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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Identity of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Whom Does the Holy Spirit Proceed From?

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Whom Does the Holy Spirit Proceed From? (Procession, Filioque Controversy)

The Identity of the Holy Spirit – Question 18

An issue that has troubled the church is in regard to the procession of the Holy Spirit. The word “procession” concerns the relationship of the Holy Spirit with God the Father and God the Son. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from God the Father or from God the Father and God the Son? As we shall see, while this may not seem like a very important matter it has had enormous consequences in the history of the church. A number of observations need to be made.

The Father Sends the Holy Spirit

There is a passage that says God the Father is the one who sends the Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself said this. We read His statement in John’s gospel.

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:25-26 TNIV).

According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will be sent by the Father.

The Holy Spirit Is Sent from Jesus

Yet there is another passage that affirms that the Holy Spirit was sent from Jesus alone. Jesus said this after He had risen from the dead.

And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49 NRSV).

Here is it Jesus alone who is sending the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit Proceeds from Both the Father and the Son

This problem is seemingly solved when we look at another statement of Jesus. In John’s gospel Jesus indicates the Holy Spirit proceeds from both God the Father and God the Son. Jesus again said.

When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father–He will testify about Me. (John 15:26 HCSB).

This statement of Jesus Christ says that both the Father and the Son are involved in sending the Holy Spirit. This appears to be the best way of understanding this question; both the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit.

This Was the Cause for the Church Split (Filioque Clause)

This issue, as to whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father or the Father and the Son, was the reason given for the church to split into East and West. The original form of the Nicene Creed declared that, “the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father.” The teaching of St. Augustine in the Western and Latin-speaking church sought to emphasize the strict equality of God the Father and God the Son. He taught that the Spirit proceeds also from the Son.

The Clause Was Added to the Nicene Creed

This teaching eventually was added to the Nicene Creed. The result reads: who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The added words being a translation of the Latin word filioque which means “and the Son.”

The filioque clause was added by the Western Church to make clear that the Son, Jesus, also sent the Holy Spirit. The addition of this clause is Scriptural for, as we have just seen, the Bible does teach that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. It also emphasizes the deity of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, it was this addition to the Creed that was the “official” reason given for the Church to split into East and West in the year 1054. Of course, this was not the only issue that caused the split between East and West but it was the reason which was highlighted.

This Does Not Mean the Holy Spirit Is Inferior in Nature

There is an important point we need to emphasize. The fact that the Holy Spirit was sent by God the Father and God the Son does not imply that He is inferior in nature to them. The three members of the Trinity are equal in nature. While equal in nature they have different duties to perform. It is the mission of the Holy Spirit to do the work of God the Son, Jesus Christ, once Jesus left the earth. Thus, the fact that He was sent by the Father and the Son has nothing to do with His character being less than theirs.

Is There an Eternal Procession?

There is also the question as to when this procession occurred. Did it only occur after Jesus ascended into heaven? Or has this sending of the Holy Spirit something that has been going on forever? The eternal procession of the Holy Spirit seems to be taught in the Psalms

.
When you send your Spirit, new life is born to replenish all the living of the earth (Psalm 104:30 NLT).

During the Old Testament period the Holy Spirit came forth from God the Father. It was not until after Jesus Christ ascended that the Holy Spirit proceeded from God the Son.

It Is Understood Differently by the Greek Orthodox Church

The Greek Orthodox Church, however, understood that the procession of the Holy Spirit as not something that is eternal. They believe that it began only at the time God the Son, Jesus Christ became a human being.

In sum, while this of the procession of the Holy Spirit is seemingly a matter of relative little importance as far as Scripture is concerned, it became a huge issue in the history of the church.

Summary – Question 18
Whom Does the Holy Spirit Proceed From? (Procession, Filioque Controversy)

One of the unfortunate episodes in the history of the church is the split between East and West in A.D. 1054. The reason given was a difference of opinion as to whom the Holy Spirit proceeded from. Was it God the Father, as the Eastern Church emphasized, or God the Father and God the Son, as the Western Church claimed?

In one passage we are told that the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father while another passage emphasizes that it is God the Son who sends the Holy Spirit. A third passage says that both the Father and Son send the Spirit. This seems to be the best answer to this question.

This does not mean that the Holy Spirit is lesser in character than the other two members of the Trinity. It indicates that He is subordinate in position to God the Father and God the Son. However while God the Holy Spirit may be subordinate in position, He is not subordinate in character. Each of the three members of the Holy Trinity are co-equal and co-eternal.

It also seems that the Holy Spirit has eternally proceeded from the Father and the Son. This has always been His role in the mysterious inner workings of the Trinity.

However, since there is little direct information on this subject from Scripture we need to be careful in any conclusions with which we come up with.

Should the Holy Spirit Be Singled Out for Worship? ← Prior Section
What Is the "Name" of the Holy Spirit? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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