Holy Spirit in Eastern and Western Traditions

Monsignor Bruno Forte, President of the School of Theology of Southern Italy

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 1, 2002 (Zenit.org).- This reflection was one of those presented during the June videoconference of theologians entitled “Pneumatology from the Second Vatican Council to Our Times.” The Vatican Congregation for the Clergy sponsored the videoconference.

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The Theology of the Spirit in the Eastern and Western Traditions
Monsignor Bruno Forte, Rome

The New Testament introduces the Spirit as the One who “opens” to the Divine because it enables the painful acceptance of the cross by which God comes to share the fate of those with no God (see John 19:30), and as the One who “unifies” what was separated and divided, because in the paschal hour it conjoins the Father to the Son and, in the Son, to the sinners reconciled in the blood of the crucifix (see Romans 1:4; Ephesians 2:13).

[By] this twofold action of the Consoler are inspired the reflections on the Holy Spirit which characterize the Eastern and Western traditions of faith.

Western theology emphasizes the binding role of the Spirit in unifying the Father to the Son. By distancing [itself] from the concern of testifying to the mysterious unity of the Christian God when faced with the appeal of the Greek idea of “One,” Western tradition scans the economy of the Revelation to find the immanent profundity of the act of peace and reconciliation of the Paraclete in the event of the resuscitation from the crucifix and in its effusion on all human flesh in order to reconcile all sinners to God.

The Holy Spirit is reaped in the divine profundity as the love donated by the Lover and received by the Beloved One, as by the Father because received by the Son, as by the Son because donated by the Father, and is one with them because it is the love donated and received in the unity of eternal love: “The Spirit is therefore the ineffable communion of Father and Son.”

“Vinculum caritatis aeternae,” bond of eternal love, the Spirit at the same time unites the Lover and the Beloved One and distinguishes itself in its personal peculiarity: “Be he in fact the unity of one to the other, or their sanctity, or their love, be it their unity because it is their love and be it their love because it is their sanctity, it is clear that one in whom the two are united is not one of the two and the generated One is loved by the generating One and loves the One who generated him.”

It is in this light that the idea of the procession of the Spirit from the Father and from the Son (“filioque”) emerges; it is the emanation of the Spirit from the eternal dialogue of their love, from their confrontation, that is the reciprocity of donation, gratuity and gratitude, reciprocal giving and receiving.

Eastern theology, on the other hand, emphasizes the action of the Spirit in opening the relationship between Father and Son: He is the personification of the bequest of love, the ecstasy of the Lover and of the Beloved One, their emergence to donate themselves to one another in eternity.

Starting from the biblical testimony, according to which each Exodus of God from himself in the history of mankind is fulfilled in the Spirit, Eastern theological contemplation sees the Spirit as proceeding from the Father, source of the divine nature, through the Son, by means of and beyond him, according to the order established by the economy of salvation. Thus, the Eastern tradition sees the procession from the Son as overshadowing the “monarchy” of the Father, the absolute source of divine Silence.

It is thus the Father who effuses the Spirit onto the Generated One, who in turn — having bestowed it onto the One who abandons him in the hour of the cross and having received it by him in the fullness of the paschal mystery — bestows it onto every human flesh.

The idea that the Consoler is the ecstasy and gift of God is expressed by the Greek Fathers with the frequent formula “From the Father, for the Son, in the Spirit.” In this light, the Spirit appears as the plethora of divine love, the abundant fullness, the generous and gratuitous surplus of the radiating Communion: Spirit Creator, bequest of the Almighty, source and fire bearer of life (see the Western hymn “Veni Creator”). The Spirit is the “ecstasy” of God for his “other”: the creature.

Thus, the Spirit accomplishes in God the condition of love, its freedom from possession and jealousy: “Love is not to look into each other’s eyes, but to look together at the same destination” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry). The “codilectus” of the love of the Father and of the Son (Riccardo di San Vittore), the “third One” in the encounter of their reciprocal giving and receiving is with its specificity and corporeity, the confirmation that eternal love does not confine the Lover and the Beloved One within the circle of their mutual giving and receiving, but rather it enables them to meet in a fecundity that transcends them.

The Spirit, in communicating itself to the Church and to the heart of the faithful, opens their heart also to his gift and to the foreboding of the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is the Spirit of the hope that does not delude and of the love which anticipates eternity in time.

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