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The Holy Spirit Proceeds from the Father and the Son

General Audience — November 20, 1985

—    The Spirit is the source of every gift from God

In the last catechesis we concentrated our attention on the Holy Spirit, reflecting on the words of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed according to the form in use in the Latin liturgy: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets."

The Holy Spirit is "sent" by the Father and Son, as he also "proceeds" from them. For this reason he is called "the Spirit of the Father" (e.g., Mt. 10:20; 1 Cor 2:11; also Jn 15:26), but also "the Spirit of the Son" (Gal 4:6), or "the Spirit of Jesus" (Acts 16:7), since it is Jesus himself that sends him (cf. Jn 15:26). Therefore the Latin Church professes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (qui a Patre Filioque procedit) while the Orthodox Churches profess from the Father through the Son. He proceeds "by way of will," "in the manner of love" (per modum amoris). This is a sententia certa, that is, a theological doctrine commonly accepted in the Church's teaching and therefore sure and binding.

This conviction is confirmed by the etymology of the name "Holy Spirit," to which I alluded in the previous catechesis—Spirit, spiritus, pneuma, ruah. Starting from this etymology "the procession" of the Spirit from the Father and the Son is described as "spiration"—spiramen—a breath of Love.

This spiration is not generation. Only the Word, the Son, "proceeds" from the Father by eternal generation. God, who eternally knows himself and everything in himself, begets the Word. In this eternal begetting, which takes place by way of intellect (per modum intelligibilis actionis), God, in the absolute unity of his nature, that is, of his divinity, is Father and Son. "He is," and not "he becomes," "he is" so eternally. "He is" from the beginning and without beginning. Under this aspect the word "procession" must be understood correctly. There is no connotation proper to a temporal "becoming." The same is true of the "procession" of the Holy Spirit.

1.  The Spirit is the source of every gift from God

Therefore, by means of generation, in the absolute unity of the divinity, God is eternally Father and Son. The Father who begets loves the Son who is begotten. The Son loves the Father with a love which is identical with that of the Father. In the unity of the divinity, love is on one side paternal and on the other, filial. At the same time the Father and the Son are not only united by that mutual love as two Persons infinitely perfect. But their mutual gratification, their reciprocal love, proceeds in them and from them as a person. The Father and the Son "spirate" the Spirit of Love consubstantial with them. In this way God, in the absolute unity of the divinity, is from all eternity Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Quicumque Creed proclaims: "The Holy Spirit is not made, nor created, nor begotten, but he proceeds from the Father and the Son." The "procession" is per modum amoris, as already said. Because of this the Fathers of the Church call the Holy Spirit "Love, Charity, Spiritual Love, Bond of Love, Kiss of Love." All these expressions testify to the way in which the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from the Father and the Son.

It can be said that God in his innermost life is "love" which is personalized in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son. The Spirit is also called Gift.

The Spirit who is Love, is the source of every gift having its origin in God in regard to creatures—the gift of existence by means of creation, the gift of grace through the economy of salvation.

We understand better the words of the Acts of the Apostles in the light of this theology of the trinitarian Gift: "You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). With these words Christ takes his final leave of his dear ones when going to the Father. We also understand the words of the Apostle in this light: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5).

Let us conclude our reflection by invoking with the liturgy, Veni, Sancte Spiritus. "Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle within them the fire of your love."