As the Octave of Pentecost (in the traditional calendar) comes to an end, we reflect once more on the Holy Spirit.
One of the most well-known and controversial developments in trinitarian theology is Western Christianity’s use of the word Filioque to describe the procession of the Spirit. First in Spain then across the West, bishops added this term in order to more strongly emphasize the connection between the Son and Spirit, thus further affirming the equality of the trinitarian Persons. Of course, the original Creed as adopted at Nicaea and confirmed at Constantinople only spoke of the Spirit’s procession from the Father, and the Latin innovation caused not a few problems which eventually led (along with other causes) to the Great Schism of 1054.
A little known fact: the theological difficulties were in fact surpassed, and the Filioque was accepted by the Greeks in the presence of Pope Eugene IV at the Ecumenical Council of Florence in 1439 (the Greek party included the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor, in addition to a multitude of bishops from across the East). Soon after the conclusion of the Council, the Greeks eventually repudiated the joyous reunion achieved at Florence, and the schism, with all its theological and geopolitical implications, furiously arose anew.
This episode of the Filioque points to the importance of language– even the importance of one word– in matters theological. Because of the ineffable nature of theology’s object of contemplation, the Fourth Lateran Council affirmed that major dissimilitudo between any theological language and the reality of the divine; nevertheless, though human words can only asymptotically approach the fullness of God, theologians must remain as exact as possible in their terminology out of reverence for the faith. Thus, even small individual words can, in some instances, mean the difference between heresy and Catholic faith.
Let us return to the text of the Creed immediately following the Filioque. There we find another little word whose brevity expresses a greater appreciation for the doctrine of the Trinity. That little word is simul, and unfortunately, it is left untranslated (omitted) in the English text of the Roman Missal, even in the corrected 2011 ICEL translation. Simul is an adverb meaning “in the same and equal manner,” and the Creed speaks of the Holy Spirit, qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur (“who with the Father and the Son is, in the same and equal manner, adored and glorified”).
When we in English-language Masses sing or recite the official text (“who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified”), it may at first glance seem awkwardly redundant to place an English equivalent of simul in the text. After all, worship (adoratio) is proper to God alone. The Creed already calls the Spirit “Lord and lifegiver” (Dominum et vivificantem), and the title “Lord” had always been proper to the God of Israel. Yet, given the frailty of human expressions, the equality of the Spirit with the Father and Son can never be understated– this is characteristic of Latin theology. By explicitly saying that the Spirit is equally worshiped with the first two trinitarian Persons, the Creed affirms that the Spirit is equal in majesty and glory and thus equally God.
In the Traditional Latin Mass (which obviously uses simul adoratur in the Creed), we find another subtle yet profound liturgical detail which points to the equality of the Spirit with the Son. According to ancient use, at every mention of the name of Jesus, everybody turns toward the central altar crucifix and makes a profound bow out of reverence for the Holy Name. One can easily notice this at various places in Ordinary prayers where we say or sing Christ’s name, as well as at the conclusion of Proper prayers, which usually end with the same formula (Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat…).
This profound bow, in the Traditional Latin Mass, is repeated during the Creed at the words simul adoratur. In doing so, the old ritual affirms the Spirit as as co-equal with the Son, most worthy of honor, for he is glorified with (con + glorificatur) with the Son in the same and equal manner (simul).
We lose such beautiful nuances in the vernacular Novus Ordo all too frequently, and in contemplating that loss, one cannot but grudgingly accept the severance of continuity between our rich liturgical patrimony and the praxis of today. Even the omission of one word in the liturgy has implications for the belief in the central mystery of the faith.