The Filioque: Answering Canonical Objections
The Eastern Orthodox church considers the insertion of the Filioque clause to be canonically improper. They argue that its addition violates several decrees and canons of various ecumenical councils which expressly prohibit changes to the Nicene Creed. The arguments against the addition of the filioque clause from a canonical perspective can be summarized in four points:
First Objection: The 7th canon of Ephesus prohibits anyone from formulating new creeds
Second Objection: The Council of Chalcedon anathematized anyone who composed a different creed other than the one established at Nicaea
Third Objection: The Seventh Ecumenical Council (otherwise known as the Second Council of Nicaea) prohibited alterations to the Creed.
Fourth Objection: Only an Ecumenical Council can make changes to an “ecumenical creed”
On July 22nd of 431 AD, during the first session of Ephesus I, the council Fathers decreed:
“No one is allowed to produce or write or compose another creed beside the one laid down with the aid of the Holy Spirit by the holy fathers who assembled at Nicaea; and that as regards those who dare to compose another creed, or produce or present it to those who wish to turn to the knowledge of the truth whether from paganism or Judaism or any form of heresy, they, if they are bishops or clerics, are to be expelled, the bishops from episcopacy and the clerics from the clergy, while if they are laymen they are to be anathematized.”
Mark of Ephesus argued during the Council of Florence (16 October 1438) that “the Fathers of Ephesus received both Creeds as one” (i.e., the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Creeds). Hence, any additions to the Creed are strictly forbidden.
Reply to the First Objection:
Mark’s statement falsely assumes that the Council of Ephesus included the Constantinopolitan Creed in its prohibition. However, there isn’t the slightest trace of evidence to suggest this; since neither the Council of Constantinople nor its supposed creed was ever mentioned during the entire Council of Ephesus. David Gwynn affirms:
“Having thus proclaimed both the authority of the Nicene Creed and its correct interpretation by Cyril and the other approved Fathers, the council of 431 then proceeded to pass what has become known as canon 7 of Ephesus. 'The holy council laid down that no one is allowed to produce or write or compose another creed beside the one laid down with the aid of the Holy Spirit by the holy fathers who assembled at Nicaea' (quoted in Acts of Chalcedon 1.943). By Nicaea the bishops in 431 meant the creed of 325, for there is no mention of the Council of Constantinople in 381 or its creed in the Acts of Ephesus I or in the writings of Cyril, and this canon was to exert an important influence on subsequent debates.” [emphasis mine]
Consequently, the prohibition applies only to the original Nicene Creed, which reads:
“We believe in one God, Father, Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, begotten from the Father as only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, through whom all things came into being, both those on heaven and those on earth, who for us men and for our salvation came down, was enfleshed and became man, suffered, and rose on the third day, ascended into heaven, and is coming to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit. Those who say, ‘There was when he was not’, and ‘Before being begotten he was not’, and that he came into being from things that are not, or assert that the Son of God is from another hypostasis or substance or is changeable or alterable, these the catholic and apostolic church anathematizes.”
The events which prompted the issuing of canon 7 (technically, a horos or definition) is aptly elucidated by Richard Price:
“The session held on 22 July deserves special mention, since its declaration would prove crucial to Dioscorus’ strategy in 449 and the reading of its acts would feature prominently at both Ephesus II and Chalcedon. According to a report presented by the presbyter Charisius, certain clerics linked to Nestorius had supervised the readmission to communion of former Quartodecimans. The statement of faith to which the repentant ex-heretics were asked to subscribe was not the Nicene Creed, but rather another formulation that contained unacceptably ‘Antiochene’ language on the relation between the divine and human in Christ. In response the bishops adopted a resolution commanding that, upon pain of deposition and excommunication, no one might propose or compose a definition of faith that differed from the one set out at Nicaea. This far-reaching measure, counted as Ephesus’ seventh canon, would be understood by later churchmen with varying degrees of rigour. Was it acceptable, they wondered, to add further elaborations or explanations to deal with questions that had not been anticipated by Nicaea? Nevertheless, all future doctrinal discussions would be conducted under the shadow of a canon that many believed made a crime of innovation and originality beyond what had been established at Nicaea.” [emphasis mine]
He writes elsewhere,
“At the first session of Ephesus II were read the minutes of a session of Ephesus I which condemned Nestorius for requiring repentant heretics to subscribe to an expanded creed. This provided a precedent for condemning the Home Synod of 448 for the doctrinal demands it made on Eutyches.”
