THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE EARLY CHURCH

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The Early Church Fathers all taught that the Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit’s Divinity is a subject that was always understood by the followers of Christ since the early centuries of Christianity. In fact, the divinity of the Holy Spirit was not a heavily debated topic in the early church. The early church Fathers debated the Incarnation and the divinity of Christ far more frequently. Below are the testimonies of the early Christians concerning the Personhood and Divinity of the Holy Spirit:

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (A.D. 80-167)

“We wish you, brethren, all happiness, while you walk according to the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; with whom be glory to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of His holy elect, after whose example the blessed Polycarp suffered, following in whose steps may we too be found in the kingdom of Jesus Christ!”

“I have collected these things, when they had almost faded away through the lapse of time, that the Lord Jesus Christ may also gather me along with His elect into His heavenly kingdom, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (The Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna Concerning the Martyrdom of the Holy Polycarp Chapter XXII.—Salutation.)

Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (A.D. 30–107)

“But the Holy Spirit does not speak His own things, but those of Christ, and that not from himself, but from the Lord; even as the Lord also announced to us the things that He received from the Father. For, says He, ‘the word which ye hear is not Mine, but the Father’s, who sent Me.’ And says He of the Holy Spirit, ‘He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever things He shall hear from Me.’ And He says of Himself to the Father, ‘I have,’ says He, ‘glorified Thee upon the earth; I have finished the work which, Thou gavest Me; I have manifested Thy name to men.’ And of the Holy Ghost, ‘He shall glorify Me, for He receives of Mine.'” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians Chapter IX)

“They introduce God as a Being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten; and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists. Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power.” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians Chapter VI)

“Since, also, there is but one unbegotten Being, God, even the Father; and one only-begotten Son, God, the Word and man; and one Comforter, the Spirit of truth; and also one preaching, and one faith, and one baptism; and one Church which the holy apostles established from one end of the earth to the other by the blood of Christ, and by their own sweat and toil;” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians Chapter IV.—Have but one Eucharist, etc.)

“I do also love the prophets as those who announced Christ, and as being partakers of the same Spirit with the apostles. For as the false prophets and the false apostles drew [to themselves] one and the same wicked, deceitful, and seducing spirit; so also did the prophets and the apostles receive from God, through Jesus Christ, one and the same Holy Spirit, who is good, and sovereign, and true, and the Author of [saving] knowledge. For there is one God of the Old and New Testament, ‘one Mediator between God and men,’ for the creation of both intelligent and sensitive beings, and in order to exercise a beneficial and suitable providence [over them]. There is also one Comforter, who displayed His power in Moses, and the prophets, and apostles.” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the PhiladelphiansChapter V.—Pray for me.)

Aristides of Athens, apologist (A.D. ca. 140)

“[Christians] are they who, above every people of the Earth, have found the truth, for they acknowledge God, the creator and maker of all things, in the only-begotten Son and in the Holy Spirit” (Apology 16).

Clement of Alexandria, theologian (A.D. 153–217)

“Thus also we who are baptized, having wiped off the sins which obscure the light of the Divine Spirit, have the eye of the spirit free, unimpeded, and full of light, by which alone we contemplate the Divine, the Holy Spirit flowing down to us from above.” (The Instructor – Chapter VI)

Athenagoras of Athens, apologist (A.D. 133-190)

“The Son of God is the Word of the Father in thought and actuality. By him and through him all things were made, the Father and the Son being one. Since the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son by the unity and power of the Spirit, the Mind and Word of the Father is the Son of God. And if, in your exceedingly great wisdom, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by `the Son,’ I will tell you briefly: He is the first- begotten of the Father, not as having been produced, for from the beginning God had the Word in himself, God being eternal mind and eternally rational, but as coming forth to be the model and energizing force of all material things” (Plea for the Christians 10:2-4).

Tertullian, theologian (A.D. 145–220)

“If the Holy Ghost took upon Himself so great a concern for our instruction, that we might know from what everything was produced, would He not in like manner have kept us well informed about both the heaven and the earth, by indicating to us what it was that He made them of, if their original consisted of any material substance, so that the more He seemed to have made them of nothing, the less in fact was there as yet made, from which He could appear to have made them?”
(Against Hermogenes. Chapter XXII.—This Conclusion Confirmed by the Usage of Holy Scripture in Its History of the Creation. Hermogenes in Danger of the Woe Pronounced Against Adding to Scripture.)

“That there are, however, two Gods or two Lords, is a statement which at no time proceeds out of our mouth: not as if it were untrue that the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and each is God; but because in earlier times Two were actually spoken of as God, and two as Lord, that when Christ should come He might be both acknowledged as God and designated as Lord, being the Son of Him who is both God and Lord.”

“Besides, if, from that perfect knowledge which assures us that the title of God and Lord is suitable both to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” (Against Praxeas Chapter XIII

“Then there is the Paraclete or Comforter, also, which He promises to pray for to the Father, and to send from heaven after He had ascended to the Father. He is called ‘another Comforter,’ indeed; but in what way He is another we have already shown, ‘He shall receive of mine,’ says Christ, just as Christ Himself received of the Father’s. Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another.” (Against Praxeas Chapter XXV)

Origen, theologian (A.D. 185–254)

“Now, what the Holy Spirit is, we are taught in many passages of Scripture, as by David in the Psalm 51, when he says, ‘And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me;’ and by Daniel, where it is said, ‘The Holy Spirit which is in thee.’ And in the New Testament we have abundant testimonies, as when the Holy Spirit is described as having descended upon Christ, and when the Lord breathed upon His apostles after His resurrection, saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit;’ and the saying of the angel to Mary, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon thee;’ the declaration by Paul, that no one can call Jesus Lord, save by the Holy Spirit. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit was given by the imposition of the apostles’ hands in baptism. From all which we learn that the person of the Holy Spirit was of such authority and dignity, that saving baptism was not complete except by the authority of the most excellent Trinity of them all, i.e., by the naming of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and by joining to the unbegotten God the Father, and to His only-begotten Son, the name also of the Holy Spirit. Who, then, is not amazed at the exceeding majesty of the Holy Spirit, when he hears that he who speaks a word against the Son of man may hope for forgiveness; but that he who is guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has not forgiveness, either in the present world or in that which is to come!”

“We are of opinion that this distinction may be observed in the Old Testament also, as when it is said, ‘He that giveth His Spirit to the people who are upon the earth, and Spirit to them who walk thereon.’ For, without doubt, every one who walks upon the earth (i.e., earthly and corporeal beings) is a partaker also of the Holy Spirit, receiving it from God. My Hebrew master also used to say that those two seraphim in Isaiah, which are described as having each six wings, and calling to one another, and saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of hosts,’ were to be understood of the only-begotten Son of God and of the Holy Spirit. And we think that that expression also which occurs in the hymn of Habakkuk, ‘In the midst either of the two living things, or of the two lives, Thou wilt be known,’ ought to be understood of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. For all knowledge of the Father is obtained by revelation of the Son through the Holy Spirit, so that both of these beings which, according to the prophet, are called either ‘living things’ or ‘lives,’ exist as the ground of the knowledge of God the Father.”

“For as it is said of the Son, that ‘no one knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him,’ the same also is said by the apostle of the Holy Spirit, when He declares, ‘God hath revealed them to us by His Holy Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God;’ and again in the Gospel, when the Saviour, speaking of the divine and profounder parts of His teaching, which His disciples were not yet able to receive, thus addresses them: ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now; but when the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is come, He will teach you all things, and will bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.’ We must understand, therefore, that as the Son, who alone knows the Father, reveals Him to whom He will, so the Holy Spirit, who alone searches the deep things of God, reveals God to whom He will: ‘For the Spirit bloweth where He listeth.’ We are not, however, to suppose that the Spirit derives His knowledge through revelation from the Son. For if the Holy Spirit knows the Father through the Son’s revelation, He passes from a state of ignorance into one of knowledge; but it is alike impious and foolish to confess the Holy Spirit, and yet to ascribe to Him ignorance. For even although something else existed before the Holy Spirit, it was not by progressive advancement that He came to be the Holy Spirit; as if any one should venture to say, that at the time when He was not yet the Holy Spirit He was ignorant of the Father, but that after He had received knowledge He was made the Holy Spirit. For if this were the case, the Holy Spirit would never be reckoned in the Unity of the Trinity, i.e., along with the unchangeable Father and His Son, unless He had always been the Holy Spirit. When we use, indeed, such terms as ‘always’ or ‘was,’ or any other designation of time, they are not to be taken absolutely, but with due allowance; for while the significations of these words relate to time, and those subjects of which we speak are spoken of by a stretch of language as existing in time, they nevertheless surpass in their real nature all conception of the finite understanding.”

