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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 followers

regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. They held to a hierarchical

view of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is foremost, followed by the Son and

lastly the Spirit. The Arians contended that because of begetting and procession, the Son

and the Spirit are lower in majesty than the Father. This raises problems both

christologically 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 the

Cappadocian 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 the

response of the Cappadocian Fathers to affirm the divinity of the Spirit that will be under

examination in this paper. “The fundamental point which should be remembered is that

for these writers the ousia of the Godhead was not an abstract essence but a concrete

reality.” 1

The majority of the arguments were in relation to language namely, how scripture

was interpreted and clarification of theological concepts. This latter point also included

the language of Christian prayer and worship. These arguments were directed against

Arians, semi-Arians and in particular, Eunomius along with the Pneumatomachians, or

Spirit 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 Scripture
to the Spirit’s greatness and dignity, and to the power and vastness of His
operation; (b) His association with the Father and Son in whatever they

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accomplish, especially in the work of sanctification and deification; and
(c) His personal relation to both Father and Son. 2

Therefore, as Basil argues for the said divinity of the Spirit, his focus is on the united

activity and glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as seen in scripture and in relation to

the believer’s life. These emphases are evident in all of the theological writings of the

Cappadocian 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 and
also in the Spirit’s character as the Spirit of God and of Christ, His
association with Christ in the work of redemption, and the Church’s
devotional practice. To explain the lateness of His recognition as God he
produces a highly original theory of doctrinal development. Just as the
acknowledgement of the Father’s Godhead had to precede the recognition
of the Son’s, so the latter had to be established before the divinity of the
Spirit could be admitted. 3

Gregory Nazianzen likens this late development in relation to the recognition received

through scripture as the Old Testament developed an understanding of the Father and the

New 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 Nazianzen

in that order.

Basil of Caesarea

Basil was at the forefront of the battle for the divinity of the Holy Spirit although

he was hesitant to say that the Holy Spirit was God. The primary motivation for his

arguments for the divinity of the Spirit is rooted in response to the Arian heresy and a

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desire to see them return to orthodoxy. Basil speaks of this heresy and the implications

over against a Trinitarian understanding of God in the following passage.

The heresy of Arius lowered the dignity of the Holy Ghost as well as that
of the Son. He taught that the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are
wholly 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 to
an infinite degree.” 4

The insinuation of Arianism is a fractured Trinity leading to a Godhead that subjugates

the 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 highest

beings of creation, do not share in the divine essence of the Father. Basil speaks of the

Arian view of involvement of the Holy Spirit in creation as merely an instrument used by

the 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 higher
dignity than an instrument, and that the Holy Spirit may appear to be
adding to existing things nothing more than the contribution derived from
place or time. 5

This misuse of prepositions by the Arians leads them to a hierarchy regarding God that

debases both the Son and the Spirit with the Spirit being the lowest in glory because He is

closest to creation. It is against such humiliation of the Son of God and the Holy Spirit

that Basil responds to the Arian profanation.

Basil counters this heretical doctrine by addressing a proper understanding of the

Triune God from the authority of scripture and tradition. In particular, he speaks of the

proper place of the Spirit in the Trinity in this next passage.

Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning the
Spirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture

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concerning It as those which we have received from the unwritten
tradition of the Fathers. First of all we ask, who on hearing the titles of the
Spirit is not lifted up in soul, who does not raise his conception to the
supreme nature? It is called “Spirit of God,” “Spirit of truth which
proceedeth from the Father,” “right Spirit,” “a leading Spirit.” Its proper
and peculiar title is “Holy Spirit;” which is a name specially appropriate to
everything that is incorporeal, purely immaterial, and indivisible. 6

So drawing from scripture and apostolic tradition he refers to those titles of the Spirit that

lead one to contemplate the Sprit’s relation to the Father as rightly sharing in that

indissoluble divine essence. Burgess likewise points out this direction in Basil’s

argument that, “Here [in On the Holy Spirit] he insists that the same glory, honor, and

adoration given to the Father and Son must be attributed also to the Holy Spirit. He must

be numbered with them and not beneath them.” 7 This relation to the Father, Who is the

source of the divine essence, is one reason Basil argues for the Spirit’s divinity; the Spirit

is one Person of the Trinity and not created. This further reinforced in the following,

But the greatest proof of the conjunction of the Spirit with the Father and
the Son is that He is said to have the same relation to God which the spirit
in us has to each of us. “For what man” it is said, “knoweth the things of a
man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God
knoweth no man but the Spirit of God.” 8

Just as humanity has intimate communion with the human spirit likewise the Spirit of

God is intimately united in the essence of God.

An interesting point in the arguments by Basil is the issue of numbering in

relation to the Trinity. He states in the next passage that the numbering used by the

Arians is destructive of faith and misconstrues the Trinitarian understanding of God.

