39 Articles—The Holy Spirit
April 21, 2017
Article 5 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion is another example of the need to read these articles as a whole. One of the new articles added by Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575) in 1563, this article contains an explicit statement on the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son (filioque in Latin). The synod in Dublin (1615) adopted this article as it stands for the Irish Articles. Although there is no comparable chapter in the Westminster Confession (1647), each phrase on the Holy Spirit is present in Westminster Confession of Faith 2.3.
Depsite being straightforward as well as the second shortest of the articles, article 5 remains one of the most controversial articles among Anglicans today.
V—Of the Holy GhostThe Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.
Archbishop Parker adopted the language of the Augsburg Confession (1530), which had also been done by Johannes Brenz (1499-1570) in the Wüttemberg Confession of 1552. The Wüttemberg Confession was presented to the Council of Trent in the same year as a statement of unity among Protestant churches and in their solidarity with the catholic creeds.
Article 5 is not the only place in the Articles that affirms the double procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son. We read in Article 8 on the Creeds how the doctrines contained in the Apostles, Athanasian, and Nicene Creeds of the Book of Common Prayer are to be thoroughly believed and received because the doctrines of these creeds (both have the filioque) contain the teachings of the Scriptures. Thus linking Article 5 through Article 8 to Article 6 on the sufficient Scripture being the final authority on all matters of faith.
In the West, this short phrase "and the Son" (filioque) has not been controversial since the eleventh century and most accepted it long before then. By the early sixth century, it is found in the Athanasian Creed. And the doctrine had been developed as early as Augustine of Hippo in his book on the Trinity (De Trinitate). Augustine taught that God is a Trinity of love, the Father is the one who loves, the Son the beloved, and the Spirit the bond of love that unites them. For love to be perfect, it must be equal to the Father and the Son. This means the bond of love must proceed from the Father as his love for the Son and from the Son in his responsive love for the Father. In the East, this phrase was never accepted and continues to cause strain in the relations between our churches. Gerald Bray suggests that there are two different models of the Trinity which are incompatible on this point. The Eastern model logically excludes the double procession because of its view of the Father as the only source of divinity, while the Western one requires balancing the love of the Father and the Son for each other (Bray, The Faith We Confess: An Exposition of the 39 Articles, 38).
The Western church resolved the problem at the 1439 Council of Florence (which the Anglican Church has never renounced) that declared that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. This wording keeps the primacy of the Father that is so important to the East and retains the procession from the Father and the Son that takes into account the Bible passages referring to the relationship between the Spirit and Son. Offered as a compromise to the Eastern churches but rejected, little has changed since then.
Why did the Anglican divines hold to the decree of the Council of Florence and guarantee a sound doctrine of the Spirit in all the historic formularies? They saw that to eradicate the connection between the consequent work of the Spirit in relation to the Son and the Son's relationship with the Father is to eradicate the person and ministry of the Spirit rediscovered in the Reformation. A doctrine, which suggests that it may be possible to go to the Father in the Spirit without reference to the Son, removes the objective reality of the cross and the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ as the central to the believer. The Holy Spirit is the bond that unites us to Christ and by whom we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits.
In recent years, however, Anglicans have been tempted to delete the filioque from the Nicene Creed and to ignore the Athanasian Creed altogether. The proposed liturgies of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) have bracketed the words [and the Son] in the Nicene Creed. Such brackets signal to the minister that the omission of the filioque is permitted. The explanation given in the 2013 resolution that accompanied the proposed liturgies is that the omission may be allowed on the relatively weak argument that the original Greek translation of the Creed omits the phrase. Thereby bypassing the significant doctrinal position taken by the historic formularies (the Articles and the Book of Common Prayer) and the essential Reformational character of the Anglican Church.
The bracketing of the filioque clause in the proposed liturgies speaks more of the disproportionate influence of Anglo-Catholic and philo-Orthodox thinking within the ACNA's leadership. Interest in the topic has always been high among these groups who for the last 150 years have sought to justify a non-Roman type of Catholicism by an appeal to the Eastern church and to marginalize the Reformation. Indeed, four months have passed at the time of this writing into 2017 and the ACNA has yet to mention this 500th anniversary year by website, episcopal communiqué, blog post, special prayer, collect and thanksgivings, or in notification of conferences and research papers! Therefore a bracketing of the filioque signals a symptom to the discerning Protestant that Anglicans hold differing and irreconcilable views on essential doctrines. For the present, the ACNA College of Bishops resolution is to “seek advice” of the Theological Commission of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON). One might also suggest that the Commission also address the underlying issue in the authoritative nature of the historical formularies themselves that GAFCON member provinces profess.
Article 5 may be the second shortest of the all the articles but it is no less important when taken as part of the larger theological narrative of the formularies. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit rests among all the other key doctrines and teachings of our confession.