The Nicene Creed: “For Us” and Filioque

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

| January 21 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
January 21
The Nicene Creed: “For Us” and Filioque
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

We continue this evening with this four week series looking at the Nicene Creed. So if you have this copy, this pamphlet, you can open that, or page 846 in the Trinity Hymnal, and we come to the largest to the middle section of the Creed this evening. The Nicene Creed is best known for its affirmation that Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is of one substance with the Father. You see that at the beginning of the second section. Notice again this trinitarian structure, we believe in one God, the Father Almighty, and then the largest, the second section, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and then the third, and we believe in the Holy Spirit.

So most famously, and perhaps in some ways most importantly, or at least what was most controversial at the Council of Nicaea in 325, was this affirmation that the Son is of one substance. We saw that several weeks ago, that critical Greek term homoousia, of the same being, or essence, or the same God stuff, God-ness, the Son with the Father. At the heart of the Creed is this confession related to the person of Christ.

But the longest section, you’ll notice, is actually related to the work of Christ. Christology has to do with the doctrine of Christ, and you can look at it in those two parts, the person of Christ, how do we explain who He is, and then the work of Christ, what did He do? What was His life? What did He accomplish?

The transition to this new section occurs there in the middle with the words “who for us and for our salvation.” You see that after the semicolon, “by whom all things were made,” and then that phrase, “who for us and for our salvation.” Be very easy to overlook that part of the Nicene Creed. We don’t usually spend a lot of time on subordinate clauses, but in this case that phrase, that clause, is what makes the Nicene Creed tick.

If I can press the analogy just a bit, if “one substance with the Father” is the heart of the Creed, then this statement, “who for us and for our salvation” is the beating of that heart. In other words, the reason why it is so vitally important that we understand the person of Christ is not so we can give Ligon or professors something to do in a seminary, or so we can just have complicated math problems that the Trinity, 1 + 1 + 1 = 1, or the two natures of Christ yet one person, but because everything about the person of Christ is necessary for this clause to be true, “who for us and for our salvation.” Only a Savior who is true God of God can save us from our God-defying sins. It takes one who is not a creature of God or not simply like God, but is God. We need a God not only who is true God of true God but a God who comes all the way down to us. We need, as Job said, one who will lay a hand on us both, who for us and for our salvation.

The work of Christ here in the Creed is described by laying out what theologians call the “the two states of Christ.” Not states like North Carolina and South Carolina, but states really have to do with his condition under the law. Or you could just put it more colloquially, two aspects of Christ’s ministry, and those two states are called the “state of humiliation and the state of exaltation.

We can think, there’s too many of you to ask you to raise your hands, but think in your head, can you think of a passage where this is most clearly laid out next to each other, humiliation then exaltation. Well, that is the logic of Philippians chapter 2, verses 5 through 11. Verses 5 through 8 talk about Christ coming down, His condescension, taking the form of a servant, being willing to give himself even unto death, and then verses 9 through 11 He is then lifted up, at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and tongue should confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. There in Philippians 2 His state of humiliation, His state of exaltation.

Well, let’s look a little bit more at each of those terms.

Humiliation is the state in which Christ laid aside His divine majesty. It’s not that it was absent but we might think of it as it was hidden for a time. Just again, all analogies in these mysteries are imperfect but just as perhaps Superman’s identity is hidden under Clark Kent, it’s hidden for a time. He took the form of a servant, He submitted Himself to the demands of the law and the curse of the law.

Usually there are said five stages in this humiliation. You know them probably without realizing it because they’re given the in Apostles’ Creed: His incarnation, His suffering, His death, His burial, and His descent into Hell. The Apostles’ Creed describes it born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried and descended into Hell. Those five steps, or stages, in His humiliation.

Now notice in the Nicene Creed it’s less exact, no mention is made of the descent into Hell, and there’s actually no explicit reference to Christ’s death but His death is clearly implied when it mentions His crucifixion, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. The Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, outline the same basic steps.

So the first half there, His humiliation.

Now look at the Creed. It turns to His exaltation. So this is where Christ’s passed from the penalty of the law and He came to possess all the blessings that belong to Him by virtue of His covenant obedience, and then He was crowned with glory and honor.

