I have recently been involved in a number of discussions on the Trinity and particularly on the filioque clause that describes the relationship within the Trinity between the Holy Spirit and the Son. After sifting through a number of references, I have collected some of the most interesting reports regarding the filioque debate and present some here to hopefully assist you in studying it out.
Maybe you’re not up to speed on what the filioque debate is all about. Let me take a moment to help enlighten you. It basically comes down to the addition of the Latin word filioque to the Nicene creed in 589. The Latin word filioque means “and the son” and refers to the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. This was and is a point of strong contention between the Eastern church (Eastern Orthodox) who deny the concept and the Western church (Roman catholics and eventually protestants) who included it in the Latin version of the creed. It seems to even be a concept that is debated and commonly denied among even a few protestants that I have encountered. I did not expect any resistance to the concept, as the Nicene creed and the associated ideas of the Trinity as held by the ancient Western church are normally agreed with.
Bavinck in his Reformed Dogmatics (vol. 2 page 317-318) says this (and much more) regarding the filioque debate.
The Eastern church never dropped their key objection that if the Spirit also proceeded from the Son, one would have to posit two principia or causes for the Spirit’s procession. This objection arises from a different doctrine of God and a different type of religious practice. Orthodox opposition to the filioque is a last lingering remnant of subordinationism. However much the three persons are considered to be completely one and equal, that unity and equality accrues to the Son and the Spirit from the being of the Father. The Father is the fountain and origin of the Godhead. Accordingly, if the Spirit also proceeds from the Son, the Son is coordinate with the Father, the principle of unity is broken, and a kind of ditheism results. For the Eastern church the unity of the divine essence and the Trinity of persons does not arise from the divine nature as such but from the person of the Father. He is the sole originating principle. The three persons, according to the Orthodox, are not three relations within the one being, not the self-unfolding of the Godhead; rather, it is the Father who communicates himself to the Son and the Spirit. From this it follows, however, that now the Son and the Spirit are coordinated: they both have their originating principle in the Father. The Father reveals himself in both: the Son imparts the knowledge of God, the Spirit the enjoyment of God. The Son does not reveal the Father in and through the Son. The two are more or less independent of each other: they both open their own way to the Father. Thus orthodoxy and mysticism, the intellect and the will, exist dualistically side by side. And this unique relation between orthodoxy and mysticism is the hallmark of Greek piety. Doctrine and life are separate. Doctrine is for the intellect; it is a suitable object for theological speculation. Alongside it there is another fountain of life: the mysticism of the Spirit. This mysticism does not arise from knowledge but has its own source and nourishes the human heart. The head and the heart are not rightly aligned and related. Ideas and emotions are separate. The ethical linkage that should unite the two is lacking.
Clearly, Bavinck sees the denial of the filioque in a negative light. He gives a great response when he says, “This objection [that of the Eastern orthodox] arises from a different doctrine of God and a different type of religious practice. Orthodox opposition to the filioque is a last lingering remnant of subordinationism.” He states that the denial of the filioque is a remnant of a rank heresy! I think he adequately characterizes the debate and gives good background on the issue. We will look at the biblical support for this issue soon, but first let’s look at what a few other theologians have to say regarding the filioque clause.
Charles Hodge lays out his belief regarding the Holy Spirit in vol. 1, chapter 6, section 2 part A No. 4 (p. 444-445).
4. Notwithstanding that the Father, Son, and Spirit are the same in substance, and equal in power and glory, it is no less true, according to the Scriptures, (a.) That the Father is first, the Son second, and the Spirit third. (b.) The Son is of the Father; and the Spirit is of the Father and of the Son. (c.) The Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son send the Spirit. (d.) The Father operates through the Son, and the Father and Son operate through the Spirit. The converse of these statements is never found. The Son is never said to send the Father, nor to operate through Him; nor is the Spirit ever said to send the Father, or the Son, or to operate through them. The facts contained in this paragraph are summed up in the proposition: In the Holy Trinity there is a subordination of the Persons as to the mode of subsistence and operation. This proposition again adds nothing to the facts themselves.
