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The Person of the Holy Spirit

The Official Report of the Church Congress held at Exeter
On October 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th 1894

Edited by the Rev. C. Dunkley, Vicar of S. Mary's Wolverhampton
London, Bemrose & Sons, Ltd., 1894, 692-698.


Paper read at the Devotional Meeting, Friday Morning October 12th, 1894

     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 Himself?

     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 … whither 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 Essence.
     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 Lord … 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 speak … 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.