The Nicene Creed declares the Holy Spirit to be five things: Lord, Giver of Life, the one who proceeds from the Father and Son, equal glory with the Father and Son, and the one who spoke though the prophets. Of these his Lordship, procession, and glorification tell us who the Spirit is, while giver of life and speaking though the prophets tell us what the Spirit does.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
Our Catechism summarizes the nature of the Holy Spirit as the "Third Person of the Trinity...". (BCP, pg.852) Who the Spirit is was defined by the council of Nicea as well as this statement. The Spirit is Lord and worthy of equal glory, in that he is God and so part of the Trinity. He is also said to proceed from the Father and Son and so is, as said in the Catechism, a "Person".
The Holy Spirit is Lord because he is God. Like with Jesus, "Lord" is a divine term that is intended to call forth Old Testament concepts. During the time of Jesus the Greek translation of the Old Testament used the Greek word for "Lord" to translate the divine name Yahweh in Hebrew. In addition, "Lord" was used as a divine title in Roman culture as shown by the deification of the Emperors on coins using the title "Lord and God". When the early readers of the New Testament heard "Lord" used in a religious context they would have immediately made the connection with divinity, and in particular Yahweh. Many may have even been then surprised to discover this title being used by Paul and other writers to refer to Jesus. In fact, "Jesus as Lord" is one of the earliest confessions of the Christian Faith. (Rom 10:9, 1 Cor 12:3) When the Creed also then declares the Spirit to be Lord it is declaring him to be equally God.
The divinity of the Holy Spirit is seen several times in Scripture. One of the primary things God does as God is to be the creator, and in this the Spirit is very much involved. In Genesis it is the Spirit that hovered over the primordial waters of chaos to bring out life. (Gen 1:2) Later the Spirit will be said to be the God who is sent forth, creates life, and renews the earth. (Ps 104:30)
He is also equated with God directly in 1 Corinthians 3:16. In this passage the Church is described as "God's Temple", in which dwells the Holy Spirit. It is God the Holy Spirit who is the God that dwells in his Temple. Lastly, the words of the Spirit are equated with being the words of God. In Acts 28:25 St. Paul criticizes some for being obstinate in refusing to see Jesus as Lord and Christ. As part of his condemnation he quotes Isaiah 6:9 by saying "The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah...". The passage in Isaiah is from Yahweh seated on his royal throne in power, and yet Paul makes a direct correlation from the words of Yahweh to the words of the Holy Spirit, even though the Father is a separate divine person from the Spirit.
Rarely is the divinity of the Spirit an issue, more likely to happen among Christians is the depersonalization of the Spirit. It is important to remember that the Holy Spirit is a "Person" as revealed in Scripture, implied in the Creed, and stated in our Catechism. He is not an impersonal force or energy, but is as personal and relational as the Father and the Son.
In the Book of Acts he can be tested, (5:9) as well as communicates his will. (13:2) He also engages in such personal activity as interceding for the saints (Rom 8:26-27) and manifesting emotion such as being grieved. (Eph 4:30) All his work is personal by nature, and any passages that seem impersonal are either referencing a particular gift or operation of the Spirit, or else the human spirit under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Temporarily overlooking issues of procession, the Spirit is said to proceed from the Father and the Son. This procession implies a relational dynamic within the Trinity. Each person of the Trinity is connected to the other in a relational, and not functional, manner just like persons. This means the important part of the Holy Spirit is his relationship to the Father, Son, and us the Church, not as the "sanctifier" which is a function shared among the entire Trinity. Thus the Catechism follows the same theology in beginning it's definition of the Spirit as a "Person".
What does the Holy Spirit do?
Our Catechism continues saying the Spirit is the "God at work in the world and the Church even now". (BCP, pg.852) The Creed divides his work into two ways: as the giver of life, and giver of revelation. The distinction in the Catechism between the way the Spirit operated in the Old and New covenants are mirror images, and both reflect the titles given in the Creed.
