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The mystery of the Holy Spirit



"We must be careful to distinguish between the soul and the Spirit. The soul is the jivatman, the source of our separate existence, of our individual being. It is what Aristotle calls the 'form' of the body, that which gives life to the body and determines us to a bodily existence. But the soul is also the source of reason and free will, by which it is open to the Spirit, the Paramatman. The Spirit is the source of unity and universality, the soul of diversity and individuality. If the soul identifies itself with the body, it becomes enclosed in its separate existence, but if it opens itself to the Spirit, it can transcend its separate individuality and realize its identity with the Spirit. When the soul identifies itself with the body, man becomes the natural or 'psychic' man of St Paul, who lives"According to the flesh;" when the soul identifies itself with the Spirit, it becomes the spiritual man, who lives"According to the Spirit."- Bede Griffiths

The mystery of the Holy Spirit

[Bruno Barnhart]: Christian experience is the actualization of the mystery of Christ in the Holy Spirit. Bede Griffiths was a man of the Spirit and when, in 'Return to the Center', he turns to write about the Holy Spirit, the expansive movement of his thought overflows all the distinctions of theological science. The Spirit is divine energy, life and love. It is 'the feminine principle in the Godhead,' the dynamic principle of evolution and of consciousness and of human transformation. We feel here the presence of the divine Sophia,[55] the mysterious woman who is the divine Wisdom, who labored with God to bring forth the creation and who is present everywhere and "though she is but one,... can do all things."[56]

Perhaps the proper language of the Spirit is poetry rather than prose, and perhaps with graceful necessity she resists and exceeds definition as does springtime, music or love. Bede, once again attentive to theological precision, offers some cautious distinctions along with his inclusive equations. The word 'Spirit' is ambiguous, however, also in Bede. It represents the highest of the three spheres of reality which we have considered. It is the divine Spirit, within the trinity of divine Persons. This Spirit is poured out upon believers, but already present in the hearts of all people - and indeed within every creature. There is some tension here between Spirit as divine gift and Spirit as an intrinsic principle within the human person.

Bede also equates the Holy Spirit with the atman, the divine Self which is present in every person - and indeed in every created being. One perceives a strain here as well, for Bede has already identified the Spirit as the divine feminine principle. Is the Self, then, feminine? A further problem is involved in his conception of the Spirit as the active principle in creation, evolution and human development, since he had characterized the feminine principle in creation and in the human person as the passive, receptive and maternal principle. Corresponding to the creative 'Form' which is the divine Word, the Spirit is described here as the divine Energy which generates, enlivens, guides, transforms and consummates creation.

Bede's intuitions about the Holy Spirit are infinitely suggestive; each affirmation opens further questions. How does the newness that comes into the world with Christ relate to the universal immanence of the Spirit in creation and in humanity? What is the interaction between Word and Spirit in history and within the individual person? How is this related to the masculine-feminine polarity within humanity which Bede has frequently affirmed? What particular lines of manifestation of the Spirit characterize East and West? What is the relation of the Holy Spirit to human creativity in its various forms? Bede's understanding of the 'Third Person' of Christian tradition is evocative, dynamic and profound - and may leave us with the conviction that in trying to gain an understanding of the Spirit we are always at the beginning.

[Bede Griffiths]: We come forth from the Father in the Son and we return to the Father in the Spirit. The Spirit is the 'Sakti' - the power - of the Godhead, the breath by which the Word is uttered, the energy which flows from the Father into the Word and overflows in the creation. It is by the Spirit that the 'ideas' in the Word are given form and substance and the creation comes into being."The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters."[57] The Spirit is the feminine principle in the Godhead, The Mother of all creation. It is in her that the seeds of the Word are planted and she nurtures them and brings them forth in creation. The Spirit is the source of energy in the stars and atoms, of life in plants and animals. It is the source of evolution in the universe. It is the Spirit in man which first gives us life -"The Lord God 'breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being"[58] and then awakens consciousness in us. It is the Spirit which is continually drawing us into the divine life. For the Spirit is that divine life latent in the universe from the beginning, latent in nature and becoming conscious in us. By the Spirit we know that we are not merely flesh and blood, formed from the matter of the universe, not merely the subject of sensations, feelings, imaginations and thoughts, but an energy of love which seeks always to transcend the barriers of space and time and to discover the divine life. The Spirit is this energy of love in us, this power of the divine. It is the Source of our real being, by which we become conscious of the divine life in us and know ourselves as sons of God.

