Procession of the Holy Spirit


I wonder about the so-called “Filioque” & how exactly it can be understood that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father & the Son while staying in line with the trinitarian theology as explained by the greek fathers such as St John Damascene who says

And we speak likewise of the Holy Spirit as from the Father, and call Him the Spirit of the Father. And we do not speak of the Spirit as from the Son : but yet we call Him the Spirit of the Son. For if any one has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His (Romans 8:9), says the divine apostle. And we confess that He is manifested and imparted to us through the Son. iFor He breathed upon His Disciples, says he, and said, Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:29). It is just the same as in the case of the sun from which come both the ray and the radiance (for the sun itself is the source of both the ray and the radiance), and it is through the ray that the radiance is imparted to us, and it is the radiance itself by which we are lightened and in which we participate. Further we do not speak of the Son of the Spirit, or of the Son as derived from the Spirit. Orthodox Faith Book 1 Chapter 8

St John Damascene teaches that the Holy Spirit has His Being from the Father & proceeds through the Son & this seems to be the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity: that there’s One Father that is unbegotten that begets the Son eternally & from which proceeds the Holy Spirit, through the Son, like heat from the Sun “proceeds” through the rays of the sun. In other words, the Father is the ‘cause’ of the other 2 persons of the Holy Trinity, who have their being from Him.
They call this the ‘monarchy of the Father’ & it was an important concept when defining the Nicene Creed to battle the so-called subordinationism view.

As I understand the Catholic doctrine, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father & the Son ‘as from One principle’? Because the Son is begotten by the Father:

The Council of Florence in 1438 explains: “The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son He has his nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration . . . . And, since the Father has through generation given to the only begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 246

Are these 2 views usually exclusive to eachother?

What’s wrong with the description that the Spirit proceeds “through the Son” instead of from?

I’m used to the Filioque, but the Damascene trinitarian theology is very attractive I think.

What I learned is that God the Father is perfectly omniscient, so He knew Himself so perfectly that that knowledge of Himself had to actually be God. Thereby, the Son was begotten. As is in the nature of God, God the Father & God the Son loved each other infinitely and perfectly, giving themselves entirely to each other, thereby the Holy Ghost proceeded from the love of the Father & Son. That is why the Holy Ghost is called the Sanctifier because He sanctifies us in grace, an act tied in the love of God for us. I suppose you could say that the Holy Ghost proceeded through the Son because it was through the love the Son had for the Father, and vice versa, that God the Holy Ghost proceeded.

First, it is my understanding that the Church has no problem with the phrase “proceeding through the Son.” This Catholic Answers article treats that phrase as equivalent to “proceeding from the Son” and shows how the Church Fathers used both terms.

E.g. Tertullian: “the Spirit proceeds not otherwise than from the Father through the Son.” Against Praxeas 4:1

St. Ambrose: “The Holy Spirit, when he proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Holy Spirit 1:2:120.

St. John Damascene: “proceeding from the Father through the Son.” Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 12.

St. Cyril of Alexandria: “he actually proceeds from the Father and Son.” Treasury of the Holy Trinity Thesis 34.

So it appears to me that both phrases are acceptable.

The thing that is most interesting to me is this phrase from St. John Damascene’s Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 12: “We speak also of the Spirit of the Son, not as though proceeding from Him, but as proceeding through Him from the Father. For the Father alone is the cause.” source

That’s a tough one because it appears to contradict St. Hilary of Poitiers: “the Holy Spirit…must be acknowledged, who is from the Father and the Son, his sources.” The Trinity 2:29

St. Hilary appears to say that the Son causes the Spirit, and St. John Damascene appears to say He does not. I think the solution must be one of two things: either the terms only appear to mean the same things while actually meaning different things, or the two saints are in actual contradiction, and only one of them is right. I suppose both are possible options, since no individual Father is infallible, but if I had to guess I would guess that they mean different things and are actually speaking compatibly. For one, St. John was writing in Greek quoting the Greek New Testament, while St. Hilary was (I think) writing in Latin quoting the Latin New Testament. I would guess this would result in the words having different meanings, which would permit the intentions to be compatible even while the language appears to contradict.

I hope that makes sense. Please let me know if it helps.

p.s. see also St. Leo the Great: “the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, not in the way that every creature is the creature of the Father and the Son, but as living and having power with Both, and eternally subsisting of That Which is the Father and the Son.” source

St. Thomas Aquinas explains the idea in the Summa Theologica, and the monarchy of the Father is His being the principle without principle:

Q33, A1 I answer that, The word “principle” signifies only that whence another proceeds: since anything whence something proceeds in any way we call a principle; and conversely. As the Father then is the one whence another proceeds, it follows that the Father is a principle.
Reply to Objection 1. The Greeks use the words “cause” and “principle” indifferently, when speaking of God; whereas the Latin Doctors do not use the word “cause,” but only “principle.” The reason is because “principle” is a wider term than “cause”; as “cause” is more common than “element.” For the first term of a thing, as also the first part, is called the principle, but not the cause. Now the wider a term is, the more suitable it is to use as regards God (13, 11), because the more special terms are, the more they determine the mode adapted to the creature. Hence this term “cause” seems to mean diversity of substance, and dependence of one from another; which is not implied in the word “principle.” For in all kinds of causes there is always to be found between the cause and the effect a distance of perfection or of power: whereas we use the term “principle” even in things which have no such difference, but have only a certain order to each other; as when we say that a point is the principle of a line; or also when we say that the first part of a line is the principle of a line.

