“and the Son”

06-11-2017Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

The Filioque Problem. I know many of you lay awake at night pondering this problem. And if you were around at the end of the first millennium of Christianity, this issue had tremendous theological and political implications. In fact, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It led to the East-West Schism, the split in Christianity between the East and West in what would become the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

In a nutshell, the controversy stemmed from the words of the Nicene Creed: I believe in the Holy Spirit, The Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son). The words “and the Son” - “filioque” in Latin - did not appear in the original version of the Creed of Nicaea (325) but were added at the Council of Constantinople in 381. Hence the Creed that we profess each Sunday is properly called the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. The Eastern Church mainly rejected this, preferring “through the Son.” Their rejection was construed as a rejection of the authoritative nature of the Council of Constantinople, as well as Papal Primacy and the exact nature of the Trinity. (If you want to learn more about the controversy, the U.S. Bishops have a good article on it:

http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/ecumenical/orthodox/filioque-church-dividing-issue-english.cfm .

Now, lest you think this is some esoteric theological argument, you must recall it had real world consequences, not just the split in Christianity, but also a division in the Byzantine Empire, fights over jurisdiction, and many other disputes that erupted in violence and warring factions. The whole historical lesson reminds us that an argument over the nature of God can have not only serious spiritual consequences but also geopolitical consequences that alter the political landscape.

Fast-forward a thousand years and here we are again having a dispute over the nature of God. This time it is between the Judeo-Christian understanding of God and the Islamic understanding of God. Simply put, we don't all believe in the same God. And as you can see, the issue has real world consequences. In the simplest terms, Christianity understands God as operating within the confines of reason (the Logos). Now God is also transcendent, in that He operates well beyond reason, but not in contradiction to it. Therefore, that which is “unreasonable” is not part of God, especially violence. Furthermore, God’s will operates within reason; otherwise God’s will, unrestrained by reason, could lead to any number of horrors. If God’s will is primary, unbound by reason, then violence in the name of God is justifiable. For Islam, God’s will is always primary and to say that God is confined by reason, they claim degrades God to a human level. The theological problem that Islam has is how is God’s will ever constrained to that which is good, beautiful, and true?

Today, unfortunately, very few pay attention to theology even though it has implications for how we live and the type of world we build. In our academies, theology has been knocked off its pedestal, and as a result, the young are for the most part theologically ignorant. One of the pipe dreams of the 20th century was that religion would be no more. Remember John Lennon, “Imagine no religion”…Well, that didn't happen, and the ignorance of theological issues and their implications or the belief that “we all believe in the same God” nonsense has led to serious societal problems and conflicts. Our U.S. Founders were savvy enough to know that religion was an indispensable part of keeping democracy from devolving into tyranny, liberty into license.

We literally have the clash of two theologies, and as we witness almost weekly, this clash brings about bloodshed. For those who claim that theology is insignificant in our modern world, well, just witness the terrorist who kills while screaming “this is for Allah.” It does matter.

It is well past the time for all of us to challenge Islam to articulate clearly how it is that God’s will does not include violence, if that is where their theology can lead them. That would be the first step in halting the violence done in the name of Islam. The second step is for the rest of us, especially our political leaders, to stop being apologists for a religion they know nothing about.

Love,
Fr. John B.

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