4th Lenten Homily 2015

Author: Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M.


Fr. Cantalamessa's 4th Lenten Homily 2015

East and West Before the Mystery of the Holy Spirit

VATICAN CITY, 20 March 2015 (ZENIT)
Here is the fourth Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa. 

* * *

Today we will meditate on the common faith of the East and the West in the Holy Spirit, and I will seek to do it “in the Spirit,” in his presence, knowing, as the Scripture says, that “Even before a word is on my tongue, / behold, O Lord, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4).

1. Toward an agreement on the Filioque

For centuries, the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit in the bosom of the Trinity has been a point of major friction and reciprocal accusations between the East and West because of the much-discussed Filioque. I will try to reconstruct the status of the question to better assess the grace that God is giving us for an agreement on this thorny problem.

The faith of the Church in the Holy Spirit was defined, as we know, in the ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 with the following words: “And (we believe) in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”[1] If we look at it closely, this formula answers the two fundamental questions about the Holy Spirit. To the question “Who is the Holy Spirit?” the answer is that he is “Lord” (that is, he belongs to the sphere of Creator, not of creatures) who proceeds from the Father and is worshiped equally with the Father and the Son. To the question “What does the Holy Spirit do?” the answer is that he “gives life” (which summarizes all his sanctifying, interior, and renewing action) and that “he has spoken through the prophets” (which summarizes the charismatic action of the Holy Spirit).

Despite these elements of great value, however, it must be said that the formula still reflects a provisional stage, if not of the faith at least of the terminology regarding the Holy Spirit. The most obvious lacuna is that in this formula the title of “God” is still not explicitly ascribed to the Holy Spirit. The first one to lament this omission was St. Gregory Nazianzus who, on his own, had ended all the hesitations, writing, “Well then, is the Spirit God? Certainly! Is he then consubstantial (homoùsion)? If it is true that he is God, then of course.”[2] This void was actually filled by the practice of the Church which, overcoming the contingent reasons that up until that point held it back, did not hesitate to attribute the title of “God” to the Holy Spirit and to define him as “consubstantial” with the Father and the Son.

What I just noted was not the only “lacuna.” From the point of view of the history of salvation as well, it must have seemed odd early on that the only work attributed to the Spirit was that of having “spoken through the prophets,” omitting mention of all his other works and especially his activity in the New Testament and in the life of Jesus. In this case as well, the completion of the dogmatic formula occurs spontaneously in the life of the Church, as is clear in this epiclesis from the liturgy of St. James in which the quality of being “consubstantial” is also attributed to the Spirit (the italicized phrases are taken from the symbol):

Send . . . your most Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who is seated withyou, God and Father, and with your only-begotten Son; he rules with you consubstantially and coeternally. He spoke through the Law, the Prophets, and the New Testament; he descended in the form of a dove upon our Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, resting upon him, and descended on his holy apostles . . . on the day of holy Pentecost.[3]

Another point, and the most important one, about which the counciliar formula was silent was the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Son and, consequently, the relationship between Christology and pneumatology. The only indication in this direction consisted in the phrase “by the power of the Holy Spirit was incarnate from the Virgin Mary,” which was probably already found in the symbol of faith that the Council of Constantinople adopted as the basis of its creed.

On this point, the completion of the symbol occurred in a less clear and peaceful way. Some Greek Fathers expressed the eternal relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “through the Son”; that the Holy Spirit is “the image of the Son”[4]; that he “proceeds from the Father and receives from the Son”; that he is the “ray” that is diffused from the sun (the Father) and by his splendor (the Son); that he is the stream that comes from the fountain (the Father) and by means of the river (the Son). When the debate about the Holy Spirit passed over to the Latin world, they coined a phrase to express this relationship according to which the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father and from the Son.” The words “and from the Son” in Latin become Filioque, and from here arises the meaning with which this word became overloaded in the disputes between East and West, and the conclusions, obviously exaggerated, that were drawn at times.

It was St. Ambrose who first formulated the idea that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father and from the Son.”[5] He was not influenced by Tertullian, whom he did not know and never cited, but by the expressions we have just quoted that he was reading in his usual Greek sources: St. Basil and, even more so, St. Athanasius and Didymus of Alexandria. All these modes of expression highlighted a certain relationship, however unclear and mysterious, between the Son and the Holy Spirit in their common origin from the Father. If “through the Son” means something, this “something” is what Ambrose (overlooking the subtle distinctions that exist in Greek between ekporeuesthai, “to go out from”, and proienai, “to proceed from”) intended by his expression “and from the Son.”

