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On the Carolingian Opposition

in Filioque: A Church Dividing Issue?

CH501 Medieval Church History


Dr. Ann T. Orlando

Br. Paul M. Nguyen, OMV


Congregationis Oblatorum Beat Mari Virginis
December 11, 2014

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Almost since the birth of the Church that Jesus Christ founded, theologians have
disagreed over technical points of doctrine. The magisterium of the Church has always (though
not immediately) corrected the errors that have arisen, whether by the consensus teaching of her
Shepherds or by the formal decree of Councils of Bishops and Popes. One towering issue is the
Filioque, which refers to the phrase in the Latin version of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan
Symbol that asserts the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son.1 The 2003
agreed statement of the Catholic and Orthodox bishops of North America treats the response of
the French court of Charlemagne, then a powerful contender for the primary seat of power in the
Roman Empire, to insist on its accustomed Latin texts over the Greek ones of their own day and
of centuries prior. It is this dynamic of miscommunication, opposition, and nationalism,
exemplary of what has happened many more times down through the centuries, which we will
examine in the context of this document.
The recent course of ecumenical dialogue continued what grew out of the visit of Pope
Paul VI to Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1964. The dialogue began on an
international scale in Istanbul in 1979, when Pope John Paul II met with Ecumenical Patriarch
Dimitrios I and established the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue
between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Based on the fact of religious pluralism
and freedom of religious practice in the United States, dialogue had already begun as early as
1965, in the form of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, a
cooperation between SCOBA, the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in
the Americas, and the National Catholic War Conference (precursor to the National Conference
of Catholic Bishops, formed in 1966, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Joseph, Wilhelm, The Nicene Creed, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 11 (New York: Robert Appleton
Company, 1911).

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(USCCB), which succeeded it in 2001).2 SCOBA has since completed its mandate and, as of
2009, it became the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America.3
In 2003, this Theological Consultation published an agreed statement entitled, Filioque:
A Church Dividing Issue?4 At the time, this Consultation was a joint work of SCOBA and the
USCCB. The statement begins with the scriptural witnesses to the Holy Spirit, then treats the
history of the issue and finally separates it into a two-part theological issue and an
ecclesiological issue, with recommendations for future dialogue. This document is marked by a
diplomatic clarity, with both a historical and theological precision and a transparent declaration
of the desires of the body that authored it.
In the eighth century, the bishop of Rome repeatedly insisted on the orthodoxy of the
Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in Greek, although it lacks the Filioque clause found only in
the Latin. The historical issue we will now treat is the response of the French court to this
position. The original issue concerned the Latin version of the Greek creed first published in 325
at the Council of Nicaea, expanded in 381 at the Council of Constantinople, and reaffirmed in
415 at the Council of Chalcedon. Acceptance of this creed has always been used to test
orthodoxy. The problem arose when the resulting Greek text was propagated in Latin over the
intervening centuries5 with two additions: Deo de deo in the section on God the Son, and
Filioque to describe the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father. The Consultation
speculates that these two clarifications were added to remove even more doubt concerning
orthodox faith, anticipating future heretical ideas. However, where the first addition merely
2
3
4
5

The North American Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops, Statement on the Catholic-Orthodox
Dialogue at the Dawn of a New Millennium.
Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, About the Assembly of Bishops.
North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, The Filioque: a Church-Dividing Issue? An
agreed statement (Washington, D.C., 2003).
The earliest appearance may go back into the fifth century, but was later approved for recitation during Holy
Communion by the Third Council of Toledo in 589. See Filioque, The Oxford dictionary of the Christian
church, ed. F. L. Cross (New York: Oxford University, 2005).

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asserts the divinity of the Son, already described as equally light and True God, the second
adds substantively to the idea of the procession of the Spirit from the Father, where the role of
the Son was simply absent from the fourth-century conciliar text.
Squarely planted in the historical section of the USCCB-SCOBA document is the
narrative of the 8th and 9th century dispute renewed by the French court of Charlemagne,
sparked by his observation of the final ecumenical council, the Second at Nicaea (787).
Evidently, Charlemagne received an erroneous Latin translation of the Greek acts of that council,
and together with a complementary misunderstanding of the proceedings of the Iconoclast
council of 754, set out to gain a doctrinal edge that would lead to political power over the rival
Byzantine court, itself the reigning seat of the Holy Roman Empire.6 According to the Agreed
Statement, Charlemagne accused the Constantinopolitan Patriarch Tarasius of having professed a
heterodox creed at his installation, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son
(the Greek symbol), and not simply from both (as in the Latin Filioque). Pope Hadrian I
defended the Patriarch and the Council, but Charlemagne insisted, commissioning what became
known as the Libri Carolini to express these views at the close of the 8th century.
At the dawn of the 9th century, in the last years of his life, Charlemagne again sought to
gain ground on the credal issue with the new Pope Leo III, who had expressed a personal
preference for the Filioque formulation without denying orthodoxy to the underlying Greek.
After presenting a compendium of patristic support for the Filioque at a local synod in Aachen
(De Spiritu Sancto by Theodulf of Orleans, 809), Charlemagne plied the Pope for official
support. Pope Leo IIIs reply seemed less than satisfactory for Charlemagne; he approved the
Filioque creed for catechetical and personal use, but disapproved publishing it in the name of the

Thomas Shahan. Caroline Books (Libri Carolini), The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 3 (New York: Robert
Appleton Company, 1908).

