The Holy Spirit: The Lord

As we shall see in more detail presently, the Holy Spirit, since he is God, is present from the very beginning.  And since he is present and is, indeed, the chief Author of the Scriptures he inspired, he is himself hidden there.  But it is the peculiar nature of his relationship with us that we only really discover this when Christ bears witness to him.  So the early Church did not read a number of Old Testament texts about the Spirit of the Lord or the Wisdom of God and then decide that while they were inventing a second Person in the Godhead named Jesus they would also invent a third Person named the Holy Spirit just for kicks.  Rather, Jesus taught the Church to see the Spirit at work in the Old Testament and they saw him, curiously, because they were looking at the face of Jesus.

It is something like when you look at a star in the sky and then realize that, out of the corner of your eye, you can see other stars that you cannot see when you look at them directly.  That is not a perfect analogy of course, since the glory of the Spirit is absolutely equal to that of the other persons of the Godhead.  But it communicates the curiously quiet and hidden manner in which the Spirit operates and reveals himself.  Just as Jesus revealed his deity to us through the confessions of other people like Peter, so the Spirit reveals himself to us through the other Persons of the Godhead and through his actions in the life of his Church.  His whole being is referred to them in love and is always revealing them, not himself, to us.  We come to see him because we see them speaking of him.

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament

The Church’s faith in the Holy Spirit comes from the best teacher: experience.  Mary, for instance, was told by an angel that Jesus was “conceived … of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).  What she made of that at the time we do not know. What we do know is that she said yes to that Spirit and so conceived the Word made flesh by his power.

As time rolled on more light dawned. John the Baptist prophesied mysteriously to his disciples that the coming Messiah “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11).

Jesus gives us the strange and frightening warning that “every one who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10).

He speaks of David having been “inspired by the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 12:36).

He tells his disciples that the day is coming when they too shall bear witness to him and that when they stand trial for him they should not be anxious since whatever is given them to say in that hour shall not be them speaking but the Holy Spirit (cf. Mark 13:11).

He assures his disciples, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).

After his Resurrection, Jesus breathes on the disciples and says to them, mysteriously, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23).

This Spirit is the one whom Jesus calls “the Spirit of your Father” (Matthew 10:20). Paul names him “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:19), the Spirit of the promise (cf. Galatians 3:14; Ephesians 1:13), the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6) , the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9) , the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:17), and the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9, 14; 15:19; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 7:40). Peter calls him the Spirit of glory (1 Peter 4:14). He is the great gift Jesus promises the Church, the gift given at Pentecost in a rush of wind and fire (Acts 2). 

The New Testament describes the Spirit in personal, not impersonal, terms. The Spirit does what persons do: having insight (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), knowledge (Romans 8:27), will (1 Corinthians 12:11), and the power to convince us of sin (John 16:8). He performs miracles (Acts 8:39), guides (John 16:13), intercedes (Romans 8:26), must be obeyed (Acts 10:19-20), and must not be lied to (Acts 5:3), resisted (Acts 7:51), grieved (Ephesians 4:30), or insulted (Hebrews 10:29). He relates to the apostles (Acts 15:28) and to the Father and (John 16:14; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14).

Jesus commands his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), making clear that the Holy Spirit is somehow equal in glory to the Father and himself. This is the obvious and instant inference the Church makes, which is why the Spirit is never treated by the Church like a mere creature such as an archangel or angel. (Note that we are not baptized in the name of Gabriel, Michael, Raphael or any other created spirit.) Indeed, the New Testament interchangeably speaks of Christians as those who have “become partakers of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 6:4) and as “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).  Why?  Because as Paul puts it simply, “The Lord is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

In short, the Spirit is God himself, empowering us to share in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity and to become little Christs, little copies of the Son of God while remaining the unique selves God created us to be.

So we believe the Spirit is the Lord God himself because Jesus told us he is and he, the Son of God, ought to know.  Exactly what that means, we don’t know completely for the simple reason that we can never completely fathom God. But we believe in Jesus, and therefore we believe in the Spirit, just as the Beloved believes in her Lover without understanding it all.  And the paradox is that, as we receive him whom we cannot fathom, he unfolds more and more of himself to us in ever-greater depth.

Of which more tomorrow.


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