Recently, I’ve been reading the poetry and prose works of St. Venantius Fortunatus, a sixth-century Italian who later immigrated to Merovingian Gaul. There he published many books of poetry that also included the occasional prose. He later became the bishop of Poitiers. I won’t belabor the reader with too many details about his life, but one work particularly struck me in his poetry collection – his prose commentary on the Nicene Creed. The commentary is especially interesting given how St. Fortunatus conceives of the procession of the Holy Spirit. He says the following:
“‘I believe in the Holy Spirit.’ By the mention of this the mystery of the Trinity is brought to completion: one Father, one Son, one Holy Spirit. In order that there be a distinction of persons their names are differentiated: the Father, from whom are all things and who has no father; the Son, born from the Father; the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the mouth of God and making everything holy (spiritus sanctus de dei ore procedens et cuncta sanctificans).”Translation from Venantius Fortunatus, Poems, edited and translated by Michael Roberts (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), pp. 721; original text at Venantius Fortunatus, Opera poetica, MGH AA 4.1, edited by Frederick Leo (Berlin: 1881), pp. 257 (Liber XI, 1.35)
Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but it seems to me that St. Fortunatus is making an allusion to John 1:1-5. To proceed from the mouth of God (de dei ore procedens) is in reference to the words or rather the Word, ie Jesus, that come from God the Father. Therefore, the procession of the Holy Spirit is related to the Son, though in St. Fortunatus’ formulation the clear hypostatic origin remains the Father alone as the mouth belongs to the Father. In short, the mouth belongs to the Father, what comes out of the mouth is the Son or the Word, and what the Word conveys is the Holy Spirit. This formulation strikes me as similar if not the exact same in meaning as that of St. Augustine of Hippo and the Council of Blachernae (1285), which I have previously spoken of here and here – namely that the Holy Spirit proceeds in a fashion of receiving its hypostatic origin from the Father alone while also being eternally mediated through the Son. Just a brief thought in any case.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Fortunatus, Venantius. Opera poetica. MGH: AA 4.1. Edited by Frederick Leo. Berlin: 1881.
Fortunatus, Venantius. Poems. Edited and Translated by Michael Roberts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.
George, Judith W. Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.