The Son Never Acts Alone

What had been disclosed in the economy gave early Christian thinkers the confidence to explore the nature of God afresh, guided of course by the Scriptures. Thinking about God could no longer be carried on independently of what had occurred in the evangelical history. Of course, in the strict sense of the term, the argument that God was not a 'solitary God' was not concerned with the doctrine of the Trinity. The debate focused on the status of the Son and whether the Son or Word is an emanation from the Father or whether he has his own proper identity.

Christian language, however, is resolutely tripartite. This is most evident in the formula used at Baptism: 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit'. But there were also expressions within the Bible, e.g. the greeting in 2 Corinthians 13:13 quoted above, or the opening words of 1 Peter: 'To the exiles.who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood' (1 Pet. 1:2). Of these passages J.N.D.Kelly wrote in Early Christian Creeds:

In all of them there is no trace of fixity so far as their wording is concerned, and none of them constitutes a creed in any ordinary sense of the term. Nevertheless the Trinitarian ground-plan obtrudes itself obstinately throughout, and its presence is all the more striking because more often than not there is nothing in the context to necessitate it. The impression inevitably conveyed is that the conception of the threefold manifestation of the Godhead was embedded deeply in Christian thinking from the start.

(Kelly 1950:23)

Although the Church's language was 'tripartite', it would take time for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit to be subjected to theological analysis. In the fifth century Augustine wrote:

There has not been as yet, on the part of learned and distinguished investigators of the Scriptures, a discussion [of the Holy Spirit] full enough or careful enough to make it possible for us to obtain an intelligent conception of what also constitutes his special individuality (proprium)...

By the end of the fourth century, as the teaching concerning the Son was being given its definitive form, the same thinkers who had written works dealing with the status of the Son began to address the topic of the Holy Spirit. Though their arguments deal with the distinctive work of the Holy Spirit, their reasoning is not dissimilar to that used to discuss the doctrine of the Son. That is, they argued for the divinity of the Holy Spirit from the economy, e.g. the role of the Spirit in the work of Christ, as well as from the gifts of the Spirit to the Church. History, as recorded in the Scriptures, and experience, especially liturgical experience, were seen as complementary, each serving to illuminate the other.

The reality of the Holy Spirit was evident in the Church's life. In the central prayer in the Christian liturgy, the prayer said over the bread and wine in the Eucharist (the anaphora), the bishop besought the Holy Spirit to descend on the gifts. In a third-century Roman example of the prayer, after reciting the narration of the institution of the Eucharist, and bringing to memory the saving death and resurrection of Christ, he continued:

And we pray that you would send your Holy Spirit upon the offerings of your holy church; that gathering them into one, you would grant to all your saints who partake of them to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Likewise when a new bishop was consecrated, the other bishops laid hands on the candidate and prayed:

Pour forth now that power which is yours of your royal Spirit which you gave to your beloved servant Jesus Christ which he bestowed on his holy apostles. And by the Spirit of high-priesthood give him authority to remit sins according to your commandments.

Catechumens were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and trinitarian doxologies were sprinkled throughout Christian worship.

For the Christian doctrine of the Trinity these 'experiences' were foundational. They were certain evidence that God's presence among his people was not restricted to the time of Christ's sojourn on earth. The Scriptures taught that after Christ's departure the Spirit would be sent on his followers: 'When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.' (John 16:9; 14:16 and 15:26). Beginning with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and continued in the spiritual gifts in the life of the Church, these promises had been confirmed. 'Having received the promise of the Holy Spirit, he had poured out this that you both see (!) and hear' (Acts 2:33). Just as Christ had given evidence of who he was when he dwelled on earth, so the Spirit gave evidence of his presence in the sacraments, in the witness of the martyrs and the lives of holy men and women, in the bishops. The latter was no less certain than the former. Gregory of Nazianzus writes: 'The Spirit dwells among us, offering us a most clear display of himself

