Holy spirit

Holy Spirit, Procession, and the love of his Father and Son

This is from an exchange on the Coming Home Network forum, where I was moderator from 2007-2010.

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Yesterday I attended a “Body Theology” class with a workbook: Into the Heart: A Journey Through the Theology of the Body, by Christopher West, 2009. The speaker provided the following quote without quote in his presentation:

God in himself is a life-giving Communion of Persons. The Father, from all eternity, gives himself to the Son. And the Son, receiving the gift of the Father eternally, gives him back the gift of himself. The love between them is so real, so deep, that this love is another eternal Person, the Holy Spirit.

Does anyone know the source of this quote? An internet search for the quote revealed its source as Christopher West. Does this source have roots in the Church Fathers, or the traditions of the Church? I could not find it in the catechism.

Does the identification of the Holy Spirit as the love that exists between the Father and the Son diminish the divine personality of the Spirit and the distinction between the Father and the Son, despite the fact that the quote insists otherwise? Does the quote include no reference to back up the claim that the real and deep love between two people is a totally separate person?

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The words are direct from Christopher West: Good News About Sex And Marriage: Your Honest Questions About Catholic Education Answers (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2004), p. 19.

The scriptures describe God as love. Pope Benedict XVI expressed a thought perhaps similar to this:

[T]he “three persons” who exist in God are the reality of the word and of love in their attachment to one another. They are not substances, personalities in the modern sense, but relationships whose pure actuality. . . does not alter the unity of the highest being but fills it. Saint Augustine once inscribed this idea in the following formula: “He is not called Father in relation to himself but only in relation to the Son; seen by himself, he is simply God. Here the decisive point is beautifully brought to light. “Father” is purely a concept of relationship. It is only by being-for the other that he is Father; in his own being-in-itself he is simply God. The person is the pure relationship of being in a relationship, nothing else. The relationship is not something more added to the person, as it is with us; it only exists as a relation.

. . . the First Person (the Father) does not beget the Son in the sense of the act of begetting coming on the finite Person; it is the act of generating, of giving oneself, of springing up. It is identical to the act of giving. (Introduction to Christianity, p. 131-132; cf. Augustine, Enarations in the Psalms68; of the Trinity VII, 1, 2)

Bishop William E. Lori writes:

Reflecting on this, the Church definitely teaches that the Father begotten the Son eternally and that the Son is eternally begotten by the Father. The bond of living and eternal love between the Father and the Son is the Person of the Holy Spirit (Compendium, 48).

This helps us understand what we mean when the Church expresses her Trinitarian faith: “One God in three persons”. Notice that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not just three names for God or just three ways the one God could appear. Nor should we view the Trinity as three gods cobbled together in a corporate partnership.

There is really only one God, but with three distinct persons (the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father, etc.). The three persons of the Trinity completely and jointly possess the divine nature. They are three identifiable people, each fully God in a way that is distinct but related to the others (see Catholic Catechism of the United States for Adults, 52).

It has to do with the filioque dispute: the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Western understanding (which has become very controversial and has been greatly misunderstood) tried to convey that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Jn 15:26; Rom 8: 9b; Gal 4: 6; Phil 1:19 ; 1 Peter 11) as well as of the Father (Mt 12:28; Jn 15:26; Rom 8: 9a; 1 Cor 12: 3; Eph 4:30; 1 Jn 4: 2). The belief in study was developed by Saint Augustine in his work, The Trinity: Book XV.

The Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott, in his Fundamental Principles of Catholic Dogma, describes Catholic belief as:

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the will or mutual love of the Father and the Son. (p.66)

He classifies it as a sententia certa belief, which means (p. 9-10):

[A] teaching on the Faith; theologically certain. . . a doctrine, on which the teaching authority of the Church has not yet pronounced definitively, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic link with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions).

We find in fact teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

264 “The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father as the first principle and, through the eternal gift of the latter to the Son, from the communion of both the Father and the Son” (Saint Augustine, De Trin. 15, 26, 47: PL 42, 1095).

The ancient Roman Catechism declared that “the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Divine Will, inflamed, so to speak, with love” (I, 9, 7; quoted in Ott, p. 67).

Ott gives the theological justification for this doctrine:

Scripture and Tradition attribute works of love to the Holy Spirit. See ROM. 5.5: “The charity of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us. The appropriation of works of love to the Holy Spirit has its basis in the personal character. . . of the Holy Spirit. We must therefore deduce that the Holy Spirit “proceeds” by an act of love (by modum amoris). This is why the Fathers call the Holy Spirit “Love”. . . The 11th Council of Toledo (675) declared:. . . that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both, it is seen by what it is known as the love or the holiness of the one and the other. (p.66)

Here are other Bible passages that associate the Holy Spirit with love:

Romans 3:30 p.m. (RSV) I call you, brethren, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to strive with me in your prayers to God on my behalf,

2 Corinthians 6: 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love,

2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, goodness, faithfulness,

Philippians 2: 1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, some prompting of love, some participation in the Spirit, some affection and sympathy,

Colossians 1: 8 and made known to us your love in the Spirit.

2 Timothy 1: 7 for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, love and self-control.

To learn more about the filioque dispute, see:

Filioque: Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue (William Klimon)

Catholic Encyclopedia: “Filioque”


(initially 7-3-09)

Photo credit: The doctrine of Filioque: La Trinité with a donor presented by St. Agricol. Provence, bet. 1450-75 (anonymous). From the high altar of the Saint-Marcellin chapel, Boulbon, France. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]