9 The Holy Spirit I - (Christianity)
We have just completed a sermon series on the subject of ecstasy. Our motivation for this series was to inspire us (me) to elevate our (my) level of consciousness during our (my) daily religious devotions, and to make the ecstatic state one of the goals of our (my) spiritual discipline. To be sure, every prayer we send to God, through Jesus the intermediary, is equally blessed by divine grace; and yet our discussions of ecstasy have indicated that we can get qualitatively more out of our devotions if we focus our contemplation, with heightened intensity, on certain divine realities, whether they be symbols, or scriptures, or sounds, or simply inner visions; we have learned that such concentration may trigger an acceleration of higher intelligence, an acceleration which may kick our state of mind into a higher-vibratory consciousness level.
Now, our study of the chapter on ecstasy from Evelyn Underhill’s book Mysticism was a very in-depth, albeit somewhat generic description of ecstatic rapture; but it can hardly escape our notice that Jesus does not figure prominently in her discussion. To Christians, who daily lean on Jesus, our Savior, for counsel and guidance, it just seems wrong to outline a spiritual discipline that does not include Jesus in the formula. This was of some concern to me, when I first began following this train of thought, but then I rediscovered a very important promise of Jesus’ which cleared up the controversy, and gave me language for talking and thinking about the divine component, the divine motivator of ecstasy—the Holy Spirit.
Today we will give a general description of the role the Holy Spirit plays in the ecstatic experience, focusing on references from the scriptures. Next week we will see what more modern saints have to say.
So far, we have learned that an ecstasy may be triggered by just about any obsessive process of contemplation, but we have also learned that the spiritual benefit of the ecstasy will be nil unless the object of contemplation is of divine origin. Why? Because the Holy Spirit bestows on these objects a divine radiance and resonance which the merely mundane objects do not enjoy. Thus, contemplation directed toward initiating a spiritual ecstasy must, at all times, be endorsed, validated, and blessed by the Holy Spirit--which, in a way, is to say that the object of contemplation must COME from the Holy Spirit.
In the upper room at His last supper, Jesus said:
John 14: 15-17:
"15If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. 16"I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, that He may be with you forever; 17that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.…"
Jesus knew that His mediation between Man and the Father was going to be a very personal experience for all, but He also knew that a higher impersonal element would be necessary in order for devotees to raise their personal consciousness join with the Mind and Heart of the Christ. Therefore, it was this ghostly dimension of Himself, quickened by super-personal abstraction, that He assigned to be with Man in his strivings toward godhood.
Now, what does the literature say about the Holy Ghost?
As usual, we will begin with Wikipedia:
The Holy Spirit (Christianity)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"For the large majority of Christians, the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, from Old English gast, "spirit") is the third divine person of the Holy Trinity: the "Triune God" manifested as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; each person itself being God.
The New Testament includes over 90 references to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit plays a key role in the Pauline epistles. In the Johannine writings, three separate terms, "Holy Spirit", "Spirit of Truth", and "Paraclete" are used.
The New Testament details a close relationship between the Holy Spirit and Jesus during his earthly life and ministry. The Gospels of Luke and Matthew and the Nicene Creed state that Jesus was "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary". The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove during his Baptism, and in his Farewell Discourse after the Last Supper Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples after his departure.
The theology of the Holy Spirit is called pneumatology. The Holy Spirit is referred to as the Lord and Giver of Life in the Nicene Creed. The participation of the Holy Spirit in the tripartite nature of conversion is apparent in Jesus' final post-Resurrection instruction to his disciples at the end of the Gospel of Matthew (28:19):"make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost".
Since the first century, Christians have also called upon God with the name "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" in prayer, absolution and benediction."
[Sidebar: Notice this last sentence uses the expression: “Christians have also called upon God with the name "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" in prayer, absolution and benediction.” It is interesting to consider the distinction between these three NAMES which Christians use to call on God. First comes the Father, too great, and vast, and incomprehensible to address; then Jesus, our friend and companion, who accepts us as we are in our frailty and inadequacy, and the Holy Ghost, the breath of God moving on the face of the deep, giving life to dry bones, enlightening the mind, transforming the heart, and raising the dead.
