The Nicene Creed and the Filioque:
A Lutheran Approach


On November 4, 1998, representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas approved “A Lutheran-Orthodox Common Statement on Faith in the Holy Trinity.” This communiqué addresses, among other things, the historic debate between the Eastern and Western branches of Christendom on the subject of the Filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. The older Greek version of the Creed, used in churches of the Eastern or Byzantine tradition, confesses that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.” The later Latin version, used in churches of the Western tradition, confesses that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” (Filioque in Latin). According to the recent ELCA-Orthodox statement,

the Lutheran members of this dialogue are prepared to recommend to their church that it publicly recognize that the permanently normative and universally binding form of the Nicene Creed is the Greek text of A.D. 381, and that it undertake steps to reflect this recognition in its worship and teaching. This would be a way of enacting in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America the Lutheran World Federation resolution of 1990, which found it “appropriate” that member churches “which already use the Nicene Creed in their liturgies may use the version of 381, for example in ecumenical services,” and further found it appropriate that Lutherans preparing common vernacular texts of the Nicene Creed together with Orthodox churches “may agree to a version without the ‘western’ filioque.”1

Does this mean that the ELCA and other LWF affiliates are now in doctrinal agreement with the canonical Orthodox churches on the question of the Holy Spirit’s procession? No, it does not. Again, according to the statement,

Lutherans are not prepared to regard the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as a heresy – a teaching against faith in the Holy Trinity. It is part of their confessional documents, and many of the chief teachers of the Lutheran tradition, including Luther himself, taught it vigorously. Lutheran recognition that the Filioque is not part of the Nicene Creed in its original and ecumenically binding form is not, therefore, to be equated with Lutheran rejection of all theological teaching which ascribes to the Son a role in the procession of the Holy Spirit, still less with an acknowledgment that all such teaching is heretical.2

In contrast, the statement also declares that

Orthodox do not regard the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father to be one which they can accept. This teaching is opposed to the monarchy of the Father and to the equality of the Spirit to the Father and the Son as a hypostasis or person distinct from both, as expressed by the original Creed. ... That the Holy Spirit eternally comes forth from the Son, so as to depend for his being and his possession of the one divine nature on the Son as well as on the Father, is a teaching which Orthodox uniformly oppose.3

The ELCA members of the Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue are willing to set aside, at least in certain respects, the version of the Creed that they have always used, but at the same time they wish to retain the pneumatological theology that this version of the Creed embraces and reflects. What are we to make of this?

The Greek version of the Nicene Creed, which is the only version that has ever been used in the Eastern Orthodox Church, was,

according to the traditional view, constructed at the Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381, as a revision of the creed of Nicaea (N). There is no doubt that this text (designated as C) was ratified at the Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451, and that within a half-century it was in general use. The uncertainty concerning its composition arises from the lack of documentary evidence from the Council of Constantinople, together with alleged silence concerning it in the literature of the time, as well as discrepancies in wording. It is probable, however, that the Council of Constantinople did indeed approve the text C, not as a revision of N, but as a parallel statement fully in the Nicene spirit.4

The version of the Nicene Creed that appears in the Book of Concord, and that therefore forms a part of the historic Confessional basis of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, is, of course, the Latin version, which includes the Filioque.5 This form of the Creed originated on the occasion of the reception of the Visigoths into the communion of the Catholic Church in sixth-century Spain. The Filioque clause “was officially sanctioned and incorporated into the Constantinopolitan Symbol at the third council at Toledo (589), in order to express the rejection of Arianism which had been held by the Visigoths.”6 The Latin Fathers, most notably St. Augustine, had always taught that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (on the basis of passages such as John 16:14-15, Galatians 4:6, Philippians 1:19, and 1 Peter 1:11). This teaching had also already found symbolical expression in the so-called Athanasian Creed. The participants in this council therefore did not think that what they were doing would be seen as divisive or doctrinally problematic. Nevertheless, this alteration was not immediately accepted by all segments of the Latin Church. It eventually did achieve normative status in the West, but only after several centuries. When the Council of Toledo (a local council) added the Filioque to the text of the Creed,

The pope protested, not for dogmatic reasons, but because he considered it technically incorrect to add this word to an official document of an ecumenical council. Leo III, the contemporary of Charlemagne, also opposed the filioque. By the middle of the eleventh century the Roman Church included the filioque in the symbol or creed.7

