Holy Spirit


By New Christian Bible Study Staff

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 #142

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This is the series of virtues which the Lord produces in those who believe in Him, adapting and making themselves suitable for Him to be received and dwell in them. This is done by means of the Divine truth, and in the case of Christians by the Word; for this is the one and only means which allows a person to approach the Lord, and allows the Lord to come in to him. For, as stated before, the Lord is Divine truth itself, and so is whatever proceeds from Him. But it must be understood as Divine truth acting from good, which is the same as faith inspired by charity; for faith is nothing but truth, and charity is nothing but good. It is by means of Divine truth acting from good, in other words by means of faith inspired by charity that a person's reformation and regeneration is effected, and by this means too he is renewed, quickened and made holy and righteous. As all these processes advance and increase, he is cleansed from evils, and this cleansing is what is meant by the forgiveness of sins.

All of these processes effected by the Lord cannot here be discussed one by one, because each demands its own particular analysis, which must be proved from the Word and have light shed on it by the faculty of reason, and this is not the place for it. The reader is therefore referred to the following chapters of this book, which will deal in turn with charity, faith, free will, repentance, reformation and regeneration. It should be known that the Lord continually effects these means of salvation in the case of each individual, for they are steps to heaven, and the Lord desires the salvation of everyone. Thus the salvation of everyone is the end the Lord has in view, and to will the end is to will the means. His coming, redeeming and passion on the cross were all for the sake of man's salvation (Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10). So because man's salvation was and ever will be His end, it follows that the various activities listed above are the mediate ends, and salvation is the ultimate end.

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Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.