The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Eighth Article – The Holy Ghost

With the eight Article the portion of the Christian Creed in which we directly confess our belief in the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity is concluded.   Since the Creed is Trinitarian in its structure, the last four Articles fall under the section of the Holy Ghost but, although they cover matters that are related to the present ministry of the Holy Ghost, they do not expand upon the eighth Article in the same way the third through seventh Articles expand upon the second.


In the Apostles’ Creed the eighth Article is as simple as possible – Credo in Spiritum Sanctum.   Thomas Cranmer’s rendition of this in our Book of Common Prayer is similarly simple and straightforward – “I believe in the Holy Ghost”.   It is in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that matters get more complicated, not only because more is said about the Holy Ghost, but because the Latin version of this Creed, from which our English version is translated, adds a word that is not there in the Greek original, which addition broke the fellowship between the Greek and Latin speaking Churches a thousand years into Church history, which Schism has yet to be healed, but persists to this day.   The Greek version, most of which was put in the Creed at the First Council of Constantinople for the Nicene original was simply the equivalent of the Article in the Apostles’ except using the word for “and” rather than “I believe”, is Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ Κύριον, τὸ ζῳοποιόν, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον, τὸ σὺν Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον καὶ συνδοξαζόμενον, τὸ λαλῆσαν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν.   Here is how the Book of Common Prayer rendition of this would go if it did not include a translation of the extra word from the Latin version: “And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets.”   The actual Book of Common Prayer rendition is “And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets.” I have italicized the translation of the additional word in the Latin, which is Filioque, for which reason the theological dispute at the heart of the Great Schism is called the Filioque Controversy.


Before looking more closely at what the Creed says about the Holy Ghost I should say something about the way the Book of Common Prayer translates the Greek Πνεῦμα and the Latin Spiritus (1).   “Ghost” in English, which is cognate with the German “Geist” – think “Zeitgeist” or “Spirit of the Age” - was originally a synonym for spirit that was used for any sort of spirit.   In recent centuries its usage has come to be mostly limited to a certain type of spirit – the spirits of the dead, and usually more specifically than that, the spirits of the dead manifesting themselves in some way to the living on earth.   Obviously, when we speak of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity as the Holy Ghost, it is with the older meaning of the word, not the more recent narrower meaning.   Many, wishing to avoid potential confusion, prefer to just use “Spirit”, transliterating rather than translating the Latin.   I think that this exaggerates the potential for confusion and that it is a lazy way of handling it as it is not difficult at all to explain the older meaning of the word.  Neither rendition is wrong and whichever you use in no way affects Pneumatology – the doctrine of the Holy Ghost – of course.   My aesthetical and liturgical preference is for the older term.  It just sounds better, like the “quick” in “the quick and the dead”.


The original Nicene Creed had been composed by the First Ecumenical Council of the Church which had been convened primarily to deal with the Arian heresy which pertained to the deity of the Son.   The Arian heresy did not just die out after the Nicene Council and, indeed, there was a period between the First Ecumenical Council and the Second where it came to predominate.  The Arians in this period divided among themselves.  Some who continued to hold to Arius’ original position that Jesus was a created being, a small-g god, came to be known as Anomoeans from their insistence that Jesus was ἀνομοιος – of a different nature – to God the Father.  Others accepted the Nicene Creed but altered the word ὁμοούσιον – “being of one substance”, i.e., with the Father, to ὁμοιούσιον – “being of a similar substance”.   These were often called Semi-Arians.   In 335 AD they were able to depose the leading orthodox theologian of the day, St. Athanasius, from his See in Alexandria.   In 342 AD they were able to have one of their own, Macedonius I, installed as Bishop of Constantinople.   Those who are unsound on the Second Person of the Trinity are seldom sound on the Third and Macedonius would lend his name to the heresy of Macedonianism which claimed that the Holy Ghost was not a Person, nor co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, but an impersonal force created by the Father, which served the Father and the Son.   The heresy of the Macedonians – also called Pneumotachi from the Greek for “combatting the Spirit” – was soundly rebutted by the Cappadocian Fathers, especially St. Basil the Great of Caesarea and St. Gregory of Nyssa, and one of the main reasons for convening the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, was to formally condemn the Macedonian heresy and revise the Nicene Creed to more fully express the orthodox view of the Holy Ghost.


