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Lecture V: The Holy Spirit


At Nicaea in the year 325 the Christians explicitly asserted their belief that Jesus Christ was and is God in the full sense of the word. At Chalcedon in 451 they made equally clear their belief that the life He had lived on earth was a genuinely human life. Almost midway between these two dates, at Constantinople in 381, the doctrine of the Trinity was made complete by the recognition of the Holy Spirit as the co-equal Third Person in the godhead. Our ultimate aim is to discover how this element of doctrine fits in with the rest of the Christian faith, and whether it will help us to make sense of the universe of our experience. We must begin by considering its history, remembering that, if it be true, it comes to us from God as He seeks to make Himself known to us through minds conditioned by the circumstances of their outlook.

God gives His revelation by doing things and inspiring men to see their significance. He reveals Himself as Creator in the universe as it is studied by scientists, historians, artists and philosophers. He reveals Himself as Redeemer through those events to which the Bible bears witness. If we look to the New Testament for the historical origin of the Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit we shall not simply ask what this or that writer or speaker said about it. In order to interpret their evidence we need to understand their minds. For this purpose we must learn all that we can from biblical scholars about the contemporary meaning of words like ruach, nephesh and pneuma. But all this is preparatory to asking what, so far as we can see, was actually being done, and what the truth must have been and be if men who thought and spoke as they did put it like that.

For two reasons, one general and one particular, our starting-point will be the outlook of the primitive Christian Church. It is my thesis in general that the revelation which forms the substance of Christian theology is given in a series of events which is still going on. We trace it back approximately to the call of Abraham; we see its climax in the coming of Christ; we follow its continuance in all that issues from Him in the history of His Church. Among the revelatory events to which the Bible bears witness, the history of the New Testament Church must be included as equally significant with what went before. Secondly, I pointed out in my first lecture last year that primarily the New Testament is evidence for what was in the minds of the members of that Church. The gospels give us the picture of Christ as seen through their eyes. It is no good our thinking that by our methods of critical analysis we can isolate earlier passages of greater evidential value to be the basis of our reconstructed history. ‘The starting-point for the historical study of Christian theology is the faith of the Church as set forth in the books of the New Testament.’1

According to the evidence provided by these witnesses the presence of the Spirit in the Church was a noticeable phenomenon. ‘Received ye the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?’ says St. Paul to the Galatians2—a question without sense in an argument without point, unless there were something definite and noticeable to which they would know that he was referring. In Acts viii. 17–19, in the account of the visit of St. Peter and St. John to Samaria, we read: ‘Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the Apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.’ Two chapters further on, in x. 44, 45, in Cornelius' house at Caesarea: ‘While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.’

What was it of which St. Paul was reminding his Galatian converts? What was it that Simon Magus saw in Samaria, and the Jewish Christians, who had come with St. Peter, in Caesarea? In this last case we are given an answer to the question: ‘For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God’. This takes our thought back from chapters viii and x of Acts to the account of the first coming of the Spirit to the Christian community on the day of Pentecost in chapter ii. Just precisely what happened on that occasion it is impossible now to determine. We cannot say for certain how far the account comes from those who were themselves present, or to what extent the story had grown before it reached the shape in which it appears in Acts.3 Even supposing that it comes substantially from those on whom the Spirit came, the most we can say is that they spoke of an experience which, as they looked back on it, they could only describe as the hearing of the sound of a mighty rushing wind and the vision of tongues of flame. What was noticed by others was that they spoke with tongues in praise of God.

Whatever the facts, there is no doubt of the interpretation put upon them. These outward phenomena were evidence that the Spirit had been sent to His followers on earth from His Father in Heaven by the crucified, risen and ascended Christ (Acts ii. 32–36), in fulfilment of Joel's prophecy concerning the messianic age (ii. 16 ff.), and of the promises of the Lord Himself (i. 5, 8). Through this they were bound together in what here is simply called ‘the fellowship’ (ii. 42), but is more explicitly described by St. Paul as ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’.4 Christianity began as the faith of a body of men and women who believed themselves to be the messianic community, the heirs to the promises of God to His chosen people, united to one another and to their risen, ascended Lord by His gift of the Spirit. It was to the body corporate that the Spirit was given, in order to constitute them the messianic community, the new and true Israel. In the name of Christ they were to preach the gospel of God's promise of forgiveness to all who should repent, and baptize them into the fellowship of forgiven sinners which was the fellowship of the Spirit.

