The other day I decided to look into the Filioque - the part of the Nicene Creed that says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and the Son" - and as I was casually looking at how the Greek term "proceeds" is used in the New Testament, I came across a fascinating verse in Revelation 22:1. It turns out other people have noticed this as well, but to my amazement I couldn't find any Catholic apologetics articles spreading the news. One blogger who is Eastern Orthodox and strongly advocates reuniting with Rome based on many good arguments actually made some brilliant observations about Revelation 22:1, which I think deserve more recognition and thus will reproduce here along with my other findings. As I continue to look into this verse, I believe this verse has the potential to move mountains in terms of steps to bringing the Eastern Orthodox back into communion with the Catholic Church. I say this because I've become convinced this verse is solid Scriptural proof that the Filioque is true.
A significant part of the historic debate has centered around the famous words of Saint John's Gospel,
But when the Paraclete comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he shall give testimony of me. (15:26)The Scriptural argument used by most Eastern Orthodox, in a nutshell, is that the distinctive "Personal property" of the Holy Spirit is that He proceeds from the Father, while the Son is begotten from the Father (while the Father neither proceeds nor is begotten). The EO claim is that "proceeds" is a 'technical' theological term that cannot be used loosely, though it's precise definition is a theological mystery of Faith (just as the term "begotten" is). And the fact John 15:26 only says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father is taken by the Eastern Orthodox to mean the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone.
Catholic apologist Tim Staples notes (in This Article) that the Eastern Orthodox Scriptural argument is invalid for the same reason the Protestant argument for Justification by Faith Alone is invalid: just because Paul says we are "justified by faith," that does not necessitate that we are justified by faith alone. When I came to find out that "proceeds" is not really a 'technical' theological term in Scripture (unlike "begotten"), since it's used all around for 'coming forth' in general, that indicated to me that appealing exclusively to John 15:26 is even weaker. In fact, I came upon the only other reference to the Holy Spirit "proceeding" in Scripture, and this to me was significant.
As noted earlier, Revelation 22:1 uses the same Greek word for "proceeds" as John 15:26, so this is more than just an allusion to "similar wording":
And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal,Here is explicit proof that something can "proceed" from the Father and the Son. But there's more! To add to this find, recall the words of Jesus in Saint John's Gospel describing the Holy Spirit,
proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
He that believes in me [Jesus], as the scripture says: Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive who believed in him: for as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (7:38-39)I know what you're thinking: Amazing! Is this for real? Yes, the allusion is too unique to miss! And it turns out the same Greek words for "river" and "waters" appear in both, while the Greek term "living" is derived from the Greek word for "life". This is even more reasonable given that tradition states Saint John also wrote the Book of Revelation!
And to seal the deal, Tim Staples pointed out something I didn't know, which is that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about what the Liturgy makes reference to:
CCC1137: "the river of the water of life . . . flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb," one of most beautiful symbols of the Holy Spirit.So there is yet again more reason to accept Revelation 22:1 as clearly saying the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
In conclusion, I'd like to address a few potential EO objections to this case I presented since I think it will best solidify the Revelation 22:1 argument.
- Objection 1: The term "proceeds" as used in Revelation 22:1 is in reference to the Holy Spirit being sent at Pentecost, not referring to the inner-life of the Trinity.
This argument fails because it is purely ad-hoc, and worse yet, it destroys any principled basis for saying "proceeds" is a special theological term for the inner life of the Trinity in the first place (as per John 15:26).
- Objection 2: The "river of water of life" is not a symbolic reference to the Holy Spirit.
The answer to this is similar to the response in Objection 1. In this case, the EO problem is actually worse because it means the term "proceeds" (at least when applied to God) is no longer logically connected to a Divine Person. In other words, if the "river of life" that "proceeds" in 22:1 means something like "energy proceeds" from God, this logically opens the door to saying the Holy Spirit is not a Person precisely because He "proceeds" just as the non-personal energy does.
- Objection 3: There is no record of any of the Early Church Fathers appealing to Revelation 22:1.
I don't know if this is true or not. Maybe no Church Father appealed to or commented upon Revelation 22:1. Maybe they did. It would be cool if someone found a reference. One likely reason for the sparsity of Commentaries on Revelation is because of the books esoteric nature and the fact it was doubted in the East for a while. The point is though, Revelation is inspired Scripture, so it ultimately holds more weight that any Father, and there is no rule that a Father must comment upon a passage to make it worthy of examination. There does appear to be evidence that at the time of East-West unification attempts in the 13th century that this verse was discussed, meaning there were some aware of it.
- Objection 4: The text of Revelation 22:1 can be taken to mean the "river of water of life" originates from two sources, namely two thrones.
I don't see any reasonable or exegetical grounds to say the "river" is formed by two distinct proceeding streams (sources). For one, the term "throne" is singular and mentioned only in reference to the Father. From what I see, whenever Revelation speaks of "the throne of God and the Lamb" it is never speaking of two thrones, but rather one throne with the Father seated and the Lamb standing in front of it. And even if the matter were a 'linguistic toss-up' - i.e. the wording could mean either (a) flowing from one throne through the other throne (one-source; orthodox), or (b) each of the two thrones contributing 50% (two-sources; unorthodox) - the two-source interpretation would lead to the same theological problems as Objections 1 & 2 with the use of the term "proceeds".
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[Update 4-21-12] A Catholic Blogger named Steven has found at least one direct reference in the Fathers to Revelation 22:1 being in reference to the Holy Spirit. Saint Ambrose writes most cogently in his On the Holy Spirit, Book III, putting together John 7:37-39 AND Revelations 22:1-2, saying in Chapter 20:
153. And this, again, is not a trivial matter that we read that a river goes forth from the throne of God. For you read the words of the Evangelist John to this purport: And He showed me a river of living water, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street thereof, and on either side, was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of all nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)
154. This is certainly the River proceeding from the throne of God, that is, the Holy Spirit, Whom he drinks who believes in Christ, as He Himself says: If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He that believes in Me, as says the Scripture, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spoke He of the Spirit. (John 7:37-38) Therefore the river is the Spirit.This sums up everything I've posted, and it goes all the way back to at least to the year 375, when Saint Ambrose was Bishop. On top of this, Saint Ambrose's prominence makes this not some obscure reference, and that he is revered also in the East. Thank you, Steven!