As we study the history of each version of the Creed, and the theological tradition that lay behind each version, we must begin by noting that no reputable theologian in the Latin Christian tradition (including the Lutheran Confessors of the sixteenth century) ever considered the Creed that was adopted at the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 to be a heterodox statement. When the Constantinopolitan Fathers confessed that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father,” they were, of course, directly quoting the words of Jesus as recorded in John 15:26. In their theological correspondence with the Patriarch of Constantinople in the latter part of the sixteenth century, Jacob Andreae8 and his colleagues on the faculty of Tübingen University comment on this passage, with reference to the Filioque issue:

Yes, we too, of course, believe in that saying; but we cannot see how it follows if someone would thus say: that because the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, He [the Spirit] does not proceed from the Son. For the procession of the Spirit from the Father does not negate the procession from the Son.9

And as Andreae and his colleagues note further, the Creed adopted at Constantinople “states that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, but it does not teach that He proceeds from the Father alone.”10 In other words, the absence of the Filioque is not necessarily a denial of the Filioque, just as the absence in both versions of the Creed of explicit references to many other important articles of faith, such as original sin or the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, is not a denial of those doctrines.

The ancient Greek and Latin Fathers certainly acknowledged each other as brethren, with whom the blessings of church fellowship were enjoyed. However, because of their linguistic differences these Fathers frequently used different words and concepts in their theological writing. This was not perceived as a major problem, since the differences in terminology did not reflect differences in doctrine. The ancient Fathers understood that the same Biblical truth can be stated in a variety of ways, just as Lutherans recognize the Augsburg Confession and the Smalcald Articles as mutually-compatible expressions of the same faith, despite the marked differences in style and vocabulary between Philip Melanchthon and Martin Luther.

In regard to the historic discussions among the Greek and Latin Fathers on the eternal interrelationships of the Persons of the Godhead, Martin Chemnitz11 observes that

Both parties confessed that the Spirit is of the Son as well as of the Father; but the Greeks said that He is “from the Father through the Son,” and the Latins said “from the Father and the Son.” They each had reasons for speaking the way they did. Gregory of Nazianzus, on the basis of Romans 11[:36], says that the prepositions ek, dia, and eis express the properties of [the three persons in] one unconfused essence.12 Therefore, the Greeks said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from (ek, ex) the Father through (dia) the Son, so that the property of each nature [or person] is preserved. Nor did the Latins take offense at this formula for describing the matter. For Jerome and Augustine both say that the Holy Spirit properly and principally proceeds from the Father, and they explain this by saying that the Son in being begotten of the Father receives that which proceeds from the Father, namely, the Holy Spirit; but the Father receives from none, but has everything from Himself, as Lombard says, Bk. 1, dist. 12.13

Andreae and his colleagues interpret this history in much the same way. The leading Fathers of the Greek Church do not explicitly teach that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from” the Son. The Tübingen theologians still believe, however, that these Fathers “hold the same opinion with us, even though they might differ somewhat in expression.”14 They cite as an example St. Epiphanius of Salamis (+403), who had written that the Holy Spirit “is from the same essence of the Father and the Son,”15 and who had also written that the Spirit is “truly of the Father and the Son, being of the same Godhead, proceeding from the Father, and forever receiving from the Son.”16 Another Greek Father who “agrees with us,” according to Andreae and company, is St. Cyril of Alexandria (+444), who had taught that the divine nature of the Holy Spirit “is of God the Father and certainly also of the Son,” and “that the Spirit comes forth from the Father through the Son.”17

Regarding the phrase “from the Father through the Son,” frequently employed in the Greek Church as an alternative to the Filioque formula, the Tübingen theologians state that “for us it is not customary to speak thus.”18 They also forthrightly reject any interpretation of the phrase which would make it mean “that the Holy Spirit proceeds indirectly.”19 But the phrase can be understood and used correctly. According to the Tübingen faculty, the words “through” (dia) and “from” (ek), as they are used in this context by St. Cyril, “are here to be understood in the same way as in the statement: ‘yet we know that a man is not justified by works of the law but “through” faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not “from” works of the law’ [Gal 2:16].”20

As the Tübingen theologians state their own position regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit, they are very careful to identify themselves with the teaching of the ancient Fathers, especially St. Augustine of Hippo (+430), who understood and appreciated the legitimate doctrinal concerns of the Greek Church more clearly than the Scholastic theologians of a later era.21 On the basis of the many Trinitarian statements in the Gospel of John, and elsewhere in Scripture, Andreae and his co-laborers recognize that there is indeed an eternal order among the Divine Persons. They acknowledge that the Father is “the source of the Godhead, but outside of time so that we will not place the Son after the Father [in time].”22 Elaborating on this point, they explain that