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Nicene symbol of 381, simultaneously discouraging its liturgical use to avoid scandal.
Predictably, the Carolingian court advanced the use of the Filioque creed at the celebration of the
Eucharist within its jurisdiction, interpreting the popes permission broadly and ignoring his
warning.
According to the Consultation, the acceptability of the Latin version of this creed by the
seventh century seems to rest on the patristic (especially Augustinian) corroboration of its
Trinitarian theology, the fact of the acceptance of multiple valid creeds at that time, and the
apologetic theology of the Athanasian creed, which claimed that the Son's equal role in the
procession of the Spirit proved His equal divinity, in the face of heterodox Arian Christology.
The Statement also notes in its historical section that subsequent councils condemned heresies by
using those clarifications, anathematizing opinions to the contrary and concomitantly
condemning the orthodox Greek credal tradition concerning the origin of the Holy Spirit. That is
to say, the Magisterium of the Church in the west, while it sought to do its job to guard the
deposit of faith, grew increasingly distant from the Eastern tradition by continuously using its
own variant of the ancient creed as its sole authority.
The 21st century agreed statement from the North American bishops exposes what
amounts to a serious game of childish rivalry between East and West that has been perpetuated
over the centuries. What began as perhaps a well-meaning editorial commentary on the
declaration of faith from those early councils (in the face of serious theological errors) was
hijacked for political gain that has ever since fractured the communion of the East and West on
this issue, even though ultimate authorities on both sides have reconciled the theological issue
numerous times. Charlemagne's debacle was only one episode of the drama. For unfortunate
reasons, formal acceptance of this reconciliation has yet to pass. The Agreed Statement therefore

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exhorts Christians on both sides not to condemn one another concerning this doctrine, mutual
understanding concerning each tradition having been achieved. As Pope Leo III decreed and as
this statement also suggests, only the Greek text of the Symbol of Nicaea-Constantinople should
be used to translate it; translations from any other text should be considered precisely as
translations of those texts, and not as translations of the Creed of 381.
Pastorally, the issue does come down to the question of teaching authority. A political
ruler claiming the right to investigate and watch over doctrinal issues with his own experts,
Charlemagne, asserted that presumed right, and erred, with a centuries-long wound in millions of
faithful people. His refusal to submit to the legitimate teaching authoritywhich was presented
to him by two popes in an evidently respectful way with full consideration of his concerns and in
a response that also considered the reaction of the universal churchmerited this stain for the
world. That is a lesson for both common people and those in positions of authority, to inquire in
good faith seeking understanding, and to receive with docility the authoritative response of Peter.
This example is also a lesson to pursue authentic dialogue rather than launching a publication
war whereby possibly heretical conjectures are presented to the masses, which would only
produce confusion.
The other concern pastorally, perhaps more removed from the people in the pews but
nonetheless relevant, is that language used to express the faith must be precise and, as far as
possible, should convey with equivalent impact the truth it expresses in every language. It is for
each person to receive the faith in his own lived experience in his own terms. But it is for the
Church, who provides the fundamental and inerrant texts with which to instruct the faithful, to
furnish them full-strength and as original as possible, with clarifications and instructions attached
as appendices or accompanying notes and not as internal annotations. The recent update of the

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English texts of the Roman Missal is such an example: without sacrificing intelligibility
(ultimately), the beauty and impact of the English language has been made to express the impact
of the Latin original (which in various cases rests on Greek and Hebrew antecedents), but for
many people, to understand and feel this personally requires some study and instruction.
The titular question, then, of whether the Filioque is a church-dividing issue, may be
answered. The conclusion they drew is that the issue is not, in the end, divisive, and that what
would close the gap of the apparent division is the universal embrace of the Greek text and the
express pardon and nullification of the condemnations issued over the centuries to those who
held a non-Filioque formulation. They also suggest that rather than divide our churches, the
discussion of the accurate theology underlying this issue can even be a source of unity, if we
commit to a new and earnest dialogue ... on the full riches of the theological traditions of both
our Churches, with a prudent recognition of the limitations of our ability to make definitive
assertions about the inner life of God.7

Agreed Statement of 2003, Section IV, Recommendations.

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References
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. About the
Assembly of Bishops. Accessed December 8, 2014 from
http://assemblyofbishops.org/about/.
Filioque. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church, ed. F. L. Cross. New York: Oxford
University, 2005.
Maas, Anthony. Filioque. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton
Company, 1909. Accessed November 29, 2014 from
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06073a.htm.
The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation. The Filioque: a ChurchDividing Issue? An agreed statement. Washington, D.C., 2003. Accessed November 25,
2014 from http://assemblyofbishops.org/ministries/dialogue/orthodoxcatholic/2003filioque.
The North American Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops. Statement on the
Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue at the Dawn of a New Millennium. October 4, 2000.
Accessed November 29, 2014 from
http://www.assemblyofbishops.org/ministries/dialogue/orthodox-catholicbishops/newmillenium.
Shahan, Thomas. Caroline Books (Libri Carolini). The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 3. New
York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. Accessed November 29, 2014 from
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03371b.htm.
Wilhelm, Joseph. The Nicene Creed. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert
Appleton Company, 1911. Accessed December 8, 2014 from
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11049a.htm.