So typically five stages in that state of humiliation and typically theologians talk about four stages in His exaltation: Resurrection, ascension, session, and return.

So we have it there in the Nicene Creed, “on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures, He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and shall come again to judge both the living and the dead.”

Rather than meditating on each of those steps, let me just make a few summary statements about this aspect of the Creed.

One. Notice that the work of Christ as we have just laid out consists in both humiliation and exaltation and both are essential to our salvation. So on the one hand we cannot skip the pain of humiliation and go right to exaltation. That’s true for Christ and it’s true for us. All of this teaches us not only about the work of Christ but about our own lives. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just skip right to the crowning with glory and honor, right to the heavenly reward. But that’s not the way it worked for Christ and that’s not the way it works for us in Christian obedience. Part of being a man like us is that Christ was born like us, He suffered like us, He knew hunger and thirst like us, He was tempted like us, He knew betrayal like us, and ultimately He died like us.

Acts 14:22 says only through tribulations can we enter the kingdom of heaven. So no exaltation apart from humiliation.

On the other hand, the reverse is also true. Humiliation leads to exaltation. It’s easy for Christians to think that the work of Christ ended with His death on the cross. In a way, that is the climax, in a way, because Paul can give us a shorthand for his whole ministry that he preached Christ in him crucified. That can be a shorthand for the Gospel.

But I hope we realize the crucifixion is only good news because Christ did not stay dead. See, there is nothing redemptive in suffering itself. I remember one time hearing at a Good Friday service, it was quite a bad sermon, it was a different church, it wasn’t my church, I was glad, the minister said the Good Friday teaches us about the sacredness of suffering, and the point of his whole message was suffering is that holy place and where God meets us. Well, there’s something to that for the Christian, but suffering by itself, it’s not just if you have suffering in the world. You know who suffers? Not just Christians, non-Christians.

We don’t worship Jesus because we feel sorry for Him. No, He suffered in humiliation and then entered into this state of exaltation. While it’s impossible for us to pay too much attention to the resurrection as one aspect of that, we can’t emphasize the resurrection too much, it is possible to pay too little attention to the other three stages. Because I bet if I were to ask you what represents Christ’s exaltation, you might get the answer resurrection and you might think, yes, cross, resurrection, cross, empty tomb.

But the Creed helpfully reminds us the totality of that work in the state of exaltation is not only in His resurrection but also in His ascension because in His ascension we see that He is returning to be with the Father, and then in being seated at the right hand, that’s called his session. Now some of you know that the governing board of elders is called a session. It’s a session because it is they’re being seated.

One of my kids asked me one time, “You have an elders’ meeting? Is that that meeting with all those men where you talk for a while?” Yeah, I mean, that’s the gist of it.

The session, that theological term, refers to Christ being seated. As I’ve said before, why is exaltation? What’s so exalting about being seated? Well, husbands, ask your wife sometime after she’s put all the kids to bed, and men you should help her put the kids to bed, and she had to do the dishes, and we should help, did all of the work, ask how exalting it feels if she can sit down, because the session indicates the work has been accomplished and now there is reward, which usually means, I don’t know, Joanna Gaines or something or bedtime. The session.

And then His coming again, in authority, to execute judgment upon His return.

So suffering is not the whole story. Christ suffered as one of us that He might suffer for us, He was cast low that He might be lifted up.

So that’s one summary point here.

Second. Notice the language related to the incarnation has changed from the Creed of Nicaea to the Nicene Creed. Again, if you have this little pamphlet, you can see in the middle we have printed the Creed of Nicaea. Remember, 325 is the Council and they adopt this Creed, but what we know as the Nicene Creed is refined and added to and in some ways is theologically the same, yes, but a new document at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

So if you turn to the middle you see the Creed of Nicaea has it a little bit different, as it says He became incarnate, became man, suffered and rose again on the third day.

But when we come to the Nicene Creed, it says He came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, by the Virgin Mary, and made man.

So it’s a little bit more involved. Why? Well, scholars aren’t sure if it’s responding to a particular theological problem. It may be that this was just the familiar language by the time of 381. But many initially after the Council of Constantinople argue that this new language had been inserted in response to a new heresy called Apollinarism.

