Church Fathers on the Filioque

Early Church Fathers – On the Filioque

The Western Church commonly uses a version of the Nicene Creed which has the Latin word filioque (“and the Son”) added after the declaration that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. Scripture reveals that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The external relationships of the persons of the Trinity mirror their internal relationships. Just as the Father externally sent the Son into the world in time, the Son internally proceeds from the Father in the Trinity. Just as the Spirit is externally sent into the world by the Son as well as the Father (John 15:26, Acts 2:33), he internally proceeds from both Father and Son in the Trinity. This is why the Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of the Son (Gal. 4:6) and not just the Spirit of the Father (Matt. 10:20).

The quotations below show that the early Church Fathers, both Latin and Greek, recognized the same thing, saying that the Spirit proceeds “from the Father and the Son” or “from the Father through the Son.”


I believe the Spirit to proceed from no other source than from the Father through the Son (Against Praxeas 4:1 [AD 218]).


We believe, however, that there are three persons: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and we believe none to be unbegotten except the Father. We admit, as more pious and true, that all things were produced through the Word, and that the Holy Spirit is the most excellent and the first in order of all that was produced by the Father through Christ (Commentaries on John 2:6 [AD 229]).

Maximus the Confessor

By nature the Holy Spirit in his being takes substantially his origin from the Father through the Son who is begotten [Questions to Thalassium 63 (AD 254)].

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (the Wonderworker)

And there is one Holy Spirit, having his subsistence from God, and being made manifest by the Son; perfect image of the perfect; life, the cause of the living; holy fount; sanctity, the supplier of sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son who is through all. Perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty neither divided nor estranged (Confession of Faith [AD 265]).

St. Hilary of Poitiers

Concerning the Holy Spirit . . . there is no need to speak, because we are bound to confess him, proceeding, as he does, from Father and Son (The Trinity 2:29 [AD 357]).

But I cannot describe him, whose pleas for me I cannot describe. As in revelation that your only-begotten was born of you before times eternal, when we cease to struggle with ambiguities of language and difficulties of thought, the one certainty of his birth remains; so I hold fast in my consciousness the truth that your Holy Spirit is from you and through him, although I cannot in my intellect comprehend it (The Trinity 12:56 [AD 357]).

Didymus the Blind

As we have understood discussions . . . about the incorporeal natures, so too it is now to be recognized that the Holy Spirit receives from the Son that which he was of his own nature. . . . So too the Son is said to receive from the Father the very things by which he subsists. For neither has the Son anything else except those things given him by the Father, nor has the Holy Spirit any other substance than that given him by the Son (The Holy Spirit 37 [AD 362]).

St. Epiphanius of Salamis

The Father always existed and the Son always existed, and the Spirit breathes from the Father and the Son (Man Well-Anchored 75 [AD 374]).

St. Basil of Caesarea

One, moreover, is the Holy Spirit, and we speak of Him singly, conjoined as he is to the one Father through the one Son, and through himself completing the adorable and blessed Trinity (The Holy Spirit 18:45 [AD 375]).

Thus the way of the knowledge of God lies from one Spirit through the one Son to the one Father, and conversely to the natural goodness and the inherent and the royal dignity extend from the Father through the only-begotten to the Spirit. Thus there is acknowledgment of the hypostases, and the true dogma of the monarchy is not lost (The Holy Spirit 18:47 [AD 375]).

St. Ambrose of Milan

Just as the Father is the fount of life, so too, there are many who have stated that the Son is designated as the fount of life. It is said, for example that with you, Almighty God, your Son is the fount of life, that is, the fount of the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit is life, just as the Lord says: ‘The words which I have spoken to you are Spirit and life’ [John 6:63]" (The Holy Spirit 1:15:152 [AD 381]).

The Holy Spirit, when he proceeds from the Father and the Son, does not separate himself from the Father and does not separate himself from the Son (The Holy Spirit 1:2:120 [AD 381]).

St. Gregory of Nyssa

For there, with the Father, unoriginated, ungenerated, always Father, the idea of the Son as coming from him yet side by side with him is inseparable join; and through the Son and yet with him, before any vague and unsubstantial conception comes in between, the Holy Spirit is found at once in closest union (Against Eunomius 1 [AD 382]).


From these quotes, we can see that the Catholic formulation of the Creed is completely orthodox.

So, as you may guess, I’m not going to argue against the orthodoxy of the filioque, if correctly understood. On the other hand, I’m sure you can see the major problem with your final sentence. This is proof-texting at its worst. No argument, no wider theological discussion, no explanation of why one would want to believe in the filioque. The introductory paragraph is insufficient to deal with such a complex and controversial issue, and neither conveys the true nature of the Roman dogma, nor addresses Orthodoxy’s objections thereto. It isn’t really that far removed from what Gregory II and the Tomos of the Byzantine synod held at Blachernae were able to affirm in the thirteenth century. If you want to defend the Roman doctrine, then do so, but notice that the real problem isn’t just the phrase “and the Son”, but what that means for the Trinity as a whole. The idea that Father and Son are the origin of the Spirit as from one principle is the problem, as it makes it sound like the origin of the Spirit is the essentia or ousia of God, and therefore impersonal. Your quotes do not address this or prove anything.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

245 The apostolic faith concerning the Spirit was confessed by the second ecumenical council at Constantinople (381): “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.” By this confession, the Church recognizes the Father as “the source and origin of the whole divinity”. But the eternal origin of the Spirit is not unconnected with the Son’s origin: “The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is God, one and equal with the Father and the Son, of the same substance and also of the same nature. . . Yet he is not called the Spirit of the Father alone,. . . but the Spirit of both the Father and the Son.” The Creed of the Church from the Council of Constantinople confesses: “With the Father and the Son, he is worshipped and glorified.”

246 The Latin tradition of the Creed confesses that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque)”. The Council of Florence in 1438 explains: “The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has his nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration. . . . And, since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.”

247 The affirmation of the filioque does not appear in the Creed confessed in 381 at Constantinople. But Pope St. Leo I, following an ancient Latin and Alexandrian tradition, had already confessed it dogmatically in 447, even before Rome, in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, came to recognize and receive the Symbol of 381. The use of this formula in the Creed was gradually admitted into the Latin liturgy (between the eighth and eleventh centuries). The introduction of the filioque into the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed by the Latin liturgy constitutes moreover, even today, a point of disagreement with the Orthodox Churches.

248 At the outset the Eastern tradition expresses the Father’s character as first origin of the Spirit. By confessing the Spirit as he “who proceeds from the Father”, it affirms that he comes from the Father through the Son. The Western tradition expresses first the consubstantial communion between Father and Son, by saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque). It says this, “legitimately and with good reason”, for the eternal order of the divine persons in their consubstantial communion implies that the Father, as “the principle without principle”, is the first origin of the Spirit, but also that as Father of the only Son, he is, with the Son, the single principle from which the Holy Spirit proceeds. This legitimate complementarity, provided it does not become rigid, does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed.

Im not following, the monarchy is intact as God the Father is first principle, the Word is begotten instantly without time or God from God, Light from Light, the CC picks up here with the Father and Son as one principle thus establishing the consubstantial Divinity of Jesus Christ.

One principle of the Holy Spirit, agreed upon by Basil and Ambrose, affirmed at Lyons and Florence.

Well, this is the problem. The orthodox are unwilling to affirm this, as it seems to undermine the single arche in the Trinity, which is the Father. And to be honest, I’m inclined to agree with them. One has to say that the Father is the ultimate source of the being of the Spirit and the Son, otherwise you have more than one God, or a single, impersonal God which is the divine ousia. Rome now acknowledges this, too, but is unwilling (or rather, unable) to retract its definition of “one principle” and “one spiration”.

So, the way I see it, as far as I’m able to understand, is that there has to be an affirmation of the ultimate origin of the Spirit’s divinity, right? The buck has to stop somewhere, so to speak. The *ultimate *origin of the has to be the Father alone, because He is also the origin of the Son. Nobody disagrees with this.

The question is then how we can conceive of the Father and the Son being, together, the source of the Spirit’s subsistent essence. We can conceive of the Father being in some non-temporal sense prior to the Son, as His originating principle, precisely because we want to affirm that the Father is the *ultimate *origin of the divinity of the Son. But since this entails that the Father *alone *is the ultimate origin of all divinity, why would we want to say that the Son has an analogous non-temporal priority to the Spirit? As far as I can see, the “together as one principle” model of the Father and Son’s relationship to the Spirit doesn’t do anything except muddy the waters regarding the monarchy of the Father.

