Filioque

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 24
Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 25

Council of Florence

Chapters 24 and 25 of SCG Book IV launch unapologetically into disputed territory. Disputed, that is, between Catholic and Orthodox theologians.

On the one hand, St. Thomas offers us rock-solid, timeless theological argumentation that we can take to the bank, now as much as ever.

On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas, serene theologian that he was, did engage in polemics that may seem overstated now, from the point-of-view of 21st-century Catholic-Orthodox relations.

I believe in the Holy Spirit…Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

We say this at Sunday Mass. It is an article of the Nicene Creed.

Now, when we say “Nicene Creed,” we mean the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, as understood by the popes and explained at the Council of Florence.

At Nicaea, the Fathers confessed only that they believed “in the Holy Spirit,” without any additions whatsoever. At Constantinople, half a century later, they added: We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son, He is adored and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. We Catholics say: He proceeds from the Father and the Son (“and the Son” = Filioque.) St. Thomas explains why we say this, in chapters 24 and 25 of Summa Contra Gentiles.

That phrase, “and the Son,” became a big sticking point in relations between the Greek-speaking Church in Constantinople/Byzantium and the Latin-speaking Church of the western Mediterranean world, where the pope lives.

These days, many Orthodox theologians hold that the use of “and the Son” in this article of the Creed does not involve any real doctrinal dispute. Rather, it’s an issue of Church authority. Who calls the shots? The pope or the ancient Councils of bishops?

Other Orthodox theologians hold that Latin theology has departed from the truth by adding filioque. A readable essay by Vladamir Lossky explains this point of view. As Lossky has it, Aquinas forsook the God of Israel in order to make his doctrine palatable to non-Christian philosophers.

At the beginning of this century, Catholic and Orthodox theologians agreed on some parameters for discussion of the filioque.

One of those parameters: Let’s remember that we are talking about something that we will not understand in this life. Another parameter: Let’s not say that the opposing point-of-view amounts to heresy.

In chapters 24 and 25, Aquinas does not call the filioque-denying Greeks heretics. On the other hand, he does not hesitate to declare them wrong, in the strongest terms. Only rarely does St. Thomas ever call an argument “frivolous” or “ridiculous.” He does so here, of those who deny the filioque.

Be advised 🙂