Rome’s answer? Perhaps the world will never know–but it takes just one Bishop of Rome to undo every attempt made by every Bishop on earth, including Popes, at barring changes to the Creed.

The Issue. Recently, I had pointed out that typically Orthodox argue that Canon V to the Council of Ephesus forbids any additions at all to the Constantinopolitan Creed. I concluded that such an apologetic is far too simplistic as Canon V pertained only to the Nicene Creed specifically and there appeared to be indications that Chalcedon allowed for surface-level changes in the Creed, as even the council fathers equated even the Tome of Leo with the Creed inasmuch as it reiterated the “same faith.”

While the preceding (if correct) explodes a simplistic talking point, it does not undo the Orthodox position. How so? In this article, I aim to show that subsequent to Chalcedon the Church formulated an understanding that the Constantinopolitan Creed cannot be altered at all. I will call this, for the sake of the article, the idea of the “changeless Creed.”

The Beginnings of an Idea. The notion that the Creed was changeless might have not been endorsed by the Council of Chalcedon in the final estimation, we do have recorded for us in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, Session II statements from council fathers that can be construed as such. The following is a notable example:

Bishop Flavius: For we wish you to know that the most divine and pious lord of the whole world [the Emperor] and ourselves hold the orthodox faith set forth by the 318 and by the 150 holy fathers, and what also has been taught by the rest of the most holy and glorious fathers, and in accordance with this is our belief.

The most reverend bishops cried: Any other setting forth (ἔκθεσιν ἄλλην) no one makes, neither will we attempt it, neither will we dare to set forth [anything new] (ἐκθεσθαι). For the fathers taught, and in their writings are preserved, what things were set forth by them, and further than this we can say nothing…These are the opinions of all of us. The expositions (ἐκτεθέντα) already made are quite sufficient: it is not lawful to make any other…we make no new exposition in writing. This is the law, [i.e. Council of Ephesus, Canon 7] which teaches that what has been set forth is sufficient. The law wills that no other exposition should be made. Let the sayings of the Fathers remain fast.

The statement of the “reverend bishops” seems pretty clear: “The expositions already made are quite sufficient: it is not lawful to make any other…we make no new exposition in writing.” This, if taken literally, would seem to exclude the making of any new creedal statements, because the expositions which already exist are sufficient.

So, was my previous article wrong? Not precisely. In fact, what were the expositions that the preceding statement was referring to?

  • “The orthodox faith set forth by the 318″ (i.e. Nicene Creed)
  • “The orthodox faith set forth by…the 150 holy fathers” (i.e. Constantinopolitan Creed)
  • “What also has been taught by the rest of the most holy and glorious fathers” (emphasis added)

The third bullet point opens a super-mega-gigantic-humongous can of worms for Orthodox apologetics as “most holy and glorious fathers” such as Saint Augustine, (Saint?) Didymus the Blind, and Saint Basil the Great already made statements which either seemingly endorse the modern Roman Catholic understanding of the Filioque or at the very least, use terms such as “proceeds from the Father and/through the Son.”

Furthermore, the ban on making any new expositions, if it includes the expositions of holy fathers up until the point of Chalcedon, is virtually meaningless for the future Filioque controversy. Why? Because ultimately the argument is not over the word “filioque” but over its interpretation. The term was already in existence. If we had to hang our hats on Ephesus or Chalcedon, then we would be stuck with “filioque.”

Nonetheless, the forceful wording of Chalcedon at least planted the seed to an idea–that the Creed should not be altered. In time, this seed would germinate.

The Idea of the Changeless Creed Sprouts. As time passed and the use of the Constantinopolitan Creed became normalized over centuries of repetition, it became increasingly unthinkable to dispense away with the Creed through modifications. The words of Pope Leo III (eighth to ninth centuries AD) according to Smaragdus, Abbot of St. Michael’s in Lorraine, preserved for us how the Papacy began to understand the issue of the changeless Creed:

It [the filioque] may, I say, it may be sung in teaching, and be taught by being sung: but neither by writing nor by singing may it be unlawfully inserted into that, which it is forbidden us to touch..I say that they considered why they left it out, and why, when once left out, they [the fathers] forbade either it or any thing else to be added afterwards. Do thou consider, what ye think or yourselves: for as for me, I say not that I will not set myself up above [the Ecumentical Councils], but God forbid that I should either equal myself to them.

As we can see, he does not forbid the Filioque being taught. This would be completely inconsistent with the entire Western Pneumatological tradition since the time of Augustine. He even allowed for the Filioquist-Creed to be sung. However, Pope Leo III banned the permanent alteration of the Creed, specifically because he believed such a move to be made unlawful by Chalcedon (he was incorrect in this) and that a council would be necessary to accomplish it. Being the debate between Conciliarism versus Papism had not yet confronted the Roman Church in its fullness, it was not out of the ordinary for western thinkers (here a Pope) to take a Conciliar view.

The Blooming of the Changeless Creed. So far, we have established that (1) the fathers of Chalcedon seem to take a non-literal view to what it meant to not make additions to the Creed and (2) centuries later, we have the statement of a Pope that favors the literal view. Suffice it to say, Pope Leo III was not alone. By the mid 9th century it was clear that the entire eastern Church agreed with him.

The question then is, how do we settle this issue? Well, we do what Pope Leo III implied–we have a council and we settle the issue once and for all!

