility, and some real longing for unity, prepared to pay some part of the price.

Biblical Perspectives

Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning when God was creating, the Spirit of God brooded over the waters. This image of the brooding – nearly feminine image of the life-giving nurturing of the waters set before and separate to the creative word spoken by God to call the universe into being. In light of what John tells is in the opening verses of the fourth gospel the creative word, logos, is eternal and implicit in the very existence of the universe. In this setting we are able to understand some of the creative force of the universe having a sense of the Trinity from before the beginning.

In terms of procession of the Spirit in this passage the inference is that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The spirit is not commanded by a ‘and God said’, the Spirit simply moved or brooded over the waters, even before the existence of light. Now I, for one, am not going to suggest that this passage is a documentary on creation, more of a theological reflection and commentary on creation as received of old and carried in oral tradition until the time the someone recorded the tradition in writing.

John 1:32

And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

The baptism of Jesus accounts present the Spirit of God as the divine imprimatur, this is the sign that confirms Jesus is the Son of God. Clearly if you favoured a double procession argument this passage offers much, yet realistically it suggests a discussion the Spirit Proceeding From the Father Through the Son, rather than from the Father And the Son.

John 15:26

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. (n.r.s.v.)

This is probably one of the key verses for the double procession community to rely on. None the less it remains a little nuanced. There is no question that the text, like the Nicene-Constantinople Creed declares that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The argument of double procession suggests that the Spirit comes from the Father at the behest of the Son, hence proceeding from the Father and the Son. The middle ground people who suggest it would better to say ‘from the Father through the Son’ just don’t seem have  read this text.

Those who argue for a singular procession will suggest that the text argues well for a councilor understanding of the Trinity, ‘neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance’. There sense is that the double procession is to see a hierarchy in the Trinity which clearly is an abuse of the unity of the Trinity. The passage affirms an understanding of unity of substance and differentiation of person very nicely.

John 14:15-16

 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. (n.r.s.v.)

This passage in John further underlines the notion of the Spirit proceeding from the Father. In this setting the Son intercedes to the Father from whom the Spirit proceeds.

John 16:7

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

It clearly suggests here that the Son has authority to send the Spirit. In this sense we may like to describe the Spirit as proceeding from the Father at the Command, or By the Authority of the Son. The sense in which that is difficult is that it leans towards some sense of hierarchical  understanding of the Trinity which does not make sense of Jesus express teaching that ‘The Lord our God is One’.

John 20:21-23

Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ (n.r.s.v.)

This passage is clearly seen as an argument for double procession, in that the disciples receive the Spirit of the Father from the Son. However in the context of John it is not unrealistic to see it in the same sense as the John 14:15-16 passage above.

Matthew 10:20

When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;  (n.r.s.v.)

This passage in Matthew makes no reference to any sense of double procession, it is simply ‘The Spirit of your Father’.

Romans 8:9-10

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  (n.r.s.v.)

In a real sense the passage is not about the relationships between the persons of the Trinity, and in the context seems more of a witness to the unity. Paul talks of being ‘in Christ” and of “Christ being in us”.  He equally speaks of being “In the Spirit” and the “Spirit be in us”. Clearly Paul had not read Augustine, or perhaps he would have been more careful and precise! Indeed I think we are aware that Paul was not writing a book of theology. He was writing to various Churches and we are looking to understand what he understood. Clearly as a Jew he stood by the notion that ‘The Lord our God is One’ and measured against that the experience of the Damascus Road, (his personal Black Swan Event). Unlike the other disciples Paul’s experience of Christ was not so bound in the physicality of Jesus. Clearly Paul uses the terms ‘Spirit of God’ and ‘Spirit of Christ’ equivalently here.

Galatians 4:6

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ (n.r.s.v.)

Again in the Pauline writings we find the Spirit proceeding from the Father and enabling us to join with Jesus in crying ‘Abba! Father!’.  If we read that keeping in mind the way Paul used the terms ‘Spirit of God’ and ‘Spirit of Christ’ in Romans 8. For this passage to sustain a double procession argument it would need to read ‘God has sent his Spirit through his Son’.

Philippians 1:19

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will result in my deliverance.

