WASHINGTON — In an effort to overcome centuries of division, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation has called for “uniform practice” with regard to the ancient Nicene Creed.
This means Catholics would use translations only of the original text, dropping the subsequently added filioque (“and the Son”) clause, when reciting the Creed at Mass or using it for catechetics.
The dialogue group also called on each side not to describe the other as heretical and said a 13th-century Western council condemnation aimed at the Orthodox should be declared “no longer applicable.”
It urged new joint study and in-depth Catholic-Orthodox dialogue “on the theology of the Holy Spirit, based on the Scriptures and on the whole tradition of Christian theology.”
It said this study and dialogue should “distinguish, as far as possible, the theological issues of the origin of the Holy Spirit from the ecclesiological issues of primacy and doctrinal authority in the Church.”
At the same time, it is “crucially necessary” that “both our Churches persist in their efforts to reflect — together and separately — on the theology of primacy and synodality within the Church's structures and teaching and pastoral practice,” the group said.
For nearly 1,000 years the Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox Churches of the East have had as one source of division the fact that the West inserted the word filioque in the profession of faith commonly referred to as the Nicene Creed — or more properly as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.
That Greek-language creed, which dates to the Council of Constantinople in 381, said the Holy Spirit takes his origin from the Father (in Greek, ek tou patros ekporeuomenon). In Latin, the Greek phrase was translated as ex patre procedit (proceeds from the Father). Under the influence of that translation, churches in the West gradually began to insert filioque into the creed, saying the Spirit “proceeds from the Father ‘and the Son.’”
The North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation is an official theological dialogue sponsored by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the Americas, the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Its 10,000-word joint statement, “The ‘Filioque’: A Church-Dividing Issue?” was released Oct. 28 following a meeting in Washington on Oct. 23-25. It was the result of four years of study and dialogue at the consultation's twice-yearly meetings, beginning in October 1999.
The statement outlines the long history of the filioque controversy, including the 1995 Vatican clarification that affirmed the “conciliar, ecumenical, normative and irrevocable value” of the original Greek version of the creed.
The Vatican document argued that the Latin procedit (proceeds) has a slightly different meaning than the Greek ekporeuomenon (originates). It sought to explain to the Orthodox that in addingfilioque after the Latin verb, the Church in the West did not intend to — and indeed cannot — contradict the earlier “expression of faith taught and professed by the undivided Church.”
The joint statement of the North American consultation pointed out that in the course of growing disagreement over the diverging practices with the creed during the two-and-a-half centuries preceding the East-West schism of 1054, the conflict over the creed became increasingly bound up in politics — “in the growing rivalry between the Carolingian and Byzantine courts, which both now claimed to be the legitimate successors of the Roman Empire.”
Especially after 1014, when “the creed, including the filioque, was sung for the first time at a papal Mass,” the issue also got increasingly tied to disputes over the exercise of authority in the Church, the statement said.
“Orthodox theology has regarded the ultimate approval by the popes, in the 11th century, of the use of filioque in the Latin creed as a usurpation of the dogmatic authority proper to ecumenical councils alone,” it said.
On the other side, it said, “In recognizing the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome in matters of faith and of the service of unity, the Catholic tradition accepts the authority of the Pope to confirm the process of conciliar reception and to define what does not conflict with the ‘faith of Nicaea’ and the apostolic tradition. ... Catholic theology has seen it [papal adoption of the filioque insertion] as a legitimate exercise of his authority to proclaim and clarify the Church's faith.”
The joint statement said Catholic and Orthodox theologians need to work together to seek a way to resolve differences between the Orthodox view of councils or synods as the highest Church authority and the Catholic view of the primacy of papal authority. But they said dialogue and study on what the Church believes about the origin of the Holy Spirit ought to be methodologically separated from that issue.
The Orthodox and Catholic theologians acknowledged that “the Greek and Latin theological traditions clearly remain in some tension with each other on the fundamental issue of the Spirit's eternal origin as a distinct divine person.”
“These differences, though subtle, are substantial,” they said.
Taking their lead from the Pope and the doctrinal congregation document, the participants recommended “that the Catholic Church, as a consequence of the normative and irrevocable dogmatic value of the creed of 381, use the original Greek text alone in making translations of that creed for catechetical and liturgical use.”
They also called on the Catholic Church, “following a growing theological consensus,” to declare no longer applicable the condemnation, by the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, of those “who presume to deny that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son.”
They asked theologians on both sides to “distinguish more clearly between the divinity and hypostatic identity of the Holy Spirit, which is a received dogma of our Churches, and the manner of the Spirit's origin, which still awaits full and final ecumenical resolution.”