The Spirit is the atman, the Self, which dwells in the heart of every creature. It is this Spirit of which it is said: "It is not born, it does not die; it sprang from nothing, nothing sprang from it. It is the ancient, unborn, eternal, everlasting. It is not killed though the body is killed. It is smaller than the small, greater than the great. Though sitting still, he walks far; though lying down, he goes everywhere. He is bodiless within bodies, unchanging among things that change."[59]"It is inside all this and it is outside all this."[60] The Spirit is one in everyone and in everything. It is ever the same, yet it appears different. Just as the light of the sun is ever the same but appears in different colors according to the nature of the thing in which it shines. So the Spirit manifests in each thing according to its capacity to receive it. It is energy, light and heat in the sun and the stars, life in plants and animals, consciousness in man. It adapts itself to the capacity of every man. It is the speed of the athlete, the skill of the artist, the imagination of the poet, the intelligence of the philosopher, the wisdom of the seer. Or rather it is the Source of all these things, containing all power in itself and remaining for ever unchanged. The life of the body, the thoughts and feelings of the soul, are alike the effects of the Spirit in man. It is the source of our very individuality, what makes us capable of judgement and choice and decision, the principle of freedom and responsibility. In every man the same Spirit is present, adapting itself to his capacities. Of this Spirit it is said: '[She] is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things."[61]

[Bede Griffiths]: We must be careful to distinguish between the soul and the Spirit. The soul is the jivatman, the source of our separate existence, of our individual being. It is what Aristotle calls the 'form' of the body, that which gives life to the body and determines us to a bodily existence. But the soul is also the source of reason and free will, by which it is open to the Spirit, the Paramatman. The Spirit is the source of unity and universality, the soul of diversity and individuality. If the soul identifies itself with the body, it becomes enclosed in its separate existence, but if it opens itself to the Spirit, it can transcend its separate individuality and realize its identity with the Spirit. When the soul identifies itself with the body, man becomes the natural or 'psychic' man of St Paul,[62] who lives"According to the flesh;"[63] when the soul identifies itself with the Spirit, it becomes the spiritual man, who lives"According to the Spirit."[64]

This identification takes place through the activity of the mind and the will, either accepting the 'law of the flesh' and submitting to the appetites and desires, or accepting the 'law of the Spirit' and allowing itself to be transformed. When the soul submits to the law of the flesh, though it appears to be acting freely, it is really subjecting itself to the law of nature - to 'prakriti,' to the law of 'karma' - so that it becomes bound by its actions. When it submits to the law of Spirit, it becomes passive to the action of the Spirit. The mind and the will become instruments of the Spirit. But it is not a forced submission imposed from without; it is a free and loving submission, the Spirit working from within, confirming the judgement of the mind and establishing the freedom of the will. In fact, the Spirit is the source of all the action, both of the body and of the soul, but when the soul refuses to acknowledge this and asserts its own independence, it blocks the free movement of the Spirit and blinds its own judgement. When the veil of egoism is taken away, it opens itself to the light of the Spirit and allows it to act freely.

But what is the exact relation of the soul to the Spirit? The 'Upanishads' speak of two birds on one tree, of which one eats the fruit, while the other looks on without eating.[65] The first is the 'jivatman', the individual soul, which eats the fruit of this world and becomes subject to the law of nature, of birth and death. The second is the 'Paramatman,' the supreme Spirit, which is ever one and the same, the silent witness of the activity of the soul. When the soul looks up and beholds the Spirit, the eternal Ground of its being, who is also the Lord, the Creator, it is released from the bondage to nature and becomes one with the Spirit. As St Paul says: "He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him."[66] But does the soul then become God? It depends upon what one means by 'becoming God.' Obviously, the relation between God and the soul, or between 'jivatman' and 'Paramatman,' cannot properly be expressed, because one of the terms is the absolute Transcendence which is beyond our comprehension. Sankara[67] evades the difficulty by saying that the jivatman has no real existence. It is a mere appearance of the one, eternal Spirit, with no more reality than the form of a snake which is mistakenly imposed on a piece of rope. The rope - the 'Paramatman' - is the one reality; the snake - the appearance of the 'jivatman' - is the product of 'maya'. The soul in reality is the Spirit and there is no essential difference between them. Ramanuja says that the soul in 'moksha,' that is, in its final state of liberation, is joined to the Lord without ceasing to be different from him, and enjoys an intuitive vision of the supreme Spirit.[68] Madhva will only say that the soul, which is eternally different from God, comes to dwell with him and has continual sight of him.[69] Saiva Siddhanta comes, perhaps, nearest to a Christian view when it says the soul by grace shares in the very nature of Siva, the supreme God, and becomes one with him in love without losing its individuality.[70]

