A Short Lecture on Book One of the Sentences, Distinction XII, Chapter 1.
Whether the Holy Spirit proceeds first or more fully from the Father than from the Son
The following explanation is of divine faith and must be upheld by all Catholics. The very question hinges on an impermissible lack of sound understanding of the Holy Trinity, where an all too creaturely perception has undermined true comprehension (in as far as we are able) of the immanent processions.
Saint Augustine did teach that the Holy Ghost proceeds ''principaliter'' from the Father and it is well known that the Greek Fathers preferred to stress that the Third Person proceeds per filium.Yet these profound explanations of the notional acts are not to be held as contrary to the faith as dogmatically defined by the Catholic Church.
The Council of Florence in Laetentur Caeli (1439) decrees:
''Therefore, in the Name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with the approval of this sacred universal Council of Florence, we define that this truth of faith must be believed and received by all Christians, and so all must profess that the Holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son, and He has his essence and His subsistent being at once from the Father and the Son, and He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and one spiration''.
The careful observer will notice that the present tense is used which will enable us to cast off any notions that are based upon a creaturely mode of signification. We are not to hold that the Holy Ghost has proceeded and now remains dormant as though there was a once when He began to proceed and an instant when He received His rest. The argument raised by Peter Lombard attributed to the heretic is based on such a flawed understanding. The human mind has its proper object in the essences of created things and therefore in order to reach higher we must use analogies and similitudes in our attempts to grasp the hem of the sacred mysteries. The crux of the heretic's logic is that the Son must first proceed in order for the Holy Ghost to proceed. This needs further distinction. If we are to assert that the Son is dependent on His Father for the possession of His subsisting divine essence so that He may spirate the Holy Ghost in union as one principle with Him, we may concede. In explanation, we are not to hold any temporal notion or sense of locomotion in this immanent notional act. The Son receives the entire Divine Essence from the Father not in the passage of time but as the eternal now. There is no transition of the Son's entering into possession of the divine nature and the second notional act of spiration. It is beyond our understanding to contemplate how this marvellous generating of the Word can ''occur'' in the eternal instant but this is to be accepted in faith and love.
An impure human understanding of this will lead to the following line of argumentation. In order for the traveller to pass from milestone B to milestone C he is required to journey from A to B. We can see here that not only in there a transition in time but one that is imperfect and dependent on other factors for the man to proceed from one stage to the next. The two notional acts of generation and spiration are never to be considered thus. There is no lapse of time, there is no ''becoming'', there is no before so that there may be an after. If we are to declare a priority, this is to be held as a ''principium'' or ''arche'' at most. There can be no priority of time so that potentiality and restriction pollutes the pure act of the deity. The Father is the source of the Trinity and the Holy Ghost can only proceed from the Son because the Latter has received the perfect and complete divine nature but we are forbidden to admit of a pause. In Their possession of eternity, there is no before and after. All is sublime enjoyment of Their glory and goodness, without decay, increase or mutation.
In conclusion, let us note the words of the Doctor of Grace:
''In that highest Trinity, which is God, there are no intervals of time by which it may be shown, or at least asked, whether the Son was first born of the Father, and afterwards the Holy Spirit proceeded from both of Them...Can we therefore ask whether the Holy Spirit had already proceeded from the Father when the Son was born, or whether the Spirit had not yet proceeded and, after the birth of the Son, proceeded from both? It is absolutely impossible to raise such questions where nothing is begun in time in order to be completed at a later time. And so let him who can understand the begetting of the Son from the Father outside time also understand the procession of the Holy Spirit from both outside time.''