Back to Wikipedia:]
"What the Bible calls "Spirit of Yhwh" and "Spirit of Elohim" is called in the Talmud and Midrash "Holy Spirit" ("Ruaḥ ha-Ḳodesh). The expression "Holy Spirit" occurs in
Psalm 51:10-12:"10Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.…"
and in Isaiah.63:11-14:"11Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses.
Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock?
Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them,
12Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses,
Who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name,
13Who led them through the depths?
Like the horse in the wilderness, they did not stumble;
14As the cattle which go down into the valley,
The Spirit of the LORD gave them rest.
So You led Your people,
To make for Yourself a glorious name."
In these early times, the term Holy Spirit had not yet the definite meaning which was attached to it in rabbinical literature: in the latter it is equivalent to the expression "Spirit of the Lord". In Gen.1:2 God's spirit hovered over the form of lifeless matter, thereby making the Creation possible.
Although the Holy Spirit is often named instead of God, it was conceived as being something distinct. Though the nature of the Holy Spirit is really nowhere described, the name indicates that it was conceived as a kind of wind that became manifest through noise and light. The Holy Spirit, being of heavenly origin, is composed, like everything that comes from heaven, of light and fire. The spirit talks sometimes with a masculine and sometimes with a feminine voice; i.e., as the word "ruaḥ" is both masculine and feminine."
[Sidebar: Note that many reports of spiritual ecstasy include mention of blinding firy light, and overwhelmingly loud thunder. The sound of “Eck” according to Paul Twitchell, is that of a rushing wind. Of course these expressions, occurring in the supernatural dimensions, are merely similes for the actual experiences; and yet, the symbolic significance of these onomatopoetic images cannot be considered trivial. In ecstasy we will “hear” a wind, and “see” a light, without hearing or seeing, but this is how the experiences will be remembered. How could it be otherwise? In what other language than the literal could remembering be expressed?
Back to Wikipedia:]
"The most characteristic sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is the gift of prophecy."
[Sidebar: Let’s think, for a moment, about the sentence,
“The most characteristic sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is the gift of prophecy.”Let us recall a sermon I gave some months ago concerning the fluidity of time when it comes to spiritual matters. We mentioned sehnsucht as the insatiable longing for God which is only satisfied through projection into the future; we mentioned that the soul’s journey up and down the continuum of mind states naturally resulted in prophetic visions, visions which are not the exclusive territory of the great saints, but, indeed, are the birthright of every spiritual devotee committed to elevating consciousness.
Prophecy was not a leading feature of the ecstasies of the saints we considered in the Underhill chapter, but transport out of sequential time characterized every ecstasy that was mentioned. The projection of visions of the future onto the face of the ecstatic now, are more or less trivial collateral effects of entering the spiritual domain. Nevertheless, little prophesies are as much a part of the Christian’s stock-in-trade, as are little miracles.
Furthermore, or perhaps conversely, Old Testament prophecy was usually a by-product of the prophet’s ecstatic experience. In other words, the Reason d'être of ecstasy was to achieve oneness with God in a Heavenly place, not to bring back pearls of wisdom. However, it cannot be denied that a very attractive by-product of this union with God was a fluidity in Time which enabled the prophets to speak meaningfully about the future; clearly, the prophets did not enter their ecstatic states motivated by the intention of prophesying, the prophesying was an EFFECT, not an EVENT. The same might be said of PREDESTINATION; that is to say, the choices made in the heart of the devotee are made outside time, but these choices result in temporal effects such as unity with the church, and gifts of Grace.
In 1st Peter 1:10-12 we read:
"10As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries,
11seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.
12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven-- things into which angels long to look."
In this scripture we read of Isaiah’s commission from God which, clearly came to him in an ecstatic vision:
Isaiah 6: 5-9:
“5 mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
6 Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:
7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
9 And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not."
Here the idea of prophecy as a mystery, that will only come to be understood in later times, presents a theme immemorial of the ecstatic experience. Jesus couched His parables in just such language. Indeed, the Holy Ghost manifests in the most mysterious ways, and expresses itself in supernatural terms which are just barely intelligible by the minds of its witnesses.
