We believe and confess also, that the Holy Ghost, from eternity, proceeds from the Father and Son; and therefore neither is made, created, nor begotten, but only proceedeth from both; who in order is the third person of the Holy Trinity; of one and the same essence, majesty and glory with the Father, and the Son: and therefore, is the true and eternal God, as the Holy Scriptures teach us.
It is rather obvious, it seems to me, that in the minds of our fathers, the author of our Confession included, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit did not occupy as large and as important a place in the structure of the truth as the doctrine of the Person and work of Christ, nor, in fact, as several other doctrines that are explicated in our creed. In the first place, what is stated in the above article concerning the Holy Ghost is very brief, though it is essentially complete. Our Confession painstakingly sets forth certain other truths, but devotes relatively little space to this truth. In the second place, the Confession passes by the Scriptural proof of this doctrine with the mere general statement, “as the Holy Scriptures teach us.” By comparison, it offers much more detailed proof of the deity of Jesus Christ; and it devotes an entire article to proof for the Trinity. In the third place, the article says nothing whatsoever about the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of Christ, poured out on the day of Pentecost and dwelling in and abiding with the church forever. It is, of course, true that our Confession speaks elsewhere of the work of the Holy Ghost. In Article XXII it states that the Holy Ghost kindles faith in our hearts. And in connection with the doctrine of sanctification, Article XXIV, mention is made again of the Holy Ghost: ‘We believe that this true faith being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God, and the operation of the Holy Ghost, doth regenerate and make him a new man . . . ,” Article XXVII speaks of the church as being “sanctified and sealed by the Holy Ghost.” In connection with holy baptism Article XXXIV says: “so doth the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkle the soul . . . .” And also Article IXXXV, the lengthy article on the Lord’s Supper, speaks of the operations of the Holy Ghost as being “bidden and incomprehensible.” Nevertheless, Article XI itself does not speak of this aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. And we may say that the truth concerning the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ is in our Confession implicit, rather than explicit. The Heidelberg Catechism, though still more brief than the Confession, is more complete on this score. There we read, Lord’s Day XX: “What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Ghost? First, that he is true and coeternal God with the Father and the Son; secondly, that he is also given me, to make me by a true faith, partaker of Christ and all his benefits, that he may comfort me and abide with me for ever.”
I venture to speculate that if a Reformed man would have to compose a creedal statement on the doctrine of the Holy Ghost today, such a statement would be more detailed, especially in regard to the subject of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ dwelling in the church. Even by the time of our Canons were drawn up by the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618-’19 there had been further development in regard to the work and the importance of the work of the Spirit in the consciousness of the Reformed fathers, as is evident from an article like Canons III, IV, 11, as well as Canons V, 4-8, 10. Since that time there has been further attention devoted to this doctrine. And again in our own day there is renewed interest in the work of the Holy Spirit, although it must at once be added that it is not all holy fire that is found on the altar in this respect.
What we stated above does not at all imply that our Confession is heterodox on this score. That the statement of our Confession is rather meager is simply due to the fact that the Confession is the product of its times. On the one hand, there was at that stage not as much attention devoted to this doctrine; and consequently there was not as full a development of this truth as yet. On the other hand,—and this fact must not be overlooked by any means,—there was not such heated conflict between Romanism and Calvinism in regard to this subject, while there were indeed other aspects of the truth that required more attention in the Confession because of the conflict of those times. And finally, we must not overlook the fact that the fuller development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit received its impetus from the Reformation.
Nevertheless, as we stated at the outset, the statement of Article XI is essentially complete.
The Procession of the Spirit
Very briefly our Confession states the distinct persona1 property of the Holy Spirit: “We believe and confess also, that the Holy Ghost, from eternity, proceeds from the Father and the Son.” And again: “but only proceedeth from both.” The latter is negatively emphasized by the words: “and therefore neither is made, created, nor begotten.” It is evident from the latter expression especially, that this matter of the distinct personal attribute of the Holy Spirit stands closely connected not only with His distinct personality, but also with His Godhead.
