Someone recently suggested that we should be careful to differentiate between Jesus and the Spirit when we talk about God. Her thinking was that Jesus does some things, and the Spirit does others, and therefore she assumed that the Trinity is not always fully present in God’s actions, but, as she put it, “only the Person doing God’s work.” The question she asks is both ancient and common: are Father, Son, and Spirit always present in the actions of the other (or do they ever act separately)?

St. Gregory of Nyssa put it like this: The Father wills it, the Mind of God (the Son) thinks it, and the Spirit of God expresses it. There is a play on words here in the Greek, pneuma, which means wind, breath, and Spirit.

So imagine the wind expressed in the speaking of a word, the Breath of Life in the Speaking of the Word. Gregory’s point is that the Spirit expresses within time and space what the Father wills and what the Mind (Son) of God thinks – so that God’s Word is heard.

Note the identity here – what the Father wills, the Mind thinks, and the Spirit expresses are all the same. All three participate in Each Other and are present in what we creatures experience within time and space.


So, Gregory concluded, it is never correct to imagine that they act separately.

One might ask, “why does this matter?” Gregory’s teaching – which was ultimately enshrined in our creeds – brings to light a common error we’ve seen operative in modernity: the idea that the Spirit can express something other than the Truth of the Son. Some Christians have equated Spirit with Reason and suggested that the Spirit can lead to a different truth than that which the Son is.

Recently, Bishop Mark Sisk (Diocese of New York) attributed the recent General Convention approval of a liturgy for blessing of same-sex unions to “the movement of the Spirit of God working in our midst.” Presumably, Bishop Sisk holds the view that this decision reflects the lordship of Jesus of Nazareth over the Church, too. Otherwise he would be teaching that the Spirit and Son could offer contradictory revelations.

John Howard Yoder called H. Richard Niebuhr to account for doing just that in Niebuhr’s ‘theology of responsibility.’ Yoder observed that Niebuhr failed to see:

[that the] intention of the post-Nicene doctrine of the Trinity was precisely not that through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, differing revelations come to us. The entire point of the debate around the nature of the Trinity was the concern of the Church to say just the opposite; namely, that in the Incarnation and in the continuing life of the Church under the Spirit there is but one God. [Note 1]

Gregory of Nyssa, with a little help from Yoder, reminds us that the Spirit always expresses the Truth of the Son. The Spirit may move in our midst, but the Wind always blows us towards Jesus.


[1] Stassen, Glen, John Howard Yoder, and D.M. Yeager. Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture. Edited by Glen Stassen. Abingdon Press. 62.



One Response

  1. Charlie Clauss

    Thanks Craig.

    I have often struggled to come up with language that expresses my discomfort with the language of “Spirit” in TEC. Spirit often sounds more “human” than Divine on the lips of TEC speakers. Your pointing to the connection between Reason and Spirit I thinks hits the nail on the head.

    Very interesting to note how the Trinity has been fractured in this. TEC is nervous about Jesus, so Spirit is a way to marginalize him.

    And once you break the connection between Jesus and the Spirit, you can move to any place you wish with no anchor to hold you back. This allows TEC to misuse a passage like Acts 10. The story of Cornelius becomes a “new thing” when in fact it is a “thing” rooted in what God has been doing all along – the redemption of the whole world.


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