St. Augustine furnished the theological justification for the expression “from the Father and from the Son” (although he does not yet use the precise expression Filioque) that has subsequently characterized all of Latin pnuematology. He uses expressions that are quite nuanced and certainly do not put Father and the Son in the same role in relation to the Holy Spirit, as we can see in his well-known affirmation: “the Holy Spirit principally proceeds from the Father (de Patre principaliter) and, as the gift that the Father gives to the Son, without any intervening time, from both at the same time.”[6]

This doctrine, in addition to so many passages in the New Testament (“All that the Father has is mine”; “he [the Paraclete] will take what is mine”) was required by Augustine’s conception of the Trinitarian relationships as relationships based on love. It also allowed the resolution to the following objection that had always remained unanswered: What had the Father still not fully expressed of himself in generating the Son that would justify a second Trinitarian operation? What distinguishes the procession of the Spirit from the generation of the Word?

The one who coined the literal expression Filioque to indicate the procession “from the Father and from the Son” was Fulgentius of Ruspe who, in other instances as well, had made rigid earlier formulas of Latin theology that were still flexible.[7] He is silent regarding Augustine’s specification that the Holy Spirit proceeds “principally” from the Father and insists instead on saying that “the Holy Spirit . . . proceeds from the Son just as (sicut) [he] proceeds from the Father,” and “that Spirit is completely (totus) from the Father [and] is completely from the Son,” levelling in this way the two relations in regard to the origin of the Spirit.[8] It is in this undifferentiated interpretation that the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son will enter into ecclesial definitions beginning with the Third Council of Toledo in 589.[9]

While the issue remained at this level, it raised no protests from the East. In 809, there was a synod at Aquisgrana, called by Charlemagne, to advocate for the introduction of the Filioque into the Constantinopolitan-Nicene creed that was beginning to be sung at Mass in some churches. The emperor was moved less by personal theological convictions than by the desire to give a doctrinal justification for his policy of emancipation from the Eastern empire.

At the end of the council, a delegation from the emperor went to Rometo see Pope Leo III to win him over to the emperor’s cause. However, although he fully shared the doctrine of the Filioque, the pope considered its insertion into the creed to be inopportune and held firmly to his decision.[10] In so doing he was following the same conduct of the Greek Church where, as we have seen, there had been important additions and deeper understandings of the article on the Holy Spirit, without making it necessary to change the text of the creed. Facing new pressure from Emperor Henry II of Germany, in 1314 Pope Boniface VIII agreed to have the word Filioque inserted into the liturgical recitation of the creed, arousing legitimate recriminations from the Orthodox East.

Today in a climate of dialogue and mutual esteem that is being established between the Orthodox and CatholicChurches, this problem no longer seems to be an insurmountable obstacle to full communion. Qualified representatives of the Orthodox theology are disposed to recognize, under certain conditions, the legitimacy of the Latin doctrine. Here is how the theologian John Zizioulas explains those conditions:

The “golden Rule” must be St. Maximus the Confessor’s explanation concerning Western Pneumatology: by professing the Filioque our Western brethren do not wish to introduce another aition [cause] in God’s being except the Father, and a mediating role of the Son in the origination of the Spirit is not to be limited to the divine Economy, but relates also to the divine ousia [nature]. If East and West can repeat these two points of St. Maximus together in our time, this would provide sufficient basis for a rapprochement between the two traditions.[11]

These words maintain the Orthodox position that the Father is the unique cause that is “not caused” of the procession of the Holy Spirit, which is compatible with the position proposed above by Augustine. On the other hand, these words recognize the validity of the Latin point of view in attributing to the Son an active role in the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, even if they do not share the precise specification of the Latins, “as though from a single principle” (tamquam ex uno principio).

On this issue the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of a “legitimate complementarity, provided it does not become rigid [and] does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed.”[12] The document of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1995, solicited by Pope John Paul II and well received by exponents of Orthodox theology, speaks along these same lines.[13] As a sign of this willingness for reconciliation, John Paul II himself initiated the practice of omitting the addition of the Filioque (“and from the Son”) in certain ecumenical celebrations in St. Peter’s Basilica and in other places in which the Latin creed was proclaimed.

2. Toward a new synthesis

As always, dialogue, when it is truly done “in the Spirit,” is not limited to ironing out past difficulties but opens up new perspectives. The greatest innovation in contemporary pneumatology does not in fact consist only in finally reaching an agreement on the Filioque but in beginning again from Scripture in view of a fuller synthesis and with a broader spectrum of questions that is less conditioned by past history.

