Procession of the Holy Spirit -Filioque Conundrum



I have been reading a lot of early church theology recently and have come across a bit of an issue. I’m wondering I someone can make sense of the Filioque. I’ve read De Trinitate by Augustine, and Contra Errores Graecorum in response to Orthodox theology (arguably the most comprehensive documents on this doctrine), but I’m still at a loss in understanding the idea that the Holy Spirit (HS) proceeds from both Father (F) and the Son (S).

Below is what has been my reasoning so far:

When Augustine writes of the HS, he states that the HS is the love of the F and the S, but if the HS is the result of the love of the F & S, and is what keeps them in communion with each other. My issue here is that surely the fact that the Trinity is that consubstantiality of essence should be enoughis enough for them to be the passive factor that makes them ‘in communion with each other’, if it is not, and, as Augustine and Aquinas propose, that the HS is the one that provides the communion, is it not just synonymising the name of the passive provision of communion through consubstantiality of essence, by calling it the HS? And if the HS is the one that provides the communion between Father and Son, what is the point of union through consubstantiality of essence, other than having a theological safety net to say that they are all one God? Another issue which may arise as a result of either is that this would seem to denigrate or relegate the HS’s position as a person of the Trinity in its own right; it would appear that the HS is a generated, or resultant agent of love, an entity of dependant origin, or that consubstantiality of essence is simply a safety net to state the HS is God, not just an agent.

What could be interpreted is double ‘procession’ or ‘spiration’, which was condemned in the Florence II. However, even though it was condemned it doesn’t seem to have a logical alternative as to how the HS could proceed from the S. I’m aware that the argument in response is that the HS proceeds and is spirated from the F as a single principle( termed ‘αιτία’, and the S having the HS proceed from it as a matter of εκπορεύεται, the same as it proceeds from the F, but this appears to be a complete assumption: in the Gospels, Jesus only uses εκπορεύεται when the HS being sent by F, and when he speaks of the Spirit being sent by any other agent (i.e, himself), the word used is πομπό/πομψο, which is an entirely different connotation, being a non-possessional sending, more of a term for temporal economy, than procession. If the HS does proceed from the S, does it not detract from economic/ attributive trinitarianism, (eg. Creation of the world through the Word, the miracles Jesus performed as the incarnate Logos)? Is it not close to, or blurring into, Adoptionism or Arianism?

Many thanks for your time, I look forward to your responses! Please remember, I’m not set on this, and I do not hold or proclaim different belief from the Faith, I’m just muddling through this theology as an exercise in trinitarian metaphysics and reasoning.
Apologies for any half written sentences and typos! I’ll fix them if any get pointed out!

God bless,


Thank you for this very deep and interesting question. I found the following analogy on a webpage, and it makes sense to me but I’m curious as to what you think:

If a human father and son go into their back yard to play a game of catch, it is the father who initiates the game of catch by throwing the ball to his son. In this sense, one can say that the game of catch “proceeds” from this human father (an “aition”); and this is the original, Greek sense of the Constantinopolitan Creed’s use of the term “proceeds” (“ekporeusis”). However, taking this very same scenario, one can also justly say that the game of catch “proceeds” from both the father and his son. And this is because the son has to be there for the game of catch to exist. For, unless the son is there, then the father would have no one to throw the ball to; and so there would be no game of catch. And, it is in this sense (one might say a “collective” sense) that the West uses the term “proceeds” (“procedit”) in the Filioque. Just as acknowledging the necessity of the human son’s presence in order for the game of catch to exist does not, in any way, challenge or threaten the human father’s role as the source or initiator (aition) of the game of catch, so the Filioque does not deny the Father’s singular role as the Cause (Aition) of the Spirit; but merely acknowledges the Son’s necessary Presence (i.e., participation) for the Spirit’s eternal procession from the Father to Someone else –namely, to the eternal Son. Father and Son are thus collectively identified as accounting for the Spirit’s procession. This is all that the Filioque was ever intended to address; and it was included in the Creed by the Western fathers at Toledo in order to counter the claims of the 6th Century Spanish (Germanic) Arians. These Arians were of course denying this essential and orthodox truth –that is, the Son’s eternal participation in the Spirit’s procession –an issue which was never challenged or comprehensively addressed in the Byzantine experience, aside from the fact that there does exist throughout the writings of the Eastern fathers the profession that the Spirit proceeds from the Father “through [or ‘by way of’] the Son.” –an expression equivalent to the Filioque.


Sorry, I didn’t press reply to you when I replied to your comment the first time.

I’ve seen this analogy of catch before and I understand it, however, if it is ‘merely acknowledging the participation of the son’ then He is not active in procession in the sense of proceeding the Holy Spirit, it is merely ‘sending’, in the sense I point out that is used in scripture, pompo (is even stated by Jesus), not epkoreuetai. He sends the ball back, it does not proceed. Also, if the son were to play a game of catch with another friend, without the father that created it, that game is either not the same game that proceeded from the father, but an imitation, which means it can not be real. If it is the same game, then that would confirm double spiration, which is condemned as heresy. And I don’t see why someone can’t play catch by themselves, they could just throw the ball in the air?

I realise I have actually read this page, and my points to I’ve made do come into direct conflict with his arguments. Interesting article!


God is a COMMUNITARIAN, the “First Family” I like to think.
I believe in community, so i’m like God that way.
Maybe we shouldn’t be nosey, busybody inquisitors !


This doesn’t help, and isn’t this the equivalent of saying the councils that debated trinitarian metaphysics just take theology too far?


*******************1 Cor 13
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but have not love, I am nothing.

******************John 15:12
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.…

Firstly & Undeservedly loved are you


I don’t get what this adds to my question?


I may be wrong but it appears to me that you are equating “sending” with “proceeding”, but I think those two terms are entirely distinct. The term “procession” refers to how the Holy Spirit receives His being but the term “sending” does not refer to the Holy Spirit’s origin/cause. The Holy Spirit only can be sent when there are other creatures for Him to be sent to, and His being sent to contingent creatures in time is not part of His eternal act of proceeding.

The ball game analogy isn’t perfect, because the Holy Spirit is an actual person proceeding from the mutual love between Father and Son. Any ballgame between a father and son cannot take on its own life and become its own all-powerful, omnipotent, and omnipresent divine person.

The distinction between ekporeusis and procedere is important here as well. Ekporeusis is defined as “to originate from a single Source, Principal, or Cause (Aitia).” To say that the Holy Spirit originates/proceeds (ekporeuetai) from the Father and the Son would be to affirm double spiration. Procedere means “to proceed”, but not necessarily in the sense of originating from a single cause. So if you say something proceeds (procedit) from two different things, you aren’t necessarily saying that both things are equally its originative source.

I’ll try a different analogy here: The Father and the Son are like a father and son who are computer programmers and have set up a website in such a way that to keep it actively online they must enter code back and forth (kind of like playing catch). The one who initiates the coding is the Father, the one who responds back with more code is the Son, and this back-and-forth of code that makes up the active website is the Holy Spirit. The code (and website) proceeds/originates (ekporeutai) from the father. But the son has to enter a line of code if the website is still to remain online. This is what is meant when it is said that the Holy Spirit proceeds (ekporeutai) from the Father through the Son, or that the Holy Spirit proceeds (procedit) from the Father and the son.

So we have a father and son doing this constant back and forth which makes a website stay up and running. The website represents the Holy Spirit, which is in the act of proceeding from the Father and the Son. The son now is able to send people links to the website so they can access it. This act of “sending” does not start a new website or change anything about the ongoing process of keeping the original website up and running.

I’m sure that’s still thoroughly confusing, but at least a website can be shared in ways a game of catch can’t so I think it works better as an analogy that includes “sending” as well as “proceeding” but let me know what you think (:


Not at all, my point was that sending is very different from proceeding, hence my pointing out the Greek terms.

I understand your analogy, but it certainly means that the Son cannot have the Holy Spirit proceed from it, he just sends it. And the issue still remains that if the Holy Spirit is the result of the interaction between father and son, the. You’re just synonymising the word communion with Holy Spirit, which in that case means it is an entity of dependant origination, not a person of the trinity of its own right with no beginning. It also means that if the Father and the Son don’t commune, there is no Holy Spirit.

Also, if Jesus has to ‘enter code’ then why isn’t his consubstantiality of essence enough to keep them in communion? This would mean he has to utilise another part of the trinity, or an agency of god to remain in communion, or part of the trinity, which would mean he could be separate from it if he doesn’t. This is the issue with it proceeding from the Son, too: it’s too close to adoptionism or Arianism, surely?

And I understand the reasoning that one might state that the Latin is different from the Greek, and has a different sense, but that is only in playing catch with another person; why can’t someone throw a ball in the air and catch it? Are they not playing catch? If not, then why? In this sense, it doesn’t make sense to say that the word proceed is different simply because another is playing the game, too. Surely it’d be double procession? If not, then surely, as I suggest before, the second person is sending (pompō) the ball back? And even if it is different, the issue still remains that the Holy Spirit is still dependant on 2 person interacting, it is not a person in its own right, and it is simply a synonym for an already passive communion through consubstantial essence.

These points I raise in my original post, take you for a further analogy, though!


But the “proceeding from the Son” part happens when the Son throws back the ball to the Father, as in the first analogy.

The analogy can’t be perfect in this respect; the throwing a ball analogy has that same problem.

Actually that is quite correct, I think. If the Father and Son don’t “commune” in the sense that they have mutual love for one another for all eternity, there is no Holy Spirit.

I used “entering code” to represent the love between Father and Son that is the Holy Spirit. Again, the analogy isn’t perfect in this respect. In terms of this analogy, yes, the father and son are not in communion if the son breaks off coding. But in the Trinity itself, a breaking off of the coding never can and never will happen. The Holy Spirit exists necessarily from all eternity, so it is essential to the Father that He have great love for the Son, and essential to the Son that He return this love to the Father–this love is the Holy Spirit. God is love, so the Father and Son can’t stop loving each other, which means the Holy Spirit which is their love can’t cease proceeding from them, or else both Father and Son would cease to be in communion and cease to be God.

(1/2, reached the character limit)


I think the point of the analogy was to take into account that the Holy Spirit is the mutual love between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit cannot proceed from the Father without the Son. Basically in the analogy, the Holy Spirit is not supposed to be dependent on two persons interacting, but is the interaction between them that is happening of necessity for all eternity. We can’t understand that fully because we live in time, not eternity. But for all eternity, the Father is, the Son is begotten by the Father, and the Holy Spirit is proceeding (ekporeutai) from the Father through the Son, or is proceeding (procedit) from the Father and the Son.

Hope this makes some sort of sense? Thank you for your well thought out reply!



Proceeding is certainly the wrong word, because if it is being sent back to the father, they should just use the word send, in the way Christ did, not use proceeding. Because if they mean ‘send’, not ‘proceeding’, which already has an established definition, they should use that. Therefore, the HS does not proceed from the Son, it is sent. And it is even then still difficult to argue that the word ‘sent’ should be used in the creed instead of proceed because he only said one time he would do that: to send another comforter / advocate, which happened at Pentecost, and was for temporal economy, not eternal, or repetitive process or action.

But If the Holy Spirit is the interaction, then it’s just that, ‘Holy Spirit’ would just happen to be a name for the interaction, an agency, not an individual person, which certainly throws doubts onto it being co-equal, and would instead be subordinate, also a heresy.