In delivering the formula of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, our
Lord did not connect the gift with number. He did not say “into First,
Second, and Third,” nor yet “into one, two, and three, but He gave us the
boon of the knowledge of the faith which leads to salvation, by means of
holy names. So that what saves us is our faith. Number has been devised
as a symbol indicative of the quantity of objects. But these men, who bring

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ruin on themselves from every possible source, have turned even the
capacity for counting against the faith. 9

Even though the Triune God has the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, this does

not entail an order in any chronological sense nor a ranking within eternity. It is a matter

of how God has entered into creation to bring salvation to humanity. Kelly points out

that regarding the numbering Basil,

…insists that if we use number of deity at all we must use it ‘reverently’,

pointing out that while each of the Persons is designated as one, They
cannot be added together. The reason for this is that the divine nature
They share is simple and indivisible. 10

The divine nature is equal with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with no division or

mixture. This is not a matter of mathematics but of divine relations. Burgess also points

out that in speaking of the issue of conumeration that,

Basil responds by proceeding to prove from liturgical evidence that the

Spirit is not a creature. Even if the Spirit is third both in order and in
number, it does not follow that He is third in nature. No created being
could be ranked with the Father and the Son in the divine Trinity. 11

Hence, while there are three names in the Godhead, again it is not a matter of adding,

dividing or ranking but the expression of the divine relations within the eternal God.

While Basil grounds his arguments in scripture and tradition, he connects this to

the salvation at work in the Christian’s life. His starting point for this area of his

argument is in relation to the sacrament of Christian baptism. In three different passages,

he explains the role and function of the Spirit in baptism and the effects in the believer’s

life. Let us turn to the first passage under consideration.

For if our Lord, when enjoining the baptism of salvation, charged His
disciples to baptize all nations in the name “of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Ghost,” not disdaining fellowship with Him, and these
men allege that we must not rank Him with the Father and the Son, is it
not clear that they openly withstand the commandment of God? If they

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deny that coordination of this kind is declaratory of any fellowship and
conjunction, let them tell us why it behoves us to hold this opinion, and
what more intimate mode of conjunction they have. 12

In this passage, Basil speaks of the command of Jesus Christ to baptize future disciples in

the tri-fold name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In effect, if no fellowship or unity

exists in the divine essence of the Three, then the Arians need to explain the reasoning be

hind such a command being given. As such, they resist the command of God. Now

turning from the Arian misunderstanding of the Three-fold Name, Basil turns to the

doctrine taught before baptism that is part of the believer’s confession of faith. He states,

But, for myself, I pray that with this confession I may depart hence to the
Lord, and them I charge to preserve the faith secure until the day of Christ,
and to keep the Spirit undivided from the Father and the Son, preserving,
both in the confession of faith and in the doxology, the doctrine taught
them at their baptism. 13

The teaching of the church holds to the undivided nature of the Father, Son and Holy

Spirit that is both affirmation and worship. The Triune nature of the divine essence is a

teaching that Basil upholds for the future orthodoxy of the church. He also elaborates on

the place of baptism in a believer’s salvation and as related to church teaching in this

subsequent section.

Faith and baptism are two kindred and inseparable ways of salvation: faith
is perfected through baptism, baptism is established through faith, and
both are completed by the same names. For as we believe in the Father
and the Son and the Holy Ghost, so are we also baptized in the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; first comes the
confession, introducing us to salvation, and baptism follows, setting the
seal upon our assent. 14

Therefore, Basil states that both faith and baptism are in the name of the Father, Son and

Holy Spirit and that each Person plays a part in our redemption. Burgess speaks of

Basil’s view of baptism in what follows: “The three inseparable and necessary

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components of baptism—water, faith, and most importantly, the personal intervention of

the Holy Spirit—together effect the regeneration of the believer.” 15 Thus with the

believer’s faith and the mediation of the Spirit, baptism becomes a divine act

representative of participation in the divine reality.

Moving from the baptismal regeneration of the Christian, Basil next addresses,

regarding the Holy Spirit in issues related to continued growth in the Christian’s life.

