Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles


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.

De Spiritu Sancto

Spiritus Sanctus, a Patre et Filio procedens, eiusdem est cum Patre et Filio essentiae, maiestatis, et gloriae, verus ac aeternus Deus.
Fr. Laurence Wells

Despite its brevity and terseness (one sentence of only 27 words), Article V is the point at which we move from doctrines generally agreed upon into a minefield of controversy. It is worth mentioning that this Article was not found in the earlier version of 1553 (the so-called "Forty-Two Articles"), but was added 1563, apparently for the sake of a more complete presentation of the doctrine of the Trinity. The general thrust is to assert that just as the Son is equal to the Father, so is the Holy Spirit equal to the Father.

It may be surprising to read that there has been a heresy which denies this. While the history is somewhat cloudy, during the time of the first and second Ecumenical Councils, there was a sect, called Macedonians or Pneumato-machoi (literally, “fighters against the Spirit”), who denied the full deity of the Holy Spirit. What the Arians denied for the Son, this obscure movement denied for the Spirit. This strange doctrine was anathematized at the Council of Constantinople and fell into the dustbin of history.

Or did it? We still encounter some odd and nontraditional notions regarding Who the Holy Spirit is and what He does. Some theorists of the "pastoral psychology" movement sometimes write and speak as if the psychological principle of homeostasis (our built-in emotional thermostat which regulates emotions and feelings) is identical with the Holy Spirit, as if He were less than the Third Person of the Trinity. And then some charismatics practically identify the Holy Spirit with religious excitement, using their level of enthusiasm as a measure of the Spirit's presence. So even if it was an afterthought, Article V makes a necessary and important affirmation.

Many people are troubled by the old English use of the word "Ghost." To them, it sounds creepy or spooky. The more familiar term "Spirit" may seem better, and we admit at once that "spirit" is more closely related to the Latin spiritus, the Greek pneuma, or the Hebrew ruach, all of which relate to breath and breathing. But the term "spirit" also has its disadvantages. As a word in common parlance, it is easily domesticated. We commonly say, "The patient is in good spirits this morning," or "There was a wonderful spirit in our family reunion," or "A good coach will strive to build team-spirit." The familiar use of the word "spirit" falls far short of the reality which we worship as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. Sometimes archaic or unfamiliar words have their own advantages. As C. S. Lewis wrote somewhere, it is easier to explain that charity means love than to explain that love means agape. I would argue that it is easier to explain that the Holy Ghost is the Breath of God which animates His people with eternal life, than to explain that the Holy Spirit is far more than religious enthusiasm or esprit de corps.

The great minefield in this Article is that it clearly affirms the Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father and the Son, echoing the controversial Filioque in the liturgical version of the Nicene Creed. This places the Articles squarely in the tradition of Western Christianity, and makes them unpopular with those who yearn for rapprochement with Eastern Orthodoxy.

The Eastern Churches object strenuously to the phrase "and the Son" on two counts. The first is canonical and the second doctrinal. Canonically, they argue that the text of the Nicene Creed (as it was made final at the second Ecumenical Council) is not subject to alteration and therefore the addition is unacceptable. Doctrinally, they argue that the idea itself is false. Both of these objections can be answered.

To address the canonical issue, we would say that the dogmatic form of the Creed adopted at Nicaea and Constantinople does not have to be identical with its liturgical form. The Conciliar Creed begins "We believe," but in liturgical use, at least in the West, we say "I believe." More seriously, the Conciliar Creed reads "was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary," whereas we have always said "was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, echoing the Roman rite, "incarnatus de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine." The Western liturgical form also inserts "God of God," not found in the Conciliar version. To my knowledge, the Byzantines have never objected to these adjustments, so we must observe that they are somewhat selective in their cavils.