The Father, indeed, is the first hypostasis of the All-Holy Trinity, for He is the origin, source, and cause of the others [Son and Holy Spirit]. And the Son is the second [hypostasis], by reason of origin but not of time, being posterior to the Father and anterior to the Holy Spirit. Also, the Holy Spirit is the third [hypostasis], being posterior to both [Father and Son] by reason of origin.23

This statement clearly echoes the position of Luther, who like Andreae and his colleagues was a student of the patristic tradition in his understanding and explanation of intra-Trinitarian distinctions. For example, Luther had written:

All of this has been said so that we may recognize and believe in three distinct Persons in the one Godhead and not jumble the Persons together nor divide the essence. The distinction of the Father, as we have heard, is this, that He derived His deity from no one, but gave it from eternity, through the eternal birth, to the Son. Therefore the Son is God and Creator, just like the Father, but the Son derived all of this from the Father, and not, in turn, the Father from the Son. The Father does not owe the fact that He is God and Creator to the Son, but the Son owes the fact that He is God and Creator to the Father. And the fact that Father and Son are God and Creator they do not owe to the Holy Spirit; but the Holy Spirit owes the fact that He is God and Creator to the Father and the Son. Thus the words “God Almighty, Creator” are found [in the Creed] as attributes of the Father and not of the Son and of the Holy Spirit to mark the distinction of the Father from the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead, again, the distinction of the Son from the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the distinction of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son; namely, that the Father is the source, or the fountainhead (if we may use that term as the fathers do) of the Godhead, that the Son derives it from Him and that the Holy Spirit derives it from Him and the Son, and not vice versa.24

The Tübingen theologians also explain why the Spirit’s procession from the Son should not be conceived of in exactly the same way as his procession from the Father:

Indeed, it is a matter of perfection that the Father with the Son, but not without Him, is to emit the Holy Spirit. And even though the two, the Father and the Son, emit the one, the Holy Spirit, yet they do not emit Him [the Spirit] as two, separately and distinctly, but they emit Him as one conjoined together; and the primacy of the emission returns to the Father, who indeed has given this perfect power of breathing to the Son through the begetting as Augustine in Book fifteen in The Holy Trinity says: from whom the Son has [power] to be God; certainly, from the same He has the [power] so that the Holy Spirit proceeds from Him [the Son] also.25

St. Augustine’s actual words, in his treatise On the Trinity, are as follows:

And yet it is not to no purpose that in this Trinity the Son and none other is called the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit and none other the Gift of God, and God the Father alone is He from whom the Word is born, and from whom the Holy Spirit principally [principaliter] proceeds. And therefore I have added the word principally, because we find that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. But the Father gave Him this too, not as to one already existing, and not yet having it; but whatever He gave to the only-begotten Word, He gave by begetting Him. Therefore He so begat Him as that the common Gift should proceed from Him also, and the Holy Spirit should be the Spirit of both.26

Elsewhere in this treatise, Augustine says that “in their mutual relation to one another in the Trinity itself, ...the Father is a beginning [principium] in relation to the Son, because He begets Him.” He says furthermore “that the Father and the Son are a Beginning [Principium] of the Holy Spirit, not two beginnings.”27

At the risk of oversimplifying a very nuanced discussion, we might say that the Latin Fathers taught that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father in the “proper” and “principal” sense, and that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Son in a secondary and derivative sense (because of the Son’s eternal “begotten-ness” of the Father). The Son’s co-emission of the Spirit, in conjunction with the Father’s emission of the Spirit, is, of course, an eternal and timeless co-emission, since “among these three persons none is before or after another, none is greater or less than another, but all three persons are coequal and coeternal.”28

By comparison, the Greek Fathers did not categorize the concept of “procession from” into two senses. Instead, they taught that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father, with a meaning that is comparable to the Latin understanding of “proceeds from” in the “proper” and “principal” sense. In describing the eternal relationship of the Spirit to the Son they used different terminology altogether, stating that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds through the Son, or that he eternally receives from the Son, and similar expressions. The Greek Fathers certainly believed that the Spirit “is from the same essence of the Father and the Son,” but they were hesitant to say that the Spirit proceeds from the Son. In their theological vocabulary that phrase was reserved to describe the eternal relationship of the Spirit to the Father, who, as the eternal “source” of the Godhead, is the ultimate “source” of the Holy Spirit. In their careful use of this distinct and precise terminology, they hoped to preserve the church’s understanding of the distinct “internal” operations of each of the Divine Persons as taught in Holy Scripture. And especially in their teaching on the eternal emission of the Holy Spirit, they wanted it to be clearly understood that “the primacy of the emission returns to the Father.” The version of the Nicene Creed that was adopted at Constantinople confesses, in effect, “that the Holy Spirit properly and principally proceeds from the Father.” The Latin Church, at a later time, added to the Creed a confession of the Spirit’s procession from the Son (in a secondary and derivative sense), while the Greek Church never made such an addition. If it had, it almost definitely would not have followed the distinctive Latin approach, for the reasons given above.

