Should we do away with "and the Son"?

Inspired my review of Alister McGrath’s book in my previous post regarding the theme of the Trinity, it prompted me to ask myself a question. If “and the Son” was removed from the Nicene Creed, would that bother me? For me personally? My answer from the gut would be: “No.” But then, many people thoughout the centuries have been accused of heresy for saying “No”.

You might be asking: “What in the world is the filioque?” The Nicene Creed, an ancient creed of the church, is accepted and recited universally by Christians around the world.

The Western Church (Protestants and Roman Catholics) recites the Nicene Creed with an addition of three words to one line (in our English translations). This is called the filioque clause; and it reads:

“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son

The Eastern Church (Orthodox), however, recites the creed without “and the Son” (the filioque clause):

“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.”

It’s interesting to note that: “and the Son” was not originally in the Nicene Creed but was later added. Apparently, this filioque clause was added in the 6th century to prevent a doctrinal error called Arianism. But is it necessary today? Who is correct, the East or the West?

Furthermore, this addition seems to conflict with scripture (see John 15:26 below). Where does scripture say anything about the Son proceeding from the Father? Okay, we do know that the Son proceeds from the Father but is it necessary that it also be stated in the creed?

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (ESV)

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father–the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father–he will testify about me” (TNIV)

The Spirit should not be perceived as being born from the Son because all three has always been (sense of birth/generation). The Spirit can, however, be perceived as coming after the Son during Pentecost (sense of order/timing). I know all this can be confusing and I think I am still confused myself.

Do you think the Son proceeds from the Father, and the Spirit from the Son?

Or do you think the Son and Spirit have equal footing where both equally proceed from the Father?

What did you learn or recite in church? Or do you recite any creed in church?

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

12 thoughts on “Should we do away with "and the Son"?”

  1. Kevin,

    This is a very good, yet complex question. As you said, the filioque debate is a point of disagreement between East and West. From my interactions with an Orthodox priest and professor of mine, he has no problem with the filioque definition per say, but is uncomfortable in the way that it was added to the creed between the 8th and 11th centuries in the West.

    I think the Catechism of the Catholic Church spells it out pretty well (CCC 248): “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. 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”, for the eternal order of the divine persons in their consubstantial communion implies that the Father, as “the principle without principle”, 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. This legitimate complementarity, provided it does not become rigid, does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed.”

    Sorry for the long quote, but I think it is important to state the Catholic view from the outset. I think the key term here is “complementarity” between the two views.

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  2. The Son proceeds from the Father by an eternal generation and the Spirit proceeds from the Father by an eternal procession. But our Orthodox brethren are correct in saying that the Spirit does not proceed from the Son also. The problem I see with the quote that Timothy provides from the CCC is that the Holy Spirit is just as consubstantial with the Father as the Son is, and has been the Spirit of the Father from all eternity. He is just as much the “single principle” which would effectively mean that we could (or should) say that the Spirit proceeds from himself as well.

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  3. Thanks Tim for the long but very informative quote from the CCC 248. I like how it’s worded: “as Father of the only Son, he is, with the Son, the single principle from which the Holy Spirit proceeds”. It’s a good explanation for the filioque in that it’s seen as a complementarity.

    Some people need it in the creed but for me, it doesn’t make any difference to my belief in the Trinity because the point of the filioque is strongly supported by scripture. It’s unescapably clear. But that’s just me.

    I wonder if Catholics would object to its removal from the Creed?

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  4. Kevin, if I may try and throw a wrench in here, Romans 8:9 says,
    However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (NASB)

    This looks to me like the Spirit of Christ is the same as the Holy Spirit. How would that affect the argument?

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  5. Nick, I agree that the Spirit is just as consubstantial as the Father as is the Son; but I don’t think we could say the Spirit proceeds from himself. I do see what you’re saying. Since all three are co-equal and co-eternal, that is, if the Spirit of the Father has always been since eternity, how could we even possibly relegate the importance of the Spirit below that of the Father’s? And some Christians do so due to some of our false perceptions of the Trinity. I think the whole crux comes down to timing or order of the procession in revelation. That’s what seems to confuse everybody.

    Do you think it would be helpful if procession not be understood in the sense of birth or generation, but in the sense of order or timing as to when they were revealed on earth?

    Gary, that’s a very relevant reference because it refers to the “Spirit of Christ”. I also found one from Gal. 4:6. So it doesn’t affect the argument but I think it supports the argument of the trinity being co-equal and co-eternal.

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  6. Kevin,

    I would agree with the Athanasian creed that “The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.”

    If the economic trinity teaches us about the ontological then the Spirit must proceed from both the Father and the Son.

    I do like The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham.

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  7. Jeff, you found one more reference. Thanks. Praise God, it gives us confidence that we have a co-eternal trinitarian God.

    Richard, I’m not sure I understood when you said: “If the economic trinity teaches us about the ontological then the Spirit must proceed from both the Father and the Son.”

    It was too much of a mouthful for me to digest. I don’t believe we can possibly understand God fully in the sense of the immanent trinity. Even with our limited experience of the economic trinity, I feel that the immanent Trinity is so much bigger than what we are able to comprehend and experience. Therefore, out of this, I don’t see how we can derive that “the Spirit must proceed from both the Father and the Son”? Do I make any sense?

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  8. Kevin,

    Apologies, I was trying to say a lot in a short space as I didn’t have the time to unpack it.

    By “Ontological Trinity” I mean the essence of God i.e. what God is actually like in himself as he stands outside the created universe. By “Economic Trinity” I mean how God appears to humanity in his acts.

    If we learn about the former through the latter, i.e. we learn about God through what he does then the economic trinity is a reflection of the ontological, so, I think you his the nail on the head when you said “The Spirit can, however, be perceived as coming after the Son during Pentecost”. From this we can reason backwards that the Spirit proceeds from the Son post-ascension indicates an ontological procession from the Son hence we should keep the filioque.

    Hope that makes more sense.

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  9. Hi Kevin, I have thought about this for a number of years. At the end, I think the Western Church was correct to add “and the Son”. It was Jesus who breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples on resurrection Sunday (John 20) and Acts makes it clear that it was Jesus who poured out the Spirit on the early church. Thus, through the incarnation, death, resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit can certainly be said to proceed from the Father and the Son.

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  10. Tony, thanks for your input. I see your point of view. So from both viewpoints, the Spirit can be said to proceed from the Father (sense of regeneration) and from the Son (sense of order).

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