All right, so you got your heresy scorecard from previous weeks, Arianism in particular, well, here’s a new one. Apollinaris. He was a bishop in Syria and he was a friend of Athanasius, so when you think Athanasius, again you need your card, Athanasius/good guy, Arius/bad guy. He was a friend of Athanasius, ah. So this Apollinaris must be a good guy. Well, he meant to be. He was adamantly opposed to Arianism, he was determined to defend the full deity of Christ, but as sometimes happens in these debates, you’re so intent on wanting to protect one truth that you overcompensate and neglect another truth.

So in simplest terms, the problem with the theology of Apollinaris is that he denied that Christ had a human mind, sometimes called a rational soul in philosophical terms.

So he fully acknowledged homoousia, of the same essence with the Father, so it wasn’t on the divine side, but rather on the human side that Apollinaris made a mistake. He reasoned, well, if human beings are compose of an immaterial spirit and a material body, then Christ only needed to have a human body joined to the Logos, the Word, to that divine Spirit, as it were, in order to be a true human being.

So Apollinaris thought that he could protect the fullness of Christ’s deity and avoid all sorts of other theological complications, if we understood that Christ, He had a human nature, yes, He had a human body, but He didn’t have a human mind, because once you say Christ had a human mind then you have, well, how does that work? What sort of will does He have and does He have human will and the divine will and how do you understand what Christ is thinking or feeling or knowing if He has a human mind?

But He did have a human mind. Apollinaris may have had good intentions but his theology was condemned as heretical. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451 his views were put out of bounds and there at Chalcedon, at least then, 70 years later, theologians were saying, “Ah, the Nicene Creed in 381 was meant to counteract some of his views.”

How so? Well, in affirming that Christ was incarnate by the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary, one theologian, named Diogenes, for example, believed that the Nicene Creed meant to oppose any notion that Jesus only appeared to be a man. It’s a constellation of false teachings called Docetism, which is a Greek word meaning to appear or to seem. So you can understand people are saying, yes, Jesus fully God, but then sometimes they made the mistake, well, maybe wasn’t quite fully man. He maybe didn’t have a human mind or maybe He appeared to be human, and the Nicene Creed, Diogenes was arguing, was inserted this phrase “incarnate by the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary” to make sure we know that the baby that was born and given birth, conceived in this miraculous way, was a human being like us, consisting of body and mind. It wasn’t some other kind of being then was augmented in a kind of superhero fashion, but was fully God, fully man.

So there’s a crucial point here for Orthodox Christology and soteriology and it comes back to this famous phrase by a theologian named Gregory of Nazianzus, who said, various translated but it said, “The unassumed is the unhealed.” Or, whatever Christ did not assume, He could not heal. That’s one of the famous formulas from this Church father Gregory of Nazianzus.

Well, what does that mean? It means whatever Christ came to save and to save to the uttermost, He must have assumed. So if wants to heal our bodies, He needs to have a human body. And if you say He just has a human body and He doesn’t have a human mind, then He can’t fully heal all of the effects of sin in the human mind. That’s the point. The unassumed is the unhealed.

What Gregory meant is that Christ can only save what Christ was. So He cannot save human beings if He has a rational soul that is something different than our own minds. The Son who saves must be fully human with a human body, a human mind, human emotions, and a human capacity for suffering and death. He assumed all of that who for us and for our salvation came down.

Here’s a third summary statement. Let’s come back to this addition which we skipped over at the very end of the second paragraph. So look there. “To judge both the living and the dead,” and you notice there’s one other statement, “who’s kingdom shall have no end.” It’s easy to skip that. It seems like an unremarkable phrase. It’s little more than a direct quotation from Luke 1:33. But in all likelihood, this phrase was added to combat another false teaching.

See what happens with these creeds? You write a creed. You remember at the first Incredibles movie where he’s, Mr. Incredible is kind of given the introduction and he’s saying, “Why can’t the world just stay saved?” Well, that’s sort of what it is with heresy and with false teaching. You can’t just go out and defeat the theological bad guys one time and say, “There it is, the work is done” because there’s new problems.