What evidence is there to support the claim that the Holy Spirit ‘cannot’ proceed from the father without the son? Why not? And why shouldn’t god be able to do that? Because if he is god, he should be able to, if the Holy Spirit is truly the third individual person of the trinity, it should be able to whether someone is there to receive it or not, like the ball thrown in the air, it proceeds without external reception. And if he can’t proceed without someone to receive it, then it isn’t a third person, it just proves that ‘Holy Spirit’ just becomes the name of an interaction. Just stating it cannot proceed without reception doesn’t make sense, as proven by the fact one can simply throw the ball in the air. It doesn’t hold much weight in that light.

If it is correct that he Holy Spirit doesn’t exist with out love between father and son, then that also proves that the Holy Spirit isn’t a third individual person. Surely, by the nature of father and son being the same essence, and god being love, they must already and automatically be in communion, why is the HS necessary to facilitate that?


I would argue that the fact the Holy Spirit is necessary to their communion is that the Holy Spirit is necessarily a person in that communion for all eternity. This follows logically from the defined dogma that the Trinity is one substance (ousia) in three persons (hypostases). We must accept this dogma by faith and proceed to draw conclusions from it. Because the Trinity is one substance, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of necessity must be coequal and coeternal. They must all of necessity exist as God, always and forever.

Of course, the difficulty is in explaining, if the persons are all consubstantial with one another, how are they distinct as persons? The answer to this is in the mode of their being. The Father is, the Son is begotten by the Father, and the Holy Spirit is proceeding for all eternity. This happens entirely simultaneously and follows from God’s essence.

I guess the analogy is not clear. The Holy Spirit is not the ball itself, but the throwing back-and-forth of the ball (which can only happen when there is another person to do the throwing-back). In the actual Trinity, the Holy Spirit is not just the Father’s love for the Son, but the love of Father and Son for each other. This back-and-forth of love happens simultaneously, and is happening for all eternity, but nonetheless with the Father still as the originating principle.


If I may butt in for a moment?

When I find myself tied up in knots over a particular philosophical or theological concept I like to take a step back and see if I can state it simplistically.

God certainly could have chosen to do things another way, but he did not, so we need not tie ourselves up in knots over it.

Let’s look at the biblical spiration of the Holy Spirit:

“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me. “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.”
‭‭John‬ ‭14:24-26‬ ‭NABRE‬‬

““When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.”
‭‭John‬ ‭15:26‬ ‭NABRE‬‬

And my favorite:

“Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭22:1‬ ‭NABRE‬‬

So, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son by way of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the outpouring of the Love of God.

In this simplistic explanation of the Holy Spirit, what causes you to be confused?


I think some of the confusion is that with the Trinity, I don’t think God could have chosen to be other than one God in three Persons. He is such necessarily and of His essence. God could have refrained from creating anything or from becoming incarnate as Jesus Christ, but He cannot change what He is by His very nature. This is why God cannot cease to exist.


Then my argument would be: if the Holy Spirit is necessary for the father and son to commune, why is there not another for the son to commune with the person of the Holy Spirit, if the son is not a principle of procession?

The analogy is perfectly clear, and I understood that the ball is not the Holy Spirit, but it still rises and falls back to the originator…


I do state this in the original post: The confusion lies in the fact that we state that the HS proceed from the son, when Jesus only ever said ‘sent’, it seems perfectly clear in the Greek.


I’m not saying he could have chosen to be anything other than one God. I’m saying that he could have sent the Holy Spirit in another way or in another form.


What is the function of the Holy Spirit?

How does the HS accomplish this?


A lot of this is mystery and we can’t understand it fully, but the Holy Spirit in principle is love which is a kind of communion, so perhaps it would be correct to say the Holy Spirit is the communion between the Father and the Son, a communion so great that it of itself is a person. By being in communion with one another the Father and Son are at the same time fully in communion with the Spirit and don’t need anything intermediary to commune with the Spirit.

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