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…
“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.
My book review of Duke Kwon and Greg Thompson’s Reparations: A Call for Repentance and Repair is up at Mere Orthodoxy. Kwon and Thompson make the case that White churches owe African Americans reparations. I expect that their work will be a starting point for a lot of reparation discussions in Presbyterian circles in the near future. The book was compelling, but overreached. Here’s an excerpt of my reivew,
I was persuaded of the biblical arguments for reparations before reading Kwon and Thompson, and their work only strengthened that conviction. But the application of that biblical principle into the life of the church? My church, where I pastor? The duty of Christian love and sacrifice in working towards repair does not go away if fault is cleared, but the bedrock of Kwon and Thompson’s argument is that reparations is the complicit returning what was stolen. It is not ethical bean counting or an evasion of loving obligation to take that aspect of their argument seriously and then to assess its claims of historical moral responsibility for my congregation.
This newer chart of American Presbyterian denominations is more visually pleasing than the one I had made, though it is not as thorough. It’s still a great chart.
A friend asked me the other day what I thought were the key 4-5 distinctives of Reformed theology. I gave my answer, but have found myself pondering that question. I think I would rephrase it to “the distinctives of Reformed faith and practice.” Reformed theology is not just about reforming doctrine, but practice. It’s an embodied, lived tradition of the church. So what separates Reformed faith and practice from other Christian traditions, particularly the (Ana)Baptist, Lutheran (though there is a lot of overlap here), Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Wesleyan traditions? I think the best resources for a quick overview are John Calvin’s The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1544), William Perkin’s A Reformed Catholic (1597), and R. Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confessions (2008). So Reformed churches are,
Catholic and Creedal. The Reformed are Reformed Catholics (in distinction to Roman or Eastern Orthodox Catholics) and fully embrace the Catholic tradition expressed in the Apostles’, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian creeds. To be Catholic is to affirm and submit to Nicene Christianity as biblical Christianity. Nicene Christianity in particular defines the biblical and Catholic doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity and humanity. The Reformed also affirm and look to the church fathers for guidance.
Sola Scriptura. All Christians affirm the authority of scripture, and the Reformed are no different. Where differences lie is in the uniqueness…