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The following is intended to correlate to classical scholastic terminology, to whit:

Nature = essence, as in "the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all have the Trinitarian 'nature' of God."

Person = mode of particular operation, as in "the Son is the second "person" of the Trinity, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made..."

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all co-eternal and co-equal.

Question

If the the persons of the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - are co-eternal and co-equal, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son...

Wouldn't the Father and the Son need to proceed from the Spirit as well in order to maintain the triad of equal procession from all three?

It seems as though, since the Holy Spirit doesn't have the faculty of bestowing procession upon the Father and the Son, then that gives the Holy Spirit one less faculty than the rest, which in turn subordinates the Holy Spirit to receive procession only.

Doesn't this infringe on the Spirit's co-equality?

This question derives from my study of the and drawn out debate concerning the validity of the filioque.

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    "Holy Spirit doesn't have the faculty of bestowing procession" Can you prove this? This is the weak part of your argument, along with defining the "progressing" and what it has to do with being a member of the Trinity.
    – Steve
    Apr 3, 2014 at 13:32
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    @Steve I think he's saying "procession"--not "progression". The Son proceeds from the Father--that is, the Father sent the Son, as Jesus affirmed many times. The Father--or the Father and the Son--send the Holy Spirit, as Jesus affirmed as well. Whether or not the Spirit proceeds from just the Father or both the Father and the Son is debated. It may be good to mention that in the question.
    – Narnian
    Apr 3, 2014 at 13:36
  • I meant procession, not progression. Ooops. But what is it, and how does it impact on the person's godhead in the trinity? Not clear.
    – Steve
    Apr 3, 2014 at 15:09
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    Is your question analogous to "Does the Son's generation from the Father infringe on the co-equality of the Trinity?"? I don't see much difference. Apr 3, 2014 at 21:33
  • 4
    Most trinitarian understandings explicitly reject the idea that "person" = "mode"!
    – curiousdannii
    May 22, 2014 at 21:40

4 Answers 4

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+500

Brief Historical Introduction

The Nicene Creed originally did not include the words "and the Son" (called the Filioque clause) because it was based on the words of Scripture in John 15:26 (τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον). It was added later, and not by an ecumenical council (it was originally inserted by the Third Synod of Toledo). Not to mention, even previous Roman popes resisted its addition to the Creed (e.g. Leo III). It adds nothing to the Creed that isn't already said elsewhere in it. Writing in the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus wrote concerning the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Ghost is truly Spirit, coming forth from the Father indeed, but not after the manner of the Son, for it is not by Generation but by Procession (since I must coin a word for the sake of clearness); for neither did the Father cease to be Unbegotten because of His begetting something, nor the Son to be begotten because He is of the Unbegotten (how could that be?), nor is the Spirit changed into Father or Son because He proceeds, or because He is God— though the ungodly do not believe it (Oration 39:12).

The Greek Church Fathers were careful not to use the verb ἐκπορεύομαι to describe the relation of the Holy Spirit from the Son, this term was exclusively for how the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (and is directly from the mouth of Jesus as recorded in John's Gospel).1

In contrast, Western Christians had begun using the Latin verb procedere to translate ἐκπορεύομαι and to describe the Holy Spirit's relationship to both the Father and the Son. History shows that some Christians were indifferent to this and others took issue with it. Controversies ensued that I won't go into as you can read the history in more detail elsewhere. The Roman Catholic Church has even officially admitted that the Holy Spirit does not proceed (ἐκπορεύομαι) from the Son, but rather from the Father through the Son, however it maintains the current verbiage of the creed with caveats to explain this distinction (with the exception of Eastern Catholic churches, which it encourages to omit the Filioque).

Does the Holy Spirit's procession from the Father and Son infringe on the co-equality of the Trinity?

Yes. John 15:26 says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται / who from the Father proceeds). That the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father is straight from Jesus' mouth as recorded in Scripture. Jesus didn't say, "and from me." The Filioque makes the Holy Spirit a subordinate member of the Trinity. The procession of the Holy Spirit is now no longer unique to only one Person of the Trinity nor shared by all Persons, thus compromising the co-equality of the Persons of the Trinity.


1 This is evidenced by the Alexandrian fathers' use of προϊέναι and προχεῖσθαι rather than ἐκπορεύεσθαι, as an example.

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    I'm Eastern Orthodox and a former Protestant, FYI. I know the feeling.
    – Dan
    Apr 4, 2014 at 2:09
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    Well if the PCPCU's document The Father as the Source of the whole Trinity is the official teaching, I don't see a problem. Everything was lost in translation from Greek into Latin and back again, fuelled by poor communications in the Dark Ages. Oops. May 23, 2014 at 6:02
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    @AndrewLeach in the West yes. But the East is often forgotten in history books.
    – Dan
    May 23, 2014 at 12:29
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    @bruisedreed Preferably we'd say no more than Scripture says in John 15:25, hence why we omit the Filioque (or rather, why we refuse to add it).
    – Dan
    May 27, 2014 at 1:21
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    @Dan Thank you for your witness to the Orthodox Faith :-)
    – user5286
    May 29, 2014 at 22:51
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There are four relations in the Trinity:

  1. paternity (the relation of the Father to the Son)

  2. filiation (the relation of the Son to the Father)

  3. active spiration of the Holy Spirit (the relation of the Father and the Son in respect to the Holy Spirit)

  4. passive spiration of the Holy Spirit (the relation of the Holy Spirit in respect to the Father and the Son)

The Holy Spirit lacks nothing of the Father and the Son. Just as there is a relation of the Father and Son to the Holy Spirit, called active spiration, so there is also a relation of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son, called passive spiration.