According to Chemnitz and Andreae (who studied this subject more intensely than most Lutheran theologians have done), the intended meaning of the classic Greek terminology was essentially the same as the intended meaning of the classic Latin terminology. It was therefore not necessary for Christians in the Greek tradition to say, in so many words, that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from” the Son, since the terms that they did use to describe this relationship conveyed the same thought. But this ancient patristic consensus on the procession of the Holy Spirit, which the Lutheran Concordists recognized, began to be obscured in the eighth and ninth centuries. The overall relationship between East and West had started to sour, due largely to the Pope’s increasingly vocal claims to universal authority and jurisdiction over the entire church. In this climate of strained relations and mutual suspicions, the differences in theological vocabulary that had always existed between the two traditions, in reference to the intra-Trinitarian relationships, began to be portrayed by the more contentious elements on each side as evidence of real doctrinal differences. The Eastern Church was also offended by what it perceived as the unfraternal presumptuousness of those segments of the Western Church that had altered the official conciliar text of the Nicene Creed without its concurrence. The Greeks were especially displeased by the active efforts of Carolingian theologians and missionaries to promote and disseminate the altered version of the Creed, with the Filioque addition.

The growing tensions over the Filioque issue finally flared up in the year 867 when Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, accused the Western Church of heresy because of its belief that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.29 According to Photius the Latin teaching represented a new form of modalism or “semi-Sabellianism,” which “relativizes the reality of personal, or hypostatic existence, in the Trinity.”30 Communion between the Pope and the Patriarch was actually suspended for a time, although before Photius’ death that communion had been restored. It was, however, an uneasy peace. When fellowship between Rome and Constantinople was finally broken in 1054, disagreement over the Filioque was cited as a major cause of the separation.31

Some moderate and conciliatory voices were occasionally raised in the East, however. Theophylact of Ohrid, an Orthodox bishop and theologian from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, is described in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession as “a sensible writer.”32 His evaluation of the significance of the differences in expression regarding the Spirit’s eternal relationship with the Father and the Son is very similar to that of Chemnitz and Andreae, who may in fact have been influenced by him.33 Theophylact lived and wrote in the period immediately after the Great Schism (1054), when tensions between the Eastern and Western Churches were high. Nevertheless,

in the matter of the filioque Theophylact was surprisingly eirenic, and he sought to transfer the whole controversy from the dogmatic to the linguistic level. The basic problem, in his view, was the poverty of the Latin language, which possessed only the one word procedere where Greek possessed three or four terms: as a result the Latins were unable to distinguish with precision between the different types of relationship within the Trinity. In this way Theophylact refrained from accusing the west of downright error in doctrine.34

Gregory of Cyprus, Patriarch of Constantinople in the thirteenth century, and Gregory of Palamas, an influential Orthodox theologian and bishop who wrote in the fourteenth century, also attempted to build theological bridges to the West on this issue. These men maintained that there is,

within the inner life of the Trinity, an ‘eternal manifestation’ (aïdios ekphansis) of the Spirit by the Son. In this sense of ‘eternal manifestation’, so they argued, the Spirit may correctly be said to proceed ‘through’ (dia) or even ‘from’ (ek) the Son. But the two Gregories were careful to distinguish this ‘manifestation’ from ‘procession’ in the strict sense.35

According to Chemnitz, “This division was healed at the Council of Florence”36 which met from 1438 to 1445. This was a “union council,” with participants from the Latin and Greek Churches. Its aim was to heal the breach between Eastern and Western Christendom by reaching agreement on four divisive issues: papal primacy, the form of bread to be used in the Eucharist (leavened or unleavened), purgatory, and the Filioque.37 From the Latin side, the Pope was prompted toward this effort in part by the fear that the “conciliarists,” who believed in a limited papacy, might attempt to achieve union with the Byzantines on their own terms, without him. From the Greek side, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Byzantine emperor (who both attended) were prompted toward this effort in part by the imminent threat of conquest at the hands of the Turks. They hoped that one result of ecclesiastical reunion with the West would be much-needed military assistance from the West.