In the next lecture we shall be considering further the bearing of this on the origin and nature of the Christian Church. Our present concern is with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

A rushing mighty wind, tongues of flame and speaking with tongues in praise of God are given as noticeable outward phenomena at Pentecost. The last of these is explicitly mentioned in the case of Cornelius and his household, and the presence of the other two may be meant to be implied by the phrase ‘the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us’ in xi. 15. Something of the same kind is mentioned in connection with St. Paul's baptism of Ephesian converts in Acts xix. 6. All this suggests that it was probably some kind of ecstatic behaviour which aroused the admiration and envy of Simon Magus in Samaria. I remember hearing Dr. Burton Easton remark that in all probability the ecstatic leaps and shouts of converts as they emerged from the baptismal waters were to the earliest Christians the convincing evidence of the gift of the Spirit.

Are we to conclude that this was what St. Paul had in mind in his question to the Galatians? And what are we to make of it for our own belief?

Forget, for the moment, St. Paul. Remember that what we have to ask is what the truth must have been, and be, if men who thought as they did put it like that. Our concern is not with what the New Testament Christians thought about it. That is important as a matter of exegesis, and a scholarly exegesis is a necessary preliminary to any sound interpretation of the evidence. But what we want to know is what was actually going on, whether or no they realized it at the time.

To discover this we have to take into account some further evidence hitherto unmentioned, evidence concerned with what they were and did rather than with what they thought about it. I refer to the change wrought in the disciples themselves. According to the order of events given in Acts the turning point of the story was the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The Fourth Gospel suggests that there may have been no such interval of time as is presupposed in Acts between Christ's resurrection, ascension and gift of the Spirit. The point is irrelevant for our present purpose. What we have to notice is the contrast between the disciples before and the disciples after a certain event regarded as the gift of the Spirit by the risen Lord. It makes no difference whether the change came early or late. If in discussing it I make use of the account in Acts it is because its extension in time, like a slow-motion film, enables one to see some details more clearly. The two words which most succinctly describe this change are insight and initiative. In the last lecture I was maintaining that for Christ His messiahship meant the giving of Himself to bring men rescue from their sinfulness, and that from the start the Christian gospel was the message that this freedom had been won. In spite of all that I then said about His disciples following Him because in this He appealed to what they were aware of as their deepest need, the evidence shows that throughout His earthly ministry they continued unable to see in it the fulfilment of His messianic work. St. Peter's acknowledgment of His messiahship is coupled with such misunderstanding of its nature that Christ rebukes him as the mouthpiece of Satan and not of God. ‘How is it’, he asks more than once, ‘that ye do not understand?’ When in the end He puts up no fight but allows Himself to be arrested, ‘they all forsook Him and fled’. Still less had they grasped the truth that they were called to be sharing in His work of reconciliation, seeing the world as He saw it and going out in His name to carry on His work. When by His resurrection their faith was restored that after all this ‘had been He who should redeem Israel’, they were still asking such questions as ‘Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?’5 They were without insight into the meaning of His work, without initiative to go and carry it on. All they could do was to wait about from one appearance of the risen Lord to another, hoping to be told something more of His plans.

Contrast the picture of these same men as given by the author of Acts after their pentecostal experience: St. Peter preaching the gospel of God's forgiveness as the central content of the Christian faith, and saying to the cripple, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk’.6

Whether we follow the Lucan or the Johannine time-scheme, this change in the disciples seems to me to be an undoubted fact of history which we have to interpret. If we are to take all the evidence into account, we have to include the fact that its coming is associated with certain ecstatic phenomena regarded as marking the coming of the Spirit from the risen, ascended Christ. What is to be our understanding of the evidence as a whole?

