The Holy Spirit

We quoted above Dante's words about 'the Third' as 'fire breathed forth equally from the One and the Other'. He was following Thomas Aquinas and classic medieval theology about the Holy Spirit 'proceeding from' or 'being breathed equally by the Father and the Son (Filioque)'. Here we reach a point that has divided Western and Eastern Christianity. How are the Father and the Son related in and to the emergence of the Spirit?

Along the lines of his image of the Trinity as spring/river/canal, Tertullian wrote of the Spirit being 'from the Father through the Son' (Adversus Praxean, 4). In the two following centuries we find this language of the Spirit proceeding 'from the Father through the Son' in the works of such writers as Hilary of Poitiers, Gregory of Nyssa, and Cyril of Alexandria. In the fourth century Marius Victorinus drew on such passages as Jesus' words in John 16: 14 ('He [the Spirit of truth] will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you') to reach the conclusion that the Son, together with the Father, 'produced' the Holy Spirit. Victorinus' much publicized conversion to Christianity and resignation of his post as a famous rhetor in 362 (after which he dedicated himself to theological writing) played a role in Augustine's own decision to seek Christian baptism in 386.

Subsequently Augustine himself wrote of the Father endowing the Son with the capacity to produce the Spirit. Hence, it is in a primordial or 'original' sense that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. For Augustine to deny this procession from the Father and the Son, 'as from one principle' would be to violate the divine unity (De Trinitate, 5. 14). Some later Christian art in the West did in fact violate the divine unity by representing the Spirit being breathed equally and simultaneously from the separate mouths of the Father and the Son. But, in Augustine's view of the Trinity, the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, with the Son being considered the agent of the Father in this procession by equally producing the divine Spirit. What the Son does here, according to Augustine, happens 'through the gift of the Father' and not independently, just as the Son's divinity is derived by generation from the Father. Being and acting in such a 'derivative' way does not exclude being equal in divinity and in the production of the Spirit.

In general, the Greek theologians of the Christian East found no difficulty in saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, the Son being considered the Father's instrument or agent. But it remained axiomatic that the Father alone is the ultimate source or fountainhead of deity and that both the Son and the Spirit derive from him, the former by generation and the latter by procession. For Eastern theologians, however, the Filioque, or 'from the Father and the Son', suggested a fundamental difference over the mystery of the triune divinity—an unacceptable view of the Son being equal in the production of the Father. Hence, they normally rejected the Augustinian idea of the Son forming with the Father a single co-principle for the procession of the Spirit. They detected here a double origin for the Spirit that contradicts the divine unity.

Distinguishing between the Spirit's mission in history for human salvation and the 'procession' of the Spirit within the eternal life of God, Eastern theologians have continued to appeal to John 15: 26: 'When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father,, the Spirit of truth who proceedsfrom the Father,, he will testify on my behalf.' This perspective insists that only the Father is the ultimate source and fountainhead of divinity, from whom the Son and the Spirit derive—the former by generation and the latter by procession. Yet it is worth remarking that the original, unexpanded form of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed did not state that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. In confessing that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, it refers to One who has this name precisely because of the generation of the Son. In effect, the creed confesses that the Spirit proceeds 'from the Father of the Son'.

Here one can undoubtedly indulge unsubtle polarities and even downright caricatures, whether it be about the procession of the Holy Spirit in particular or about the whole doctrine of the Trinity in general, as if all the problems and differences were to go back, for instance, to the Greeks beginning with the reality of the divine persons and Augustine and other Latins with the unity of the divine nature. But one should respect the fear that Eastern Christians have about neglecting or subordinating the Spirit. They remain strongly trinitarian in their faith because they experience the life and living witness of the Spirit in the Church. Their worship and life have been deeply configured by the role of the Holy Spirit, and they have found that role threatened by those who declare the Spirit to have proceeded 'also from the Son'. We need to ask: how trinitarian have we Western Catholics been? The Eastern problems with the Western understanding of the procession of the Holy Spirit spring from concerns about the subordination (1) of the Spirit to the Son in the life of Christians, and (2) of the doctrine of the Spirit (Pneumatology) to the doctrine of Christ (Christology) in official teaching and the work of theologians. In the Christocentric theology of the West, which at times has seemed to indulge 'Christomonism' or a unilateral stress on Christ's being and work, the

Spirit becomes exclusively the Spirit of Christ (almost a mere function of the risen Christ) rather than the Spirit of God the Father.88 Such medieval and later mystics as St Hildegard of Bingen (1098—1179) and St Ignatius Loyola (1491—1556) maintained, however, a proper balance in their trinitarian images that featured and cherished the distinct place of the Holy Spirit both within the life of God and in the story of salvation. We find exemplified here the power of mystical experience to receive and communicate the full scope of the tripersonal God's self-revelation.89

