April 2016

April 2016

A Theological Oddity

For the past five years, I’ve been working off and on to complete my thesis, required for the STM (Master of Sacred Theology) degree at our Fort Wayne seminary. You may remember that Holy Cross graciously allowed me to delay my ordination and installation back in 2011 so that I could complete my thesis first. Unfortunately, I only got it about half done. Since then, I’ve worked on it as I’ve been able—which hasn’t been much. Now it’s due mid-April if I am to graduate from the STM program, so with the end of Holy Week I’ve been trying to play catch-up. I thought it might be worthwhile to give my congregation a brief glimpse into what I’ve been writing about.

When I started my thesis, I was working on one theologian’s approach to the teaching on the Holy Spirit in general. That was largely because I was fortunate enough to be in possession of that theologian’s chief writings on the Spirit in the original Latin. Since then, however, I’ve found that there’s a wide range of sixteenth and seventeenth-century sources available as scans from German libraries. That has allowed me to broaden the sources I’ve consulted and narrow my doctrinal focus to one question regarding the Holy Spirit: the filioque.

If you’ve never heard of the filioque before, that’s quite understandable (though I’d be very impressed if you have!). It’s a Latin word that comes from our version of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit … who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Those words “and the Son” (filioque in Latin) were not originally a part of the creed. They were added by Latin-speakers in the sixth century in order to safeguard the divinity of Jesus, since there were those at that time who claimed that since the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, the Son must be less than fully God. If the Spirit proceeds from the Son, that is, if He eternally derives His existence from the Son, then the Son must be fully God.

The Greek Church, however, took offense at the addition of the filioque. Over the course of several centuries, a serious controversy developed over whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or from the Father alone. The controversy finally led to the ongoing split between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Since the Lutheran Church comes from the Roman Catholic Church, we have inherited the filioque from them.

When I first left the Orthodox Church to become a Lutheran, my biggest difficulty was saying the filioque in the Creed. It bothered my conscience so much that for a while I just didn’t say it. But eventually I came to the conclusion that when Lutherans say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, we’re not talking about His eternal procession, but about His being sent in time. That soothed my conscience until well into seminary.

One day, however, as I discussed this with my vicarage supervisor, he urged me to reread our dogmatics textbook on this question. I did, and what I found stunned me: the Lutheran Church has always believed, taught, and confessed that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son, deriving His divine essence from both. I had to study that further.

Next month I plan to give you a further glimpse into some of the conclusions I’ve drawn as I’ve researched the filioque in the Lutheran tradition.

In Christ's Love,

Pastor Neuendo