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And from the Son

The filioque controversy is Christianity's second major dispute about the Trinity. Arianism, debating the nature of God the Father and God the Son, emerges in the 4th century. The word filioque, of importance from the 6th century onwards, brings into question the relationship of both Father and Son with the Holy Spirit.

The Nicene Creed states that the Holy Spirit 'proceeds from the Father'. In the 5th century St Augustine gives his authority to the idea that the Spirit proceeds 'also from the Son' (filioque in Latin). This becomes popular in the west and is increasingly added to the creed from the time of the third Council of Toledo, in 589.

The extra word is passionately rejected by the Greek church in Constantinople, on two grounds: that it is an unauthorized addition to a holy text; and, more significantly, that it is a distortion of the symmetrical equality of the Trinity, implying that two of the three persons are equal (Father and Son) while the Holy Spirit, proceeding from both of them, is in some measure inferior. The equality of Father and Son is already established in the Nicene Creed, in response to the challenge of Arius, with the Son described as homo-ousios - 'of one substance' with the Father.

To this day western creeds, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic, include 'and from the Son', while the eastern churches still reject the phrase.

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