Paper read at the Devotional Meeting, Friday Morning October
GOD is a Spirit. Yet there is a Spirit of God,
as all Scripture testifies, the Old Testament equally with the New. At first
sight she two statements appear to be irreconcilable. The human spirit is a
constituent of a complex nature, and stands in sharp contrast with the body
and the lower life. But the Divine Nature is at once simple and purely spiritual.
How shall we conceive of a Divine Spirit, differentiated in any sense from God
Three answers have been given to this question.
(1) Arianism attempted to solve the problem by denying
the proper Godhead of the Spirit. The Spirit of God, it urged, is not called
God in Scripture; He belongs to God, but not as possessing the Divine Essence.
The Holy Spirit is the first of all the intelligences which were called into
existence by the Word. Far above Angels and Archangels, admitted into the glorious
Triad which begins with the Almighty Father, He is nevertheless infinitely removed
from the majesty of the Uncreated Life.
To a devout mind this answer needs no refutation. It
shocks the Christian consciousness; it jars upon the ear which is attuned to
the harmony of Christian truth. The Arian hypothesis co-ordinates a creature
with the Uncreated, the finite with the Infinite; in principle and in its consequences
it is a return to Paganism, for it erects an order of inferior deities and thus
practically disintegrates the Divine Unity. It makes the Christian life impossible;
for how can a created Spirit quicken, sanctify, divinize humanity? It breaks
down the analogy which S. Paul recognizes between the Spirit of God and the
spirit of man. The spirit of man is human, and belongs to the being of a man.
Unless the Spirit of God belongs to the Divine Essence, it does not stand in
a corresponding relation to the Nature of God. /693/
(2) The second answer, which is that of the Unitarian
Theist, escapes from these difficulties. The Spirit of God, it acknowledges,
is necessarily Divine. The Holy Spirit is, in fact, God Himself, but God regarded
in the light of His workings upon Nature and man; the Presence of the Infinite
Life pervading all that lives and is. It was this gracious operative Presence
which brooded upon the face of waters, when the
earth was yet waste and void; which reluctantly withdrew itself from the life
of men as they fell under the yoke of the flesh; which is revealed as the source
of wisdom in the wise, of skill in the mechanic and the artist, of prophecy
in the seer, of holiness in saint. The spirit of God, it is urged, has been
identified with the Divine Presence in the parallelisms of the Psalmists: Cast
me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy holy Spirit from me
shall I go from Thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?
All such references to the Spirit of God are sufficiently explained if we assume
the working of a Divine Energy which penetrates Nature and inspires man.
(3) There is a third answer which does not exclude
the second, but is complementary to it. The Catholic faith teaches all that
the Old Testament teaches that the Spirit of God is God Himself, that
He is the mysterious Presence which is immanent in the world as the principle
of life and which in rational creatures supplies the supernatural gift of sanctifying
grace. But it goes beyond this teaching as Christ went beyond it, and to some
extent corrects the conclusions to which it has led.
The Holy Ghost, it declares, is God proceeding from
God. He is God in a certain eternal relation to the Father and the Son. He is
not the Father or the Son, but the Spirit of Both. We identify Him with God,
we distinguish Him as a Person from the other Persons in God. Thus the Catholic
doctrine is not satisfied with the discrimination of God the Spirit as God present
and operating in the creature; it pushes the enquiry further back, and finds
a distinction within the Life of the Creator. The Spirit is God, but God is
tri-personal, and the Spirit is the Third Person in the Unity of the Divine
We are here on holy ground, nay, we are entering into
the holiest of all. But the Incarnate Son Himself lifts up the veil and bids
us enter. The Spirit itself vouchsafes to be our guide, speaking to us through
the Apostolic writings interpreted by the Universal Church.
I. - What are we to understand by a Person in God
We confess our faith in a personal God, and as we
utter the words, we are conscious of the intellectual difficulties which lurk
behind them. Personality, as we know it, involves limitations; it belongs to
the individual, and distinguishes him from other members of the same race. Before
we apply this conception to the Illimitable, it must be divested of the conditions
which surround the only form of personality of which we ourselves have cognizance.
