Hear What the Spirit Is Saying to the Church


This Sunday the Church celebrates Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and other followers of Christ, as described in Acts. Originally a Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses, the disciples were all gathered together, “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. . . . All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Holy Spirit lately, that third ‘person’ of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit makes at least 90 appearances in the New Testament, including Jesus’ conception and at his baptism. At the Last Supper, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples after his departure; and in his final post-Resurrection instruction in Matthew, Jesus commands that the disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Despite the ‘unity’ of the Trinity referred to in this Sunday’s Collect, the nature of the Holy Spirit has caused great division in the Church, separating the Eastern and Western Churches when “and from the Son” (“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son”) was added to the Nicene Creed by the Western Church in 410 C.E. without benefit of a Church-wide, or ecumenical, Council. According to the Episcopal Church website, “The Eastern Orthodox churches condemn the addition as contrary to the admonition of the Council of Chalcedon (451) that no change be made in the faith expressed in the Nicene Creed,” and this led to the split of the Eastern and Western Churches in 1054 C.E.

This is all changing, however. The Episcopal Church website goes on to explain:

The Lambeth Conference of 1988 recommended that the phrase [known by the Latin filioque] be dropped from the Nicene Creed in Anglican churches. The 1994 General Convention of the Episcopal Church resolved to delete the filioque from the Nicene Creed in the next edition of the Prayer Book.

Already, Enriching Our Worship, which is authorized for use by the Episcopal Church, has dropped the filioque from the Nicene Creed, so that the section on the Holy Spirit reads:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

Even the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has recommended that the filioque be removed from the Creed, and when Pope Francis said the Creed in Greek with the Patriarch of Constantinople in attendance, the filioque was omitted.

I have been in other Episcopal Churches that are using the Creed without the filioque. Of course, I along with others stumble over “and from the Son” when we get to the Holy Spirit. But, I think that stumbling over the Creed, rather than reciting it from memory, without thinking about the words and their meaning, is a good thing; it is that same Spirit working to get me to listen and “hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.”

May the Spirit be with you,

~ Alan ~


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