…He makes them spiritual by fellowship with Himself. Just as when a

sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become
brilliant too, and shed forth a fresh brightness from themselves, so souls
wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become
spiritual, and send forth their grace to others. Hence comes foreknowledge
of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden,
distribution of good gifts, the heavenly citizenship, a place in the chorus of
angels, joy without end, abiding in God, the being made like to God, and,
highest of all, the being made God. 16

Just as the Spirit regenerates the believer, the Spirit continues in activity by bringing the

believer into fellowship with God, changing the believer and giving gifts to believers so

as to extend grace to others. This is part of the process of theosis in the believer’s life,

the transformation of human life into divine life. Also, as the Spirit plays a part in

theosis, the Spirit is also He Who leads the believer to prayer and worship as Basil states

in the following: “… for it is impossible to worship the Son, save by the Holy Ghost;

impossible to call upon the Father, save by the Spirit of adoption.” 17 So without the

presence of the Spirit in the believer’s life, no one can truly worship much less be

regenerate. This would be particularly true if one relegates the Holy Spirit to the level of


Basil now turns to the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church for

edification by the charismata, or the grace gifts of the Spirit that are spoken of in Pauline

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teaching. Burgess states, “In Basil’s teachings a charisma is defined as a gift of the Holy

Spirit, given and accepted for the benefit of others. The charismata are not ends in

themselves but instruments of virtue.” 18 Basil points out the gifting of prophets in the

church as according to the allocation of the Spirit in the following passage.

If then God is known to be in the prophets by the prophesying that is

acting according to the distribution of the gifts of the Spirit, let our
adversaries consider what kind of place they will attribute to the Holy
Spirit.…and thus you might learn that in every operation the Spirit is
closely conjoined with, and inseparable from, the Father and the Son. God
works the differences of operations, and the Lord the diversities of
administrations, but all the while the Holy Spirit is present too of His own
will, dispensing distribution of the gifts according to each recipient’s
worth. 19

So even among the variety of the gifts given by the Spirit, it is recognized by such

operations that it is the work of God. It is when the variety of gifts works together for the

upbuilding of the church that such growth comes from the Spirit of God as the Spirit

works through the gifts as Burgess states in this quote.

Edification or life and growth in the Church occurs when there exists
mutual cooperation of its members in the exercise and participation of the
individual charismata. The Church continues to grow and expand as the
Paraclete operates in its midst through the instrumentality of men endowed
with the charisma of utterance and teaching. 20

Hence, when the charismata are functioning in the church it is by God’s grace through the

endowment of the Spirit. Moreover, Basil recognizes the Spirit as that gift from God

given to believers, not only of life and freedom but also of power as indicated in this next


Now it is urged that the Spirit is in us as a gift from God, and that the gift
is not reverenced with the same honour as that which is attributed to the
giver. The Spirit is a gift of God, but a gift of life, for the law of “the Spirit
of life,” it is said, “hath made” us “free;” and a gift of power, for “ye shall
receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” 21

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Then again, the gift and gifting of the Spirit are not the only interaction within the church,

but through the Spirit, believers are indwelt and are becoming a temple unto God. Basil


It follows that the Spirit is verily the place of the saints and the saint is the
proper place for the Spirit, offering himself as he does for the indwelling
of God, and called God’s Temple. So Paul speaks in Christ, saying “In the
sight of God we speak in Christ,” and Christ in Paul, as he himself says
“Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me.” So also in the Spirit he
speaketh mysteries, and again the Spirit speaks in him. 22

Through the Holy Spirit, the church is able to participate in the work of God in Christ and

even in the very mystery of God as Christ allows us entrance into that eternal fellowship

in the Spirit.

To summarize the arguments of Basil, he responds to the false teaching of the

Arians by arguing from the authority of scripture and the tradition of the church

emphasizing the work and relation of the Spirit to the Father and the Son, and how such

work is related in the believer’s life through baptism, spiritual gifts and worship. In

Basil’s response regarding the origin of the Spirit, I quote the following from Burgess:

In order to respond adequately to the Arians who sneeringly pretended that

the homoousios of the Holy Spirit implied two sons, the bishop of
Cappadocia defines two different modes of origin for the Son and the
Spirit. The Spirit proceeds “out of God, not by generation, like the Son,
but as Breath of His mouth. Basil recognizes a coordination of the Son to
the Father, and the Holy Spirit to the Son. When the Spirit is called the
Spirit of Christ, it means that He is by nature closely related to the Son.
Knowledge of God begins with the Spirit and leads through the Son to the
Father. 23

As Basil has explained the Trinity from before creation he holds to the logical priority of

the Father. Yet from within creation we come to an understanding of God through the

prior action of the Spirit leading the believer into the eternal communion of God.

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Gregory of Nyssa

Just as Basil had responded to the heretical teachings of the Arians, so too did

Gregory of Nyssa as he responded to the teaching of Eunomius. In like fashion to Basil,

Gregory argues from the authority of scripture and the church’s tradition, liturgy and the

functioning of spiritual gifts among the members. What makes this Gregory’s teaching

distinct is the mutual indwelling as the characteristic of the relations between the Persons

of the Trinity. So let us proceed with an examination of passages from Gregory of Nyssa

regarding the Holy Spirit.

Gregory of Nyssa argued for the divinity of the Holy Spirit through appeals to

scripture as an authority for his theological work. In the following passage, he refers to

the different designations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit used in scripture.

