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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 3. History of the Doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit.

During the Ante-Nicene period, the Church believed concerning the Holy Ghost what was revealed on the surface of Scripture, and what was involved in the religious experience of all Christians. There is to them one God, the Father, whose favour they had forfeited by sin, and to whom they must be reconciled: one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, through whom this reconciliation is effected; and one Holy Spirit, by whom they are, through Christ, brought near to God. This all Christians believed, as they professed in their baptism, and in repeating and receiving the apostolic benediction. With this simple faith underlying and sustaining the life of the Church, there coexisted among theologians great obscurity, indistinctness, and inconsistency of statement, especially in reference to the nature and office of the Holy Ghost. This ought not to be a matter of surprise, because in the Scriptures themselves the same work is often ascribed to God and to the Spirit of God, which led some at times to assume that these terms expressed one and the same thing; as the spirit of a man is the man himself. In the Scriptures, also, the terms Word and Breath (or Spirit) are often interchanged; and what in one place is said to be done by the Word, in another is said to be done by the Spirit. The Λόγος is represented as the life of the world and the source of all knowledge, and yet the same is said of the Spirit. Paul declares in one place (Gal. i. 12) that he received the doctrines which he taught, by the revelation of Jesus Christ; in another (1 Cor. ii. 10), that he was taught them by the Spirit. Misled by such representation, some of the fathers identified the Son and Spirit. Even Tertullian, in one place says, “Spiritus substantia est Sermonis, et Sermo operatio Spiritus, et duo unum sunt.507507Adversus Praxean, 15, Works, edit. Basle, 1562, p. 426. Finally, as it is plain from the Scripture that the Spirit is of the Son, as the Son is of the Father (the difference between generation and procession being perfectly inscrutable), all the Arians and semi-Arians who taught that the Son was created by the Father, held that the Spirit was created by the Son. This roused so much controversy and agitation, that first the Council of Nice, A.D. 325, and then that of Constantinople, A.D. 381, were called to frame a satisfactory statement of the Scriptural doctrine on this subject. In the Creed of the Apostles, as it is called, which is so ancient that Rufinus and Ambrose referred it to the Apostles themselves, it is simply said, “I believe on the Holy Ghost.” The same words without addition are repeated in the Nicene Creed, but in the Creed of Constantinople it is added, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the divine (τὸ κύριον), the life-giving, who proceedeth from the Father, who is to be worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son, and who spake through the prophets.” In the Athanasian Creed (so-called), it is said that the Spirit is consubstantial with the Father and the Son; that He is uncreated, eternal, and omnipotent, equal in majesty and glory, and that He proceeds from the Father and the Son. These creeds are Catholic, adopted by the whole Church. Since they were framed there has been no diversity of faith on this subject among those recognized as Christians.

Those who, since the Council of Constantinople have denied the common Church doctrine, whether Socinians, Arians, or Sabellians, regard the Holy Spirit not as a creature, but as the power of God, i.e., the manifested divine efficiency. The modern philosophical theologians of Germany do not differ essentially from this view. De Wette, for example, says, that the Spirit is God as revealed and operative in nature; Schleiermacher says the term designates God as operative in the Church, i.e., der Gemeingeist der Kirche.” This, however, is only a name. God with Schleiermacher is only the unity of the causality manifested in the world. That causality viewed in Christ we may call Son, and viewed in the Church we may call the Spirit. God is merely cause, and man a fleeting effect. Happily Schleiermacher’s theology and Schleiermacher’s religion were as different as the speculations and the every day faith of the idealist.


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