Chemnitz notes that the proceedings of the council are extent,

showing what each side said. When the Greeks saw the explanation of the Latins and how they believed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and on the basis of what evidence they established their case, they agreed with the statement. ... It is worthy of note that the Greeks said and proved on the basis of authentic manuscripts of the Nicene Canon, not only in the Greek manuscripts but also in the Latin ones which had been preserved at Rome, that the [original] wording was, “The Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father.” They were vehement in their contentions that the Latin manuscripts had been falsified because they had added the words “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” But when the explanation of the Latins was heard, they approved with general consensus that this had been done because when the controversy had arisen, this expression, “proceeds from the Father,” had been taken in a sinister sense as if the Son were not in all respects equal and consubstantial with the Father. Therefore the Latins had not added the words “who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” but had taken them over from the Athanasian Creed because the statement there is more explicit.38

The Latin participants at Florence reassured the Greeks that in their teaching on the Spirit’s procession from the Father and the Son they were not implying that there are two processions within the Godhead, or that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from two principles. Rather, as stated in the conciliar decree Laetentur caeli, “The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son eternally and substantially as it were from one source and cause.”39 On their part, the overwhelming majority of the Greek participants, who signed the decree, accepted the legitimacy of the Filioque addition to the Nicene Creed, “but with the stipulation that they were not to be required to introduce the filioque clause when they used the creed.”40 This was acceptable to the Latins. If the Filioque clause in the Creed would imply in a Greek context that the Father is not the ultimate source of the Godhead (something that was confessed in common by East and West), but that somehow the Father and the Son together are the ultimate source, or that there is no ultimate source, then Christians in a Greek context need not be required to use the Filioque clause in their version of the Creed. Laetentur caeli also declared that the two phrases, “from the Father and the Son” and “from the Father through the Son,” are, when properly understood, identical in meaning.41

The Council of Florence was ultimately unsuccessful in achieving the general union between East and West that its participants had hoped to see. This failure was due largely to the fact that the agreement that was reached on papal authority strongly reflected the Roman viewpoint, and was unacceptable to the majority of Orthodox Christians. Many of the Orthodox were also unwilling to acknowledge the Filioque teaching in any form, and repudiated the concessions that had been made by the Greeks at Florence. Still, at least from a Lutheran perspective, Chemnitz’s endorsement of the council’s settlement of the Filioque controversy is theologically and ecumenically significant.

While the deliberations at Florence did not result in a comprehensive reunion of the Latin and Greek Churches, they very definitely did provide a backdrop for later successful union efforts between Rome and certain sections of the Byzantine Church. In 1595, for example, as a prelude to the 1596 Union of Brest (which brought the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church into fellowship with Rome), the Ruthenian (Ukrainian) bishops drafted, and sent to the Pope, “Articles for Which We Need Guarantees from the Lord Romans before We Enter into Unity with the Roman Church.” The very first of these articles (to which the Pope did acquiesce) addressed the Filioque issue in a very Florentine fashion:

Firstly, since among the Romans and the Greeks there is a dispute as to the procession of the H(oly) Spirit, which is a considerable obstacle to unification and which probably endures for no other reason than that we do not want to understand each other, we, therefore, request that we not be constrained to a different confession [of faith], but that we remain with the one that we find expressed in the S(acred) Scriptures, in the Gospels, and also in the writings of the H(oly) Greek Doctors [i.e. Church Fathers], namely that the H(oly) Spirit does not have two origins, nor a double procession, but that He proceeds from one origin, as from a source – from the Father through the Son.42

The Ukrainians also requested, and were granted, the right to retain their own Eastern-Rite Liturgies, ceremonies, and rites. This would, and still does, include the continuing use of the Greek version of the Nicene Creed.43 Chemnitz certainly would have disapproved of the Union of Brest as a whole, since it involved the Ukrainians’ submission to papal authority and their acceptance of the Tridentine theological system. However, he would probably have been very sympathetic to the Florentine approach of the Union of Brest on the specific question of the procession of the Holy Spirit, and on the question of which version of the Creed would be used by the Ukrainian Catholics.

