Theology in Reconstruction p. 210 & 215f

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P. 210. All these aspects of the doctrine of the Spirit are found clearly and firmly brought together in the teaching of Cyril of Jerusalem, and formulated. ‘As there is but one Father and one Son, so there is but one Holy Spirit. No other spirit is to be honoured equally with him. He is supremely Great Power, divine and unsearchable, living and rational, and it belongs to him to sanctify all things that were made by God through Christ . . . We preach one God through one Son, together with the Holy Spirit. We neither separate the Trinity, as some do, nor confuse the Persons, as Sabellius did, but we devoutely acknowledge one Father who sent His Son, and the one Son who promised to send the Paraclete from the Father, and the Holy Spirit who descended at Pentecost here in Jerusalem’ (Cat. 16.1-4). Learn then that this Holy Spirit is one and indivisible, yet of manifold powers, working with many operations, yet not himself broken into many parts. It is the Holy Spirit who knows the mysteries, searching all things, even the depths of God; who descended on the Lord Jesus Christ in the form of a dove, who wrought in the Law and the Prophets; who even now seals your soul at the time of baptism, of whose rational nature has need; against whom if any dare to blaspheme, he has not forgiveness either in this world or in that which is to come; he who receives a like honour of dignity and power have need. For their is one God . . . one Lord . . . and one Holy Spirit who has power to sanctify and deify all, who spoke in the Law and the Prophets, in Old and New Testaments alike’ (Cat. 40.16).


P. 213ff

This is the doctrine of the Spirit that had to be established in the mind of the church beyond doubt. It was carried through by Athanasius the Great and Basil the Great in treatise on the Spirit, in which they were ably supported in the East by the work of Didymus and Epiphanius on the one hand and by Gregory Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus on the other hand, in which they were fortified in the West by the work of Hilary of Poitiers, and of course Augustine himself, among others. We cannot here range over that whole field, nor concern ourselves with the differences that emerged with the unity of patristic teaching in the East and West, but shall confine our discussion largely to the letters of Athanasius Ad Serapionem and Basil’s De Spiritu Sancto with a view to our particular theme on the relation of the Spirit to creation. In the nature of the case, however, we will not be able to avoid discussion of certain epistemological and Christological issues for they are basic to our concern.

When we turn to Athanasius’ teaching we are soon made aware of the fact that the Holy Spirit is not cognoscible in Himself. In the doctrine of the Spirit we are concerned with the ultimate Being of God before whom the Cherubim and veil their faces, for here God the Spirit hides himself not only by the mode of his Being as Spirit, but by his exaltedness, his greatness and his majesty, that is, we can think and speak of him in his revelation to us only with awe and awareness of the weakness of our minds to apprehend him and of the impropriety of the language we use to speak of him (Ad Serapionem 1.17-20). Creatures of course are cognoscible in themselves, and are known through analogies with one another. But it is quite otherwise with the Holy Spirit, who is one and indivisible and cannot be known by our dividing and compounding and comparing, for in his uniqueness he is exalted above everything else and is absolutely incomparable (Ad Serapionem 1.13; cf. C. Arianos 2.18-31 and Basil De Spiritu Sancto 6.13f; 9.22f). Thus the very unknowableness of the Spirit by the world (John 14.17, Ad Serapionem 4.1f) that he belongs to the other side of the chorismos that bounds the existence of the creature, that is, to the side of the Creator himself. Hence the very knowledge of the Spirit carries with it knowledge that he is in no sense creature, but is himself on the active, creative side of reality which gives, imparts, and maintains all other being, and who is known only in and through his creative activity upon us. To be concerned with the Spirit, to know him, to be acted upon by him, is immediately to be concerned with the Being or ousia of God the Creator, That, as I understand it, is the import of the patristic notion of theosis or ‘deification’.

When we ask how Athanasius comes to speak like this of the Spirit we find that he does so by moving from the knowledge of the Son, and the affirmation of him as homoousios to the Father, to the knowledge of the Spirit, and the affirmation of him as homoousios to the Son and the Father.

In examining the movement of his own argument, Athanasius says, ‘It is natural that I should have spoken and written first about the Son of God that our knowledge of the Som we may be able to have proper knowledge of the Spirit’ (Ad Ser. 3.1). In meaning the objections of the Tropici to the deity of the Spirit he argued in the first book that we are bound to hold of the Son what we hold of the Spirit of the Son—if the Spirit is a creature, so is the Son. But the deity of the Son has already been established. Hence the doctrine of the homoousion of the Son he goes on to insist that what we hold of the Son we must also hold of the Spirit of the Son (Ad Ser. 1.22ff). This does not mean that Athanasius begins with the doctrine of the Son, merely because that has already been established, but that this is the only proper procedure because of the propriety of the Spirit to the Son, and because it is only in and through the Son or the Word that God has revealed himself. The Spirit does not utter himself but the Word and is known only as he enlightens us to understand the Word. The Son is the only logos, the only eidos of the Godhead (see C. Arianos 3.15, and Ad Ser. 1.19). Only at that point where in Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word is homoousios with us in our human nature and homoousios with God in his divine Being, is there a real revelation and therefore a knowing of God which really derives from the eternal Being of God as he is in himself. There is no other ‘word,’ no other ‘eidos‘ of God, and no other way of knowing God or source of knowledge of him. The Holy Spirit, who is not knowable independently in himself, is known through this one self-revelation and self-communication of God in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, it is only in the Spirit that we may thus know the Son, and know that he antecedently and eternally in himself in God what he is toward us in revelation and redemption. Only he who is of God (ek Theou) and consubstantial with him can impart knowledge of God in himself. It is from the Son that the Spirit shines forth (eklampei Ad Ser. 1.18), and in the Spirit (en Pneumati) that God is known.