In this rereading of the Scriptures, already initiated some time ago, a specific fact has emerged: the Holy Spirit in the history of salvation is not only sent by the Son but is also sent upon the Son. The Son is not only the one who gives the Spirit but also the one who receives the Spirit. The moment of the transition from one phase to the other in the history of salvation—from the Jesus who receives the Spirit to the Jesus who sends the Spirit—is constituted by the event of the cross.[14]

In the document of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity already mentioned, we find a beautiful text that summarizes all these interventions of the Spirit “on” Jesus: at his birth, in his baptism, in his offering of himself in sacrifice to the Father (see Heb. 9:14), and in his resurrection.[15] This relationship of reciprocity that is revealed on the historical level must in some way reflect the relationship that exists in the Trinity. This same document therefore draws the following conclusion:

This role of the Spirit in the innermost human existence of the Son of God made man derives from an eternal Trinitarian relationship through which the Spirit, in his mystery as Gift of Love, characterizes the relation between the Father, as source of love, and his beloved Son.[16]

But how do we conceive of this reciprocity in the Trinity? This is the field that is opening up to contemporary reflection in the theology of the Spirit. The encouraging thing is that

theologians of all the great Christian Churches—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant—are moving together in this direction in a fraternal and constructive dialogue. One of the fixed points from which the reflection of the Fathers and in particular Augustine was advancing (and by which their reflections were conditioned) was the lack of reciprocity between the Holy Spirit and the other two divine Persons. They said, we can call the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of the Father” but we cannot call the Father “the Father of the Spirit”; we can call the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of the Son,” but we cannot call the Son “the Son of the Spirit.”[17]

This is the difficult point that people are trying to get beyond today. It is true that we cannot call God “the Father of the Spirit,” but we can call him “the Father in the Spirit”; it is true that we cannot call the Son “the Son of the Spirit” but we can call him “the Son in the Spirit.” The preposition traditionally used to speak about the Spirit is not “of” but “in.” It is “in the Spirit” that Christ cries Abba on earth (see Luke 10:21). If we acknowledge that what happens in history is a reflection of what happens in the Trinity, we have to conclude that it is “in the Spirit” that the Son pronounces his eternal Abba in his generation by the Father.[18] The Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément anticipated this conclusion in saying that “the Son is born of the Father in the Spirit.”[19]

A new way of conceiving of Trinitarian relationships emerges from all this. The Word and the Spirit proceed simultaneously from the Father. We need to reject any idea of precedence for these two, not only chronologically but also logically. Just as the nature that constitutes the three divine Persons is unique, so too is the operation unique that has its source in the Father and is what constitutes the Father as “Father,” the Son as “Son,” and the Spirit as “Spirit.” The Son and the Holy Spirit cannot be seen one coming after the other or as one next to the other, but as “one in the other.” Generation and procession are not “two separate acts” but two aspects or two results of one unique act.[20]

How can we conceive of and express this profound act from which the mystical rose of the Trinity blossoms all at once? We are before the most intimate heart of the Trinitarian mystery that is beyond all human conception and analogy. The idea offered in this regard by that same Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément seems very suggestive to me. He speaks of “an eternal anointing” of the Son by the Father through the Spirit.[21] This insight has a solid patristic foundation in the formula of “anointer, anointed, and anointing” that is used in the most ancient theology of the Fathers. St. Ireneus had written,

In the name “Christ” is implied the one who anoints, the one who was anointed, and the unction itself with which he was anointed. The Father anoints, the Son was anointed in the Holy Spirit who is the unction.”[22]

St. Basil took up this affirmation literally, which was in turn repeated by St. Ambrose.[23] At the beginning it referred directly to Jesus’ historical anointing in his baptism at Jordan; subsequently this anointing was seen as having occurred at the moment of the Incarnation.[24] Already during the era of the Fathers the moment of his anointing began to go back further in time. Justin, Ireneus, and Origen had spoken of a “cosmic anointing” of the Word, that is, an anointing that the Father confers on the Word in view of his creation of the world insofar as “through him, the Father anointed and adorned [arranged] all things.”[25]

Eusebius of Cesarea goes even further and sees that anointing as occurring at the very moment of generation: “The anointing consists in the very generation of the Word by which the Spirit of the Father passes over into the Son like a divine fragrance.”[26]

The opinion of St. Gregory of Nyssa is more authoritative; he dedicates an entire chapter to illustrate the anointing of the Word by the Spirit in this eternal generation by the Father. He starts from the presupposition that the name “Christ,” “the Anointed One,” belongs to the Son from all eternity.

