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The Filioque Clause

by Lino Serrano 9/22/98


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

(The Nicene Creed)




When we say the Nicene Creed every Sunday in Mass we often time read the words contained in them without realizing their importance and the History behind them. We sort of take it for granted that what is contained within, is correct and accepted by all who profess it. In the excerpt above you will notice that the part of the Creed that is italicized "and the Son" is something we always say and don’t realize that this clause, the Filioque clause, is a point of division to this day between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. The Latin word Filioque simply means and the Son. How can such a seemingly small and insignificant phrase divide millions of Christians from unity? Let’s explore some of the reasons.


Historical Background


The Creed we recite in Sunday Mass is often times referred to as the Nicene creed. In actuality the form of the Creed that we now use is more accurately called the Nicene/Constantinople Creed, since the final or more complete form was produced by both of these great councils that were held in the fourth century. Creeds are used within the Church as professions of faith and as baptismal formulas that specify the beliefs the person coming into the Church professes. Neither of these Creeds originally contained the Filioque.

The Nicene/Constantinople creeds were specifically formulated to denounce doctrinal errors or heresies that were showing up within certain groups within the Christian Church. The Nicene Creed was formulated to disprove Arian heresy that claimed that Jesus Christ wasn’t God but was created by God. The Constantinople creed (which borrowed the majority of its text from the Nicene Creed) was formulated to disprove the heresy of Macedonius who claimed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son only, through creation, and not from the Father at all.


Later in the sixth Century in Spain the first instance of the Filioque showed up as part of the Creed after the Council of Toledo in 589 which denounced Arianism, which had infiltrated Spain. The western Church beginning with Spain, then to France, and ultimately in Rome adopted this addition to the Creed. Many pages could be devoted to the historical lineage of the Filioque clause throughout hundreds of years of history. But there wasn’t any division within the church over the Filioque clause addition until the ninth Century. The first hints that there would be problems that would arise from the Filioque addition to the Creed and would cause division between the East and West was when some Latin monks from Jerusalem visited the court of the Emperor Charlemagne. They went back to Jerusalem with the new version of the Creed which caused problems for the Eastern Christians who hadn’t yet heard the Filioque addition. After many centuries and other doctrinal problems between East and West, especially with the Papal Supremacy, the two sides of Christendom had a final splitting of ways in 1054. This is now known as the Great East/West schism. After a few attempts at reconciliation, this division continues to this very day. The teaching of the Filioque being one of the chief points of the schism.




Doctrinal Foundations


One question that needs to be asked that removes itself from the socio-political aspects of the controversy, is whether the doctrine itself is valid. We will begin our investigation of the doctrine by looking at the scriptural witness for dual procession (Father and Son) of the Holy Spirit. Then we will investigate the teaching of the early Fathers of the Church.


Scriptural Witness


The main scripture that is cited by non-Filioque Christians is in the Gospel of St. John Chapter 15 verse 26. It reads, "When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me." This is where the Constantinople Creed receives its version within the creed that details the procession of the Holy Spirit. But this quotation doesn’t exclude the fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son. It merely proves that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.


Filioque believing Christians cite another text from St. John’s Gospel to prove the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, John chapter 20, verses 20-22, which reads "When he [Jesus] had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. [Jesus] said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them. "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." This is the by far and away the greatest scriptural evidence that Catholics have to support the doctrine of the Filioque. How could Jesus give to the disciples that which he doesn’t posses? It would be an empty gesture since he would be giving them false hope. This can’t be true, since Christ is truth, and he posses all that the Father has given him, including the Holy Spirit, that he gives to all who would ask. Therefore the Holy Spirit does indeed also proceed from the Son. In fact St. Augustine in the early fifth century asks, "Why, then, should we not believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son, when he is the Spirit also of the Son? For if the Holy Spirit did not proceed from him, when he showed to his disciples after his resurrection he would not have breathed upon them saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. For what else did he signify by that breathing upon them except that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from him" (Homilies on John 99:8 [AD 416]).


Here are some more scripture citations that demonstrate the possession and procession of the Holy Spirit also from the Son:


Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:9, Philipians 1:19, St. Luke 24:49, Acts 2:33-34, Acts 16:6-7, and Titus 3:5-6.


Witness of the Early Church Fathers


Eastern Fathers


St. Gregory the Wonderworker’s Creed, around AD 265:


"And one Holy Spirit, having substance of God, and who is manifested [to men, that is] through the Son; Image of the Son, Perfect of the Perfect; Life, the Cause of the living; Holy Fountain; Sanctity, the Dispenser of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all. Perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty neither divided nor estranged."