So between the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople, there was a false teaching attributed to a man name Marcellus of Ancyra and he, too, was a staunch opponent of Arianism, but he had a very strange view of the Trinity. He believed the Son and the Holy Spirit were sent forth from the Father at creation and at the consummation of all things, the Son and the Spirit would return to the Father and they would make the Godhead an absolute unity once again.

For Marcellus the Trinity was a kind of temporary arrangement and the incarnation was not permanent. Again, if had a theological true or false test, true or false, Jesus Christ seated at the right hand of God, now in heaven, is fully man. I hope you would say true. The incarnation is perpetual. It’s not as if He became man, He did the work of salvation, and then okay, take off the human nature and I’m back to the Son. The miracle of the incarnation will endure for all time.

So there’s lots of implications of this and I think what the Nicene Creed is doing here, “whose kingdom shall have no end,” is trying to remind us that the incarnation continues, because whose kingdom, whose kingdom shall have no end? Well, it’s the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, begotten of the Father before all worlds, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, the One who for us and for our salvation came down and was made man. That Christ, the incarnate Christ, the incarnate Son of God, His kingdom shall have no end.

I often connect this, because Presbyterian pastors do, with Lord of the Rings because you remember will Gondor, will Gondor, will there ever be a king of Gondor to sit on the throne? Remember they’re all arguing and the race of men is weak, will there ever be a man to sit on Gondor’s throne? No, the men are spent, the race of men is weak, never again.

There is a man, a God-man, but a man who sits on the throne of the universe because the incarnation is perpetual. So this Marcellus was wrong. He thought, well, Christ must revert to some kind of purer state of being. No, He continues to live and reign as the God-man Christ Jesus. That’s whose kingdom shall have no end.

__ of Jerusalem stated in opposition to Marcellus, “If ever you hear anyone saying that there is an end to the kingship of Christ, hate that heresy. It is another head of the dragon which has sprouted lately in the region of Galatia.” So he put that on Twitter and it went viral. Hate that heresy. The kingdom of Christ lasts forever and so does the incarnate Christ, who reigns over this glorious kingdom.

All right. Half-time. Not in the football game, that’s probably over, you can figure out who won later, but half-way in this exposition of the Nicene Creed. Because we have a section left to go in our 15 minutes remaining, and that is the next paragraph. Not all of it, we have one more week, but notice there we turn from the Son to the Spirit, “and we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.”

If you see in the middle, the Creed of Nicaea, this is the most significant change. What does it say about the Holy Spirit? “And in the Holy Spirit.” It’s like a student who just doesn’t want to go over the word count, well, we better say something, we’ll just leave it right there. No, I’m sure they wanted to affirm Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the main argument was not then about the Holy Spirit.

Well, by the time you get from 325 to 381, the council, this new council says quite a bit more about the Holy Spirit. You notice the language is to explain that the Holy Spirit also is God. Now it doesn’t use the same homoousia language, maybe because it wanted to reserve that for the Son or, we should be honest, maybe some were still sort of wrestling with this doctrine and how best to describe it, but it’s clear that the Holy Spirit is given these titles to indicate that the Holy Spirit is equal in rank and power and authority with the Father and the Son. So He’s called the Lord, the giver of life, He’s with the Father and the Son and together is worshiped and glorified. So He is to be glorified.

You remember what happened to Herod in Acts when they glorified him as a god and he received that worship, he was immediately struck dead. So the fact that we worship and glorify the Spirit means that the Spirit is equally God with the Father and the Son.

Now all of that is relatively straightforward. The most difficult and controversial part, however, is right there in the middle and I skipped over it, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” That reading which you have in the Trinity Hymnal and in this pamphlet, is the Western version. There’s an Eastern version and a Western version, I’ll say much more about that in these next moments.

