In studying the Orthodox doctrines I have noticed that there is controversy about the nature of the Spirit and that the word 'filioque' is tossed around.

What I am wondering is, what is the underlying concept whereby Catholic and Protestant ideas about the Trinity conflict with Eastern Orthodox? What is the real issue that keeps Orthodox on their own with respect to the Spirit proceeding from the Father only and not from the Son?


4 Answers 4


I don't think I could improve upon the summary at the Orthodox Wiki:

Objections on doctrinal grounds

  • It is contrary to Scripture, particularly in John 15:26: "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me." Thus, Christ never describes the Holy Spirit as proceeding from himself, but only mentions the Spirit's procession in terms of the Father.
  • The justifications for including the filioque in the Creed—bolstering the divinity of the Son and emphasizing the unity of the Trinity—are redundant, given the original wording of the Creed. That is, the Son already is described as "light of light, very God of very God," and so forth. The Spirit also "with the Father and Son together is worshiped and glorified." Additionally, the Creed itself begins with a statement of belief in "one God."
  • 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.
  • Given the previous objection, the repercussions to the acceptance of the filioque into church life are potentially massive. Because how we relate to God is significantly affected by what we believe about him, false beliefs lead to damaging spirituality. One objection often raised about Filioquist theology is that it undermines the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Thus, with his role being denigrated, his traditional ministries are effaced or replaced. The Church's unity becomes dependent on an office, spirituality becomes adherence to the letter of the law rather than its spirit, sacraments come to be understood in terms of validity, and a spirit of legalism prevails.

Objections on canonical and historical grounds

  • Though not really a question of heresy, a common objection is to the means of inserting the filioque into the Creed. That is, unlike the original adoption of the Creed at Nicea and its subsequent revision at Constantinople, the decision to include the filioque in the Creed was not done by an Ecumenical Council. Rather, it was initially inserted by the Third Synod of Toledo, Spain (589).
  • Rome resisted the inclusion of the filioque for centuries. Leo III, the Pope of Rome at the time the filioque began its history in Western theology, strongly advised against its inclusion, even though he agreed with the soundness and validity of the doctrine contained in filioque. Later, however, Rome contradicted its previous more Orthodox stance by the promulgation of the filioque, thus anathematizing its own spiritual forebears.

Here's more on the ecclesiastical issue:

For Roman Catholics the Nicene Creed is under the Pope, not over the Pope. When the Pope inserted the Filioque into the Nicene Creed a major realignment of ecclesial authority took place. The Pope without the assent of the other historic patriarchates: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and without convening an ecumenical council of bishops, unilaterally altered the Nicene Creed. This was done even though the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus 431, Canon VII) forbade the creation of a new creed. In essence, the Bishop of Rome was claiming a magisterium (teaching authority) equal to or superior to the Ecumenical Councils. In exerting authority over the first three Ecumenical Councils the Pope was claiming authority over all Seven Ecumenical Councils. Simply put, the Bishop of Rome, once first among equals, now claimed supremacy over all Christians, a startling departure from Tradition. The emergence of a papal model of authority would in time clash with Orthodoxy’s conciliar model of authority. Here we see how the Filioque lies at the root of the West-East Schism.

The Eastern Orthodox view, in contrast to the filioque, is that of the "monarchy of the Father." Here it is described by Fr. John Behr:

According to the Nicene creed, the Son is “consubstantial with the Father.” St Athanasius, the Father who did more than anyone else to forge Nicene orthodoxy, indicated that “what is said of the Father is said in Scripture of the Son also, all but His being called Father” (On the Synods, 49). It is important to note how respectful such theology is of the total otherness of God in comparison with creation: such doctrines are regulative of our theological language, not a reduction of God to a being alongside other beings. It is also important to note the essential asymmetry of the relation between the Father and the Son: the Son derives from the Father; He is, as the Nicene creed put it, “of the essence of the Father” – they do not both derive from one common source. This is what is usually referred to as the Monarchy of the Father.

St Athanasius also began to apply the same argument used for defending the divinity of the Son, to a defense of the divinity of the Holy Spirit: just as the Son Himself must be fully divine if He is to save us, for only God can save, so also must Holy Spirit be divine if He is to give life to those who lie in death. Again there is an asymmetry, one which also goes back to Scripture: we receive the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead as the Spirit of Christ, one which enables us to call on God as “Abba.” Though we receive the Spirit through Christ, the Spirit proceeds only from the Father, yet this already implies the existence of the Son, and therefore that the Spirit proceeds from the Father already in relation to the Son (see especially St Gregory of Nyssa, To Ablabius: That there are not Three Gods).