The oil of gladness represents the power of the Holy Spirit with which God is anointed by God, that is, the Only-begotten is anointed by the Father. . . . Just as a righteous person cannot simultaneously be unrighteous, so too the anointed one cannot be not-anointed. Now the one who is never not-anointed is certainly anointed for ever. And everyone must admit that the one who anoints is the Father and the oil of anointing is the Holy Spirit. [27]

The image of unction (since it always necessary to speak with images) adds something new that is not expressed in the more usual image of spiration. In the West, it is usual to repeat that the Spirit is called “Spirit” insofar as he is breathed and breathes forth. According to this perspective, the Holy Spirit performs an “active” role only outside the Trinity insofar as he inspires the Scriptures, the prophets, the saints, etc., while within the Trinity he would have only the passive quality of being breathedforth by the Father and the Son. This absence of an active role of the Spirit within the Trinity, regarded as perhaps the greatest lacuna of traditional pneumatology, is thus overcome in this way. If an active role of the Son toward the Spirit is recognized and expressed by the image of spiration, then there is an active role for the Holy Spirit toward the Son, expressed by the image of anointing. We cannot say of the Word that he is “the Son of the Holy Spirit,” but we can say of him that he is “the Anointed One of the Spirit.”

3. The Spirit of truth and the Spirit of charity

A renewed attention to the Scriptures permits us to verify the complementarity of Eastern and Western pnuematologies from another point of view as well. In the New Testament itself, a major emphasis by John on the “Spirit of truth” and by Paul on the “Spirit of charity” has been observed.[28] The “Spirit of truth” in the Fourth Gospel is another name for the Paraclete (see Jn 14:16-17). Those who worship the Father should worship him “in Spirit and truth”; he leads “to all the truth”; and his anointing “teaches you about everything” (see1 Jn 2:20-27). For Paul instead, the primary effect of the Spirit is to “pour love” into our hearts, and the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, and peace” (Gal 5:22); love constitutes “the law of the Spirit” (Rom 8:2); love is the “more excellent way” because the gift of the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift of all (see 1 Cor 12:31).

As is the case with the doctrine about Christ, this different emphasis concerning the Holy Spirit is also maintained in tradition, and once again the East reflects the Johannine perspective more and the West the Pauline perspective. Orthodox pneumatology has placed more emphasis on the Spirit as light while Latin pneumatology has placed more emphasis on the Spirit as love. This diversity is the clearest, in any case, in the two works that have most influenced the development of the respective theologies of the Holy Spirit. In St. Basil’s treatise On the Holy Spirit, the theme of the Spirit as love plays no role while the theme of the Spirit as “intelligible light”[29] plays a central role. In St. Augustine’s treatise On the Trinity, the theme of the Spirit as light plays no role while, as we know, the theme of the Spirit as love plays a central role.

Light, with the phenomena that usually accompany it—transfiguration of the person and his complete immersion in light internally and externally—is the most consistent element of the mysticism of the Holy Spirit in the East. “Come, true light!” are the words that begin a prayer to the Holy Spirit by St. Symeon the New Theologian.[30] Also the famous “Tabor light,” which plays such a large part in Eastern spirituality and iconography, is intimately linked to the Holy Spirit.[31] One text of the Orthodox Divine Office says that on the day of Pentecost, “Thanks to the Holy Spirit, the whole world received a baptism of light.”[32]

I conclude with a thought from St. Augustine about the Spirit of love that, if applied to the relationships among the various churches, would result in a decisive step forward toward the unity of Christians. Commenting on St. Paul’s doctrine in 1 Corinthians 12 on the charisms, St. Augustine offers this reflection. In hearing all the marvelous charisms listed (prophecy, wisdom, discernment, healings, tongues), someone might feel sad or excluded because he thinks that he does not possess any of these. But listen, the saint continues,

If you love, what you have is not small. If in fact you love unity, everything that is possessed by someone else is possessed by you as well! Banish envy and all that is mine will be yours; and if I banish envy, all you possess is mine! Envy separates, while love unites. Only the eye in the body has the function of seeing, but does the eye really only see for itself? No, the eye sees for the hand, the foot, and all the other members. . . . Only the hand acts in the body, but it does not really act only for itself. No, it also acts for the eye. In fact, if a blow were aimed only at the face and not at the hand, would the hand ever say, “I am not moving because the blow is not directed at me”?[33]

This reveals the secret about why charity is the “more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31): it makes me love the body of Christ, or the community in which I live, and because of unity, all the charisms, and not just some, are “mine.” Charity truly multiples the charisms. It makes one person’s charism a charism that belongs to all. It is enough to make Christ, and not ourselves, the center of interest, to not want “to live for oneself but for the Lord,” as the Apostle says (see Rom14:7-8).