During the first session of Ephesus, Nestorius was condemned for imposing a novel creed on converts. Many had added to the Nicene Creed before him, but Nestorius was the only one condemned for doing so. This brings up two important questions:
(1) Was the Council of Ephesus applying canon 7 retrospectively; and
(2) Was it applied to Nestorius selectively?
It defies logic for any council to condemn someone for infringing a rule that did not exist at the time. It reasons therefore, that the rule against formulating new creeds must have already existed. This rule must have been implicit, since we find no explicit prohibition against formulating new creeds during the Council of Nicaea. The rule itself could not have prohibited minor changes since we find many bishops and councils adding to the creed after the Nicene Council. What is prohibited by way of the decree is the composition of radically different creeds used in the reception of converts.
In his article, “The Nicene Creed at the First Council of Ephesus,” Thomas Graumann affirms this view:
"What is prohibited in this way by the horos, is in a narrow and specific sense the usage of another declaration, such as the incriminated ekthesis, for the conversion of pagans, Jews and heretics or schismatics. The horos declares the condemnation of a distinct practice, it does not prescribe, however, the closure of all further dogmatic discussion or declaration; nor does it stipulate adherence to the precise wording of the Creed of 325. Rather, the very start of the minutes from which the horos is taken acknowledges the continual difficulty and necessity of the Creed’s interpretation and recognizes the need for authenticating this process. While it makes no mention of the earlier approbation of Cyril’s letter, this very process could be seen to illustrate the way in which the Creed’s effective canonization left open – even more, demanded – its continuous re-thinking and interpretative appropriation after the model of the Fathers. Indeed, it was this practice that alone was able to guard it against abuse and error. Once separated from this context, the Canon could be read in a much more restrictive vein as potentially precluding any additional statements from the delineation of orthodoxy – as is already the case in the second council of Ephesus.” [emphasis mine]
On 22 October 451, during the Fifth Session of Chalcedon, the council Fathers decreed,
“For which reason this holy, great and ecumenical council now present, wishing to close off for them every device against the truth and expound the firmness of the proclamation from of old, has decreed first and foremost that the creed of the 318 holy fathers is to remain inviolate. Furthermore, it confirms the teaching on the essence of the Holy Spirit that was handed down at a later date by the 150 fathers who assembled in the imperial city because of those who were making war on the Holy Spirit; this teaching they made known to all, not as though they were inserting some-thing omitted by their predecessors, but rather making clear by written testimony their conception of the Holy Spirit against those who were trying to deny his sovereignty.” [emphasis mine]
Furthermore, the fifth session of Chalcedon concludes with these words:
“Now that these matters have been formulated by us with all possible care and precision, the holy and ecumenical council has decreed that no one is allowed to produce or compose or construct another creed or to think or teach otherwise. As for those who presume either to construct another creed or to publish or teach or deliver another symbol to those wishing to convert to the knowledge of the truth from paganism or Judaism or from any heresy whatsoever, the council decrees that, if they are bishops or clerics, they are to be deposed, bishops from the episcopate and clerics from the clerical state, while, if they are monks or laymen, they are to be anathematized.”
In what sense is the original Nicene Creed to remain inviolate? Surely, the council doesn’t mean that the precise wording of the creed is unalterable, since the Constantinopolitan Creed makes substantial additions to it. So, we must interpret the decree to mean that the Nicene Creed is to remain the symbol of orthodoxy by which all must subscribe to. The primary concern is the content of the faith, not so much the formal wording of the creed.