Hodge provides a succinct statement of pneumatology here. The subordination he speaks of within the Trinity is not the same subordination that Bavinck speaks of. Hodge’s is strictly in regard to the mode of subsistence and operation, not in regard to ranking, power or essence. He expands on it in chapter 6 section 6 part D (p. 477).
As the councils of Nice and Constantinople were fully justified by Scripture in teaching the eternal Sonship of Christ, so what they taught of the relation of the Spirit to the Father and the Son, has an adequate Scriptural foundation.
That relation is expressed by the word procession, with regard to which the common Church doctrine is, (1.) That it is incomprehensible, and therefore inexplicable. (2.) That it is eternal. (3.) That it is equally from the Father and the Son. At least such is the doctrine of the Latin and all other Western churches. (4.) That this procession concerns the personality and operations of the Spirit, and not his essence.
Gregg Allison states Augustine’s position in his Historical Theology (p. 438). “Augustine summarized the position of the double procession of the Holy Spirit: ‘The Son is from the Father, the Spirit also is from the Father. But the former is begotten, the latter proceeds. So the former is Son of the Father from whom he is begotten, but the latter is the Spirit of both since he proceeds from both . . . . The Father is the author of the Spirit’s procession because he begot such a Son, and in begetting him made him also the source from which the Spirit proceeds.’”
Berkhof sums up the procession (also called spiration) of the Holy Spirit in his systematic theology on Page 97. “Spiration may be defined as that eternal and necessary act of the first and second persons in the Trinity whereby they, within the diving Being, become the ground of the personal subsistence of the Holy Spirit, and put the third person in possession of the whole divine essence, without any division, alienation or change.”
The procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son is also included in most confessions and statements of faith. We see it in the 1689 LBCF, the standard reformed baptist position. Chapter two “Of God and of the Holy Trinity” (emphasis added):
3. In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him.
We see immediately that the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son is firmly established in the confession; it also occurs in the Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 2 part 3 and therefore the Savoy declaration); the Belgic confession (article 11); the Second Helvetic confession (chapter 3) and undoubtedly more. This, in part, is good reason to agree with the filioque clause especially if one attends a confessionally “bound” church. However, as always, we should ask ourselves if there is good reason to include such a statement on biblical grounds? Certainly protestants would agree that confessions are only good as far as they present truly biblical doctrine.
Hoeksema summarizes the Scriptural support for the double procession of the Holy Spirit in his reformed dogmatics on page 216.
This double procession is taught in Scripture, as for instance in John 15:26, which teaches that Christ will send the Comforter who proceeds from the Father. Besides, the Spirit is mentioned in one breath as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ in Romans 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” In Galatians 4:6 he is called the Spirit of God’s Son: “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” This double procession must not be understood in such a way that there are two Spirits, one proceeding from the Father and another Spirit proceeding from the Son, but rather in the sense that the one Spirit proceeds from the Father to the Son and returns as the Spirit of the Son to the Father.
Another often cited verse is John 16:7. Christ is stating that He will send the Spirit, indicating that the he (Jesus) has the power to send the Spirit which would make sense in a double procession framework.
John 16:13-15 gives evidence that the Holy Spirit will speak whatever Jesus has told Him to speak. Again a subordination in terms of operation but not essence.
John 20:22 shows Christ breathing on His disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit. This seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.
Acts 16:7 refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of Jesus.” This gives the idea that the Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of Jesus thereby indicating the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son. Similar to the idea of Galatians 4:6.
Lastly, it should be noted that there are some quotes from the church fathers affirming the double procession of the Holy Spirit. I will list and link at this point in the interest of brevity.
Gregory Thaumaturgus in A Declaration of Faith
I have also found additional quotes here.
Given all this information together, I think a good case is present for believing in the double-procession of the Holy Spirit. Bavinck’s classification of the denial of the double-procession as the last remnant of the heretical subordinationism idea seems accurate. I would love to hear your thoughts on this controversial debate. Additional analysis of the arguments of the Eastern Orthodox needs to be carried out to see if their denial of the double-procession of the Holy Spirit holds water. That, however, is a topic for another day.