“Nevertheless it seems proper to inquire what is the reason why he who is regenerated by God unto salvation has to do both with Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and does not obtain salvation unless with the co-operation of the entire Trinity; and why it is impossible to become partaker of the Father or the Son without the Holy Spirit. And in discussing these subjects, it will undoubtedly be necessary to describe the special working of the Holy Spirit, and of the Father and the Son. I am of opinion, then, that the working of the Father and of the Son takes place as well in saints as in sinners, in rational beings and in dumb animals; nay, even in those things which are without life, and in all things universally which exist; but that the operation of the Holy Spirit does not take place at all in those things which are without life, or in those which, although living, are yet dumb; nay, is not found even in those who are endued indeed with reason, but are engaged in evil courses, and not at all converted to a better life. In those persons alone do I think that the operation of the Holy Spirit takes place, who are already turning to a better life, and walking along the way which leads to Jesus Christ, i.e., who are engaged in the performance of good actions, and who abide in God.” (Origen De Principiis. Book I Chapter III – On the Holy Spirit Section 4 and 5)

“As now by participation in the Son of God one is adopted as a son, and by participating in that wisdom which is in God is rendered wise, so also by participation in the Holy Spirit is a man rendered holy and spiritual. For it is one and the same thing to have a share in the Holy Spirit, which is (the Spirit) of the Father and the Son, since the nature of the Trinity is one and incorporeal. And what we have said regarding the participation of the soul is to be understood of angels and heavenly powers in a similar way as of souls, because every rational creature needs a participation in the Trinity.” (Origen De Principiis. Book IV Chapter I.32)

Novatian, presbyter of Rome (A.D. 210–280)

“Moreover, the order of reason, and the authority of the faith in the disposition of the words and in the Scriptures of the Lord, admonish us after these things to believe also on the Holy Spirit, once promised to the Church, and in the appointed occasions of times given. For He was promised by Joel the prophet, but given by Christ. ‘In the last days,’ says the prophet, ‘I will pour out of my Spirit upon my servants and my handmaids.’ And the Lord said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins ye remit, they shall be remitted; and whose ye retain, they shall be retained.’ But this Holy Spirit the Lord Christ calls at one time ‘the Paraclete,’ at another pronounces to be the ‘Spirit of truth.’ And He is not new in the Gospel, nor yet even newly given; for it was He Himself who accused the people in the prophets, and in the apostles gave them the appeal to the Gentiles.”

“For the former deserved to be accused, because they had contemned the law; and they of the Gentiles who believe deserve to be aided by the defence of the Spirit, because they earnestly desire to attain to the Gospel law. Assuredly in the Spirit there are different kinds of offices, because in the times there is a different order of occasions; and yet, on this account, He who discharges these offices is not different, nor is He another in so acting, but He is one and the same, distributing His offices according to the times, and the occasions and impulses of things. Moreover, the Apostle Paul says, ‘Having the same Spirit; as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.’”

