The Holy Spirit: Spirit of the Father and The Spirit of The Son
Is a Part of Faith Still Missing?
In the previous discussions about an old confession of faith, namely, the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed, we dug up and displayed great riches from the church’s treasury. The glory and the love of the Father, and the multi-coloured work of the Son, Jesus Christ . . . Does the confession of faith in all those riches not mean that nothing else is missing? For did the Lord Jesus not say: ‘whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:26)? Do we have to add anything to that? In particular, do we have to add what the creed goes on to say: ‘And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified; who spoke through the prophets.’ Must we actually confess still greater riches that were missing from the confession of the Father and the Son?
The answer to that question is both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’! There are no greater riches than those a believer has in and through Christ and we should not look for greater riches either. And yet, when we confess our faith in the Holy Spirit, we confess a knowledge of God that makes us realize the more, in amazement and reverence, all that the eternal God makes known about himself in his revelation. And therefore we can say two things:
First, the knowledge of the Holy Spirit does not make salvation greater, but does bring us closer to salvation.
Second, the knowledge of the Holy Spirit does magnify God for us, even though we realize that we can only stammer about the hidden things of God. And that is certainly true as we consider the question: Who is the Holy Spirit?
Who is the Holy Spirit?
That is how we must pose the question: ‘Who is the Holy Spirit?’ Not: ‘What is the Holy Spirit?’ In the century in which this confession came into being, our fathers first confessed in Nicea in 325 that Christ is of one substance (homo ousios) with the Father, and then confessed in 381 in Constantinople about the Holy Spirit that he is Lord. For there had been theological leaders who supported the idea of subordinationism, namely, that the Son is subordinate to the Father. That was the idea of Paul of Samosata (in the second half of the third century). It led to the belief that the Holy Spirit was merely a gift or a power of God. After Nicea, the Pneumatomachians deemed the Holy Spirit to be of a lower order than, and therefore they did not think him worthy of the same honour as, the Father and the Son. But when Constantinople counters this with: The Holy Spirit is Lord, it thereby gives the Holy Spirit a divine name, a name that implies divine majesty and authority. The Holy Spirit is ‘Someone’! He is a divine person. Thus, the church rejects subordinationism in this confession. The Holy Spirit is no less an independent person than God the Father and God the Son.
At the same time, this confession also rejects the heresy of modalism. It maintains as, for example, Sabellius did, that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are merely manifestations of the one divine essence: God presents himself alternately and consecutively as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. The Montanism movement in the second century, which had a strong charismatic streak, already held ideas that we can, well before Sabellius, identify as a radical modalism. The three modi propounded by this movement are successive phases in history. The Father and the Son are enjoying their heavenly rest after completing their work. Now it is the time of the Spirit. The future belongs to him.
When the church says that the Holy Spirit is Lord, it confesses expressly the characteristic ‘identity’ of the Holy Spirit. The confession uses strong language when it does this. We should take note of it, but realize at the same time that here we face the inexpressible mysteries of the divine Trinity. For how can we comprehend, let alone explain, how the Holy Spirit is himself eternal and true God, while at the same time we maintain most strongly that there is but one God? In this confession of the Holy Spirit, ‘the Lord and Giver of life’, we do not just reject modalism and subordinationism: we say more. The Holy Spirit has a Name. The Holy Spirit makes himself known! Also in the work that he does.
But it is clear that the church can and wants to speak about the Holy Spirit only in close connection with the Father and the Son.
The Spirit, but not without The Father and The Son
The attention paid to the Holy Spirit in the history of the church represents a kind of wave motion. Above we described the characteristic identity of the Holy Spirit, as it was expressed in the old confession of Constantinople after much struggle and even strife. Before that, the church paid attention to God the Father and to God the Son. But the church spoke about the Holy Spirit mostly in terms of the activity or the power of the Father.
In this confession the church speaks for the first time most clearly about the Holy Spirit, while at the same time rejecting the heresies we mentioned that deviated from the truth in two directions. But this did not conclude the history of the testimony about the Holy Spirit!
Skipping over the intervening centuries, in the twentieth century many new ideas were propagated that derive either from the old modalism, or from the old subordinationism. The subordinationist ideas are found mostly in opinions about Christology. A modalistic trait is visible more frequently in discussions about the Holy Spirit. I mention a couple of well-known names. The dialectical theologian, Emil Brunner, spoke about the mystery of the Trinity in only a reticent way. Thus, he did not want to speak about one Being and three Persons in God. In his view, we encounter the eternal ‘I’ of God in Christ and in the Holy Spirit. Brunner did not want to think modalistically, but his ideas inevitably lead to modalism! And then you can no longer confess that the Holy Spirit is Lord.
H. Berkhof moves far from the confession when he speaks in his book, Christian Faith, about God as the Changeable One. God’s ‘motion of descent’ is more than the identification of the means whereby God reveals himself; it is a motion in God himself. For Berkhof the Holy Spirit is not the third Person of the Trinity. Rather, the Holy Spirit is ‘God in action’.
A. van de Beek also evokes ideas of modalism, especially in his book, De adem van God [The Breath of God]. This occurs because, speaking about the cosmic significance of the Holy Spirit, he wants to open the boundaries as wide as possible. The work of the Holy Spirit in the world is such that we can speak about it in a pantheistic way! Although Van de Beek emphasizes that the Spirit always remains the Spirit of Christ, he notes that the work of the Spirit has a broader reach than the work of Christ. Thus, according to Van de Beek and others, for example people in the circle of the World Council of Churches, the Spirit works also in other religions that make no room for Christ. In the dialogue with other religions, it is apparent that it is sometimes easier to speak about the Holy Spirit than about Christ!
