Home Page

On Line Library of the Church of Greece

 Christos Sp. Voulgaris

The Biblical and Patristic Doctrine of the Trinity

From: The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. 37 (Νov.) 3-4, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Mass., 1992.

6. God the Holy Spirit

The objections raised throughout the history of the Church against the Person of the Holy Spirit and His equality with the Father and the Son are more serious than those raised against the Son.  This is mainly due to the fact that in the Greek language the Spirit is of neutral gender; He quite often appears to indicate an impersonal power.  This means that the work of the Spirit in the world varies, but in no case can He be taken as a worldly power.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God at all times; He comes forth from Him, from whom also He is given in such a way that in Him God Himself is presented as working.

Thus, in the Old Testament, the Spirit is identical with life, natural as well as normal (Genesis 1:2 2:7, 6:3-17, 7:15, 41:38, Exodus 31:2, Deuteronomy 34:9, Numbers 11:25-30, 2 Kings 19:7, Psalm 32:6, 50:13 Isaiah 29:10, Ezekiel 11:19, 37:1-10, etc.).

The whole world is filled with the Spirit of God; His activity is variously felt, such as in appointing leaders in Israel (Judges 6:34, 14:6, 15:14, 1 Samuel 10:10, Psalm 3:12 etc.), prophets whom He inspires to fulfill their mission (Deuteronomy 34:9, Numbers 11:24-25, Isaiah 59:21, Ezekiel 11:5, Micah 3:8, Zechariah 1:6; cf. 2 Peter 1:21 etc.).

At the eschatological time the Spirit of God is to be poured upon the coming Messiah and His Community (Isaiah 44:3, 11:2, 42:1-4, 39:15, Joel 2:28-32, 3:1; Zechariah 12:10; cf. Acts 2:17-20, etc.).  Therefore, nowhere in the Old Testament is the Holy Spirit presented as a Person.  To some extent this is also true of the New Testament, where quite often He appears as a principle of divine power, distributing supernatural gifts, like to Zachariah and Elizabeth, to Mary, who conceived of the Holy Spirit, to the Baptist, and to the entire Church.  However, as promised in the Old Testament, Jesus the Messiah is especially filled with the Spirit (Luke 4:18ff), in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-2 (cf. also 58:6), Who was born of the Holy Spirit, Who also came upon Him at His baptism and then led Him to the desert to be the tempted by Satan (Luke 4:1ff, Matthew 4:1ff, Mark 1:12-13).

However, the question which concerns us is whether there is any evidence in the New Testament that presents the Holy Spirit as a Person.  The answer to this question is clearly positive.  Thus, from the Synoptic tradition we have Jesus Christ’s saying about the blasphemy against the Spirit compared with the blasphemy against Christ himself (Luke 12:10), as well as the statement about the illumination of the believers at the time of persecution (Luke 12:11-12).  The blasphemy is not against an impersonal power, but against a person, and becomes clear from the fact that during the persecution, the Spirit will teach the believers what they ought to say (v. 12).  ‘Teaching’ is exclusively peculiar to persons; this is verified in St. John’s Gospel, where Christ calls the Spirit “another Counselor,” other than Himself, Who “will teach you all things and bring to you remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:16-26).”  It is plain that the Holy Spirit will take Christ’s place among the disciples after His departure from the world (cf. John 14:18 “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you,” cf. also 16:7, Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4) in a teaching capacity in order to remind them of the significance of everything which Christ had said in His earthly life.

Similarly, Christ’s saying that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” and is sent to the world by both, the Father and Himself (John 15:26, 14:26; cf. Luke 11:13, Acts 2:33).   Procession, subjection and objectively, is not energy, but a mode of existence of the Father and of the Spirit, exactly as birth is a mode of the existence of the Son, objectively, and of the Father, subjectively.  Thus, the peculiar quality of the Holy Spirit is placed side by side with the peculiar qualities of the Father and the Son.  Therefore, the Spirit is of an equal honor with the other two Persons, which would not be the case if He were the result or the product of an energy, when He would be inferior to them as the creators.  This is why it is said of the Holy Spirit that when He comes to the world “He will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment” (John 16:8) exactly as does the Son (cf. John 5:22,27,30, 8:16, 12:31), even though “He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare the things that are to come” (John 16:13-15).  To this effect the Spirit “takes what is Christ’s (John 16:15),” who in turn has taken what is the Father’s (John 3:35, 6:37, 10:29, 13:3, 16:15).  Indeed, the Son does not speak the words on His own authority (John 14:10), because His teaching is not His, but the Father’s who sent Him to the world (John 7:16, cf 3:34, 8:26,28,30, 12:49, etc.).  Likewise the Spirit does not bear witness to the Father, but to the Son (John15:26), whom He glorifies (John 16:14).  Now, this evidence shows clearly that consubstantiality and equality of honor go hand in hand with a successive order of the divine Persons which cannot be violated and which guards the peculiar attributes of each Person.  It is exactly this order which has been revealed in the economy and from this we are guided to the ‘Theo-nomy’.

