The Holy Spirit: Practical Mysticism and the Paraclete

This matters to us as more than a mere abstract question for reasons similar to those involving the atonement in Chapter 7.  Just as some people have the false idea that Jesus came to save us from his Father, so some people have the notion that the Paraclete defends us from God the Father, who longs to damn us.

It is to counter this blasphemous lie that the Creed insists that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”. The point is that there is no daylight between the Spirit and the Father, just as there is none between Jesus and the Father or Jesus and the Spirit.  The three are one in their Godhood—and God is love:

The notion of anointing suggests . . . that there is no distance between the Son and the Spirit. Indeed, just as between the surface of the body and the anointing with oil neither reason nor sensation recognizes any intermediary, so the contact of the Son with the Spirit is immediate, so that anyone who would make contact with the Son by faith must first encounter the oil by contact. In fact there is no part that is not covered by the Holy Spirit. That is why the confession of the Son’s Lordship is made in the Holy Spirit by those who receive him, the Spirit coming from all sides to those who approach the Son in faith.[1]

It’s Not All About Us

The word “proceeding” can be a bit tricky because it leads some people to think it refers to the Spirit proceeding toward us from God. This is a mistake because God, not we, is at the center.  The Creed is attempting to describe who God is in himself, so to speak, not primarily who God is for us.  Of course, the Creed does mention that aspect too (“for us men and for our salvation”).  But the Creed is nonetheless about placing God at the center and us at the periphery. It sees the universe as theocentric, not as anthropocentric, just as our solar system is heliocentric, not geocentric.  We orbit God.  He does not orbit us.

This is, by the way, the reason the Church does not pray in the Name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, as some wish she would.  This suggestion has been made by people who feel that terms like “Father” and “Son” are too masculine and alienating.  The problem is threefold. 

First, we are talking about revelation, which we are not free to amend to our taste.  When Jesus, who called himself the “Son” (Matthew 11:27) revealed God to us his command was clear: “When you pray, say ‘Father’” (Luke 11:2).

Secondly, the suggested rewording robs us of the truth of who God is in himself by putting us at the center.  Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier are all things God does for us.  To speak of God in this new and improved way places us at the center of existence, not God.  It is a kind of cosmic narcissism and is, indeed, yet another manifestation of the Fall of the human race, in which our primordial sin of seeking to take God’s place again insinuates itself into our spiritual life.

And finally, parsing out these titles in this way teaches the flat falsehood that the Father alone creates, the Son alone redeems, and the Spirit alone sanctifies.  That is exactly wrong and introduces into our understanding of the Triune God precisely the picture of division and self-contradiction the Creed is laboring to defeat.  All three Persons have a hand in each of these works, because all three Persons are God.  They are not at odds with each other, but in a perfect union of love.

[1] St. Gregory of Nyssa, De Spiritu Sancto, 16:PG 45,1321A-B


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