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The Nicene Creed says:

We believe in one God,the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. He spoke through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.

I understand that there is one God, God almighty, and one God, the only son of God, and God is eternally begotten of God. And I understand that God became a man to do the will of God, and God was put to death to appease the anger of God, and now God sits at the right hand of God.

But what about God? It says God "proceeds" from God and God. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, proceeds means:

Full Definition of proceed intransitive verb

1: to come forth from a source : issue

2 a: to continue after a pause or interruption b: to go on in an orderly regulated way

3 a: to begin and carry on an action, process, or movement b: to be in the process of being accomplished

4: to move along a course : advance

According to Roman Catholicism, what does "proceeds" mean?

  • Big Question, the Mystery of the Holy Spirit speaks to the very Nature of God, the unity and what it means, God in and of Himself. – Marc Oct 13 '16 at 14:01
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    This is a seriously disputed question. What church tradition are you asking about? A Catholic answer would be radically different from an Orthodox answer. – lonesomeday Oct 13 '16 at 15:54
  • @Marc In the statement "God of Himself", what does "of" mean? – anonymouswho Oct 13 '16 at 17:15
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    There is debate over whether the Spirit proceeds from only the Father or from the Father and the Son, but it would be good to have a question that covers what that procession means in the first place. If that debate actually means there are two different kinds of procession, a good answer would explain both. – curiousdannii Oct 13 '16 at 22:34
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    This is a huge question, which took decades to settle, and countless lives lost in riots and other bloodshed. Good luck getting a concise answer. :/ – Flimzy Oct 13 '16 at 23:31
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Divine Procession

Fr. Hardon, S.J., gives a good definition of "divine procession:"

The origin of a divine person from another through the communication of the numerically one divine essence. There are two internal processions in the Trinity: the begetting of the Son from the Father, and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. It is divine persons, not the divine nature, who are the subjects of the internal divine procession. The second divine person proceeds from the intellect of the first divine person by generation, and therefore is related to him as Son to a Father. The third divine person proceeds from the will or mutual love of the Father and the Son as from a single principle through spiration.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent on this part of the Creed

“Who Proceedeth from the Father and the Son”

With regard to the words immediately succeeding: who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, the faithful are to be taught that the Holy Ghost proceeds by an eternal procession from the Father and the Son, as from one principle. This truth is proposed for our belief by the Creed of the Church, from which no Christian may depart, and is confirmed by the authority of the Sacred Scriptures and of Councils.

Christ the Lord, speaking of the Holy Ghost, says: He shall glorify me, because he shall receive of mine. (John 16:14). We also find that the Holy Ghost is sometimes called in Scripture the Spirit of Christ, sometimes, the Spirit of the Father; that He is one time said to be sent by the Father, another time, by the Son—all of which clearly signifies that He proceeds alike from the Father and the Son. He, says St. Paul, who has not the Spirit of Christ belongs not to him. (Rom. 8:9). In his Epistle to the Galatians he also calls the Holy Ghost the Spirit of Christ: God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father. (Gal. 4:6). In the Gospel of St. Matthew, He is called the Spirit of the Father: It is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you. (Matt. 10:20).

Our Lord said, at His Last Supper: When the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me. (John 15:26). On another occasion, that the Holy Ghost will be sent by the Father, He declares in these words: Whom the Father will send in my name. (John 14:26). Understanding these words to denote the procession of the Holy Ghost, we come to the inevitable conclusion that He proceeds from both Father and Son.

The above are the truths that should be taught with regard to the Person of the Holy Ghost.

The procession of the Holy Spirit

The procession of the Holy Spirit is one of the four relations in the Holy Trinity (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica I q. 28 a. 4).

  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)

There are two processions in the Trinity:

  1. Generation (the Son proceeding from the Father)
  2. Procession (the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and from the Son)

Relations are depicted in green: Holy Trinity relations (original image source)

St. Thomas Aquinas describes the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and from the Son in his Compendium Theologiæ cap. 49:

We should recall that the act of understanding proceeds from the intellectual power of the mind. When the intellect actually understands, the object it understands is in it. The presence of the object known in the knower results from the intellectual power of the mind, and is its word, as we said above. Likewise, what is loved is in the lover, when it is actually loved. The fact that an object is actually loved, results from the lover’s power to love and from the lovable good as actually known. Accordingly the presence of the beloved object in the lover is brought about by two factors: the appetitive principle and the intelligible object as apprehended, that is, the word conceived about the lovable object. Therefore, since the Word in God who knows and loves Himself is the Son, and since He to whom the Word belongs is the Father of the Word, as is clear from our exposition, the necessary consequence is that the Holy Spirit, who pertains to the love whereby God is in Himself as beloved in lover, proceeds from the Father and the Son. And so we say in the Creed: “Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

For more information, see Fr. Gilles Emery, O.P.'s works on the Trinity, e.g., The Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas ch. 5 "Relations" (p. 78 f.); cf. this answer.

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    The location of the arrowheads confuses me, since the procession is seen to be going from the Holy Spirit to the Father, whereas the creed says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. Should not the arrow head be at the other end? – KorvinStarmast Oct 13 '16 at 21:25
  • @KorvinStarmast The green arrows in the diagram depict relations and would be read "___ is related to ___ by the relation of ___" (e.g., the "Father is related to the Son by the relation of paternity;" "The Holy Spirit is related to the Father and Son by the relation of procession;" etc.). – Geremia Oct 14 '16 at 2:16
  • I'm actually just looking for a definition of "proceed". From what I can gather, based on this answer, "proceeds" is simply a term that was chosen to describe how the "persons" of the triune god are "related". That doesn't really mean anything. Any word could have been chosen, and it wouldn't make any difference if the word doesn't mean anything. I'm just wondering what "proceeds" means. Thank you. – anonymouswho Oct 14 '16 at 2:31
  • Also, why does the Son have a different relationship to the Father than the Father has towards the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit has towards the Son? In other words, why does the Father and Son share a special relationship that the Holy Spirit guy doesn't shares with either "person"? – anonymouswho Oct 14 '16 at 2:36
  • Never mind, I should probably ask that as a separate question if this diagram is in fact acceptable. But, I would like to know what "proceeds" means. Thank you. – anonymouswho Oct 14 '16 at 2:38

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