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Creeds 5: God the Holy Spirit1

The last paragraph of each of our main creeds is strange – it includes the Holy Spirit, but along with what appears to be a rag bag of other bits of belief. On the latter, please see the next article in this series – but isn’t it strange that there should be a paragraph for God the Father, another for God the Son – but that God the Holy Spirit, whom the church corporately asserts is the third person in a “co-equal”2 Trinity, should just be inserted as a sort of afterthought amongst a collection of other statements?

One way of looking at this is to think of the credal statements about the church as being the natural consequence of the Holy Spirit’s continuing activity through the church.

The Apostles’ Creed offers no explanation at all – it just says “I believe in the Holy Spirit”3. That was the way it remained in the first two centuries, reflecting a general vagueness of teaching about the Spirit in the early church. It was not clear whether they thought of the Holy Spirit as equally God and Lord, alongside the Father and the Son.

The Nicene Creed, though, expands further, saying that the Holy Spirit is the Lord, the giver of life; proceeds from the Father and the Son; is worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son; and has spoken through the prophets. Just as the early Councils in the 3rd century developed ideas on the God-head of the Son, so they also developed ideas on the God-head of the Spirit. Just as the Son was “begotten” and “not made”, so the Spirit “proceeds” from the Father, not as a later creation but as a person who was already there with the Father4.

There is, too, an ancient debate about whether or not the Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Son as well as the Father5. During the early centuries, even up to the 5th, it was not established as part of the creed that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and from the Son. However, there was increasing debate about the Bible passages which indicated that the Spirit was the Spirit of the Son – and that, as Christ said, “all that the Father has is mine”. But this debate did not lead to including “and the Son” until perhaps even the 11th century – and even then not in Rome for fear of worsening a separation from the Eastern churches6.