Everything added to the eighth Article by the First Council of Constantinople was for the purpose of making plain that the Holy Ghost is a Person co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial with the Father and the Son.   The first thing said about Him is that He is τὸ Κύριον – “The Lord”.   As we saw when we looked at the second Article, this is the word that the translators of the LXX wrote wherever the Holy Name of God was found in the text, following the Jewish custom of saying the Hebrew equivalent whenever the text was read aloud, which custom survives in our Authorized Bible which in most Old Testament instances puts LORD in allcaps rather than Jehovah where the Name is found.   Each Person of the Trinity is both Lord and God.   In St. Paul’s epistles, the Apostle regularly uses the Greek word for “God” for the Father, and the Greek word for “Lord” for the Son, but not so consistently or in such a way as to suggest that the Father is not “Lord” or that the Son is not “God”.   The Fathers who composed the Creed followed the Pauline usage in declaring there to be “One God” – The Father, and “One Lord” – The Son, Who is “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God”, i.e., equally God with The Father.   Here they have done the same and declared The Holy Ghost to be equal with the Son and therefore equal with the Father with Whom the Son is equal by saying of the Holy Ghost that He is that of which the Son is the One.


The next phrase, τὸ ζῳοποιόν, “the Giver of Life” is in this Article the functional equivalent of “Maker of heaven and earth” in the first Article and “through whom all things were made” in the second.   It affirms the Holy Ghost’s role in Creation.   Just as St. John’s Gospel, in declaring that it was through the Word (the Son) that all things were made pointed back to the first chapter of Genesis where God creates everything by speaking – i.e., “Let there be light” – so when St. John records Jesus saying “It is the Spirit that quickeneth” (Jn. 6:63), “quickeneth” meaning “gives life”, this points back to the second chapter of Genesis where God “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”. (v. 7).   The words for “spirit” in the Biblical languages are the same words that mean “breathe” and “wind”.


This brings us to the controversial, Schism-generating, section of the Article.   Before delving into the rightness or wrongness of the filioque let us consider what the conciliar Fathers were getting at by borrowing the language of procession here from Jn. 15:26.   The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are Three Persons, each distinct from the Others – The Father is not the Son nor the Holy Ghost, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost is neither the Father nor the Son – Who are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial, each of Whom is fully God rather than a part of God, but Who are One God, not Three Gods.   We being finite beings, constrained by the limits of Creation, cannot fully grasp God, Who is infinite and outside Creation, but the closest we have to an understanding of how One God is Three distinct Persons, is that the essence of God – that which makes God God – is something the Father has of Himself, which He eternally shares with the Son and the Holy Ghost so that it is the Father’s divine essence, not a duplicate copy, that the Son and the Holy Ghost each possess, and that this sharing or communication of essence eternally occurs through the process, for lack of a better word, by which the Son is distinguished in Person from the Father, and the Holy Ghost is distinguished in Person from the other Two Persons.   Now, the process by which the Son is distinguished from the Father, and through which the Father’s divine essence is communicated to the Son so that the Father and Son are distinct Persons, but the same God, is called Eternal Generation, a term that refers to a father’s begetting a son, which is eternal in this case because there never was a moment before which the Son existed when the Father did not have a Son.   Clearly, since the Son is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, the process by which the Holy Ghost is distinguished in Person and the divine essence is communicated with Him is not Generation but something else.   The Creedal term for this is procession.   Theologians also use the term “Spiration”.   The purpose of this term is to express the Scriptural idea of the Holy Ghost as the “Breathe of God”.   Again, the ideas of spirit, breathe, and wind – invisible forces that are seen in their visible effects in the world – are expressed by the same words in the ancient languages.   Jesus said “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:24).   Now if God is a Spirit, and gives life to the man He created out of the dust by breathing into him, what else could this Breathe of the God Who is a Spirit be, but a Spirit Who is God?


In the original Greek of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed it says that the Holy Ghost is He: τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον – “who proceedeth from the Father”.   This is exactly what Jesus said of Him in Jn. 15:26.   Does that mean that the Latin Church fell into heresy by adding Filioque – “and the Son”?


The Eastern Church certainly answers this question with a strong affirmative.   Certainly the Latin Church erred in terms of protocol.   The original Nicene Creed had been composed by a General Council, the revised Nicene-Constantinopolitan version that we usually just call the Nicene Creed today was revised by the same type of Council with the same authority.  To further amend the Creed the way the Latin Church did should have been done through another General Council, but it was not.   That does not make the addition heretical.   Nor does the fact that there is no “and the Son” in Jn. 15:26, because there is no “only” in Jn. 15:26 either.


