In the Nicene Creed we confess that “we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets…”
Previously, in episode 7, we learned from Gregory of Nazianzus about early portions of the creed, focusing on the eternal generation of the Son, and about the relations of the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In this episode we explore the backstory to the section of the creed on the Holy Spirit. At the council of Nicaea in 325, the bishops merely confessed “we believe in the Holy Spirit” – a succinct and cryptic statement that prompted significant discussion and controversy in the decades that followed. At the council of Constantinople in 381 this phrase was expanded upon to the forms we still confess to this very day. Basil of Caesarea, also known as St. Basil the Great, died a few years before the council of Constantinople. Yet, there are few people from the fourth century who have proved more influential for understanding the development of pro-Nicene theology of the Holy Spirit.
Is the Holy Spirit as equally and fully divine as the Father and the Son? Or, is the Spirit something less, perhaps a created emanation from God, or some kind of impersonal divine force? If the Spirit is to be worshipped together with the Father and the Son, does that mean we are no longer worshipping only one God?
After briefly introducing Basil’s life, from his philosophical training in Athens to his prolific writing and service to the church and to the poor, we focus in this episode on Basil’s treatise “On the Holy Spirit” – the first Christian treatise on the Holy Spirit. Basil attentively traces to how the Spirit is described in the Bible, especially in relation to the Father and Son, and insists that we listen carefully to how the New Testament uses prepositions in describing the Holy Spirit. Basil reflects quite practically on how we relate to God. For instance, reflecting on Romans 8, Basil describes how in prayer the Holy Spirit unites us with Christ who was sent to bring us to the Father, as we worship the one God. Basil contributes outstanding resources for contemplating not only how the three persons of the Trinity relate, but also for how to read Scripture – and how to live faithfully as Christians amidst great suffering, especially when our experience of the church feels disappointing or alienating.
Next time on Passages, we will continue learning from the Cappadocians, and we will explore some of the not merely theoretical but actual implications and entailments of Basil’s theology. Since we confess that the Holy Spirit is to be worshipped with the Father and the Son, we should ask, ‘how did early Christians understand worship?’ Alongside Basil’s hymns and liturgies, we explore how Basil’s theology compelled Christians to worship God by caring for the poor and the vulnerable, such as founding the world’s first hospitals. Passages is available on most podcast platforms.
Joshua Heavin received his PhD at the University of Aberdeen (Trinity College Bristol), is an adjunct professor at Houston Baptist University and the King’s College NYC, and is a postulant in the Anglican Diocese of the South (ACNA).