A BOOK FROM BENEDICT
Pope Benedict XVI has written his first book as pontiff. No, it will be called Jesus of Nazareth, not Really, Some of My Best Friends Are Muslims. It's due out in the spring and is meant to be the first of two volumes on Christ. Will you buy it?
* * *
REACHING AGREEMENT AFTER CENTURIES OF DEBATE
OK, here's another example of why theological debates sometimes are so fascinating to me.
The Evangelical Luthern Church in America's Church Council (in effect, the denomination's board of directors and legislative body) just adopted a "Lutheran-Orthodox Common Statement on Faith in the Holy Trinity." For the full joint statement, click here.
What we have here is a 21st century development in an argument that finally goes back to the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E., but more to the point, to an idea pushed by Ambrose, a 4th century bishop who was one of the great theologians of the Western church.
Ambrose looked at the Nicene Creed's affirmation that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father," and suggested that the creed should say the Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son." The phrase "and the Son" was labeled the "Filioque," using a Latin term.
Well, the Western church went along with Ambrose, though it took time for the additional phrase to become the common way of saying the creed. In his book, Reclaiming Our Roots, Mark Ellingsen says the "alteration of the creed probably. . .was brought during the reign of Charlemagne (742-814) to France. . .When some Frankish monks visited the East and recited the amended version of the creed, it touched off a huge controversy."
The Eastern church thought the addition to the creed was heretical. It tended to deny the equality of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, they said, and tended to give the Son more power. (I personally think the Eastern argument makes a lot of sense.)
But the Western church wanted it in to help combat the late 8th Century controversy about whether Jesus was the "adopted" Son of God. Ellingsen puts it this way: "If the Spirit proceeded from the Son, the Son must not have been adopted but rather had been God in eternity."
Well, in 1054, East and West broke apart into the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic church, and each took with it its version of the Nicene Creed. Indeed, one of the major points of division was the Filioque.
For some years now, there's been a Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue. Out of those discussions came a 1998 statement in which Lutherans, who use the Filioque phrase, said it was "appropriate" to say the Nicene Creed without it. In other words, Lutherans were saying that the Orthodox churches were doing nothing wrong or heretical by leaving out the Filioque.
So a controversy that has been stirring for nearly 1,700 years -- or at least more than 1,000, depending on how you date things -- has found a partial resolution between two major players.
All of which tells me that maybe a few hundreds years down the road the Protestant-Catholic split or the Catholic-Orthodox split (which the pope will talk about in Turkey later this month with the top Orthodox leader) eventually can be healed.
Perhaps this spirit of harmony might even proceed from the Father and the Son. Or not.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.
P.S.: How will many American Muslims be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow? Click here for one answer.