Pentecost marks the promised
arrival outpouring of the Holy Spirit who in fact has been active throughout the disciples’ time with Jesus.
Catholics and Protestants speak alternately of the Holy Spirit as the ‘bond of fellowship between the Father and of the Son’ and the Spirit being the ‘Spirit of Christ.’
That’s all the little Latin word, filioque, means ‘…and of the Son.’
A millennia ago the Son’s universal Church split in two (Western, i.e. Catholic and Eastern, i.e. Orthodox) over the rightness of that little Latin word. To this day the Orthodox insist that the Holy Spirit ‘proceeds’ from the Father just as the Son whereas Catholics and the Protestants they spawned argue the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son.
Were it not for this theological impasse the Catholic Church might today have married priests with thick beards and off the charts testosterone.
Celibacy seems a stiff (no pun intended) price to pay so it’s worth wondering: which perspective is the better one?
I use to think the Eastern- which is the original- view was soundest. After all, to confess that the Spirit comes from the Father and the Son has the effect of making the Spirit seem less God than the Son and the Father.
But lately I’ve been wondering if I and my Eastern brothers and sisters are correct, or rather I wonder if there’s not another worry on the other side, a danger to thinking the Spirit is sent by God the Father alone.
While the danger with the filioque clause is that it can, seemingly, demote the Holy Spirit to function rather than divine person of the Trinity, the danger of believing the Spirit is sent by God the Father and not also the Son is that it can demote the Spirit from the divine person of the Trinity to the idol of our own interior wants and desires.
I don’t know which version of the Nicene Creed you recite on Sunday, but what the filioque clause aims to prevent is a trespass most of us commit all the time.
We appeal to the Holy Spirit as the source of our individual experience, which becomes but a way of granting authority to our own subjectivity.
Any ‘spirit’ we feel move us can then be chalked up to a movement of the Holy Spirit. Of course as the Old Testament ably and often demonstrates there are many ‘spirits’ in this world which can move us- frequently more powerfully than God- that have nothing to do with God the Holy Spirit (see: calf, golden).
When you do away with the filioque clause, when you untether the Holy Spirit from the Son I think you release the Spirit from the content and character by which our sinful selves can reliably discern a genuine work of the Spirit.
By ‘content and character’ I mean the words and witness of the Word, Jesus Christ.
That little Latin word, I think, gives us 4 Gospels worth of tools with which we can test the spirits to see if any truly of the Holy Spirit.
If the Spirit does NOT proceed from the Son too, then the Spirit’s work today no longer must conform to the Son’s work in the past. God the Son preached ‘Blessed are the poor and woe to you who are rich…’ but now the spirit can move us with the belief that God wants all of us to be wealthy and prosperous.
In other words, we’re free to baptize our own subjectivity with divinity regardless of whether or not the work we’re attributing to God bears any resemblance to the God we meet most decisively in Jesus Christ (see: Osteen, Joel).
That little Latin word, I believe, keeps us- who are always in danger of doing so- from confusing the Spirit of the Father and the Son with the spirit of this world or ‘the human spirit’ whatever that may really mean.
As Karl Barth wrote when the Holy Spirit becomes “the spirit that obviously lives in us all faith is enlisted in an alien service, that of Mammon and even nationalism.”
By professing that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son, we profess that it’s the Spirit’s charge to make Jesus Christ known in the world today.
And in so professing we remind ourselves that we can know if it’s truly the Son that the Sprit is revealing by checking it against the Son, Jesus Christ, as he’s revealed to us in scripture.