For since the appellation of “Spirit,” and that of “Holy,” are by the
Scriptures equally applied to the Father and the Son (for “God is a Spirit,”
and “the anointed Lord is the Spirit before our face,” and “the Lord our
God is Holy,” and there is “one Holy, one Lord Jesus Christ”) lest there
should, by the use of these terms, be bred in the minds of his readers some
orthodox conception of the Holy Spirit, such as would naturally arise in
them from His sharing His glorious appellation with the Father and the
Son, for this reason, deluding the ears of the foolish, he changes the words
of the Faith as set forth by God in the delivery of this mystery, making a
way, so to speak, by this sequence, for the entrance of his impiety against
the Holy Spirit. 24

This response to Eunomius takes into account the various names for God including the

naming of the Spirit. In contrast, Eunomius ranks the Spirit lower than the Father and the

Son, which Gregory again appeals to scripture to rebut. Gregory states,

Now since these things are so, in whatever way you understand the title
“Paraclete,” when used of the Spirit, you will not in either of its
significations detach Him from His community in it with the Father and
the Son. Accordingly, he has not been able, even though he wished it, to
belittle the glory of the Spirit by ascribing to Him the very attribute which
Holy Scripture refers also to the Father and to the Son. 25

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Again, he states in making a plea from scripture the following:

It is true that we learn from Holy Scripture not to speak of the Holy Ghost
as brother of the Son: but that we are not to say that the Holy Ghost is
homogeneous486 with the Son, is nowhere shown in the divine Scriptures.
For if there does reside in the Father and the Son a life-giving power, it is
ascribed also to the Holy Spirit, according to the words of the Gospel. If
one may discern alike in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the properties of
being incorruptible, immutable, of admitting no evil, of being good, right,
guiding, of working all in all as He wills, and all the like attributes, how is
it possible by identity in these respects to infer difference in kind? 26

In both of these passages, Gregory is making plain that scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit

as equal with both the Father and the Son in attributes and power. In later passages, he

elaborates on the details of this co-equal properties and powers but for now, I will turn to

passages dealing with the role of the Spirit in the believer’s life.

Again, in similar fashion to Basil, Gregory also argues for the divinity of the

Spirit for the role He plays in the believer’s spiritual life. One of the first areas that

Gregory explains is in relation to the Spirit’s work in making the regenerate holy and

good through the sacrament of baptism. He states in the following:

For those in whom the Holy One dwells, He makes holy, even as the Good
One makes men good. In addition, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost
are holy and good, as has been shown...For the Apostle plants by his
guidance, and Apollos, when he baptizes, waters by Sacramental
regeneration, bringing to the mystery those who were instructed by Paul.
Thus he places on a level with Apollos that Spirit Who perfects men
through baptism. 27

Moreover, as Gregory speaks of the Spirit working through Paul and Apollos he also

speaks of the variety of grace gifts at work through every believer as the Spirit wills.

For since, whether it be the word of wisdom, or the word of knowledge, or

faith, or help, or government, or aught else that is enumerated in the lists
of saving gifts, “all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit,
dividing to every man severally as He will,” we therefore do not reject the
statement of Eunomius when he says that the Spirit “co-operates with the

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faithful for understanding and contemplation of things appointed” by Him,
because by Him all good teachings are appointed for us. “Sounding an
accompaniment to those who pray.” 28

These works of the Spirit are the very work of God and as such should not be denigrated

as something less than fully divine. These same gifts given by the Holy Spirit are also

from the same source as the signs and wonders performed by the Son of God. Gregory


…when He says, “If I by the Spirit of God cast out devils,” so that the
expulsion of devils is not destructive of the glory of the Spirit, but rather a
demonstration of His divine and transcendent power. “Healing the sick,”
he says, “curing the infirm, comforting the afflicted, raising up those who
stumble, recovering the distressed.” These are the words of those who
think reverently of the Holy Ghost, for no one would ascribe the operation
of any one of these effects to any one except to God. 29

So as the Spirit gives gifts to those who believe according to the distribution of the Spirit,

these very same gifts are no less divine than the gift given of the Spirit Himself. Gregory

also affirms that these gifts are not something lower than the divine power of God but it

is the very power of God in the believer’s life not apart from it. The following passage

speaks of the view espoused by Eunomius that characterizes the Spirit as nothing more

than a glorified cheering section for believers.

