Monday, December 14, 2009

The Proceeding and Sending of the Spirit, are They The Same?


We can summarize the chapters 14-16 of John’s gospel by saying that it is the Father who sends the Spirit, but the Spirit’s coming is conditioned by, and is in the most intimate connection with the person of the Jesus, and the completion of his work in his death and resurrection.

We can cite John 14: 16, I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (NRSV), or 14: 26 the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name. Or also 15: 26, "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf” (NRSV). Here, it is Jesus Himself who sends the Spirit- which is what the west wanted to underline- but, it is from the Father that He is Sent; it is from the Father that the ultimate source proceeds, and that is what the east wanted to underline.

The New Testament witness, expressed particularly by John but confirmed by the other evangelists, is that the Spirit is sent by & from the Father but through the Son. The manner in which the Father and the Son are involved in the sending is described in a way that enables both sides to make a credible appeal to the texts. (Nicene Christianity, Thomas Smail, 2001)


The battle between East & West regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit has several layers at which the subject must addressed. One is, who gets to create and change the contents of the creeds of the catholic faith? That layer of concern, I will deal with in another post. In this one I will address the canonicity of each side’s claim regarding the procession of the Spirit. As Smail points out, even a cursory overview of the respective passages in scripture reveal that both sides have valid parts to their arguments. However, in order to get to the root of the debate I want to assert that the solution can be found in making a the distinction between the proceeding and sending of the Holy Spirit. What is meant by proceed is that point from which the Spirit finds its origin and its first sending, and what is meant by sending is the continuation of the Spirit to its originally intended destination.

With this distinction made, it seems that the claim of the east while true may be incomplete. Not being exhaustive does not make one's claims wrong, & no one would argue that the original version of the creed meant to be totally exhaustive. Nevertheless, it can also be said that there is incompleteness in the Original creed's dealings with the final destination of the Spirit. the real question is whether or not it is necessary to be more complete in with this creed.

It is here that the west took some risks. One cannot deny that the west's desires were well founded in that they wanted to assert that the procession of the Spirit stops at Jesus unless Jesus sends the Spirit to the church. This assertion of the west is not only correct, but in their opinion a necessary distinction. However it is here that the west errs. Proceeding & sending are not identical. The Spirit initially proceeds from the Father to the Son, and only secondly does the Son send that same Spirit to His Body the church. Therefore to say that there is a double procession is not completely accurate. Yet it is totally true that the sending by the Son completes the destination of the original procession. In short, the procession is through the son. The west seems to have used a term that caused confusion when it added, and the Son (filioque) to the creed, even though the point they tried to make was valid.

Because of the first layer of concerns, which is authority in the church, I personally do not advocate changing the creed from its original form of 381 (without the filioque). However, I am convinced that if instead of the filoque, the west would have would have inserted, “Who proceeds from the Father to the Son,” there would have been no contention raised by the east, & both sides would have gotten their point across. As it stands however, the term proceeding from the Father and the Son is not completely satisfying, and it can even lead to several dangerous misunderstandings regarding the Trinity's nature as primarily a hierarchy. At the same time, I want to affirm that I agree with the west that addressing the sending of the Spirit by our Lord Jesus is relative and important, because without it the work of Christ is belittled, and truncates thus Trinitarian understanding.

The fact is that the east and the west need each other in order to have the fullness of that faith which was delivered to the saints, and this doctrine is just one perfect example of that truth!

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