The opponents of the developing Trinitarian theology, however, argued that the Nicene theologians 'bring in a strange God [the Holy Spirit] of whom Scripture is silent'. Everyone knew of course that the Spirit was mentioned in the Scriptures, in, for example, the baptismal formula in Matthew 28 or the triadic greeting at the end of 2 Corinthians as well as in many other places. At issue was whether the work of redemption was solely the work of God in Christ or was accompanied and completed by the work of the Holy Spirit. In response to this challenge Christian thinkers pointed to those passages that link specific actions in Christ's life with the work of the Spirit. 'Consider the following', writes Gregory of Nazianzus in his theological oration on the Holy Spirit:

Christ is born, the Spirit is his forerunner (Luke 1:35); Christ is baptized, the Spirit bears witness (Luke 3:21-2); Christ is tempted, the Spirit leads him up (Luke 4:2, 14); [Christ] works miracles, the Spirit accompanies him (Matt. 12:28); Christ ascends, the Spirit takes his place (Acts 1:8-9).

In the Scriptures Christ's works are not presented as activities of the Son alone. God's revelation in Christ is made possible through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The tripartite nature of God is evident in the way Father, Son and Spirit relate to each other in the events of revelation. Gregory of Nyssa writes:

With regard to the divine nature.we do not learn [from the Scriptures] that the Father does something on his own, in which the Son does not co-operate, or that the Son acts on his own without the Spirit. Rather every operation which extends from God to creation and is designated according to our different conceptions of it has its origin in the Father, proceeds through the Son, and reaches its completion by the Holy Spirit.

It is sometimes said that the doctrine of the divinity of the Holy Spirit is a deduction based on the logic of Christian thinking about the status of the Son. There is some truth to this view, but it does not do justice to the explicit statements in the Scriptures about the work of the Spirit in the economy. For example, Romans 8:11:

If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead [note that Father, Son and Spirit are involved in a single activity] dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Athanasius of Alexandria cites this passage in his first Letter to Serapion, an important document from Christian antiquity in which biblical texts on the Holy Spirit are expounded. In the same letter he also cites 1 John 4:12-13. 'If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given of us his

Spirit', glossing that verse with the words from the Gospel, 'Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them' (John 14:23). From these and other passages, Athanasius concludes that through the gift of the Holy Spirit we share in God's life and become heirs of God with Christ. 'The Spirit', writes Athanasius, 'is no stranger to the Son.'

The Son always acts in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, never on his own. On that point the Scriptures were clear. To be sure the Bible does not make explicit statements about the divine status of the Holy Spirit; but neither does it say explicitly that Christ is 'God' without qualifier. In the Scriptures, however, the Spirit is called a gift of living water (John 7:39) that brings life to those who receive it. He is the one who 'gives life' to our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11). Unlike creatures who receive life from someone other than themselves, the Holy Spirit bestows life and sanctification. Commenting on the phrase in John 1:13, 'begotten of God', Cyril of Alexandria wrote: 'Those who have been reborn by the Spirit through faith are called and indeed are begotten of God.' When the Spirit dwells in us we become 'temples of God' (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16). Only God could rise from death to life, and only God can bestow life. Again and again Christian thinkers argue that in the Scriptures the activity of the Spirit is the work of God, a point echoed in our century by Karl Barth. 'According to these statements [in the Scriptures] the work of the Holy Spirit in revelation is a work which can be ascribed only to God and which is thus expressly ascribed to God' (Barth 1936:467).

The Fathers also observed that in some passages the biblical writers speak not only of the work of the Spirit in the economy, but also of the Spirit's life within God. An important text is 1 Corinthians 2:10:

The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one truly comprehends what is truly God's except the Spirit of God.

In his book on the Holy Spirit, written in the late fourth century, Basil interpreted this text (he cites it twice) along lines similar to those that Tertullian had pursued in his discussion of the term 'word'. He writes: 'But the greatest proof that the Spirit is one with the Father and the Son is that He is said to have the same relationship to God as the spirit within us has to us.' As God is revealed, so is the internal life of God.

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