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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






30 September 2008

Lutherans and Filioque


Q: How have we Lutherans answered questions about Filioque?

A: Let’s start with a brief explanation for those unfamiliar with the word: Filioque is Latin for “and the Son.” The questions stem from the Church’s use of the Nicene Creed, the Fourth Century Christian confession of faith, specifically the confession concerning the Holy Spirit.

The Creed originally stated that Christians believe “in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father,” certainly an accurate theological expression. However, the Council of Toledo, a meeting of Western Church leaders inserted “and the Son” following “from the Father.” Without getting into great detail, we know that Scripture certainly supports this addition, even though the Pope and other Western leaders initially decried the change.

Gradually, however, the newer terminology gained popularity in the Western Church. Controversy grew because the West made an arbitrary, unilateral change in a truly catholic (universal) confession of faith. Unlike the great church counsels that led to the Nicene Creed’s initial formulation, Western Christendom sought neither input nor consent from the East.

Some of the trouble came from exact meaning of the Greek and Latin words translated as “proceed.” The Latin carries a broader meaning, congruent with Christ speaking of sending the Spirit, while the Greek could be interpreted in a fashion that would support heresies concerning the nature of the Holy Trinity.

Through time, Lutherans and other Western bodies have become more sensitive to this change and the effect it has on relationships with the East. Already in the 1500s, Jacob Andrae remarked that the Eastern version “states that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, but it does not teach that He proceeds from the Father alone.” Therefore, the absence of the Filioque is not necessarily a denial of the Filioque.

Luther RoseIn summary, the Latin version of the Creed was never approved by an ecumenical council. Nevertheless, its inclusion in the Book of Concord gives it formal confessional status within the Lutheran Church and most Lutherans will likely continue to confess that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

However, in cases where Lutheran bodies spring up from Eastern roots, the Filioque isn’t necessarily spoken — although its theology is accepted. Pastor David Jay Webber gives one concrete example: “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. 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....”

In general, Lutheranism has attempted to hold fast to the solid theology confessed by ancient Church fathers both Greed and Latin. We overtly proclaim the Filioque without denying the certainty that in its teachings, Orthodoxy does so in a more subtle manner. As Pastor Webber notes, “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.”

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Column #558:1

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