Here Paul rejoices in the prayers of the saints and the help of the Spirit which will lead to deliverance from trouble (jail).  The passage does not force an assumption of the Spirit proceeding from the Son, though neither does it negate it.

1 Peter 1:10-12

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated, when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!

Here in the General Epistle, of non-pauline authorship we find another reference to the Spirit of Christ. The argument here is that it was through the Spirit that the prophets of old foretold the coming messiah – the suffering servant – the Christ – and that it is the same Spirit who empowers the message that they now hear. The Holy Spirit has been sent from Heaven. At one level the sense of sent from heaven has the same authority as Sent from God, and in the monarchical sense that would indicate proceeding from the Father. In truth though, it does not rule out a double procession.

So Biblically

Firstly I think it is fair to say over all that the Biblical weight of procession from the Father is not in debate. It also seems, to me at least, it also seems clear that at times it is reasonable to conclude that at times the sense is that of from the Father alone, and at other times there is a sense of from the Father through the Son and at other times from the Father and the Son. Part of this is the difficulty we have in dealing with the complexity of the Trinity, because there is a sense in which the Father never acts alone – neither dividing the substance nor confounding the persons.

Fathers and Doctors of the Church

The Cappadocian and the Alexandrian Fathers essentially were unconcerned with double procession and to read it into the writings is to try to make them say things other than they intended.

Saint Basil (329-379 AD)

“Through the one Son (the Holy Spirit) is joined to the Father”, and also “natural goodness, inherent holiness, and royal dignity reaches from the Father through the only-begotten to the Spirit”. Some suggest Basil is capable of being read as advocating something like the Filioque, however this would be to overstate the case.

Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 AD)

Gregory distinguished the coming forth of the Spirit from the Father from that of the Son from the Father by saying that the latter is by generation, but that of the Spirit by procession, a matter on which there is no dispute between East and West, and solidly enshrined in the Nicene creed.

Gregory of Nyssa (330-395 AD)

The Son is directly from the First and the Spirit is through the one who is directly from the First with the result that the Only-begotten remains the Son and does not negate the Spirit’s being from the Father since the middle position of the Son both protects His distinction as Only-begotten and does not exclude the Spirit from His natural relation to the Father.

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 AD)

Much of Cyril’s writings speak of the Spirit’s ‘procession’ from both the Father and the Son”. In these passages he uses the Greek verbs προϊέναι (like the Latin procedere) and προχεῖσθαι (flow from), not the verb ἐκπορεύεσθαι, the verb that appears in the Greek text of the Nicene Creed. In this context it may be unfair to assume that St Cyril is promoting a sense of double procession, rather than perhaps a strong assertion as to the Unity of the Trinity.

Epiphanius of Salamis (310-403 AD)

He uses phrases like ‘from the Father and the Son’, ‘Out of the Father and the Son’ ‘from the Father out of the Son’, and as such lacks an exclusivity on usage as would allow one to clearly state his understanding in terms of the filioque. Western Christian delight to find him in support, and Eastern Christians find support for their position.

Regarding the Greek Fathers, whether Cappadocian or Alexandrian, there is, according to A. Edward Siecienski, no citable basis for the claim historically made by both sides, that they explicitly either supported or denied the later theologies concerning the procession of the Spirit from the Son. However, they did enunciate important principles later invoked in support of one theology or the other. These included the insistence on the unique hypostatic properties of each Divine Person, in particular the Father’s property of being, within the Trinity, the one cause, while they also recognized that the Persons, though distinct, cannot be separated, and that not only the sending of the Spirit to creatures but also the Spirit’s eternal flowing forth (προϊέναι) from the Father within the Trinity is “through the Son” (διὰ τοῦ Υἱοῦ).


The Greek fathers struggled for language to express the mysterious nature of the Son’s relationship to the Spirit. The Latin theologians, even during Cyril’s lifetime, had already found their answer, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The degree to which this teaching was compatible with, or contradictory to, the emerging Greek tradition remains, sixteen centuries later, a matter for debate.

Tertullian (160-220 AD)

Tertullian at the beginning of the third century, emphasized that Father, Son and Holy Spirit all share a single and divine substance, quality and power. He conceives of as flowing forth from the Father and being transmitted by the Son to the Spirit. Tertullian argued strongly against the Arians, and emphasizes the connectedness of the Son and the Spirit.

