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 #139

True Christian Religion (Chadwick translation)

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139. (i) THE HOLY SPIRIT IS DIVINE TRUTH, AND ALSO THE DIVINE POWER AND ACTIVITY WHICH PROCEEDS FROM THE ONE GOD, IN WHOM IS THE DIVINE TRINITY, AND SO FROM THE LORD GOD THE SAVIOUR.

The Holy Spirit means properly the Divine Truth, so also the Word; and in this sense the Lord is Himself also the Holy Spirit. But the present-day church uses the term 'Holy Spirit' to describe the way God works, that is, the actual process of making a person righteous, so this is the meaning given here to the Holy Spirit, and this will be the principal subject discussed. Another reason is that the activity of God takes place by means of the Divine Truth which proceeds from the Lord; and that which proceeds is of one and the same essence as He from whom it proceeds. This is like the trio of soul, body and what proceeds making up a single essence, which in the case of a human being is purely human, but in the case of the Lord is Divine and human at the same time, these essences after His glorification being united as what is prior is with what follows from it, or like essence and the appropriate form. So the three essentials called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in the Lord.

[2] I showed before that the Lord is the Divine Truth itself or Divine Verity. The following passages will prove that the Holy Spirit is Divine Truth.

A shoot will come forth from the stock of Jesse. The spirit of Jehovah will rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and intelligence, the spirit of counsel and power. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be the belt around his loins, and truth the belt around his thighs, Isaiah 11:1-2, 4-5.

He shall come like a narrow stream, the spirit of Jehovah shall advance his standard against him, then shall the Redeemer come from Zion, Isaiah 59:19-20.

The spirit of the Lord Jehovih is upon me. Jehovah has anointed me. He has sent me to preach the gospel to the poor, Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18.

This is my covenant. My spirit which is upon you and my words shall not depart from your mouth from now on for ever, Isaiah 59:21.

[3] Since the Lord is Truth itself, then everything that proceeds from Him is truth, and this is what is meant by the Comforter, who is also called the Spirit of Truth and the Holy Spirit. The following passages will prove this:

I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I should go away. For if I were not to go away, the Comforter will not come to you. But if I go away, I will send him to you, John 16:7.

When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will lead you to all truth. He will not speak of himself, but will say whatever he has heard, John 16:13.

He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and communicate it to you. All things that the Father has are mine. This is why I have said that he will take from what is mine and communicate it to you, John 16:14-15.

I will ask the Father to give you another Comforter, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you and will be in you. I shall not leave you bereft, I am coming to you and you will see me, John 14:16-19.

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

He is called the Holy Spirit, John 14:26.

[4] The Lord meant Himself by 'the Comforter' or 'the Holy Spirit', as is clear from His own saying about the world not yet knowing him, 'But you know Him'; 'I will not leave you bereft, I am coming to you'; 'You will see Me'; and elsewhere 'Behold I am with you every day until the ending of the age' (Matthew 28:20). This is further shown by the expression 'He will not speak of Himself, but that which He receives from me.'

(References: Isaiah 59:19-21; John 14:17-19, 16:13-15)

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