Round and round and round we go. How many times has the Filioque been regarded as the focus of debate between the Orthodox East and the Roman West? Easy answer: Too many times to count. Though many between both Traditions seem to have found common ground on the issue, there are still polemicists that exist in each camp. This is to be expected, as the Filioque is one of the primary issues separating the two respective communions.
Every several months, the Filioque debate seems to resurface, wherein the Orthodox claim foul against the Romans, and vice versa. It would be pointless to rehash the differences here, as many more studied men and Saints have done so in great depth. The purpose of this article is to shed some light on why Roman Catholics don’t possess much of a case against the Orthodox, particularly in their claims as to why we are wrong on the Filioque and how our view of this fundamental ideology is wrong… because, well, it’s not wrong. I don’t maintain this as my own personal opinion exclusively, but that of Rome’s.
Per my study on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (henceforth “CCC”), I stumbled upon a gem of a find, which appears to have been largely ignored by polemicists in both Traditional camps. While this find doesn’t necessarily end the debate between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics, it does challenge individual Roman Catholics to consider what it is that they’re actually attempting to challenge the Orthodox on.
CCC 248 reads:
At the outset the Eastern tradition expresses the Father’s character as first origin of the Spirit. By confessing the Spirit as he “who proceeds from the Father”, it affirms that he comes from the Father through the Son.77 The Western tradition expresses first the consubstantial communion between Father and Son, by saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque). It says this, “legitimately and with good reason”,78 for the eternal order of the divine persons in their consubstantial communion implies that the Father, as “the principle without principle”,79 is the first origin of the Spirit, but also that as Father of the only Son, he is, with the Son, the single principle from which the Holy Spirit proceeds.80 This legitimate complementarity, provided it does not become rigid, does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed.
In simple terms, CCC248 affirms, at least from a Roman Catholic standpoint, that the Orthodox East and the Roman West view of the Filioque is “complementary” and the “same mystery confessed.” In other words, from a polemicist standpoint, if any Roman is studied and catechized properly, there really isn’t debate nor controversy behind the Orthodox position… at least not one that should lead to any form of condemnation by the Romans against the Orthodox.
This can be seen to make perfect sense in light of the Eastern Roman Rites omitting the Filioque from their own Nicene Creed. Nevertheless, it is a critical component to the overall catechism in that it does show a contradiction or inconsistency on the side of individual Roman theologians in unnecessarily condemning the Orthodox of heretical or erroneous Triadology.
As usual, the debate will continue, but it is important to consistently consider that history is not as cut-and-dry as either camp makes it out to be.