Commentary

Holy Spirit

Henry Ossawa Tanner (United States, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, 1859 - 1937) 
Daniel in the Lions' Den, 1907-1918. Painting, Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 41 1/8 x 49 7/8 in.

The nature of the Holy Spirit is a topic where there's a marked difference between standard Christian theology and the New Christian perspective. The "official" dogma of most Christian teaching is that the Holy Spirit is one of the three persons that make up one God, in the role of reaching out to people with the power of God to bring them into a desire for righteousness. He is perceived to be proceeding from the other two: God the Father and Jesus the Son.

That old formulation was the result of three centuries of debate among early Christians, as they tried to understand the nature of God. At that time, there was a sizeable minority that rejected the God-in-three-persons view, but -- the majority won out, at the Council of Nicea, in 325 AD.

The New Christian teaching is more akin to some of the old minority viewpoints. It regards the Holy Spirit as a force, or activity, coming from God -- not a separate being. This aligns with our everyday understanding of "spirit" as the projection of someone's personality. It also accounts for the fact that the term "the Holy Spirit" does not occur in Old Testament, which instead uses phrases such "the spirit of God," "the spirit of Jehovah" and "the spirit of the Lord," where the idea of spirit connected closely with the person of God.

The Writings describe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three attributes of one person: the soul, body and spirit of the one God. They also say that the term "Holy Spirit" emerges in the New Testament because it is connected with the Lord's advent in the physical body of Jesus, and because of the way that advent changed the way we can learn the Lord's truth and become good people.

According to the Writings, the churches that came before the advent were "representative." The people in them (in the best of those churches, anyway) knew that the Lord had created the world, and that the world was thus an image of the Lord, and they had the ability to look at that created world and understand its spiritual messages; they could look at the world and understand the Lord. And they did it without trying and with great depth, much the way we can read a book when what we're actually seeing is a bunch of black squiggles on a white sheet of paper.

That ability was eventually twisted into idol-worship and magic, however, as people slid into evil. The Lord used the Children of Israel to preserve symbolic forms of worship, but even they didn't know the deeper meaning of the rituals they followed. With the world thus bereft of real understanding, the Lord took on a human body so He could offer people new ideas directly. That's why the Writings say that He represents divine truth ("the Word became flesh," as it is put in John 1:14).

The Holy Spirit at heart also represents divine truth, the truth offered by the Lord through his ministry in the world and its record in the New Testament. The term "the Holy Spirit" is also used in a more general sense to mean the divine activity and the divine effect, which work through true teachings to have an impact on our lives.

Such a direct connection between the Lord and us was not something that could come through representatives; it had to come from the Lord as a man walking the earth during His physical life or - in modern times - through the image we have of Him as a man in His physical life. That's why people did not receive the Holy Spirit before the Lord's advent.

What we have now, though, is a full-blown idea of the Lord, with God the Father representing His soul, the Son representing his body, and the Holy Spirit representing His actions and His impact on people.

(References: Teachings about the Lord 58; True Christian Religion 138, 139, 140, 142, 153, 158, 163, 164, 166, 167, 168, 170, 172)

From Swedenborg's Works

True Christian Religion #172

True Christian Religion (Chadwick translation)

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172. (iv) A TRINITY OF DIVINE PERSONS FROM ETERNITY, OR EXISTING BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD, IMPLIES THINKING ABOUT A TRINITY OF GODS; AND THIS THOUGHT CANNOT BE BANISHED BY A VERBAL CONFESSION OF BELIEF IN ONE GOD.

It is perfectly plain from the following passage in the Athanasian Creed that a Trinity of Divine persons from eternity is a Trinity of Gods:

There is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. The Father is God and Lord, the Son is God and Lord, and the Holy Spirit is God and Lord; yet there are not three Gods and Lords, but one God and Lord, because just as we are forced by Christian verity to confess each person singly to be God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the catholic religion to speak of three Gods or three Lords.

This creed has been accepted by the whole Christian church as worldwide and universal, and it is the source of all current knowledge and acknowledgment of God. Anyone who reads it merely with his eyes open can see that the members of the Council of Nicaea, which gave birth as it were posthumously to the so-called Athanasian Creed, understood the Trinity as a Trinity of Gods. It follows that not only did they understand the Trinity as a Trinity of Gods, but that no other idea of the Trinity is current in the Christian world, because this creed is the source from which all gain their knowledge of God, and everyone subscribes to the belief indicated by its wording.

[2] If anyone doubts that the current belief of the Christian world is in a Trinity of Gods, let me appeal to any witness, lay as well as clerical, to the masters and doctors of universities as well as consecrated bishops and archbishops, and to cardinals in their purple, indeed to the Roman Pontiff himself. Let each consider the matter and then pronounce as the ideas in his mind dictate. Is it not as clear and transparent as water in a crystal goblet, if we follow the words of this universally accepted doctrine about God? For instance, it states that there are three persons, and each of these is God and Lord; and that in accordance with Christian verity they ought to confess or acknowledge each person singly as God and Lord, but the catholic or Christian religion or faith prohibits speaking of or naming three Gods and Lords. So verity and religion, or verity and faith, are not one, but two mutually opposed things. The additional clause, that there are not three Gods and Lords, but one God and Lord, has been inserted to prevent its authors being exposed to ridicule before the whole world, for anyone would laugh at the idea of three Gods. Can anyone fail to see the contradiction in this addition?

[3] If, however, they had said that the Father had a Divine essence, the Son had a Divine essence and the Holy Spirit had a Divine essence, but there were not three Divine essences, but a single and indivisible one, then this mystery might have been capable of explanation, to be precise, by understanding the Father as the originating Divine, the Son as the Divine Human from that origin, and the Holy Spirit as the Divine which proceeds from them, since these three belong to a single God. Or again, if we understand by the Father's Divine something resembling the soul in man, by the Divine Human something resembling the body belonging to that soul, and by the Holy Spirit something resembling the activity which comes from both, then the three essences become intelligible as belonging to one and the same person, and so making up a single, indivisible essence.

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