“He is therefore one and the same Spirit who was in the prophets and apostles, except that in the former He was occasional, in the latter always. But in the former not as being always in them, in the latter as abiding always in them; and in the former distributed with reserve, in the latter all poured out; in the former given sparingly, in the latter liberally bestowed; not yet manifested before the Lord’s resurrection, but conferred after the resurrection. For, said He, ‘I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, that He may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth.’ And, ‘When He, the Advocate, shall come, whom I shall send unto you from my Father, the Spirit of truth who proceedeth from my Father.’ And, ‘If I go not away, that Advocate shall not come to you; but if I go away, I will send Him to you.’ And, ‘When the Spirit of truth shall come, He will direct you into all the truth.’ And because the Lord was about to depart to the heavens, He gave the Paraclete out of necessity to the disciples; so as not to leave them in any degree orphans, which was little desirable, and forsake them without an advocate and some kind of protector. For this is He who strengthened their hearts and minds, who marked out the Gospel sacraments, who was in them the enlightener of divine things; and they being strengthened, feared, for the sake of the Lord’s name, neither dungeons nor chains, nay, even trod under foot the very powers of the world and its tortures, since they were henceforth armed and strengthened by the same Spirit, having in themselves the gifts which this same Spirit distributes, and appropriates to the Church, the spouse of Christ, as her ornaments. This is He who places prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggests counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts there are of charismata; and thus make the Lord’s Church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.”

“This is He who, after the manner of a dove, when our Lord was baptized, came and abode upon Him, dwelling in Christ full and entire, and not maimed in any measure or portion; but with His whole overflow copiously distributed and sent forth, so that from Him others might receive some enjoyment of His graces: the source of the entire Holy Spirit remaining in Christ, so that from Him might be drawn streams of gifts and works, while the Holy Spirit dwelt affluently in Christ. For truly Isaiah, prophesying this, said: ‘And the Spirit of wisdom and understanding shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and piety; and the Spirit of the fear of the Lord shall fill Him.’ This self-same thing also he said in the person of the Lord Himself, in another place, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because He has anointed me, He has sent me to preach the Gospel to the poor.’ Similarly David: ‘Wherefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.’ Of Him the Apostle Paul says: ‘For he who hath not the Spirit of Christ is none of His.’ ‘And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’ He it is who effects with water the second birth as a certain seed of divine generation, and a consecration of a heavenly nativity, the pledge of a promised inheritance, and as it were a kind of handwriting of eternal salvation; who can make us God’s temple, and fit us for His house; who solicits the divine hearing for us with groanings that cannot be uttered; filling the offices of advocacy, and manifesting the duties of our defence,—an inhabitant given for our bodies and an effector of their holiness. Who, working in us for eternity, can also produce our bodies at the resurrection of immortality, accustoming them to be associated in Himself with heavenly power, and to be allied with the divine eternity of the Holy Spirit.”

“For our bodies are both trained in Him and by Him to advance to immortality, by learning to govern themselves with moderation according to His decrees. For this is He who ‘desireth against the flesh,’ because ‘the flesh resisteth against the Spirit.’ This is He who restrains insatiable desires, controls immoderate lusts, quenches unlawful fires, conquers reckless impulses, repels drunkenness, checks avarice, drives away luxurious revellings, links love, binds together affections, keeps down sects, orders the rule of truth, overcomes heretics, turns out the wicked, guards the Gospel. Of this says the same apostle: ‘We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God.’ Concerning Him he exultingly says: ‘And I think also that I have the Spirit of God.’ Of Him he says: ‘The Spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets.’ Of Him also he tells: ‘Now the Spirit speaketh plainly, that in the last times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, doctrines of demons, who speak lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience cauterized.’ Established in this Spirit, ‘none ever calleth Jesus anathema;’ no one has ever denied Christ to be the Son of God, or has rejected God the Creator; no one utters any words of his own contrary to the Scriptures; no one ordains other and sacrilegious decrees; no one draws up different laws. Whosoever shall blaspheme against Him, ‘hath not forgiveness, not only in this world, but also not in the world to come.’ This is He who in the apostles gives testimony to Christ; in the martyrs shows forth the constant faithfulness of their religion; in virgins restrains the admirable continency of their sealed chastity; in others, guards the laws of the Lord’s doctrine incorrupt and uncontaminated; destroys heretics, corrects the perverse, condemns infidels, makes known pretenders; moreover, rebukes the wicked, keeps the Church uncorrupt and inviolate, in the sanctity of a perpetual virginity and truth.” (A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity. Chapter XXIX.)

