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Article 5 — Of the Holy Ghost

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Posted by Adam Young, 5 Mar 2017

In our Lenten series on the Thirty-nine Articles, Adam Young explores the teaching of Article 5, on the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

It is perhaps ironic that an Article which was only added by Matthew Parker in 1563—seemingly as an after-thought to make the Articles dealing with the Trinity balance out— is today one of the most controversial. He didn’t even come up with something original and instead simply copied from the Württemberg Confession of 1552! 

The ‘most’ controversial aspect of this Article is not what I want to focus on—but something must be said about it. The controversy is that it says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque in Latin). This is certainly the Anglican stance given, it is not only mentioned here but is also found in both the Athanasian Creed and BCP version of the Nicene Creed, which Article 8 makes clear contain the teaching of the Bible.

In the West this short phrase “and the Son” has not been controversial since the eleventh century and most accepted it long before then. In the East this phrase was never accepted and continues to cause strain in the relations between our churches. The arguments and debates are fascinating to read (though not always edifying!). Perhaps the best way to bridge this divide is to accept the understanding promoted by the 1439 Council of Florence—which the Anglican church has never renounced—that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. This keeps the primacy of the Father which is so important to the East but also makes sense of the Bible passages referring to the relationship between the Spirit and Son. To many such debates are rather philosophical and academic and whilst undoubtedly an interesting and important discussion let us move on to the real ‘meat‘ of the Article.

The most important part of this Article is that the person of the Holy Spirit is “of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.” Whilst this should not be controversial, sadly, it is. I have found the number of people in our churches who fail to grasp the most basic of beliefs about the Holy Spirit is quite frightening. I will never forget my horror when at college a student training for ministry—and one with experience as an evangelist—was surprised to be told the Holy Spirit was a person and not just a power of some kind. A year later, sat around the table at an Easter retreat, a friend from a very different wing of the church expressed the belief that the Holy Spirit was something akin to the candle lighter the Father and the Son used in the world. In a completely different church I have heard a pastor refer to the Holy Spirit as some kind of currency the Father gives to His children to use in the world!

Let us be clear: the Holy Spirit is truly and fully God. He is as much God as Jesus or the Father. He is as glorious and majestic as the Father or the Son—indeed they share one majestic glory. The Holy Spirit is eternal and He is God. The Holy Spirit is not some Star Wars-esque ‘force’ or merely the power of God and he is certainly not some divine miniature flamethrower or magical pound coin! He is the third person of the Trinity.

That the Holy Spirit is a ‘person’ is clear in Scripture. Firstly, the titles given to him are personal: He is the Comforter and the Advocate—indeed he is ‘another advocate’ (John 14.16) like Jesus showing the Spirit is a person like Jesus is. Furthermore, he ‘intercedes’ for Christians (Romans 8:26-27) and can be personally ‘grieved’ (Ephesians 4.30). He has a ‘will’ (1 Corinthians 12.4-11) and ‘leads’ believers (Galatians 5.18). You can have ‘fellowship’ with him (2 Corinthians 13.14) and you can lie to him (Acts 5.3). He speaks and sets people apart for ministry (Acts 13.2) and then he sends them out (Acts 13.4).
All of this radically points away from an emotionless force or mere expression of divine will and towards a personable person, a relatable revelation, and an emotional emissary. This is someone you can have a very real relationship with—one which is just as rich, active, and varied as the relationships we have with the Father and the Son.

As Christians it is absolutely vital we capture this vision and seek not only the gifts he offers us but also simply seek him as he is, for who he is. When we know the Spirit and relate to him we will find he points us to Jesus in the most beautiful ways imaginable and turns upside down our discipleship with his grace and power.

A large part of the reason I would personally identify as a ‘Charismatic’ Anglican is because of the wonderful things Scripture says of the Spirit and our need for a relationship with him. It is a sad and tragic irony that such a biblical passion has often led to Christians obsessing over the gifts of the Spirit rather than seeking him, and in doing so taking their eyes off Jesus. It is important to recognise that the Holy Spirit is the Humble Spirit who always points us to Jesus and his sacrifice on Calvary. Even his gifts are given to help us know and proclaim Jesus to each other and the world!

It is good that Archbishop Parker added this to the 39 Articles. Too often the Holy Spirit is sidelined or given a few words and nothing more. To have a whole Article dedicated to his majesty and glory is a wonderful thing. This may be the second shortest of the all the Articles but it is no less important for the brevity. Amongst all the other key doctrines and teachings of our confession let us daily ensure we never lose sight of the glory, the majesty, and the divinity of the Person of the Holy Spirit.

To read more about the Filioque issue, see this article by Daniel Newman from a recent edition of our journal Churchman.

Revd Adam Young is a minister in the Diocese of York.

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