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.