In academic philosophy a howler is a technical term denoting some claim that strikes the audience in such a way that they simply balk and balk quite loudly at it. It is the academic version of “Awe, Come on!”

If you listen to the Lutheran radio show, Issues, Etc. January 27th on the Filioque with guest Rev. Peter Bender of the Concordia Catechetical Academy you will hear more howlers than one ought to hear in a thirty minute period of their life. It was quite amazing. If the Lutherans wish to have any meaningful apologetic against Orthodoxy, they need to do better than this…a lot better.


  1. On the one hand, this dreadful radio segment makes it hard for me to admit that I am a Missouri-Synod Lutheran.

    On the other hand, it has to be admitted that Pr Bender took on an impossible task: explaining why a Church which denies Papal authority and claims to believe in Sola Scriptura keeps a phrase in its Creed that was put there on Papal authority and cannot be demonstrated from the Scriptures. Given that the task cannot be done, it is hardly surprising that Pr Bender so spectacularly botched it.


  2. Chris,

    In his correspondence with me, he is quite convinced that it can be demonstrated from Scripture alone. But beyond that, the historical howlers were beyond the pale. Toledo in 589 is the “Third Ecumenical Council”??!! That’s a howler is ever there was one.


  3. Yes, calling Toledo the third ecumenical council was a colossal howler (I mean, what was Ephesus — chopped liver? And how is it the “Third Council” could occur 36 years after the fifth council?). But the more serious howler was Pr Bender’s hopeless confusion of the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit with the temporal mission.

    If you start with that fundamental confusion, then yes, you can demonstrate the filioque from Scripture alone. But then you are not demonstrating the filioque itself, you’re only demonstrating your own mistaken notion of what the filioque means.

    I am convinced, BTW, that even among theologically literate Western Christians, the vast majority would, if asked, be unable to distinguish between the eternal procession and the temporal mission (and would clearly understand the filioque as referring to the temporal mission).


  4. Never having read too deeply into the Lutheran argument for the filioque, but being familiar with the general defenses given, the Scriptural argument seems to be:

    1. Jesus “sent the Spirit”, “sent” and “proceed being taken as synonyms.

    2. The Spirit is the “Spirit of the Son” which seems to imply much the same as 1.

    One WELS pastor has also said that in Latin the term for “proceed” does not imply ‘single source’ in the same way the Greek term does – I wouldn’t know. Meaning that the phrase, in Latin, is not heretical in its intent.

    Also, since Creeds hold no real authority but are merely ‘useful’ and perhaps reverent witnesses to the true faith in ages past, the fact that the Creed was changed against the understanding of the decrees of the 3rd EC make no difference. The Western recension of the Creed is held to be ‘early’, a mere human adiaphora useful for summary teaching, representative of the Western tradition which Lutherans claim (more or less) to be the rightful heirs to, and not in disagreement with Scripture. The same is why and how the spurious Athanasian Creed makes up the one of the “Three Ecumenical Creeds” in the Book of Concord – which, for me, immediately calls into question the trustworthiness of the Book of Concord and its understanding of the full scope of Christian history and theology.


  5. I should have added to 2 the fact that this phrase seems to imply 1 because the “Spirit of the Father” and “Spirit of the Son” are used, but not the opposites, e.g., “Word of the Spirit”.


  6. Especially disappointing was an unwillingness to seriously grapple with the suggestion of “through the Son” which seems like it is one possible way forward in this discussion.

    Also naive was the implication that Rome somehow does not stand under Scripture bc of the filioque. Did that make any sense at all?

    Finally: “Let Jesus words interpret…[themselves?]” Yeah, that really helps.


  7. Photios,

    And not Continuing Anglicans?

    It was arguing just that (that the Continuers should drop the “filioque” by their own ecclesiological logic) that ended up in my simply becoming Orthodox, however.


  8. You may be interested to know: my (PCA) pastor’s advent sermon series this year was on ancient heresies. Because of this discussion he decided to use the Nicene Creed in service (the Apostles’ Creed is more common among Presbyterians for historical reasons, and we don’t confess a Creed every week in my church to begin with). The week he introduced the series he used the version out of the Trinity Hymnal (the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed + filioque; I think it’s the same translation as the Book of Common Prayer, but I’m not sure) and introduced it as being the Creed proclaimed in 325 against the Arians! I talked to him about this, and the next week, in conjunction with his sermon on Arianism, the correct Old Nicene Creed was used, and the following week, in conjunction with the sermon on Docetism, the correct Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (without the filioque) was used. I’m sure nearly everyone in the church was confused by this, but historical accuracy is important! Even if you defend the theology of the filioque (a matter on which I remain silent because I don’t understand it well enough), and even if you argue for the importance of the filioque in the Western tradition, there is just no way to defend the ecumenicity of this clause.


  9. “But the more serious howler was Pr Bender’s hopeless confusion of the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit with the temporal mission.”

    As far as I can tell, Rome defends the filioque on the basis of temporal mission. But I keep getting confused with conflicting statements. Does anyone know for sure what Rome says about the filioque and its interpretation?


  10. Does anyone know for sure what Rome says about … ?

    Always a good question, no matter how you fill in the ellipsis.

    Seriously, the classic expression of the filioque is found in the decrees of the “reunion councils” of Lyons and Florence. For the modern view, see the “clarification” of the issue by the Vatican in the mid-90s.


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