Lesson 8: Spiration of the Holy Spirit

We have been considering the origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit from the Father. We reflected on the profound truth that the Father generates the Son by an act of intellect. When we know something there is a likeness of it in our mind. So also the Father, knowing himself perfectly, produces a perfect image of himself. That perfect image is the Son of God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

We know by faith -- the Church tells us, the Bible tells us and we profess in our Creed -- that there is a third Person in the Trinity whom we call the Holy Spirit. Today most of us are aware of the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the life of the Church. Many people now pray regularly to the Holy Spirit. Forty years ago that was not so common. At that time he was often referred to as "the forgotten Person" in the Trinity.

Let's admit it: it is difficult for us to get a mental grasp on the Holy Spirit. We can imagine the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ. How do we imagine the Holy Spirit? About the best we can do is to picture to ourselves a dove descending on Jesus as St. John baptizes him in the Jordan River. Or we might imagine the tongues of fire descending on the Apostles in the upper room on Pentecost. But it is difficult for us to attach the meanings of personality and divinity to a dove or a tongue of fire. The latter, however, are visible signs or symbols of the invisible third Person of the Blessed Trinity

We have already seen that there are two processions or internal activities in God -- knowing and willing. The NT and the Teaching Authority of the Church say that the Son proceeds from the Father by an act of intellect. The Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Father (and the Son) but the NT does not specify precisely how or in what way he proceeds. The common teaching of the great theologians like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the will or from the mutual love of the Father and the Son. Accordingly, there is a special relationship between the Holy Spirit and acts of the will, especially the act of love which proceeds from the will and not from the intellect.

The Roman Catechism teaches that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the divine will inflamed, as it were, with love" (I,9.7). The biblical name of the third Person, "Holy Spirit" (pneuma = wind, breath, principle of life), designates a principle of activity. An act of will is an inclination to some known good.

The word "holy" in the personal name of the third Person indicates a relationship to the will, since holiness resides in the will. Also, works of love are attributed to the Holy Spirit. Thus, St. Paul says, "The charity of God is poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us" (Rom. 5:5). The attribution of the works of love to the Holy Spirit is based on his origin from the will of the Father and the Son. We infer therefore that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son by an act of love. Thus, the Fathers of the Church, relying on Scripture, call the Holy Spirit: love, charity, gift, living fountain, bond of love, kiss of love. A gift, for example, is directly related to love since a gift is a visible sign of love. Thus, St. Peter uses the word "gift" in his sermon on the first Pentecost: "You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). The other titles given to the Holy Spirit also indicate some relationship to an act of the will -- to love in one way or another.

Since the Holy Spirit proceeds by an act of will of the Father and the Son, it should be clear that he does not proceed as a perfect image through generation. So the Holy Spirit is not a Son of God; only the second Person of the Trinity can be called "Son," as we have already explained. For St. John calls him "the only-begotten Son" of the Father. Appropriately, then, the fifth century Athanasian Creed says: "The Holy Spirit is not made nor created nor generated, but proceeds from the Father and the Son."

Theologians have given a name to that type of proceeding, calling it "spiration," from the noun "spirit" which, of course, means "breath." We have a good indication of this in St. John's Gospel in Ch. 20:20-23. After his resurrection when Jesus appeared to his Apostles, St. John says "he breathed on them" (v. 22) and then gave them the power to forgive and to retain sins.

The term "spiration" designates the loving activity between the Father and the Son which results in the term of their love, namely, the Holy Spirit. So they say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son through spiration. This doctrine was taught clearly by the Second Council of Lyons in 1274.

There are three distinct Persons but only one God. So there is only one divine nature or essence which is common to all three. They are co-equal in power, majesty, wisdom and everything else. The distinction between them is to be found in their origin. The Father has no origin. The Son proceeds from the Father by intellectual generation. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principle because of their intense mutual love. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father so intensely that their mutual love terminates in the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. Accordingly, we are justified in referring to him as the love of God, the power of God, the Spirit of truth, a river of living water and the kiss of the Father and the Son.

It is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son as from a single principle through a single spiration. You will find this in Lateran IV (D 428), Lyons II (D 460, 463), and Florence (D 691, 703, 704). That the Holy Spirit is not generated and so not a son is affirmed by the Athanasian Creed (D 39), Toledo XI (D 277), and Lateran IV (D 428).

In the NT the Holy Spirit is said to be the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son. Therefore he proceeds from both the Father and the Son. He is called the Spirit of the Father in Matt. 3:16; 10:20; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor 2:12. He is called the Spirit of the Son (or of the Lord or of Jesus) in Acts 5:9; 16:7; 2 Cor. 3:17f; Gal. 4:6; Phil 1:19; Rom 8:9-11. These texts speak about a divine Person, not a mere created gift.

The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son; this idea is expressed in the Creed by the famous word "filioque." Here is an argument for the notion that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son as from one principle:

Everything the Father has he communicates to the Son, except being Father (paternity). But it belongs to the Father that the Holy Spirit proceeds from him. Ergo, he also communicates that to the Son. Ergo, the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Son.

In Scripture the unity of the spirating principle is indicated by the way in which the Holy Spirit is presented as proceeding from the Father and the Son. For, that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son is presented as the same thing; likewise, that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father in the name of the Son and that the Son sends the Holy Spirit. This is shown especially in John 16:15 where, when the reason is given why the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, it is said that everything which the Father has belongs also to the Son, including the fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.

Rightly, therefore, the Church, along with the Fathers and theologians, understands that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both Persons inasmuch as they are one in being a spirating principle (see D 691, 704).

Reading Assignment

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, Q. 27, aa. 3-4; QQ. 36, 37, 38.

Writing Assignment

In an essay of two to three pages explain the Catholic doctrine on the origin of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son.

Suggestion

St. Augustine, De Trinitate, Book VIII.

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