What, then, is the Christian view of this relationship? We have to say that originally the soul exists in God in an absolute identity of being beyond all distinctions.[71] When the soul comes into being in the Word, as an eternal idea in the mind of God, it still has no separate being. As Aquinas says, the 'ideas' in God by which he knows all possible and existent beings are identical with the divine being.[72] They are distinct not in reality ('in re') but only in conception ('ratione'). It is only when the Spirit of God, his eternal will and energy, gives existence to the soul, that it begins to have a separate being. Even so, all that the soul has of being comes wholly from the Spirit, it has nothing of itself at all. All that the soul has of itself is its limitation of being, which is determined by the body which it informs. The one Spirit, therefore, which is ever one and the same - the 'Paramatman' - is present to every soul, giving it existence, sustaining it in existence and drawing it into union with itself. In other words, in each one of us there is a soul which gives 'form' to the matter of the body, which determines us to a bodily existence and which is subject to all the passions of the body. But in each of us there is also a presence of the Spirit, which gives existence to the soul as well as to the body - for the Spirit is present in every particle of matter, giving it existence and form and substance which watches over the soul, inspires and directs its mind and will, and enables it to awaken to its source of being in the Spirit and to be transformed by its power. But what is this transformation? The soul discovers its source of being in the Spirit, the mind is opened to this inner light, the will is energized by this inner power. The very substance of the soul is changed; it is made a"partaker of the divine nature."[73] And this transformation affects not only the soul but also the body. The matter of the body - its actual particles - is transformed by the divine power and transfigured by the divine light - like the body of Christ at the resurrection. This is the 'divinization' of man, which will be manifested in the resurrection of all men."We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality."[74]

This is 'moksha,' this is final release, but it is not a release from the body or the soul, but the taking up of body and soul into the life of the Spirit. Both body and soul here realize all their potentialities. Matter, according to Aristotle, is potentiality. It has no being in itself, only an infinite capacity for being. It is Spirit which gives being and actuality to matter, building up the stellar universe and the innumerable forms of life, drawing out the infinite potentiality of matter into ever new forms of being. In the human being matter transcends itself, it emerges into consciousness. The Spirit working within matter draws this new mode of being from the potentiality of matter. But our present mode of consciousness determined by the present state of our bodily existence is only a transition phase in the evolution of matter. The presence of psychic powers in human nature which transcend our normal consciousness is already evidence of this. Extra-sensory perception, telepathy, thought-reading, foreseeing the future, appearing at a distance, spiritual healing in various ways, are all now well attested. In the science of Yoga there are various powers, or 'siddhis,' by which the control of the mind over the body and the expansion of the powers of the mind can be developed.[75] But all this is only a foretaste of that radical transformation of the matter of the body which will take place in the resurrection.

The One Light - Bede Griffiths' Principal Writings
Chapter II, West: Part One Civilization and Christianity, p. 102-108
Edited and with Commentary by Bruno Barnhart
Templegate Publishers, Springfield, Illinois
ISBN 0-87243-254-8

Notes: [54] 'Return to the Center', 129-135.
[55] See Proverbs ch. 8-9; Sirach ch. 24; The Wisdom of Solomon, ch. 7-9, 'The Golden String' 81-82, and text n. 15.
[56] Wisdom 7:27
[57] Genesis 1:2
[58] Genesis 2:7
[59] Katha Upanishad, 2.18-22
[60] Isa Upanishad, 5
[61] Wisdom 7:24
[62] See 1 Corinthians 2:14
[63] Romans 8:4
[64] Romans 8:4
[65] Svetasvatara Upanishad, IV.6
[66] I Corinthians 6:17
[67] Sankara (8th century AD), author of the doctrine of advaita, or non-duality, taught that reality is one, absolute, undifferentiated being 'without duality' (a-dvaita), and that all differences are an appearance - maya - superimposed on this one being.
[68] Ramanuja (11th century AD) was the author of the doctrine of 'visishtadvaita', 'qualified non-duality,' which maintains that God stands to the world in relation of soul to body.
[69] Madhva(13th century AD), author of the doctrine of 'dvaita,' or 'duality,' taught that God, the soul and the world are all really different from one another.
[70] Saiva Siddhanta is the doctrine of the Southern school of Saivism (13th Century AD), which claims to be the perfection of all schools of Vedanta.
[71] See Eckhart: "If we say that all things are in God, we understand by this that, just as he is without distinction in his nature, yet absolutely distinct from all things, so all things are in him in the greatest distinction and yet not distinct, and first of all because man in God is God..." (Latin Sermon IV.1). See also Ruysbroeck, 'The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage,' Bk III, ch. 3: "In eternity all creatures are God in God."
[72] 'Summa Theologica,' I, Q. 15 ad 3.
[73] 2 Peter 1:4
[74] I Corinthians 15:51-53
[75] See Patanjali, 'Yoga-sutras', bk. III.




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