Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Early Christianity: We believe in the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit is Divine – “We believe in the Holy Spirit”
It was of utmost importance for the ancient Israelites, surrounded by polytheists as they were, to recognize, confess, and stress the unity of God (Deuteronomy 6:4). Yet glimpses of the plurality of relations within the unity of God can be seen even in the Old Testament. In the beginning God created humans saying, “Let us make man in our image” and, later, that man had “become like one of us” (Genesis 1:26; 3:22). Plurality within God was darkly revealed in both the Law and the Prophets (Genesis 19:24; Hosea 1:7).
What had been seen only in veiled glimpses in the Old Testament became quite clear in the New Testament. Christian writers read the Old Testament with a new perspective, shaped by their experience of Jesus. From their historical vantage point it was easy to see that the Old Testament had revealed a plurality of Divine Persons (e.g. Acts 2:34-35; Hebrews 1:8-9). From the beginning Christians were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). These three are all seen as one God in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2-3; 1 John 5:5-6). Peter clearly identified the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5). Paul warned Christians to not “grieve” the Spirit, making clear that the Spirit is personal (Ephesians 4:30).
Far from being an invention of the Council of Nicea, the divinity of the Holy Spirit was received and preached from the beginning. Clement of Rome expressed his confidence in the certainty of the final salvation of those who continued in righteousness by comparing it to the certainty we have that “God liveth, and the Lord Jesus Christ liveth, and the Holy Spirit, who are the faith and hope of the elect,” clearly setting the three on equal terms.[1] Clement is not alone in this. He is in the good company of other Apostolic Fathers – Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp.[2] Later Christian writers continued to recognize the Spirit as Divine.[3]

[1] Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 38. “…fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost…” 1 Clement, XLII ANF I p. 116
[2] Ignatius, Magnesians XIII, ANF I p. 64-65; Ephesians IX, ANF I p. 53. “I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.” Martydom of Polycarp, XVI ANF I p. 42
[3] For example: Athenagorus, Plea for the Christians VII, ANF II p. 132; Ibid. IX, ANF II p. 133. Irenaeus referred to the Spirit and the Son as the “hands” of the Father Against Heresies V.6.1, ANF I p. 531; Ibid. V.28.4, ANF I p. 557; Ibid. IV. Pref. 4, ANF I p. 563. Tertullian, ANF III p. 627. “The apostles related that the Holy Spirit was associated in honor and dignity with the Father and the Son.” Origen, ANF IV, p. 240. For further study see Stanley M. Burgess, Holy Spirit: Ancient Christian Traditions, The (Baker Academic, 1990).