Jared Witt - July 30, 2018
Oh? What do I love about 2018? I’m glad you asked. I love that we can laugh about the filioque. It took us centuries to get here.
You know all about the filioque, don’t you? Filioque is a latin word which literally means “and from the Son.” It started to showing up in the Nicene creed sometime around the 6th century in the western (i.e. Rome based) region of the church. The original creed that both western and eastern bishops had agreed on read:
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father.
At some point though, no one knows exactly who or when, but at some point, someone in the western, Latin speaking church added what is arguably the most controversial word in history, translated, “and the Son.”
The western creed now read, “Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
If this is the first you’re hearing about this old, old debate, then I doubt you’re anticipating all the hell that broke loose because of that one word.
The easterners thought it a blasphemous way of dismissing the Holy Spirit’s role in the Trinity—cutting it down a peg or two and making it lesser than both Father and Son. The westerners thought the easterners were doing the same with both the Son and the Spirit. Both sides thought they were protecting the honor of the Trinity from the other.
The shouting started. The listening stopped. Tables were overturned. Lives were threatened. And the church would eventually split in two.
You get the irony right? “The Son,” of course, refers to Christ. Only Christians could make Christ the reason for destroying Christianity.
So back to what I love about 2018. One of our resident Jesus nerds here at Castle Church, Jacob Schmalzle, sends me this meme the other day:
Sorry for explaining the joke. But it’s funny because obviously your date in 2018 is unlikely to get red in the face over the filioque. And not just the filioque, but the Montanist schism, the Donatist controversy, or Nestorianism either. If you find one who does, this person is likely an oddball theology blogger or a seminary student who has spent a great deal of time wrapping his or her head around this obscure topic mostly out of love for the sheer esotericism of it—not someone who actually has a natural emotional resonance with one stance or the other.
But most people you’re likely to find on Bumble just won’t care very much. And I don’t simply mean they won’t care for the most obvious reasons: that people don’t really understand what is at issue anymore because it happened a long time ago.
We don’t have some modern doctrinal equivalent to the filioque debate in 2018. Don't get me wrong, church's still have fights and schisms more than ever. But those almost always concern the people whom they think should or shouldn't be allowed in their club. People don’t fight you on high trinitarian concepts, even if you explain what it’s about (believe me, I’ve tried), because we’ve all sort of agreed on an unspoken truce: maintaining a relationship with the person to whom we’re speaking is more important than maintaining a position on something so abstract and unprovable.
And besides, we’re all in the confusion and unknowing of life together. Why attack each other over something that is so far above all of our pay grades? This is why we chuckle at the image of a bunch of medieval clergymen arguing over how many angels can fit on the head of a pin: the common reductio ad absurdum of how we see these old timey doctrinal debates. And with the ability to chuckle like that, comes freedom.
But we don’t necessarily take advantage of that freedom in all spheres, do we? We may not have a 2018 theological equivalent to the filioque debate, but just substitute the word political for theological and words like climate change or tax bill for filioque, and you’ll unleash a firestorm of accusations, and schisms, and internet trolling (and, ironically, a great deal of theology will be cited on both sides).
Turns out, we have our own version of east and west. And the clergymen, who tell us which side we’re on and who our enemies are, are the media pundits who work for bishops and patriarchs of billion dollar conglomerates. They need us to hate each other. Their revenues are based on ratings, and their ratings are based on controversy. It would literally destroy them if we all just had a beer and laughed at their half-truths and overconfident opining—if we chose friendship over factionalism and doppelbocks over dogma.
This is not to say that none of these are important issues or that there isn’t any right or wrong. But if you ever find yourself beating someone up, verbally or otherwise, in the name of the good you think you serve, then you’ve likely lost the plot.
People are more important to God than ideas. Jesus was clearer on that than just about anything else. Whether he was touching the ritually unclean casket of the son of a weeping mother, sharing dinner with an equally unclean prostitute, or healing on the Sabbath, he repeatedly chose people over principles throughout his entire ministry.
So if there is any Christ left in that part of the world which calls itself Christian, I find this to be a good rule of thumb:
Kill ideas that threaten people, not people who threaten ideas.
Cheers and Peace,
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.