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Splitting Over A Single Word

How did the Western and Eastern Church split?

If we had the answers to all of life's mysteries, then they wouldn't be mysteries anymore and there would be less arguing among the experts. But, even among those of us who profess faith in an Almighty God who leads us into all truths, there are disagreements about all sorts of things. People have died over matters of Bible interpretation. Families have been split apart over obscure theological points. Religious differences are rarely trivial spats.

Did you know that the established Church split into two in the 11th Century, seemingly over the issue of a single word! The word was filioque, a Latin word translated as "and from the son". It was added to the original Creed by the Roman Catholics, but rejected by the Eastern Orthodox. The Orthodox believed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (God), whereas the Catholics believed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father ... and the son (Jesus). Although there were also political considerations involved here, regarding the location of the "Capital" of the Church, these disagreements were sufficient to destroy any hope of a unified World Church and led to the Eastern and Western Churches doing their own thing for the next thousand years. Can you believe it! We must ask ourselves, what was the real issue and why was it so important that unity had to be sacrificed to satisfy the protagonists?

The real issue seemed to be that the great doctrines of Christianity had become a philosopher's playground, a global forum for ideas and developments. These people loved to argue and the issue of the filioque had absolutely nothing to do with the Bible, but everything to do with the various ways the Christian philosophers interpreted the works of the Ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. If he had only known the trouble he was going to bring, how his words, deployed within the context of pagan philosophy, were powerful enough to split the worldwide Christian Church! How this happened will be explained in a forthcoming article.

Jews loved to argue too, though they had good reason. When your Holy Scripture is presented to you as words without vowels or punctuation, as it was with the Old Testament, one would expect the odd confusion or difference in opinion. These were conducted in the yeshivas, the places of study, and later on the pages of the Talmud, the written collection of rabbinic discussions. Lives were never threatened. There may have been spirited discussions, but it was all very civilized, blood was never spilt and, of course, it was always the interpretation of Holy Scripture that was argued over. Wrestling over the words of God to extract divine meanings somehow seems a nobler practice than arguing over points of philosophy that can never be resolved.

I will leave you with the words of Paul:

"Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen". (2 Timothy 2:14)

Steve Maltz
March 2012

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