Let us now go back to St. Paul. In Acts we have a narrative of events compiled from such evidence as its author has been able to collect. He gives us this two-sided picture of men seeing visions, hearing sounds, and uttering strange cries in praise of God, while at the same time they are undergoing an inward spiritual change of the significance of which neither they nor he seem to be fully aware. In turning from Acts to the Pauline epistles we turn from the narrator of other men's stories to one who gives us the result of his reflection upon events of which he has had personal experience. In 1 Corinthians xiv he shows clearly that he knows all about such behaviour as ‘speaking with tongues’, but for evidence of the working of the Spirit regards it as of less importance than intelligible speech. To this negative judgment on irrational phenomena he adds, in 1 Corinthians xii and Galatians v. 22 ff., a commendation of socially valuable activities and the practice of virtue as positive marks of the Spirit's presence. In all this St. Paul is in agreement with the author of the first Johannine epistle who in iv. 1–3 bids his readers test all alleged spirit-messages by their consistency with the revelation of God in Christ. The content is to be the criterion of the source.7

Like St. Paul the Johannine writer was a thinker rather than a narrator. We may surely take these two as representing the considered judgment of the New Testament Church on the kind of events depicted in the narrative of Acts. Their verdict, I suggest, would be this. They would not deny either the occurrence of the ecstatic phenomena or their significance as evidence of possession by some supernatural spirit. But the proof that He who was at work in them was none other than the Holy Spirit of God was not to be found in these accompaniments of His presence; it lay in the fact that both in what they said and what they did they showed an intelligent and intelligible grasp of the revelation of God in Christ, that (to use a Pauline phrase) they ‘had the mind of Christ’.8 It may be that the enlightenment of the eyes of their mind to see themselves as the messianic community, the new Israel, the fellowship of forgiven sinners charged with the proclamation of the message of God's forgiveness—it may be that this enlightenment came to them accompanied by visions and sounds which moved them to ecstatic behaviour; it may be that at their baptism into the fellowship new converts were often similarly moved to ecstatic cries and leaps; it may be that there had been events of this kind which St. Paul recalled to the memory of the Galatians. But the tenour of the epistle taken as a whole makes it clear that this could only have been a part, indeed, a minor part, of what he had in mind. He addresses the Galatians as men who by their faith in Christ are in a special sense sons of God, sharing by adoption in the sonship which is Christ's by nature. Awareness of this sonship is the mark of their membership in the Christian community. He exhorts them to stand fast in the liberty which they enjoy in that fellowship of forgiven sinners. All their experience of a new quality of life, their realization of what it is to be (in language he uses elsewhere) ‘new creatures’9 must be included in what St. Paul means when he asks about their receiving of the Spirit.

If, then, the starting-point for the historical study of Christian theology is the faith of the Church as set forth in the books of the New Testament, the origin of the doctrine of the Spirit must be looked for in the faith of the first Christians that they had been constituted the New Israel by the gift of the Spirit from their crucified, risen and ascended Lord. By baptism into their number the new convert found himself sharing in the life of a community which saw the point of Christ's ministry from a new angle. In this fellowship of forgiven sinners he found a psychological release that issued in what St. Paul calls the ‘fruit of the Spirit’. This Christian community, this new Israel, came into existence as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

While this may be the starting-point for the historical study of the doctrine, we want to know more than that. We want to know how far the doctrine tells the truth about God. We have seen that the doctrine sprang from the first Christians interpreting their experience as the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy and the promise of Christ. We must look back to the story of Christ's earthly life as they present it to us in the gospel records, asking what light this may throw upon the question before us.


‘As they present it to us.’ More than once I have spoken of the change in the study of the gospels between my youth and the present time, of how we have given up trying to isolate primitive strata uncoloured by the outlook of worshippers in the early Church and now treat the whole as giving us Christ's ministry as, looking back, they saw it.10 We who to-day are Christians are so because we share their understanding of what with them we believe to be historical facts. We who are Christian theologians have to turn our critical eye on their beliefs and ours, asking how much has to be discounted as miscolouring of the evidence, and what deeper insight we may be given into what that evidence reveals.

