The Epistemological Relevance of the Holy Spirit
In no authentic knowledge do we begin with epistemology and then on the ground of theory independently argued go on to develop our actual knowledge. Far less can we pose in abstraction the question, “How can we know God?” and then in light of the answers we reach we go on to examine and explicate what we know. Only on the ground of our actual knowledge of God may we develop and epistemology of it, for the form cannot be separated from the content or the method from the subject-matter of that knowledge. It is God who makes possible our knowledge of Him by giving Himself to us as the object of our knowing and by bringing us into a relationship with Him in which we are made capable of knowing Him, but within that relationship it is the nature of God as the given object of our knowledge that prescribes for us the mode of knowing Him. Thus while knowledge of God is grounded in His own being and activity, it takes shape within our human being and activity as human knowledge of God.
But is it meaningful to speak of the epistemology of the Spirit? Certainly we do not have knowledge of God apart from the Spirit and we know Him in truth as we know Him in the Spirit. Nor can we have an independent epistemology of the Spirit as if He had His own epistemological ground apart from the Father and the Son, but we are we not concerned in the specific activity of the Spirit with that aspect of our knowing of God where epistemological forms break off an where we are up against acts of God that are not only inexplicable from the side of man but quite ineffable? Thus while the Holy Spirit is at work in our knowledge of God, in the nature of the case there be no epistemology of the Spirit as such—but it is meaningful to speak of the epistemological relevance of the Holy Spirit. In epistemology we are concerned with the formal aspects of knowledge, the forms of the how and the forms of what as they arise in our understanding under the impact of the object, whereas in the Spirit we are concerned rather with the non-formal, with the given reality or object of our knowledge as it outruns all forms of our understanding, and with the abrupt acts of God through which our understanding of Him arises but which cannot be reduced to forms of our understanding. Thus to erect an epistemology of the Spirit would not only be to presuppose that the knowledge of God is explicable from the side of man, but in effect to substitute some theory of knowledge for the free activity of the Spirit. As actual knowledge of God arises, however, we know that we cannot attribute it to ourselves and know that we can only say something of how it arises by referring beyond ourselves to God’s act upon us—i. e. though it is our knowledge of Him, it is explicable only from the side of God as freely given participation in His self-knowledge. The epistemological relevance of the Holy Spirit lies in the dynamic and transformal aspects of this knowledge.
It is important to remember, as Athanasius used to insist, that the Son of God is the only Logos and Eidos of the Godhead (C. Arianos, 3.15; Ad Ser., 1.19). It is in and through the incarnate Word of God in Jesus Christ that God reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and is believed and acknowledged in accordance with His divine nature and rationality; it is in and through the incarnate Form of God in Jesus Christ that His Face and Image are revealed an that our human knowledge of Him is shaped and formed through the conformity of our minds to Jesus Christ. Thus by letting our thinking obediently follow the way of God Himself has taken in Jesus Christ we allow the basic forms of theological truth to come to view. That happens, however, only as in the Spirit the being and nature of God is brought to bear upon us so that we think under the compulsion of His Reality. That is the activity of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus spoke of in this connection as the Spirit of Truth.
The Holy Spirit is not cognoscible in Himself, but it is in the Spirit that we are confronted with the ultimate being and presence of God. When that happens there is ἀλήθεια, for truth is the unveiling of what is hidden, the manifestation of the divine reality—that is why He is called the Spirit of Truth: it is through His agency that Jesus Christ is revealed as the Son of the Father. He does not bear witness to Himself but bears witness to Christ as God and Saviour. He does not show us Himself, but shows us the Face of the Father in the Face of the Son, and shows us the heart of the Son in the heart of the Father. By this very mode of being as Spirit He hides Himself from us so that we do not know Him directly in His own hypostasis, and in His mode of activity as transparent Light He effaces Himself that the one Triune God may shine through Him to us. Yet because it is through Him that the Word of God was made flesh an through Him that the Word continues to be heard and believed, because it is in His Light that we see Light and by His creative operation that we know the unknowable and eternal God, we know Him know less Lord God than the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified. He is Himself God of God, the Holy Spirit of one substance with the Father and of one substance with the Son, who confronts us in His own Person with the ultimate Godness of God. However, unlike the Son He is not of one substance with us, for He incarnate the Son and did not incarnate Himself, He utters the Word but does not utter Himself, and therefore He directs us through Himself to the one Logos and Eidos of Godhead in Jesus Christ in accordance with whom all our knowledge of God is formed in our minds, knowledge of the Spirit as well as of the Father and of the Son. That is the self-effacing nature of the Spirit who hides Himself behind the Father in the Son and behind the Son in the Father, but also the enlightening transparence of the Spirit who by throwing His eternal Light upon the Father through the Son and upon the Son in the Father, brings the Being and Reality of God out of His hiddenness to bear upon man, and brings man out if his darkness to have communion with God, in Jesus Christ. He is the creative Agent of God’s revelation to us an the creative Agent in our reception an understanding of that revelation of the Form which it assumes as ti proceeds from God and is appropriated by man. He is the living Action and Presence of God in it all, who so relates the divine Word to the human and earthly forms which it assumed in Jesus Christ that in Him we are enable to meet God face to face, shining in His own uncreated Light an speaking to us personally in His own eternal Word.
