COPTIC DOCTRINE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Coptic doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the doctrine of the undivided church of the first three ecumenical councils. The Egyptian anachoretic and cenobitic monastic tradition has always strongly emphasized asceticism and mysticism closely related to the activity, gifts, and fruits of the Holy Spirit. Saint ANTONY of Egypt was the first saint called “the carrier of the Spirit” (Greek, pneumatophoros; see Apophthegmata Patrum, under “Antony the Great,” 1960).
The church of Alexandria participated in the fight against an offshoot of the Arian heresy (see ARIANISM), Pneumatomachianism, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit and His consubstantiality with the Father and the Son. In his Four Letters to Serapion, bishop of Tmuis, in 359-360, Saint ATHANASIUS set forth his doctrine on the divinity and procession of the Holy Spirit. He argued that the Holy Spirit must have the divine nature in order to divinize and sanctify human beings. The church of Alexandria was fully represented at the second ecumenical council, CONSTANTINOPLE I (381), and adopted its official credal formula concerning the Holy Spirit, which today in a modified form reads: “Truly we believe in the Holy Spirit and in the Lord, Giver of life, Who forthly proceedeth from the Father; we worship and glorify Him with the Father, being the Son who was spoken of by the Prophets . . .” (Ishak, 1973, p. 84; Greek original in Denzinger, 33d ed., 1965, no. 150).
The Coptic Church also teaches that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the most holy Trinity, and, therefore, He is consubstantial, coeternal, coequal, and coadorable with the Father and the Son. Due to the ARAB CONQUEST OF EGYPT (639-641) the Coptic church did not participate in the struggles over the FILIOQUE between Eastern and Western Christianity and did not insert the Filioque into the Creed. Today, with all Eastern churches not in communion with Rome, it rejects the Filioque for scriptural, canonical, and dogmatic reasons as an illegitimate change of the profession of faith. In 1898 the latinizing Synod of Alexandria of the Coptic Catholic church (in communion with Rome) adopted the Filioque into the Creed and theological teaching.
The awareness of the Holy Spirit is quite intense in the Coptic church. This awareness is expressed in triadic doxologies in which “the consubstantial and life-giving “Holy Spirit'” is frequently mentioned. Other formulas read: “. . . wholly blessed with the grace of the Holy Spirit,” “pure according to the gift of the Holy Spirit” and “. . . a congregation that is sanctified by His Holy Spirit.” The eucharistic EPICLESIS is directed to God the Father: “We beg Thee, O Lord . . . that Thine Holy Spirit may descend upon us and upon these oblations; purify, transubstantiate and manifest them in sanctity unto Thine holy people” (Ishak, 1973, p. 96).
The sacrament of chrismation (confirmation) is understood as an anointing with the Holy Spirit accompanied by anointing with the holy chrism consecrated by the Coptic pope of Alexandria. The rite of chrismation includes an epiclesis asking the Father for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. It is also described as an impartition of Him, and sealing by Him and His grace for the angelic, eternal, and immortal life. The rite of the sacrament of the unction of the sick (see ANOINTING) contains also an epiclesis: “We pray to Thee, O Lord, for Thine servant [name], that the grace of the Holy Spirit may descend upon him [her]. . . .” The Coptic rites of ordination contain different formulas of epiclesis entreating God the Father to send or pour out the Holy Spirit on the ordained, to bless, purify, and fill him with the Holy Spirit, or with His power, grace, gifts, or virtues. The feast of PENTECOST is celebrated very solemnly with processions, a special prayer to the Holy Spirit taken from the third hour of the book of CANONICAL HOURS, the office of genuflection, and distribution of watermelons to the poor in commemoration of the deceased.
- Bilaniuk, P. B. T. Theology and Economy of the Holy Spirit: An Eastern Approach. Bangalore, 1980.
- Burmester, O. H. E. “The Office of Genuflection on Whitsunday.” Le Muséon 47 (1934):205-257.
- . The Rite of Consecration of the Patriarch of Alexandria, 311. 303-311. Cairo, 1960.
- . The Egyptian or Coptic Church. Cairo, 1967.
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- Denzinger, H., and A. Schönmetzer. Enchiridion symbolorum. Fribourg, Barcelona, and Rome, 1965. Earlier edition of Denzinger trans. Roy J. Defferer as The Sources of Catholic Dogma. St. Louis, 1957.
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- Ishak, Fayek M., trans. A Complete Translation of the Coptic Orthodox Mass and the Liturgy of Saint Basil. Toronto, 1973. Kopp, C. Glaube und Sakramente der koptischen Kirche. Rome, 1932.
- Laminski, A. Der Heilige Geist als Geist Christi und Geist der Gläubigen. Der Beitrag des Athanasios von Alexandrien zur Formulierung des trinitarischen Dogmas im vierten Jahrhundert. Leipzig, 1969.
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- Macaire, G. L’Eglise copte, sa foi d’aujourd’hui comparée avec la foi de ses pères. Cairo, 1893.
- Yassa ‘Abd al-Masih. The Faith and Practices of the Coptic Church. Cairo, 1953.
PETRO B. T. BILANIUK