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 #153

True Christian Religion (Chadwick translation)

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153. (v) THE LORD WORKS OF HIMSELF FROM THE FATHER, AND NOT THE REVERSE.

Working here means much the same as sending the Holy Spirit, since the activities listed above, which are in general reformation, regeneration, renewal, quickening, sanctification, justification, [cleansing] from evils, forgiveness of sins [and salvation], are the Lord's doing, though at the present time they are attributed to the Holy Spirit as an independent God. These things are performed by the Lord from the Father, and not the reverse, as will first be proved from the Word and then illustrated by many reasoned arguments. The following passages from the Word will serve:

When the Comforter comes whom I shall send from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes forth from the Father, he will bear witness about me, John 15:26.

If I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go away, I will send him to you, John 16:7.

The Comforter, the Spirit of truth, will not speak of himself, but he will receive of mine and tell it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; it is for this reason that I said that he would receive of mine and tell it to you, John 16:13-15.

The Holy Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified, John 7:39.

Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, Receive the Holy Spirit, John 20:22.

Whatever you ask in my name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I shall do it, John 14:13-14.

[2] These passages show clearly that it is the Lord who sends the Holy Spirit, that is to say, performs the works which at the present day are attributed to the Holy Spirit as an independent God. For He said that He would send him from the Father; that He would send him to you; that the Holy Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified; that after He was glorified He breathed on the disciples and said, Receive the Holy Spirit; He also said, Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, and also that the Comforter will receive of mine what he is to tell. The Comforter is identical with the Holy Spirit; see John 14:26. The following passages show that God the Father does not confer these benefits of Himself acting through the Son, but the Son does so of Himself from the Father:

No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the Father's bosom, He has revealed Him, John 1:18.

Elsewhere:

You have never heard the Father's voice, nor have you seen His appearance, John 5:37.

[3] So it follows from these passages that God the Father works in the Son and upon the Son, not through the Son; but the Lord works of Himself

from His Father, for He says:

All things of the Father's are mine, John 16:15. The Father has given all things into the hand of the Son, John 3:35.

Also:

As the Father has life in Himself, so did He grant the Son to have life in Himself, John 5:26.

The words which I speak are spirit and life, John 6:63.

The Lord says that the Spirit of truth comes forth from the Father (John 15:26), because it comes forth from the Father into the Son, and out of the Son from the Father. For this reason too He says:

On that day you will know that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father, and you are in me and I am in you, John 14:11, 20.

These plain sayings of the Lord's show up the manifest error of the Christian world, that it is God the Father who sends the Holy Spirit to men, as well as the error of the Greek church, that God the Father sends Him without any mediation. This teaching, that the Lord of Himself sends the Holy Spirit from God the Father, and not the reverse, has come to me from heaven; the angels call it a secret, because it has not previously been revealed in the world.

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