Two points immediately follow from this (a) The Spirit is no more a creature than the Son, but the Son belongs to the Being of God, for he is from God. The Spirit ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ and not ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος, as the creatures are, indeed, ἐκ τῆς τοῦ Πατρὸς οὐσίας and not ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων (Ad Ser. 3.2). Moreover the Spirit belongs to the oneness of God and is inseparable from the Son and the Father. ‘If the Son is not a creature because he does not belong to the man, but is one as the Father is one: then the Spirit likewise—cannot be a creature. For he does not belong to the many but is himself one’ (Ad Ser. 3.3). There can only be one such ultimate Being, one who is one God, and so the Spirit participates in all the operations of the one God as co-essential with the Godhead. (b) The Spirit is the creative activity of God—far from being creaturely and contingent process, the Spirit is atrepton and  analloiotom, for he belongs to the unchangingly divine, the active and creative side of the Creator-creature relationship, in contrast to the creatures who are changeable and alterable, and belongs to the passive recipient side of that relationship (Ad Ser. 1.22ff). This is backed up by the place of the Spirit in the unity of the Trinity, for the Trinity is not a creature but is wholly Creator. ‘There is, then, a Triad, holy and complete, confessed to be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, having nothing foreign or alien mixed with him, not composed of one who creates, and one who is originated, but all creative; and he is consistent and in nature indivisible, and his activity is one. The Father does all things through the Word in the Holy Spirit’ (Ad Ser. 1.28).

The Spirit is thus explicitly included by Athanasius in the work of the creation, along with the Son, for where the Word is there is the Spirit also (Ad Ser. 3.4f)—that applies to the original works of creation and to all God’s works and gifts in sanctification and recreation, for there is only one divine energeia in which all three Persons engage (Ad Ser. 1.20., 28ff). The main aspects of Athanasius’ teaching about the creative work of the Spirit may be summarized as follows (a) All the activity of God is from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. The divine operation is not divided between the Persons, but there is a distinction of mode of operation indicated by the presuppositions ek, dia, en, (Ad Ser. 1.30). ‘Him therefore is no creature but is one with the Son as the Son is one with the Father, who is glorified with the Father and the Son, who is confessed as God with the Word, who is active in the works which the Father works through the Son—is not the man who calls him creature guilty of a direct impiety against the Son himself? For there is nothing that is not originated and actuated through the Word in the Spirit’ (Ad Ser. 1.31). (b) The Holy Spirit is the power of God, the energeia of the Son, through whom God realises and actualises his works (Ad Ser. 1.20, 30f; see C. Arianos 3.5). As such the Spirit fills the universe, joining the creation to the Word, and is therefore he in whom the Father through the Word prefects and renews all things (Ad Ser. 1.9, 24-26). (c) The emphasis however is in line with the traditional teaching of the Church upon the creative work of the Spirit in renewing or sanctifying the creature, and consummating (or bringing to its telos) the relation of the creature to the Godhead. The Spirit is thus quickening Spirit, the Lord who is Autozoe, the Author of Life (Ad Ser. 1.22). He is creative source of life in himself, proceeding from the Father as co-essential with him, not just as one participant in him in some supreme way. (d) The Spirit exists in inseparable relation to the Son, and  indeed is inseparable from the Incarnate Son, for it is in and through him that his work is fulfilled. ‘When the Word visited the holy Virgin Mary, the Spirit came to her with him, and the Word in the Spirit moulded the body and conformed it to himself, desiring to join and present all creation to the Father through himself, and in it to reconcile all things, having made peace, whether things in heaven or things upon the earth (Ad Ser. 1.31). (e) But Athanasius insists to the end that we must respect the ineffability of the Spirit. Early in the first letter he reminded Serapion that we must learn not to think falsely of the Spirit by a wrong use of human terms and analogies, but think of him only as our minds are renewed in Christ (Ad Ser. 1.4, 9). This way of thinking and speaking is particularly evident in the awe and restraint with which Athanasius speaks of the inner relations of the Trinity, but it is no less evident in his statement about the specific mode of the Spirit’s hypostasis and creative activity. In the fourth letter (it is called) he takes up the theme of the kind of questions we have to ask in an inquiry appropriate to the Spirit, and points out that our question have themselves to be questioned. It is thus that we are restrained, when we allow through the biblical witness as to the distinction between the Spirit and the Son and their respective relations to the Father, from pressing human terms and analogies, such as that of generation, beyond their limited range (Ad Ser. 4.1ff., 6). They can serve God only by pointing beyond and above themselves as paradeigmata. It is surely for this reason that Athanasius will not allow himself to specify in human statements how we are precisely to conceive of the creative work of the Spirit, for it is appropriate to his nature that can not do so. He will not have us to think of the Spirit’s creative work independently of that of the Son, and this means that he does not think of the work of the Spirit in creation itself except within the context of his sanctifying or renewing, or performing operations. The creative work of the Spirit is, so to speak, proleptically conditioned by that of redemption.