Friday, April 08, 2005

The Holy Trinity in Orthodox Belief

I received an email from one of my beloved readers asking what the position of the Orthodox Church is with respect to the Trinity. My reader also mentioned that he remembered that this was a cause of the Great Schism and wondered what is the current status of that dispute.

With only minor editing, this was my reply. I wrote it fairly quickly, so please forgive any awkwardness of syntax or grammar. I post it here in case anyone else had the same question (and it gives me a chance to write about Orthodox Christianity).

We Orthodox Christians believe in the Holy Trinity, that God exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was, in fact, the Orthodox Church that established that belief in the first few years after Christ's death and resurrection and ratified it as dogma (that which one must believe to be Orthodox) at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325A.D.

Father John Matusiak wrote a very nice essay about the Holy Trinity at the website of the Orthodox Church in America.

There is a little history of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea at the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

If you'd like, I can send you much more information.

The problem between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches regarding the Holy Trinity revolves around the "Filioque". The RCC unilaterally inserted an extra word into the Nicene Creed, which was the product of an Ecumenical Council. For Orthodox and Catholics the Canons of Ecumenical Councils are believed to have come from people under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit and have almost (notice I wrote "almost") the same weight as Holy Scripture. The Creed had been agree to by the entire Church. The Orthodox Church never agreed to the addition of the Filioque and believe it to be heretical. When the Patriarch of Rome (who was one of us at the time, first in position of honor but in our view not supreme) tried to force it onto the Patriarch of Constantinople (second in position of honor) we refused it. Rome and Constantinople issued mutual excommunications with Rome expecting Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem (third, fourth, and fifth in position of honor repectively) to go along with her. They did not, hence the great schism of 1054. Well, that and the issue of Papal supremecy, which we do not recognize. The rank agreed to at Nicea and modified at the Second Council in Constantinople in 381A.D. were ranks of honor only, but Rome was to later take their rank to mean that she had primacy and authority over the other Sees and all of the rest of the Church. Those are the biggest issues dividing us.

So, you are no doubt asking, "what is the Filioque?" Fair question. It is Latin for "the Son".

In the original text of the Nicene Creed there is a sentence that says:

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.

The Catholic Church added the Filioque to make it read:

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified.

We have a problem with this on two counts. The first is that to change the results of an Ecumenical Council requires another council (only time tells whether or not it is Ecumenical). The Second (and in my view the most important) is that it confuses the relationships of the persons of the Holy Trinity.

Interestingly, even after the Filioque was added (by a local council in Spain), Popes rejected it and Pope Leo III even had the original text of the Creed engraved in Greek (the original language of its composition) and Latin on two silver tablets and inserted into the wall of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.

For more information, On the Question of the Filioque from the writings of Fr. John Meyendorff. Also, from Fr. Victor Potapov, Filioque.

To be fair to the Catholics (a Church that I love in spite of our differences), The Filioque Clause.

I hope this helps. If you should have any other questions, just let me know. I have links to several Orthodox Churches with lots of information on the sidebar of my blog.
If anyone has any questions about Orthodox Christianity, I am very happy to answer them, or to find the answers for you.

I forgot to mention - the current status of the Filoque dispute. I believe that Pope John Paul II removed the Filioque as a requirement when saying the Creed, so it would seem that that controversy is removed. I will try to find a link. If anyone can help with this, I would appreciate it.

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