The personal property, or attribute, of the Third Person, therefore, is expressed in His name, Spirit. He is the Ruach, the Pneuma, wind, breath. He is “breathed forth,” and as such proceeds from the Father and the Son. We must remember that the name Spirit does not refer to His essence. Essentially the Father and the Son are spirit also. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. The name Holy Spirit, however, denotes the Third Person of the Trinity as to His personal position, in relation to the Father and the Son. He is not the Father, and His personal attribute is not that of generation, begetting. Nor is He the Son, the only begotten; and His personal attribute is not that He is eternally generated of the Father. For then there would be two Sons of God. But He is the Spirit. And just as the names Father and Son express the personal properties of the First and Second Persons of the Trinity, so the name Spirit denotes the distinct personal property of the Third Person. The Spirit proceeds from the Father, as the Spirit of the Father, to the Son; and He returns, as the Spirit of the Son, to the Father. Thus the circle of the eternal life of fellowship of the Triune God is complete. The Father knows and loves the Son, in the Spirit. And in that same Spirit, the Son knows and loves the Father. And the Spirit searches the depths of God, and knows and loves the Father and the Son in Himself. Hence, of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit, the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity live an eternally perfect life of divine friendship.
It is to be noted that our Confession teaches the so-called “double procession” of the Spirit, that is, that He proceeds from both the Father and the Son. It even emphasizes this doctrine by its second statement, “but only proceedeth from both.” This reminds us of the long controversy concerning theFilioque, a Latin term which means “and the Son.” This controversy was between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches of the church. The latter, following especially Augustine, insisted that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, ex Pattre Filioque. The former denied this, and taught the procession from the Father only. This constitutes the chief doctrinal issue separating the Eastern and Western Churches up to the present time. It is true, of course, that there are other issues that separate Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church, such as the immaculate conception, the primacy of the pope, the infallibility of the pope,—matters that are under consideration at the so-called ecumenical council that is to be re-convened by Rome in the near future, a council which supposedly aims also at reunion of east and west. But the chief doctrinal issue was that of the Filioque. It is alleged also by some historians that here is an example of useless theological wrangling that separated whole segments of the church by insistence upon or denial of one little word. The historian Schaff, who is always of a rather irenic spirit, is one of these. And he mourns the whole controversy and separation as “deplorable,” without really assessing the blame and without insisting very strongly on the orthodox doctrine of the Filioque.
This is neither the time nor the place to go into a detailed account of the whole history. Nevertheless we must understand a little of the background and history, in order to see the importance of this issue.
The final cleavage between east and west did not take place until the year 1054 under Pope Leo IX, who excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople for several heresies, among which was a denial of the Filioque. When one studies the history of this period as recounted by Schaff, “History of the Christian Church,” IV, pp. 304-325, 476-488, the impression cannot be escaped that the Filioque and the other doctrinal issues involved constituted a political football in the struggle for power between Rome and Constantinople. And to be sure, when doctrinal issues become mere tools in a struggle for power, it is always deplorable and to be condemned as down-right wicked, whether one be orthodox or heterodox. Neither the popes of Rome nor the patriarchs of Constantinople and their adherents were in an ethical position to read the Ten Commandments to one another in those days. And from that point of view, the doctrinal issue receded into the background, so that as far as the individuals were concerned the question of orthodoxy or heterodoxy was of little importance.
Nevertheless, we must remember, in the first place, that the history centering about the final separation in 1054 was but one phase of a long history, that dated from the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381. In the second place, while the attitudes and motives of the men directly involved at the time of the final separation between East and West may have left much to be desired, the issue itself was much larger than this. And the Lord so directed the course of history that the Roman Catholic Church at that time, for whatever may have been their reason and motivation, clung to the Filioque, so that the Reformation churches in the sixteenth century simply followed in the same direction, and, so to speak, inherited the doctrine of the double procession.
For while neither Nicea nor Constantinople in the time of the Trinitarian and Christological controversies expressed themselves on the doctrine of the double procession, they at the same time had not excluded this doctrine. The result was that for a long time the difference between East and West on this score smoldered in the bosom of the church, the West maintaining and the East denying the double procession of the Spirit. And while no ecumenical council expressed itself on the matter, in 559 A. D. the Synod of Toledo (which was Western) inserted this little phrase, “and the Son (Filioque),” into the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed officially.
And important and Scriptural this doctrine is, as we hope to see next time.