Now how are we to relate this to our human modes of knowing, for it is only with our human knowledge of God that we can be concerned? Are we to think of this as somehow heightened or spiritualised until it becomes supra-rational or ecstatic? Surely not, for it is the miraculous nature of the Spirit’s activity that while He creates in us the ability to know God beyond all creaturely and human capacities this does not involve any suppression of our rational and critical powers. If we are enabled to apprehend God in His own divine nature, it is without having to take our feet off the ground, so to speak, or without having to transcend our human nature in its setting in space and time. In no way are we asked to take leave of our senses or to take irrational leaps—precisely the opposite is the case. Here we have to do with sober, self-critical activity, with careful, controlled judgements, with rational knowledge in its own right. We are concerned with modes of knowledge, and with human forms of thought and speech which have to be examined and corrected to see that they are rightly and appropriately related to realities to which they claim to refer. This is, in fact, the area of the Spirit’s relevance to our human knowledge, where modes of knowing are related to being and forms of thought and speech refer to realities beyond themselves, where in order to have knowledge at all we must be able to distinguish what we know from our knowing of it an certainly from what we say of it. It is the are of epistemological diastasis where cognitive and semantic denotation are at work directing us to objective realities and bringing us to think and speak of them under the compulsion of their being upon us.
In all our knowledge, even of created things, where we are concerned with the relation of thought to being, we are up against what is transcendent to thought and always reaches beyond what we are able to specify. If we try to close the gap between specifiable and non-specifiable, between the objectifiable and the objective, we destroy knowledge and are thrown back upon ourselves. If we reduce everything to forms of thought and speech and so formalise our understanding entirely, we become imprisoned in ourselves and live in abstraction from reality, and if we seek to leave forms behind in an attempt to break through into a non-formal world of being beyond, we grasp nothing and only engage in empty movements of thought. In authentic knowledge, however, we are always in situations where the realities we think break through the frames of thought we construct in order to interpret them, where being will not be shackled by the forms we bring to it, yet where frames and forms of thought are quite indispensable for for rational knowledge. We proceed by establishing relations between thought and being but always rejecting any confusion between them, and since being is the abiding source of all our thought we proceed continually by deepening and clarifying these relations. This does not mean that the relation of thought to being can be reduced to thought or that being is somehow formless in itself and can only be thought when we import forms into it, but rather the thought attains its true forms only as it submits to the masterful impact of being upon it and seeks to be conformed to its inherent rationality, and that thought maintains its integrity as it refuses to equate the forms of thought which it attains in this way with the inherent forms of being.
All this holds good for theology, but here we have to do with the relations of human forms of thought and speech to the divine Being and with modes of knowledge in which we bring our thinking under the compulsion of the inherent rationality of the divine Being. But if in relation to creaturely being we find ourselves up against a source of rational experience that reaches out indefinitely beyond what we can delimit in our forms of thought and speech, so that those forms must break off their precisions and specifications in order to point beyond to what cannot be reduced to our control in this way, how much more is that true of relation with God, the eternal and infinite Source of all being, who by His very nature is greater than what we can ever think? Here also it is true that we would only engage in empty movements of thought if we sought to pass beyond all forms into some realm of undifferentiated and non-conceptual experience of God, for that would only be a leap into irrationality. Even though God transcends all that we can think and say of Him, it still holds good that we cannot have experience of Him or believe Him without conceptual forms of understanding—As Anselm would say: fides esse nequit sine conceptione. This then is the specific domain of the Spirit in theological knowledge, for by His power and enlightenment we think and speak directly of God in and through forms of our rational experience and articulation and we do that under the direction and control of the inner rationality of the divine Being, the eternal Logos and Eidos of Godhead. To use Anselmic language once again, here we are up against the Suprema Veritas, or the Ratio Veritatis of God Himself, which we cannot reduce to the veritates or rationes of our our understanding even though it is only through them that we know God. It is only the through the Spirit of Truth that such trans-formal experience is possible, for it is by His power that we are enable to know from our knowing of it, so that our knowing of Him falls under the continual informing and shaping of what He makes known of Himself. This is knowledge with a transcendence in form and an indefinite range of enlightenment beyond anything else in our experience, in which our thinking becomes objectively rooted in the eternal Word in the Being of God and acquires out that Word a basic conceptuality that does not vary with the many forms of man’s self-centred and objectifying modes of thought.