God in the third person

In one sense, the fifth of the 39 articles, dealing with the Holy Spirit, is a bare minimum of what might be said.

V. Of the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

This is a fairly straightforward affirmation of the Spirit as third person of the Trinity. In its unquestioning adoption of the filioque clause (i.e. the words “and the Son” in the credal phrase “proceeding from the Father and the Son”), it’s located clearly within the Western Catholic tradition.

I’m not sure whether this is of a piece with what I observed in the previous post. There I noted that the article on the Son said virtually nothing about his present activity. Here there is nothing about the activity of the Spirit within the Church (or the world).

This article’s fairly bare statement in some respects is almost the opposite of a great deal of contemporary talk about the Spirit. Much contemporary talk of the Spirit (especially but not exclusively in charismatic circles) tends to be instrumental, and mainly about empowering the Church or Christians.

The language of gift and empowerment has a wide-ranging scriptural background behind it, and there is certainly far more room for talk of the present activity of the Holy Spirit than the article would superficially suggest. I don’t want to deny the validity of this language. Equally, perhaps more attention to the Spirit as Person might lead to a greater stress on relationship, and less concern with power.

The first five of the 39 articles represent a kind of credal summary, a statement of the church’s regular fidei (rule of faith), and a means of anchoring the Church of England in the historic deposit of faith expressed by the fathers and the early ecumenical councils. From this point on they begin to engage more specifically with controversy, and begin to put down boundary markers for particular understandings of how that faith was to be maintained and worked out in the controversies of the sixteenth (and seventeenth) century.

(Part of a series on the 39 articles of religion)

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