In addition to John, Paul also uses expressions about the Holy Spirit consistent with a person.  According to him,” the Spirit helps us our weakness” and “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” or “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).”  As is the case, the verbs of the expressions suggest an energy coming from the Holy Spirit, in the same way as it is suggested about God, “Who searches the hearts of men (and) knows what is the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8.27a).”  In the same way, Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 2:6ff about the mystery of  Christ’s saving work, which cannot be understood by the rulers of this age, but which is revealed by God to those who love Him, through the Spirit Who searches everything, even the depths of God.  The verb search always has a person as a subject in the New Testament.  Here it is used exactly as in Romans 8:27a and Revelation 2:23 about God searching the hearts of men.  On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 2:10 reminds us of Matthew 11:27 and Luke 10:22, where Christ says that “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.”  Having an equal knowledge of each other, the Father and the Son are mutually equal; as is the Holy Spirit who “searches the depths of God” since “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:11).”  In order to make this clear, Paul compares the perfect knowledge of God by His Spirit with man’s perfect knowledge by the spirit of man which is in him (1 Corinthians 2:11).”  As man’s spirit cannot be separated from his humanity and essence, so also the Spirit of God is not alien to his divinity and essence.  It is interesting to notice that while in the case of man it is said “the spirit of man which is in him,” indicating that the spirit is an accessory of man as a whole, in the case of God it is simply said “the Spirit of God,” which means that though inseparably connected with God, nevertheless the Spirit is not an accessory God but a separate entity.

This is even more clearly evident in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 where the three divine Persons are mentioned with reference to their particular connection with the gifts which, though many and different, are yet united in harmony as energies of the same God: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires all in every one.”  As different expressions of power, the gifts refer to the Father as the beginning and cause of all.  As different expressions of service to the benefit of the Church, they refer to Christ, who possesses them in full and grants them to the believers.  As different expressions of sanctification and spiritual growth, they refer to the Holy Spirit, who brings each individual believer to communion with Christ and through Him with the Father.  The fact that “all these are acted by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each individually as he wills (1 Corinthians 12:11)” indicates that the Spirit exercises a sovereign power and authority as a Person.  Therefore, having a will and an energy of his own, the Holy Spirit is a hypostatical essence, not a mere energy of God the Father, deprived of existence.  As Origen rightly observed, if the Spirit were a simple impersonal power, the verbs “to act,” “to apportion,” and “to will” would have been placed here in the passive voice in order to indicate the energy of the person commanding the Spirit.  But because the Spirit wills and acts and apportions, He is not a simple energy but an active essence.[xiii]

There are several passages in the New Testament which indicate that a sovereign will, authority and energy are ascribed to the Holy Spirit.  Thus in 2 Corinthians 3:17 the Spirit is called ‘Lord’ (“The Lord is the Spirit”) on an equal footing with God the Lord and Christ the Lord elsewhere in the New Testament.  As the fundamental characteristic of the New Covenant, the Spirit plays His unique role in the transformation of the believers.  Within the context of the divine plan of Salvation, which is the plan of the entire Holy Trinity, according to Christ, “the Spirit breaths where He wills (John 3:8).”  It was in this function that He spoke to several persons in the Old Testament and in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 10:20, Acts 1:16, 4:27, 8:27, 11:28, 20:11, 28:25, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 3:7, 9:8, 10:15, 1 Peter 1:11, 2 Peter 1:21, Revelation 14:13, etc.) where He leads individuals to the Father (Ephesians 2:18), turns them into his own temple (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, Ephesians 2:22), deliberates and decides together with the apostles at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:28), selects and appoints in the Church (Acts 13:1-4, 20:28), speaks to local churches (Revelation 2:7,11,29; 3:6,13,29), builds up the body of the whole Church (Ephesians 4:3-4, John 6:45), grieves for the sins of the believers (Ephesians 4:30), and occasionally punishes them (Acts 5:3-4).  There is no substantial difference between the expressions ‘Spirit of God’ and ‘Spirit of Christ’, because the first shows His relation to God the Father as the beginning and cause of all, including Himself, while the second emphasizes His relation to Christ of whom He bears witness and by whom He is given to the world.

Now this hypostatical and sovereign role of the Holy Spirit helps us to understand better the so-called Trinitarian formulas in the New Testament.  Such formulas are not only Matthew 28:19 which tells that the baptism is to be performed in the name of each Person of the Trinity, or 2 Corinthians 13:13, which tells that the Spirit brings the believers into communion with the Father and the Son, but also a whole series of texts, which tell of the active participation of all three Persons of the Trinity in the work of Salvation, each one in His own particular role (cf Luke 1:35, Matthew 3:13-17 par., Luke 4:16ff, John 20:21-22, Acts 1:4-5, 2:33, 4:24-31, 5:30-32, 10:38, 11:15-16, Romans 1:4, 5:1-11, 8:9-17, 15:16.30, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 12:3, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 3:3, Galatians 4:4-6, Ephesians 1:3-17, 2:18, 3:14-18, 5:19-20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18-19, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, Titus 3:4-7, Hebrews 10:29, 1 Peter 1:2, 1 John 4:2-3, Jude 20-21; also, the very important passage 1 John 5:7, which is wrongly considered a later interpolation).  These passages show the overall recognition and faith of the apostolic Church in the Holy Trinity without any reservation whatsoever.  Reservations appeared only later among Christian thinkers influenced by non-ecclesiastical, philosophical and religious ideas, as we shall see in the following chapter.  


[xiii] Origen, In Jn Fragm. 37.