7. THE HOLY SPIRIT AND CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
So far, we have been reflecting on the experience of the Holy Spirit and the works accomplished by the Spirit. At some point, it also becomes helpful to inquire into what the gift of the Spirit means . . . what it signifies? By this, I mean not simply what the Spirit is doing to individuals and communities, but what is implied in the order of grace, or God�s activities among us. As with other important experiences in one�s life, one�s intellectual understanding makes a difference unto ongoing consent and integration, so it was inevitable that the early Christians and then later generations reflect on the theological meaning of the coming of the Spirit.
For the first Christians, who were primarily Jewish men and women, they must have looked to their Hebrew scriptures for guidance. The over-arching paradigm for their relationship with God was understood in terms of covenant�how they belonged to God and God to them--through the events, promises, and agreements related in their history. Space does not permit here a detailed treatment of the evolution of Hebrew covenants; we need only note here several points that seemed to be widely held among Jews of Jesus� time.
1. The Mosaic Law and its elaboration through the ages defined the terms of the covenant. To be in covenant with God, one had to keep the Law.
2. A promise had been made to David that he would have a successor who would be the great king of the Jews�the Messiah. He would initiate a new covenant between God and humanity.
3. By and large, Jewish history was marred by infidelity to the terms of the covenant. It was very difficult to keep the Law.
4. In connection with the coming of the Messiah, a new capacity to keep the Law would be given. God would write the Law on their hearts and give them power to keep it from within. (Jer. 31: 31-34)
It�s obvious from the Acts of the Apostles and from Paul�s writings that the early Christians believed that Jesus had initiated a new covenant between God and humanity. Unlike the old covenant, which was ritualized with sacrifice, which included circumcision, and which emphasized fidelity to the Law, the new covenant was established through the sacrificial death of Jesus. To enter into this new order of life with God, one was instructed in the basics of the faith and then baptized in water in the name of Jesus (some places used a Trinitarian formula). Keeping the old Jewish Laws brought no advantage whatsoever; faith in Christ was considered the �way� to �plug-in,� as it were, into the new life that Christ made available to the human race. There�s much discussion about all this in Paul�s writings; the primacy of faith over keeping the law was championed by him, largely because of his conviction that the Old Covenant has been replaced, or, rather, �updated,� in Christ.
What, then, of the Spirit? As these Jewish Christians reflected on their experiences in the light of their Hebrew scriptures, they undoubtedly made a connection between the passage in Jer. 31 cited above and the coming of the Spirit. It was the Spirit, they saw, Who gave one this inner knowledge, wisdom, and power. They read what we now call Isaiah 11 in a new light as well, I�m sure, recognizing that the transformative gifts mentioned there in connection with the Messiah were happening in them as well. Then there was the prophet Joel, whose writings about the new age to come included the following:
�I will pour out my spirit on all mankind.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall dream dreams,
And your young men see visions.
Even on the slaves, men and women,
Will I pour out my spirit in those days.�
- Joel 3: 1-2.
This passage from Joel is cited in Peter�s address to the crowd shortly after the initial outpouring, and the community continued to see its realization in their midst thereafter.
It was important for those first Christians-�all Jewish�-to connect their experiences of the Spirit with their understanding of what God had done through their history, and what God had promised to do in the new age to come. In fact, they seemed to regard their experience of the Spirit as a kind of seal, or �proof,� if you will, that the time of the new covenant was being realized among them. In light of their experiences, the prophecies of Joel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others made more sense. They came to understand that the Spirit was God�s great gift to people living in this age, for it was the Spirit Who enabled them to not only recognize the Messiah, but to live as the Messiah had lived. This was made possible because, as Paul noted, the same Spirit that reaches into the depths of God also dwells now in the depths of human beings, providing power and discernment to effect behavior according to the rule of the Spirit. (1 Cor. 2: 10-16). Because of the Spirit dwelling within, the prophecy of Jer. 31 was being realized.
I�m sure that non-Jewish converts to Christianity also came to appreciate the Jewish teachings about Jesus, the Spirit, and the new covenant. For many of them, however, it seemed their greater interest concerned Who the Spirit was in the divine order . . . or, to pose the question a different way: what did the Spirit and the Christ reveal to us about the divine nature Itself?