Returning now to an earlier question, what are we to make of the recent proposal that the Greek version of the Nicene Creed may be used in place of the Latin version, even in Western-Rite Lutheran churches where the Latin version has always been used? On the basis of what we have seen in the writings of Chemnitz and Andreae, and from the perspective of the Confessional Lutheran theology that they represent, it is the judgment of the present writer that the implementation of this proposal would too easily be misunderstood as a repudiation of the Lutheran belief that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father. Historically considered, “perhaps it was not a good idea to add new phrases to the Nicene Creed.”44 But since the Filioque has in fact been added to the Creed, it would not be a good idea now, after all this time, to take it out. Such an obvious change would certainly not go unnoticed, and would invariably be interpreted by many people as an admission that there was something doctrinally wrong with the deleted portion of the Creed. The Filioque teaching in the Latin Christian tradition, and the parallel forms of expression that were used by many of the Greek Fathers, do in fact reflect an important Biblical truth that is intimately connected to the Christocentric soteriology of Holy Scripture. St. Paul writes:

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (Romans 8:9, NKJV)

Lutherans should not minimize the importance of this teaching. The creedal change that is proposed by the Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue would very likely give the impression that agreement on this matter has now been reached with the modern-day Eastern Orthodox Church, on Orthodox terms. It would be another example of putting the ecumenical “cart” before the “horse” of doctrinal unity.45

It is true that the Latin version of the Creed was never approved by an ecumenical council.46 Nevertheless, it has been given formal symbolical status within the Lutheran Church through its incorporation in the Book of Concord. And according to the “Confessional Principle” of our church, which must not be sacrificed on the altar of modern ecumenism, this has as much standing among us as a doctrinal decree of an ecumenical council.

However, also on the basis of what we have seen in the writings of Chemnitz and Andreae, and from the perspective of the Confessional Lutheran theology that they represent, it is the judgment of the present writer that a Lutheran church which might emerge from, or take root in, the Byzantine Christian tradition, need not be required to start using the Latin version of the Creed in place of the traditional Greek version, if the members of that church are accustomed to the Greek version. The chief concern would be whether or not such a group has come to agree with the Biblical and Confessional teaching that the Holy Spirit is, from all eternity, the Spirit of the Son as well as the Spirit of the Father, and whether or not it has come to agree with the theological point that the Filioque addition was intended to make, even if it would prefer to use different terms to make that point. The Latin version of the Creed is present in the Book of Concord as a Scripturally-based doctrinal standard for the church, in which certain ancient heresies “are clearly and solidly refuted.”47 Its presence in the Book of Concord is not a liturgical rubric, implying that this version of this Creed must be chanted or recited in Lutheran worship services.48 If Greek-Rite Lutherans are in doctrinal agreement with the Lutheran Confessions, and in doctrinal unity with Confessional Lutheranism, then there should be no objection if they wish to continue to use the more ancient, and to them the more familiar, version of the Creed in their Liturgy. The members of such a church would not be removing the Filioque clause from the Nicene Creed, but in Christian freedom they would simply be declining to insert the Filioque clause.

This is not merely a theoretical discussion. The Ukrainian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession was organized in 1926 in the “Galicia” region of Ukraine, which was at that time under the government of Poland.49 These Ukrainian Lutherans, with roots in the Greek Catholic Church and in the Eastern Orthodox Church, were Byzantine-Rite Lutherans who used in their worship services a Lutheran revision of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The version of the Nicene Creed that they employed was the Greek version, without the Filioque addition. In their liturgical use of the Greek version of the Creed the Ukrainian Lutherans were not in any way renouncing or rejecting the teaching of the Book of Concord on the procession of the Holy Spirit. But they were, in a sense, “re-connecting” with an ancient and orthodox theological tradition that would be well represented by such notable churchmen as Epiphanius of Salamis and Cyril of Alexandria. Those Greek Fathers did not reject the doctrinal point that the Latin Fathers were making in their Filioque teaching, and they in fact made the same point themselves in their own writings. But in making this point they used terms and concepts that were more natural to their own linguistic and theological context than the Latin term and concept would have been. They and their theological tradition should not be faulted for this.

In conclusion, let us never forget that when we consider and discuss such sublime questions regarding the Holy Trinity, we are, more than at any other time, treading on the holy ground of God’s unfathomable mysteries. We therefore should always do so humbly, circumspectly, and prayerfully.

Almighty God, by Your grace alone we are called into Your kingdom, to confess the true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the true Unity: We beseech You, that You would keep us steadfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities; for You, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, live and reign, one true God, now and forever. Amen.50

Holy Saturday,
April 3, 1999


1. “A Lutheran-Orthodox Common Statement on Faith in the Holy Trinity,” paragraph 9.

2. “A Lutheran-Orthodox Common Statement on Faith in the Holy Trinity,” paragraph 10.

