IN BEGINNING this paper, I am minded of the little Unitarian boy who was sent off by his parents to the fashionable Church boarding school, and who after listening attentively to the recitation of the Apostles' Creed in the school chapel, wired home asking: "Do We believe in the Holy Ghost?"
Some of us might ask ourselves the same question. There is a tendency in theological thinking to be "Duotarian" rather than Unitarian--to have a fairly definite idea as to God the Father and fairly definite ideas about God the Son, and to let thought about God stop short there. What thought rises to mind when we hear of God the Holy Spirit?
In some minds the reaction is amazement at men "suckled in a creed outworn." In others it gives rise to that ennui of mediocre minds confronted by something which is great and permanent in the realm of painting and poetry, music, and aesthetics. To the student of ancient religion, that word "holy" causes revulsion, because it is synonymous with the terrible, the unapproachable, the forbidding. Ancient religion erected that word to connote its dread of taboos.
In the Old Testament, the word passes through an evolution, and is taken by the prophets to mean the awful and exclusive goodness of God. The early Christians then, who believed in the reality of a universe of spirits, appropriated that adjective to designate the Spirit of God.
The materialist says, "I believe in a machine." The Christian says, "I believe in a spirit." What is the difference? A machine is an inanimate thing, and its motion is that of blind force. Granted that the universe seems to be mechanical, it must be further granted that any machine which will work is the result of personal intelligence which has made use of conscious, concentrated purpose. Back of the machine there is always spirit.
A better realization of that fact is one of our very great needs today. Here is a dead, cold, ugly, lifeless, repulsive, and gruesome thing. Its complexion is ashen, its lips are blue, its eyes are sunken. It is full of poisonous gases and it gives off the stench of putrifaction. It is not only useless, it is horrible. It cannot move a muscle. It cannot speak a word. It cannot think a thought. It is just a thing. The only feasible thing to do with it is to bury it in the ground as soon as possible. Ah, yes, but just a moment ago this horrible thing was not horrible but lovely, beautiful, responsive, vibrant, pulsing. It leaped, it spoke, it loved, it ran. It did wonderful things with its mind and hand. It was the most engaging and mysterious thing on earth, a human personality. And the contrast now presented is so violent and incisive that the human mind can scarcely comprehend it.
What accounts for that contrast? It is accounted for by the fact that the spirit has left the body. It is that departure which makes the difference between a corpse and a person. The difference is a matter of spirit. And it is an incalculable difference. It is essential to the life of any body that it possesses spirit. It is similarly essential to vital religion to believe that God is Spirit and that as Spirit He acts in the world of men.
Why so? If a man is respectably good, if he plays the game of life effectively, is he very far wrong if he is living without God? Yes, because the sensitive man feels that even in the ordinary work of the world his plans reach out beyond his own life. The perishable things he handles proceed from something higher than himself. His success depends on factors beyond his control. It is a root idea that the godless is incomplete in character. Without the Spirit he cannot become what he ought to be.
I. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Born of the Spirit, strengthened by the Spirit, nourished of Him, led by Him, surrendered to Him, we realize our kinship to God as members of His Body. By the spirit of adoption we find our feet planted in a new and large room wherein we move like happy children who are at home. Outside there is bondage, darkness, fear, tragedy, but within there is peace and-joy because the Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the members of Christ. And this is not alone an individual privilege, for all of us here in this assembly, all who are in the Holy Catholic Church, are made living sons and members by that one and selfsame Spirit. He is one and the same wherever He is, and therefore, all of us who possess Him are welded together by Him into one Body, joined inseparably to the Head of the Body, members severally one of another, having diversity of function it is true, yet each living for the other in the organism, the hand helping the foot, and the foot the hand, "diversities of gifts in the same Spirit." The Spirit moves through the body to which we have been joined--tending, inspiring, cherishing, illuminating, empowering, building up and binding up, edifying in a variety of expression. This is life in the Spirit, and this is Christianity.
Outside is death. The Spirit-filled body is as day compared with night. It was civilization untouched by the Spirit that called forth the horror and condemnation of St. Paul. How it stank in his nostrils! He says to his converts who had been born anew: "You know how it was when you were led by the flesh. You recollect the uncleanness, the evil desire, the anger, the maliciousness, the backbiting, the bitterness, the screaming and screeching and shamefulness of those things wherein ye Walked aforetime. But ye have not so learned Christ, if so be that ye have heard Him and have been taught by Him as the truth is in Jesus; that ye put off the former conversation of the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the Spirit. Put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Put away lying. Speak every man truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good. Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed. Let bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and evil speaking be put away from you, and be kind, one to another, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
Such is the Life of the Spirit. Such is the Law of the Spirit. Such is the way in which the Spirit works in the Body. A real change is brought about by the arrival of the Spirit. It is a drastic, incisive change from a world in which evil always triumphs, to a world in which sin must lose and goodness triumph. The world can never go back to where it was before the Spirit came. A vantage ground has been gained which can never be lost. The Body is coming to its best under the favoring skies of spiritual privilege and-power. However much we have fallen, however darkly we have sinned, we are of divine worth. Individually and personally we are of inestimable value before the Eternal Bar. Why then do we so often suffer defeat? Why do we so often crucify afresh our risen and victorious Lord and put Him to an open shame? If sin has been defeated, why does it continue to triumph? If the Spirit can so win, why does He not always do so?