In the real Council of Constantinople IV, the fathers of the council stated the following about the changeless Creed:

Thus, having in mind and declaring all these things, we embrace with mind and tongue (τῇ διανοίᾳ καὶ γλώσσῃ) and declare to all people with a loud voice the Horos [Rule pertaining to faith and morals] of the most pure faith of the Christians which has come down to us from above through the Fathers, subtracting nothing, adding nothing, falsifying nothing; for subtraction and addition, when no heresy is stirred up by the ingenious fabrications of the evil one, introduces disapprobation of those who are exempt from blame and inexcusable assault on the Fathers. As for the act of changing with falsified words the Horoi [“Rules”] of the Fathers is much worse that the previous one. Therefore, this holy and ecumenical Synod embracing whole-heartedly and declaring with divine desire and straightness of mind, and establishing and erecting on it the firm edifice of salvation, thus we think and loudly proclaim this message to all:

“I believe in One God, Father Almighty, … and in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God… and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord … who proceeds from the Father…” [the whole Creed is cited here]

If anyone, however, dares to rewrite and call Rule of Faith some other exposition besides that of the sacred Symbol [the Creed]…and impose on it his own invented phrases (ἰδίαις εὑρεσιολογίαις) and put this forth as a common lesson to the faithful or to those who return from some kind of heresy, and display the audacity to falsify completely (κατακιβδηλεῦσαι ἀποθρασυνθείη) the antiquity of this sacred and venerable Horos [Rule] with illegitimate words, or additions, or subtractions, such a person should, according to the vote of the holy and Ecumenical Synods, which has been already acclaimed before us, be subjected to complete defrocking if he happens to be one of the clergymen, or be sent away with an anathema if he happens to be one of the lay people.

In the eighth ecumenical council, the point of contention was the Filioque itself. The anathema was aimed against those who “imposed…invented phrases” into the Creed. Clearly, everyone understood this to pertain to any addition whatsoever, including the Filioque. To interpret this otherwise or to accuse the fathers of being imprecise in order to legitimize the addition of what the council clearly called “illegitimate words.”

After all, it is not that we lack writings from the fathers telling us what they meant. Not only do we have the letter of Pope Leo III endorsing the changeless Creed, the words of Pope John VIII to Saint Photius I in the wake of the council reiterates the same idea:

That we may give you satisfaction touching that addition in the Creed, [and from the Son,] we let you know, that not only we have no such addition, but also we condemn them as transgressors of the direct word, that were the first authors of this addition.

Rome up to this point in time did not use the Filioque, but merely taught the doctrine and waffled on allowing it in Frankish and Spanish churches (we have not only the letter of Leo III, but also the existence of several western councils that shows that this was a debate that went back and forth.) Pope John VIII was not conceding anything to Saint Photius, simply because this was the same position Rome held since the days of Pope Leo III–Believe the Filioque, but not change the Creed in the process. It was a “have your cake and eat it too” sort of position.

Conclusion. Let’s return to the question posed in the title of the article. How many Bishops does it take to bar changes to the Creed? We had 383 Bishops affirm Constantinople IV, which stated that the keeping the Creed changeless was necessary for the preservation of the Horos (declared faith and morals) of the Church. A Pope affirmed the council and even wrote subsequent to the council and affirmation of the same idea. It would seem that, apart from council, the Creed cannot be changed–and even then, being that it pertains to the Horos, one must question whether even a council can overturn what has already been agreed upon by the whole Church. Theoretically, the Church cannot change on issues of faith and morals.

Yet, not long afterwards the Bishop of Rome would excommunicate the Bishop of Constantinople (and “backers of his foolishness”) for a litany of charges, “cut[ting] off the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son.” Rome, unilaterally, anathematized those who believed in the changeless Creed, an idea defended even by Popes and given the force of law in an Ecumenical Council.

All of this begs the question: how else could have Popes and the fathers of Constantinople IV expressed themselves so that their teaching would not be abrogated so soon?

My opinion? It does not matter what words they would have used. If Pope John VIII himself signed onto the council writing that “and I affirm that what is taught herein is a matter of faith and morals and cannot be rescinded, that not one jot nor tittle can be changed in the Creed, and this I bind everywhere in Christendom,” even this cannot philosophically settle the issue according to the epistemological paradigm of Roman Catholicism. A future Pope can simply clarify that simply calling something “a matter of faith and morals” does not make it so, and it can be rescinded. Or that saying something is taught everywhere in word does not apply if it is not so in deed.

Endless clarification makes it impossible to verify whether an issue is settled even when the Pope or Council in question clearly intended to do this.

Back to the issue of Pope Leo III and Constantinople IV–if one were to accept what they have written to be authentic, it would seem that the present Roman position is that both Popes and Councils can assert it is unlawful to change something such as a Creed, but be wrong in the assertion. The danger is the the Church ultimately is incapable of settling any matter, as the categories we use to define what is settled or not can be continually infallibly defined in the present to the point that what was considered settled and unlawful in the past, in effect, is not anymore.

This epistemological conundrum is why most Roman Catholic apologists deny the authenticity of the real Constantinople IV. Most do not want to confront the fact that their epistemology makes it impossible to ever settle any matter. Hence, the faith once and all delivered by the Saints is in danger of constantly being in flux due to re-interpretations and updated definitions. The logical result of such an epistemology is endless change.