Here let me emphasize the importance of a principle I have already mentioned in passing, that in the study of the evidence for what our Lord said and did we should begin by relating each instance to its particular circumstances. We are not to take His sayings out of their historical context and treat them as celestial ex cathedra pronouncements applicable to all times and places. On the contrary, by the use of our historical imagination, disciplined and controlled by all that we can learn of the circumstances of the time from professional historians, we are to put ourselves back into His context, try to see His actual situation as he saw it, and understand what He said and did as His response to it. It is this narrowing down of their immediate reference which gives His words and deeds their widest application. When we grasp the principle involved on the one particular occasion we can see its analogous implications for other and quite different circumstances. Consider St. Luke xii. 11, 12. By this time it had become clear to our Lord—as is reflected in St. John xv. 20–24—that persistence in His messianic claims will involve persecution for Himself and His followers. He is thinking and speaking of what will happen to them when He is gone, and says: ‘When they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say’. To understand this passage we have to take it in connection with St. John xvi. 7 and St. Matthew xii. 22–32.

Whether or no the Fourth Gospel contains ipsissima verba of Christ, I have no doubt that over and over again it rightly expresses His thoughts as He lived His human life on earth.11 St. Matthew xii. 22–32 shows how during that life He thought of Himself as doing His rescuing work by the guidance and power of the Spirit. ‘I don't mind what you say about me’, He says, ‘but don't you dare to blaspheme against the Spirit that is working in me, for it is none other than the Holy Spirit of God’. The gospel picture of Christ is the picture of One who saw this world as His heavenly Father's world in which the Father's work was waiting to be found and done; who saw it and found it and did it by the guidance and power of the Spirit who was the vinculum, the bond of union, of Him on earth with the Father in heaven. I have shown elsewhere how, given belief in the godhead of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity comes by projecting this relationship into eternity, thinking away from it elements incidental to the spatio-temporal character of the human life.12 The point to notice now is that in St. John xvi Christ's promise to His disciples is that life on earth is to be for them what it has been for Him, the finding and doing of the Father's work by the guidance and power of the Spirit. They are to pass from second-hand dependence on His presence in the flesh to first-hand sharing in His way of life. Verse 7: ‘It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Paraclete will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you’ gives utterance to His realization that the time is coming when His presence in the flesh will be more of a hindrance than a help to their gaining the insight into the Father's will and the initiative to go and do it which He wills to share with them.

Returning to St. Luke xii. 11, 12, we see this as falling within the general promise that His disciples are to be taken to share in His way of life. At the moment He happens to be thinking of occasions when they will be put on trial for their discipleship. They are not to He awake at night trying to make up answers to accusations they have not yet heard: they are to trust to being able, when they hear the speech for the prosecution, to be able to see in it what reply it demands, and they are to be able to do this because they are Spirit-guided men. From narrowing down the immediate reference of the saying to these particular occasions we see how wide are its implications. For His disciples, as for Himself, life is to be a series of opportunities of seeing in every situation what the Father wants done.

All this is our interpretation of what was actually going on as it is revealed to us through the records of how the first Christians felt and thought about it at the time. They were a body of men and women bound together in devotion to their crucified, risen and ascended Lord whom they believed to have constituted them the messianic community by sending them His Spirit in fulfilment of God's promises to His people made through such prophets as Joel. Doubtless they thought of the Spirit in much the same way as the writer of Judges thought of the spirit of Jahweh coming on Samson, or as Ezekiel thought of God's Spirit as taking him up to hear voices or reanimating dead bones: that is to say, as a kind of power or effluence through which a unipersonal God worked His will on earth and not as a distinct Person in a triune godhead. Interpreting all that had come to them in terms of the Old Testament background of their thought, they believed that as the messianic community, the remnant of the old Israel which was now the new and true Israel, God had bound them to Himself by a new covenant replacing the old covenant of Sinai. The essence of this new covenant relationship was that by the act of God in Christ they were cleansed from their sins and reconciled to God, and charged with the proclamation of God's love and forgiveness to draw others into the fellowship. In the context of all this way of thinking they put down recollections of what Christ had said about the Spirit as working in Himself and to be given to His followers.

