Early Church Fathers on the Holy Spirit
It was not until the third and fourth centuries that the Trinitarian view of the Godhead developed. In the history of Christianity, the Holy Spirit long presented a dilemma. The earliest Ecumenical Creeds acknowledged the “reality” of the Spirit, but did not place the Spirit on co-equal par with God (the Father) and the Son of God.
What appears evident in early Christian doctrine, is that the Apologists writing of the Apologists concerning the Holy Spirit were few and far between and less prevalent, scarcely deserving the name of scientific theology. Jeffery Grant echoes that “the predominantly applied them was their relationship of Christ to the Godhead. Nevertheless, being loyal churchmen, they made it their business to proclaim the Church’s Faith, the pattern of which was of course Trinitarian”.
Between the time of the Church Fathers and this past century, the Christian churches didn’t think much more about the spirit. There is a practical reason for this; the spirit is hard to articulate, that much about the same would endorse in much debate and endless theories; which in effect still takes place today. There are many denominations who argue tirelessly about the relationship between God the Father and God the Spirit; the ‘Oneness ideology’ is a prime example of this, anyone who tries to describe the Holy Spirit eventually finds themselves on the edge of the cliff of heresy. Even describing the presence of the Spirit possess a problem. It is usually best to stick with what matters most and that is what the Spirit is doing within us and how He is empowering our Works for the Kingdom.
The Apostle Creed
Attempts to develop an understanding of the Holy Spirit with the Trinitarian passages came to fruition at Constantinople in 381. When the Apostles’ Creed was drawn up, the chief enemy was Gnosticism and Arianism. Both of these were sceptical moments denying that Jesus was truly Man and God; and the emphases of the Apostles’ Creed reflects a concern with renouncing this error.
Arius a presbyter (elder) who lived in the early 300’s in Alexandria in Egypt, taught the Father, in the beginning, created (or begat) the Son, and that the Son, in conjunction with the Father, then proceeded to create the world. The result of this was to make the Son a created being, and hence not God in any meaningful sense. It was also suspiciously like the theories of those Gnostics and pagans who held that God was too perfect to create something like a material world, and so introduced one or more intermediate beings between God and the world. Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, sent for Arius and questioned him. Arius stuck to his guns, and was finally excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. He went to Nicomedia in Asia, where he wrote letters defending his position to various bishops. Finally, the Emperor Constantine summoned a council of Bishops in Nicea, and there in 325 the Bishops of the Church by a decided majority, renounced Arius and produced the first draft of what is now called the Nicene Creed. The first creedal gathering at Nicea (AD 325) merely concluded: “We believe in the Holy Spirit” without elaboration.
That initial uncertainty and indecision was officially overcome at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. It was at this church unity Council gathering they confessed the faith of the Apostles when they said, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.” This creed described deity to the Holy Spirit presenting the Spirit as one God with the Father and Son.
It is not until St. Athanasius who wrote in his “Letters to Serapion” explains the relationship of the Holy Spirit with the Father, in one part of his letter Athanasius speaks of this relationship using similar wording to the later doctrine of the Filioque. The Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son. The Spirit proceeds from the Father as well as the Son. The Spirit is characterized by sharing similarities with the Son. We cannot deny that the influences of theologians such as Basil of Caesarea (“the Great”) and his work on the Holy Spirit were the primary influence neither can we deny what was likely the influence of these writings of Athanasius on the subject.
In “Make room for the Holy Spirit part one and part two” was a great experience and journey of the time when the Apostles were going about the Great Commission and were preaching the Gospel. Prior to the Protestant Reformation. In the sixteenth Century the Christian did not have access to the Bible, it was at this time the most learned pagans stopped believing in their gods. Convinced of the falseness of their idolatrous religion, they pursued the truth in the teachings of the ancient philosophers. Thank you Lord for modern society where we have the privilege and access to the Bible which is our daily bread.
May the Lord bless you as you read.