Question 26:

I have a question regarding the interpretation of the Holy Spirit. This was apparently understood differently by the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church: The Roman Catholic Church apparently says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the father and the son. The Orthodox Church apparently says that the Holy Spirit comes only from the father. This belief apparently played a major role in the conflicts regarding the true doctrine in AD 1054. The Orthodox Church said that the Gospel supported its point of view: When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from Father, he will testify on my behalf. (John 15:26). How do you explain this statement from the Gospel?


Answer: Originally, spirit in the biblical tradition meant wind, air, storm, and then breath as a sign of life. Thus, God’s spirit is the storm and the breath of life, it is that which creates, supports and sustains everything. It is above all that which intervenes in history and creates anew. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit worked above all through the prophets. In the Creed, we acknowledge: He has spoken through the prophets. The Old Testament hopes from the Holy Spirit at the end of time that it will bring forth the big renewal through the general outpouring of the spirit (see Joel 3:1-2).

The New Testament prophesies this renewal at the end of time in the coming of Jesus Christ. His appearance and his impact were accompanied from the beginning by the power of the Holy Spirit: in his baptism by John (see Mark 1:10), in his annunciation (see Luke 4:18), in his battle against the demons (see Matthew 4:1; 12:28), in his sacrifice on the cross (see Hebrews 9:14) and in his resurrection (see Romans 1:4; 8:11). The name Christ (which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah) was originally a title. Jesus is the Messiah that is to say: the one anointed by the Spirit. Jesus Christ is not, however, a carrier of the Spirit like the prophets. He possesses the Spirit of God in immeasurable abundance. As the resurrected one, he is therefore the source of the divine Spirit, he bestows the Spirit as God’s gift to the apostles, he sends it to his Church at Pentecost (see Acts of the Apostles 2:32-33).

It is the mission of the Holy Spirit to be a reminder of all that Jesus Christ said and did. In this way, we can be led into the full truth (see John 14:26; 16:13-14). In it, Jesus Christ remains present in the Church and in the world (see 2 Corinthians 3:17). This is why the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Jesus Christ (see Romans 8, 9; Philippians 1:19), and as the Spirit of the Son (see Galatians 4:6). It is also called the Spirit of faith (see 2 Corinthians 4:13). Through the Spirit we can acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 12:3) and can pray, Abba, Father (see Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). The Holy Spirit is the gift of new life. Father and Son send it to us. In giving us his Spirit, God gives Himself. Through the gift of the Spirit, we receive companionship with God, we are part of his life, we become children of God (see Romans 8:14; Galatians 4:6). That is only possible because the Spirit is not a created gift but a divine gift, in which God shares Himself with us.

God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:5).

However, the Spirit of God is not only a gift but is also a giver. It is not only a power with which one can be an instrument of change but is an instrument of change itself. It is not something but someone: It is a person. He dispenses his gifts how he pleases (see 1 Corinthians 12:11); he teaches and reminds (see John 14:26); he speaks and prays (see Romans 8:26-27); one can cause him grief (see Ephesians 4:30).

Also this question led to conflicts, especially in the 4th century. Some believed the Holy Spirit was only a servant subordinate to the son, a kind of angel. Others supported the three great Church Fathers: Basil the Great (c. AD 330-79), Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 329-89), Gregory of Nyssa (c. AD 330-c. 395). Their argument: if the Holy Spirit is not a divine being like the Father and the Son, then he cannot give us companionship with God and participation in Gods life. Prepared in this way, the Church was able to acknowledge at the Second General Council, the Council of Constantinople (381), that the Holy Spirit is Lord, that is, of divine nature, that he is not only the gift but the giver of life and that together with the father and son he is owed worship and glorification. This belief is expressed in the Nicene Creed:

“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.”

The wording and the Son, the famous filioque (Latin for and the Son), was not yet included in the original Creed from Constantinople. It appeared as doctrine wording in Spain in the 5th – 7th century, but was included in the Roman Catholic profession of faith only in the 11th century. This additional wording represents a difference to the Orthodox Church to this day. The Orthodox use the phrase from the Father through the Son. They want to emphasise more clearly in this way that all has its origin and source only in God the Father. The Roman Catholic Church and the other Western Churches want to emphasise more strongly that the Son is the same being as the Father and is equal to him. East and West are united in this fundamental concern. However, they use different theological terms and models of thought. Thus, according to the Roman Catholic faith, there is a conviction regarding a legitimate unity in diversity, but no disagreement to split the Churches.

This connecting profession between East and West wants to state that the Holy Spirit is not just any gift of God but is God’s gift in person since life and its mystery find their fulfilment firstly in the participation of Gods life and mystery. However, the Holy Spirit is not only gift of God but is also the divine Giver of this gift, the Giver of life. Just as the Father is the origin and source of the Son, and everything that he is he gives to the Son, so in this way Father and Son, that is, the Father through the Son, passes on his own fullness of divine life and being, and together they bring forth the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit is pure receiving from the Father and Son, so the Spirit is to us the effervescent source, the Giver of life. It is the evocative and creative energy of new life and the metamorphosis of humanity and the world at the end of time.

The well-known Latin hymn Veni Creator Spiritus from the 9th century expresses in a beautiful way what this life given by the Holy Spirit means


“CREATOR SPIRIT, by whose aid

The world’s foundations first were laid,

Come, visit every pious mind;

Come, pour thy joys on human kind;

From sin and sorrow set us free,

And make thy temples worthy thee.

O source of uncreated light,

The Fathers promised Paraclete,

Thrice holy fount, thrice holy fire,

Our hearts with heavenly love inspire;

Come, and thy sacred unction bring

To sanctify us while we sing.

Plenteous of grace, descend from high,

Rich in thy sevenfold energy;

Thou strength of his almighty hand,

Whose power does heaven and earth command,

Proceeding Spirit, our defence,

Who dost the gift of tongues dispense,

And crownst thy gift with eloquence.

Refine and purge our earthy parts,

But O, inflame and fire our hearts,

Our frailties help, our vice control;

Submit the senses to the soul,

And, when rebellious they are grown,

Then lay thy hand, and hold them down.

Chase from our minds the infernal foe,

And peace, the fruit of love, bestow;

And, lest our feet should step astray,

Protect and guide us in the way;

Make us eternal truths receive

And practise all that we believe

Give us Thyself, that we may see

The Father and the Son by thee.

Immortal honour, endless fame,

Attend the Almighty Fathers name:

The Saviour Son be glorified,

Who for lost mans redemption died;

And equal adoration be,

Eternal Paraclete, to thee.”


No council, no catechism and no theology can express more beautifully than in these lines what we mean when we say, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”

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