And to the Holy Spirit

PFA83070Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Do we mean anything when we say these words? Do they enrich our spiritual life, or are they a meaningless formula? Does the Trinity have anything to do with us?

We have seen, first, the value of glory, of thinking of the grandeur and beauty of God. Last week, we saw that God is Father and Son, a relationship of love, and of giving and receiving. We do well, sometimes when saying this prayer, to pause for each significant phrase. Glory. To the Father and to the Son. That is not two phrases, it is one, in which the two parts, Father and Son, reveal one another. But now we come to the the third phrase. What is the Holy Spirit?

We said that names matter: all that we know about the Trinity is in these names. Father and Son are names that point out a relationship. But Holy Spirit is a challenge. God is holy. God is a spirit. Holy Spirit, then, is what Father and Son have in common. But why name it a third thing?

We see deeper into the doctrine of the Trinity if we realize that, in some sense, Father and Son is all there is to it. Holy Spirit does not name a third kind of relationship: not wife, or mother, or anything else. It all comes down to the Father and the Son. Why then say the Holy Spirit is a third thing? (Or “person,” which, remember, is a word that in this context means nothing but “what there are three of.)

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We can understand why we think about the Holy Spirit as a third “person” if we think a bit about the Christological debates of the fourth century, in which these things were first hashed out.

The original question was not about the Holy Spirit and not about the Trinity. The question was about Christ. In fact, all of this is just about naming who Christ is and what he does.

The theme was that Christ is our mediator, the one who unites God and man. Now, there are Scriptural arguments driving all of this, and I feel bad not giving them, but we will have to stick to the level of doctrine. On the doctrinal level, the point is that Christ cannot unite God and man if he is not God and man himself. If he wasn’t really man, what good would he be to us who are? But if he were not really God, he could not get us to God. The bridge has to reach all the way to both sides of the chasm. Christ unites God and man because he unites them in his own person.

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The first point, then, is that Christ himself, the “Son,” really is God.

But then a second question arises, how Christ unites us to God. The Biblical answer is that he pours out his Spirit on us. The Son becomes incarnate as Another man, somehow who is not me. But then he unites me to himself through the Holy Spirit.

The logic is again the same. If the Holy Spirit were less than God, the Holy Spirit could not unite us to God. Glory to the Holy Spirit, coequal with the Father and the Son!

But see that this is not as abstract and obscure as it sounds. “God became man so that man could become God,” said the fourth-century Church Fathers, and the Church has echoed it ever since. The Holy Spirit that he pours into our hearts is God himself, and he lifts us up into the life of God.

That’s obscure in the sense that it’s hard to think about. But it is the very Gospel. He didn’t just come and preach some nice little thoughts. He didn’t just lift us up so we could be slightly higher than those around us. In fact, it’s not about being higher than anyone. It’s about entering into the life of God. That’s crazy. And it’s the Catholic doctrine of grace. That’s the Holy Spirit we receive. That’s the offer.

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When we say, “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,” first we imagine the glory of God. Then we realize that in that glory is love, and giving, and thanksgiving: Father and Son. And then we affirm that the Spirit is given to us precisely so that we can enter into that relationship of love, and giving, and thanksgiving.

That is Good News, mind-blowing Good News. Settle for nothing less.

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Do you recognize the greatness of the Gospel? That God gives his own Spirit to you?

eric.m.johnston

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