In Eastern Orthodox apologetics, Canon VII of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus I is often invoked as an argument against the Filioque. The argument is that the addition of “and the Son” after the words “proceeds from the Father” in the Constantinopolitan Creed is tantamount to adding to the Nicene Creed–the two Creeds really being one of the same. In the words of one popular apologist, Robert Arakaki:

For Roman Catholics the Nicene Creed is under the Pope, not over the Pope.  When the Pope inserted the Filioque into the Nicene Creed a major realignment of ecclesial authority took place.  The Pope without the assent of the other historic patriarchates: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and without convening an ecumenical council of bishops, unilaterally altered the Nicene Creed.  This was done even though the Third Ecumenical Council  (Ephesus 431, Canon VII) forbade the creation of a new creed.  In essence, the Bishop of Rome was claiming a magisterium (teaching authority) equal to or superior to the Ecumenical Councils.

In short, the accusation is that the Filioque is an addition to the Nicene (i.e. Nicene with Constantinopolitan additions) Creed, because it adds words that were not there before.

But, does this allegation hold water? After all, Canon VII explicitly condemns adding or subtracting anything to the Creed–wouldn’t the addition of three words be obviously worthy of condemnation?

In this article, I argue that the mere adding of words is not condemned Canon VII, due to the teachings on the subject by the fathers in the Council of Chalcedon. We can address this by answering a few questions:

Is the Creed that cannot be added to or subtracted from, according to Canon VII of Ephesus I, the Constantinopolitan Creed?

In a word: NO. The minutes of the Council of Ephesus (specifically the Session of July, 22 431) were read in the Council of Chalcedon. In those minutes, the Creed that they condemned there being additions to and subtractions from was quoted ad verbatim (First Session of Chalcedon’s Proceedings, Paragraph 914). The words were specifically for the Nicene, not the Constantinopolitan, Creed.

Was there a contemporary understanding that the Constantinopolitan Creed had replaced the Nicene Creed?

Yes and no.

Evidence for the affirmative can be seen after the letter from archimandrite Eutyches of Constantinople (a monophysite heretic) was read during the First Session. Eutyches quotes only Nicea (not Constantinople I) and then states:

This is the creed in which I was born and immediately dedicated to God and accepted by his mercy. With this creed I received the seal of baptism and have lived till today, praying also to die in it. This is the creed that was also confirmed by the aforesaid holy and ecumenical council held here earlier at which our father Bishop Cyril of blessed and sacred memory presided, and at which he issued a decree that whoever added to it in thought or teaching is subject to the penalties then laid down (Ibid., Paragraph 157).

In short, Eutyches was making the claim that his Monophysitism was endorsed by Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Nicene (not Constantinoplitian) Creed. A few Bishops objected to Eutyches’ interpretation of Ephesus and Cyril’s letter.

Diogenes, bishop of Cyzicus, had a telling response which reveals that he viewed the Nicene Creed to have had been modified by the holy fathers of Constantinople I:

He [Eutyches] adduced the council of the holy fathers at Nicaea deceptively, since additions were made to it by the holy fathers on account of the evil opinions of Apollinarius, Valentinus, Macedonius and those like them, and there were added to the creed of the holy fathers the words “He came down and was enfleshed from the Holy Spirit and Mary the Virgin.” This Eutyches omitted [in the letter], as an Apollinarian…The holy fathers who came after clarified the words “was enfleshed” of the holy fathers at Nicaea by adding “from the Holy Spirit and Mary the Virgin”  (Ibid., Paragraph 160).

In this response, Cyzicus explicitly said that the Nicene Creed has an addition to it, and then quotes part of the Constantinopolitian Creed.

Tellingly, the Monophysites immediately cried afoul of the words of Cyzicus, asserting that Canon 7 of the Council of Ephesus disallowed for the Constantinopolitan additions–

The most devout Egyptian bishops and those with them exclaimed: ‘No one admits any addition or subtraction to [the Nicene Creed].  Confirm the work of Nicaea; the orthodox emperor has commanded this’ (Ibid, Paragraph 161).

Can the preceding be used as justification for saying that the orthodox/catholic fathers of Chalcedon were always speaking of the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Creeds as one of the same? The answer is no. There are at least a couple dozen examples of this, but we will only list a few.

Papal Legate Paschasinus clearly differentiated between the Creed of Nicea and that of Constantinople:

It is clear and cannot be disputed that the faith of the most blessed pope of the apostolic see Archbishop Leo is one and in accord with the creed of the 318 fathers who met at Nicaea, that it upholds both the creed of the 150 who convened at Constantinople and also the decrees of Ephesus under Cyril of holy memory when Nestorius was deposed on account of his errors (Ibid., Paragraphs 2-4).

Theodosius of Canatha likewise speaks of the Creeds as mutually exclusive:

The creed of the 318 is unshakeable. If anyone attempts to shake the unshakeable, he will himself be shaken, while not shaking the unshakeable. This creed we follow and believe, and also the definition defined by the 150 holy fathers who met at Constantinople (Ibid., Paragraph 27).

