prompted me with "Filioque. Go!", because clearly my darling wife wants to give me nice easy prompts that don't require much research or thought, or for that matter that don't cause me to play the priest-on-Trinity-Sunday game of "let's see how long I can talk for before accidentally committing heresy".Filioque
here is shorthand for the Eastern Schism, probably one of the sorriest episodes of foolishness and epic communication failure in church history, and an interesting multi-layered tale of theology, linguistics, and of course politics.
At the surface level it's often understood to have been a theological dispute about the nature of the Trinity (not that Christian history is exactly short of those), and specifically of the part of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan (or commonly Nicene, though the relevant bit was added by the First Council of Constantinople) Creed that in the modern English Catholic translation reads "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son
" (qui ex Patre Filioque procedit
). Only, that's not quite what the original said. The original was in Greek, and read "τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον": "who proceeds from the Father". Furthermore, the First Council of Ephesus had made it pretty clear what they felt about people fiddling around with the text: "But those who shall dare to compose a different faith, or to introduce or offer it to persons desiring to turn to the acknowledgment of the truth, whether from Heathenism or from Judaism, or from any heresy whatsoever, shall be deposed, if they be bishops or clergymen; bishops from the episcopate and clergymen from the clergy; and if they be laymen, they shall be anathematized." Nevertheless, the bit about "and the Son" was widespread in the West by the time of the schism.
So what made the Latins add this text in the first place? Well, it's not totally clear where it cropped up, perhaps originally from Ambrose of Milan, possibly via the Third Council of Toledo in the late sixth century, although it took until 1000 or so before it was being sung in Rome as part of the liturgy. Western Church Fathers such as Jerome and Augustine wrote about the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, alternatively "from the Father through the Son", and even some Eastern Fathers seemed at least equivocal on the topic.
But in some respects the fact that there was a big argument about it stems from an error in translation. The original Greek verb was "ἐκπορεύεσθαι", roughly "to take origin from", but there was a different and I think more common verb "προϊέναι" meaning "to proceed" which referred to the communication of divinity among the persons or hypostases of the Godhead and could involve proceeding through a mediator. In Latin, both were rather unfortunately translated by "procedere", going back at least to Jerome's Vulgate translation of the Bible. So it appears that at least some parts of the Latin-speaking Church thought that they were just clarifying matters rather than making any substantive change to Trinitarian theology: even aside from points about the Spirit being the Spirit of love poured out through the Son, they were busy arguing against Arianism at the time, and against that background it was important to point out that the Holy Spirit shares the same divine nature as the Son. On the other hand, the Greek-speaking Church heard this, translated it to "τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ ἐκπορευόμενον", and thought that the Westerners were trying to say that the Holy Spirit also originated
from the Son, and thus were denying the sole monarchy and creatorship of the Father.
Right. So far so just about comprehensible, and thus pretty much par for the course for Trinitarian disputes. Had they actually talked with each other properly in the same language then maybe some bishops would have been excommunicated but they'd probably have mostly managed to work it out. Unfortunately, there was also a huge pile of church politics going on based on divisions going back to at least the fourth century, and to some extent the ridiculously subtle theology was almost a side issue that served as a convenient excuse. The early church reckoned that the best way to establish doctrinal agreement was to gather as many bishops as possible together in an ecumenical council and argue until they agreed; some episcopal sees were more important than others due to their origins and political power (particularly the Pentarchy of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Rome), but to start with it was more a prerogative of honour than actual jurisdiction. But as the Western Roman Empire collapsed, the bishops of Rome took on more power and responsibility, and this tended to include seeing themselves as first in the whole Church as well, so the doctrine of papal primacy took shape, assisted by Islamic invasions which left the Patriarch of Constantinople as the obvious head of the Eastern Church rather than the previous more collegial situation. In the East, though, they were still absolutely clear that ecumenical councils were the most important source of inspired doctrinal authority, and had no truck whatsoever with the notion that a pronouncement by a mere Pope could overrule them.
Enter Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople. Not, as such, what you might call a fan of the papacy. He ordered the Latin churches in Constantinople to start using Greek rites instead, and when they refused he closed them and had one of his subordinates write a harsh letter to Pope Leo IX. Unfortunately, Leo had just been captured by the Normans so was probably not in the best of moods. Cardinal Humbert, his secretary, translated the letter, but apparently wasn't very good at Greek and made it sound even more offensive than it already was. Just as the Pope was about to reply, a courier arrived with a conciliatory letter from Constantinople; but in his letter Cerularius called the Pope "Brother" instead of "Father", and he signed it "Ecumenical Patriarch" which the Romans misunderstood as amounting to a competing claim of primacy, so it really didn't help much. It probably also didn't help that at some point Leo had sent Cerularius a letter assuring him that the Donation of Constantine
Next, Humbert decided that there would have to be some legates sent to the Patriarch and to the Emperor in Constantinople, and volunteered himself among them in what no doubt was a selfless act of some kind. They got there, were offended in some way by how they were received, and shoved the letter into Cerularius's hands rather than actually saying hello. The Patriarch was none too impressed and decided that the legates couldn't actually be legitimate, since he also knew that Leo was a prisoner. (In fact, Leo had died before the legates arrived, so their authority had probably expired regardless.) But the Emperor received them more kindly, and Humbert started firing screeds back and forward with local monks. Eventually Humbert lost what little patience he had to start with. A Concise History of the Catholic Church
says: "Humbert and his colleagues strode into the Church of Santa Sophia on Saturday, July 16, 1054, right before the chanting of the afternoon liturgy and laid on the altar a bull excommunicating Cerularius, Emperor Michael Constantine, and all their followers, and then departed, ceremonially shaking the dust off their feet." Even by the standards of mediaeval ecclesiastical politics that must have been a memorable day. Apparently Humbert had the sheer gall to accuse the Byzantines of omitting a clause from the Creed.
The Emperor had the bull publicly burned, calming a popular riot, while a synod excommunicated Humbert and the other legates. They were careful not to excommunicate the Pope, though, and although volleys of excommunications passed back and forward for some time there were still some friendly relations between the churches. But then there was the First Crusade, which Urban II intended as a response to Byzantine requests for aid, but which was in fact a complete disaster for Church unity, not least because the crusaders ended up installing a Latin Patriarch of Antioch. Tens of thousands of Latin residents of Constantinople were massacred by the Orthodox population in 1182. And then in 1204 the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople including the churches
and that was it for quite a few centuries.
It's only in the last century or so that any progress has been made on setting things right. Rome published The Greek and Latin Traditions Regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit
, which very carefully attempts to explain and resolve the differences. John Paul II and Benedict XVI both recited the Creed minus Filioque together with their counterpart Patriarchs of Constantinople. Bartholomew I celebrated part of the Eucharistic liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica in 2004. Rome has made it clear that the Filioque shouldn't be used in Greek, and encourages the Eastern Catholic Churches to omit it even in other languages. At least some parts of the Eastern Orthodox tradition see all this as useful steps forward, though there are still plenty of obstacles to overcome before full unity might be restored.
I hope that goes some way to explaining all of this! Sources mainly A Concise History of the Catholic Church
, Wikipedia (because this isn't actually an academic publication so I'm not hugely bothered about using it as informal reference material), and general knowledge whose exact provenance I forget just now. It is a fiendishly complicated period of history, and any errors or omissions are of course my own.
This post is part of my December days
series. Please prompt me!
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