The water became muddy when the heresy arrived that Jesus Christ was other than God, lesser than God, not God, and completely human. That’s about when Basil and Ambrose said we must confess one principle. Personally I think we ought do the same with the hypostatic union indescribable…God!

I really need to read Basil and Ambrose in more depth. I will get back to you once I have done so.

I have to say that I don’t really understand what you mean by your final sentence…

This does seem to be a sticking point between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. I have seen may Orthodox scholars state the problem is not with the accuracy or inaccuracy of the Catholic Church creed, rather it was not vetted properly.

Can someone explain to me exactly what is the actual issue here?

Is it strictly that:

The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.


The Spirit proceeds from the Father.

Or is there some terminology involved between Latin and Greek? (I think I read about this somewhere).

And please feel free to talk to me as if I was 6 years old. “Official” references/statements are greatly welcomed and appreciated.

Here’s an article (somewhat lengthy) from the USCCB website entitled “The Filioque: A Church Dividing Issue?: An Agreed Statement”. The document was prepared, if I am not mistaken (see article), by the the North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation. Here it is:

I hope this helps.

If there is no technical reason why the two sides are not in agreement, then it comes down to the fact that the West made the change without asking the East and this really, really rankles them.

From the article LionHeart referenced:

The Greek and Latin theological traditions clearly remain in some tension with each other on the fundamental issue of the Spirit’s eternal origin as a distinct divine person. By the Middle Ages, as a result of the influence of Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, Western theology almost universally conceives of the identity of each divine person as defined by its “relations of opposition” – in other words, its mutually defining relations of origin - to the other two, and concludes that the Holy Spirit would not be hypostatically distinguishable from the Son if the Spirit “proceeded” from the Father alone. In the Latin understanding of processio as a general term for “origin,” after all, it can also be said that the Son “proceeds from the Father” by being generated from him. Eastern theology, drawing on the language of John 15.26 and the Creed of 381, continues to understand the language of “procession” (ekporeusis) as denoting a unique, exclusive, and distinctive causal relationship between the Spirit and the Father, and generally confines the Son’s role to the “manifestation” and “mission” of the Spirit in the divine activities of creation and redemption. These differences, though subtle, are substantial, and the very weight of theological tradition behind both of them makes them all the more difficult to reconcile theologically with each other.

Bit if the Son and the Holy Spirit are both God, how can the Father or anything else be the source of their being?

I could not have said it better.

I don’t know I can agree with this. That is not what the Trinity is. The three persons of the Trinity, being co-equal and uncreated, how can the Father then be the origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit?

Who are you trying to convince, Randy? Us? Or Yourself?

The water here is too deep for my simple mind but isn’t this one better?

Maximus the Confessor-

“With regard to the first matter, they (the Romans) have produced the unanimous documentary evidence of the Latin fathers, and also of Cyril of Alexandria, from the sacred commentary he composed on the gospel of St. John. On the basis of these texts, they have shown that they have not made the Son the cause of the Spirit — they know in fact that the Father is the only cause of the Son and the Spirit, the one by begetting and the other by procession; but [they use this expression] in order to manifest the Spirit’s coming-forth (προϊέναι) through him and, in this way, to make clear the unity and identity of the essence.”- St Maximus the Confessor, Letter to the priest Marinus of Cyprus


“Just as Mind is the cause of the Word, so also it is [cause] of the Spirit, but by means of the Word διὰ μέσου δὲ τοῦ λόγου]. And just as we are unable to say that a word is ‘of the voice,’ so also neither can we say that the Word is ‘of the Spirit.’” (Quaestiones et dubia, I, 34)


Read the full piece here:


That’s what I thought when I read the same also. Another conversation where every word you speak is critical as it could be easily interpreted to mean something different.

When we speak monarchy its hard to imagine co-equal and uncreated. Its hard not to use time as a analogy or to see only the Trinity from within time.

As soon as you say the only begotten Son, immediately the human mind thinks in relation to time, monarchy and from a starting point where there is none.

Its another example of hard language in the hypostatic union while we acknowledge fully human/fully divine, we reach a point which is indescribable from the human mind in explaining God. I tend to lean toward the Coptic expression in this regard. Truth is after countless conversations with the EO in regard, thus the CC and EO, I tend to think there is much wisdom in the Coptic expression when correctly understood.

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