Jerome (347–420 AD)

Jerome may well have supported the filioque clause, however not as a loud voice. “He proceeds from the Father, and will receive of mine, so that He is reckoned as not being foreign to the Father nor to the Son, but is of their same substance, of the same Godhead; He is Spirit divine… of God, and He is God.” The Eastern Church would see this as a stretch to see Jerome as a supported of the filioque.

Ambrose (338-397 AD)

Around the time of the Council of Constantinople openly asserts that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”, without ever being separated from either. For Ambrose and others the Spirit’s mode of origin is not the object of special reflection. The Early Fathers are concerned to emphasize the equality of status of all three divine persons as God. All acknowledge that the Father alone is the source of God’s eternal being.” Notwithstanding that Ambrose clearly taught something very close to filioque.

Hilary of Poitiers (300-368 AD)

Hilary speaks of the Spirit as “coming forth from the Father” and being “sent by the Son”  and as being “from the Father through the Son” and as “having the Father and the Son as his source”. Hilary points to John 16.15 (where Jesus says: “All things that the Father has are mine; therefore I said that [the Spirit] shall take from what is mine and declare it to you”), and wonders aloud whether “to receive from the Son is the same thing as to proceed from the Father”.

Augustine (354–430 AD)

Augustine spoke of the Spirit as coming from the Father and the Son, and also used the expression “from the Father through the Son”.  I included the quote above, but perhaps by this stage of the article it makes more sense.

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 begat 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 force of the statement here is that whilst the Holy Spirit may proceed from the Son, principally the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. It is here that we see Augustine is keen to preserve the monarchical integrity of the Father. This also preserves the understanding of the Trinity from some sense of subordination within it. Augustine’s sense of double procession appears on the one hand to be safe. The Council of Chalcedon affirmed the Creed from Constantinople and did not feel impelled by Augustine’s argument to insert the filioque.

Gregory the Great (540-604 AD)

Gregory notes in Gospel Homily 26, that the Son is “sent” by the Father both in the sense of an eternal generation and a temporal Incarnation.

Thus, the Spirit is said to be “sent” by the Son from the Father both as to an eternal procession and a temporal mission. “The sending of the Spirit is that procession by which It proceeds from the Father and the Son. (Sed eius missio ipsa processio est qua procedit de Patre et Filio.)”

On the surface it would seem that Gregory did in fact hold a view of double procession, though clearly he professed a creed without the filioque. Even still we see the sense here that the Father is the source and origin of the Spirit. As such there is no infringement on the Monarchical imprint of the Father.

Yves Congar (1904-1995 AD)

The French Dominican theologian in reflecting on the Filioque and the division caused by the Great Schism Yves Congar commented that ‘The walls of separation do not reach as high as heaven.’ I have a feeling that is a very important perspective in the debate/

John Paul II (1920-2005 AD)

The Catholic Church acknowledges the conciliar, ecumenical, normative and irrevocable value, as expression of the one common faith of the Church and of all Christians, of the Symbol professed in Greek at Constantinople in 381 by the Second Ecumenical Council. No profession of faith peculiar to a particular liturgical tradition can contradict this expression of the faith taught and professed by the undivided Church.

In the 1995 Encyclical entitles The Greek and Latin Tradition Regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit – Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity – The Pope goes to some length to ensure that the Orthodox concern that The sense of the Father as the source and origin of all, from whence everything finds its being, and yet hold firm to the understanding that within that context the Filioque is proper and a correct understanding.

Anglican Perspectives

It is interesting to note that the early Prayer Books in the vulgar tongue included the filioque and indeed the Thirty Nine Articles affirm the double procession, the Athanasian Creed, and the 1661-2 Prayer Book which nurtured Anglicanism for 300 years simply took the western position. In a sense part of that may well be due to the notion that the partition of the Anglican Church from Rome was more concerned with temporal issues (such as the Royal Divorce and Economic Control of the region) that it was with theology. The continental reformers seem to have accepted the Filioque positively, and Calvin certainly argued for it.