The personal God is the Divine Nature in Its one undivided Life; the One Living
God as opposed to the multitude of lifeless idols, to the abstractions of the
human mind, to all mere personifications of the Absolute. We use the expression
to indicate that the Object of our faith and worship is not τὸ ὄν
but ὁ ὤν, a self-conscious Intelligence who can will and act,
who may be trusted, and loved. In this sense, then, we believe in the personality
of the Holy Ghost. He is personal because He is God, not a /694/ personified
Energy, not the idealized Presence of God, but God Himself the Living God. This
conviction rests on the plain teaching of our Lord. It was not a mental abstraction
that Christ announced as the other Paraclete Who was sent to perfect Christ's
own work of shaping by an influence purely personal the habits and life of men.
It was not an idealized Presence which He co-ordinated with the living Father
of our spirits, and with the personal Son Who was made man. The hypothesis of
personification breaks down utterly in view of our Lord's recorded words. The
Spirit He promised was a personal Being, And the Spirit received by, the Apostolic
Church corresponded to the promise of Christ. He was a Person who commanded
and forbade, Who leads and helps and intercedes, Who can be resisted and grieved.
The hypostatization which begins in the revelation of the Lord' s last discourse
is consistently maintained in the Acts and Epistles.
But we advance a step further when we speak of the
Holy Spirit not merely as personal, but as a Person in God. We recognize that
He not merely possesses the Divine Essence, but possesses It after a manner
peculiar to Himself. We contrast God the Spirit with Father and God the Son,
and affirm that Each of the Three possesses the Same Divine Life after a different
mode. We call these modes of having the Divine Essence Persons;
but the analogy of human personality fails, us here. It can scarcely be matter
for surprise that untrained minds should have gathered from this use of the
terms a conception of the Holy Trinity which borders on Tritheism. The idea
of One Undivided Essence, subsisting eternally after a threefold manner and
in a threefold relation, finds but very partial correspondence nature of man
or in any finite nature. When we try to express it in precise language, our
terminology is necessarily at fault; the hypostasis of the philosophical
East, the persona of the practical West are alike inadequate; in
the things of God we speak as children, and we shall continue to do so until
that which is perfect is come. Yet our imperfect terms represent
eternal verities. The currency may be base, but it serves for the time to circulate
amongst men the riches of God's revelation of Himself.
Further, we speak of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person
of the Blessed Trinity, for He is third in the order /694/ of the Divine Name
as revealed by our Lord. No doubt it is possible to press this order too far.
S. Paul in one place reverses it one Spirit
one God and Father; in another he places the
Spirit second - through Him (Christ Jesus) we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father. The order,
then, is not essential; it does not indicate inequality of nature or dignity.
Yet it is not accidental. It corresponds to the history of revelation, for the
Spirit was the last Person in God to be revealed in His personal life; the dispensation
of the Spirit followed the dispensation of the Son. Moreover the historical
order is itself the echo of an order in the mystery of the Divine Being. Apart
from revelation, apart from all manifestations of God in human history, we must
conceive of the Spirit's eternal mode of subsistence as third in the Divine
Tri-personality. He is not first in order, for He is not the Source of the Divine
Life. He proceedeth from the Father, He is sent from the
Father; the converse is not true, the Father does not proceed from the Spirit
and is not sent. Nor again is the Spirit second in the order /695/ of the Godhead.
He is sent from the Father by the Son, and in the Sons' Name; He
shall not speak from Himself, but what things soever He shall hear these shall
He shall glorify Me (the Son testifies), for He shall
take of Mine and shall delare it unto you." These things are said of
the temporal mission of the Spirit, but they are based upon eternal relations
to the Father and the Son. In Essence He is One with Them; in Person, in His
manner of possessing the Essence, He is distinguished from Either, and the distinction
is such that, if we may use the word in the limited sense already indicated,
it subordinates Him to Both.
II. - What is the relation of the Spirit to the
Father and to the Son?
The Spirit's relation to the Father is defined in
the great Eucharistic Creed as one of procession. The phrase is our Lord's,
but in using it the Church has accentuated its significance by change of preposition
which represents the Father as the Source out of which the Divine Life of the
Spirit issues forth. Thus it is seen that the Procession of the Spirit answers
to the Generation of the Son. Each is what He is by the Father's eternal gift. The Father gave to the Son to have life in Himself, and we
may reverently extend this saying to the Third Person in God. But whereas the
Second Person receives the gift after the manner of filiation, the Third receives
it after the manner of spiration; the Second Person by virtue of the gift of
the Divine Essence is the ethernal Son, the Third Person by virtue of the same
gift is the Eternal Spirit of God. These facts defy analysis; we cannot go behind
them, yet we may not ignore them. It is wise and reverent to recognize here
limitations of our knowledge, while at the same time we do not shrink from the
revealed truth which stands immediately in front of an impenetrable mystery.
