The nature of the Holy Spirit is absolutely central in Christian theology and the development of a proper and orthodox idea of the church. But in terms of basic orthodoxy, one can baldly say that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity who has as his role the sanctification of the believer once his sins are washed away though the act of faith and love. The Holy Spirit is God, not an appendage of God or a “vehicle” for His work, but an independent being who partakes in the essence of the Godhead.
One of the better approaches to understanding the work of the Spirit as an independent actor who partakes in the nature of God is Washburn (1918). In terms of the basic identity fo the Spirit, Washburn holds that the work of God on earth is purely Trinitarian. But in specific reference to the spirit, it must be held that it was he that bought about the incarnation and it was also He that brought about the Resurrection.
Hence, the father did not resurrect Christ, the Son did not resurrect Himself, but the Spirit resurrected Jesus from the tomb. Washburn holds that the work of Christ was done at the behest of the Father and thought he agency and power of the Spirit. This often throws many congregants who really cannot see the nature of the Son here.
But the Son is also truly God, but He does not act alone, but through the power of the Spirit sent from the father to effect the mysteries of salvation: the incarnation, the desert, the passion, the execution the resurrection and ascension. Put differently, the work of God on earth is not Christ-centered, but Trinity centered. This approach is helpful for Christians in that the Spirit is seen in His true light, not just as a “residual” element of the Son’s work on earth.
It might be asked at this point why the Spirit is necessary. It seems at first glance that the dyarchy of Father and Son are sufficient to affect the salvation of mankind. But this is merely a prima facie approach to the problem. The reality is that the relation of Father and Son is a relationship between Origin and Word. It is analogous to the relation between the human mind, and the word, or form of communication of the mind’s contents. But the existence of two things demands a third by definition: if the word is the revelation of the contents of the mind, then this assumes a third entity that holds them together, and this is the realm of the Spirit.
John of Damascus, an 8th century apologist of the Holy Spirit, writes this: class=WordSection2>Moreover the Word must also possess Spirit. For in fact even our word is not destitute of spirit; but in our case the spirit is something different from our essence. For there is an attraction and movement of the air which is drawn in and poured forth that the body may be sustained. And it is this which in the moment of utterance becomes the articulate word, revealing in itself the force of the word.
But in the case of the divine nature, which is simple and uncompound, we must confess in all piety that there exists a Spirit of God, for the Word is not more imperfect than our own word. Now we cannot, in piety, consider the Spirit to be something foreign that gains admission into God from without, as is the case with compound natures like us.
Nay, just as, when we heard of the Word of God, we considered it to be not without subsistence, nor the product of learning, nor the mere utterance of voice, nor as passing into the air and perishing, but as being essentially subsisting, endowed with free volition, and energy, and omnipotence: so also, when we have learnt about the Spirit of God, we contemplate it as the companion of the Word and the revealer of His energy, and not as mere breath without subsistence.
This early apologetic tract tells us a tremendous amount of what we need to know of the Spirit and His necessity in the economy of salvation. If the Father is the mind, the origin whose contents are made known by the Son, the Word (or the principle of communication to men), then the Spirit is what these two entities require to complete their relationship: the bond between them is force, that is, the fact that the Word, uttered by the Mind, has a force, can be understood and have its impact on the hearer.
If this is true, then the Spirit is centrally important to the understanding of the average parishioner. In other words, if the Spirit is here defined as that part of the Godhead and Trinity that deals with the force of the Word, then the spirit naturally becomes the first and primary preacher of the Gospel.
But in the element of re-creating creation the Spirit finds is role as the force of God’s word. Blakey and others hold that the real arena of the spirit’s power is in the presenting of the kingdom of God to men. This “recreation” of the natural world is the presence of Christ within his own creation, remaking it, with the view that all has changed since the resurrection.
Nature itself has changed and the first sin of humanity though Adam and Eve has been undone. But this adds more problems: nature is basically the same as it was in the Old Testament, hence, what does this all mean relative to the Spirit? It means that paradise is open to all believers while still on earth. The fulness of the Godhead is present in nature, but man, still sinful and craven to this world, cannot yet see it. Nature is remade, the Spirit is fully present in natural creation, but this does not cancel out human sin or human free will.
