On the Holy Spirit – at a glance

Summary of John Zizioulas on the Second Ecumenical Council
(Constantinople) and Basil on the Holy Spirit

1. Basil is saying that if one professes the Spirit is not a creature, then one does not have to profess the ‘homoousios’ of the Spirit. The real and only issue behind the use of the notion of substance in theology was to safeguard the difference between created and uncreated.

2. Basil prefers to speak of the unity of God’s being in terms other than that of substance. He prefers to use Koinonia whenever reference is made to the oneness of the divinity. Anxious to stress and safeguard the distinct and ontological integral existence of each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, Basil saw that the best way to speak of the unity of the Godhead was through the notion of koinonia rather than of substance.

3. By calling the Person a ‘mode of being’ the Cappadocians introduced a revolution into Greek ontology. For the first time in history Person (prosopon) is not secondary to being. Person is now the ultimate ontological category we can apply to God. The real existence of being or substance is found in the Person.

4. Since the Person is an ultimate ontological notion, it must be a Person – and not a substance – that is the source of divine existence. Thus the notion of ‘source’ is corrected by the notion of ‘cause’ (aitia). The cause of God’s being is the Father. The divine existence does not ‘spring’ so to say, ‘naturally’ as from impersonal substance, but is brought into existence, it is ‘caused’ by someone. It carries connotations of personal initiative and freedom. Divine being owes its being to a free person, not to impersonal substance.

5. There is a fundamental distinction between what we can say about God as he is in Himself (immanently or eternally) and what we can say about Him as He reveals Himself to us in His Oikonomia. These two ways are indicated by two doxologies. One was ‘Glory be to the Father through (dia) the Son in (en) the Holy Spirit.’ Another Basil claimed was just as ancient, was ‘Glory be to the Father with (syn) the Son, with (syn) the Holy Spirit.’

6. In justification of the second doxology, Basil points out that if we look at the Economy in order to arrive at Theologia
we begin with the Holy Spirit, then pass through the Son and finally reach the Father. The movement is reversed when we speak of God’s coming to us: the initiative starts with the Father, passes through the Son, and reaches us in the Holy Spirit. When referring to the Economy, the Spirit is a forerunner of Christ; so in the Economy, for Basil at least, the Spirit does not seem to depend on the Son.

7. This means that the through/in (dia/en) doxology can indicate either the precedence of the Son or the precedence of the Spirit in our relation to God. But if we speak of God in terms of liturgical and eucharistic experience, the three persons of the Trinity appear to be equal in honour and placed next to the other without hierarchical distinction.

8. Basil’s introduction of this with the Son and with the Spirit doxology supports his idea that the oneness of God is to be found in the koinonia of the three persons. The existence of God is revealed to us in the Liturgy as an event of communion.

9. Basil stresses the unity of divine operations ad extra, and cannot see how else one can speak of God in His own being: ‘If one truly receives the Son, the Son will bring with him on either hand the presence of his Father and that of his own Holy Spirit;
likewise he who receives the Father receives also in effect the Son and the Spirit. So ineffable and so far beyond our understanding are both the communion (Koinonia) and the distinctiveness (dianerisis) of the divine hypostases.’

10. From whatever end you begin in speaking of the Holy Trinity you end up with the co-presence and co-existence of all three Persons at once. The only thing which we can say about God on the basis of this relation is that He is three Persons and that these three Persons are clearly distinct from each other in that they exist in a different manner each. Nothing however can be said
about the way they exist – which is why we cannot say what the difference is between generation and procession. The
safest theology is that which draws not only from the Economy, but also from the vision of God as He appears in worship.