Article 5: the Holy Spirit

This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion.  Article 5 states:

V. Of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

The full divinity of the Holy Spirit, and thus his personhood as a member of the Trinity, was one of the many theological conundrums that the Early Church slowly, carefully, and painfully worked out.  But by the time these Articles were written, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity had been settled for nearly a thousand years, so as with the previous four Articles, there is nothing “new” or particularly controversial to be said here.  We read here that the Spirit is consubstantial (“of one substance”) with the Father and the Son, repeating language from Articles 1 & 2, equal in divinity with the Father and the Son, and is thus also the true and eternal God.

The one term in this Article that merits particular attention is the word “proceeding.”  In John 15:26, Jesus taught that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father.”  Given the doctrine of the Trinity – one God in three persons – theologians have latched on to this phrase to describe the relationship between the Father and the Spirit to distinguish it from the relationship of the Father and the Son.  The Son is “eternally begotten” of the Father; the Spirit “eternally proceeds” from the Father.  Although what these terms substantially mean in practical terms are shrouded in mystery (God is beyond our understanding after all), they are useful words we are given in the Bible to grasp some of the basics of how to understand this three-in-one God.

Now, because we don’t have a clear concept of the difference between “proceeding” and “begotten,” some theologians sought another way to explain the difference between the Spirit’s and the Son’s respective relationships with the Father.  Taking the first part of John 15:26 into account, where Jesus adds that he will send the Spirit who proceeds from the Father, the idea arose to specify that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  Unfortunately, the Nicene Creed had already been written and signed off at two Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils, so when the Latin-speaking West added “and the Son” (or filioque in Latin) to that Creed, the Greek-speaking East got very upset over such unilateral action, and this was a major contributor to the final split of Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism in 1054.

There are considerable theological minutiae that can be explored here as the ramifications of these technical-but-significant terms are worked out, but such would be too lengthy for a study of this caliber.  Suffice it to say here that the Anglican (and indeed all the Reformation) tradition has maintained the language of the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, though in the past couple decades a movement towards accepting the original language of the Creed (omitting “and the Son”) has gained traction in the Anglican Communion.  As long as we keep our eyes on the words of Christ in John 15:26 and similar passages, we can’t stray too far off course regarding the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about spiritual formation, theology, biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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