We hear a Voice which says, Hitherto shalt thou
come, but no further.
But what, we may rightly ask, is the Spirit's relation
to the Son? He is the Spirit of the Son even as He is the Spirit of the Father.
not simply the Spirit of Jesus or of Christ, but of the Son in virtue
of His Sonship and as being in fact the very Spirit of Sonship. If our Lord
is, as we believe, the Eternal Son, the Holy Spirit was the Spirit of the Son
in the beginning, and not, merely in His historical manifestation. The Western
Church has expressed this eternal relation of the Spirit to the Son by the simple
but somewhat rough expedient of extending the phrase which defines His relation
to the Father. If the Spirit of the Father proceeds from the Father, it seemed
to follow that since He is also the Spirit of the Son, He proceeds likewise
from the Son that the Spirit of Both proceeds from Both. Yet even in
the act of giving prominence to this new formula the trained mind of Augustine
foresaw the risk of misapprehension. The Spirit, he was careful to explain,
proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principle and by one spiration
from the Father primarily as the Source of Godhead, from the Son in a
secondary sense as One with the Father and having received from Him in His eternal
generation the power to give procession to the Spirit. Yet what was this but
to admit that the word proceed bore two different senses in the
extended phrase? And was there not a real danger that as the new formula prevailed,
the explanation would be overlooked that the Son would come to be regarded
as the Source of the Spirit's life in the same sense in which the Father is
the Source both of the Spirit and /696/ of the Son? So at least it seemed to
the subtler Greek mind, and we know the terrible result of this misgiving, the
schism which is yet unhealed after a thousand years. On the other hand, the
Latin formula had the advantage of securing to the Church a sense of the eternal
relation which the Spirit bears to the Son, and which East, in its zeal for
the essential Unity of the Godhead, has too generally forgotten. To ignore the
point which Augustine desired to teach, to neglect the truth that the Spirit
is what He is through the Son, would be to abandon a part of the revelation
committed to the Church. It seems to be clearly revealed that in the timeless
life of God the Son receives from the Father, and the Spirit from the Son. The
Son is thus the intermediary of the Self- communication of God; His mediation
in Creation and Grace rests ultimately on His mediation in the mystery of the
Holy Trinity. These profound truths are enshrined for us Westerns in the Fioloque; and however much we may regret the circumstances of its admission into the Creed,
or the ambiguity of the formula itself, we guard it as a part of our heritage
until such time as it shall please God to guide His Church, possibly in the
hour of reunion, to a happier and more exact expression His truth.
III. - As we look into these depths of God,
is there anything we can learn with regard to the functions which the Holy Spirit
discharges in the inner Life of Deity?
The very name by which He is distinguished suggests
a partial answer. If we interpret it as the Breath of God, it leads
us to think of His external operations. But adopting the other sense, which
finds ample justification in the usage of the New Testament that which
revealed to us the Spirit of God as the counterpart of the human spirit, we
can dimly see His working in the inner Life of God. Who
among men knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of the man which is in
him? Even so the things of God none knoweth save the Spirit of God.
It seems to be a legitimate inference from this train of thought that the Spirit
is the sphere of the Divine Self- revelation. In the Spirit God knows Himself;
in the Spirit the activities of self-consciousness, intelligence, volition,
have their seat. In the Spirit the mutual love of the Father and the Son is
realized, or rather, since all in God is living and personal, the Spirit is
Himself Their mutual Love. In the Spirit the Son is one with the Father and
the Father with the Son; He is the personal Unity, the Bond of the Divine Life;
in Him the inexistence of the Divine Persons is effectuated, the Father is in
the Son and the Son is in the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost. In the
Spirit, lastly, the Godhead finds Its limit, if the word may be permitted in
the sphere of the Illimitable; the Infinite proceeds no further, or, if it proceeds,
passes from the interior life of the Godhead into relation with created life.
