Basil on the Spirit’s Procession from the Son
I was surprised while reading Basil’s On the Faith that he teaches that the Son sends the Holy Spirit in the same way the Father sends the Son, “The Holy Spirit does not speak from himself, nor does the Son do anything from himself, but the Father sends the Son, and the Son sends the Holy Spirit.” Basil is held in very high regard in Eastern Orthodoxy, which designates him the greatest of their three holy hierarchs. He’s a big deal in their tradition, which rejects the filioque clause on multiple grounds, including doctrinal. Yet Basil’s affirmation goes further than the contested filioque clause in the Nicene Creed, as he does not teach that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, just that the Son sends the Spirit.
The creed speaks of the Spirit coming from (ἐκπορευόμενον, a compound of ἐκ and πορεύομαι) and Basil speaks of the Son sending (πέμοντος). The cognitive similarities are clear, indicating that the doctrine in view is the same. But the dating here matters. On the Faith was likely written around 360 A.D., while the version of the Nicene Creed held by the church was not finished until the Council of Constantinople in 381. Basil’s terminology does not have the disputes surrounding the filioque clause in sight. However, Gregory of Nazianzus, in his important Oration 39 (Oration on the Holy Lights; §12) says “The Holy Spirit is truly spirit, coming forth from (προϊὸν; from προϊέναι) the Father indeed, but not after the manner of the Son, for it is not by generation but by ‘procession’ (ἐκπορευτῶς), since I must coin a word for the sake of clearness.” Gregory Nazianzen preached this in January 381, just before he led the Council of Constantinople. He crafted the term ἐκπορευτῶς for the economic relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father, meaning that Basil would not have had those semantic nuances in mind 20 years earlier. Basil is not distinguishing the manners in which the Son and Spirit are sent (generation versus procession), respectively, but teaching that it is the Son who sends the Spirit as the Father sends the Son. Since ἐκπορευόμενον had not yet been coined, it is impossible to say whether Basil saw πέμοντος as closer to Nazianzen’s “procession” or προϊὸν. Be that as it may, Nazianzen is not ruling out the Son’s role in the Spirit’s procession, but asserting that the Spirit proceeds (ἐκπορευτῶς) from the Father, not that he is begotten (γεννητῶς) like the Son…
‘Sola Scriptura’ in St. Basil the Great
“Now faith is unwavering assent to what is heard [from Christ], in full assurance of the truth of what is proclaimed by the grace of God. This was shown by what what was testified to Abraham, that ‘he did not waver in unbelief, rather he was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and was fully assured that what he promised he is able to do.’ But if ‘the Lord is faithful in all his words’ and ‘all his commandments are faithful, established unto ages of ages, made in truth and uprightness,’ it is a clear indictment of abandoning the faith and of arrogance either to supplant anything that is written or to introduce anything not written. For our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘My sheep hear my voice,’ and before this he said likewise, ‘A stranger they will not follow but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ And the Apostle, using an example from human affairs, more emphatically forbids adding or subtracting anything in the God-breathed Scripture, which he has in mind when he says, ‘Though a covenant be confirmed by human agency, no one denies it or makes addition to it.”
-St. Basil the Great, ‘On the Faith’, page 73 in his On Christian Ethics. Similarly, §26.1 of Basil’s ethics, “That it is necessary to confirm every word or matter with the testimony of the God-breathed Scripture, so that the good is established and the evil reproached.” He cites Matthew 4:3-4 and Acts 2:12-17ff for this latter rule.
This is not only sola scriptura, but the regulative principle. Faith in Christ includes faith in his words, which cannot be subtracted from or added to in faith or practice without modifying faith in Christ. Ethical conduct in faith demands that all faith and practice (word or matter) be ruled by God speaking in scripture: the Bible is the norming norm, because “It is necessary not to be fixed on one’s own reasonings to the rejection of what is said by the Lord, but to understand that the words of the Lord are worthier of belief than one’s own convictions” (§8.3). This is the practice of faith.
The Spirit in Baptism Regenerates – Gregory of Nyssa
Baptism, then, is a purification from sins, a remission of trespasses, a cause of renovation and regeneration. By regeneration, understand regeneration conceived in thought, not discerned by bodily…’Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ Why are both named, and why is not the Spirit alone accounted sufficient for the completion of Baptism? Man, as we know full well, is compound, not simple: and therefore the cognate and similar medicines are assigned for healing to him who is twofold and conglomerate:— for his visible body, water, the sensible element — for his soul, which we cannot see, the Spirit invisible, invoked by faith, present unspeakably. ‘For the Spirit breathes where He wills, and you hear His voice, but cannot tell whence He comes or whither He goes.’ He blesses the body that is baptized, and the water that baptizes. Despise not, therefore, the Divine laver, nor think lightly of it, as a common thing, on account of the use of water. For the power that operates is mighty, and wonderful are the things that are wrought thereby.
-Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ
Baptism Gives Life by the Spirit – Gregory of Nyssa
In Holy Baptism, what is it that we secure thereby? Is it not a participation in a life no longer subject to death? I think that no one who can in any way be reckoned among Christians will deny that statement. What then? Is that life-giving power in the water itself which is employed to convey the grace of Baptism? Or is it not rather clear to every one that this element is only employed as a means in the external ministry, and of itself contributes nothing towards the sanctification, unless it be first transformed itself by the sanctification; and that what gives life to the baptized is the Spirit; as our Lord Himself says in respect to Him with His own lips, “It is the Spirit that gives life;” but for the completion of this grace He alone, received by faith, does not give life, but belief in our Lord must precede, in order that the lively gift may come upon the believer, as our Lord has spoken, “He gives life to whom He wills“.
-Gregory of Nyssa, On the Holy Spirit, Against the Macedonians
2021 Reading Project: The Cappadocian Fathers
I started a tradition in 2018 of selecting a theologian and reading all (or at least most of) his works over the course of the subsequent year. My hope is that this allows me to not only to become familiar with important figures and texts, but to also get into his theological mind over a large body of work. This year I picked to a group of theologians: the Cappadocian Fathers.
The Cappadocian Fathers are three hugely influential, 4th-century theologians and churchmen who wrote and ministered in Cappadocia, what is now central Turkey. They are Basil the Great (330-379), the bishop of Caesarea; his younger brother, Gregory of Nyssa (~335-395), who was bishop of his namesake; and their friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (or Gregory Nazianzen; 329-389), who was briefly bishop of Nazianzus before becoming bishop of Constantinople…