From that day to this Christian theology has been engaged in discovering the significance of what had happened to those men. In The Doctrine of the Trinity I have written of its implications for the doctrine of God and will not go over that ground again now. I want now to speak of the working of the Spirit in creation rather than of His place in the inner life of God.

I have traced back the origin of the Christian doctrine of the Spirit to the interpretation by St. Peter and St. Paul of the experience and behaviour of the first Christians. They ascribed this to their receipt of the gift of His Spirit from Christ. Our first question is whether this witnesses to the coming of something genuinely new in human history.

I believe that it does, and that the evidence of the newness lies in their ascription of the coming of the Spirit to the gift of Christ. Once again we are driven back to face the central affirmation of Christian faith, that in Jesus Christ we see God Himself personally entering upon the experience of life as man on earth. If this be true, His coming was an event unique in history, something which had never happened before. Whatever took its beginning from it shared in its newness. In His human life He was united to the Father in heaven by the Spirit through whom with His human eyes and strength He found and did the Father's will. The New Testament is written by men who use different metaphors and images to testify to their conviction that they are enjoying a new kind of life: they have been ‘born again’, they are ‘in Christ’, they are ‘members of the body of Christ’. ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are put away, behold, all things are become new.’ Whatever they may have thought about it, the evidence seems to me to show that the meaning of the newness of which they were conscious was that they had been taken by Christ to share in His outlook and His way of life.

This was, however, only the beginning—the beginning of a process which has been continuing ever since and is still going on. I have distinguished between the two modes of God's self-revelation: the revelation of His creative activity which we receive through study of the universe in general, and the revelation of His redemptive activity given in the events to which the Bible bears witness. In both His method is the same: He reveals Himself by doing things and inspiring men to grasp the significance of what He does. When considering revelation in general, I have shown how in this inspiring of men to grasp the significance of His doings, God acts in a way which expresses His determination to create them into persons endowed with genuine freedom. He allows their outlook to be conditioned by their circumstances, and waits for growth in understanding to come through men gifted with a flair for diagnosis. What we have now to notice is that His method is the same in His redemptive as in His creative self-revelation. The new thing in Christian theology, as compared with natural theology in general, is not only that Christians interpret everything by the light of the recognition of God in Christ, but that they are inspired by the Spirit who comes to them from God through Christ. If I may put it so, they are inspired by the Spirit who sees as God sees when looking out from inside human life, who has perfect knowledge of the mind of Christ. But He allows their reception of His inspiration to be conditioned and coloured by their outlook; He lets growth in understanding come by stripping off various layers of miscolouring of what men see, so that we are still in process of discovering what Christianity really is.

As we look back over the early history of Christian theology we see developments in the doctrine of the Spirit which are of importance for our thought. It began with the recognition of the Spirit as inspiring the Christian fellowship, moving its members to ecstatic behaviour, illuminating their minds with understanding of Christ, and strengthening their wills in the practice of virtue. From this have issued two divergent lines of thought, which both persist to-day. In the one, the recognition of what I have called newness is exaggerated into an assertion of wholly-otherness. There are passages in theologians of the catholic tradition which imply that the Church has an exclusive claim to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and there are protestant theologians for whom all natural theology not based on biblical sources is a ploughing of sands of error. The other, which I believe to be the true one—I shall have more to say about it in the next lecture—goes the opposite way. It fully recognizes the distinctive newness of the gift of the Spirit through Christ to His Church, but (to use a colloquialism) it regards this as giving to Christians an ‘inside knowledge’ of the Spirit which enables them to recognize His working elsewhere.

