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Two Brothers and a Friend: The Cappadocian Fathers on the Divinity of the Holy Spirit

Two Brothers and a Friend: The Cappadocian Fathers on the Divinity of the Holy Spirit

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Published by Jeffrey W Roop

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Published by: Jeffrey W Roop on Aug 26, 2010
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08/06/2011

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Two Brothers and a Friend:The Cappadocian Fathers on the Divinity of the Holy Spirit
The Arian controversy relates to the heresy propagated by Arius and his followersregarding the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. They held to a hierarchicalview of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is foremost, followed by the Son andlastly the Spirit. The Arians contended that because of begetting and procession, the Sonand the Spirit are lower in majesty than the Father. This raises problems bothchristologically and soteriologically since this downplays any divinity of Jesus Christ.Likewise, this also diminishes any work that the Spirit does in a Christian’s life. For theCappadocian Fathers, clarity on these issues was crucial because the understanding of salvation was at stake. It is the latter diminution of the Spirit by the Arians and theresponse of the Cappadocian Fathers to affirm the divinity of the Spirit that will be underexamination in this paper. “The fundamental point which should be remembered is thatfor these writers the
ousia
of the Godhead was not an abstract essence but a concretereality.”
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 The majority of the arguments were in relation to language namely, how scripturewas interpreted and clarification of theological concepts. This latter point also includedthe language of Christian prayer and worship. These arguments were directed againstArians, semi-Arians and in particular, Eunomius along with the Pneumatomachians, orSpirit fighters. The following quote from Kelly briefly summarizes the emphases of Basil’s argument fro the divinity of the Holy Spirit.The high-lights of his [Basil’s] argument are (a) the testimony of Scriptureto the Spirit’s greatness and dignity, and to the power and vastness of Hisoperation; (b) His association with the Father and Son in whatever they
Copyright © 2010 by Jeffrey W Roop
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accomplish, especially in the work of sanctification and deification; and(c) His personal relation to both Father and Son.
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 Therefore, as Basil argues for the said divinity of the Spirit, his focus is on the unitedactivity and glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as seen in scripture and in relation tothe believer’s life. These emphases are evident in all of the theological writings of theCappadocian Fathers with some added emphases and elaborations. Likewise, Gregory of Nazianzus argues along similar lines for the Holy Spirit with an interesting explanation of the lateness of development regarding the divinity of the Spirit. Kelly states,He, too, finds support for his doctrine in the testimony of Scripture andalso in the Spirit’s character as the Spirit of God and of Christ, Hisassociation with Christ in the work of redemption, and the Church’sdevotional practice. To explain the lateness of His recognition as God heproduces a highly original theory of doctrinal development. Just as theacknowledgement of the Father’s Godhead had to precede the recognitionof the Son’s, so the latterhad to be established before the divinity of theSpirit could be admitted.
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 Gregory Nazianzen likens this late development in relation to the recognition receivedthrough scripture as the Old Testament developed an understanding of the Father and theNew Testament recognized the Son, so it is only after the distinguishing the divinity of the Son that one could rightly establish the divinity of the Spirit. So for the remainder of the paper I will address the arguments of Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzenin that order.
Basil of Caesarea
Basil was at the forefront of the battle for the divinity of the Holy Spirit althoughhe was hesitant to say that the Holy Spirit was God. The primary motivation for hisarguments for the divinity of the Spirit is rooted in response to the Arian heresy and a
Copyright © 2010 by Jeffrey W Roop
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desire to see them return to orthodoxy. Basil speaks of this heresy and the implicationsover against a Trinitarian understanding of God in the following passage.The heresy of Arius lowered the dignity of the Holy Ghost as well as thatof the Son. He taught that the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity arewholly unlike one another both in essence and in glory. “There is a triad,not in equal glories;” “one more glorious than the other in their glories toan infinite degree.”
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 The insinuation of Arianism is a fractured Trinity leading to a Godhead that subjugatesthe Son and the Spirit to lower levels of essence and glory. This is an understanding of the Son and the Holy Spirit as creations of the Father Who although are the highestbeings of creation, do not share in the divine essence of the Father. Basil speaks of theArian view of involvement of the Holy Spirit in creation as merely an instrument used bythe Creator in the following:By the term “
of 
whom” they wish to indicate the Creator; by the term
through
whom,” the subordinate agent
 
or instrument;
 
by the term “
in
whom,” or “
in
which,” they mean to shew the time or place. The object of all this is that the Creator of the universe
 
may be regarded as of no higherdignity than an instrument, and that the Holy Spirit may appear to beadding to existing things nothing more than the contribution derived fromplace or time.
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 This misuse of prepositions by the Arians leads them to a hierarchy regarding God thatdebases both the Son and the Spirit with the Spirit being the lowest in glory because He isclosest to creation. It is against such humiliation of the Son of God and the Holy Spiritthat Basil responds to the Arian profanation.Basil counters this heretical doctrine by addressing a proper understanding of theTriune God from the authority of scripture and tradition. In particular, he speaks of theproper place of the Spirit in the Trinity in this next passage.Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning theSpirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture
Copyright © 2010 by Jeffrey W Roop
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