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 #138

True Christian Religion (Chadwick translation)

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138. CHAPTER THREE

THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE WAY GOD WORKS

On entering the spiritual world, which generally happens on the third day after death, all ordained priests, who have had a fairly correct idea of the Lord our Saviour, are first taught about the Divine Trinity; and in particular that the Holy Spirit is not God in His own right, but when mentioned in the Word means the Divine activity which proceeds from the one omnipresent God. The reason why they particularly need to be taught about the Holy Spirit is that most of those who claim inspiration fall after death into the crazy fancy that they are themselves the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that many in the church, who while in the world believed that the Holy Spirit spoke through them, frighten other people by quoting the Lord's saying in Matthew, that speaking against what they say by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin (Matthew 12:31-32). Those who after receiving instruction abandon their belief that the Holy Spirit is God in His own right, are then told about the oneness of God, that He is not divided into three Persons, each of which is individually God and Lord, as the Athanasian Creed asserts, but that the Divine Trinity is contained in the Lord the Saviour, just as soul, body and the power they exert are in any human being. They are then prepared to receive the faith of the new heaven, and when this preparation is complete, the way is opened for them to reach a community in heaven which has a similar faith, and they are given a place to live with their companions, with whom they are destined to live in a blessed state to eternity.

Now having dealt with God the Creator and the Lord the Redeemer, I must deal with the Holy Spirit. This subject, like the previous ones, needs to be split up into a series of propositions, as follows:

(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.

(ii) The Divine power and activity meant by the Holy Spirit are, generally speaking, reformation and regeneration, which lead to renewal, quickening, sanctification and justification; and these lead to purification from evils and the forgiveness of sins, and ultimately to salvation.

(iii) The Divine power and activity meant by the sending of the Holy Spirit, with the clergy takes the particular form of enlightenment and instruction.

(iv) The Lord confers these benefits on those who believe in Him.

(v) The Lord works of Himself from the Father, and not the reverse.

(vi) A person's spirit is his mind, and whatever comes from it.

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