Also, it must be pointed out that whereas the Pope is frequently blamed for tampering with the Creed, history shows that the change originated in Spain and was long resisted by the Bishop of Rome. The Filioque has been traced back as early as AD 400 to a local Synod in Spain, in refutation of an obscure heresy known as Priscillianism; but it was not adopted in Rome until AD 1014. So whatever we think of the Pope, he cannot justly be made the whipping boy in this dispute.

It is simply not true that the Western Church rudely and roughly laid violent hands on the sacrosanct text of the Conciliar Creed. The Filioque had already been part of the Athanasian Creed from its origin, which can be dated within the 4th or 5th centuries--well before the Conciliar Period had ended. The Western liturgical use evidently arose through a process of assimilation from one Creed into another. I would argue that the addition of Filioque to our liturgical Creed (well within the first millennium) was no revision of doctrine at all, but simply a clarification of what was already there. Adjustment is not alteration, amplification is not mutilation. We might ask which came first: the Western use of the Filioque in the Athanasian Creed, or the Eastern objection to it?

As a matter of doctrine, what we have at stake is two different ways of thinking of the Trinity. Wherein lies the unity of the Godhead? At considerable risk of oversimplifying the issue, the Western wing of the Church, following St Augustine of Hippo, sees the unity in terms of the common substance of three absolutely equal Persons. The East, however, thinks of the Father as the "Fons Deitatis," the "Archh" or Origin of Deity, from Whom the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds. The Western model tends toward Monarchianism, the Eastern toward tritheism and even toward subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father. Both conceptions have strengths and weaknesses. Both have advocates and defenders in modern theology.

The major point here is that both ways of stating and teaching the Trinity have deep roots in the Conciliar period, not only in the First Millennium, but in the First Half-millennium of Christian history. So to me the Eastern cavil on the issue seem unacceptable and seems more than a trifle disingenuous.

Whereas the early centuries had never universally affirmed that the Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son, neither had the Church affirmed that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. Photios of Constantinople apparently introduced such an idea, a kind of "Patrimonism." To what extent this was truly a theological concern and to what extent it was a by-product of political scuffling between the Byzantine emperor and the Bishop of Rome remains unclear.

A compromise formula "proceeding from the Father through the Son" seems to resolve the issue, but this has never won general acceptance. If the distinction between the dogmatic and liturgical forms of the Creed is valid, then the Filioque might be defended as the form belonging to the Western liturgy. But dogmatically, Anglicans have a commitment to the Athanasian Creed as well:

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

Fr. Robert Hart

Fr. Wells has written:
The Western model tends toward Monarchianism, the Eastern toward tritheism and even toward subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father.

Before the comment can be made, alluding to or quoting Pope John-Paul II about the “two lungs” of the Church (i.e. East and West), we do better to find complementarity than contradiction. Obviously, the Eastern Orthodox version of the Constantinopolitan Creed (i.e. “the Creed called Nicene”) is acceptable inasmuch as it was universally agreed upon, and was based on Scripture. That is, it is clearly Biblical as we compare two quotations of Jesus in the Gospel According to John. The first says:

“Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. ” (John 8:42)

The second quotation says:
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” (John 15:26)

In the first, Jesus speaks about His Person and Divine Nature (“for I proceeded forth and came from God”) and then about His Incarnation and His mission in the world (“neither came I of myself, but he sent me”). In the second quotation, Jesus speaks of the other Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, in terms that make clear that both in His Being (“which proceedeth from the Father”) and in His work (“he shall testify of me”), the Spirit is equal to the Son, and His mission in the world is consistent with the mission of the Son.

We gain something from the Eastern view that helps keep these things in balance, that both the Son and the Spirit proceed from the Father, the Son as eternally begotten and the Spirit as eternally proceeding. The Son and the Spirit have been sent (both quotations above) into the world, the Son sent by the Father through His Incarnation, and the Spirit sent by the Father and by the Son to gather various individuals from all nations into one Body of Christ, the Church. And, this double sending of the Spirit reminds us that the will of God is a unified and indivisible will. What the Father wills, the Son wills, and the same is what the Spirit wills.

