About us
How we can help
Latest news
Press Releases
How to join
Contact us
Quick links
Church Society Trust

 The Principles of Theology - Article 5

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


<< Part 2. The Scripture Doctrine Of The Holy Spirit

Part 3. The History Of The Doctrine

1. The Ante-Nicene Period. Sub-Apostolic Christianity was marked by experience rather than by reflection. And yet immaturity of thought does not indicate error of experience, for the Spirit of God is never regarded as a creature. It was heresy that compelled the Church to pay closer attention to the intellectual statements of the doctrine of the Spirit, and in particular Montanism led to a careful discrimination and thorough statement of the truth. But the strongest confirmation of the doctrine in this non-reflective period is seen in the devotional life of the church. Experience is often the best witness to what is doctrinally implicit, and the evidence we possess of the life of the Church in these days bears unqualified testimony to the reality of the Divine Spirit. Not only have we the earliest form of the Apostles’ Creed from this date, but Doxologies, and other hymns of praise, the Ordinance of Baptism, and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit in connection with the Lord’s Supper. All bear witness to what the Church believed concerning the Holy Spirit.

2. From Nicæa to Chalcedon. This non-reflective period concerning the Spirit could not continue in the light of the controversies of the time, and when the Deity of the Son had been established in opposition to Arianism, thought necessarily turned in the direction of the Deity of the Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed closed with a simple statement of belief: “And in the Holy Spirit.” But if the Son was consubstantial with the Father, and therefore Divine, the Personality and Deity of the Spirit would naturally be inferred, even though not as yet specifically stated. The question gradually arose after the Nicene Council, and controversy was due to those who were unable to accept the Deity of the Holy Spirit. They were described by Athanasius as “enemies of the Spirit,” and afterwards designated Pneumatomachi. They were led by Macedonius, Bishop of Constantinople, and it was the acuteness of the controversy that led to the summoning of the Second General Council at Constantinople, 381. The result was the promulgation of a Creed which made some important additions to the declaration of belief in the Holy Ghost.

“The Lord, the Life-Giver, that proceeds from the Father, that with the Father and Son is together worshipped and together glorified.”

But it is noteworthy that the term Homoousios (ὁμοούσιος) was avoided in expressing the Spirit’s oneness with the Father and the Son, nor was He even called God, though the terms in which His work was described cannot be predicated of any human being. Thus, the question of the Deity of the Spirit was settled as the Deity of the Son had been settled at Nicæa fifty years before. But the subject was still discussed and developed both in the East and in the West, and in 451 the Council of Chalcedon confirmed the decisions of Nicæa and Constantinople, stating that the clauses added in 381 were only intended to make the Nicene doctrine more explicit against those who had endeavoured to deny the Deity of the Spirit. The Council endorsed both Creeds and incorporated them in the “Definitio” of Chalcedon.

3. Chalcedon to the Reformation. The doctrine of the Deity of the Spirit being fully established, there still remained the question of His relation to the Father and the Son. The term “Generation” was used to describe the relation of the Son to the Father, and the term “Procession” was employed to denote that of the Spirit. But the question was whether this eternal “Procession” or “Forthcoming” was from the Son as well as from the Father. The problem was Western, not Eastern, and the attitude indicates a difference which is explained by the conditions of the two Churches. The Eastern was confronted with those who tended to regard the Spirit as inferior to the Son, and in order to protect the full Deity of the Spirit it was regarded as essential to represent Him as proceeding solely from the Father as the Fountain (πηγή) of the Godhead. The Western Church, on the other hand, starting with the essential unity of the Son and the Father, desired to protect the truth that the Spirit is as much the Spirit of the Son as He is of the Father. Otherwise there could be no equality. It was this that led the West to express its truth by saying that the Spirit “proceeded” from the Father and the Son. It was the great influence of St. Augustine that led the West to endorse this twofold “Procession,” and it became part of Western doctrine by incorporation into the Creed at the Council of Toledo in Spain, 589. At Toledo the authority of the first Four Councils was acknowledged, and the Creeds of Nicæa and Constantinople rehearsed, and it is curious that in this rehearsal the Synod imagined that the Latin Creed represented the Greek original. It is thus a matter of discussion how the words “And the Son” came into the Creed. Some have thought this was due to a marginal gloss. Dr. Burn adduces evidence to prove that the Council never added the words at all, that they are due to a blunder of a copyist of the Toledo text of the Constantinopolitan Creed.[4] The interpolation did not cause suspicion, but was repeated in several Synods as the orthodox doctrine, so that we have the remarkable fact of the Council professing to keep the text of the Creed pure, and yet laying stress on the Spirit’s “Procession” from the Son. It is probable that increasing error was rendering further dogmatic definition necessary. “The Toledan Fathers were only drawing out what seemed to them latent in the Creed.”[5] It is essential to distinguish between the doctrine itself and its insertion in the Creed. However and whenever it was inserted, the addition was unwarranted, because it was without proper ecumenical authority, and it was some time before the addition became part of the Roman version of the Constantinopolitan Creed. The Western doctrine is thought to have come to England from Augustine of Canterbury, and during the Middle Ages little or nothing occurred of importance in connection with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, three things were settled in the Western Church: the Deity of the Son at Nicæa, and the Deity of the Spirit at Constantinople, and the Procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son in the Western Creed. Up to the time of the Reformation, Christian thought had been concerned too little with the Person of the Holy Spirit, but the Reformation marks an epoch in the history of the doctrine by its emphasis on His work in the individual and in the Church. Further reference to the history up to the present day does not seem to be called for in connection with this Article; it must suffice to say that the problems which arose at the time of the Reformation may be said to extend to the present time.[6]

>> Part 4. The Doctrine Of The Holy Spirit


[4] Burn, The Nicene Creed, p. 40.

[5] Burn, ut supra, p. 41.

[6]The Holy Spirit of God, Chs. 13-16.



back to top

Related Links

The Principles of Theology

>> Buy from the online store

>> 39 Articles Issues pages

>> Griffith-Thomas biography

Article 5

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Teaching of Apostles

>> 2 - Scripture Doctrine

>> 3 - Teaching of Apostles

>> 4 - Doctrine Of The Holy Spirit

>> 5 - Place Of Doctrine In Christianity

Content of The Principles

>> Index

>> Preface by J I Packer

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Trinity

>> 2 - Christ

>> 3 - Descent into Hell

>> 4 - Resurrection

>> 5 - Holy Spirit

>> 6 - Holy Scripture

>> 7 - The Old Testament

>> 8 - The Three Creeds

>> 9 - Of Original or Birth Sin

>> 10 - Of Free Will

>> 11 - Of the Justifcation of Man




>> Ussher : A Body of Divinity

Available Online

>> Churchman

>> Cross†Way

>> Principles of Theology

>> English Prayer Book

>> Clergy Appointments

>> Remembrance Sunday

From the Archives

>> Church Association Tracts

>> Great Churchmen

>> Veritatis Viribus

>> Church Book Room

>> Old Reports

>> Other Leaflets

The Store

>> Churchman

>> Cross†Way

>> Conference CDs

>> Church Society titles

>> Other Publishers

 search church society
Bullet Click for advanced search
Home | About us | Publications | Store | Issues | Events | Press releases
Membership | Contact us | Search | Links | Churchman | Church Society Trust | Cross+way