For He neither joins in the fray, nor does He implant the power to contend,
but merely wishes that the athlete in whom He is interested may not come
off second in the strife. And so Paul wrestles “against principalities,
against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against
spiritual wickedness in high places,” while the Spirit of power does not
strengthen the combatants nor distribute to them His gifts, “dividing to
every man severally as He will,” but His influence is limited to cheering
on those who are engaged. 30

So as Gregory accounts for Eunominus’ view, the Spirit does not indwell the believer in

strength and power as she struggles against spiritual wickedness but cheers the believer

along in her struggle. In response to this limited view of the Spirit as encouraging

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believers along the way, he cites the Spirit as the power of God for those who are

children of God in the following,

For example (for it is better to prove my position from the actual

testimonies), those who receive power to become children of God bear
witness to the Divinity of the Spirit. Who knows not that utterance of the
Lord which tells us that they who are born of the Spirit are the children of
God? For thus He expressly ascribes the birth of the children of God to the
Spirit, saying, that as that which is born of the flesh is flesh, so that which
is born of the Spirit is spirit. 31

This reception of the power of God is the receiving of the gift of the Spirit to become a

child of God. So in becoming a child of God those who believe participate in the divine

nature in the Spirit. These conclusions that Basil draws from power and gifting of the

Spirit lead to further contemplation on his part regarding the relation of the Father, Son

and Holy Spirit and the shared essence between the Persons.

The unity of the Persons in the Trinity is essential if Gregory is to maintain his

argument against the Arians. This is particularly true regarding the homoousia, the same

substance of the Spirit as Kelly states in the following: “A problem which the

Cappadocians had to face, if they were to counter the Arian jibe that the homoousia of the

Spirit seemed to involve the Father having two Sons, was to differentiate between the

mode of origin of the Son and that of the Spirit.” 32 Gregory clarifies this mode of origin

in the following:

And seeing that no toil can be thought of in the composition of anything

connected with the Divine Being (for performance being bound to the
moment of willing, the Plan at once becomes a Reality), we should be
justified in calling all that Nature which came into existence by creation a
movement of Will, an impulse of Design, a transmission of Power,
beginning from the Father, advancing through the Son, and completed in
the Holy Spirit. 33

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This is the communication of the divine nature from the Father to the Son and through the

Son to the Spirit and as Burgess attests to this formulation in the following, “The Spirit is

thus from the Father through the Son. In this statement of relationship Gregory of Nyssa

discovers what will be the definitive Eastern formula of Procession.” 34 While Gregory

makes a distinctive contribution to Trinitarian theology, he also plumbs the depths as far

the distinction of the Persons of the Trinity.

The theological work done by Gregory details certain distinctions in

understanding the One divine nature and relations of the Three Persons. Again, drawing

on the authority of scripture and the liturgy of the church we find the following quote:

We, for instance, confess that the Holy Spirit is of the same rank as the
Father and the Son, so that there is no difference between them in
anything, to be thought or named, that devotion can ascribe to a Divine
nature. We confess that, save His being contemplated as with peculiar
attributes in regard of Person, the Holy Spirit is indeed from God, and of
the Christ, according to Scripture, but that, while not to be confounded
with the Father in being never originated, nor with the Son in being the
Only-begotten, and while to be regarded separately in certain distinctive
properties, He has in all else, as I have just said, an exact identity with
them. 35

So here we have Gregory speaking of the distinction of the Spirit from Father and Son

but is identical in nature to both. He continues this line of thought by turning to the

communion and the intimacy of that relation among all Three Persons of the Trinity.

This communion found in the divine nature does not exclude the Holy Spirit as indicated

by Gregory in the following:

If, then, the Holy Spirit is truly, and not in name only, called Divine both
by Scripture and by our Fathers, what ground is left for those who oppose
the glory of the Spirit? … The singleness of the subject of these properties
testifies that He does not possess them in a measure only, as if we could
imagine that He was one thing in His very substance, but became another
by the presence of the aforesaid qualities. 36

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Insofar as the divine nature is concerned scripture and apostolic tradition testify to the

Spirit’s full possession of the divine nature. Gregory, regarding the qualities attributed to

divinity, further explicates this ownership of the divine nature by the Holy Spirit. In the

following passage, he argues for one to either hold to the full divinity of the Spirit or stop

reducing the Spirit to that which is not divine. He states,

So, with regard to the Spirit, if when one calls Him Divine one speaks the
truth, neither when one defines Him to be worthy of honour, to be
glorious, good, omnipotent, does one lie; for all such conceptions are at
once admitted with the idea of Deity. So that they must accept one of two
alternatives; either not to call Him Divine at all, or to refrain from
subtracting from His Deity any one of those conceptions which are
attributable to Deity. We must then, most surely, comprehend along with
each other these two thoughts, viz. the Divine nature, and along with it a
just idea, a devout intuition, of that Divine and transcendent nature. 37

Therefore, the attributes one can give to Deity are also attributes one can give to the

Spirit. This identification of attributes among the Three Persons of the Trinity leads

