One of the more controversial issues between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is the filioque.
To put it as briefly as I can, filioque means “and the Son” and explains how the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This phrase/word was added to the Nicene Creed in the Latin West sometime between the 6th and 11th Centuries (depending on how you define “adding”).
The original Greek text does not say it and the Orthodox Churches don’t recognise the authority of the Catholic Church, under the Pope as St Peter’s successor, to add it to the Creed in this way. As such, the filioque is one of the key sources of conflicts between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and has been since at least the 10th Century.
One thousand years later, we’re still arguing about it!
The Forgotten Addition to the Nicene Creed
What I didn’t realise, however, is that the filioque isn’t the only difference between the Eastern and Western creeds. The Latin version of the Creed also includes the words deum de deo or “God from God”.
The original Greek text of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed says,
Fós ek Fotós, Theón alithinón, ek Theoú alithinoú…
Light from light, true God from true God…
The official Latin text, however, says,
Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero…
God from God, light from light, true God from God…
Maybe everyone knew about this but I was like, wait… what?
How Did Deum De Deo End Up in the Creed?
The phrasing “God from God, light from light, true God from true God” actually comes from the earlier 325 version of the Nicene Creed. The first bit was omitted when the Creed was expanded at the Council of Constantinople in 381. This later creed is usually just called the Nicene Creed, although it is technically the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed — presumably because we like to make everything as difficult as possible.
Yet, when the Creed was received in the Latin West, the Deum de Deo bit was retained. I suspect it just sounds better in Latin that way!
What is the Significance of Deum de Deo?
So what exactly does this tell us? (Besides the fact I’m a massive nerd with a thing for creeds and too much time on my hands?)
Obviously, this addition to the Creed doesn’t alter the meaning at all. If Christ Jesus is “true God from true God”, He is certainly “God from God.”
It does, however, underscore the fact that the Creed was a little more flexible in the Early Church than many of us imagine. In his book Rome And The Eastern Churches, Aidan Nichols points out that,
With the benefit of modern research, we can report that quotations of the Nicene Creed in the fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries [were] anything but uniform. It looks, then, as though a variety of linguistic differences was acceptable as long as the sense was not changed.
— Aidan Nichols, Rome And The Eastern Churches, 2nd Edition (Ignatius Press, 2010), p. 254
What This Means for the Filioque
I think this is why, if there is no real doctrinal issue at stake, the presence of the filioque in the Latin version of the Nicene Creed isn’t a problem.
Even if the filioque was removed from the Roman Rite (which, let’s be honest, will happen when flying pigs take over the Vatican), the Creed still wouldn’t be exactly the same. Arguably, it never was completely same.
For many Orthodox and Catholics that “if there is no real doctrine issue” is one big if.
Still, we can and must keep praying for genuine Christian unity. We must keep praying that the Church will be truly united as one, as the Son and the Father are one (John 17:22-23): God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.