Euphratas of Eleutherna concurs:

We uphold the creed of the 318 holy fathers as being our salvation and pray to depart from life with it; and that of the 150 is in no way in disharmony with the aforesaid creed (Ibid., Paragraph 98).

Florentius of Hadrianopolis  said:

Before the interpretations of our most God-beloved and blessed father Cyril and the most blessed Archbishop Leo, we adhered to the definition of the holy fathers at Nicaea; so we believed and believe. In addition we assent to the creed of the 150, which clearly states that our Lord Jesus Christ was enfleshed from the Holy Spirit and Mary the Virgin. In this creed of the holy fathers we believe as they have interpreted it, and we doubt nothing.’ (Ibid., Paragraph 133).

Clearly, the majority of Chalcedon’s fathers believed that the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Creeds were mutually exclusive, but that the “definition” of Constantinople was just as correct as Nicea.

If Canon VII of Ephesus I did not refer to the Constantinopolitan Creed, does that mean additions can be made to it?

In a word: NO. In the Fifth Session of Chalcedon “by a unanimous decree…renewed the unerring faith of the fathers, proclaimed to all the creed of the 318, and endorsed as akin the fathers who received this compendium of piety, that is, the 150 who subsequently assembled at great Constantinople and set their seal on the same faith” (Paragraph 31). Both Creeds were then read ad verbatim (Paragraphs 32-33).

Finally, the warning not to add or subtract from the Creed was made applicable to both Creeds:

Now that these matters have been formulated by us with all possible care and precision, the holy and ecumenical council has decreed that no one is allowed to produce or compose or construct another creed or to think or teach otherwise (Paragraph 34).

Wait a second–didn’t Constantinople I in the words of Diogenes, bishop of Cyzicus, “make additions” to the Nicene Creed?

NO. True, popular Orthodox apologetics equates adding words, whether orthodox in their content or not, to a creed as equivalent to defying the universal decree of the Bishops in Paragraphs 32-34 of the Fifth Session of Chalcedon. However, the fathers of Chalcedon did not view it this way. Such a narrow view was in fact erroneously taken by the monophysite heretics (First Session of Chalcedon, Paragraph 161)!

Instead, it is more appropriate to interpret the “no additions” rule as forbidding a different faith than that of Nicea, not changes in verbiage per se–otherwise Canon VII would have forbidden the use of the Constantinopolitan Creed (which it in fact never did.)

Furthermore, we have Chalcedonian fathers affirming the understanding that it was the preservation of the creed’s faith and content that was important. One example we have recorded is from Anatolius of Constantinople, who said, “The creed of our 318 holy fathers at Nicaea and of the 150 who subsequently assembled at Constantinople…confirmed the same faith” (Fourth Session of Chalcedon’s Proceedings, Paragraph 9).

Hence, while the fathers viewed the Creeds as mutually exclusive, the Constantinopolitan Creed did not violate Canon VII of Ephesus I specifically because it was re-iterating what the Nicene Creed said in that it “confirmed the same faith.” In doing so, it confirmed the same faith in such a way to prevent Apollonarian misinterpretations of the plain words of Nicea.

Therefore, additions to a Creed are viewed as legitimate provided that the faith therein elaborated upon is the same. The words of Papal Legate Paschasinus also allowed for the same logic to be applied to Saint Leo I’s Tome, so we can already see the seeds of dispute over authority that would serve as the basis of the Filioque controversy.

Conclusion. The preceding study leaves the question in the title of this article unanswered: Is the Filioque a legitimate addition to the Creed or not? To this we respond, this is something that cannot be definitively answered unless we have worked out what is the basis of understanding Christian doctrine as a whole.

The Filioque was never the historical consensus of the Church nor was it elaborated upon by a consensus of the fathers at these early councils. So, without such consensus reached in the Church, the Orthodox must conclude that it is debatable at best (for there are ways to correctly understand Filioque in Orthodoxy) and heterodox at worst (the Orthodox reject that the Son has some role in the eternal causation of the Spirit.)

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholics ultimately do not view consensus as the decisive factor. While the Council of Trent affirms that an explicitly expressed consensus in doctrine is dogmatically binding, the agreement of the whole Church on a doctrine is not necessary to prove the small “o” orthodoxy of a doctrine in all cases. Rather, a minority viewpoint (or one never explicitly elucidated in church history) can be the correct one provided that this has been discerned as such by the Roman Pontiff.

Unless we answer which one of the preceding views (Orthodox or Roman Catholic) is right, we cannot definitively answer whether the Filioque was an “addition” to the Creed in the sense that Chalcedon would have condemned.

Certainly Catholics must admit that the Filioque is an addition to the verbiage. Orthodox must admit that the mere addition of words is not a violation of Chalcedon.

Rather, the real question is whether the Filioque is an addition to the faith of the Creeds.

Rome knows that the reason Orthodox object to the Filioque is because the latter do not believe the Spirit does not eternally originate from both the Father and the Son. The Filioque potentially allows for this allegedly heterodox idea.