Gregory to the mutual indwelling of the Persons in the Trinity as stated in the following:

We are not to think of the Father as ever parted from the Son, nor to look
for the Son as separate from the Holy Spirit. As it is impossible to mount
to the Father, unless our thoughts are exalted thither through the Son, so it
is impossible also to say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to be known only in a perfect
Trinity, in closest consequence and union with each other, before all
creation, before all the ages, before anything whatever of which we can
form an idea1245. The Father is always Father, and in Him the Son, and with
the Son the Holy Spirit. 38

Turescu explains this insight into the indivisibility of the divine nature and the intimacy

of the relation within the Godhead in the following:

Each person dwells in the other and knows them perfectly. This is the
supreme degree of relationality and communion, and Gregory contends
that because they are spiritual, the divine persons need not express their
knowledge or feelings about each other, that is, they do not communicate
with each other in the way we humans do. 39

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This intimacy and communion within the Godhead is of a type of relation that is beyond

the grasp of human knowledge. Yet even with this mystery, it gets to the core of the

Cappadocian Fathers’ teaching regarding the Trinity. Kelly briefly summarizes their

doctrine in the following: “The essence of their doctrine is that the one Godhead exists

simultaneously in three modes of being, or hypostases….Here we have the doctrine of the

co-inherence, or as it was later called ‘perichoresis’, of the divine Persons.” 40 So here,

we have the mutual indwelling in the Trinity. As the Son is, there too is the

interpenetrating presence of the Father and the Spirit. And the same is true for the Father

and the Spirit.

Even with this view of mutual indwelling, Gregory still elaborates on the source

of the divine nature and the work of each Person in the Trinity. Burgess summarizes the

ideas of Gregory in response to the charge of Tritheism in that, “…we are not naming

three Gods, for the Three share a common divine essence. We are naming three persons.

Each Person has His individual work but does not operate separately from the other

Two. 41 The unity is not strictly in the divine essence but in the divine activity as well.

Gregory clarifies this unity of action in the following passage:

For neither did the Universal God make the universe “through the Son,” as
needing any help, nor does the Only-begotten God work all things “by the
Holy Spirit,” as having a power that comes short of His design; but the
fountain of power is the Father, and the power of the Father is the Son,
and the spirit of that power is the Holy Spirit; and Creation entirely, in all
its visible and spiritual extent, is the finished work of that Divine power. 42

This echoes back to his understanding of the communication of the divine nature and the

procession of the Spirit. Just as the divine nature begins with the Father and is

communicated through the Son to the Spirit, so too is the divine activity. Kelly sums up

the Cappadocian Fathers’ conception of the Trinity in the following:

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Their theory is that the unity of the ousia, or Godhead, follows from the
unity of the divine action which is disclosed in revelation….The divine
action begins from the Father, proceeds through the Son, and is completed
in the Holy Spirit; none of the Persons possesses a separate operation of
His own, but one identical energy passes through all Three. 43

So here, we have the being of God as the activity of God revealing Himself from the

Father through the Son and in the Spirit. So to summarize briefly, Gregory finding a

foundation in scripture and church tradition, clarifies the relations of the divine Persons

and the intimacy that they have. This intimacy is not limited to the divine natures but is

also found in the work of God.

Gregory of Nazianzus

While Gregory of Nazianzus was not a blood brother as Basil of Caesarea and

Gregory of Nyssa, he was a brother in Christ and good friends with both. Gregory

contributed in the formulation of Trinitarian theology in similar fashion to his friends by

responding to the doctrinal heresies of the Arians. An area of contention he had with the

Arians is the denigration of the Holy Spirit to a creaturely status. He raises the question

and responds in the following:

Now, if He is a creature, how do we believe in Him, how are we made

perfect in Him? For it is not the same thing to believe IN a thing and to
believe ABOUT it. The one belongs to Deity, the other to—any thing. But if
He is God, then He is neither a creature, nor a thing made, nor a fellow
servant, nor any of these lowly appellations. 44

While the Arians affirm the creatureliness of the Spirit, he questions this in terms of

belief in and belief about. These two distinctions differentiate between a relation with

God and a relation with any other created thing respectively. Gregory continues to argue

for the divinity of the Holy Spirit as opposed to the Arians in the idea of procession.