The strength of the connection between Son and Spirit that is implied and underlined by the filioque allows a Reformed Church(es) to stand against an Institutional Church. The Reformers were aware of the Filioque Issue, and believed that the Orthodox Church was also in error, though they held that the linguistic issues meant that the Orthodox whilst in error did not level the same level of objection to them as they did to Rome.

There are contemporary arguments that the rejection of the filioque has led to stagnation in Orthodox thought, imperialism, totalitarianism and complicit alignment with temporal authorities. There is the suggestion that it has led to an unhealthy mysticism, which allows people to abandon responsibility. Against this the argument flows that the great force of contemporary development in thought, science and economics has been in those parts of the world which embrace the filioque clause. In all honesty I would conclude that is a massive over-stretch, smelling something like a prosperity gospel argument (God must love me because I am rich – ipso facto).

The Moscow Agreement 1976

  1. The Anglican members therefore agree that:
    (a) because the original form of the Creed referred to the origin of the Holy Spirit from the Father,
    (b) because the Filioque clause was introduced into this Creed without the authority of an Ecumenical Council and without due regard for Catholic consent, and
    (c) because this Creed constitutes the public confession of faith by the People of God in the Eucharist, the Filioque clause should not be included in this Creed.

There was a level of interest at the time and many Anglicans believe that good relationships with the Orthodox Churches were likely in some sense to be less problematic that relations with Rome which were seen as being likely to lose all Anglican identity. Following that the Lambeth Fathers in 1978 suggested that member Churches of the Communion should give due thought to dropping the filioque in impending revisions. This call was again made twenty years later at the Lambeth Conference of 1998.

The Cyprus Agreement 2006

46. We have sought to show that Anglicans and Orthodox are agreed about both the inadequacies of the filioque and the need to develop Christology and Pneumatology in the closest possible connection. To set aside the filioque is not to deny the mutual relation of the Son and the 38 Section II Spirit, in the eternal life of the Trinity as well as in the economy of salvation.

Again the Lambeth Fathers at the Lambeth Conference of 2008 urged member Churches to give serious consideration to dropping the filioque clause as they revised their liturgies. The Anglican Church in Canada, The Scottish Episcopal Church have produced liturgy without the filioque clause. The American Episcopal has agreed to drop it, and although it has taken some time they are now producing liturgy without the filioque. The Anglican Church of Australia and the Church of England have both produced liturgies since the calls of the Lambeth Fathers and have not yet dropped the clause.

One may conclude that together the Lambeth Fathers are quite strong on this, however within the realities of their own Churches the matter is more complex.

So …

  1. The Biblical record bears witness in totality to the Father as the ultimate source of everything, generated, created, proceeding, visible or invisible.
  2. The Biblical record also bears witness to the Son sending the Spirit, and also of his receiving the Spirit. In that sense it is true to speak of a double procession, with, and or through the Son, and always proceeding from the Father.
  3. The Fathers of the Early Church are consistent in their witness to the Spirit Proceeding from the Father, though the Latin Fathers are likely more vocal in the close association of the Son within the context of proceeding.
  4. Augustine’s argument for a double procession does not suggest that this is the only way the Spirit processes, nor in any way does such a procession deter from the Spirit always proceeding from the Father.
  5. Augustine has been over-played by some in the West, in some sense to emphasise the role of Jesus in our redemption. The mystery of our redemption is in every sense the work of the Triune God, and our redemption is in no ways complete without the operation of the Triune God, neither dividing the substance nor confounding the persons. In some sense this reflects the relative prominence given to the Passion and Death of Jesus in the Western Church and the significance of the Resurrection expressed in the Eastern Church.
  6. The filioque clause does not protect the creed from Arianism.  The words in the creed “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father” are the words which Arianism cannot survive.
  7. In realistic terms for most Western Christians the Filioque Clause is spoke in the Nicene Creed because it is there. Most opposition to removing it stems from a need to protect the inheritance once delivered to the Saints. One imagines they would have had the same trouble at the Council of Toledo or at the Council of Hartford. Indeed one imagines if they understood the story they will want to know why it was changed.
  8. St Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 Now we see in a mirror dimly, then we shall see face to face.

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