The green lines are the relations:

Holy Trinity relations (image source)

Notice that for each Person, there are always two "from" relations and two "toward" relations. Thus, no Person has fewer relations than the others have, and it's not like one type of relation is somehow greater than another. Thus, all Persons are co-equal.

Also, the divine relations are God's essence.

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    @Geremia.. at least I understood now that Holy Spirit is not subordinate in the trinity. It seems clear to me.
    – alvoutila
    May 23, 2014 at 20:36
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    The old saying "A picture tells a thousand words" is a massive understatement in this particular instance. The silence of dissenting comment is conspicuous. Jul 17, 2014 at 17:39
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    On the contrary...The Orthodox model is best presented here: myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/photios_mystagogy.html
    – user5286
    Jul 25, 2014 at 5:33
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    @CharlesAlsobrook: Thanks. Who wrote that?
    – Geremia
    Jul 25, 2014 at 15:10
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    @Geremia Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit was written by St. Photius the Great
    – user5286
    Jul 26, 2014 at 4:03
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Short answer: No

The scriptures describe the Holy Spirit as both the "Spirit of [the] Father" (Matthew 10:20) and the "Spirit of Christ" (Romans 8:9, 1 Peter 1:11) / "Spirit of Jesus" (Acts 16:7) / "Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:9). From this, we deduce that the relations of both the Father and the Son to the Holy Spirit are accurately described in Geremia's answer by the term "spiration". The objections advanced against the use of the term "procession" could equally be applied to its reverse relationship of "spiration" - that they should not be so applied should be inferred from the subtext of your question that the co-equality of the Trinity is indeed correct doctrine (which I will omit arguing the case for as it doesn't seem to be at issue).

Furthermore, as the answers to this previous question indicate, there are biblical proof texts* for the concept of procession from the Son, whereas the contrary argument relies merely on sophistic reasoning and not the authority of scripture. I would add, in addition to the scriptures quoted by James Black's answer to that question, that consideration of the differing roles played by the persons of the Trinity in the act of Creation would bring us to the same position as:

For by him [that is the Son] all things were created... - Colossians 1:16 ESV

and yet the Holy Spirit was intimately involved in the act of Creation:

...And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:2 ESV

Elsewhere, the nature of the procession of the Holy Spirit is described as from the Father and through the Son. It seems any quibble with the word stems from differences in understanding its meaning and usage.

Any problem that the filoque clause presents to the co-equality of the Trinity is miniscule in comparison to that posed by those who oppose it and maintain instead the doctrine of the "Monarchy of the Father" which is a form of Subordinationism; for although the doctrine the filioque represents (procession of the Holy Spirit from the father and the son) was taught by many of the Church Fathers (the wikipedia article lists Tertullian, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria amongst others), the most likely reason for it's first official use in creedal form was to bolster a Trinitarian Christology in order to counter the continued threat (particularly in the West) of Arianism (the declared heretical extreme of Subordinationism) to the Nicene faith (source).


*From the wikipedia article on the filiquoe:

In John 16:13-15 Jesus says of the Holy Spirit "he will take what is mine and declare it to you", and it is argued that in the relations between the Persons of the Trinity one Person cannot "take" or "receive" (λήμψεται) anything from either of the others except by way of procession.14Texts such as John 20:22 ("He breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit"), were seen by Fathers of the Church, especially Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria and Epiphanius of Cyprus as grounds for saying that the Spirit "proceeds substantially from both" the Father and the Son.15Other texts that have been used include Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:9, Philippians 1:19, where the Holy Spirit is called "the Spirit of the Son", "the Spirit of Christ", "the Spirit of Jesus Christ", and texts in the Gospel of John on the sending of the Holy Spirit by Jesus (14:16, 15:26, 16:7).14(source)

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  • Perhaps a summary explanation is that it does not follow that a 'hierarchy of procession' [correct wording escapes me] implies inequality because if the Holy Spirit (procession 'spiration') is inferior, the Son, whose procession is called 'filiation,' would also be inferior. Human example given because it images the God: In man, father and son have equal nature but father generated son. The Father is the only person of the Trinity that is Principle without principle.
    – user13992
    Jul 17, 2014 at 18:33
  • @FMShyanguya I like you're thinking here and may incorporate it at some point after I chew it over a little more. I must confess I don't fully understand 'Principle without principle' - I think I need to ask a question about it, but that will wait for another time. Jul 17, 2014 at 19:30
  • CCC 248
    – user13992
    Jul 17, 2014 at 20:21
  • @bruisedreed You are confusing the conciliar Orthodox teaching of the Monarchy of the Father with the heterdox teaching of Arianism/subordinationism...(see below) christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/28494/…
    – user5286
    Jul 24, 2014 at 14:01
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The short answer would be yes.

When speaking of the persons of the trinity we can either speak of an attribute in relation to one person (hypostatic properties, which is how we differentiate the persons), or to all of the persons, which would be the attributes, actions or energies of God.

In the case of the father his hypostatic property is that he is the sole arche or sole cause of the other persons of the Trinity, also this is what Athanasius and the Cappadocians teach so quoting them while they are talking about the economic procession and trying to attribute that to hypostatic procession is useless.

Therefore the son can't also have this attribute of causation or else the spirit would also have this attribute and we would have infinite divine persons or we would have to say the father and the son both have an ability that the spirit doesn't share in so the ability wouldn't come from the shared divine essence or the spirit would have it, causing what I stated above. The only other solution here would be that causation is a hypostatic property of both the father and son, therefore making them the same person.

So if we hold to the doctrine of the double hypostatic procession of the spirit then we find that

1 - the son is the father

2 - we have infinite divine persons

This is why people like St. Gregory Palamas and even some early popes like Leo III rejected the filioque.

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