Gregory here takes a slightly different route regarding procession as his friend Gregory of

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Nyssa. Gregory speaks of the Spirit proceeding directly from the Father as he declares in

the following:

For, tell me, what position will you assign to that which Proceeds, which
has started up between the two terms of your division, and is introduced
by a better Theologian than you, our Saviour Himself? Or perhaps you
have taken that word out of your Gospels for the sake of your Third
Testament, The Holy Ghost, which proceedeth from the Father; Who,
inasmuch as He proceedeth from That Source, is no Creature; and
inasmuch as He is not Begotten is no Son; and inasmuch as He is between
the Unbegotten and the Begotten is God. 45

Instead of the Spirit coming from the Father through the Son, Gregory holds to the Spirit

coming from the Father and is between the Father and the Son. So even with this type of

procession, the Spirit is not counted as a creature but as divine. He even presses the point

further in the following passage:

What then? Is the Spirit God? Most certainly. Well then, is He

Consubstantial? Yes, if He is God. Grant me, says my opponent, that there
spring from the same Source One who is a Son, and One who is not a Son,
and these of One Substance with the Source, and I admit a God and a God.
Nay, if you will grant me that there is another God and another nature of
God I will give you the same Trinity with the same name and facts. 46

So here, he answers the two questions regarding the divinity and the sharing of the divine

nature in the Holy Spirit in the affirmative. He even declares if the nature of God is

different than he understands he will still provide a Trinitarian conception of the

Christian God. Hall recapitulates on Gregory’s conception of the unity of the divine that,

So although the works and nature of the three persons are

indistinguishable, they have distinct functions in relation to each other,
and the Father has a certain priority. This classic idea of the
consubstantial Trinity obviously entails the deity of the Holy Spirit, of the
same substance as Father and Son. 47

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With consideration given regarding the non-creatureliness of the Holy Spirit

Gregory now addresses issues related to the spiritual life of the believer. In particular, in

the following passage he speaks of the Spirit’s involvement in worship and prayer.

We will give the more perfect reason hereafter, when we discuss the
question of the unwritten; for the present it will suffice to say that it is the
Spirit in Whom we worship, and in Whom we pray. For Scripture says,
God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and
in truth. And again,—We know not what we should pray for as we ought;
but the Spirit Itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which
cannot be uttered; and I will pray with the Spirit and I will pray with the
understanding also;—that is, in the mind and in the Spirit. Therefore to
adore or to pray to the Spirit seems to me to be simply Himself offering
prayer or adoration to Himself. 48

The Holy Spirit is necessary for spiritual worship, and likewise when we do not know

how to pray the Spirit intercedes to pray accordingly. Gregory continues this line of

thought in relation to baptism and what occurs when one believes. He states,

For if He is not to be worshipped, how can He deify me by Baptism? but if

He is to be worshipped, surely He is an Object of adoration, and if an
Object of adoration He must be God; the one is linked to the other, a truly
golden and saving chain. And indeed from the Spirit comes our New
Birth, and from the New Birth our new creation, and from the new
creation our deeper knowledge of the dignity of Him from Whom it is
derived. 49

Burgess summarizes this succinctly in the following, “He [the Spirit] deifies the believer

by baptism….The Spirit shows us the Son who takes us to the Father. He assists us in

prayer when we fall short. He indwells the redeemed.” 50 This is a similar pattern as

Gregory of Nyssa regarding the believer’s approach to God as that of the Spirit to the Son

to the Father. Gregory continues this focus on the activity of the Spirit as the work of

God and in the following passage relates this to the life of Christ. Gregory states,

Look at these facts:—Christ is born; the Spirit is His Forerunner. He is

baptized; the Spirit bears witness. He is tempted; the Spirit leads Him up.
He works miracles; the Spirit accompanies them. He ascends; the Spirit

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takes His place. What great things are there in the idea of God which are
not in His power? What titles which belong to God are not applied to Him,
except only Unbegotten and Begotten? For it was needful that the
distinctive properties of the Father and the Son should remain peculiar to
Them, lest there should be confusion in the Godhead Which brings all
things, even disorder itself, into due arrangement and good order. 51

As even with the distinctions of the Father and the Son as Unbegotten and

Begotten respectively, the Holy Spirit is still divine by intimate relation to the

Father and the Son. As we come to the end of this examination of Gregory’s

theology regarding the divinity of the Holy Spirit he uses and analogy that

characterizes the communication of the divine nature and the distinction of the

Persons of the Trinity. He draws from an analogy of a spring in what follows:

I picture to myself an eye, a fountain, a river, as others have done before,

to see if the first might be analogous to the Father, the second to the Son,
and the third to the Holy Ghost. For in these there is no distinction in time,
nor are they torn away from their connexion with each other, though they
seem to be parted by three personalities. But I was afraid in the first place
that I should present a flow in the Godhead, incapable of standing still;
and secondly that by this figure a numerical unity would be introduced.
For the eye and the spring and the river are numerically one, though in
different forms. 52