The Eastern version, and we should say the original version, of the Nicene Creed did not contain that language “and the Son.” The phrase in Latin, remember the Nicene Creed originally written in Greek, but Latin is in the western part of the empire and so this is translated and used in Latin, the phrase in Latin is “filioque,” or “filioque.” Filius being the Latin word for “son” and que, q-u-e, being a Latin suffix added to the end of the world to mean “and.” So you can see it there in English, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

Now believe it or not, this word “filioque” was one of the main theological reasons that the Western and the Eastern Church finally and officially split in 1054, the great schism. Now there are lots of other reasons, there were geographic reasons, linguistic reasons, the empire’s, the East still had a kind of Roman Empire with Byzantium and the West had fallen under hard times and was just beginning to have a sense of cohesion, so there’s lots of other political, cultural, geographic reasons, conflicts in other ways over clerical celibacy, icons, lots of things. But this was one of the main theological differences.

From our perspective, we might scratch our heads and say, “What? A whole church and empire split apart because of filioque? I’m not even sure what it means that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. I don’t know what it means that He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and I sure don’t know why we would fight over it.”

Well, let me give you some history and some theology, and then we’ll close.

So the history. The history of this clause. So as I said, in 381, there is no language “and the Son.” How does that get in there? Why do we have it in our Western version of the Nicene Creed? The official adoption of the filioque clause in the West dates to the Council of Toledo. Not that Toledo, which Michigan gave up for the Upper Peninsula, but Toledo in Spain in 589. The history here is important.

In the fourth century you have these tribes, the Gothic tribes, and they were converted to Christianity but many of them were converted to Arian Christianity. So they’re Arians. That’s not good. As these Gothic tribes in kind of the middle part of Europe move west and they encounter Latin Christianity, because Latin Christianity, Western Christianity, Western Europe, east to today Greece or Turkey, Constantinople, that’s in the east and Greek-speaking, as they move west, or I guess from your view, as they move west, they encounter this Latin Christianity which is steadfastly opposed to Arianism.

There’s a man by the name of Reccared and he’s the Visigoth king over Spain in the second half of the sixth century. There’s a bishop named Leander of Seville who worked hard to convert the Visigoths from Arianism to Orthodox or catholic Christianity, not Roman Catholic but just catholic Christianity and he had very little success except he had one notable convert, and it was this man. Generally, if you’re going to convert one person, it was helpful to convert the king, Reccared. So he is no longer an Arian.

Well, when the king is not an Arian and the rest of the Visigoths are, this leads to a schism. Wanting to have unity, a council is convened in Toledo in 589. Leander, the bishop; Reccared, the king; some in the assembly, and they kind of see the writing on the wall and so few of the Arians attend, and the Council of Toledo declares in favor of catholic, or orthodox, Christianity and the Nicene Creed.

So yes, victory, and they affirm the Nicene Creed but they use a Latin translation. Why? Because that’s what they speak, that’s the language of that part of Western Europe. They use a Latin translation that includes this filioque clause, the Father and the Son. It’s unlikely that the Council of Toledo thought they were doing something novel. They were likely using an existing translation that churches had been using for decades, maybe generations, so the filioque is almost certainly older than 589. They said we want to affirm the Nicene Creed, that’s catholic Christianity, that’s orthodox Christianity. All right. Bring in the Nicene Creed.

Well, they speak Latin so they bring in the Latin without realizing that this is not exactly a one-to-one translation of what the Nicene Creed in the Greek says. So they affirm this filioque in the Nicene Creed. And in affirming that, they actually thought they were establishing unity. They meant it to be a coming together, look, we believe what all the Christians believe, just like the Greek Church believes, and we’re catholic, this is the universal faith. They likely thought the Latin translation they were using was a faithful rendering and this brings us together.

But of course it wasn’t. It had a new clause, or a new word, the filioque.

Now this didn’t become a big deal right away, but by the eighth century it became a major doctrinal division between the East and the West.

So here’s how the Eastern side would view things. The Eastern perspective would say, “Hey, you people in the West, you can’t go changing the Nicene Creed on your own. This was an ecumenical council. This is what the universal Church believes. This is the most shared important confession of the Church.”

And remember, too, in these centuries there’s more Christians in the East, there’s more money in the East, there’s bigger churches in the East, the most important bishop __ are in the East. Most of us know much more about the Western half of the equation, but the real power for most of the Middle Ages was much more in the East. So the Greeks are kind of saying, “Where do you get off changing the Nicene Creed? Your part of the old Roman Empire isn’t even that important. And by the way, this Nicene Creed was written by these bishops under divine inspiration. They almost have an infallibility attached to the Creed of Nicaea.”

