In Defense of the East and the West
The debates concerning the infamous filioque clause have been a major part of the fuel, fanning the fire of divide between East and West. Sparked by discussion of Barth’s Dogmatics and re-reading a few pinches of Eastern theology, a few thoughts occurred to me.
First, it seems to me that 70-80% of the division is based upon undue process. Barth concedes this, and he cites at least one other theologian, admitting that the acceptance of the clause by West into the creed was done poorly. Related is of course the doctrine of the Roman church concerning the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff which the East adamantly denies. Thus this addition to the Creed was a tangible point upon which the West might be called to account, but the decision was made solidifying tensions, leading to schism. Creeds are ecumenical statements which should require the voice of the entire Church, and where the Church is not yet one voice, it should not speak, at least not creedally.
Barth points out however that the original Nicene formulation was worded fully realizing that it could have included this phrase. However, in their battle against Arianism, admitting procession from the Son in addition to the Father ran the risk of denying the Holy Spirit’s equality with the Son whose equality with the father was established in the second article of the creed. Some Arians of the day were already speaking of the Spririt’s procession from the Son, but of course their theology placed the Son in a first creation or supreme creation status, nonetheless, certainly not very God of very God. Not including the filioque clause was a further stab at the Arians. The Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father was a clear establishment of His Godhead.
It is also maintained that the writers of the original creed never intended to exclude the true unity of the Son and Father in the sending of the Spirit. East and West alike are cited to show that it was commonly believed on all sides (unsurprisingly, given the language of the NT), that the Spirit was in fact the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Given this reality and the fact that the West surely failed in properly bringing this phrase into official liturgical use, it could be argued that a first step in reconciliation between East and West would be dropping the phrase from the Western Church.
Secondly, it appears to me that both sides of the debate have things to repent of. The West is right, I believe in insisting upon the unity of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit throughout the NT is spoken of as the communion of the Father and the Son, the culmination of their love, and the person of God who indwells the Church drawing us into union with the Father and the Son. It is also right in insisting that there is only way to the Father. Popular caricatures not withstanding, the East has from time to time tended to suggest dual paths to God, distinguishing the Son and Spirit as two possible options. I admit that this is probably more popular distortion than true dogmatics, but regardless, there is a mystic strain throughout the East that suggests that there is something to this.
Nevertheless, it appears to me that the East is correct in insisting upon the language of Scripture. We do not confess that the Son was begotten of the Father and the Spirit. This is primarily true because this is the language of Scripture. But this does not mean for a moment that we do not believe that the Holy Spirit is intimately involved in the begetting of the Son. The Son is begotten of the Father through the Spirit. Likewise, it appears to me that the East is right concerning the word “proceeds”. The term is used only once in the New Testament (Jn. 15:26), and it is used in reference to the Spirit proceeding from the Father. Thus, if we are to be true to the language of Scripture, which the Creed is certainly supposed to do, it means that the Bible does not teach that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. However, and this is important, this does not mean for moment that the Spirit is not the Spirit of Christ and the Father, as the New Testament so clearly teaches. Just as the Son is begotten of the Father through the Spirit, so the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.
Consequently, it appears to me that to be consistent, we (the West) either need to drop the filioque clause (though not denying all that we mean by it), or we need to insert another clause to the creed: “… begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit before all worlds…” Given the current state of dividedness, I would favor dropping the filioque clause for now, although I would not necessarily be opposed to reinserting both clauses at some time in the (probably distant) future when the Church is more united and mature. But perhaps the Church would decide not to. Perhaps it would be wise to protect “begotten” and “proceeds”, fencing them with the very words of Scripture.
Gladly, this sort of decision is not facing us currently, but for the present it seems that both East and West have things to get over, pride to swallow, and unity to pursue. May the Triune God be so kind.