Essay / Theology

Work(s) of the Spirit

basil holy spirit coverHere is a great sentence from Basil of Caesarea’s fourth-century treatise On the Holy Spirit:

Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to Paradise, our ascension to the Kingdom of heaven, our adoption as God’s sons, our freedom to call God our Father, our becoming partakers of the grace of Christ, being called children of light, sharing in eternal glory, and in a word, our inheritance of the fullness of blessing, both in this world and the world to come. (Section 36)

It’s a magnificent collocation of what the Holy Spirit does for believers. The best thing you could do with the sentence would be to track down the biblical sources of each phrase: you could pin some of them to one location, while others would take you on a journey of biblical theology from cover to cover, literally from Genesis (“Paradise”) to Revelation (“the world to come”).

In context, the sentence is part of Basil’s book-length argument for the deity of the Holy Spirit, and it’s a key passage for that argument. These great benefits of receiving the Spirit are of such a character that they could not be given to us by any person who was not God. That is implicit in the fact that Basil links the Spirit’s work to the trinitarian work of salvation. “Through the Holy Spirit comes our… adoption as God’s sons, our freedom to call God our Father, our becoming partakers of the grace of Christ.” ┬áThe Spirit makes good to us the work of the Father and the Son; therefore he too is God.

One other thing to notice about this list is that it is a list. There’s something about the work of the Holy Spirit that makes theologians start making lists. There is a manifoldness, an overflowing fullness, a profusion of specificities and a diffusion of bounties that makes pneumatology take the form of lists. At the systematic level, I think the real constructive challenge for pneumatology is not so much filling out the list of the many works of the Spirit, but finding a way to comprehend them all under one organizational notion. A lot of my favorite discussions of pneumatology are strong on the listing and weak on the gathering. Think of what a contrast that is with the work of Christ: though there are infinite facets to the work of Christ and it can be contemplated under various illuminating headings (office, status, moment, object, etc), it is always obvious that these are various ways of getting at the one work of Christ. Not so with the Spirit: accounts of his work tend more toward sprawl and diffuseness.

File this under “things to be taken into account when writing the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” Also, a personal note: the first time my son crawled across a room it was to get his hands on a copy of Basil’s On the Holy Spirit.

 

 

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