Fr. Rusty's Corner

Turn Four: Thoughts from Your Parish Priest

Who Proceeds from the Father and the Son

In 1054 AD, a showdown occurred between Pope Leo IX and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael I Cerularius.  Initially, the conflict between the two most prominent leaders of the Catholic Church in the East and West was theological, but ultimately the pull for authority led to the mutual excommunication of each.  This resulted in the Great Schism that still divides the two churches today.  Some level of reunion has occurred, but division for close to 1000 years does not heal easily.  Theological issues still arise.  Among the principal issues is the authority of the Bishop of Rome (the pope) over all the universal Church and the place of the patriarch of Constantinople in that order.  One of the theological issues that led to schism has to do with the verse in the Creed that states the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”  What does this verse mean and why is it controversial?

The theological belief we hold in our Creed is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  There are many things to understand in this terminology.  We are attempting to explain an understanding of the Trinity.  The term procession refers to how the second and third person of the Trinity originate from the Father. The Trinity does not exist the same way we do through reproduction and having offspring.  The whole of the Trinity is not created.  The belief shows an order of generation of the three persons.  There is no debate that both the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father, but the debate comes if the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well.  The theological term for this is Filioque, which is Latin for “and from the Son.”  The phrase was added officially to the Creed after its initial acceptance sometime during the 6th or 7th century.

This begs the question: why the difference?  Why do we as Roman Catholics profess that Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son?  The Scriptural foundation to this belief that the relationship between the Father and Holy Spirit is the same as the relationship between the Son and Holy Spirit.  In Matthew 10:20, when Jesus is teaching his followers to trust the voice of God in speaking for them at persecutions, the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of your Father.”  In Galatians 4:6, St. Paul proclaims that God sent “the Spirit of the Son into our hearts.”  From these verses together it would appear that the Holy Spirit is both the Spirit of the Father and the Son, which is why we believe the Holy Spirit proceeds from both. 

The final question we should ask is why does this even matter?  So far, the use of the filioque has been very theological, and does not seem to practically apply to the living of the Faith.  You may even ask, “What is the big deal?  Can’t we still be united yet disagree on this point?”  The simple answer to that is no.  We really cannot be united with the disagreement.  Faith is not something we pick and choose what to believe and simply say ‘we agree to disagree.’  Truth of faith centers on the Truth of God, which flows into who we are and why we believe what we believe.  If faith is something that at times we can choose to not believe in, then what do we really stand for?  Now we should not stay in division and schism, which is why the East and the West have continued to have dialogue with one another to come to a faith finding the Truth and bringing in unity.  This is a long and hard process, but it is worth it.  The same thing must occur in ourselves as well.  When we disagree with something of the Faith, we should seek why the Church teaches what it does on a subject and seek to ascend to the Truth.  A truth that is not because the Church tells us to believe it, but a truth because it comes from God.  This is what both sides in the schism are attempting to find, and it is the same thing we should seek ourselves.

- Fr. Rusty Vincent

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