The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation concluded a four-year study of the Filioque on October 25, when it unanimously adopted an agreed text on this difficult question that has divided the two communions for many centuries. This important development took place at the 65th meeting of the Consultation, held at St. Paul’s College in Washington, DC, under the joint chairmanship of Metropolitan Maximos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh and Archbishop Pilarczyk of Cincinnati.
The original version of the Creed most Christian churches accept as the standard expression of their faith dates from the First Council of Constantinople, in 381, and has been used by Orthodox Christians since that time. Towards the end, this Creed states that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.” The word Filioque (“and the Son”) was later added to the Latin version of this Creed used in the West, so that the phrase as most western Christians know it reads that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This modification appeared in some areas of Western Europe as early as the 6th century but was accepted in Rome only in the 11th century. This change in the wording of the Creed and the underlying variations in understanding the origin and procession of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity have long been considered a church-dividing issue between Catholics and Orthodox. The Consultation had been studying this question since 1999 in the hope of eventually releasing an agreed statement.
Entitled “The Filioque: A Church-Dividing Issue?”, the ten-thousand word text has three major sections. The first, “The Holy Spirit in the Scriptures,” summarizes references to the Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments. The more lengthy second section, “Historical Considerations,” provides an overview of the origins of the two traditions concerning the eternal procession of the Spirit and the slow process by which the Filioque was added to the Creed in the West. It also shows how this question concerning Trinitarian theology became entwined with disputes regarding papal jurisdiction and primacy, and reviews recent developments in the Catholic Church which point to a greater awareness of the unique and normative character of the original Greek version of the Creed as an expression of the faith that unites the Orthodox East and Catholic West. The third section, “Theological Reflections,” emphasizes our limited ability to speak of the inner life of God, points out that both sides of the debate have often caricatured the positions of the other, and lists areas in which the traditions agree. It then explores the differences that have developed regarding terminology, and identifies both theological and ecclesiological divergences that have arisen over the centuries.
In a final section, the Consultation makes eight recommendations to the members and bishops of the two churches. It recommends that they “enter into a new and earnest dialogue concerning the origin and person of the Holy Spirit.” It also proposes that in the future both Catholics and Orthodox “refrain from labeling as heretical the traditions of the other side” on this subject, and that the theologians of both traditions make a clearer distinction between the divinity of the Spirit, and the manner of the Spirit’s origin, “which still awaits full and final ecumenical resolution.” The text also urges theologians to distinguish, as far as possible, the theological issues concerning the origin of the Holy Spirit from ecclesiological issues, and suggests that attention be paid in the future to the status of councils of both our churches that took place after the seven ecumenical councils of the first millennium. And finally, in view of the fact that the Vatican has affirmed the “normative and irrevocable dogmatic value of the Creed of 381” in its original Greek version, the Consultation recommends that the Catholic Church use the same text (without the Filioque) “in making translations of that Creed for catechetical and liturgical use,” and declare that the anathema pronounced by the Second Council of Lyons against those who deny that the Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son is no longer applicable.
At this meeting the members also took time to review major developments in the lives of their churches. Among the items discussed were the seminar on Petrine Ministry that was held in the Vatican in May; the granting of autonomous status to the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America; the Orientale Lumen Conference held in Washington, DC, last June; the recent Patriarchal Assembly of the Maronite Catholic Church; the presence of a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Rome in late June for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul headed by Archbishop Demetrios of America; the seminar sponsored by Pro Oriente on the union of Transylvanian Orthodox with Rome in Cluj, Romania, last July; the Faith and Order response to Ut Unum Sint; statements by the two churches on same-sex marriages; and the recent meeting of the Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.
The 66th meeting of the Consultation is scheduled to take place from June 1 to 3, 2004, at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, and the 67th meeting from October 21 to 23, 2004.
The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation is sponsored jointly by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the Americas (SCOBA), the Bishops* Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB, and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Since its establishment in 1965, the Consultation has now issued 22 agreed statements on various topics. All these texts are now available on the website of the US Catholic Conference at: http://www.usccb.org/seia/dialogues.htm.
In addition to the two co-chairmen, the Orthodox members of the Consultation include Father Thomas FitzGerald (Secretary), Archbishop Peter of New York, Father Nicholas Apostola, Prof. Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Father James Dutko, Prof. Paul Meyendorff, Father Alexander Golitzin, Father Emmanuel Gratsias, Dr. Robert Haddad, Father Paul Schnierla, Father Robert Stephanopoulos, and Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, General Secretary of SCOBA (staff). The additional Catholic members are Father Brian Daley, SJ (secretary), Msgr. Frederick McManus, Prof. Thomas Bird, Father Peter Galadza, Msgr. John D. Faris, Father John Galvin, Sister Jean Goulet, CSC, Father Sidney Griffith, ST, Father John Long, SJ, Father David Petras, Prof. Robin Darling Young, and Father Ronald Roberson, CSP (staff).