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 The Principles of Theology - Article 5

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


<< Part 3. The History Of The Doctrine

Part 4. The Doctrine Of The Holy Spirit

The teaching of the Nicene Creed in regard to the Spirit is as follows: “I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord and Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified.” This statement involves the three doctrines in the Article: Personality, Deity, and Procession.

1. The Personality of the Spirit. The use of the term “Person” in relation to the Godhead is, of course, difficult, because it expresses something essentially different from our modern view of personality. Instead of meaning the fact of separate individuality, Personality in God is intended to convey an idea of an inner distinction which exists in the unity of the Divine Nature. The facts of Scripture demand from us an acknowledgment of the unity of the Godhead and at the same time those interior distinctions between Father, Son, and Spirit which we can only express by our word “Person.” While, therefore, it is true that the term is used today in connection with human life in a way that is quite different from its use in connection with the Godhead, it is also true that no other term has yet been found adequate to express the essential distinctions in the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is a Person because He works by personal activities on persons, and the facts of Scripture require this belief. Further, the consciousness of the Church has always borne witness in the same direction. Personal working needs continuity of action, and a clear conception of the Personality of the Holy Spirit is essential to His vital relation to the individual Christian and to the Church.

2. The Deity of the Spirit. The Deity is a necessary consequence of His Personality, for that which is attributed to the latter involves the former. Here, again, belief is based on the facts and implications of Scripture, for the allusions to the Holy Spirit cannot be predicated of anyone but God Himself. As we have seen, there is not the same clearness and fullness of revelation in the New Testament in reference to the Deity of the Spirit, yet it clearly arises out of the Scripture revelation and cannot possibly be expressed in any other way without doing violence to the facts of the case. The Holy Spirit is at once the personal life of God and the “Executive of the Godhead” in relation to man, and however difficult may be the conception of the Holy Spirit within the Godhead it can never be disregarded without spiritual loss.

3. We have already seen something of the history of the doctrine of the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and from the Son, and it is important to obtain a true idea of the meaning of the Western Church in expressing and insisting on this doctrine. On the one side the Spirit is associated with the Father as sent, given, and proceeding (Matt. 10:20; John 14:16, 26; 15:26). On the other hand, He is associated with the Son, being called the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9); described as sent by the Son from the Father (John 15:26); bestowed by the Son on the Apostles (John 20:22; Acts 2:33); and called the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7, R.V.). (See also Gal. 4:6; Phil. 1:19; 1 Pet. 1:11.) So that, in the statement of the Creed, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, there was no intention of denying the one principium in the Father, but only a general assertion that the essence which the Father eternally communicates to the Spirit is also the essence of the Son, and that the Son shares, and is involved in the act and process of communication. The Eastern Church regards the Procession from the Son as temporal only through the Mission, and suspects our Western view of a tendency towards Sabellianism. It would seem as though no reunion were possible without some change of doctrine; at any rate the Eastern Church does not regard the difference as merely verbal. On the other hand, if the West dropped the Filioque, it might be thought to deny or question the Consubstantiality of the Son with the Father.[7]

One question of supreme importance has been raised during recent years: Is the doctrine of the Procession from the Son really justified, and does it represent a vital difference? Several authorities are of opinion that it is this addition which has given to the West its admitted spiritual superiority over the East.[8] One writer goes so far as to say that the denial of the Procession from the Son has done much to fossilise the Greek Church. It is undoubtedly true that no Western theologian ever wished to do anything more than to associate in the closest possible way the Holy Spirit with the Son of God, and in so doing it would seem as though this was keeping quite close to the characteristic New Testament conception of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Jesus. And so we may say that “without the Holy Spirit we have practically no Christ,” and without Christ we have practically no Holy Spirit.

>> Part 5. The Place Of The Doctrine Of The Holy Spirit In Christianity


[7] An authority on the Eastern Church, Mr. W. J. Birkbeck, writing to the Guardian, 28th January 1910, described what he called the chief of the many theological objections which the Easterns have to the insertion of the Filioque:
“It is not so much that it puts something fresh into the Creed which has no Ecumenical sanction, but that its insertion cuts out something which was there before – namely, the μοναρχία in the Godhead. That the Fathers of Constantinople 1 intended to emphasise this doctrine seems quite plain from their alterations of the παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς, John 15:26 into the ἐκ του πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον of the Creed. This is the reason that in ordinary parlance Russian theologians speak of the Western form nine times out of ten not as ‘the interpolated symbol,’ but as ‘the mutilated symbol’ (iskaɀhenny sy mvol; Miklosich in his Slavonic Roots gives εὐνουχιάζειν as the first meaning of this verb). By adding the word Filioque the Latins not only added to the Creed, but cut out from it what the Greeks look upon as a vital truth. Our theologians ought at least to realise this before they press for the restoration of the Creed to its original form; they will then be able to do so with much better effect.”

[8]The Holy Spirit of God, pp. 145, 146.




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The Principles of Theology

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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




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