Q39, A8The second consideration of God regards Him as “one.” In that view Augustine (De Doctr. Christ. i, 5) appropriates “unity” to the Father, “equality” to the Son, “concord” or “union” to the Holy Ghost. It is manifest that these three imply unity, but in different ways. For “unity” is said absolutely, as it does not presuppose anything else; and for this reason it is appropriated to the Father, to Whom any other person is not presupposed since He is the “principle without principle.”
Q45, A7Reply to Objection 2. As the divine nature, although common to the three Persons, still belongs to them in a kind of order, inasmuch as the Son receives the divine nature from the Father, and the Holy Ghost from both: so also likewise the power of creation, whilst common to the three Persons, belongs to them in a kind of order. For the Son receives it from the Father, and the Holy Ghost from both. Hence to be the Creator is attributed to the Father as to Him Who does not receive the power of creation from another. And of the Son it is said (John 1:3), “Through Him all things were made,” inasmuch as He has the same power, but from another; for this preposition “through” usually denotes a mediate cause, or “a principle from a principle.” But to the Holy Ghost, Who has the same power from both, is attributed that by His sway He governs, and quickens what is created by the Father through the Son. Again, the reason for this particular appropriation may be taken from the common notion of the appropriation of the essential attributes. For, as above stated (39, 8, ad 3), to the Father is appropriated power which is chiefly shown in creation, and therefore it is attributed to Him to be the Creator. To the Son is appropriated wisdom, through which the intellectual agent acts; and therefore it is said: “Through Whom all things were made.” And to the Holy Ghost is appropriated goodness, to which belong both government, which brings things to their proper end, and the giving of life–for life consists in a certain interior movement; and the first

I remember a few years ago, when, I think the Greek Orthodox Patriarch was with Pope Benedict. The prayed the creed together and omitted the filioque.

Thanks. It helps. In matter such as this one, it’s good to.know that the Catholic a church is protected by God from teaching error.

I also found a very good site from an Eastern Orthodox priest ( in favour of reunification, who rejects the assertion that Patriarch Photius ‘Monopatrism’ (Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father Alone) is the only orthodox view & that this was the pre-schism doctrine of the Latin Church. He provides many patristic evidences from revered Greek Fathers & Roman Popes regarded as ‘Orthodox’ by the Eastern Orthodox who clearly taught the Filioque & proves that the Catholic Church could live with this difference in teaching for 1000 years before Photius doctrine was seen as the only orthodox (although Photius himself, after having been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, was received back & died while in communion with the successor of Saint Peter in Rome).

It’s rather long but has a lot of interesting information.

I love the Dogma of the Holy Trinity because it’s impossible to grasp fully yet elevating to ponder & tends to result in a mental state of agnosia that Sts Thomas Aquinas & John Damascene says is the only way for us men to know God.

It’s just very unfortunate to me that they have not been able to reach a consensus on this issue in the creed itself. An obvious compromise would be to amend both the eastern & western form of the Nicene Creed to say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father Through the Son to emphasize that the Father is the ‘Cause of Being’, or ‘principle without principle’ as St Thomas said it, for the other Hypostasis / Persons of the Trinity.

St Gregory Nazianzus didn’t want to include ‘Through the Son’ because he was worried about the Macedonian heresy called “Spirit-fighter” who held that the Holy Spirit was not truly God but a co-creation of the Father & the Son.

So you then know that there are two processions referred to: ontological and economic. It is agreed that the only scriptural references are to the economic procession which is “through the Son”. Some have also proposed an ontological procession “through the Son”. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the Spirit proceeds in common from the Father and the Son and the procession is mediated through the Son.
What was agreed on in the Creed was consubstantiation. This was the basis in the west for personality being the opposition of relations in the absolute simplicity of God.

Father is distinguished and known by relations of paternity and spiration.
Son is distinguished and known by relations of filiation and spiration.
Holy Spirit is distinguished and known by relation of procession.

So paternity, filiation, and procession are the distinguishing personal properties

Yes, I’ve just found out about the distinction between ontological & economic. But when St Thomas says the Holy Spirit proceeds in common from the Father & the Son, by the Son’s mediation; does he then contradict the eastern view that ultimately the Father is the ‘cause’ of the Spirits ‘Being’?

What is meant by ‘spiration’?

The Greek ἐκπορεύομαι signifies only the relationship of origin to the Father alone as the principle without principle. The Latin-Alexandrian expression is different, however it does not contradict the Monarchy. Nevertheless the Orthodox do not think it is necessary.

Summa Theologica Q27, A4:

Reply to Objection 3. We can name God only from creatures (13, 1). As in creatures generation is the only principle of communication of nature, procession in God has no proper or special name, except that of generation. Hence the procession which is not generation has remained without a special name; but it can be called spiration, as it is the procession of the Spirit.

If you are interested in the Filioque, I would very much recommend that you read Edward A Siecienski’s book, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy. My own opinion is that one is not likely to find satisfactory answers on the internet.

Think you will enjoy this link to an article on St. Anselm defending the filioque. There is a link in the article to the entirety of St. Anselm’s De processione Spiritus Sancti.

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