Dionysius, bishop of Rome (A.D. 200–265)

“For it is essential that the Divine Word should be united to the God of all, and that the Holy Spirit should abide and dwell in God; and thus that the Divine Trinity should be reduced and gathered into one, as if into a certain head—that is, into the omnipotent God of all.” (Against the Sabellians 1)

Alexander, bishop of Alexandria (A.D. 273–326)

“And besides the pious opinion concerning the Father and the Son, we confess to one Holy Spirit, as the divine Scriptures teach us; who hath inaugurated both the holy men of the Old Testament, and the divine teachers of that which is called the New.” (Epistles on the Arian Heresy And the Deposition of Arius I.12)

Augustine, bishop of Hippo (A.D. 354–430)

“Wherefore, when our Lord breathed on His disciples, and said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost,’ He certainly wished it to be understood that the Holy Ghost was not only the Spirit of the Father, but of the only begotten Son Himself. For the same Spirit is, indeed, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, making with them the trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit, not a creature, but the Creator. For neither was that material breath which proceeded from the mouth of His flesh the very substance and nature of the Holy Spirit, but rather the intimation, as I said, that the Holy Spirit was common to the Father and to the Son; for they have not each a separate Spirit, but both one and the same.” (The City of God Book 13 Chapter 24)

“Similar evidence has been collected also concerning the Holy Spirit, of which those who have discussed the subject before ourselves have most fully availed themselves, that He too is God, and not a creature. But if not a creature, then not only God (for men likewise are called gods ), but also very God; and therefore absolutely equal with the Father and the Son, and in the unity of the Trinity consubstantial and co-eternal.” (On the Trinity Book I. Chapter 6.13)

The Letter of Bishops gathered in Constantinople (A.D. 381)

“What we have undergone — persecutions, afflictions, imperial threats, cruelty from officials, and whatever other trial at the hands of heretics — we have put up with for the sake of the gospel faith established by the 318 fathers at Nicaea in Bithynia. You, we and all who are not bent on subverting the word of the true faith should give this creed our approval. It is the most ancient and is consistent with our baptism. It tells us how to believe in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit: believing also, of course, that the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit have a single Godhead and power and substance, a dignity deserving the same honour and a co-eternal sovereignty, in three most perfect hypostases, or three perfect persons. So there is no place for Sabellius’s diseased theory in which the hypostases are confused and thus their proper characteristics destroyed. Nor may the blasphemy of Eunomians and Arians and Pneumatomachi prevail, with its division of substance or of nature or of Godhead, and its introduction of some nature which was produced subsequently, or was created, or was of a different substance, into the uncreated and consubstantial and co-eternal Trinity.”

HOWEVER, the Holy Catholic Church has been continuously persecuted because of this doctrine. The anti-Catholics unceasingly accused the Church of inventing this doctrine only in the A.D. 381 Council of Constantinople. This is absurd. The doctrine of the divinity of the Holy Spirit has always been believed even before the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 and Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381. This has been proven by the testimonies of the early Christians from Polycarp to Augustine. The Chalcedonian Council only defined the foundation of the doctrine after being brought to question by Macedonian heretics and was not convened to create a new teaching.

The Holy Catholic Church teaches that “The apostolic faith concerning the Spirit was confessed by the second ecumenical council at Constantinople (A.D. 381): ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.’ By this confession, the Church recognizes the Father as ‘the source and origin of the whole divinity’. But the eternal origin of the Spirit is not unconnected with the Son’s origin: ‘The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is God, one and equal with the Father and the Son, of the same substance and also of the same nature […] Yet he is not called the Spirit of the Father alone, […] but the Spirit of both the Father and the Son.’ The Creed of the Church from the Council of Constantinople confesses: ‘With the Father and the Son, he is worshipped and glorified'” (CCC 245).

“Whoever has ears, let them hear.” —Matthew 11:15

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