Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 35

The Nicene Creed~ Part 21

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase who proceeds from the Father and the Son 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.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.


It would be placing far too great a burden on the Creed confessed at Constantinople in 381CE to say that the holy fathers gathered to establish the dogma of the procession of the Ruach HaKodesh in all its precision and fullness. In their writings, the Cappadocians had noted that the Ruach was distinguished from the Father and the Son by his procession. Thus, the Creed uses the language of John 15:26, which speaks most directly of the procession of the Ruach from the Father: When the Counselor comes, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of Truth, who keeps going out from the Father – He will testify on My behalf. (CJB) The phrase, who keeps going out from the Father distinguishes the Ruach from the Father and the Son, even as the following phrase of the Creed demonstrates that the Ruach is to be worshiped and glorified along with the Father and the Son. Thus, the present phrase provides a distinguishing scriptural characteristic while also tying the Ruach’s procession to the Father.

To a certain extent, both Eastern and Western traditions have emphasized what is known as the Father’s monarchy in speaking of the Ruach’s origin. The Father’s monarchy implies that the Father is the source, principle, cause of the Ruach HaKodesh and the Son. One might even note that both the Son and the Ruach are spoken of as proceeding from the Father in our English Bibles and Latin ones. However, this was part of the problem between East and West that arose beginning around the fifth century, when working in both Latin and Greek was not as expected. In Greek, the origin of the Ruach HaKodesh from the Father is based on the Greek word ekporeuetai, which alone is used of the Ruach HaKodesh in John 15:26. The Greeks acknowledge the Latin Church that the Son too is spoken of as proceeding from the Father. But this does not occur with the Greek word ekporeuomai but the Greek word proiēmi – an important distinction that Latin does not make. The Father was unbegotten, the Son was begotten, which was a procession from the Father, but not the same as how the Ruach proceeds.

The question remained to be asked: What is the relationship of the Ruach to the Son in this procession, since Scripture, especially the Gospel of John, speaks of the Ruach of the Son, the Son giving the Ruach, breathing out the Ruach, etc.? This the Creed did not answer. As noted, at least up through the fifth century but even beyond, all the way to the time before the great schism of 1054, the dominant patristic understanding is that the monarchy of the Father is what binds and grounds the Trinity in its unity. And so, more often than not, the question of the Ruach’s procession is first of all addressed in the sense of His procession from the Father. But in no way does this exhaust all that the fathers had to say about the procession. The doctrine of the Ruach HaKodesh and His procession is not limited to His relation to the Father. Still, it is extended to His relation to the Son in a way that is not always so easily distinguished or held distinct from that of the Father.

One can distinguish different emphases or tendencies between East and West on the Ruach’s procession even as there are also areas of overlap. The later addition in the West of the Ruach’s procession from the Son began locally in Spain at the Council of Toledo in 589CE. However, it is preceded as early as the third century by writers such as Tertullian and then later with Marius Victorinus, Ambrose, and Augustine. The addition eventually received papal authority and became the standard creedal confession in the Western Roman Catholic and later Protestant traditions. The East has always considered it as a unilateral addition to the Creed without ecumenical consensus. But it is worth asking why the West perceived the phrase and the Son as a necessary addition in the first place? From the Western perspective, if the Ruach proceeded from the Father alone, this could appear that the Son did not have everything the Father had. Thus, the Son would appear as a subordinate being – especially to the new converts coming from barbarian tribes in the hinterlands of the West who had been heavily influenced by Arian Christology, which tended to subordinate the person of the Son. Thus, the original purpose of the addition was to protect the Son against such subordination by establishing the procession equally from Father and Son. And so, it is not surprising that the phrase filioque began to appear in the Creed spoken in the liturgy of the church. How the church worships is an expression of its faith. However, a change in something as basic as the ecumenical Creed shared by all the faithful was inadvisable – even if the doctrine itself, charitably and adequately understood, was true. It did not help that the West had no vocabulary for distinguishing the different types of the procession as the East had, even though theologians such as Augustine did speak of the Ruach proceeding principally from the Father. Thus, misunderstandings were inevitable. But neither East nor West was interested in denigrating the Godhead of Father, Son, or Ruach HaKodesh.

Rather than speaking of the Ruach as proceeding from the Father and the Son, the East spoke in terms of the Ruach proceeding from the Father through the Son, in effect guarding against any understanding that the Ruach HaKodesh derived his existence from the Son which would thus cause Him to appear as a lesser being. Perhaps it is an oversimplification to describe the emphasis in the East as that of safeguarding the Ruach’s full divinity. At the same time, the West emphasized a concern to guard the Son’s full divinity. No doubt other issues such as authority, both of popes and councils, are intertwined in these discussions and have complicated ecumenical discussions far beyond the issue of the Ruach’s procession. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp 217-220).​

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.