But even more, the Spirit approaches those who are to be ordained to ministry to point that way to the paradise that exists, but remains hidden under human sin. It might be the case that the sin of Adam and Eve has been overturned and the curse annulled, but does this annul human sin? It does not, since it does not annul human free will.
Therefore, there is an immediate connection between the office of the Spirit on earth as pointing to the kingdom of God, and also animating the preacher of the gospel that, above all else, is supposed to show the people that paradise exists through the spirit here on earth since the affects of the curse on our first parents has been overthrown. It is really one in the same office: the spirit points the way to the kingdom of God and hence animates the preacher who is, for his specific congregation, doing the same thing.
But there is also a historical identification of the Holy Spirit that is worth mentioning. The excommunicated Catholic monk Joachim of Flora held that the Spirit, while always God, is also a “status” of history. That is, that the life of the Spirit creates a third and final epoch in human historical development. In other words, Joachim holds that there are three epochs in history: the epoch of the Father, the Old testament, associated with the married life, the epoch of the Son, the New, and associated with the old priesthood, and the final epoch of the Spirit, the “spiritual church” of the future, which will be monastic and not priestly.
Here, the Spirit, like the other two members of the trinity, become embodied in historical epochs. The Spirit’s identity is found in the third, final and utopian stage of history as the full revelation of God, where the things of the world (including the priests) are taken from history and spiritual relations alone rule. This is, historically, an important element of the understanding of the Spirit both in the east and the west . But unlike Dougan above, Joachim holds that the preaching ministry is that of the Son, not the Spirit, only the monks retain the mark of the spirit, living in communion, as “one man.”
Alexander Campbell holds that the Spirit is, so to speak, incarnated in the church as its guiding principle. Similar to Joachim above, the Protestant church is the creation of the spirit in that it no longer needs the earthly priesthood, since the Spirit has Himself opened up the door to paradise on earth for all who believe. Joachim and Campbell hold that the Spirit, given to the Apostles after the resurrection, has completed all things and brought the grace of paradise through Christ to all who believe. Therefore, all that matters is the building of the community based on a singleness of mind in faith in the Gospel and Christ. This is also something that is created by the Spirit and is maintained by Him.
Similar to this, writers such as Kuyper hold that the purpose fo the Spirit is to gather together the elect so as to being to approach the life of grace, fully given by Christ. The Spirit is the spirit of community, not necessarily of the person., Christ was a man. It is He who cleanses and justifies the person.
The spirit is not a physical thing and hence cannot be depicted or even considered except as God in a purely incorporeal form. But from this, one can see that the Spirit is the spirit of the church, the church as a community bound together by spiritual and communal ties and nothing else. Joachim is also important here, and it may even be said that his views were an important precursor to Protestantism in the middle ages. Joachim and Kuyper both hold that the life of the spirit is the life of the community bound together in faith and mutual support.
This mutual support prevents sin and hence continues to open the door to paradise, created by God, made accessible by the Son and revealed to the world by the Spirit. Little more can be said about the Spirit in terms of identity, which, relative to men on earth, is His function, that is, His identity is swallowed up in his function, at least relative to sinful humanity.
In conclusion, this chapter sought to identity the personhood of the Holy Spirit as His function. Only John Damascene dealt with the Spirit as He is Himself: the force and bond of the relation between father and son. The remainder saw the Spirit as a function, and, more specifically, the function of revealing the fulness of the recreation of material nature and human community made possible by the Son. Joachim is important as a precursor to the Protestant reformation, since the former identified the Spirit with a function of ushering a new age of history, the “spiritual age” where human beings do not need rulers or priests, but only the bond of faith to eliminate sin and finally open the door to paradise.
Barth, Karl. The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life. John Knox Press, 1993
Blakley, Given O. God’s Everlasting Kingdom. (College Press, 2008)
Campbell, Alexander. The Christian System. Simkin and Marshall Press, 1843
Damascene, John. Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. Trans FD Salmond. Aberdeen 1898.
Daniel, E. Randolph. “The Double Procession of the Holy Spirit in Joachim of Fiore’s Understanding of History. Speculum. (55, 3, 1980) 469-483
Clark, Dougan. On the Offices of the Holy Spirit. Henry Longstrath, 1880.
Kuyper, Abraham. The Work of the Holy Spirit. Cosimo Press, 1900
Washburn, William Ives. The Holy Sprit: A Laymen’s Conception. Putnam and Sons, 1918