Sunday, September 27, 2015

God the Holy Ghost

The creed approved at Nicea ended with “and the Holy Ghost.” At Constantinople, the bishops added clarifications that would, seven centuries later, cause many headaches.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.

Nicea merely named the Person. Constantinople went into the coexistence and coequality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son.

The term Holy Spirit was not new, to Jews or Christians.

The Holy Spirit is implicit in Genesis 1:1, which uses Elohim, a plural, for God. Explicitly, the Holy Spirit appears in Gen. 1:2 (“the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters”) and on numerous occasions when there are references to inspiration, prophecy and wisdom. The Hebrew for “spirit” is ruach, which also means “wind”—hence the idea of divine inspiration, from the Latin inspirare, “to breathe into.”

In the New Testament the Holy Spirit appears some 90 times—but in Greek, the original language of almost all the NT: Pneuma Hagion. Let’s break that down: pneuma means—you guessed—“wind,” “breath” and figuratively “spirit”; hagion means “holy” or “sacred,” which we already know means “set apart.”

In English, we have Holy Ghost, from the Germanic Geist, and Holy Spirit, from the Latin spiritus. The King James Bible, completed in 1611, uses both interchangeably. It was only in the 20th century, when “ghost” came to refer exclusively to the dead, that translators and liturgists began to prefer Holy Spirit. There is no theological distinction; it’s just a matter of usage.

The Creed attempts a summation of the trinity, a teaching that—contrary to appearances—was not invented at either Nicea or Constantinople. The very colorful James Pike, Episcopal bishop of California in the late 1950s and half of the 60s, started prayer and services simply “In the name of God”; he argued that the apostles would not have understood the Niceo-Constantinopolitan trinitarian formula.

Although Pike had an arguable point, the kernel of the trinitarian idea is found in the gospels (particularly Matthew 28:19) and other books of the NT. Jesus, as the Son of God, conceivably spoke out of knowledge we do not possess about the Godhead, using terms that may have seemed mysterious to his puzzled followers, which they simply repeated assuming Jesus knew what he was doing—in any case the disciples did not record an explanation.

Many attempts, including the Nicene Creed in my opinion, have failed to explain the trinity. I will not try; if I am ever in the presence of God, I call dibs on asking what this is all about.

For our historical purposes, we need only note that the formula here attempts to respond to claims that the bishops judged heterodox. Note, for example, as with the Son earlier, there is an explicit reference to the Spirit as creator (“the giver of Life”) to emphasize the Third Person’s eternal coexistence with the other two.

A last point concerns, again, the grammatical gender. In Old Testament Hebrew and Jesus’ Aramaic, the word for “spirit” is feminine; in Greek it is neuter; in Latin and derivations, it is masculine. Thus, in theory and historically, the Holy Spirit has often been associated with holy wisdom, which is feminine, but also with the paternity of God as “life giver,” which is masculine.

Importantly also, the teaching of the trinity does not propose three gods, but three divine Persons in a triune God. (Don’t ask.) However, some rabbis of Jesus’ and Nicea’s time argued that Christians abandoned monotheism and, to this day, this remains at the heart of why Judaism regards Christianity as apostasy.

Most Christians experience God as a parent; as someone who understands us, adoptive children, much the way a sibling might; and, finally, as one who lifts us up to consider things far beyond our daily tribulations and worries.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

At last, here is an action of the Holy Spirit, or God’s spirit of wisdom, as an inspirer of prophetic voices in the history of faith. Consider the “small still voice” heard in 1 Kings 19:11-13:
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

What, indeed.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

He was later known both as the giver and the gift.