TENSIONS BEGAN TO MOUNT as the first
millennium was drawing to a close. They were reaching the breaking point as the
second 1000 years began. While numerous doctrinal, political, economic, and
cultural factors began to work to separate the Church in a division that would
be the East and the West, two giant issues ultimately emerged above others: (1)
the claim by the Pope of Rome to have authority over all other bishops of the
Church; and (2) the addition of a novel clause to the Church's creed.
1. The Papacy: Among the Twelve, Saint Peter was early acknowledged
as the first among equals. He was a spokesman for the Twelve before and after
Pentecost. He was the first bishop of Antioch and later bishop of Rome. No one
challenged his role.
After the death of the Apostles, as
leadership in the Church developed, the bishop of Rome came to be recognized as
first in honor, even though all bishops were equals. But after nearly 300
years, the bishop of Rome slowly began to assume to himself a role of
superiority over the others, ultimately claiming to be the only true successor
to Saint Peter. The vast majority of the other bishops of the Church never
questioned Rome's primacy of honor, but they patently rejected its claim as the
universal head of the Church on earth. This claim became one of the major
factors leading to the tragic split between the Western and Eastern Church which
we will soon be considering.
2. The Addition to the Creed: A disagreement about the Holy Spirit also began to
develop in the Church. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father? Or, does
He proceed from the Father and Son?
In John 15:26 our Lord Jesus Christ asserts, "When
the Helper (Comforter) comes, Whom I shall send to you from the Father, the
Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me."
This is the basic statement in all of the New Testament about the Holy Spirit
"proceeding," and it is clear: He "proceeds from the
Father." Thus when the council at Constantinople in A.D. 381, during the
course of its conclave, reaffirmed the Creed of Nicea (A.D. 325), it expanded
that Creed to proclaim these familiar words: (we believe)"in the Holy
Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who together
with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified."
But two hundred years later, at a local
council in Toledo, Spain (A.D. 589), King Reccared declared that "the Holy
Spirit also should be confessed by us and taught to proceed from the Father and
the Son." The King may have meant well, but he was changing the Apostolic
teaching about the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately the local Spanish council agreed
with his error.
Because of the teaching of the Holy
Scriptures as confessed by the entire Church at Nicea and at Constantinople and
for centuries beyond, there is no reason to believe anything other than that
the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. Period!
But centuries later, in what was looked upon
by many as a largely political move, the Pope of Rome unilaterally changed the
wording of the creed. Such an independent action was bound to evoke a strong
response by the Eastern bishops. They saw it as a flagrant violation of the
long established practice that no universal creed could be altered or changed
apart from the corporate action of an ecumenical council. Though initially
rejected in both East and West, even by some of Rome's closest neighboring
bishops, the Pope eventually convinced the Western bishops to capitulate to
this change. Although this change may appear small, the consequences have
proven disastrous - both from a theological and an historical perspective. This
issue represented a major departure from the Orthodox doctrine of the Church.
It became another instrumental cause leading to the separation of the Roman
Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church.
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