(Originally Presented at the 2014 Meeting of the Northeast Region of the Evangelical Society)
Per Fillium – The Way Forward
In the previous section, I established both exegetical and systematic objections to both the Double- and Single- procession views. Apart from a non-procession view, which I do not find to be tenable in the least, there may not seem to be much left. However, through exegetical analysis, systematic construction, and historical precedent, I believe that the proper view of the procession of the Holy Spirit is from the Father alone, through the Son. While there might be many ways to label this proposal, I have chosen Per Fillium to reflect the view that I am postulating.
There is a common understanding in Reformed theological circles, that the actions of the Trinity toward creation find their origin in the Father, their mediation in the Son, and their application in the Spirit. While it takes different forms, it is commonly associated with John Calvin who holds that the Father is the beginning, the Son is the arrangement, and the Spirit is the efficacy of every eternal divine act. The mediatorial role of Christ is often seen to be primarily, or exclusively, the work of Salvation. However, when we investigate Scripture we see that there appears to be aspects of the Son’s role as mediator that extend beyond soteriological importance. While there are many passages that could be examined in depth, I shall focus on two. The exegetical conclusions shall serve as the foundation of my theological construction in the following section.
The first non-soteriological mediatorship of the Son happens in creation. For exegetical support we shall look at John 1:1-3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
This classic Trinitarian text must be carefully parsed in order to understand exactly what is being said. In verses 1 and 2 the word “God” is used in in two different ways. It is important to distinguish between them, so I shall provide my clarified reading in full.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the Father, and the Word was of the same substance as the Father. He was in the beginning with the Father.
While on first glance, this may seem like an imposition of Nicene categories on the text, however there really is no other way to read this. In the first instance the Word is with another distinct entity. This is prior to creation, so the only options for other Persons are the other Persons of the Trinity. We cannot view this as a reference to the divine nature without treating the divine nature as a hypostasis. In this instance the Word himself is called God, however we cannot affirm that this is saying that the Word is the same entity as the one whom he is with. To do so would be to collapse into Seballianism. Thus this must be a reference to the nature which the Word bears, namely the shared nature of the entity whom he is within the beginning of the verse. When we proceed to verse 2 the use of “God” shifts back to a reference to a person, whom we previously identified as the Father. The next verse is fairly straight forward however, I would propose one clarification.
All things were made through him by the Father, and apart from him was not any thing made that was made.
All created things are created by the Father, through the Word. While it is possible that the Son is creating through himself, that seems to be a strange way to phrase things. Rather, it seems more reasonable to see here that the one through whom something is executed is fundamentally functioning as a mediator of the action of another Agent. In this case I would argue that the Father’s creative agency is operating through the Son. This bears resonance when we observe the Genesis 1 creation narrative in which all things are created by God by means of divine speech. I do not believe it beyond credulity to see this as a divine creative act of the Father, mediated through the Word seen here as divine speech. Furthermore, when we look at the Genesis 1 narrative we see that the efficacy and of this creative act is executed by the Spirit of God as he hovers over the waters. Although the three fold action of the Trinity is not explicit in John 1, the fact that it is a clear allusion to Genesis 1 in which said action is present seems to make an implicit Trinitarian action reasonable.
This mediatorial role in creation is also present throughout Pauline theology. Most explicitly in Colossians 1, Romans 11, and Acts 17. I shall focus however on Colossians 1:15-17
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Again we are faced with a similar dynamic as in John 1:1. We can either see the use of “God” in vs 15 as a reference to the divine nature, or we can see it as a reference to the Father. For the same reasons I put forward previously regarding John 1:1, I think it is clear that this is a reference to the Father. However, in this passage we see that the mediatorship is not only in the initial act of creation which the Son serves as mediator, but in the ongoing sustaining of created things. Paul here extends this beyond just the physical created world, but to the inclusion of angelic entities and the spiritual world. While it is not entirely clear grammatically, I see strong correlation to the statement in Hebrews that all things are held together by the “word of his power.” This also places the context of the mediatorial function of the Son outside of redemption, as there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Heaven (invisible) or Angels are corrupted by Adam’s fall. Nor does there seem to be any biblical indication that Angels are to eventually be redeemed, neither by Christ’s death on the cross nor by any other means. While it is true that the primary economic instance of Christ’s mediatorship that is attested in Scripture is that of redeemer, that is simply one instance of Christ’s broader role as cosmic mediator.
 Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 203.
 One could substitute the Spirit for the Father in this translation and it would still represent an accurate Triadological statement, however I think it is clear that in this instance the Person in view apart from the Word is the Father.
 Robert W. Wall, Colossians & Philemon, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 66.
 J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians and Philemon, The Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997), 74.
 R. McL Wilson, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Colossians and Philemon (London: T & T Clark International, 2005), 136.
 While this appears in some sense to be referring to the word of power as being the Son’s, the antecedent of autos is not clear and does not preclude the Father, since autos 9 words earlier is an unambiguous reference to the Father.
 Stephen Edmondson, Calvin’s Christology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 146.
About Tony Arsenal
Tony Arsenal is a Reformed historian, theologian, and teacher. He came to faith in 1998 as a teenager and studied Biblical and Theological Studies at Bethel University in Arden Hills MN. He studied at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton MA between the years of 2010 and 2013 where he received the Master of Arts in Church History, and the Master of Arts in Theology and was awarded the Baker Award for Excellence in Theological Studies.