Back to Wikipedia:]
"Mark 13:11 specifically refers to the power of the Holy Spirit to act and speak through the disciples of Jesus in time of need: "be not anxious beforehand what ye shall speak: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit." Matthew 10:20 refers to the same act of speaking through the disciples, but uses the term "Spirit of your Father".
The Holy Spirit plays a key role in the Pauline epistles and Apostle Paul's pneumatology is closely connected to his theology and Christology, to the point of being almost inseparable from them.
The First Epistle to the Thessalonians, which was likely the first of Paul's letters, introduces a characterization of the Holy Spirit in 1:6 and 4:8 which persist throughout his epistles. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 Paul refers to the imitation of Christ (and himself) and states:
"And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit",
whose source is identified in 1 Thessalonians 4:8 as
"God, who giveth his Holy Spirit unto you".
These two themes of receiving the Spirit "like Christ" and God being the source of the Spirit persist in Pauline letters as the characterization of the relationship of Christians with God. For Paul the imitation of Christ involves readiness to be shaped by the Holy Spirit and as in Romans 8:4 and 8:11:
"But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you."
Jesus and the Holy Spirit
Specific New Testament references to the interaction of Jesus and the Holy Spirit during his earthly life, and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit during his ministry are:• "Spirit without measure" having been given to Jesus in John 3:34, referring to the word spoken by Jesus (Rhema) being the words of God.
• Baptism of Jesus, with the Holy Spirit descending on him as a dove in Matthew 3:13–17, Mark 1:9–11 and Luke 3:21–23
• Temptation of Jesus, in Matthew 4:1 the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the desert to be tempted
• The Spirit casting out demons (Matthew 12:28), in Exorcising the blind and mute man miracle
• Rejoice the Spirit in Luke 10:21 where seventy disciples are sent out by Jesus
• Acts 1:2 states that until his death and resurrection, Jesus "had given commandment through the Holy Spirit unto the apostles"
• Referring to the sacrifice of Jesus to be crucified out of obedience to the father, the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews 9:14 states that Jesus "through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God"
In his Farewell Discourse to his disciples, Jesus promised that he would "send the Holy Spirit" to them after his departure, in John 15:26 stating: "whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth... shall bear witness of me".
God the Holy Spirit
In Christian theology Holy Spirit is believed to perform specific divine functions in the life of the Christian or the church. The action of the Holy Spirit is seen as an essential part of the bringing of the person to the Christian faith. The new believer is "born again of the Spirit". The Holy Spirit enables Christian life by dwelling in the individual believers and enables them to live a righteous and faithful life. The Holy Spirit also acts as comforter or Paraclete, one who intercedes, or supports or acts as an advocate, particularly in times of trial. And it acts to convince the unredeemed person both of the sinfulness of their actions, and of their moral standing as sinners before God. Another faculty of the Holy Spirit is the inspiration and interpretation of scripture. The Holy Spirit both inspires the writing of the scriptures and interprets them to the Christian and/or church."
[Sidebar: The next section details various “fruits and gifts” of the Holy Spirit, permanent positive residue of the ecstatic experience.]
Fruit and Gifts of the Spirit
"The "fruit of the Holy Spirit" consists of "permanent dispositions" (in this similar to the permanent character of the sacraments), virtuous characteristics engendered in the Christian by the action of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 names 9 aspects and states:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.”
In the Epistle to the Galatians these nine characteristics are in contrast to the "works of the flesh" and highlight the positive manifestations of the work of the Holy Spirit in believers.
The "gifts of the Holy Spirit" are distinct from the Fruit of the Spirit, and consist of specific abilities granted to the individual Christian. They are frequently known by the Greek word for gift, Charisma, from which the term charismatic derives. The "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit" pour out on a believer at baptism, and are traditionally derived from Isaiah 11:1–2, although the New Testament does not refer to Isaiah 11:1–2 regarding these gifts. These 7 gifts are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (strength), knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord."