When Augustine wrote his De Trinitate and other works in which he expounded the Trinity, the Western church had not yet unilaterally added to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the words about the Spirit proceeding from the Father 'and the Son'—the Filioque addition that since the time of Patriarch Photius of Constantinople (see the end of Ch. 1) has contributed to the separation between Eastern and Western Christianity. We say 'contributed', since the division arose and continued also because of a wide range of political, cultural, and ecclesial factors. Theological differences over the Filioque and its interpretation never operated alone and as the only cause. The Filioque, a term expressing what came to be called the 'double' procession of the Holy Spirit, may have already been interpolated into the text of the Creed at the Third Synod of Toledo in 589. It had undoubtedly been added in 675 at the Fourth Synod of Braga. After being widely used in the West from around 800 when the Creed began to be chanted at Mass, the addition was eventually adopted also in Rome when Emperor Henry II in 1013 ordered the Latin church everywhere to add the Filioque. In the historical context of Toledo III and Braga IV, the Filioque addition appears to have been introduced to support orthodox trinitarian doctrine against recurrent 'modalist' denials of personal distinctions within God. A strong view on the Son's role in the eternal procession of the Spirit helped to clarify that the 'Son' and the 'Spirit' are distinct persons and not mere modes or manners in which a monopersonal God acts and is revealed in history.

See Y. Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit , i (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1983), 157, 159—60. Congar recognizes the element of truth in the criticism of some Orthodox theologians: Western Christians, in general, and Catholics, in particular, have played down both the personal identity of the Spirit within the mystery of God and the Spirit's active role in the history of salvation.

See S. M. Burgess, The Holy Spirit: Medieval Roman Catholic and Reformation Traditions (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1997). Burgess also pays proper attention to the way John Calvin rightly championed the 'internal testimony' of the Holy Spirit.

After the mutual excommunications of 1054, the Council of Florence (1438—45) proved the most serious effort to heal the split between Eastern and Western Christianity. The official representatives of the Orthodox Christians included even Joseph, the patriarch of Constantinople. The 1439 Decree for the Greeks, while defending as legitimate the addition of the Filioque, also accepted the more dynamic, Eastern formula according to which the Spirit 'proceeds from the Father through the Son' (DH 1300—2; ND 322—4). Hence the Council did not insist on the Filioque being added when the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was recited or sung. Motivated partly by the fear of Turkish conquest and the threat to Constantinople (which fell to the Turks in 1453), the agreements with Greeks and others achieved at the Council of Florence did not prove long-lasting. But through the Union of Brest (1595—6) millions of Slavs joined the Catholic Church, with the Council of Florence as a platform, just as other Eastern groups were to do later.

The debate over the unilateral, Western addition of the Filioque was replayed down through the centuries, as were attempts to heal the split. On occasions Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II recited the Creed without this addition. In January 1964, Paul VI and Athenagoras (1886—1972), the patriarch of Constantinople, met in Jerusalem, the first meeting between a pope and a patriarch of Constantinople since Eugenius IV (pope 1431—47) met Patriarch Joseph during the Council of Florence. At Pentecost 1986 John Paul II published one of his longest encyclicals Dominum et Viviificantem, aimed at giving a very full and appreciative account of the Holy Spirit, and so helping to heal the division between Orthodox and Catholic Christianity. During a sermon preached in St Peter's Basilica on 29 June 1995 in the presence of Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, the Pope dramatically requested a clarification on the Greek and Latin traditions regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit. He did not want the traditional Latin addition of the Filioque (or the Spirit somehow also proceeding from the Son) to obscure any harmony over the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381. Three months later the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity published such a clarification regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit. The document emphasized that the Father is the 'origin' or 'source' both of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (ND 339, 938). In the introduction to its September 2000 declaration, Dominus Jesus, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith followed the example of Paul VI and John Paul II by quoting the whole of the Creed but without the Filioque. This was tantamount to admitting that the 'double' procession of the Holy Spirit does not belong to the essentials of faith.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit has its crucial importance in relations between the Orthodox and Catholics. But, especially under the pontificate of John Paul II, teaching on the role of the Spirit in the spiritual lives of the adherents of the great world religions has been prominent. In his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris missio, John Paul II wrote of the universal presence and activity of the Spirit, which 'affect not only individuals' but also 'cultures and religions' (ND 1166-75, at 1172). We will return to this question in our final chapter.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment