Article 8 (cont’d)
We have already learned that originally this 8th article of the Nicene Creed was very short. In 325 the Council of Nicea simply confessed, “And I believe in the Holy Ghost.” In 381 the Council of Constantinople added to this article so that it read, “And I believe in the Holy Ghost, Who is Lord and Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the prophets.” All that was added by Constantinople was designed to establish the true divinity of the Holy Spirit. Finally, one more addition was made by the Synod of Toledo in 589. This addition was the famous “filioque” clause, which is Latin for “and the Son.” This was inserted by the Latin or western church after the phrase “who proceedeth from the Father,” so that the church confessed a double procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son.
Having already discussed the confession of the early church that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life, we now turn our attention to the proclamation of the Council of Constantinople that the Holy Spirit “proceeded from the Father.”
This particular expression is taken from John 15:26, where Jesus instructs His disciples, “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.”
It’s rather significant that the early church did not give an exact quote of the expression found in John 15:26. In the original Greek of this passage we read that the Spirit proceeds para (from the side or vicinity of) the Father. In the Nicene Creed we read that the Holy Spirit proceeds ek (from, or out of) the Father. Now the meaning in both instances is essentially the same. However, the early church fathers changed the para of John 15:26 to ek in their confession to emphasize that the Holy Spirit is God just as truly as is the Son.
In Article 2 of this same creed the church confessed that Jesus Christ is “very God of (ek—from, out of) very God.” The meaning of that expression is that Jesus is truly God. As God He finds His source in One Who also is truly God. The “very God” in Whom the Son finds His source is, of course, God the Father. And the point of this expression is that the Son is out of the Father in such a way that He is truly God with the Father.
Now to emphasize that the Holy Spirit is also truly God with the Father and the Son, the Council of Constantinople confessed that the Spirit also is ek (out of) the Father. Even as the Son is ek (out of) the Father and thus truly God, so also is the Holy Spirit.
However, it is not sufficient to leave the matter here. For the Son and the Spirit are not ek (out of) the Father in the same sense.
The Son is ek (out of) the Father by reason of eternal generation. Eternally the first person of the Godhead generates the second person so that the first person is the Father and the second person is His eternal Son Who bears His image. The third person of the Godhead, however, is not another Son. There is only one Son in the Godhead.
The third person of the Godhead is the Spirit. As the name “Spirit” indicates, He is the One Whom the Father “breathes forth.” Hence, the Scriptures speak of the fact that the Spirit “proceeds” from the Father. And this the early church confessed also in this article of the Nicene Creed to distinguish the Spirit from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son is truly God.
In summary, the church confessed at the Council of Constantinople that the Son is generated ek (out of) the Father whereas the Holy Spirit proceeds ek (out of) the Father. But because both are ek (out of) the Father, they both are truly God with the Father.
In 589 the Synod of Toledo added another phrase to this part of the church’s confession. This is the “filioque” clause which means “and the Son.” Through this addition, which was accepted only by the western or Latin branch of the church, the church confessed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
That the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father is certainly Biblical. The procession of the Spirit as such is mentioned only once in the Scriptures. This is in John 15:26, to which we called attention above: “But when the Comforter is come, Whom I (i.e., Jesus) will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He will testify of Me.” Now it certainly must be granted that the Holy Spirit in this passage is said to proceed from the Father with no mention being made of the Son. However, even in this passage there is indication that the Spirit proceeds also from the Son. For it is Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, Who will send the Holy Spirit from the Father to the church. Besides, in Romans 89 the ‘ Holy Spirit is mentioned in one breath as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” And in Galatians 4: 16 the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of God’s Son: “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” All this certainly indicates that the Spirit also proceeds from the Son as well as the Father.
This additional thought that the Spirit proceeds also from the Son is quite significant. Its significance is to be found in the fact that it contradicts any idea of subordination within the Godhead.
The early church fathers who gathered at the Council of Constantinople in 381 were exclusively from the eastern or Greek branch of the church. And it becomes clear from some of their writings that they definitely maintained a subordination within the Godhead. They taught that the Father is higher in rank and importance than the Son and the Spirit. And the Son, in turn, is also higher than the Spirit.
The formulation of the Council of Constantinople by these same men tended also to promote this subordination idea. For Constantinople in this 8th article of the Nicene Creed confessed only that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. This suggested that the Father is the sole source of the Godhead. The Son is generated from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. All things in the Godhead find their source therefore in the Father. And so room is certainly left for the idea that the Father is in some way superior to the Son and the Spirit.
In all fairness, to the fathers of Constantinople, however, it must also be remembered that it was not their intent to deny the procession of the Spirit from the Son. This will become evident if we bear in mind especially two things. In the first place, the primary intent of the fathers of Constantinople in formulating this particular article as they did was to oppose the error of the Arians and the Macedonians, followers of Macedonius, who were Semi-Arians. Both the Arians and the Macedonians maintained that the Holy Spirit was merely a creature, created by the Son. Over against this error the fathers of Constantinople sought to establish that the Spirit proceeds directly from the Father, even as the Son is begotten directly from the Father, and thus is truly God with the Son. To emphasize this, they confessed the procession of the Spirit from the Father without even mentioning procession from the Son. In the second place, it must also be born in mind that whereas some of the eastern or Greek church fathers did specifically repudiate the procession of the Spirit from the Son, many did not. In fact, some definitely maintained a double procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son.
In the western or Latin branch of the church, however, a different spirit prevailed. All ideas of subordination within the Godhead were repudiated. The Latin church clearly saw the equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the Godhead. Not one is above the other in rank or importance; all three are equal, for all partake equally of the divine nature.
In harmony with this equality in the Godhead, the Latin church, due by and large to the efforts of Augustine, also acknowledged a double procession of the Spirit. The significance of this is obvious. The Spirit proceeds not just from the Father but also from the Son. The Father is not the sole source or fountain of the Godhead. For the Father and the Son together are the source of the Spirit. They both are active in the breathing forth of the third person of the Godhead. This definitely tends to rule out all ideas of subordination, at least on the part of the Son and the Father. It speaks rather of equality, an equality that can not be limited to the Father and the Son, but must also extend to the Holy Spirit.
To this double procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son the Latin church gave expression in the Synod of Toledo in 589 by adding the famous “filioque” clause to this 8th article.
The eastern or Greek branch of the church, which today is known as the Greek or Eastern Orthodox Church, never accepted this addition. Even today she denies the double procession of the Spirit. She clings to the formulation of the Nicene Creed as set forth by the Council of Constantinople, confessing only that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. And in harmony with that she has persisted down through the ages to maintain a certain subordination within the Godhead among the three persons of the trinity. The fruit of this has been sad. Whenever the church departs from the truth of Scripture, that departure works as a leaven to destroy the church. And this is what happened with the eastern, Greek branch of the church. Clinging to the error of subordination in the Godhead, she soon died spiritually and is dead even today.
The western or Latin branch of the church, however, having embraced the truth of the equality within the Godhead continued to flourish. It is true that the Latin church, known to us as the Roman Catholic Church, died a horrible death due to other errors that eventually crept in. Nevertheless, the church of Christ revived through the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and continues to live today. And she continues to live on the basis of the all-important truth that God is triune, three persons in one being, and that these three are coeternal, co-essential, and thus co-equal.