First, the Spirit is the "giver of life" in the Old Testament. This work is seen principally in Genesis 1:2 where the Spirit begins the work of creation. Later God "breaths" into Adam the "breath of life" to make him a "living man". (Gen 2:7) The Hebrew for breath and Spirit are the same, so quite literally God breathes over chaos and the Spirit makes life, then God breathes into Adam and the Spirit makes life. Psalms will affirm this belief by declaring that it is the Spirit who is sent to create and renew the earth. (Ps 104:30)
In the New Testament he continues this work but in a more specific way by enabling Christians "to grow in the likeness of Christ" (BCP, pg.852) which is the path of eternal life. We can recognize this in our life though our faith in Jesus as Lord, and in our growth in grace and love towards God, humanity, and God's creation. (BCP, pg.852) This process begins when the Spirit convicts a person of their sin and judgment, (John 16:8-11) and initiates the life in Christ though Baptism by regenerating the soul and making them into a Child of God by adoption. (Acts 2:38, John 3:5-6, Rom 8:14-17) After our adoption Christian life is one of living in the power of the Spirit to conform us into the image of Christ. This is done through the Spirit who dwells in Christians, (1 Cor 6:19) gives spiritual gifts, (1 Cor 12:1-13) guides in prayer, (Rom 8:26) all in addition to the Spirit's involvement in the sacramental life of the Church which is the ordinary means of this grace. Scripture also states that the Holy Spirit is a type of down payment for our future hope to eternal life in the resurrection. (Rom 8:22-25, Eph 1:13)
Second, the Spirit "spake by the prophets" according to the Creed. This encapsulates the Sprit's' ministry in giving revelation to God's people, such as during the Exodus when the Spirit was the one who guided and insructed the Israelites. (Neh 9:20) When questions of spiritual truth arise, it is this revelation by the Spirit that guides us. (1 Cor 2:10-12) Saul as well had a brief prophetic episode said to be the direct result of the Holy Spirit. (1 Sam 10:6-11) Later the New Testament will clarify that all prior prophecy in the Scriptures was not a human creation but a result of inspiration by the Holy Spirit. (1 Pet 1:21)
Christian life requires discernment in recognizing what is taught by the Holy Spirit and what is not. Thankfully we have a foundation for this truth in the Holy Scriptures. Due to God's inspiration of the Scriptures, (BCP, pg.853) he also becomes the primary interpreter which is done though the Spirit's guidance in the Church. (BCP, pg.854) Therefore when we need to know that which is from God and that which is not, we look to the Scriptures because what the Spirit teaches will always be in accord with them. (BCP, pg.853) One example of this guidance found in the New Testament is the Jerusalem council in Acts where the Holy Spirit guided the fledgling Church in discerning God's will for the Gentiles. (Acts 15:28) This follows Jesus' promise that after his ascension the "spirit of truth" would come to lead the Church into that truth. (John 16:13)
Procession of the Spirit?
Though the Creed forms the core of our confessed faith, there is one controversy over what is should say in regards to the Spirit. Scripture presents a strong image that Jesus as involved in the sending of the Spirit, however does this imply an eternal relationship of this sending? During the 400-500’s AD, the Western Church was still in the midst of a controversy with Arian heresy. In an effort to combat this a local council at Toledo in 589 added “and the Son” to the phrase “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life who proceeds from the Father” in the Nicene Creed. Initially there was little theological objection to this in the West (St. Augustine had described the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and the Son), but there was an objection to changing the Creed unilaterally. The Eastern Church objected on both grounds. Eventually this was adopted by the Pope in 1024 and, along with several other issues on both sides, caused the Great Schism in the Church in 1054.
The question is: within the Trinity, what is the relationship between the Son and the Spirit? There are two ways to go about this, based on a prior question: how closely does the way we see the relationships working in scripture reflect the nature of these relationships? How much does the economic Trinity reflect the immanent? If we make a more direct connection, based on such passages as John 15:26 where Jesus sends the Spirit, we would end up with the Western view of the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. If we allow a greater distinction between ontology and function, then we may end up with the Eastern view. Essentially, what the East argues is that the earthly ministry of Jesus was only a functional earthly ministry. Though Jesus sends the Spirit in terms of his relationship to us, it does not mean that is their relationship within the Trinity itself. In response, the West has argued for a closer connection. One of the primary concerns for the West is epistemological, how else do we know about God except though what we see of Jesus? At this time we continue to use the Nicene Creed with the later addition, though both the Lambeth Conference as well as our General Convention have urged its removal out of a desire to be ecumenical and faithful to the original. Whether this removal would be more theologically accurate. however, is still debated.
The Rev. J. Wesley Evans works at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Sherman.