The Holy Spirit: Introduction

Pentecost having been celebrated on Sunday, I thought it would be good time to take a look at the Creed’s teaching on the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. What follows is from the draft of my book on the Creed. Feel free to to offer questions and comments in the comboxes. I can’t promise I will reply, but I would be interested to find out if the series is helpful to people trying to fathom the Person of the Trinity who is, I think, the most mysterious to both believers and unbelievers.


We now move from discussion of the second Person of the Trinity to the third Person. 

As we discussed earlier, the Creed bears many signs of “growth rings” due to the various questions and challenges the Church has faced down through history.  In the article on the Holy Spirit, we see this again prominently displayed.  This is where the Creed gets the “Constantinopolitan” part of its “Nicene-Constantinopolitan” name.  And, as we shall see in the next chapter, it will later pick up another clause that will be part of no small conflict in the Church’s history.

If you look at both the Apostles Creed and the 325 AD version of the Nicene Creed, you will notice that both versions simply declare “I believe in the Holy Spirit”, full stop.  By 381, most likely at the Second Council of Constantinople (though there is scholarly debate about this), the Creed was expanded to:

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Yes, that’s correct.  The original Nicene Creed does not go into a discussion of the Church at all.  It is tempting for postmoderns to draw huge and wrong conclusions from this: most especially the popular conclusion that the Church is therefore a “late development” and that the early Christians were just a loose aggregation of isolated religious hobbyists interested in a “spiritual gospel” of simple worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without all that complexification of a Church.  But a closer reading of the original Nicene Creed of 325 shows that this is far too simple a reading.  For the original does not so much neglect the Church as assume it to be the “pillar and foundation of the truth” just as Paul described it (1 Timothy 3:15). Because, while the original Nicene Creed does not spell out the nature of the Church, it radically assumes its authority and unity, saying:

But as for those who say, “There was when He was not,”.
and, “Before being born He was not,”
and that He came into existence out of nothing,
or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance,
or created,
or is subject to alteration or change
these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.

The Council Fathers at Nicaea assume precisely the same authority to bind and loose that their forebears, the apostles, do (cf. Matthew 16:19; 18:18).  Indeed, Nicaea, acting in union with the Pope, the heir of Peter, behaves just as the first conciliar gathering of the Church in union with Peter did at Jerusalem (Acts 15).  Trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (cf. John 16:13) and the promise of Jesus that he will be with the Church to the end of the age (cf. Matthew 28:20), they effectively say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28) as they teach with divine authority. They not only state what the Church does believe, they anathematize Christians who refuse to listen with just the same apostolic authority Paul exercises (cf. Galatians 1:9).

It is precisely this same apostolic authority that will later permit the Church to amend the Creed further in accord with both Sacred Tradition (written and unwritten) and pastoral need.  For once the Arian crisis is past, the anathemas of A.D 325 are no longer necessary.  At the same time, new questions about the nature of the Spirit and his relationship with the Body of Christ will arise, necessitating not only an expanded discussion of the Spirit, but an expansion and slightly re-ordered discussion of the Church’s nature, the sacrament of baptism, and our eternal destiny.

With all that noted, we have enough to proceed with the first bit of this article of the Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life.”

As we noted in Chapter 6, the third Person of the Trinity already gets a mention in the Creed when the Church confesses that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  But it is only here that the Creed starts spelling out who he is and what he does.

“Holy Spirit” is the proper name of the third Person of the Trinity. When you think about it, both “holy” and “spirit” are divine attributes common to the Father and the Son as well.  In putting these words together into a proper name, Jesus and the early Church made clear the Spirit is God while at the same time distinguishing him from the Father and the Son.

It is also worth noting that, as the Catechism (684) points out, “the Spirit is the last of the persons of the Holy Trinity to be revealed. St. Gregory of Nazianzus, the Theologian, explains this progression in terms of the pedagogy of divine ‘condescension’:

The Old Testament proclaimed the Father clearly, but the Son more obscurely. The New Testament revealed the Son and gave us a glimpse of the divinity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit dwells among us and grants us a clearer vision of himself. It was not prudent, when the divinity of the Father had not yet been confessed, to proclaim the Son openly and, when the divinity of the Son was not yet admitted, to add the Holy Spirit as an extra burden, to speak somewhat daringly. . . . By advancing and progressing ‘from glory to glory,’ the light of the Trinity will shine in ever more brilliant rays. (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio theol.,5,26 (= Oratio 31,26):PG 36,161-163)”.

Many people want to know where the Church “came up with” the Holy Spirit—as though he is something the Church invented in a spasm of needless complexification. Such people forget that we are dealing here with revelation, not invention.  The Holy Spirit was revealed to the Church, not invented by the Church.  And revelation is like falling in love, not like arriving at a math equation.  Revelation happens to you—then you spend the rest of your life saying, “Whoa! What was that?” Revelation is not when you invent something new.  It’s when something old, something that has been there all along but hidden, is seen by you for the first time.  And the mystery of it is that you can have been looking at it all your life without ever seeing it till this moment.

Of which more tomorrow.


One Response

  1. Thank you Mark. The eternal entering of the exchange of the Trinity is just unfathomable and never ending, and the Creed, just to mediate on each single line in itself is a mystery. Look forward to the mediation and hopefully future publication

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