Holy Spirit, Procession, & the Father’s & Son’s Love

Holy Spirit, Procession, & the Father’s & Son’s Love November 3, 2018
This is from an exchange on the Coming Home Network forum, where I was staff moderator from 2007-2010.

* * * * *

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

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

Does anyone know the source of this quotation? A search for the citation on the internet revealed its source as Christopher West. Does this source have roots in the Church Fathers, or traditions of the church? I have not been able to find it in the catechism.

Does identifying the Holy Spirit as the love that exists between the Father and the Son diminish the Spirit’s divine personhood and distinction from the Father and the Son, despite the fact that the quotation insists otherwise? The citation does not include any reference to support the statement that real, profound love between two people constitutes a wholly separate person?

* * * * *

The words are directly from Christopher West: Good News about Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions about Catholic Teaching (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2004), p. 19.

Scripture describes God as love. Pope Benedict XVI expressed a thought perhaps not unlike this one:

[T]he “three persons” who exist in God are the reality of word and love in their attachment to each other. They are not substances, personalities in the modern sense, but the relatedness whose pure actuality . . . does not impair unity of the highest being but fills it out. St Augustine once enshrined this idea in the following formula: “He is not called Father with reference to himself but only in relation to the Son; seen by himself he is simply God.” Here the decisive point comes beautifully to light. “Father” is purely a concept of relationship. Only in being-for the other is he Father; in his own being-in-himself he is simply God. Person is the pure relation of being related, nothing else. Relationship is not something extra added to the person, as it is with us; it only exists at all as relatedness.

. . . the First Person (the Father) does not beget the Son in the sense of the act of begetting coming on top of the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of giving. (Introduction to Christianity, pp. 131-132; cf. Augustine, Enarationes in Psalmos68; De Trinitate VII, 1, 2.)

Bishop William E. Lori writes:

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

This helps us understand what is meant when the Church expresses its Trinitarian faith: “One God in three Persons.” Notice that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not merely three names for God or merely three ways in which the one God might appear. Nor should we think of the Trinity as three gods cobbled together in a corporate partnership.

There really is only one God, yet with three distinct Persons (the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father, etc.). The three Persons of the Trinity possess completely and co-equally the divine nature. They are three identifiable Persons, each fully God in a manner that is distinct yet related to the others (see U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, 52).

This has to do with the filioque dispute: the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The western understanding (that became highly controversial, and was greatly misunderstood) was trying 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 under consideration was developed by St. Augustine in his work, The TrinityBook  XV.

Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott, in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, describes the Catholic belief as:

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

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

[A] teaching pertaining to the Faith; theologically certain . . . a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions).

We do indeed find the teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

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

The older Roman Catechism stated that the “Holy Ghost proceeds from the Divine Will, inflamed, as it were, with love” (I, 9, 7; cited in Ott, p. 67).

Ott gives the theological rationale for this doctrine:

Scripture and Tradition ascribe the works of love to the Holy Ghost. Cf. Rom. 5,5: “The charity of God is poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us.” The appropriation of the works of love to the Holy Ghost has its basis in the personal character . . . of the Holy Ghost. It is, therefore, to be inferred that the Holy Ghost “proceeds” by an act of love (per modum amoris). For this reason the Fathers call the Holy Ghost “Love” . . . The 11th Council of Toledo (675) declared: . . . that the Holy Ghost proceeds from both is seen by this that He is known as the love or sanctity of both. (p. 66)

Here are additional biblical passages that associate the Holy Spirit with love:

Romans 15:30 (RSV) I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf,

2 Corinthians 6:6 by purity, knowledge, forbearance, 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, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

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

Colossians 1:8 and has 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 and love and self-control.

For more on the filioque dispute, see:

Filioque: Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue (William Klimon)

Catholic Encyclopedia“Filioque”


(originally 7-3-09)

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


"I agree ...... Michael Alters' quibble about the precise date in which Jesus died was ..."

Resurrection Debate #2: Date of Jesus’ ..."
"I agree with what Fr. Angel Sotelo said on the Facebook cross-posting."

Fr. Peter Stravinskas & Irrational Pope ..."
"Hi Dave,I had a bit of a different take on Fr. Stravinkas’ article than you ..."

Fr. Peter Stravinskas & Irrational Pope ..."
"I have to say I'm thoroughly disappointed with Fr Stravinskas .. I just don't understand ..."

Fr. Peter Stravinskas & Irrational Pope ..."

Browse Our Archives

error: Content is protected !!