The Holy Spirit

The third main section of the present Creed concerns the Holy Spirit and His work in the holy Church. We note that the Holy Spirit and the Church are paired together in the Creed, for the Church is the handiwork and home of the Holy Spirit, and one cannot think of one without the other.

We see this pairing early on in the Church’s liturgical tradition. For example, in the document known as The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (dated from around 215 A.D. in Rome), when the bishop lays hands upon the newly-baptized to impart the Holy Spirit, he prays, “O Lord God, You have made them worthy to receive remission of sins through the washing of rebirth of the Holy Spirit: send upon them Your grace, that they may serve You according to Your will, for to You due is glory: to Father and Son with the Holy Spirit in the holy Church, now and to the ages of ages. Amen.” (from chapter 22). Note the phrase “the Holy Spirit in the holy Church” as if they were two parts the same address, like “Los Angeles, California.”

The phrase is not unique. Later on in the same document, when the newly-baptized are given drink from a cup, they are bidden to take three sips while the one holding the cup says, “In God the Father almighty” (eliciting the response each time, “Amen”), “And in the Lord Jesus Christ”, and finally “And in the Holy Spirit in the holy Church.” We see here again this almost unconscious pairing of the Holy Spirit and the holy Church. That explains the “additions” to the Creed after the bit about the Holy Spirit: after dealing with the Holy Spirit, the Creed goes on to deal with the holy Church, and her baptism, and the resurrection of the dead. These are not simply after-thoughts, inserted as a kind of appendix. They are an integral part of the section dealing with the Spirit, for the Spirit is known and experienced through these realities.

This section opens with a series of statements about the Holy Spirit, absent from the Council of Nicea in 325 but added from the later Council of Constantinople in 381. The Arian heresy which had denied the divinity of Jesus made a reappearance in the succeeding decades, in a kind of “Arianism: The Sequel” which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. These heretics (dubbed by their Orthodox opponents the “Pneumatomachians”—“those who fight against the Spirit”) would, at best, acknowledge the Spirit to be a superior kind of angel (the word “spirit,” after all, was used to describe angels also), and they found support for their position in a liturgical doxology which ascribed glory to the Father and the Son “in the Holy Spirit” (rather than “with the Holy Spirit”). This, they claimed, proved that the authentic tradition of the Church refused to glorify the Holy Spirit with divine honours, and that therefore no one should ascribe divinity to Him now. St. Basil the Great leaped into the fray, writing his book On the Holy Spirit, and arguing at length for the divinity of the Spirit.

To affirm the Spirit’s full deity, the Council of Constantinople added certain phrases. One was a confession that the Spirit was “the Giver of life.” Obviously all life came from God the Creator, and in affirming that the Spirit was the giver of life, the Creed was identifying the Spirit with the divine Creator. Mere angels could not give life; they themselves were given life by God. By describing the Spirit as the life-giver, the Council Fathers ascribed to Him full divinity.

The Creed also described the Spirit simply as “the Lord.” Everyone reading the Greek Old Testament (the so-called “Septuagint”) knew which “lord” this was—it was the Lord, the Sovereign Master of the world who spoke to Moses and the prophets and called into being His chosen people. Throughout the Greek Old Testament, one meets “the Lord”—Greek Kyrios, a translation of the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh. Thus we read in Genesis 12, “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country and from your kindred and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you.’” Or again, in Exodus 3: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘When I looked, I saw the affliction of My people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.’” Or again in Isaiah 6: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting on a throne lofty and raised up and the House was full of His glory.” Or again in the shepherd psalm: “The Lord shepherds me, and I shall lack nothing.” Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, we meet God under His usual title “the Lord.” When the Creed therefore describes the Spirit simply as “the Lord,” the significance is unmistakable.

Even less mistakable is the following description of the Spirit as the One “who proceeds from the Father.” This proclaims that the Spirit has His hypostatic being from the Father—He “proceeds from” Him (Greek ekporeuomenon) as being essentially united to Him. We creatures do not have our existence from the Father in this intimately connected way; rather, we were simply made by Him, so that our essential nature, as it were, is more distant from Him. By describing the Spirit as proceeding from the Father, the authors of the Creed placed the Spirit on a higher plane than the rest of creation.

This connection with the Father is made even stronger in the next phrase, which says that “with the Father and the Son together [the Spirit] is worshiped and glorified.” The Spirit is so integrally connected with the Father and the Son that whenever either the Father or the Son is worshiped and glorified, the Spirit shares in that worship and glorification, since deity is one and indivisible. One thus does not need to consciously worship the Spirit or to say “I adore You, O Spirit of God” in order to worship the Spirit. Worship, praise, and doxology directed and addressed to the Father or to the Son also redounds to the Spirit as well.

Finally, the Creed describes the Spirit as the One “who spoke by the prophets.” This is clear in the writings of the New Testament. St. Peter, for example, writes that “no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). The prophets of the Old Testament spoke because the Spirit was in them. And when they spoke, they often prefaced their words with the formula, “Thus says the Lord [in Greek Kyrios]” (compare 2 Samuel 7:4-5, Jeremiah 29:10, Zechariah 8:1-2). In the original Hebrew, this formula is: “Thus says Yahweh.” Thus the Spirit that gave the prophets their words was the Spirit of Yahweh—i.e. Yahweh Himself. The identification of the Spirit with the God of the Old Testament (and therefore of the New Testament also) is complete.

A final word may be added here about a phrase which is absent from the original Creed of Nicea/Constantinople. A later western version of this Creed would confess that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Latin of this added insertion “from the Son” is “filioque.” It was added by the western church in Spain in about the sixth century. The word was not felt to be problematic, since many western Fathers, including St. Augustine, accepted as a matter of course that the Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son. Problems later arose in conversations between the western parts of the Church and the eastern parts, especially when westerners accused their eastern brethren of tampering with the Creed and omitting this word. To say the least, the easterners were not impressed.

Whatever the merits of the western position regarding the double-procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, all today acknowledge that the original version of the Creed did not contain the filioque. The issue therefore becomes one of deciding who has the right to add to the Creed or to alter it. The classic western answer is: the Pope of Rome ultimately has the right, since he is the divinely-appointed head of the universal Church. The eastern response is: a Creed which came into being through a universal consensus can only be altered by reaching another universal consensus, and the authority of any single bishop (such as the Pope) is insufficient to alter the universally-accepted Symbol of Faith. Thus the issue is not simply one of Trinitarian theology, but also one of ecclesiology. The discussions about the filioque are not simply abstruse and pointless exercises in theological nit-picking. They involve the wider and practical question of how decisions are made in the Church—that is, how primacy is related to conciliarity, and how (for example) episcopal authority functions in the day-to-day life of the Church. It does not take much imagination to see that questions regarding how bishops relate to the wider church can have very immediate and practical consequences.

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Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

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Fr. Lawrence was formerly an Anglican priest, graduating from Wycliffe…
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