Saturday, 23 April 2011

Come, Holy Ghost ...

Come, Holy Ghost ...

Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire ...

Based upon the 13th Century poem,written by Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, this 16th Century version is one that has moved me many times at ordinations and confirmations down the years since my own in 1962. I often wonder at the way Christians of all denominations seem to have retreated from acknowledging of the importance in every aspect of our daily lives, of this, the third ‘persona’ of the God we claim to worship and follow. Followers of Islam also believe in the Holy Spirit, but have a different understanding of His relationship to Jesus and the Father.

Islam identifies the Holy Spirit as having two functions; to ‘blow’ our souls into our developing bodies in the womb; to provide Divine Guidance to Believers - but, and this is the important distinction, they do not believe the Holy Spirit is a manifestation of God, but a Spirit sent from God in much the same way as God ‘sends’ angels. To me, this is directly contradictory to the statement in Matthew 12: 30 and 31 (See also Mark 3: 28 and 29 and Luke 12: 9 and 10).

Since, by definition, blasphemy is -

“profane or sacrilegious talk about God or sacred things:”

clearly the context in scripture is to something or someone above earthly things or beings and angels. If, as Islam implies, the Holy Spirit is nothing more than a sort of ‘super angel‘ this would, to my mind and that of Christian theologians and thinkers over the last two millennia, be a ‘blasphemy‘ in that it demotes the Holy Spirit completely. The Gospel according to St John begins with one of the most amazing, yet simple, descriptions of the Christian understanding of the relationship between God the Father and Creator, God the Son and Redeemer and God the Holy Spirit, inspiration and enlivener of us all. Jesus Himself tells the Apostles to be that He must leave them in order that the Holy Spirit may come to be with them and through them, us. John 14: 26 tells us that the Holy Spirit is the Counsellor or Comforter, the One who is with us always.

The Athanasian Creed, written in 325 AD was a response to what I consider to be ‘proto-Islam,’ the Arian Gnostic heresy which arose from the teaching of Arius, Archbishop of Alexandria (c256 - 336 AD) who argued the modern Islamic position, that God the Father was the only “Divine” element of the Trinity. In his teaching Jesus was not ‘begotten’ but made for his purpose and the Holy Spirit was simply an agent or messenger. That this clearly contradicted the teachings of the Apostles themselves then, as now, didn’t deter his supporters. Much of what is now known as the ‘pseudepigraphica’ the books excluded from the canon of scripture set by the Council of Nicea (325 - 340 AD) are treatises written by Arians and their predecessors, the Docetists (Another Gnostic breakaway from Judaism)1 against whom St John fought in his Ministry (See the Gospel and Letters of John). The Gnostics wanted to portray God as Father and Creator, Jesus as a Prophet and the Holy Spirit as an ‘agent of God’ and not, as in the Christian view, one with and equal in importance, in the Trinity which is God, one and complete.

During the course of my career as a Minister in Lay Orders (Which just means I wasn’t ordained, but had the Bishop’s ‘Licence’ to preach teach and perform many other ‘Offices’ of the Ministry), I have many times heard people misrepresent or misunderstand this relationship completely. This is a great shame, since it need not be a reality to be afraid of embracing, in fact, it is very rewarding when you do.

So, just why do the Gospel writers lay such stress upon the dangers associated with ‘blaspheming against the Holy Spirit?’ Firstly, of course, they firmly believed that Jesus was the Son of God, God Incarnate through the agency of the Holy Spirit, who caused the Virgin Mary to conceive Jesus. John makes that very clear, Matthew skates around it a bit (He was, after all, writing for a Jewish audience, probably in Jerusalem) and Mark omits it altogether as he assumes it is a ‘given’ as does John. Luke, the outsider, meticulously researched the whole story and records it in detail.

Nor is this the first reference to the Holy Spirit at work in the Bible, He occurs in Genesis, Exodus, Judges, in both books of Samuel, Psalms 51 and 139, in Isaiah and Ezekiel. There are many more references in the Gospels, Acts, and the Letters as well. In Acts it is clear that the writer knows the Holy Spirit to be God in person acting in the world through His selected followers. He is the ‘Agent’ of Christ, the Creator and Inspirer of the Church, the Unifying force driving through all our factions and divisions and above all else, the real power behind our witness in the world.

You cannot effectively witness to God’s love and grace, or teach His Gospel message, without the authority and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He is the very core of our Faith in Christ the Redeemer, He is our inspiration in worship and in our actions when dealing with one another. He is the very Breath of Life in our lives and, perhaps, in every living thing. He is very much in our waking, in our sleeping, in everything in between and, yes, at the end, in our dying. When we suffer, He suffers with us, when we rejoice, He rejoices in us. This is what Islam has not understood. In Islam the term is simple another way to describe the Archangel Gabriel, and to the true Christian, that is a blasphemy...

How do we, as mere humans, even begin to understand the concept of a God who is in everything, of everything, everywhere and every when all at the same time? In truth, only in a very limited sense and in a very limited way. Jesus hints at this problem for us and the Holy Spirit is sent upon us to guide, to nurture and to lead those of us who are willing to accept our ignorance and follow in Faith, toward the great light that is the fullness of God.

Thus, only by accepting and embracing the Holy Spirit can we truly follow Jesus and then we must add to our prayers the final verse from ‘Veni Creator ...’

Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And thee, of Both, to be but One;
That through the ages all along
This may be our endless song,

Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

NOTE: This is written as a part of my Lenten Study. It has proved a very interesting subject.

NOTE 2: Gnosticism was a form of Hellenic-Judaic philosophy that began around 100 BC to 100 AD with the blending of Philosophy from the Greek schools and Judaism. Simon Magus (See Acts 8:9) is often described as a ‘proto-Gnostic, though the Sadducees may well have followed another form of this philosophy. In 1945, the collection of books known as the ‘Nag Hammadi Library was unearthed and gives a wonderful window into the origins of much of the Quran and the misinterpretation and misunderstanding that led to the development of the Gnostic philosophy.

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