This is to speak after the manner of men, but faltering words may be pardoned
if they assist us to know and to adore.
We ask ourselves, in conclusion, what relation the
doctrine of the Person of the Spirit bears to Christian life and work.
Let it be granted that a precise doctrine of the Holy
Spirit is not essential to a genuine and fruitful life in the Spirit. The first
age of the Church was at little pains to formulate a doctrine of the Spirit,
and so far as it dealt with the subject, thought and spoke of His operations
rather than of His Person; yet the first age was certainly instinct with /697/
His Presence and rich in the fruits of His grace. The very abundance of His
gifts placed it above the necessity of working out the problems which arise
out of His relation to God. A doctrine of the Spirit did not become necessary
till love had begun to wax cold, and heresy had denied what faith instinctively
believed. Not until after the middle of the fourth century did the Church seriously
apply herself to the doctrine of the Spirit's Person, because not till then
was this article of the Faith seriously threatened. Yet those who defended it
were careful to point out that the doctrine itself was not a novelty, but had
been implicit in Christian worship from the first.
Such an implicit faith sufficed until the Church was
called to give a definite form to her belief. But it cannot be inferred that
it suffices now at any rate, where a fuller knowledge of the truth is
within reach. It may be that it is no longer possible without the help of accurate
definition to maintain a right attitude of mind and will towards the Spirit
that dwelleth in us. Let men abandon the teaching to which the Church has been
guided by the Spirit Himself interpreting to her the scattered voices of Revelation,
and the primitive sense of the greatness of the privilege and responsibility
of the Christian life will fade out of the conciousness of the baptized. It
was not in the interests of speculation or even of dogmatic precision that Athanasius,
Basil, the two great Gregories, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine, laboured to establish
upon a permanent basis the ecclesiastical doctrine of the Spirit's Person. They
worked under the conviction that the very life of practical Christianity was
at stake. If the Spirit were not worshipped and glorified together with the
Father and the Son, He must cease to claim the supreme trust and obedience of
the Christian heart. The whole edifice of the Christian life, they were assured,
must collapse before a denial of the Godhead of the triple justification in
the usage of the Person to Whom its inception and its perfection are alike due.
To deny the Spirit was to make shipwreck of the entire Faith. He who believes
not the Spirit, exclaims S. Basil, believes not on the Son, and
he who believes not the Son, believes not on the Father.
Such an one
can have no part in true worship.
But if a denial of the Spirit's Divine power and glory
is fatal to devotion, a clear apprehension of this truth is among its best helps.
To the man who believes in the Holy Ghost, the life both of the Church and of
the individual member of Christ gains a solemnity and a glory which the world
is not permitted to apprehend. Amidst the divisions of Christendom and the imperfections
of Churches, we recognize the imperishable unity and sanctity which flow from
the presence of God the Holy Ghost; the Holy Catholic Church is no empty name
to those who realize the majesty of the Spirit's Person. Again, the mystery
of our sanctification becomes intelligible in proportion as the glory of the
Divine Paraclete is revealed to our faith. Prayer, the Holy Sacraments, the
conflicts of the inner life, the very body of the Christian, are invested with
a new sacredness. We know ourselves to be in the most intimate relation with
a Divine Person under Whose direction our whole spiritual history is working
itself out. In the light of this truth we discover our full responsibility: If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him
shall God destroy : grieve not the Holy Spirit, in whom ye were sealed unto
the day of redemption In the assurance of this Divine guidance and
help we are strong: as many as are led by the
Spirit of God, these /698/ are sons of God
the Spirit Himsey beareth
witness, with our spirit ... the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity
we are strengthened, with power through His Spirit in the inward man.
These great hopes vary with the strength of the conviction that the Spirit is
such as the Catholic doctrine of His Person declares Him to be.
Lastly, if the higher life of the great future is
to be spent in the full light of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
it cannot be unimportant to realize while we are here all that He has revealed
to us concerning His innermost Being. The revelation is not such as it shall
be: now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then
face to face. Yet the indistinct reflection is designed to prepare
us for the open vision; the lineaments dimly traced in the mirror are a first
study of the Face of God, which we cannot safely neglect. To him that hath shall be given; he who now welcomes and
assimilates that which he knows in part may hope hereafter to know even as also
he has been known.