[Sidebar: So it will be apparent from the preceding presentation that the Holy Spirit is the operative force in all Christian ecstasies. Now, let’s delve deeper into the history of this ecstasy as an article of faith in the Christian catechism:]
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Pentecost (Ancient Greek: Πεντηκοστή [ἡμέρα], Pentēkostē [hēmera], "the fiftieth [day]") is the Greek name for the Feast of Weeks, a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai. This feast is still celebrated in Judaism as Shavuot. Later, in the Christian liturgical year, it became a feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ (120 in all), as described in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1–31. For this reason, Pentecost is sometimes described by some Christians today as the "Birthday of the Church".
In the Eastern church, Pentecost can also refer to the whole fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, hence the book containing the liturgical texts for Paschaltide is called the Pentecostarion. The feast is also called White Sunday, or Whitsun, especially in England, where the following Monday was traditionally a public holiday. Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks (50 days) after Easter Sunday, hence its name. Pentecost falls on the tenth day after Ascension Thursday.
The Pentecostal movement of Christianity derives its name from the New Testament event. The biblical narrative of Pentecost is given in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. Present were about one hundred twenty followers of Christ (Acts 1:15), including his core group of twelve Disciples (Acts 1:13, 26), his mother Mary and various other women disciples (Acts 1:14). Their reception of Baptism in the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room is recounted in Acts 2:1–6:“ And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language."
While those on whom the Spirit had descended were speaking in many languages, the Apostle Peter stood up with the eleven and proclaimed to the crowd that this event was the fulfillment of the prophecy ("I will pour out my spirit"). In Acts 2:17, it reads: "'And in the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams." He also mentions (2:15) that it was the third hour of the day (about 9:00 AM). Acts 2:41 then reports: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."
Peter stated that this event was the beginning of a continual outpouring that would be available to all believers from that point on, Jews and Gentiles alike.
Pneumatology is the study of spiritual beings and phenomena, especially the spiritual aspect of human beings and the interactions between humans and God. Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is Greek for "breath", which metaphorically describes a non-material being or influence. Pneumatology as the study of the spirit is to be distinguished from psychology, the study of the soul.
In Christian theology pneumatology refers to the study of the Holy Spirit. The English word comes from two Greek words: πνευμα (pneuma, spirit) and λογος (logos, teaching about). Pneumatology would normally include study of the person of the Holy Spirit, and the works of the Holy Spirit. This latter category would normally include Christian teachings on new birth, spiritual gifts (charismata), Spirit-baptism, sanctification, the inspiration of prophets, and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity (which in itself covers many different aspects).”
It would be well to remember that this discussion of the Holy Ghost began with a series of presentations on the ecstatic spiritual experience. We were led to the Holy Ghost as the SOURCE of power and the prime mover of the devotee in search of ecstasy. Thus, the Father is the ORIGIN of Divine Truth, the Son is the MEDIATOR of Divine Truth, Holy Ghost is the TRANSMITTER of Divine Truth, and the Angels are the MECHANISM for the transmission of Divine Truth. As mentioned at the outset of my series on ecstasy, such intense experiences tend to reside outside the framework of ‘normal” human experience, and are therefore thought of as suspect, by “normal” people. However, I have been steadfast in insisting that the Christian life should NOT BE NORMAL in any way; I have maintained that Christians who are able to fit their religion in between basketball practice and TV, are not on fire for God as should be anyone who has met the Holy Spirit face to face.
The preceding presentation has shown that the Bible amply supplies precedents for the passion for God which I am recommending. Next week we will look at the writing of two post-Biblical, pre-modern saints, Boethius and St. Thomas Aquinas. These men, both of whom we have studied before, have proclaimed the power of the spirit in their daily lives, and have contributed meaningfully to the spiritual literature. The lessons they teach encourage soberness of mind, and openness of heart. But that is next week.
For now, Let us pray:
Jesus, He whose Name is Holy, continue to provide a face for us to contemplate in our prayers, but do not deny us access to that faceless power, that holy wind that fills our sails and dries our tears. Amen.