Although he acknowledges the limits of such an analogy in relation to the Godhead this is

a fair representation of the theology developed thus far. The Cappadocian Fathers start

with the Father as the source of divine nature and the Son and the Spirit share in this

nature completely by the giving of the Father. Kelly summarizes briefly these

distinguishing characteristics of the Persons in the Trinity. Kelly says,

Thus the distinction of the Persons is grounded in Their origin and mutual
relation. They are, we should observe, so many ways in which the one
indivisible divine substance distributes and presents Itself, and hence They
come to be termed, ‘modes of coming to be’. 53

Likewise, Burgess speaks summarily of the theological work considered and states that,

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“While the Son derives His substance immediately from the Father, the Spirit also derives

from the Father but mediately through the Son. However, in all three hypostases the

essence remains one and the same, untouched by differences in causation or function. 54

This is the characteristic of classical metaphysical language as applied to the doctrine of

the Trinity and as affirmed by the Cappadocian Fathers in the struggle to maintain


In conclusion, what can contemporary theologians learn from the theological

disputes regarding the Trinity in the fourth century? I believe there are two points

directly related to the Trinitarian theology of the Cappadocian Fathers and one that is

implicit in contemporary Trinitarian theology. The first point relates to the notion of the

Holy Spirit as the kenotic aspect of the Trinity in that the Spirit testifies of Jesus Christ

and not to Himself; the self-forgetting person of the Trinity. One possibility in such an

understanding of the Spirit is that of the attitude that Jesus Christ had when he came as a

servant is further carried out by the work of the Holy Spirit. The second point is related

to ideas implicit in the Cappadocian Fathers regarding the being and activity of divinity

in their theology. Though perichoresis gains the majority of the metaphysical

investigations into the Trinity, I believe a deeper examination of peripheresis could

provide further insights into the activity of God as elaborated in the following:

Wherefore instead of perichoresis, one might properly speak of a

peripheresis operating in Gregory's trinitarian theology. The Persons whirl
"about" each other and inside of each other. The depiction is one of mutual
admiration, each Person "falling all over" the other, glorying in the other.
In a sense, the Persons are continually "falling in love." Authentic love
disposes persons to be "mutually inclusive." Such a love is celebrated in
the Song of Songs between Christ, the bridegroom, and his beloved
church. 55

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The activity of God as eternal love in continual movement could open up certain avenues

in response to the metaphysical schemes of process theology. The third point is implicit

to contemporary Trinitarian theology that speaks of the crucified or suffering God. Since

the Spirit is often forgotten, further study may be necessary to understand the grieving of

the Spirit in relation to these notion of the suffering God. Yet even in light of such

pathos on the part of God, the revelation of the Trinity through the work of the Spirit and

the cross of Christ, opens the believer to untold spiritual riches that is best summed up in

the following:

The entire Trinity ushers the believer into the depths of their
communitarian life and shares the fullness of this fellowship within the
believer's heart. Gregory celebrates the unending circle of God's vitality
and the dynamic vibrancy of trinitarian love. 56

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End Notes
J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, revised edition, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978),
St. Basil: Letters and Selected Works, Volume 8 of A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers
of the Christian Church, Second Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprinted 1980), 1.
Ibid., 4.
Ibid., 15.
Stanley M Burgess, The Holy Spirit: Ancient Christian Traditions, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers,
1984), 138.
Basil, 25.
Ibid., 28.
Kelly, 268.
Burgess, 135.
Basil, 16.
Ibid., 17.
Ibid., 18.
Burgess, 148.
Basil, 15-16.
Ibid., 18.
Burgess, 140.
Basil, 23.
Burgess, 139.
Basil, 36.
Ibid., 39.
Ibid., 138-139.
Select Writings and Letters of Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, Volume 5 of A Select Library of Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprinted 1980),
Ibid., 129.
Ibid., 131.
Ibid., 133.
Ibid., 134.
Ibid., 129.
Kelly, 262.
Gregory of Nyssa, 320.
Burgess, 145.
Gregory of Nyssa, 315.
Ibid., 316.
Ibid., 317.
Ibid., 319.
Lucian Turcescu, Gregory of Nyssa and the Concept of Divine Person, (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2005), 92.
Kelly, 264.
Burgess, 145.
Gregory of Nyssa, 320.
Kelly, 266-267.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem and Saint Gregory of Nazianzen, Volume 7 of A Select Library of Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprinted 1980),
Ibid., 320.

Copyright © 2010 by Jeffrey W Roop 23

Ibid., 321.
Stuart G. Hall, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church, (London: SPCK, 1991), 158.
Gregory of Nazianzen, 321.
Ibid., 327.
Burgess, 157.
Gregory of Nazianzen, 327.
Ibid., 328.
Kelly, 265-266.
Burgess, 146.
Daniel F. Stramara Jr , “Gregory of Nyssa’s Terminology for Trinitarian Perichoresis”, Vigiliae
Christianae, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 257-263, 261.
Ibid., 263.

Copyright © 2010 by Jeffrey W Roop 24