What we in the West don’t always understand well about the Eastern Church’s position regarding the Filioque is that the serious error they accuse us of is more about the Father than the Holy Ghost.   They place a strong emphasis upon the Father’s being the sole source of the divine essence shared by the Trinity.   None of the Three Persons had a beginning, but the Son and the Holy Spirit both receive the divine nature of the Father from the Father.   Think of how the Quicumque Vult puts it:


Pater a nullo est factus: nec creatus, nec genitus. Filius a Patre solo est: non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus. Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio: non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens. 


In the Book of Common Prayer this reads:


The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.

The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten.

The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.


Although this is the Western framework the point that the Eastern Church places so much emphasis on still comes across here – The Father is God of Himself and no one else, the Son and the Holy Ghost are God and as God, like the Father are neither made nor created, but they are both of the Father, Who alone is of Himself alone.   The Eastern Church thinks that the Western Church has detracted from this by saying that the Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father and the Son.


I do not think the Eastern Church, as much respect for her as I have, is right on this, for two reasons.   The first is that as just noted, the Father’s uniqueness in the Trinity as the Sole Person Whose deity has no source in any Person other than Himself comes across strongly in the text just cited from the Athanasian Creed, which is clearly well within the Western tradition with its Filioque.   The second is that Procession, when used of the Holy Ghost in discussing intra-Trinity relationships, is clearly the same thing as Spiration.   Think of the Second Person of the Trinity.   He is the Eternal Son of God.   He is also the Eternal Word of God.   When we speak of Him as God’s Eternal Son we use the word Generation to describe how He was Eternally Begotten of the Father.   We could also, if we wished, describe Him as the Word as being Eternally Spoken of the Father.   For some reason we don’t usually talk about Him that way but we would be well within Biblical orthodoxy if we were to do so.  We would not say, however, that Jesus being Eternally Spoken as the Word is different from His being Eternally Generated as the Son.   If someone were to try and claim that we would recognize immediately that he was speaking an absurdity.  The most we would say is that His being Eternally Spoken and Eternally Begotten are two different aspects of the same thing.   The same thing is true of Procession and Spiration with regards to the Holy Ghost.   In the twentieth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, the Resurrected Jesus tells His disciples – except St. Thomas who was not present on the occasion - that as the Father sent Him, so He was sending them.   Then St. John records:


And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: (v. 22)


In this verse the Son clearly breathes out the Holy Ghost upon His disciples.   If the Holy Ghost can be said to be breathed out by the Son as by the Father, then He proceeds from the Father and the Son, for Procession and Spiration are the same.


In recent dialogue between the East and West it has come out that the wording “Who proceeds from the Father through the Son” would be more acceptable to the East than the Filioquue as it currently stands.   Whether having found a wording that is acceptable to both sides will eventually end the Controversy and heal the thousand year Schism remains to be seen. 


In the remainder of the Article, we confess the equality of the Holy Ghost with the Father and Son – “with the Father and the Son together He is worshipped and glorified” and His Old Testament ministry “Who spake by the prophets”.


We shall discuss His New Testament ministry when we turn to the next and ninth Article about the Church.   For now, let us close by saying that for sixteen centuries, all the ancient orthodox Churches – Greek, Latin, Middle Eastern – have confessed their faith in the Holy Ghost, co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial with the Father and the Son, in the words of the Article we have just looked at, and for the past five centuries the orthodox Churches of the Reformation have done the same.   In the last century we have seen the rise of new enthusiasts who have accused all Christians prior to them of not teaching the Holy Ghost because these Christians of long ago believed that Christianity was about Jesus Christ and not about exciting experiences, signs, miracles, wonders, personal revelation, falling on the floor, barking like a dog, raising millions of dollars on television to waste on vanity projects and the like.    Clearly these accusations against past generations of orthodox Christians are false.


(1)   The Greek and Latin words have the same meaning, but the Latin is masculine – fourth declension not second - and the Greek neuter.   This is why Spiritus appears as Spiritum in the Creed.   As the object of Credo it is in the accusative case, which for masculine nouns is different from the nominative case, which is the lexical or dictionary form of the word, and hence the one used when not directly quoting a text that uses another case.   The Greek also uses the accusative case in the Creed because the same rule applies, but in both languages neuter nouns always have the same spelling in the nominative and accusative cases.



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