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity
It's only natural that our inquiry lead us to not only investigate what the Holy Spirit does, but who the Spirit is. Our religious education has taught us the answer to this, of course: the Spirit is God--more specifically, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. And so goes the teaching, but in order to appreciate more this profession, let's take a little time to reflect on how we got from Jesus' teaching about a Helper to such a formal dogma and a radically new vision of God.
First, we can look to Jesus' own words about himself and the Spirit, especially in John's Gospel, where we noted statements such as the following:
"He who comes from above is above all others. . ." (Jn. 3: 31)
Jesus' constantly calling God his Father, suggesting that he is God's son, and not in a creaturely sense: (E.g., Jn. 3, 16)
"To have seen me is to have seen the Father." (Jn. 14: 9)
Even if one questions whether such words were, in fact, spoken by Jesus, John's placing them on his lips leaves little doubt that the early Church viewed Jesus as an incarnation of the divine. Their reflection on the meaning of Jesus� miracles and his resurrection had led them to this conclusion, and yet it is understood that Jesus is not the Father ("The Father is greater than I") nor is he simply a human being who became so filled with God as to image the Creator with a perfection unsurpassed before or since (the Arian heresy). Expressing an Apostolic conviction in the first century of Christianity, John writes that Jesus is "the Word made flesh" (1: 14). That "Word," who was "with God in the beginning" and "through whom all things came to be" was fully divine: "and the Word was God." (1: 1-3).
In later Christian writings, we find Paul speaking many times of Jesus as the Lord--a term used only for God. Peter, too, calls Jesus Lord, and even states that righteousness comes from "our God and savior, Jesus Christ." (2 Pt. 1). Although they might have struggled to understand how to explain the incarnation, the early Apostolic tradition gives evidence in many ways of a deep intuition of Christ�s divinity.
So far we have a Divine Dyad (or Dynamic Duo, if you will)--the Father and the Word, who became incarnate in Jesus. What, then, of the Spirit?
Again we turn to John's Gospel, and to the writings of Paul. There we find many clear distinctions between the person of Jesus and the Spirit. Jesus himself states that the Father will send the Spirit in his name (Jn. 1: 25) and constantly refers to the Spirit as a person. This person is not simply the risen Christ in his exalted energetic state, but one sent by the Father in Jesus� name to lead Jesus� followers into the fullness of truth (Jn. 14: 26). So the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, and is not simply an energy emanating from them, but a Person in Her own right, participating in the work of salvation in Her own distinctive way. Believers are to be baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28: 19), an early formula that eventually became the predominant practice of the Church.
When we turn to the writings of the early Fathers of the Church (2nd and 3rd C.), we find continuing references to the Persons of the Trinity.
"Do we not have one God, one Christ, and one Spirit of Grace poured out upon us?" (St. Clement, 80 A.D.)
"The three days before the luminaries were created are types of the Trinity: God, His Word, and His Wisdom." (St. Theophilus of Antioch, 181 A.D.)
"For the Church, although dispersed through the whole world even to the ends of the earth, has received from the Apostles and their disciples the faith in the one God, Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them; and in one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who announced through the prophets the dispensations and the comings . . . " (St. Irenaeus, 199 A.D.)
"We do indeed believe that there is only one God; but we believe that under this dispensation . . . there is also a Son of this one only God, His Word, who proceeded from Him and through whom all things were made . . . We believe that He (the Son) sent down from the Father, in accord with his own promise, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. . . the Unity is distributed in a Trinity. Placed in order, the Three are Father, Son, and Spirit. They are Three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in kind; of one substance, however, and one condition, and one power . . ." (Tertullian, 213 A.D.)
We can see, here, a deepening grasp of this Christian mystery as the decades move along. Tertullian, in particular, articulates an understanding informed by Greek philosophy that was to take fuller expression in the Council of Nicea a little over a century later.
How can we make sense of this idea of Three Persons and one divine nature, especially if philosophical terms used to explain it traditionally don�t make sense to us?
