The Third Council of Toledo (589)

The Third Council of Toledo (589) marks the entry of Visigothic Spain into the Orthodox (Niceno-Constantinopolitan) Christian Church, and it is known for codifying the Filioque clause into Western Christianity, as a theological response to Gothic Arianism.

In the 4th century, the Bishop Wulfila (c 310 – 383) invented a script for the Gothic language, translated the Bible into Gothic, and converted the Goths to Arian Christianity. When the Visigoths traveled west, they encountered Latin Christians, for whom Arianism was anathema. The Visigoths held to their Arian beliefs and refused to join the Orthodox Church.

Prior to the Council in Toledo, King Reccared had convened informal assemblies of Bishops to resolve the religious schism in his Kingdom. At the second assembly both Arian and Orthodox Bishops presented their arguments, while Reccared pointed out that no Arian Bishop had ever performed a healing miracle. The last assembly consisted of only Orthodox Bishops, where upon Reccared accepted the Orthodox faith.

Charlemagne, crowned as Emperor in 800, intended to restore the Roman Empire in the West, with himself in charge, to the chagrin of the leaders of the Eastern Roman Empire, whom he referred to as “Greeks” (and thus not Romans), despite the Roman capital being in the East and the continued use by Easterners of Roman to describe themselves. Charlemagne called for a Council at Aix-la-Chapelle in 809 at which Pope Leo III forbade the use of the Filioque clause and ordered that the original version of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in Greek and Latin be engraved on silver tablets displayed at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome so that his conclusion would not be overturned in the future.

Some historians have suggested that the Franks in the 9th century pressured the Pope (who approved of the doctrine conveyed by the Filioque, but was determined to omit the expression in the Creed) to adopt the Filioque in order to drive a wedge between the Roman Church and the other Patriarchates (Pentarchy). It is true that the Filioque had come into wide use in the West and was widely thought to be an integral part of the Creed, while Rome, renowned for its stability in Orthodoxy and the original Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, resisted. The Filioque clause, however, spread through the Latin-literate West but not through the Greek-speaking East. Its use spread to Rome soon after 1000, and it contributed to the Great Schism (1054), thus creating the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches. Fig. 1: Reccared I and Bishops. Council III of Toledo, 589. Códice Vigilano, fol. 145, Biblioteca del Escorial. Fig. 2: Roman Triclinium mosaic, showing St. Peter giving a pallium to Pope Leo III and the banner of Rome to Charlemagne. Fig. 3: The Creed of Faith


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