The Holy Spirit: Proceeding

Continuing our deep dive into the Creed’s discussion of the Spirit…


Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
That I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
To defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
That I always may be holy.
– St. Augustine

The Creed next tell us that we believe in the Holy Spirit

…who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.  He has spoken through the prophets.

In following the Son, we invariably find the Spirit.  This is because, as the Catechism (689) puts it, “When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable.”  When I read those words, I always think of four friends of mine who love to sing together.  Once, they made a recording in four-part harmony and when they played it back they were amazed to hear a fifth voice joining them.  They joked that an angel had joined them in the studio.  Of course, the real cause is called “overtone”.  They blended so perfectly that from the harmonics of their four voices a fifth note proceeded.  This a beautiful image of the next point the Creed makes.

For a long time, as we have seen, the Church taught simply “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” But eventually, the same questions regarding the nature of the Son were also asked concerning the Spirit.  Is the Spirit God or some kind of creature?  If he is only a creature, is that creature personal or only as some kind of impersonal force?  It is to address these sorts of questions that this line of the Creed was drafted (and, as we shall see, amended).

Proceeding from the Father and the Son

Jesus taught repeatedly that the Father (and he) would, in some way give his disciples someone or something called the Holy Spirit, saying:

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.

“I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

“These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  (John 14:16-26)

The Greek word translated “Counselor” here is Paraclete, meaning not only “counselor” (as in “defense attorney”), but “helper”, “advocate”, and “comforter”.

Jesus speaks of the Spirit as “another” Paraclete. This has three crucial implications:

  • The first is that he himself is the first Paraclete.
  • The second is that the Spirit is therefore a Person distinct from himself and the Father. 
  • The third is that this Spirit—the one whom Jesus calls “the Spirit of your Father” (Matthew 10:20) and Paul names “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:19)—is also somehow profoundly one in being (or to use technical language “consubstantial with”) the Father and the Son: that is, that he is God and not a creature.

The language Jesus uses here is some of the most profound mystical language in Scripture.  Note the strange interpenetrating imagery he uses.  Having established that the Spirit is “another” Paraclete who will be “in you” he then goes on to say, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” He promises that, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word” and not only the Paraclete, or rather through the Paraclete, “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” The point is that to receive the gift of the Spirit is to receive the Father and the Son and to share in their divine life (cf. 2 Peter 1:4).  The Spirit, in fact, continues the work of divine revelation after Jesus’ Ascension:

I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15)

How the Spirit continues the work of revelation we shall take up presently.  For now, the point is simply this: while the Spirit shares in the divine nature of the Father and the Son and is therefore God, he is neither the Father nor the Son.  He is sent to us by the Father at the request of the Son but, since he is God himself, it cannot be that he is created on Pentecost for our benefit.  Indeed, it cannot be that he is created at all since God is uncreated. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is from all eternity like the Father and the Son.  Though distinct from the other two Persons, he is absolutely one with them in deity as well.

Of which more tomorrow.


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