The decree promulgated by Chalcedon is merely a reissuing of the Ephesine ban. Since Chalcedon adopted a greatly expanded version of the creed, there can be no doubt concerning the sense in which the Fathers interpreted the Ephesine ban. However, some might argue that although the Council of Chalcedon interpreted canon 7 in a loose sense, the council itself took it a step further by banning all changes to the creed. Against this view, I cite the opposition of the Alexandrian bishops who cited canon 7 during the council’s proceedings. It makes no sense for the Fathers of Chalcedon to interpret the Ephesine ban in a loose sense, and then do an about-face by re-issuing the same ban in a completely different sense.
The Second Council of Nicaea (787) states,
“Therefore, with all diligence, making a thorough examination and analysis, and following the trend of the truth, we diminish nought, we add nought, but we preserve unchanged all things which pertain to the Catholic Church.”
Reply to the Third Objection:
This is merely a general statement about traditionalism in all matters of faith and practice. It does not address the question regarding the wording of the creed. This is obvious when read in the context of the entire decree.
Eastern “Orthodox” bishop, Timothy Ware, writes,
“The creed is the common possession of the whole church; if any change is to be made in it, it must be made by the whole church at an ecumenical council. The West, in altering the Creed without consulting the East, is guilty (as Khomiakov put it) of “moral fratricide,” of a sin against the unity of the church.”
Reply to the Fourth Objection:
Fr. Richard Price notes,
“There was no sense in the church of the fourth and fifth centuries that the wording of the creed was sacrosanct and could only be changed by conciliar degree. The creed we all use – the so-called Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed – was almost certainly not issued by the second ecumenical council. This has often been argued; see for example Ritter’s discussion in Conciliorumoecumenicoumgeneraliumquedecreta, vol. 1 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006). Variant versions of the Nicene Creed that preserved the key clauses about Christ’s divinity and consubstantiality with the Father were accepted without any need for conciliar approval. See J. Lebon, ‘Les ancienssymbolesdans la définition de Chalcédoine’, Revue d’HistoireEcclésiastique 32 (1936), 809-76. The canon of Ephesus insisting on the original Nicene Creed is constantly cited by the Eastern Orthodox, but it doesn’t help their case. If it bans the addition of the Filioque, it also bans the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. In fact, it was not with the exact wording of the creed, but with the impropriety of using a wholly different formula in the reception of converts.”
In any event, did Constantinople consult Rome or any of the other Apostolic Sees when it decided to elevate its own See to second in honor during the Council of Constantinople? Did it consult Rome when it decided to sanction adultery during the Council in Trullo (cf. canon 87), as well as an incontinent clergy (cf. canon 13)? It is clear from these few examples, that the East has a long track record of doing things without the consultation of Rome. So any claim about a lack of cooperation on their part is hypocritical to say the least.
 Richard Price & Michael Gaddis, “Acts of Chalcedon,” First Session of Ephesus, (Liverpool University Press 2005), 323.
 Ivan N. Ostroumov, “The History of the Council of Florence” Translated by Basil Popof (London: Joseph Masters and Company 1 January 1861), 67-68.
 Richard Price & Michael Gaddis, “Acts of Chalcedon,” First Session of Ephesus (Liverpool University Press 2005), 300.
 Richard Price & Mary Whitby, “Chalcedon in Context,” The Definition of Christian Tradition (Liverpool University Press 2009), 12.
 Richard Price & Michael Gaddis, “Acts of Chalcedon,” First Session of Ephesus (Liverpool University Press 2005), 300.
 Richard Price & Michael Gaddis, “Acts of Chalcedon,” Introduction (Liverpool University Press 2005), 21-22.
 ibid., First Session of Chalcedon, note 10, 117.
 Justin Mihoc & Leonard Aldea, “A Celebration of Living Theology: A Festschrift in Honour of Andrew Louth,” (Bloomsbury Publishing, 13 March 2014) 32-33.
 Richard Price & Michael Gaddis, “Acts of Chalcedon,” Fifth Session of Chalcedon (Liverpool University Press 2005), 203.
 ibid., 205.
 Philippe Labbe & Gabriel Cossart, “Sacrosancta Concilia,” Tomus septimus (1 January 1731), 554.
 Timothy Ware, “The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity,” (Penguin UK, 29 April 1993), 51.