Last week we discussed some of the liturgical options that come from the series entitled Enriching Our Worship. While we explored the expansive language choices, we also brushed briefly on the alternate translation of the Nicene Creed. You may find yourself becoming tripped up from time to time at one particular difference. In the EOW translation of the Creed, we say the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father,” while the Prayer Book translation says the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Why do we have this discrepancy?
For centuries, the Western Church (including Anglican churches) has included “and the Son” in the Creed. The Eastern Church, on the other hand, has never included it. This is known as the Filioque Controversy. The Filioque Controversy remains a sore spot between the Eastern Church and the Western Church. Filioque is a Latin word meaning “and the Son.” The Eastern Church maintains that the Creeds cannot be changed without an ecumenical gathering, while the Western Church says this change is simply a clarification in line with the spirit of the original document. But isn’t the Nicene Creed the principal statement of the Christian Church? Doesn’t adherence to the Creed define what it means to be an orthodox Christian? How can we possibly have two versions of the statement that makes us all Christians?
In the days of the Council of Nicaea, which took place in 325 AD, the document professing Christian faith concluded with simply, “and I believe in the Holy Spirit.” It was during the Council of Constantinople some 50 years later that the Creed was expanded upon. The Creed was modified to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. This is in reference to John 15:26, which says, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.” Did you know that what we call the Nicene Creed is actually the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed?
So why would such an important document be changed? Many scholars say that the change took place in sixth-century Spain. In order to fight Arianism, a heresy which claims that the Son was born of the Father, but did not exist with the Father since the beginning of time, the words, “and the Son” were added to the Creed. Arianism suggests that the Son is subordinate to the Father. Clarifying that the Spirt proceeds from the Father and the Son places equal emphasis on both persons of the Trinity. Saying the persons of the Trinity are not equal in unity makes one a heretic. In sixth-century Spain it was fine to be called a number of things, but certainly not a heretic!
Usage of the newer version of the Creed spread through much of Latin-speaking Europe and eventually made its way to the Church in Rome. Remember that the Episcopal Church is a branch of Anglicanism, which would not split from the Church of Rome until about a thousand years later. This means Anglican liturgy was heavily influenced by Roman liturgy until the English Reformation and beyond. It is important to note that the English Reformation began as a movement to give the English monarch authority over the Church in England, and not the Church of England. When the Book of Common Prayer was published, it maintained the version of the Creed that was familiar to Christians in England.
Fast forward to the twentieth century and a time of liturgical renewal. Researching the old documents informed scholars about the late addition of the Flioque. Until that time, many liturgists simply assumed the Filioque had been in the Creed the whole time. In 1988, the Lambeth Conference put out a statement encouraging Anglican churches to omit the Flioque in subsequent Prayer Book translations. This is because the Eastern Church is correct. An ecumenical statement ought not be changed unless representatives from the entire Church are present to vote on a change. In 1994, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted to honor this request. Our most recent Prayer Book is the 1979 edition, which means we have not had a new Prayer Book since the declaration. Enriching Our Worship came out in the late 90s, so the Filioque is omitted. If and when the Episcopal Church gets a new Book of Common Prayer, it certainly will not contain the Filioque. Parishes that use the EOW version of the Creed will have a head start. We’re getting our tongues tied now, but we’ll be ahead of everyone else who has not yet made the change. How’s that for some interesting Church history trivia?