We can trace the extension of this line of thought into three expanding spheres. First, like Christ Himself in His earthly life, the Church hears the voice of the Spirit speaking through the prophets of the Old Testament. This finds expression in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed of 381, when to the affirmation of faith in the Holy Spirit as Lord and Giver of life are added the words ‘who spake by the prophets’. Meanwhile, the coming of the original Jewish-Christian Church into the Gentile world had brought it into contact with the traditions of Greek, Roman and oriental thought. In Clement of Alexandria and others we find appreciation of apprehensions of truth by Greek philosophers. I have a strong suspicion that Origen's most valuable contribution to the doctrine of the Trinity, the interpretation of sonship as ‘eternal generation’, was an enrichment of Christian thought from the neoplatonism of his youth.13 I am not, of course, suggesting that these fathers themselves thought of this as being guided by the Spirit to recognize His work in extra-biblical spheres; indeed, some of them attempted to account for what they found by a theory of Mosaic influence through documents that had perished.14 But that, I submit, is what was going on. Thirdly, there was explicit reference to the working of the Spirit at what we should now call the sub-human stages of the creative process. In both the so-called Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds the conception of Christ's body in the womb of His virgin mother is ascribed to the Holy Spirit, and in the development of sacramental doctrine it is by the operation of the Holy Spirit that the material elements become the vehicle of God's spiritual energy.

I have pictured creation as a process in which in increasing measure God is communicating fullness and richness of being to a spatio-temporal stream of energy. This last extension of the doctrine of the Spirit shows how Christians believe that God is not only at work as the Giver of what creation needs for its growth but also within creation, enabling it to receive what is given. More than once last year we were faced by the question of what makes the evolutionary process move. I maintained that to think of it as due to the will of its personal Creator is more reasonable than the panpsychism implicit in Whitehead's metaphysic and other similar mythologies.15 We have now reached the point at which Christian theology articulates further this conclusion of natural theology. It is by the Holy Spirit that grass grows and trees bring forth leaves and flowers and fruit, that birds fly and fishes swim, that engines turn and trains and cars and aeroplanes go on their way. All is in keeping with God's revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ. He came as a little baby, putting Himself into the hands of men to do what they would with Him. We men being what we are, we crucified Him. When we remember how He let us do that, we begin to understand how He lets us mishandle Him in His creation. St. Paul said of the Jews that if they had known what they were doing, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. We do well to remember that as by advance in scientific research and technology we increase our control over the forces of nature, the secret of the energy we control is that it is God the Holy Spirit putting Himself into our hands.16

In saying this, I am quite frankly using the language of Christian faith, speaking from within the community of those who interpret all that goes on in the universe by the light of the revelation of God in Christ. The Christian thinks of himself as one of God's creatures to whom in some way or other God has reached out and called him into the fellowship of the Christian Church. As he reflects on the progress of his spiritual life, he sees this as one of those processes which can be viewed from either end: from below he is growing up into his true self, from above God is giving to him his true self, through Christ in him, the hope of glory. He knows within him that God is at work from both ends. He could never have heard and responded to God's call to Christian faith had not God the Holy Spirit opened his ears to hear the call, enlightened his understanding, and given strength to his will. He knows that in every decision he makes for God, every step he takes towards God, God the Holy Spirit is the source of his ability to decide and to act. In his interpretation of the evolutionary process he is explaining the unknown from the known, interpreting the universal creation by the light of his own inside knowledge of what it is to be a creature.

If we then ask whence the Christian derives this understanding of his own nature, we have to retrace our steps to the study of the New Testament which occupied the earlier part of this lecture. We saw then that the coming of Christ issued in the constitution of a fellowship of men and women the secret of whose life was to be the seeking, finding and doing of the Father's work in the Father's world as the earthly body of the ascended Son in the guidance and strength of the Spirit. That was how it all began, and still to-day it is by his baptism into that fellowship, by his coming to share in its experience and its outlook, that the individual Christian comes to his understanding both of his own life and of all God's creation.

‘Our Christian faith does not first come to us by our coming across the Bible and reading it on our own. Faith in God and in His revelation of Himself in Christ are things which we take over from the Christian community.’17 For the non-Christian world all we can do is to explain how we see things from within this community and affirm our conviction that this outlook gives us the right perspective.18 But how do we see things among ourselves?