I think we can use our own human experience as an analogy, here. Without ever thinking much about it, I'm sure we all grasp intuitively that even though one man and another, or one woman and another, are different individuals, what they share in common is the possession of a human nature. It is this human nature even more than the way they dress or speak which makes them human beings. Because they are human, you "expect" to see certain powers at work in them, or that they will possess similar feelings and understandings. I think we can do the same with God. We can analogize from our human experience that there can be but one divine nature or supernatural realm, with its distinct powers (omniscience, omnipotence, etc.) and with three Persons--Father, Son, and Spirit--possessing it by nature. Two men might have very different gifts, but they are no less human because they are different; so, too, the Persons of the Trinity have different roles in the work of creation and salvation, but that makes them no less divine.
You might think of it this way::
A. There is one God, or supernatural nature, consisting of three Persons.
B. The Father is the unmanifest Creator, who begets the
C. Son, or Word, the One through whom the Creator gives form and existence to creatures,
D. And Spirit, who communicates the love of the Son for the Father and with Whom the Son effects the work of creation.
E. This progression in the Trinity is eternal, having no beginning and no end, existing outside of all dimensions of time (which is, ultimately, related to matter�created stuff).
The tragedy of Original Sin was that the human form/nature became disordered so that the innate guidance of the Spirit within was lost; willfulness, anxiety, shame, etc. contaminated human nature, overshadowing the still, small voice of the Spirit within. The created human spirit and its natural tendency to find its happiness in God became severely damaged, so much so that its tendency was to seek happiness by perpetuating its own contrived image and identity (illusion). Out of this spiritual sickness, cultures of injustice were formed, reinforcing and perpetuating the disorder within.
God�s ultimate remedy was to incarnate as a human being through the Word, restoring human nature in this Christ or New Adam, and thus introducing into the race through Christ�s divine nature the movement of Spirit that flowed between the Son and the Father. In other words, the gift of the Spirit is not simply God�s love for humans, which the first parents knew and which we can still discover through spiritual work; what the New Covenant made available to us is God�s love for God�the great Love movement in the Trinity Itself. Through our faith connection to Christ, the New Adam, we ourselves are enabled to partake of the Trinitarian love flow�the Spirit who gifts us to become transformed into images of Christ, and to form communities of love that mirror on earth the Community of Love that exists in the supernatural realm.
No small blessing, here . . . and no insignificant revelation! You can see why Christian tradition came to regard this teaching as a dogma�an indispensable truth for help in understanding and realizing what God has done through Christ.
Let us ponder then, the holy mystery of the Trinity; let us marvel at these Persons and their Unity, Their ongoing work in creation, Their holding us and cherishing us through all eternity. Let us strive to know Them and be open to Them in Their uniqueness, marveling at the gifts each of Them brings, and how together they communicate to us the fullness of the divine life.
Reflection and Discussion
1. What questions or comments do you have after reading this conference?
2. What difference does a theological understanding of the Holy Spirit and Trinity make for you?
I have a question about the Holy Spirit.
This was contained in an earlier Spiritual Seed, the words of Concepcion Cabrera de Armida:
I recorded this for myself on a 3x5 card because it really spoke to me...and also reminded me of an earlier dream (few years ago) where I woke to a voice sounding inside of me, saying, "This is where I go to church."
Below is from the above conference: The Holy Spirit and Christian Theology:
The question is whether or not we each experience and relate to the Holy Spirit (or, said another way, does the HS manifest itself to each of us) in unique, personal, individualized ways? Even though the gifts of the Spirit are for the benefit of the community? Does the "Person" of the Holy Spirit manifest the same for everyone? Or, as we are each uniquely different one from another, does the Holy Spirit differ accordingly? Would it not have to be so (different, unique to us each) for though we all share humanness, and have similar longings and tendencies, etc. - we also each have different wounds, propensities, abilities, etc. Yes? No?
Kristi, we do each receive the Holy Spirit in our own unique way, though the Spirit also gifts us all similarly, especially with the Transformative Gifts (an earlier conference on this topic). The Spirit works with us in our uniqueness to heal us of past wounds, to gift us to serve, and to communicate God's love to us.
Does this answer your questions?
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