Applied to the relationship between the two Churches of East and West, this principle points to looking at what each of them has that is different from the other, to the charism that is proper to each one, not as an error or a threat but as a treasure for all in which we can rejoice. Applied to our daily relationships within the church or the community in which we live, this principle helps us overcome the natural feelings of frustration, rivalry, and jealousy. This is a necessary ascesis, but from it come forth the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, and peace. “Blessed is that servant,” writes St. Francis of Assisi, “who does not pride himself [and I add, who does not rejoice] in the good that the Lord says and works through him more than the good he says and works through another.”[34] May the Holy Spirit help us to walk on this path that is a demanding one, but to which are promised the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, and peace.


Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson

[1] Denzinger, #150, English ed., p. 66.

[2] Gregory Nazianzus, Discourses, 31, 10 (PG 36, 144).

[3] For the “Anaphora of St. James,” see Anton Hänggi and Irmgard Pahl, Prex Eucharistica:Textus e variis liturgiis antiquioribusselecti (Fribourg: Editions Universitaires, 1968), 250.

[4] See Athanasius, Letters to Serapion I, 24 (PG 26, 585ff.); Cyril of Alexander, Commentary on John, XI, 10 (PG 74, 541C); St. John of Damascus, An Exposition of theOrthodox Faith, I, 13 (PG 94, 856B). 

[5] Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, I, 120: “Spiritus quoque Sanctus, cum procedit a Patre et a Filio, non separatur.”

[6] Augustine, On the Trinity, XV, 26, 47.

[7] Fulgentius of Ruspe, Letter 14, 21, in Fulgentius: Selected Works, trans. Robert B. Eno (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1997), 527-528 (CC 91, p. 411); On the Faith, 6.54, ibid., p. 64 (CC 91A, pp.716-747): “Spiritus Sanctus essentialiter de Patre Filioque procedit”; Liber de Trinitate, passim (CC 91A, pp. 633ff.).

[8] Fulgentius of Ruspe, Letter 14, 28, p. 538 (CC 91, p. 420).

[9] Denzinger, #470, p. 161. In the symbol of the First Synod of Toledo in 400 (Denzinger #188, pp. 74-75), Filioque is a later addition.

[10] See Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Concilia, vol. 2, p. II, 1906, pp. 235-244, and PL 102, 971-976.

[11] John Zizioulas, “The Teaching of the 2nd Ecumenical Council on the Holy Spirit in Historical and Ecumenical Perspective,” in Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, ed. J. S. Martin, vol. 1 (Vatican: Libreria EditriceVaticana, 1983), p. 54.

[12] Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 248.

[13] See “Greek and Latin Traditions Regarding the Procession of the Holy Spirit,” L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly English ed., September 20, 1995, p. 3.

[14] See John Paul II, Dominum et vivificantem (“The Lord and Giver of Life”), 13, 24, 41; Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A UniversalAffirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis:  First Fortress Press, 2001), 67ff.

[15] “Greek and Latin Traditions,” p. 3.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Augustine, On the Trinity, V, 12, 13.

[18] See Thomas G. Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship:Reconceiving the Trinity (Edinburgh: T &T Clark, 1995).

[19] Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from the Patristic Era with Commentary (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993), p. 70.

[20] See Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, p. 90; Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, pp. 53-85.

[21] See Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, p. 58.

[22] Ireneus, Against Heresies, III, 18, 3.

[23] Basil, On the Holy Spirit, XII, 28 (PG 32, 116C); St. Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, I, 3, 44.

[24] Gregory Nazianzus, Discourses, 30, 2 (PG 36, 105B).

[25] Ireneus, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 53, trans. J. Armitage Robinson (New York: Macmillan, 1920), p. 117 (SCh 62, p. 114); see A. Orbe, La Unción del Verbo, Analecta Gregoriana, vol. 11 (Rome, 1961), pp. 501-568

[26] Orbe, La Unción del Verbo, p. 578.

[27] Gregory of Nyssa, Against Apollinaris, 52 (PG 45, 1249f.).

[28] See Edouard Cothenet, “Saint-Esprit,” Supplémentau Dictionnaire de la Bible, fasc. 60, 1986, col. 377.

[29] Basil, On the Holy Spirit, IX, 22-23 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980), pp. 42-44 (PG 32, 108f.); XVI, 38 (PG 32, 137).

[30] Symeon the New Theologian, Mystical Prayers (SCh 156, p. 150).

[31] See Gregory Palamas, “Homily on the Transfiguration” (PG 151, 433B-C).

[32] Synaxarium of Pentecost, in Pentecostaire (Parma: Diaconie apostolique, 1994), p. 4.

[33] Augustine, Tractates on John, 32, 8.[34] Francis of Assisi, Admonitions, XVII (FF, 166).

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