T HE ORIGINAL VERSION of the Nicene Creed ended with: “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” A great affirmation of faith. But, it needed more clarity. Some people denied the Holy Spirit was God. “What is the Holy Spirit’s relationship to God? To Jesus?” Someone had to provide an answer for the Church.
Before we get to that answer, let’s address a question I get asked about the Apostles’ Creed, and it applies to the Nicene Creed as well: “Why do we affirm the catholic church when we’re not Roman Catholics?” Look in your bulletin [or lower on this page] — third paragraph of Nicene Creed. “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church” It’s about the difference between lower-case “c” catholic and upper-case “C” Catholic. ”Big ‘C’ ” Catholic refers to the Roman Catholic Church. The creed is “little ‘c’ ” catholic, which means universal.
“We believe in one holy universal and apostolic Church.”
† † †
NOW, BACK to the Holy Spirit. The 381 Council of Constantinople answered the question by adding a paragraph about the Holy Spirit to the Nicene Creed. Yes, the Holy Spirit is equal with God the Father and God the Son. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are One. One in substance (being) with God. The Church universal agreed with this addition.
Oh, but nothing is easily settled. Conflict arose over the word “Filioque.” It’s a Latin term that was added to the Nicene Creed two centuries after the Constantinople Council. The original text of this Creed says that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father.” The text we use speaks of the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father Filioque.
This single word became the subject of great controversy between Eastern and Western Christian Churches. The term Filioque describes the Holy Spirit as proceeding from both the Father and the Son, (and not from the Father only).
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son
† † †
MAYBE FOR YOU this doesn’t seem to be a big deal. But it was a major cause of the Church split between the Eastern and Western churches in 1054 A.D. There were other factors involved. Language barrier between Greek and Latin. Cultural differences. A power struggle between the East and West regarding the seat of church power — Rome or Constantinople.
There are lessons for us today. One view of this controversy is that each side thought their theological framework was the only one that was valid. Therefore, they wouldn’t allow for different theological perspectives. “My way or the highway” type of theology. That same stubbornness is alive today. While all Christians must be in agreement on certain questions — like “Who is your Lord and Savior?”, there must be room for diversity in other ways of thinking and practicing our faith. Instead, we shut out theological diversity over non-essentials.
Everything becomes life or death. Believe this matter and you are or are not a Christian. Who you vote for. Pro-life or pro-choice. Where you stand on social issues. The strength of emotion rises to the level of hatred for one another within the Christian faith. We get caught in a belief that the other side has destroyed the purity of the faith and therefore must be brought to their knees. That was much of what went on between East and West. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox gets its very name from the belief that they are theologically correct while the Western Church is wrong.
† † †
IN OUR READING this morning, Jesus says of the Holy Spirit: “He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” It is argued that in the relations between the Persons of the Trinity one Person cannot “take” or “receive” anything from either of the others except by way of procession. Those verses were used to argue for “Filioque” (and the Son).
In John 15, Jesus says of the Holy Spirit: “ ”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me” is used against “Filioque.” The argument being that Jesus could have said “from the Father and me” but didn’t. The absence of an explicit mention of the Son in the procession of the Holy Spirit strongly indicates Filioque is an erroneous doctrine.
† † †
BOTH LATINS AND GREEKS exploited verses to support their respective positions. We still do the same. Just this week Attorney General Jeff Sessions used Romans 13 as theological support for separating families at the border. Taking children away from their mothers and warehousing them in a vacant Walmart. Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. Church leaders of all stripes have come out against such interpretation.
While AG Sessions is wrong in his use of Romans 13, I know that you and I exploit verses, cherry picking as some call it, to prove our theological or political point. Or to support our behavior. But it is good and right that we humbly admit that our thoughts just might not be God’s thoughts and our interpretations of the Holy Word might not be divine interpretations.
† † †
AS CHRISTIANS, UNIVERSALLY, we profess God is radically and indivisibly One. God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit — three “persons” who can never be confused with one another, and who are all fully and literally God. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we confess Jesus as the Eternal Father’s Word and Son. The Nicene Creed affirms that.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified ….
— Keith Cardwell