In fact, it probably is the position of Rome that the Spirit originates eternally from the Father and the Son. The Roman Catholics and Orthodox disputed this issue at length in the Council of Florence. Saint Mark of Ephesus, an attendee of the Council, reported that when the said council asserted that the Spirit proceeded eternally from the Father and the Son from “a single principle,” that:

[W]e [Orthodox], together with St. Maximos and the Romans of that time, as well as the Western Fathers, “do not make the Son the Cause of the Spirit”; while they, in their Conciliar Decree [in Florence], proclaim the Son “in Greek, ‘Cause,’ and in Latin, ‘Principle’” of the Spirit.

The Council of Florence was published in Greek and Latin. By using the words principle/cause in Latin/Greek respectively, the council ignored the writings of saints such as Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus (“For the Father alone is cause,” An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Chap 12) who specifically rejected this idea.*

*I am trusting Mark on Ephesus on this, as I cannot read the published Greek or Latin. I presume he would have not made such an easily refutable claim falsely. A Catholic parsing of the term “spiration” appears to confirm this reading.

For a moment, let’s consider the before referenced teaching from Saint Maximus the Confessor in his Letter to Marinus which argued that the Filioque was not an addition to the faith. He said this because he alleged that the Catholics of Rome of his time denied that the Filioque taught that the Spirit eternally originated in both the Father and the Son.

It would seem that if Rome explicitly and dogmatically took the view as elaborated upon by Saint Maximus, the Filioque dispute would be over. However, instead of endorsing this view, Rome for all appearances has rejected it over the ages.

First, the plain meaning of Rome’s dogmatic constructions (which state that the Spirit was “spirated,” i.e. “breathed out” by the Father and Son as a single “principle”/”cause”) would mitigate against Maximus’ view. Second, Maximus’ Letter of Marinus was alleged by French Catholics of being a forgery in the Council of Florence and was not accepted by Catholics in their elucidation of the Filioque doctrine. It appears that Rome’s view of the Filioque is clearly different than that of Saint Maximus’ otherwise they would have taken the opportunity, which they have had 1,150 years* to do, to clear up the confusion. This means that Saint Maximus the Confessor, confidante of Pope Martin I, was either misunderstanding what Rome taught about the Filoque at his time or that Rome has changed their understanding of the doctrine.

*If we begin count from the Photian Schism.

In the end, even if the interpretation Rome has for the Filioque appears to add to the faith of Nicea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon (the Councils, and their fathers, nowhere endorsed that the Spirit eternally originates from the Son in any way) one would be compelled to presume if the Roman view of authority is correct that the fathers of these councils, in an unsaid way, agreed with the later Roman elucidation.

This is because the Roman epistemology does not need to show that the faith of the fathers is consistent with their present day understanding of the Filioque. This is because a consensus of opinion since the time of the Apostles, or even a mere whisper of their view here or there, is even really necessary. Rather, as long as the fathers said nothing to explicitly to contradict the Filioque’s verbiage, what was left unsaid in Chalcedon must implicitly agree with the councils of Second Lyons and Florence simply because they do not explicitly disagree. Hence, the unsaid faith of the past is the same as the explicitly stated faith of later councils.

It would appear to the honest and impartial observer that Rome’s epistemology is a negative case where as long as people in the past did not explicitly reject a modern construction of a doctrine, the modern elucidation of the said doctrine may be read back into the past. If there is not a contradiction between past and present, then the doctrine is worthy of approval.

Meanwhile, Orthodoxy demands a positive case where the faith of the fathers elucidated by the Church in the present must be something that is explicitly taught in the past. Therefore, if the fathers did not explicitly take the view that the Spirit eternally originates in the Father and the Son, the presumption is that this was never the faith of the Church.

In short, the epistemological difference may be summed up as follows: Roman Catholicism ultimately reads backwards and nowhere demands an ancient consensus for all doctrines. Orthodoxy reads forwards, requiring ancient consensus to justify modern understandings.

It is no surprise that the former view leads to more “changes” and “development,” because there is no governing factor over the Roman church other than how doctrines are defined with Papal approval in the present. Hence, the past is constantly re-evaluated in light of present-day understandings. Orthodoxy, no stranger to change, but with a different epistemological basis, changes much more slowly–as it uses the past to evaluate the present, not vice versa.

So, ultimately Rome may define the Filioque in such a way that explicitly states the Holy Spirit does not originate from the Son in any way. How such an explicit definition would not contradict the construction from Lyons II that the “Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son, not as from two principles, but as from one principle” will be left to the theologians to explain.

But, the preceding will not definitively settle the dispute. Three hundred years later, Rome can further elucidate that while the Spirit does not eternally originate from the Son, He eternally “emanates” from the Father and Son equally. It would appear the potential for future elucidations of doctrine ad infinitum epistemologically makes it impossible to ever settle any doctrine. In the Roman system, any doctrine can be perpetually put back into dispute–always waiting for the newest Roman elucidation.

Until the issue of epistemology is settled, the Filioque dispute cannot be.