When we think of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as concerned with God at work within creation we have to remember what was said last year about the two kinds of relation between God and His creatures,19 and that in the doctrine of the Trinity what is true of the godhead as a whole is true of each Person. Thus we think of the Spirit as working differently in the sub-human, material stages of evolution and in ourselves. In so far as we are persons, He will only possess and influence us in ways consistent with the promotion of our growth in freedom, our growth into our true selves. If, as I have argued earlier,20 this involves our making the truth our own by exposing misleading presuppositions and winning deeper insight, we shall not be surprised to find that in taking of the things of Christ and showing them unto us the Spirit, working within minds conditioned by the outlook of their age and culture, is continually opening our eyes to see where our categories are in need of revision in order that we may understand more fully the significance of what God has done.


To the whole question of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit I know of no better introduction than the following passage quoted from a French theologian:

Throughout the New Testament, the Christian revelation will be found to keep the same character which it had at its beginning. The mystery of the Son of God will remain the luminous centre of the whole faith, and of the doctrine of the Trinity in particular. If the heavenly Father is more intimately known, it is because He is revealed in the Son. If the Christians understand better than the Jews the close union with the heavenly Father which it is ours to enter upon here on earth and to consummate hereafter, it is because they share in the unique sonship of Jesus, because they have access by Him to the Father. If, in accordance with the Saviour's teaching, they believe in a Holy Spirit, personally distinct from the Father and the Son, they have not been able to grasp and hold fast to the assurance of His personality except by estimating it, so to speak, by the analogy of that other divine Person who has appeared to them in Christ.

Jesus was not only the revealer who, from His full knowledge of the Father, was the first who was able to tell us of His secrets. He was also the Son, who only has appeared to us, and in His appearing has shown us the Father and brought us to knowledge of the ‘other Paraclete’, the Holy Spirit. The reader must not be surprised if study of the doctrine of the Trinity is mainly occupied with the doctrine of the Son. It is in and through the doctrine of the Son that the origin of the doctrine of the Trinity will become most clear to us, since it was by this light that it was first perceived.21

As I have already said, I am not in these lectures concerned with the doctrine of the Spirit as an element in trinitarian theology, but as illuminating our understanding of God's way of revealing Himself to man. From this point of view, to accept the Council of Constantinople's affirmation of the godhead of the Spirit means that we regard the Spirit who opens our eyes to discover truth as God Himself equally with the Son who has lived as man on earth and with our Father in heaven. I want now to look back again to the New Testament evidence, and to end this lecture with some speculative suggestions about its interpretation.

We have seen that according to that evidence the coming of the Spirit was marked by certain outward phenomena which accompanied an inward spiritual transformation, that at first the outward phenomena bulked largest as evidence of the Spirit's presence, but that in the considered judgment of the New Testament Church the inward change was what was most important.

When we take into consideration the Gospels as well as the Acts and Epistles we add to the evidence of outward phenomena the accounts of the appearance of the Spirit as a dove and the hearing of a voice from heaven at the time of Christ's baptism.

Between thirty and forty years ago I was watching a performance of a nativity play in the parish of St. Barnabas at Oxford. It ended with a glance into the future, a soliloquy by St. Mary standing in the shadow of the cross, in which she used the words: ‘When thou didst he, a little babe, unconscious in my arms’. At the time I was much occupied with problems of kenotic christology, and these words struck me with special force as showing how they are implied in the language of orthodox piety. If as a babe our Lord had lain unconscious in His mother's arms, He must have grown through all the stages of growing consciousness to know Himself as child, as boy, as man. There must have been a time in the growth of His human mind when He came to know Himself as Messiah.

