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 #163

True Christian Religion (Chadwick translation)

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163. THE DIVINE TRINITY

I have discussed God the Creator, and at the same time the creation, and then the Lord the Redeemer, and at the same time the process of redemption; and now finally the Holy Spirit, and at the same time how God works. So having discussed God the Three-in-one, I must now also discuss the Divine Trinity, a subject familiar to Christian people, yet actually one they know nothing about. For this is the only way of acquiring a correct idea of God; and a correct idea of God is to the congregation like the sanctuary and altar in a church, or like a crown on the head and a sceptre in the hand of a king, as he sits upon his throne. From this hangs the whole body of theology, like a chain from its anchor-point. If you are prepared to believe me, the idea everyone has of God determines his place in the heavens. It is like the touchstone used to test gold and silver, that is to say, it tests the nature of the good and truth a person has. For he cannot have any good which leads to salvation except from God, nor any truth which does not get its quality from the good deep within it. But to reveal the nature of the Divine Trinity so that it can be seen by both eyes, the discussion must be split up into propositions, as follows.

(i) There is a Divine Trinity consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

(ii) Those three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are the three essentials of a single God, which make one as soul, body and activity do with a person.

(iii) This Trinity did not exist before the creation of the world, but it was provided and made after the creation of the world, when God became incarnate, and then it was in the Lord God, the Redeemer and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

(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.

(v) The Trinity of persons was unknown to the Apostolic church, but was the invention of the Council of Nicaea, leading to its introduction into the Roman Catholic church, and thus to the churches which split from it.

(vi) The Trinity as defined by the Council of Nicaea and by Athanasius caused a faith to arise which has perverted the whole Christian church.

(vii) This is the source of the abomination of desolation and the affliction such as never has been nor shall be, both of which the Lord predicted in Daniel, the Gospels and Revelation.

(viii) Further, unless a new heaven and a new church are founded by the Lord, no flesh can be saved.

(ix) From a Trinity of persons, each of which individually is God, as asserted by the Athanasian Creed, many absurd ideas of various kinds have arisen about God, which are mere fancies and abortions.

These propositions will now be explained one by one.

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