So there is one God and Father, one Lord Jesus Christ, and one Holy Spirit, three “persons” (hypostases) who are the same or one in essence (ousia); three persons equally God, possessing the same natural properties, yet really God, possessing the same natural properties, yet really distinct, known by their personal characteristics. Besides being one in essence, these three persons also exist in total one-ness or unity.

  • I don't really have a problem with the phrase :). I am pretty sure The Spirit carries out the will of both the Father and the will of the Son as the Spirit is the immediate presence of God actually performing God's will through the Son, so I wonder if is also appropriate to imagine that the Spirit is also performing an expression of the love of the Father to the Son and the Son's love to the Father and is a Spirit of love expressing their love to us?...anyway good effort in the answer and I am not seriously proposing anything...just thinking out loud.
    – Mike
    Apr 12, 2015 at 2:08
  • @Mike I think that's an accurate statement of broadly western trinitarianism. It seems consistent with what I've read about Augustine's On the Trinity and Michael Reeves' Delighting in the Trinity as well as about Thomism. But I haven't actually read any of those works, only parts of them. Apr 12, 2015 at 18:00
  • To Point 3: The Father and the Son don't share the same generation of the Holy Ghost: the Holy Spirit is proceeds from the Father, but through the Son. The Spirit doesn't come from the Son, but from the Father, through the Son. Notice that Jesus tells us that, in the same way He doesn't doing anything but by the Father, so the Spirit does nothing except by the Son. The Spirit recieves from what is the Son's, since "all things whatsoever the Father has is [the Son's]" (John 16:13-15). Jul 5, 2018 at 17:05

The Nicene Creed originally had no filioque clause, which was a western innovation centuries later. The Creed simply said that the Holy Spirit proceeded “from the Father,” and the Council of Ephesus, 431, expressly forbade any alteration other than by another ecumenical council.

The problem was not only that the eastern Church accepted the Nicene Creed in its earlier form, but that the bishop of Rome was flouting a decision of an ecumenical council, which at that stage in Christian history was considered the ultimate decision-making authority of the Christian Church. The pope was seen as challenging the authority of his brother bishops.

  • In addition it seems to assign primary creative power to the Son as well as the Father. But this isn't true elsewhere in the Creed; the section on the Son says not "by Him" but "through Him" all things were made. Some in the Orthodox churches might accept a formulation like "from the Father through the Son." Apr 9, 2015 at 10:27

In addition to the answer by @Mr. Bultitude, We should also note that the filioque takes our attention off of the three hypostases (persons) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and focuses our attention on the ousia (essence). Thus Roman Catholics (including Protestants) begin with the essence of God rather than the three Persons. When Jesus said "I and my Father are one," He was beginning with Himself as a person and drawing our attention to the the Father as a person. The essence of God remains unknown to us; we know God through His revelation as the Son of God, and through the revelation of one God in three persons.

  • 2
    Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. About your answer, can you provide any links to or quotes from standard Eastern Orthodox sources showing that this is a concern of the church itself? See:What makes a good supported answer? Dec 22, 2016 at 21:12

First in Greek both Classical and Koine hypostasis does not mean person. The definition was changed theologically to accommodate the Doctrine of the Trinity. The true difference between ousia or essence and hypostasis; is that ousia is a general essence. For example in ousia, all men and women are humans. On the other hand hypostasis is merely an individual expression of an ousia. That is I am Ronald, because my humanness individually expresses as Ronald.

The thing is that having condemned Monarchism and Sabellism, erroneously I may add, the Trinitarians could not now very well say that Jesus, The Father and the Holy Spirit were individual expressions of God Spirit, Spirit being the ousia of God (Jn 4.24)

Their problem was, that both the greek prosopon and the latin personna, were not really persons, that is beings, but rather personnae assumed by actors in Greek plays! In other words assumed or fictional characters! That ends up again being Sabellian or Montanists as well.

That might be very well the reason why the Counsel of Nicea, had trouble agreeing on a resolution and Constantine himself had to directly intervene and basically impose an Imperial resolution to the conflict. For the next several centuries the church struggled to achieve a consensus this culminated in. Schisms, wars and persecutions.

Finally they simply had to change the meaning of the word hypostasis. Something that even today, still divides the Eastern and Western Trinitarian churches.

  • I have heard numerous commentaries from clergy that allude to the meaning of the term being in the sense of "mask" and in particular that masks used by the actors to reveal the truth of the character herself, or himself in the Greek play ... the upshot being that it was in this sense that the term was being used in context; the sense of revealing an inner truth by using a mask. (I edited to fix some spelling errors, and to add italics to Greek and Roman terms) Jul 4, 2018 at 1:34
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