3. “A Lutheran-Orthodox Common Statement on Faith in the Holy Trinity,” paragraph 11. This would seem to be an expression of what Kallistos Ware calls the “rigorist” position within the Orthodox Church. (“Christian Theology in the East,” in A History of Christian Doctrine, edited by Hubert Cunliffe-Jones [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980], p. 209.) Ware maintains that a more “liberal” position on this issue is “also held by many Orthodox at the present time.” He writes that “According to the ‘liberal’ view, the Greek and the Latin doctrines on the procession of the Holy Spirit may both alike be regarded as theologically defensible. The Greeks affirm that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, the Latins that He proceeds from the Father and from the Son; but when applied to the relationship between Son and Spirit, these two prepositions ‘through’ and ‘from’ amount to the same thing.” (Ware, p. 208)

4. Willard D. Allbeck, Studies in the Lutheran Confessions (Revised Edition) (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), p. 30.

5. The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), pp. 18-19. The Filioque teaching is also expressed in the Athanasian Creed (22, Tappert, p. 20), in the Smalcald Articles (I, Tappert, p. 291), and in the Formula of Concord (Solid Declaration VIII:73, Tappert, p. 605).

6. J. L. Neve, Introduction to The Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church (Second Revised Edition) (Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern, 1926), p. 70.

7. Lars P. Qualben, A History of the Christian Church (Revised and enlarged) (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1936), p. 149. See also Henry R. Percival, “Historical Excursus on the Introduction Into the Creed of the Words ‘And the Son,’” in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace), Vol. XIV (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), pp. 165-69.

8. Andreae was a co-author of the Formula of Concord.

9. George Mastrantonis, Augsburg and Constantinople (Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982), p. 235.

10. Mastrantonis, p. 242.

11. Chemnitz was a co-author of the Formula of Concord.

12. Gregory of Nazianzus, “Oration on the Holy Lights” (Oration XXXIV), 12.

13. Martin Chemnitz, Loci Theologici (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1989), Vol. I, p. 143.

14. Mastrantonis, p. 240.

15. Against Heresies, 3:1; quoted in Mastrantonis, p. 120.

16. Homily Against Sabellians; quoted in Mastrantonis, p. 229.

17. Mastrantonis, p. 120. The Cyril quotations are from The Adoration and Worship of God in Spirit and in Truth, Homily 1. In Thesis 34 of his Treasury of the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity, St. Cyril had also gone so far as to say that, “Since the Holy Spirit when He is in us effects our being conformed to God, and He actually proceeds from the Father and Son, it is abundantly clear that He is of the Divine Essence, in it in essence and proceeding from it.”

18. Mastrantonis, p. 237.

19. Mastrantonis, p. 120.

20. Mastrantonis, p. 120.

21. Ware, pp. 210-11. We do not agree with Ware’s generally negative evaluation of the settlement of the Filioque controversy that was reached at the Council of Florence, or with his conclusion that it represented a significant departure from the basic ideas of Augustine’s Trinitarian theology.

22. Mastrantonis, p. 238.

23. Mastrantonis, p. 225.

24. Martin Luther, “Treatise on the Last Words of David,” Luther’s Works (American Edition), Vol. 15 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), pp. 309-10.

25. Mastrantonis, pp. 232-33. The Augustine reference is to On the Trinity, 15:45.

26. Augustine, On the Trinity, Book XV, 17:29, in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (edited by Philip Schaff), Vol. III (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), p. 216. St. Athanasius (+373) had expressed himself in a similar way in his Epistle to Serapion: “Insofar as we understand the special relationship of the Son to the Father, we also understand that the Spirit has this same relationship to the Son. And since the Son says, ‘everything that the Father has is mine’ [John 16:15], we will discover all these things also in the Spirit, through the Son. And just as the Son was announced by the Father, who said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ [Matt. 3:17], so also is the Spirit of the Son; for, as the Apostle says, ‘He has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father” [Gal. 4:6].’”

27. Augustine, On the Trinity, Book V, 14:15, pp. 94 and 95.

28. Athanasian Creed, 24-25, Tappert, p. 20.

29. Ware, pp. 203-04. For a detailed discussion of the “Photian Schism,” and of the factors that led up to it, see Aidan Nichols, Rome and the Eastern Churches (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992), pp. 105-218.

30. Quoted in John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham University Press, 1979), p. 92.

31. See Walter F. Adeney, The Greek and Eastern Churches (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908), pp. 237-41; see also Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), Vol. IV, pp. 476-89. For an excellent discussion of the theological, linguistic, and ecclesiastical issues that have played a role in the Filioque controversy, see Nichols, pp. 218-28.