It seems probable that in the Gospel narrative the account of His baptism marks the critical moment at which this conviction became a certainty. In the earliest account, that of St. Mark, on which the other two are based, the hearing of the voice and the vision of the dove are clearly recorded as experiences, not of the whole company but of Christ Himself. The call to special sonship and the special anointing by the Spirit meant to Him a call to messiahship, and He went away into the wilderness to ponder over this certain conviction of His office in silent communion with His Father. There He put from Him the temptations to adopt conceptions of messiahship such as were common among His contemporaries but were not in accordance with the divine will.22

If we may assume that this was so, and that the suggestion that the dove and the voice were apparent to St. John and others was due to later elaboration of the original story, the event falls into line with what we read in Acts about the disciples on the day of Pentecost and possibly about Cornelius too. In each case it was the recipient of the Spirit who experienced the visual and auditory sensations. It seems reasonable to conclude that while the most important coming and activity of the Spirit were inward and invisible, quickening the human body and mind for the service of the divine vocation, the outward sensible manifestations were a means of bringing home to the conscious human mind at the time the conviction of God's action.

These three events all share in the uniqueness of the coming of Christ; they were once-for-all beginnings in the history of Christianity. Christ's baptism was the beginning of His messianic ministry; Pentecost the constitution of the messianic community; Cornelius its opening to include all races of mankind. We need not be surprised either at the occurrence of the abnormal phenomena that are said to have accompanied such novel and unexpected divine action, or at the recurrence of similar experiences from time to time in the history of the Church. It needed the vision of the Lord on the road to Damascus to bring about the conversion of St. Paul. But already in New Testament times the Church was learning, not only to distinguish between ecstatic phenomena which come from God and those which do not, but also to regard those which do as exceptional gifts not generally necessary to the Christian life.

For the regular routine conduct of the Church's life something is needed to fill the part played by these ecstatic phenomena in exceptional cases, to bring home to the conscious human mind the conviction of God's inward action. What I want to suggest is that as the Church settled down to its work, with a long history before it, the sacraments were found to make permanent provision for what at the beginning took special and exceptional form. When we try to look at the matter from the point of view of the recipient of the gift, may we not say that to him the touch of the baptismal water, the laying of hands on his head, or the reception of the eucharistic species take the place of the dove and the voice at Christ's baptism, the pentecostal mighty wind and tongues of fire? ‘An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given unto us… as a means whereby we receive the same and a pledge to assure us thereof.’

  • 1.

    Vol. I, p. 20.

  • 2.

    Gal. iii. 2.

  • 3.

    See, e.g., the discussion in J. G. Davies: The Spirit, The Church and the Sacraments (London, 1954), pp. 26–31.

  • 4.

    Cor. xiii. 14.

  • 5.

    St. Matt. xvi. 16, 23; St. Mark viii. 21; xiv. 50; St. Luke xxiv. 21; Acts i. 6.

  • 6.

    This summarizes a fuller account in The Doctrine of the Trinity, pp. 44 ff.

  • 7.

    See Vol. I, p. 91.

  • 8.

    1 Cor. ii. 16.

  • 9.

    2 Cor. v. 17.

  • 10.

    Especially in Vol. I, Lecture I.

  • 11.

    On this, see my And Was Made Man (London, 1928), Ch. viii.

  • 12.

    In The Doctrine of the Trinity, passim.

  • 13.

    This suspicion was engendered by reading the following description of Plotinus' cosmology: ‘The One produces universal Mind, or Intellect that is one with the Intelligible. Intellect produces the soul of the whole. This produces all other existences, but without itself lapsing. Nothing within the series of the three intelligible principles can be said to lapse in production.… The order throughout, both for the intelligible causes and for the visible universe, is a logical order of causation, not an order in time. All the producing causes and their effects in every grade always existed and always will exist.’ T. Whittaker: The Neo-Platonists (Cambridge, 1918), p. 55.

  • 14.

    Clem. Al. Str. I, xv, 72–4; II, v, 1; V, xiv, 94–5.

  • 15.

    Vol. I, pp. 154, 163, 221.

  • 16.

    Cp. Vol. I, pp. 115, 159.

  • 17.

    Above, p. 25.

  • 18.

    Vol. I, p. 104.

  • 19.

    Vol. I. pp. 165 ff., 205 ff.

  • 20.

    Above, p. 29.

  • 21.

    Translated from J. Lebreton: Les Origines du Dogme it la Trinité (Paris, 1910), pp. xxii, xxiii.

  • 22.

    And Was Made Man (London, 1928), p. 63. See also pp. 146, 152.