So that’s the Eastern view, “Where do you get off doing this?”

There’s theological we’ll come to in a moment, but that’s historically.

What about the West? Well, in the West, they think, it’s true the Nicene theology is unalterable, but that theology needed to be spelled out in greater detail given the continuing threat of heresy. So from the perspective of the West, they thought we didn’t use filioque to teach a new doctrine but we wanted to make explicit what should have been understood. And they might have thought to themselves, after all, don’t we call the Nicene Creed the Creed that actually wasn’t written at Nicaea? It was written at Constantinople but we call it the Nicene Creed because it’s the same theology of the Council of Nicaea.

So in the West they thought, don’t we already have a principle at work that this shared theology may need to be further explicated in order to make clear certain other heresies are out of bounds. As the West saw things, when the Council of Chalcedon in 451 adopted the Creed from Nicaea and the one from Constantinople, it established the principle credo formulas can be tweaked when new doctrinal developments arise.

Now the West was probably right that it didn’t see itself as changing everything, and the East was right in that it had.

So what about the theology? You say, “That’s interesting history, what difference does it really make to say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son and what are we even talking about?”

Well, we’re talking about how does the Spirit relate to the Father and the Son. The Son, we’ve already seen in the Nicene Creed, the Son relates to the Father in that He is eternally begotten of the Father, because a father begets a son. Now that’s an eternal begetting, not in time. The Nicene Creed makes that clear. This was not in a moment of time. He’s not a creature. He’s not an aspect of creation. But to describe the relationship, He is the only begotten Son of the Father, that’s how the Father and the Son relate. That’s how we describe their relations.

Okay. What about the Spirit? Well, the Creed uses this word of procession, coming forth from. Again, not as an act of creation, but just trying to understand the inner workings of the Trinity.

So does the Holy Spirit come forth from the Father or come forth from the Father and the Son? Again, let me give you the perspective of the East and of the West.

Here’s what I think the East would say. They would say John 15:26 – but when the helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father He will bear witness about Me.

From the perspective of the East, they say, “What could be any clearer? That verse says who proceeds from the Father. Why are you saying He proceeds from the Father and the Son? What could be clearer? John 15:26 teaches a single procession of the Spirit.”

Moreover, from the perspective of the East and these distinctions still remain with eastern orthodoxy and in the West would be Roman Catholic and Protestant, the East would say this filioque undermines the primacy of the Father. There can be only one cause of another person of the Trinity.

Now that language is imperfect, it doesn’t mean He created the Spirit, but one cause of the Spirit. If the Spirit is equally caused by the Father and the Son, then the Son is like a Father giving birth to a Spirit, and then if the Father and the Son both cause the Spirit to come forth, then isn’t the Spirit something less, the Father and the Son are one thing and the Spirit must be some other kind of person.

There is at the heart of the theological argument from the East a concern to protect the first-ness of the Father, the monarchae, monos/one, arche meaning power or authority. Not first in that He is more God, but there is a kind of order, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s never Spirit, Father, Son. It’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And the East was jealous to protect the monarchae of the Father.

How do we distinguish between the Father and the Son if both act together in the procession of the Spirit? That’s what they were arguing in the East and why they were against the filioque clause, in addition to the historical reasons.

What about from the West? Well, the West says yes, John 15:26 does there talk about the procession of the Spirit from the Father, we believe that, but that’s not the only passage to consider. John 20:22 has Jesus breathing out the Spirit. The Holy Spirit bears witness to the Father and the Son. Galatians 4:6 says He is the Spirit of the Son.

So in the West they argued without this filioque clause, there’s no clear relationship between the Son and the Spirit. You have the Father and the Son, begotten of the Father, the Spirit proceeding from the Father, and what’s the connection point between the Spirit and the Son?

No, the East would say well, we know those Bible verses about the Son breathing out the Spirit, the Son giving at Pentecost the gift of the Spirit, but those things they would argue are talking about the working of the Trinity in time and space. We’re talking about the inner being of God and eternity.

