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April 22, 2009
Q: Is it true that for several centuries the popes forbade the use of the filioque (“We believe in the Holy Spirit ... who proceeds from the Father and the Son [Latin: filioque])” in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed? Does the fact that later popes did add it compromise the doctrine that the pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals?
A: It is true that until the 11th century the popes did not allow the insertion of the filioque in the Creed used in Rome, for the reason that it is not found in the original Creed as written by the Second Ecumenical Council (A.D. 381). Before its adoption in Rome, however, the filioque was widely used in other parts of the Western Church that were in communion with Rome. The popes did not teach that the doctrine expressed by the filioque was wrong or that it changed the essential meaning of the Creed, only that it should not be inserted into the Ecumenical Creed as agreed upon at the Ecumenical Council. Only if a pope were to condemn the filioque as actually erroneous would papal infallibility be threatened. Today Eastern Orthodox Churches still object to the use of the filioque by Western Christians, seeing it as a lack of respect for the authority of the Ecumenical Councils. Many of these Orthodox also consider it dogmatically wrong, but their numbers have been shrinking in recent decades, owing to ecumenical dialogues in which Catholics and Orthodox have come to know each other’s theology better.
This week’s apologist is Joel Barstad, a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary currently teaching the Trinity, patristics and sacred art. Barstad is a member of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Russian Byzantine Catholic Community at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Denver. Send your question for Ask an Apologist to: email@example.com.