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Depending on your tradition, the Nicene Creed may or may not say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father:

(Greek) τὸ ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον - who from the Father proceeds
(Latin) qui ex Patre Filioque procedit - who from the Father and the Son proceeds

This has been a point of contention between the Orthodox and Western churches, the latter category including both Catholics and Protestants, for at least a thousand years, contributing to the Great Schism. I have read about the history of "filioque" but I have basically no idea what the theological difference is meant to be. I understand that there is some doubt about whether "ἐκπορευόμενον" means the same thing as "procedit", so both versions could be right (and apparently we all agree it would be wrong to insert "and the Son" into the Greek) but I don't see what either version of "proceeding" is meant to imply about the nature of the Trinity.

If the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or from the Father alone, what does that actually mean for our understanding of God?

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When I say "filioque" out loud, it comes out as "philly-OK". Somehow I don't think that's right... –  Richard Oct 7 '11 at 20:27
@Richard: youtube.com/watch?v=ikHM5-UzqGU, "filioque" at about 3:18 –  James T Oct 7 '11 at 21:02
Hehe. ;) Yeah, Wikipedia has a pronunciation guide that helped. That's pretty music, by the way. Nice link! –  Richard Oct 7 '11 at 21:18

1 Answer 1

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The filioque is meant as a theological explanation of the relationship between the Spirit and the Son. The Bible tells us that the Son is begotten from the Father, and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, but any curious Trinitarian is going to wonder what the Spirit-Son relationship is. And the West, as a rule, is much more interested in nailing down theological specifics than the East.

As far as theology following from it, the filioque has led some western theologians to suggest that the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son, a love so strong that it is an actual person, which is an interesting thought.

The Orthodox have some doctrinal objections to it, largely that it makes the Holy Spirit a subordinate or less important member of the Trinity:

The filioque distorts Orthodox Triadology by making the Spirit a subordinate member of the Trinity. Traditional Triadology consists in the notion that for any given trait, it must be either common to all Persons of the Trinity or unique to one of them. Thus, Fatherhood is unique to the Father, while begottenness is unique to the Son, and procession unique to the Spirit. Godhood, however, is common to all, as is eternality, uncreatedness, and so forth. Positing that something can be shared by two Persons (i.e., being the source of the Spirit's procession) but not the other is to elevate those two Persons at the expense of the other. Thus, the balance of unity and diversity is destroyed.

Historically, though, the contention has been at least as much about church authority as it has been about theology. The original creed (from the ecumenical councils at Nicea and Constantinople) did not include the filioque, and when the bishop of Rome unilaterally sanctioned its use, Eastern bishops saw that as something totally outside his authority to do.

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It's a side tangent (good answer otherwise), but "a love so strong that it is an actual person" is much more nonsensical than interesting. For example: "This inspiration is so strong that it is coffee." Huh? –  Rex Kerr Oct 8 '11 at 4:28
@gmoothart I have never seen such a clear argument against the filioque. Where did you get the quote? –  deps_stats Oct 24 '11 at 15:38
@deps_stats, it's from the "doctrinal objections" link in the previous sentence. –  gmoothart Oct 24 '11 at 16:57
@gmoothart I know that this is late in coming but it should be noted that the analogy of "Spirit is the love between them" is an Augustinian thought. It well predates the Synod in Toledo which introduced the Filioque. –  Ignatius Theophorus Apr 24 '13 at 1:16
Also, saying that the RCC believes that the procession from the Father is the same as the procession from the Son (as opposed to two separate actions with two very distinct characters) is an equivocation at best. –  Ignatius Theophorus Apr 24 '13 at 1:18

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