But the West would argue, and I think rightly, that if the Trinity in time has revealed the Godhead in this way as the Spirit being breathed forth, spirated from the Son, that that must correspond to something about the inner workings of the Trinity. How can we say that the Spirit came forth from the Son in time if there’s not some sense in which the Spirit also came forth from the Son in eternity?

There’s a concern here, so if the concern in the East is with protecting the primacy of the Father, the concern in the West is with protecting the same essence, the consubstantiality, of the Father and the Son. So they were concerned, the reason why they had the filioque clause there, was because they saw it as a great spear in the side of Arianism. It’s just one more way in which the Father and the Son, we see share the same essence because the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and the Son, so they must be equal. The Son is the image of the Father, the Spirit comes forth as a kind of image of the Son, the Son comes in the name of the Father, the Spirit comes in the name of the Son, and therefore the filioque clause shows us how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are related.

Well. You say you’ve used up your minutes and you didn’t solve this problem. Well, let me, is there any solution to this impasse? We have it here in the Trinity Hymnal in the Western version, so we do believe there is good theological reason, though I sympathize with brothers and sisters in the Eastern church who would say, “Historically this was added, not in the way that would have been best.”

So here’s what the East gets right. They’re saying do not blur the distinction between the Father and the Son, that’s right.

The West is saying do not deny the full equality of the Father and the Son, and that is right.

Now you say does this have any real practical outworking? Well, you could argue that it does. In Eastern Orthodoxy you may find that there is a focal point of piety and worship that lands in a unique way on the Father, which perhaps seems different to those from Western, that is catholic, Roman Catholic or Protestant, where the focal point of piety and worship would terminate on the Son, the cross, the work of the Son. Now it’s not that we would deny anything about the primacy of the Father or they, I hope, would not deny about the central working of the Son, but there may be something downstream all these years later from the filioque clause that does really manifest itself in a difference in piety and worship.

In 1439 the Council of Florence adopted a compromise formula which many, but not all, have found as a good solution. The Council of Florence said that the double procession there, proceeding from the Father and the Son, should be understood as “from the Father through the Son.” So that protects the primacy of the Father without negating the role of the Son. So that council said we should understand the Nicene Creed to be teaching in the filioque clause the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. Others have suggested “from the Father in the Son.” I do commend that as a good way of understanding it.

It was not until 1965 that Pope Paul VI, from the West, and patriarch Athenagoras I from the East, withdrew mutual anathemas that had been upon each communion since 1054. So it took 900 years for the mutual anathemas relative to the filioque clause to be removed.

Now the Protestant church doesn’t have a Pope, ¬¬Ligon is the closest we have, so we don’t, we didn’t have any official anathemas to remove from anyone because no one speaks for all of us. That’s the challenge but part of the glory of believing in the perspicuity of Scripture and the liberty of conscience.

Gerald Bray argues that there is something to be said for dropping the causal understanding of procession and thinking it more in terms of relations, and then it makes more sense the double procession. We don’t want to say that the Spirit has a relationship to the Father that is qualitatively different than His relationship to the Son. We want to affirm the Father as the monarch as it were, the one cause of the Son and the Spirit, but at the same time affirm a relation between the Son and the Spirit so that the Word and the Spirit can never be separated.

This does matter as we think about worship. Because the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, the Spirit and the Word can never be separated in our piety, in our devotion, in our worship. So at its best, this doctrine of the double procession, or the filioque, is meant to integrate the work of Christ and the work of the Spirit, underscoring the critical biblical truth that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ.

So here John 16:14, Jesus says He, the Spirit, will glorify Me for He will take what is mine and declare it to you, all that the Father has is mine, therefore I said He, the Spirit, will take what is mine and declare it to you.

That’s what we mean to protect and affirm in the Spirit of Christ being sent by the Father and the Son that He might glorify Christ and lead us to worship and to bow the knee to the glory of God the Father for now and eternity.

Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we give thanks for this ancient creed and giving us the time and attention that we may think on these things, difficult as they are. We pray that it would move us to worship, from theology to doxology, that we might praise You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.