The Nicene Creed states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father:

and [we believe] in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver, who proceeds from the Father.

καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ Κύριον καὶ Ζωοποιόν, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον,

The word ἐκπορευόμενον is a participle derived from the Greek verb ἐκπορεύομαι. I'm assuming that the authors of the Nicene Creed derived that statement of faith from John 15:26 which states,

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: (KJV)

ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ παράκλητος ὃν ἐγὼ πέμψω ὑμῖν παρὰ τοῦ πατρός τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται ἐκεῖνος μαρτυρήσει περὶ ἐμοῦ

The point is that the Holy Spirit is said to "proceed" from the Father.

Now, concerning the Son, in John 8:42, it is written,

Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. (KJV)

εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰ ὁ θεὸς πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἦν ἠγαπᾶτε ἂν ἐμέ ἐγὼ γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθον καὶ ἥκω οὐδὲ γὰρ ἀπ᾽ ἐμαυτοῦ ἐλήλυθα ἀλλ᾽ ἐκεῖνός με ἀπέστειλεν

There, the author uses a conjugation of the Greek verb ἐξέρχομαι.

  1. What is the difference between the manner in which the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the manner in which the Son proceeds from the Father, between ἐκπορεύομαι and ἐξέρχομαι, respectively?

  2. Why is it commonly confessed (e.g., in the Nicene Creed) that the Holy Spirit, but not the Son, "proceeds" from the Father?

(There's also at least one verse, totally unrelated context, mind you, that features both verbs: Matt. 15:18.)

  • Verb tense, I believe, without knowing Greek. The Spirit is present perfect or some such thing. . Ever proceeding, at least currently, and the Son proceeded, past completed, one time act. Could be wrong, just the sense and the language here.
    – user16825
    Dec 9, 2014 at 4:47
  • The answer may be in any of these: C.SE search filioque.
    – user13992
    Dec 9, 2014 at 8:16
  • ἐκπορεύεται is a present participle ("coming from"), and ἐξῆλθον ("I came") is an aorist indicative. Dec 9, 2014 at 10:39
  • 1
    I see multiple possible questions here, and I can't tell which one(s) you are actually asking. 1) The title question ('Does only the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father?') is off-topic as a "Truth Question". 2) What is the difference between how the HS and the Son proceed--probably also a truth question. 3) Why is it commonly confessed... Probably opinion-based. If you were to ask why only the HS is mentioned in this way in the nicene-creed that would probably be on-topic. If you were asking about the differences in the usage of the Greek words in various contexts, that would probably fit BH
    – Flimzy
    Dec 9, 2014 at 11:11
  • 1
    @AthanasiusOfAlex: That would be off-topic. I'm not concerned with any aspect of the Filioque. The question concerns the Spirit and the Son "proceeding" from the Father.
    – user900
    Dec 9, 2014 at 19:33

1 Answer 1


Regarding the term ἐκπορεύομαι

We have to keep in mind that Trinitarian doctrine and the technical terminology surrounding it did not stabilize until the Fourth Century A.D. The creed commonly called the Nicene Creed would be better termed the “Nicene-Constantinopolitan” Creed, since it incorporates material that was elaborated not only in the first Council of Nicaea (held in 325) but also in the first Council of Constantinople (381).

Although the term ἐκπορεύομαι is certainly inspired by John 15:26, St. John is not using it in the technical sense that the Greek Fathers applied to it (especially St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen). This is important to keep in mind, because the Latin versions of the Gospel of John (both the so-called Vetus Latina and St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate) translated the word ἐκπορευόμενον in that passage with qui procedit. However, the Latin verb procedo is slightly different in meaning from the Greek verb ἐκπορεύομαι (albeit sufficiently similar to be a correct translation when the terms are used in their common, non-technical senses).

I think it would be a mistake, therefore, to infer from the fact that St. John uses the verb ἐξέρχομαι instead of ἐκπορεύομαι in John 8:42 that he is making a theologically precise distinction between his own procession and that of the Holy Spirit. (Etymologically, both verbs mean essentially the same thing: to come from something. See below.)

The technical meaning of ἐκπόρευσις and τὸ προϊέναι

Greek Trinitarian theology makes a distinction between ἐκπόρευσις and something that the Greek Fathers call τὸ προϊέναι.

The difference can actually be seen from the way the terms are formed: ἐκπόρευσις comes from ἐκ (from, out of) and πορεύομαι (to go or come), and thus means “coming from something.” On the other hand, τὸ προϊέναι comes from πρό (forward or before) and εἶμι (to go—not to be confused with εἰμί, to be, which lacks the circumflex accent) and means “going forth.”

