Article V. Of the Holy Ghost

This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.

Article V. Of the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

If the ecumenical councils of the undivided church are to be believed, Article V is heretical. Of course, I am referring to the (in)famous filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. In the Eastern churches, people profess faith in the Holy Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father.” Period. Over here in the West, we profess faith in the Holy Spirit “who proceeds from the Father and the Son” and have done so for about 1,000 years.

As many 7WD readers will know, the phrase “and the Son” (one word, filioque, in Latin) was added sometime around the sixth century. Rome didn’t hop on that bandwagon until the 11th century. The East never added it, nor was it ever approved by an ecumenical council of the undivided church. Plenty of people, including the bishops of the Anglican Communion and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, are having second thoughts. There was nary a filioque in all the liturgies of the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

Sorting out the inner workings of the Holy Trinity is way above my abilities and arguably above the ability of any human being. However, it seems to me that if I’m asked to choose, I’ll side with the undivided church (and the Lambeth Conference) over those folks who assert that we need to keep the phrase in place because it’s been that way for a few centuries now. In The Faith We Confess, Gerald Bray says we need to keep the filioque in the creed — and thus he supports the language in the Article — to strengthen our understanding of the Second Person of the Trinity. That’s a more compelling argument than “we’ve always done it that way”, but I still don’t quite buy it.

If you want to read more, the Wikipedia article in this subject has plenty of information and loads of references. There is a lot wrapped up in this debate. What is the nature of the Holy Spirit? What is the nature of the Holy Trinity? Who has the authority to edit the creeds of the church?

But all of this obscures the main point of this Article. Its language comes straight from the creeds (Nicene and Athanasian). To quibble over a few words would be the miss the principal point here: the Holy Spirit matters. The inclusion of this Article reminds us of the Third Person of the Trinity, often neglected in Anglican theology, worship, and thought. Sure, we have plenty of invocations of the Trinity, but we rarely spend time pondering the Spirit in its own right. I for one wish we attended to the Holy Spirit more often than the Day of Pentecost and the occasional confirmation or ordination service.

Every time I vest before celebrating the Holy Eucharist, I follow Sarum custom and offer an ancient prayer. Perhaps you will join me in praying to the Holy Spirit? Maybe we will thus be enriched by the fire of the Spirit — whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son. The point is that the Spirit gives us life.

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
and lighten with celestial fire.
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

Thy blessed unction from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Enable with perpetual light
the dullness of our blinded sight.

Anoint and cheer our soiled face
with the abundance of thy grace.
Keep far from foes, give peace at home:
where thou art guide, no ill can come.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,
and thee, of both, to be but One,
that through the ages all along,
this may be our endless song:

Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Words: Latin, ninth century; translated by John Cosin (1627)

Like most of the Articles, one could easily write more. The Holy Spirit deserves some more air time in our church. But I think I’ll leave Cosin’s lovely text to speak for itself.

Here are some questions on which you might meditate:

  • How do you understand the Holy Spirit to be at work in the world and in the Church today?
  • Why do we find it so much easier to pray to the Father or the Son than to the Holy Spirit?
  • How would you understand the Holy Spirit’s presence in your own life?
  • Who should be allowed to modify the creeds of the Church? Under what circumstances?

Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Previous: Article IV: Of the Resurrection of Christ
Next: Article VI: Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation

You may also like...

3 Responses

  1. Roo says:

    Scott – another useful and balanced post, even viewed from Geneva 😉 The question of the filoque is an interesting one and it’s difficult to see where the truth lies – the division of the Church, in part over it seems fairly irrelevant today. However I suspect that a growing number of folks within the historic western churches are coming back to the original setting. Whether that is from an understanding of the issues or whether its because there seems no justifiable reason for inserting “and the Son”. As in Bible translation, often small addittions like that to the text are to defend orthodoxy, but where its not necessary and wasn’t original.

    I would agree that the Spirit has often been marginalised by the historic Churches, as much as some of the newer ones have overemphasised Him.

    I think the Church often gets confused in addressing prayers, this will by nature, be more the position in traditions (like my own) where extemporaneous prayer is used. But often there is a mixing of Persons in a prayer – which sometimes leads to nonsense, othertimes to a heretical statement – “Thank you Father for taking away our sins on the cross when you died in our place” type thing – where the person praying no more thinks that the Father was crucified than that the sun is the moon.

    But when it comes to praying directly to the Third Person of the Trinity I confess to baulking somewhat. Praying in a Trinitarian form I have no problem with – ‘Father we thank you, Son we thank you, Spirit we thank you’ type thing. But it would be a very rare thing for me to pray to the Spirit. Why? Good question! It’s certainly not a lack of belief in the Spirit or his divinity or equality with the Father and Son. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says: “There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” (Q6) But I think it comes down more to an understanding of the role of the Spirit – which is to point us to Christ. As JI Packer illustrated, in role, Jesus is like the historic building and the Spirit is like the floodlights. You go not to see the floodlights, but without the floodlights you could not see the building. The Spirit is worthy of worship and we do worship him but I am uncomfortable with focusing our attention wholly on the Spirit. It is by the Spirit that Christ dwells in us.

    It may just be an error in my thinking and there may be no grounds for my hesitation, but thats where I am. I’d love to be changed on the issue if I’m wrong – which I often am! Sometimes I think that I’m more wrong having studied theology and been a pastor than I was beforehand 🙂

  2. Malcolm says:

    Scott, it seems to me that the original and authentic form of the Creed (sans filioque) does not say that the Spirit does not proceed from the Father and the Son. Rather, it merely affirms procession from the Father while remaining silent on procession from the Son. The allegedly schismatic and arguably heretical act is not believing that the Spirit proceeds also from the Son, but rather altering the Creed without the authority of an ecumenical council and possibly in requiring that the alteration be accepted as a matter of faith.

  3. Edmund says:


    I appreciate your blog and this series on the Articles.

    I think you could go a lot deeper in the matter of the Double Procession of the Holy Spirit, which is hardly a later innovation in doctrine. You might consult the following link, which explains the matter extremely well. I hadn’t known that the Eastern and Western churches had actually briefly reunited, the East accepting Filioque. (The text of creed had already changed significantly since Nicaea, and as you’ll read, ‘filioque’ was added by Eastern monks.)

    I would counsel caution as to any theological “insight” proposed by the current TEC hierarchy…!