But, left only with that picture, we can indeed come dangerously close to seeing the Trinity as three Gods, rather than as one God. The Western emphasis balances this out, and does so in accord with the opening of the Gospel of John, where God is spoken of three times, each time equally significant.1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1,2)

God is named three times 2, in this opening. The emphasis is the Incarnation: “The Word was God,” and then “the Word was made flesh (v.14).” But, the context of the Incarnation is the Trinity and the relation of this one triune God to every created thing: “All things were made by (or through) him (i.e. the Word); and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (vs. 3,4 ).
In various dramatic and musical renditions of the opening of John's Gospel, the third mention of God, (“the same was in the beginning with God”) is omitted, indicating that certain people, who hold too low a view of Holy Scripture, mistake the third naming of God as redundant.

All too often the Holy Spirit is treated this way, as redundant, as less than the Father and the Son. To prevent this, the Constantinopolitan Creed (called Nicene) says about Him, “Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.” St. Paul wrote, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (II Cor. 3:17)” Some have thought to contradict the Creed, and teach that the Holy Spirit is not to be worshiped; but this would make Him less than God as John calls Him, less than the Lord as St. Paul calls Him.

The danger of holding only the Eastern understanding before our eyes is that the Son and the Spirit can be seen as subordinate, as less Divine, or even as having an origin in time like creatures do. When some Eastern theologians say that only God the Father is God, they fall into Subordinationism. The danger of holding only the Western formula (I will not say view) is that some make the Holy Spirit “come in third” having third place. Then we also have been forced to defend the truth against a modern heresy that makes Him into a her, a completely false notion for which there is no justification whatsoever (though some imaginative minds have created methods to fool the unlearned about it); and others make Him into a mere “it”-- a power or energy (the heresy of the Pneumato-machoi that Fr. Wells mentioned above).

Therefore, to have both formulas is best, inasmuch as this safeguards the truth of the full equality of the Trinity, each Person possessing fully the uncreated, eternal Nature of God, each person worshiped and glorified together as one God. By recalling that the Son and the Spirit are from the Father, we remember that the Son and the Spirit are equal. By saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, we remember the unity and full equality of the Godhead, together worshiped and glorified as only God may be.
  1. Some make too much of the distinction between Theos and Ho Theos, simply elevating a matter of Koine' Greek grammar into something meaningful, which it is not.
  2. Naming God three times is a significant feature of the Old Testament in some very important places, including the Shemai: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God the LORD is one.” (Deut. 6:4) Even when told that God is one, we find God mentioned three times as 1. The Lord (YHVH), 2. our God (elehenu), and then for what might seem to be no reason (but that we know better), again as 3. the Lord (YHVH). The thrice invoked God is, however, One (echod).


Joe Oliveri said...

Thank you both for an excellent and informative post, Fathers.

Jack Miller said...

Fr. Wells and Fr. Hart,

I read this yesterday and wanted to get back to comment. I very much appreciate the putting of this (and others) Article in a solid historical context, i.e. the walk down church history's memory lane, which is indispensable for properly understanding theology and doctrine. Kudos to you both.


welshmann said...

Frs. Hart and Wells:

"It may be surprising to read that there has been a heresy which denies this [the divine personhood of the Spirit]. ...This strange doctrine was anathematized at the Council of Constantinople and fell into the dustbin of history."

Actually, this particular heresy is alive and well in the teachings of the late Herbert Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God and its successor bodies. Armstrong asserted the divine personhood of the Father and Son, but denied that of the Spirit. Since his death, the WCG has embraced traditional Trinitarian Christology, but former members have established several bodies which persist in Armstrong's heresy.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Welshmann. I did not know that. But I believe it was Hendrikus Berkhof, a 20th cent. theologian from the more "mainline" Dutch Reformed Church who opined that the Holy Spirit is simply Paul's name for the Risen Christ, as his interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:45. Heresies, like junk e-mail, never quite go away.