Vatican Clarification on Filioque

The PCPCU published in 1995 a text on the Filioque entitled “The Filioque: A Clarification”. It has good points. Yet, it is not without reason for criticism. Zizioulas among the Orthodox has criticized it. D. Coffey among the Catholics has criticized it (and quite well and incisively I might add).

I’d like to add a few minor observations.

First, the document speaks of the conflict between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’. This is the usual way in which the conflict is put. And it is understandable. However, it is not accurate.

The conflict is between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches. The Catholic Church is both Eastern and Western in terms of her theology and rites. (Both churches are Eastern and Western geographically.) Thus, we have an important ecclesiological correction to make to this picture. For there is but one true Church of Christ, and that is the Catholic Church. I consider that it is high time for ecumenical niceties to be sobered by realism. We cannot continue not to express the “fullness of the faith”. Part of that fullness is that there is also an exclusiveness. One true religion, etc.

Second, the document claims, “The Holy Spirit, therefore, takes his origin from the Father alone (ek monou tou Patros) in a principal, proper, and immediate manner” [Footnote Thomas Aquinas: ST Ia, q. 36, art. 3, ad 1.] This claim is problematic for two reasons.

We grant that the Holy Spirit proceeds principally from the Father, in the technical sense. That means, the Father is his principal without principal. It is not that the Spirit proceeds “less” from the Son. But that the Son, his principal, is himself from a principal. In short, the teaching here shores up the monarchy of the Father.

But it is odd to say that the HS proceeds from the Father alone in a “proper” manner. Is this opposed to an “improper” manner? Does it mean the term “proceeds” should not be linked to the Son? Does it mean that “proceeds” means only coming from an ultimate principal? Why then should the document include the expression “proceeds (ekporeuetai) from the Father through the Son?” Wouldn’t that be oxymoronic? Or is “proper” simply a redundant synonym for “principal”? These are questions.

Most important, however, is the misreading given to Thomas. The text aims to imply that the Spirit does not proceed “immediately” from the Son. (Or else this “alone” is part of a complex and thus misleading statement. Read as complex, it would mean: “Simply b/c the HS is from the Father alone in a principal way, therefore we can truly say HS is from the Father alone in a principal and immediate manner, although he is not from the Father alone in an immediate manner. Misleading to say the least!)

Thomas’s text is in response to obj. 1. Objection 1 contends: If the HS is “from the Father through the Son” then he is not immediately from the Father, which is false. So, the response is aimed precisely at that statement. Now, even the good Fathers of the English Dominican Providence have a translation that may be seen to ‘tilt’ in the direction the Clarification takes. However, Thomas only states the following in his response: (1) HS is from the Father immediately as from him; and (2) He is from the Father (this is understood in the Latin more clearly) mediately as from the Father through the Son. Thus, Thomas is not denying that the HS is from the S immediately. In fact, his entire theology contends he is from the S immediately.