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Posted by on Jul 11, 2016 | 2 comments

The Nicene Creed: “…who spoke by the prophets.”

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

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“…who spoke by the prophets.”

 

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Semi-Arian, Pneumatomachian, Spirit fighters. These titles designate a heretical sect that emerged in the fourth-century whose followers denied the divinity of the Spirit. As Alex outlined in his introductory post, the Nicene Creed underwent a two-part development, the first in 325 and the second in 381. One of the important developments of the Creed in 381 regards the proclamation about the Holy Spirit:

325: And in the Holy Ghost.

381:
And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

As can be seen, the 381 additions emphasizes the full divinity of the Holy Spirit as the third-person of the Trinity. But why the addition of “who spoke by the prophets?”

In 379, Gregory of Nazianzus was asked by the higher-ups to travel to Constantinople to preach throughout the city on the Trinity in order to undercut various heresies (including the Pneumatomachians). Among these homilies is Gregory’s magnificent fifth theological oration on the Spirit. Gregory extols the Spirit’s divine equality with the Father and the Son contrary to those pesky Spirit fighters. One of the arguments they made was that the lack of discussion of the Spirit as God in Scripture strengthens their case against the Spirit’s divinity. Gregory of Nazianzus retorts:

Over and over again you turn upon the silence of Scripture. But that is not a strange doctrine, nor an afterthought, but acknowledged and plainly set for both by the ancients and many of our own days, is already demonstrated by many persons who have treated of this subject, and who have handled the Holy Scriptures, not with indifference or as a mere pasttime, but have gone beneath the letter and looking into the inner meaning, and have been deemed worthy to see the hidden beauty, and have been irradiated by the light of knowledge.[1]

That is, within the Church it has long been recognized that there is more going on in Scripture than found on the plain level of the text. Buried within the words of Scripture are spiritual truths that can only be recognized through the cultivation of virtue and contemplation on the part of the reader. Gregory of Nazianzus’s friend Gregory of Nyssa examples this hidden quality quintessentially in his treatise The Life of Moses. This work is split into two parts, first reading through key moments of the life of Moses in its ordinary sense, focusing on the moral direction presented in the text. The second part, longer and quintessentially mystical, describes the “spiritual” truths embedded within the narrative. This second reading summits in the contemplation of Moses’s ascent up the mountain and into the dark cloud that is God’s presence. Gregory of Nyssa likens Moses’s ascent to our own spiritual ascent of longing for God, never satisfied, yet cultivating in us a desire for more.

Gregory of Nyssa uses language of illumination to describe the recognition of hidden meaning within the bare letter. This same idea of illumination from within grounds Gregory of Nazianzus’s assertion that the Spirit resides hidden within Scripture.

The 381 addition to the creed that asserts the Holy Spirit “spoke by the prophets” shares in the conviction of both Gregorys (and the majority of the Christian Church) that though hidden, the Spirit was at work before the Incarnation and Pentecost events. The same Triune God called and inspired the prophets to speak of mysteries for their own time and telescope their inspired word containing hidden mysteries far into the future.


[1] Gregory of Nazianzus, Fifth Theological Oration, §21.

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Rachel

Studying theology, baking bread, enjoying the company of a handsome bearded man and two adorable pit puppies.

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  • Alexander Arden

    Rachel,

    Is the Spirit only in the illumination or is the Spirit also involved in the writing of the scripture.

    • Both. Some Fathers even write about the Spirit’s inspiration enlightening those writing (e.g. Moses) that there were hidden truths in their writing.