On the night before he died, our Lord prayed that his followers might be one, as he and the Father are one. If we made a list of unanswered prayers, this one would surely be at or near the top. Christ’s followers are clearly not one. As a familiar hymn puts it, the Church is “by schisms rent asunder”. The first major schism happened in the 11th century. The main issue was the wording in part of the Nicene Creed.
The Creed was developed by representatives of the Church – the whole Church, as it was in the fourth century. Bishops from the whole of Christendom at the time met in 325 in Nicaea (in modern Turkey) and again in Constantinople in 381. Their deliberations resulted in a statement of the faith of the Church, what we call the Nicene Creed.
The fourth century Church had two common languages, Greek and Latin. The Nicene Creed was originally written in Greek and translated into Latin so that all members of the Church could recite the Creed in a language they understood. Over the next few centuries, an additional word crept into the Latin version of the Creed. We don’t know exactly how this unauthorised change occurred, but we do know that it caused enormous friction, anger and, eventually, what became known as the “Great Schism” – the division of the Church into East and West, in 1054.
One word – and the entire Church split. That word, in Latin, is Filioque. In English, it’s three words – “and the Son”. It comes in the Creed’s statement about the Holy Spirit:
“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…”
That’s how we say the Creed. But Christians from the Orthodox Churches – Greek, Russian, Romanian and so on – say the Creed without these extra words. And Christ’s Church remains divided, by those same words – “the Filioque clause”.
In the mid-20th century, Christians from either side of that divide finally started to talk to one another. Anglican-Orthodox dialogue groups were set up. In 1976, the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission issued an Agreed Statement. Regarding the Nicene Creed, it included these words:
“The Anglican members agree that…the Filioque clause should not be included in this Creed.”
This view was supported at subsequent dialogue meetings. The Lambeth Conference of 1988 recommended that the phrase be dropped in Anglican churches.
It’s more than 30 years since that Lambeth recommendation, yet little has been done. So, in 2019, Synod set up a subcommittee to examine the issues and report back to the next Synod. That happened in 2021. The subcommittee reported widespread agreement that something should be done to take things forward. As a result, Synod asked a new select committee to provide a study guide about the Filioque clause for use in parishes.
This study guide is now available for use, and may be downloaded from the Synod page of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland website. Parishes are invited to use the guide to facilitate discussion, and to give feedback to the committee via the survey provided with the guide. The committee will collate the feedback and report back to Synod in 2022.
Parishes and individuals are encouraged to make use of the guide and to complete the brief feedback survey.
It will take many more years and much discussion throughout the worldwide Church to heal the rift. The guide has been prepared in the hope that our Diocesan community can help the Church take steps to repair the divisions in Christ’s Body, and in so doing become part of the answer to our Lord’s Prayer “that they may be one.”Jump to next article