The Nicene Creed and Filioque Clause: a Brief Examination

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten, born of the Father before all ages. Light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made consubstantial with the Father; through Whom all things were made. Who, for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and Mary the Virgin, and became man. He was also crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And He rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures. And He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and of His kingdom there will be no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who has spoken through the prophets.

In one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I profess one baptism for the remission of sins. I expect the resurrection of the dead; and the life of the world to come. Amen.

(Quoted from: Let us Pray to the Lord, Volume I: Daily Office, published by Eastern Christian Publications)


The Nicene Creed is a profound statement of Christian truth that sets out the nuts-and-bolts of what we believe as being members of Christ’s Church. It is shared in common between the Eastern and Western lungs, but (aside from stylistic differences in English rendering, especially) does differ in its expression on a very key point- one that lent a considerable difficulty between the Eastern and Western Churches of the 11th century, contributing to what became The Great Schism that divided the Church in 1054 (where, the Eastern Churches would no longer be in communion with the Roman Church). This divergence hinges on the insertion of the term, filioque ( “….and the Son”)  in the statement proclaiming the procession of the Holy Spirit: In the Eastern Churches, we declare that the Holy Spirit proceeds from (only) the Father. In the West, it is proclaimed that He proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The addition of filioque / …and the Son was originally introduced in 587 at the Council of Toledo (Spain). It was inserted as a counter to the heresy of Arianism, which (as promulgated by the fourth-century presbyter, Arius) maintained that Jesus was in fact not consubstantial with the Father, but was instead a created being who was not only subordinate to the Father, but also not co-eternal with Him. This heresy spread readily among the Germanic Christians (Visigoths and also Vandals) through the efforts Ulfilas [311-380 / 381] (in Gothic, Wulfila: “Little Wolf”), who was actually of Cappadocian descent (the historian, Philostorgius stated that his parents were natives of Sadagolthina, but it is more likely that it was his grandparents who hailed from Cappadocia).

Ulfilas was born into and grew up solidly within the Gothic culture. He translated the Bible into Gothic (with the exception of the books of Kings), making it accessible to speakers of the language. Interestingly, the historian Socrates Scholasticus accredited the formation of the Gothic alphabet to Ulfilas himself, and while it is clear that the Gothic used for the text of the Bible was at the very least of a specific region, what is preserved in surviving texts may in fact be a “liturgical” form, meant to be understood by Goths of any dialect (here, our attention is perhaps immediately drawn to Saints Cyril and Methodius and their translation of Holy Scripture into Slavonic).

Pope Leo III rejected the use of the Council of Toledo’s rendition of the Creed and instead mandated the employment of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, which did not employ filioque, but put forth and expanded recognition of the Holy Spirit: “….And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of life, [Who proceeds from the Father], Who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who has spoken through the prophets.” This  expansion within the Creed was meant to reinforce the Christian understanding that the Holy Spirit was consubstantial – “of the same substance”- with the Father and Son, just as They are (Father and Son) with one another- and so, a true Trinity of God.

Charlemagne, however, endorsed the Creed as formulated in Toledo. Through his efforts, it spread into the Frankish kingdom, and it was he who originally petitioned Pope Leo III (at the Synod of Aachen, in 809) to have it accepted universally throughout the Church. While Charlemagne was unsuccessful, the filioque clause would come to be utilized in the Creed within the Roman Mass in 1024, through Pope Benedict VIII.

The Creed was and is a statement of the catholic, or universal, belief of the Church. Given that the Council of Toledo was a synod of local occurrence and not one of an ecumenical nature that involved the entirety of the Church (both Eastern and Western lungs), the filioque clause was never accepted by the whole of the universal Church- namely, the East… Without the approval of an ecumenical council, it remains an unresolved issue at the very least, and at worst, a divisive element between two separated halves of should otherwise be truly “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”, unified in Christ.  

The Sign of the Cross


“Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the poor’s sake; without toil, for the sick, since also its grace is from God. It is the sign of the faithful, and the dread of evils; for He has triumphed over them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they see the cross, they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, Who hath bruised the heads of the dragon. Despise not the seal, because of the freeness of the gift; but for this rather honor thy Benefactor.”

– St. Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 315 – 386

In both the Catholic (east and west) and Orthodox Churches, we find the presence of the “sign of the cross”. Its practice dates from the early Fathers, and is both a beautiful and powerful expression of those faithful in Christ Jesus. In the earliest times, all Christians made the sign of the cross within the same formula of movement of the right hand, from forehead to chest (or abdomen), and then from right shoulder to left shoulder. The right hand is kept in a particular way, with the thumb, forefinger, and middle fingers held together- this symbolizes the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The ring finger and pinky are closed against the palm, representing the unity of the divine and human nature within Christ, as well as the unity of the divine and human will within His person. Holding the fingers against the palm is sometimes explained as a reminder that Christ descended from Heaven to bring salvation to mankind, or as a reminder of the wounds He endured on the cross for our sake. As noted above, some extend the downward motion toward the abdomen instead of the chest- this is done to elongate the “body” of the cross being signed, so that in the whole, the visual doesn’t give the mistaken impression of an inverted cross.

Around the twelfth century variations began to appear within the Latin Churches, which reversed the movement along the shoulders, going from left to right instead of right to left. Eventually, even the manner in which the fingers were held was likewise changed- the formula and its deep and holy symbolism would be lost in the Western practice, which to this day employs and open palm instead of the joined / folded fingers.

In a manner of speaking, the way in which Eastern Christians (Catholic and Orthodox) make the sign of the cross “mirrors” the motion which the priest uses in blessing the faithful, whereas the Latins essentially imitate the exact sign being made. That is, for Eastern Catholics and Orthodox, our hands follow the motion of the hand of the priest (or bishop)- as his moves left, ours moves to the right (and so, in the same position as the one bestowing the blessing).

I don’t mean to come off critical of our Latin brothers and sisters or to somehow imply that they are “wrong” in their practices. I do think, however, something is a bit lost in the Western example- I do love and appreciate both the longstanding heritage and deep symbolic significance inherent in the original formula. But in either case, the sign of the cross should be made reverently and deliberately, with awe and in faith of the promise of salvation that the very cross represents. As we are reminded by St. John Chrysostom, “When you make the sign of the cross on the forehead, arm yourself with a saintly boldness and reinstall your soul in its old liberty; for you are not ignorant that the cross is a prize beyond all price.

Consider what is the price given for your ransom, and you will never more be slave to any man on earth. This reward and the ransom is the cross. You should not then, carelessly make the sign on the forehead, but you should impress it on your heart with the love of a fervent faith. Nothing impure will dare to molest you on seeing the weapon, which overcometh all things.”