Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, a day when the Church recalls the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Mary and the Apostles, the beginning of the Church and the start of her mission to all tongues and people and nations. As today officially ends the season of Easter, tomorrow we shall continue with the ordinary season. In attempt to understand the outpouring of the Holy Spirit this day, can we affirm that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or from the Father and the Son? Traditionally, the day of Pentecost was a Jewish feast held 50 days after Passover. The first fruit of the wheat harvest presented to God at the passover is also celebrated this day, and so it is called the day of the first fruits (Nm 28:26). It marked the day when the Law was given to Israel. On the Old Testament Day of Pentecost Israel received the Law; on the New Testament Day of Pentecost the Church received the Spirit of Grace in fullness, the Spirit of unity, of love and of peace. In today’s Gospel, Christ promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples when he said, “When the Counsellor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, WHO PROCEEDS FROM THE FATHER, he will bear witness to me.” From this pericope, the Holy Spirit pro- ceeds from the Father.
This also have other catechetical dimension. The above-capitalized clause has a historic controversy between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, debating if the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or from the Father and the Son as we have it as “filoque” (the Latin form for “from the Son”) as in the Nicene Creed. The western expansion of the clause, ‘who proceeds from the Father and the Son (filoque), could be justified by the fact that the Son as well as the Father is said to send the Spirit. This clause is just a perspective of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament offers two facts on this: on one hand, which the argument of the Roman Catholic Church is based, Christ said, “He will send the Holy Spirit from the Father” (Jn 14:26), an indi- cation that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son and the Father. On the other hand is the side of the Orthodox Christians or Eastern rite, which says, “The Spirit proceeds from the Father” alone (Jn 15:26), which is the Gospel of today. Christ went further to say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (…whom I shall send to you from the Father) Jn 16:7.
This was what led to the di- vision between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the 11th century, if the Holy Spirit was from the first citation or the later. While the Orthodox hold unto Jn 15:26 ‘proceeds from the Father alone’, the Roman Catholic agrees with them BUT cannot separate the Father from the Son, holding unto the proper words of Christ in Jn 14:26 “When the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name…” Christ also affirms, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). Hence, the western expansion of the clause, ‘who proceeds from the Father and the Son’ (filoque), could be justified by the fact that the Son as well as the Father is said to send the Spirit. Put differently, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The first reading of today is a fulfilment of Christ’s promise to His disciples. On the day of Pentecost, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues. They all spoke in different tongues, yet there was a unity among the believers. Speaking in tongues has been the focal point for signif- icant controversy in the church. People still ask the same question these bystanders asked on the day of Pentecost.
There is no controversy that God, at least at one time, gave the Church the gift of tongues, but much of the controversy centers on the question, “What is God’s purpose for the gift of tongues?” The gift of tongues is a personal language of prayer given by God, whereby the believer communicates with God beyond the limits of knowledge and understanding (1Cor 14:14-15). It has an important place in the devotional life of the believer, but a small place in the corporate life of the church (1Cor 14:18-19), especially in public meetings (1 Cor 14:23). The gift of speaking in tongue is not for all believers (1Cor 12:30) so that we do not seek this gift merely to prove to others that we are really filled with the Holy Spirit. This way, it becomes counterfeit. In view of this, St. Paul in the second reading urges us to be led by the Holy Spirit. He said, “Walk by the Spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh; for these are opposed to each other… If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
” To walk by the Spirit means the Holy Spirit lives in us. It means to be open and sensitive to the influence of the Holy Spirit, and to pattern our lives after the Holy Spirit. When we walk by the Spirit, we will look more like Christ because the mission of the Spirit is to promote and speak more of Him. When we walk in the Spirit, there is no way we can fulfill the desires of the flesh because the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are two opposite and have no meeting point. To walk in the Spirit is to be in great battle against the flesh, which indicate the world and the devil. Dear friends in Christ, as we cele- brates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles, the lit- urgy affirms to us the teaching of the Church, that the Holy Spirit not only proceeds from the Father, but from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified. It is my prayer that we are all filled with the Holy Spirit just as on the day of Pentecost, for when we are filled the Holy Spirit, we are capable of springing out flowers in the desert and streams of water in arid lands. Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of the faithful, and rekindle in us the ‘fire’ of your love. Peace be with you! Happy feast of Pentecost!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