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Posted by on Jul 7, 2016 | 4 comments

The Nicene Creed: “And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost…”

**This post is part of a series reflecting on the Nicene Creed**

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Pentecost: Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery (c.1497)

Pentecost: Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery (c.1497)

“And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”

With the annunciation of the Holy Spirit the Nicene Creed completes its Trinitarian formulation. But to understand the role of the Spirit in the Trinity we have to look back into the creed. In doing so it will be come clear that the Holy Spirit isn’t a new phenomenon but an eternal participant with the Father and the Son in the creation, maintenance, and healing of the world. While this is important, what I will elucidate in this post is what the creed means when we recite that the Spirit is the giver of life. What we are not proclaiming is that the Spirit empowers the lives of individuals to transform the world. Instead, what we acknowledge is the magnificent way the Trinity works in the life of the church. It is only in and through the church, the we of the believe, that the redeeming power of the Holy Spirit enters into the world. (Eph. 3:10)

In the creed the Holy Spirit doesn’t appear out of nowhere. The Spirit is there in the incarnation of Christ, the Spirit is there in creation of the world (one God), the creed wants to make clear that the Spirit is active, united in one Godhead, throughout all history worshiped and glorified forever and ever, amen. It is in the proclamation of “We believe” (Πιστεύομεν (pisteuomen)/Credimus) that begins the creed where it is signified that the hope of union and concord that is inherent in all the fruits of the Spirit is possible in the church. The declaration of “We believe” sets aside the righteousness of the law that elevates the individual for the outpouring of the Spirit. It is only in the Spirit that the church can come together and be bound by the tongues of fire that pay no attention to language, or culture, or denomination.

The life of the Spirit is the life of the church. Therefore, when we declare in one voice that the Spirit is the “giver of life” we are not saying that it is the Spirit that breathes life into us when we are born. We are not saying that the Spirit is the moving force behind the creation of the world. We are not saying that the Spirit is the power of an individual proclaiming the gospel. We are saying that the Spirit gives life to the church, through which the gospel is proclaimed. We are saying the individual Christian is nothing outside of the church. We are saying the message of the gospel is nothing outside of the church.

It is not wise to separate the creed from the purpose of the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople: to unite the church and protect it from heresy. When our theology branches off from the Bible, and away from the protection of the tradition of the church, then the life provided by the Holy Spirit in the unity of the Trinity that we proclaim in the creed is snuffed out. This is not to say that the work of God is completely stifled when our divisiveness outmuscles our unity. The Trinity works and moves regardless of our errant ways. The power of the Spirit blows where it wills. It breathes life into the desiccated husk that protects the kernel, it heals the barren land, it is the power that restores and forgives, drawing the broken, the lame, and the ineffectual back into the life of the church, and it is through these, and not those who seek power and wealth—the weapons of discord—that God glorified. For it was through those who are diminutive, those whom the world saw as not worthy, the homeless prophets, the impecunious apostles, the young virgin who had no societal worth, that the church was born, and it is through those that are most open to the Spirit, the broken and those who recognize the impoverishment of their lives, that it will continue.

How then do we worship and glorify the Spirit? We proclaim the Father’s work in the world by pointing to the work of the Son who becomes incarnate not only in the historic person of Christ, but also in the continuing work of the Spirit in the life of the church. It is through the church that we participate in the eternal work of the Trinity, revealing the love of the Father, as seen in the life of the Son, through the Spirit empowering us to act out the life of Christ and to feed the world with the Spirit’s fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

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A.A. Grudem

I am a coffee drinker, book reader, and horrid speller.

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  • Alex, I think you grossly overstate the role of the church in this phrase from the creed. I think the primary concern here is the immanent relationship among the three hypostases of the divine substance. I don’t find even an implicit ecclesiology contained within the portion of text under consideration. Do you mind connecting more directly your discussion of the role of the church to the language of the creed?

    • Alexander Arden


      I understand your concern, and if I have grossly overstated the role of the church perhaps it is because I believe it has been grossly understated in our discussion up to this point. The emphasis on third person plural in the creed points to a unified vision of the church and of dogma. This is not the Apostle’s Creed; the I believe has no part in the Nicene Creed.

      Since the Christian church was born on Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the only way I can make sense of the “giver of life” portion of the creed is to implicitly connect it to the church. The fact that “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” immediately comes after the discussion of the Holy Spirit reveals a line of revelation of the unified Godhead’s love from the Father to the Son to the Holy Spirit to the church to the individual.

      So, in conclusion, the immanent relationship among the three hypostases is extremely pertinent to the discussion of the church, for the immanent relationship among the Godhead, as revealed to us in the giving of life by the Holy Spirit, is found primarily (or first and foremost) in the church. This is why Balthazar calls Mary a prototype of the church, for in her dwelled the Son, the begotten of the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

      Personally, I am at a loss to understand why the Trinity chose the church as a means to reveal the love and union of the Godhead to the world. It makes no sense to me for something so divisive to reveal such a great love. But neither does God being born of a diminutive girl make sense to me, or marriage as a metaphor for the church, for that matter. All I can hope to say in response to the brokenness of the church is found in the example of Mary, “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord, let it be according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) And hope in the words of Hosea:

      “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
      and bring her into the wilderness,
      and speak tenderly to her….

      “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’…. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.” (Hosea 2:14, 16, 18-20)

      • I’m not really concerned with the fragility of the church or whether the Spirit has a relationship to church here. I am concerned that you have imposed an ecclesiology on this phrase of the creed where it does not naturally subsist. The church has not been discussed much yet because it has not yet been discussed *in the creed*.

        It seems to me that the passage under consideration is concerned first and foremost with theology proper—that is, the nature of God in se, not God pro nobis.

        What I’m saying is talk about the church in its proper place—and in line with the creed, the proper of place of the church is after the place of God. To talk of God only via talk of the church is *the* classic move of liberal Protestantism, which as a movement had very little regard for the integrity and authority of the creed.

      • Alexander Arden


        Sorry it took me so long to respond. It was a rough second half of the week.

        I don’t think it’s imposed. Just because something isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean is not implied. I don’t know if the 4th century fathers would separate the nature of God (as he is) from the God who is for us. For it is the nature of God (as he is) to be for us. I think a point of the Creed is to show that the God who is for us is also the God who is in se. It was the Arians who were separating the God pro nobis from the God in se. The Creed writers don’t separate the deity from the action of the deity for us. The Father is the creator, the Son is the incarnate one, and the Spirit is the giver of life, which does not mean the Spirit gives us the breath we breathe, but a spiritual life which should not, no matter how much we struggled during and after the Reformation, be separated from the church.

        As to the proper place of the discussion of the church, I find no more proper place to talk about the church than in the discussion of the Holy Spirit who birthed the church with its coming on the Day of Pentecost. To separate the church from the Spirit, or the Spirit from the Church, is to understand the ecclesia, or the temple for that matter, as something that is not infused with the life of the Spirit which I, for one, refuse to believe.