Hence the notion of ἐκπόρευσις always contains a reference to the original sender, so to speak, whereas τὸ προϊέναι makes no such reference.

I like to make the following analogy: suppose that the President of the United States sends a letter to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Naturally, he sends it though his secretary of state. Who is the original sender of the letter (from whom does it “ἐκπόρευται”)? The President alone. But who did the sending (τὸ προϊέναι)? Both the President and the Secretary of State.

What can be (and historically has been) a source of confusion, especially between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, is that the Latin Fathers (for various historical and linguistic reasons) generally fused the two concepts of ἐκπόρευσις and τὸ προϊέναι into a single generic notion that they called processio (from which the English term comes, evidently).

For a good and accessible overview of the distinction between ἐκπόρευσις and τὸ προϊέναι and the Latin processio, see a document called “the Greek and Latin Traditions regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit.”

Procession in the Holy Trinity

The theological problem that gave rise to Trinitarian dogma is that the Scriptures make it clear that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct subjects: in the terminology of Trinitarian dogma, distinct Persons or Hypostases.

On the other hand, the Scriptures also make it clear that all three Persons are perfectly and equally God. (I realize that there have been important challenges to this view, but it is the one that the Church Fathers were working with when they were formulating Trinitarian dogma.)

The Scriptures are also unequivocally monotheistic, and the Church Fathers knew from philosophy that God‘s essence or substance must be utterly unique, simple, undivided, and indivisible. To use the technical term, the Son and the Spirit are consubstantial with the Father.

Jesus, whom John identifies as the Divine Word or Son (see John 1:1-15), claims to come from the Father, as we saw, and sent from the Father (see., e.g., John 20:21). How can the Divine Word be consubstantial with the Father and yet also be from the Father? Because the Father communicates His Divine Essence to the Son. (And the Son receives the very same Essence as the Father, entirely, and without division.)

The Greek Fathers (especially those in Alexandria of Egypt) termed this communication of the Divine Essence τὸ προϊέναι.

The Father, through the Son, also eternally communicates His Essence to the Holy Spirit; hence that communication may also be termed τὸ προϊέναι.

The Greek Fathers (in order to combat Manichaeism and similar dualistic systems) made a great effort to emphasize the so-called monarchy of the Father: the fact the He is the unique and ultimate Principle or Cause. That idea is connected with the term ἐκπόρευσις, which concerns these same communications of the Divine Essence, but always refers to their ultimate origin: namely, the Father.

As I mentioned, the Latin Fathers essentially fused the notions of τὸ προϊέναι and ἐκπόρευσις into the single concept of processio, but the same thing can be said: the Son proceeds eternally from the Father alone, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (or, equivalently, from the Father through the Son).

(Note that it is incorrect to say that the Holy Spirit ἐκπόρευται—i.e., has His ultimate origin in—the Father and the Son. It is, however, correct to speak of a τὸ προϊέναι of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son.)

The short answer

The short answer to the original poster‘s question is that the Son does indeed proceed from the Father (whether you mean ἐκπόρευσις or τὸ προϊέναι), just as the Holy Spirit does. The difference is that the Son receives the Divine Essence from the Father alone, whereas the Holy Spirit receives the Divine Essence from the Father through the Son.

If by “procession” we mean what the Greek Fathers termed ἐκπόρευσις, then we must affirm that the Holy Spirit has His ultimate origin (ἐκπόρευται) in the Father alone. (This is what the Greek version of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed affirms: τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον.)

If, however, we mean τὸ προϊέναι, then we must affirm that the Holy Spirit proceeds (πρόεισι or procedit) from the Father and the Son. (This is what the Latin version of the Creed affirms: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.)

  • 2
    And which is why, at the Council of Florence (as I remember, though I need to find a reference) some Orthodox fathers were willing to consent to the wording "from the Father, through the Son". Thanks! Dec 9, 2014 at 11:28
  • I appreciate the time you put into this!
    – user900
    Dec 9, 2014 at 19:38
  • Fr. AthanasiusOfAlex this is an excellent answer. As an Eastern Catholic, we accept Council of Florence because it locates the Holy Spirit hypostatic origin from the Father (maintaining monarchy) and adapt St. Palamas view on communication of essence via eternal energetic procession of from the Father through the Son. I would like to create a chat room about filioque to have a discussion between Catholic and Orthodox on this doctrine, I hope you can share your thoughts. Feb 17, 2015 at 17:40

You must log in to answer this question.