St. Athanasius AD 360:


"Insofar as we understand the special relationship of the Son to the Father, we also understand that the Spirit has this same relationship to the Son. And since the Son says, ‘everything that the Father has is mine (St. John 16:15), ‘we will discover all these things also in the Spirit through the Son. And just as the Son was announced by the Father, who said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well please (St. Matt. 3:17), ‘so also is the Spirit of the Son; for, as the Apostle says, ‘He has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!" (Galatians 4:6)


St. Epiphanius of Salamis ~AD 315:


"For the Only-Begotten Himself calls Him ‘the Spirit of the Father,’ and says of Him that ‘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. For he is Spirit of God, Spirit of the Father and Spirit of the Son, not by some kind of synthesis, like soul and body in us, but in the midst of Father and Son, of the Father and of the Son, a third by appellation... The Father always existed and the Son always existed, and the Spirit breathes from the Father and Son; and neither is the Son created nor is the Spirit created."


Western Fathers


St. Hilary of Poiters ~AD 356 on the Trinity:


"Concerning the Holy Spirit...who is of the Father and the Son, His Sources."


"We are all spiritual men, if the Spirit of God is in us. But this Spirit of God is the Spirit also of Christ."


Pope St. Damasus I, Council of Rome AD 382:


"The Holy Spirit is not of the Father only, or the Spirit of the Son only, but He is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. For it is written, ‘If anyone loves the world, the Spirit of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15)’; and again it is written: ‘If anyone, however, does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (Romans 8:9)’. When the Father and the Son are named in this way, the Holy Spirit is understood, of whom the Son Himself says in the Gospel, that the Holy Spirit ‘proceeds from the Father (St. John 15:26),’ and that ‘He shall receive of mine and shall announce it to you (St. John 16:14)."


The Quicunque Vult (an early Western Creed written in the late AD 300s):


"The Father is of none, neither made, nor created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, neither made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding."




St. Augustine on the Trinity AD 400:


"All the Catholic interpreters of the divine books of the Old and New Testaments whom I have been able to read, who wrote before me about the Trinity, which is God, intended to teach in accordance with the Scriptures that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are of one and the same substance constituting a divine unity with and inseparable equality; and therefore there are not three gods but one God, although the Father begot the Son, and therefore He that is the Father is not the Son; and the Son is begotten by the Father, and therefore He that is the Son is not the Father; and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but only the Spirit of the Father and the Son, Himself, too, co-equal to the Father and to the Son, and belonging to the unity of the Trinity." [1,4:7]


Teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church


246. "The Latin tradition of the Creed confesses that the Spirit 'proceeds from

the Father and the Son (FILIOQUE)'. The Council of Florence in 1438

explains: 'The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has his nature

and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds

eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration... And,

since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten Son

everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also

eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit

proceeds from the Son.'[Council of Florence (1439): DS 1300-1301.]"

247. "The affirmation of the FILIOQUE does not appear in the Creed

confessed in 381 at Constantinople. But Pope St. Leo I, following an ancient

Latin and Alexandrian tradition, had already confessed it dogmatically in

447,[Cf. Leo I, Quam laudabiliter (447): DS 284.] even before Rome, in 451 at

the Council of Chalcedon, came to recognize and receive the Symbol of 381.

The use of this formula in the Creed was gradually admitted into the Latin

liturgy (between the eighth and eleventh centuries). The introduction of the

FILIOQUE into the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed by the Latin liturgy

constitutes moreover, even today, a point of disagreement with the Orthodox

Churches. "

248. "At the outset the Eastern tradition expresses the Father's character as

first origin of the Spirit. By confessing the Spirit as he 'who proceeds from the

Father', it affirms that he comes from the Father through the Son.[Jn 15:26 ; cf.

AG 2.] The Western tradition expresses first the consubstantial communion

between Father and Son, by saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father

and the Son (FILIOQUE). It says this, 'legitimately and with good

reason',[Council of Florence (1439): DS 1302.] for the eternal order of the

divine persons in their consubstantial communion implies that the Father, as

'the principle without principle',[Council of Florence (1442): DS 1331.] is the

first origin of the Spirit, but also that as Father of the only Son, he is, with the

Son, the single principle from which the Holy Spirit proceeds.[Cf. Council of

Lyons II(1274): DS 850.] This legitimate complementarity, provided it does not

become rigid, does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same

mystery confessed."


Further reading on the Internet