28 January 2012

Filióque, Purgatory and Papal Primacy

Some may have been shocked to read in my post Ecumenism, Particularly Between East and West that at the Council of Florence, all but one of the Eastern bishops accepted the West’s use of the Filióque, the understanding of purgatory and papal primacy. If you are shocked, it is probably because you don't really understand these issues and most likely are more acquainted with the distorted view of these issues. The Eastern bishops of the 15th century understood these issues; however, the Eastern laity did not; hence, lasting unity between East and West was not achieved at that time. We should do better.


The first time the Nicene Creed was recited with the Filióque at a papal Mass was in 1014, and was actually the first time the Nicene Creed was recited at a papal Mass. This was more than a century after the schism of Photius of Constantinople, and only 40 years before the schism of Michael Cærularius. Before this, a number of popes went on record insisting that Roman Catholics not add the Filióque to the Creed, not because of doctrinal issues, but for ecumenical issues.

Accusations have been levied on both sides of the Filióque question and all of these accusations, on both sides, are unfounded. The East objected to the West adding the Filióque due to the possibility of implications that the West never intended. The West took this objection as a rejection of the West's actual intention in adding the Filióque, which the East has always held. Both accusations are incorrect, and there has never been a doctrinal division regarding the Filióque between the East and the West. The only division is a misunderstanding of what the other side intended or believed.

The best summary of this issue that I have ever read is The Filioque: A Church-Dividing Issue?: An Agreed Statement, produced by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation on October 25, 2003. This document ends with the following:
We offer these recommendations to our Churches in the conviction, based on our own intense study and discussion, that our traditions’ different ways of understanding the procession of the Holy Spirit need no longer divide us. We believe, rather, that our profession of the ancient Creed of Constantinople must be allowed to become, by our uniform practice and our new attempts at mutual understanding, the basis for a more conscious unity in the one faith that all theology simply seeks to clarify and to deepen. Although our expression of the truth God reveals about his own Being must always remain limited by the boundaries of human understanding and human words, we believe that it is the very “Spirit of truth,” whom Jesus breathes upon his Church, who remains with us still, to “guide us into all truth” (John 16.13). We pray that our Churches’ understanding of this Spirit may no longer be a scandal to us, or an obstacle to unity in Christ, but that the one truth towards which he guides us may truly be “a bond of peace” (Eph 4.3), for us and for all Christians.


I do not really understand the Orthodox perspective on this issue, having never studied it. I will, however, give my simple, and possibly uninformed, impressions. Unlike the Protestants, who reject the idea of purgatory outright, the Orthodox simply don't know, and leave it as a mystery. They pray for the dead, but they don't give a concrete reason why. Thus, it is similar to the issues of the Immaculate Conception, which I talked about a couple days ago.

I could elaborate; however, I'd run the risk of slipping into apologetics, which has no place in ecumenical dialogue between East and West, but is useful only in dialogue with heretics and non-Christians. Let me just leave you with the fact that the Orthodox bishops accepted it at the Council of Florence, and some Orthodox faithful accepted it when they came back into union with Rome, forming the Eastern Catholic Churches. Acceptance does not mean adopting the same terminology, but only the underlying concepts.

Papal Primacy

I had a little look at what Wikipedia had to say about the East-West Schism, particularly the section Reunion attempts:
In the 15th century, the eastern emperor John VIII Palaeologus, pressed hard by the Ottoman Turks, was keen to ally himself with the West, and to do so he arranged with Pope Eugene IV for discussions about reunion to be held again, this time at the Council of Ferrara-Florence. After several long discussions, the emperor managed to convince the Eastern representatives to accept the Western doctrines of Filioque, Purgatory and the supremacy of the Papacy. On 6 June 1439 an agreement was signed by all the Eastern bishops present but one, Mark of Ephesus, who held that Rome continued in both heresy and schism. It seemed that the Great Schism had been ended. However, upon their return, the Eastern bishops found their agreement with the West broadly rejected by the populace and by civil authorities (with the notable exception of the Emperors of the East who remained committed to union until the Fall of Constantinople two decades later). The union signed at Florence has never been accepted by the Eastern churches.
This is a rather discouraging description of events; however, not entirely incorrect. As stated above, there really is no such thing as the "Doctrine of Filióque." There is a doctrinal understanding that both East and West have always had regarding the relationships within the Trinity. The Filióque is only a word inserted into the Creed in the West to emphasize this common understanding. Purgatory also didn't give the Orthodox anything new to accept doctrinally, but was merely an acceptance of the West's use of this terminology, which didn't necessarily  imply that the East had to adopt the same terminology. However, the phrase, "supremacy of the Papacy," to the modern ear is very misleading; although technically correct.

Pope Paul VI gives a correct understanding of this phrase in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam:
We would add that this cardinal principle of holy Church is not a supremacy of spiritual pride and a desire to dominate mankind, but a primacy of service, ministration, and love. It is no vapid rhetoric which confers on Christ's vicar the title: "Servant of the servants of God."
Though the term papal supremacy is correct, papal primacy is a better choice of words for delicate modern ears. Supremacy implies dictatorship, though that's not intended. Primacy implies order, that being first. The question is, first in what? To which Paul VI answers above: first in service. (The correct interpretation of these terms is very similar to a correct interpretation of Ephesians 5:21-24, which can only be had in light of the subsequent verses.)

The subject of Papal Primacy was discussed in detail at last years Orientale Lumen Conference, which had the theme, "Rome and the Communion of Churches: Bishop, Patriarch, or Pope?" The opening, six plenary and closing talks are all freely available on Ancient Faith Radio. Speakers included Metropolitan Jonah, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America; Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, Professor Emeritus of Oxford University; Archimandrite Robert Taft, Professor Emeritus of the Pontifical Oriental Institute; Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia; Msgr. Michael Magee, Chairman and Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary; Dr. Adam DeVille, Assistant Professor at the University of Saint Francis and the editor of LOGOS; and Fr. Ron Roberson, CSP, Associate Director for Ecumenical Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I strongly encourage everyone to listen to these learned Orthodox and Catholic scholars discuss what divides us and what unites us.