32. Apology X:2, Tappert, p. 179. Luther pays the Bulgarian churchman this compliment: “Among the teachers Theophylact is the best interpreter of Paul.” (What Luther Says [compiled by Ewald M. Plass] [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959], p. 313)

33. We do know that at least Chemnitz was familiar with Theophylact’s writings on the subject. See Chemnitz, Vol. I, p. 143.

34. Ware, p. 206.

35. Ware, p. 210.

36. Chemnitz, Vol. I, p. 143. Chemnitz assigns the date 1441 to the healing of the division, but the decree of union, Laetentur caeli, was actually signed on July 6, 1439. (Meyendorff, p. 110)

37. Meyendorff, pp. 109-11.

38. Chemnitz, Vol. I, p. 143.

39. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VI, p. 182. See also Meyendorff, p. 110.

40. Schaff, Vol. VI, p. 182. Several of the Greek signatories at Florence did later repudiate their endorsement of Laetentur caeli.

41. Schaff, Vol. VI, p. 182.

42. Quoted in Borys A. Gudziak, Crisis and Reform: The Kyivan Metropolitanate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Genesis of the Union of Brest (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 264. Isidore, Metropolitan of Kyiv and all Rus’, was one of the key participants in the Council of Florence. He actively supported, and unsuccessfully tried to implement, the would-be “Union of Florence.” His efforts received a favorable reception among his Ruthenian constituents, laying the groundwork for the acceptance of the Union of Brest some 150 years later, but the Muscovites were completely unsympathetic and hostile in their response. (Gudziak, pp. 43-58)

43. In the most recent published edition of the Divine Liturgy, as authorized for use in the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine, the text of the Nicene Creed includes the Filioque clause only in parentheses. Its liturgical use is therefore seen as permissible, but not obligatory.

44. John C. Lawrenz and Glen L. Thompson, History of the Ancient and Medieval Church (1997), p. 107.

45. The last two sentences of the ELCA-Orthodox statement are quite telling: “We look forward to a time when our churches will affirm the Nicene faith through common liturgical usage of the unaltered creed of A.D. 381. We trust that such common affirmation of faith will lead to the resolution of those theological differences which are still before us.” (“A Lutheran-Orthodox Common Statement on Faith in the Holy Trinity,” paragraph 13.)

46. According to its own criteria, the Roman Catholic Church does, of course, consider the Council of Florence, which endorsed the Filioque addition to the Nicene Creed, to be an “ecumenical” council.

47. Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Rule and Norm: 4, Tappert, p. 504.

48. The rubrics in some Lutheran liturgical orders call for the Apostles’ Creed to be used in public worship on all occasions. Lutherans have also frequently used hymn paraphrases of the Creed in place of the Creed itself. Luther’s well-known paraphrase, Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott, says nothing about the Holy Spirit’s procession. And while the official Confessional version of the Nicene Creed is in the singular number (“I believe”), some Lutheran bodies now use in their worship services a version of the Creed that is rendered in the plural number (“We believe”). (See Peter Toon, Yesterday, Today, and Forever [Swedesboro, New Jersey: Preservation Press, 1996], pp. 197-201, where the author explains why such a creedal change is, in his judgment, very ill-advised. See also An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism [Mankato, Minnesota: Lutheran Synod Book Co., 1981], p. 96.) Hugh Wybrew notes that “Creeds certainly played no part in the early liturgy of the Eucharist. Exactly when, where and why the creed was introduced into the service is unclear. Peter the Fuller, the monophysite Patriarch of Antioch towards the end of the fifth century, is said to have started the practice there in 473.” (The Orthodox Liturgy [Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990], pp. 84-85)

49. This church body ceased to exist on the territory of Ukraine, at the institutional level, when Galicia was occupied and then annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. It was reorganized in 1994, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as the Ukrainian Lutheran Church.

50. Collect for Trinity Sunday, Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (Saint Louis: MorningStar Music Publishers, Inc., 1996), p. 157.

This essay was published in Logia, Vol. VIII, No. 4 (Reformation 1999), pp. 45-52. The printed version of the essay differs slightly from the online version that appears here.

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The Father as the Source of the Godhead and the Eternal Procession of the Holy Spirit

Augustine and the Two Gregories on the Origin of the Holy Spirit

A Lutheran-Orthodox Common Statement on Faith in the Holy Trinity

The Filioque: A Church-Dividing Issue?

The Filioque Controversy

The Greek and Latin Traditions regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit

The Filioque: What Is at Stake?

Filioque / And the Son

The Filioque

Figuring Out the Filioque

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