But when the church established the confession about the Holy Spirit, it maintained the intimate and indissoluble connection between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The church was aware of what Scripture says. Matthew 28:19 commissions it to baptize in the name – not: the names! – of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One name that represents the unity in which the three divine Persons are nonetheless named. In the apostolic blessing in 2 Corinthians 13:13, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is mentioned in one breath with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son, the Spirit of Christ.
That is why we read in the confession of Constantinople about the Holy Spirit: ‘who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified’.
This concerns the description of the most characteristic identity of the Person of the Holy Trinity. Article 8 of the Belgic Confession of 1561 speaks about the characteristics of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as their incommunicable attributes. In that way, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are distinct from either other. But at that same time we must remember what the church has, for ages, added to this statement: Each of the three persons is also connected to the others in the most intimate way. They permeate each other. The Father is completely in the Son and completely in the Spirit. The Son is completely in the Father and completely in the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is completely in the Father and completely in the Son (Council of Florence, 1439).
When we, as Western Christians, read these words about the characteristic identity of the Holy Spirit in a carefree way – ‘who proceeds from the Father and the Son’ – in this symbol of the church, we must realize that they speak volumes. I refer in particular to the words ‘and the Son’. When we use this phrase, we must be conscious of the fact that large groups within the Christian church took opposing views about this phrase – it is one word in Latin – and organized themselves on one side or the other of the issue. This schism became final in 1054.
‘. . . and The Son’ – the ‘Filioque’
Thus the ‘Filioque’ identifies an extensive and far-reaching discussion! The Constantinople confession of 381 read only: ‘who proceeds from the Father’. That language gave expression to the characteristic identity of the Holy Spirit, namely, that he ‘proceeds from’. The characteristic identity of the Son is his Sonship. He is the eternal Son of the Father. ‘Generatio’, begotten before all ages. The characteristic identity of the Holy Spirit differs from that of the Son. Already for that reason we employ a different expression: ‘who proceeds from the Father’, or ‘processio’, which means ‘proceed from’.
To describe or explain this distinction exceeds our comprehension. But the church has tried to adhere as close as possible to specific Biblical pronouncements about the Holy Spirit, especially those found in the Gospel of John. For example Jesus promised to send the Counsellor from the Father, ‘the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father’ (John 15:26). Jesus himself sends the Spirit, but he also speaks of a Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, ‘whom the Father will send in my name’ (John 14:26). And when we remember how Scripture speaks about the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son, then we assent to the words of the church which spoke in this way about the essence, the eternal characteristic identity of the Father and the Son and the Spirit.
As we saw, in 381 the church spoke only about the Spirit proceeding ‘from the Father’. But not long after that, under the influence of the church father, Augustine, many came to understand that we cannot speak about the Holy Spirit without mentioning the double relationship he has, namely, with the Father and the Son.
The other old confession of the church, the symbolum Quicumque – wrongly entitled the Athanasian Creed, but which ought, with more justification, to be called the Augustinian Creed, although he was also not its author – also confesses the ‘Filioque’. The Filioque was taught expressly by a number of church councils in Spain and in the eleventh century it was officially introduced into the liturgy of the Western church, that is, the part of the church over which the Pope of Rome had jurisdiction, as belonging to the confession of Constantinople. Thus, there is quite a history associated with the text of the Nicene Creed as it exists today! And that history is concerned particularly with the confession of the Holy Spirit and the parting of ways on this matter between the Western church and the Eastern church. They each followed their own way and that had important consequences.
The Way of the Western Church and the Way of the Eastern Church
Hence, the confession that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son, has a long history in the Western church – the church from which Protestantism in all its variation originated! But this confession also has a deep meaning.
The confession about the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, but also not from the knowledge of the salvation of God. In 1 Corinthians 2:12 Paul writes: ‘We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us’. If we maintain that the Holy Spirit is inseparably united to Christ, then we know with certainty that there is no salvation and also no knowledge of salvation apart from the Deliverer, Jesus Christ. We realize that Christ sent the Spirit from the Father after he had completed his work on earth. And of the Spirit of truth, the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you’ (John 16:14).
In the Eastern church, comprising the Greek Orthodox and the various Eastern European Orthodox churches, there is a deep distrust about the Western doctrine. Among other things, they believe that the Western church has short changed the Holy Spirit and his work, and that the Western confession makes the Holy Spirit subservient to the Son. They believe that the freedom of the Holy Spirit is restricted if he is bound to Christ. But that is precisely the point on which the Western church accuses the Eastern church.
When the Eastern church emphasizes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, they certainly do not deny that there is also a relationship between the Holy Spirit and Christ. However, the emphasis of the Eastern church has the consequence that there is also a direct route from the Spirit of God to the Father. The work of God in the life of human beings is not tied to Christ! The Holy Spirit does not work only through faith in the Son, but also directly on the soul of human beings. The Spirit works in the mysteries of the church, even apart from Christ, apart from the history of salvation, and apart from our awareness. For the Spirit can create a direct bond between us and the Father.
This constitutes an important justification for the flourishing mysticism in the Eastern church. They believe that spiritual life can exist outside Christ. And then it becomes easy to assign him a role that is determined by history and confined by history. His work was preparatory; the most important thing was still to come: for actual salvation is ascribed to the Holy Spirit.
In this dispute between east and west, we are persuaded that we must firmly choose the confession about the unity of God’s work and his salvation that, by God’s goodness, was understood in the west. The Holy Spirit does not lead to the Father except through the Son. The Spirit of Christ will not devalue Jesus’ own Word that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). There is unity – also in the salvation of the Triune God: ordained by the Father, achieved by the Son, and apportioned by the Spirit!