It is because men do not sufficiently cooperate with the power. It is because we do not make sufficient contact with the Spirit. It is because we are faithless, cowardly, slothful, fearful and treacherous. The fault is in man, not in God. Of that we may be very sure. "God's hand is not shortened that it cannot save nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear, but our iniquities have separated us and our God, and our sins have hid His face from us." We have power but we do not use it. If we are alive in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit. We have the force, let us put it out. It is a matter of exercise. Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. The Spirit is strong enough to do the work. When the pathway is dark, when the lot is miserable, when the way out cannot be seen, when a sense of powerless inadequacy crushes, when the forces of evil sweep over the soul, know that the Spirit is there to enlighten, to empower, to convict, to conquer, to renew.
2. Just how is humanity to do this, and what are the ways and means thereto?
When we speak of the coming of the Spirit, a question arises--Was there ever a time when the Spirit was not? The Spirit is not an abstraction. He is not a mere idea. He is not subjective, and He is not some kind of a vague, impersonal influence. He is a Person, and He is God. As the third person of the Blessed Trinity, He is one with, although not the same as, God the Father and God the Son. He is divine, as they are divine. The same divine attributes belong to Him as to them. He is eternal. There never was a time when He did not exist. There never was a time in human history when He was not at work among people. We speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, but there was a Church existing in a very real sense before the Day of Pentecost. No generation has ever been wholly without some fruits of the Spirit. What then is the connection between the Incarnation and the present Dispensation of the Spirit? Our Lord Jesus Christ in His unique revelation to man not only confirmed man's assurance of the Spirit, not only invested the Spirit's work with newer and richer meaning, but by taking unto Himself a Body He enhanced and made more operative the Spirit's power. Being sure of the Holy Ghost as a fact, seeing Him in a new light, would have been futile had there not been some new means by which He could become more active in the world of men. When the Holy Catholic Church took the place of the Jewish Church, the amazing power of God the Holy Ghost was released into new channels. It became an organized power. It was harnessed in priesthood and sacrament. It was made to carry great loads. It was turned to the miracle of miracles, the forgiveness of sins. It was erected into a vast spiritual empire which was to extend throughout the world, and last unto the end of time. It was made a regenerating force for righteousness. It is no longer a dream, but a spring of power; no longer a limpid pool but a fountain of dynamite--and all because the Holy Spirit emerged in permanent form in the Koinonia. The new thing that happened was the Catholic Fellowship. God the Holy Ghost lives in the Holy Catholic Church. He became accessible in a definite covenanted way in the Life of the Body.
"Why a 'definite way'?" somebody queries. The answer is "Why not a definite way?" Is there any effective way which is not definite? The person who does not find the Spirit somewhere is not apt to find Him anywhere. There is electricity everywhere, but it would never turn wheels were there not dynamos where it could break through. This does not mean that electricity exists only in dynamos. If I tell you that if you come to my study at ten o'clock tomorrow morning I will give you a silver dollar, that does not shut out the possibility that if you fail to come I will take the dollar to you. But if you believe my promise, you know that one sure way to get the dollar is to be present at ten o'clock according to our agreement.
How are men to make the vitally necessary contacts with the Spirit? By means of prayer? Surely that is helpful, and one way to establish liaison with Him. Perhaps we ought to take time to add the Veni Creator to the two great Bible prayers: Our Father and Hail Mary. Through the humble and devout reading of Holy Writ? Yes, in that way too, especially in quiet moments of meditation, when we ponder over what we have read and try to discern the message of that Spirit who spake by the prophets. But above all, we contact the Holy Spirit and lay hold on His divine power for our lives in sacraments, the covenanted channels of grace in the Holy Catholic Church. The early Church knew this, and its teachers taught this. "Having received the spirit of adoption"; "being buried with Christ in His death and raised up by the Spirit which quickened Him"; "putting off the old man, putting on the new; being renewed in the Spirit"; "the Holy Spirit of God with which we are sealed unto the day of redemption"--that language, my friends, is sacramental language. Even the most extreme of St. Paul's critics admit now that the Catholic System of Sacraments lies at the very source and root of his teaching.
The seven sacraments of the Holy Catholic Church are the constantly recurring touches of the Spirit upon human life, and in them He meets us at every turn of life's road. It is here that the spiritual energy generated by our Lord's incarnation, of which His vicarious death upon the cross was the climax, is released by the Holy Spirit into the lives of men.
First of all He gives to us a gift of life which is absolutely new. There has to be a recreating of our very natures. This is something which only the Lord and Giver of Life can do. The condition of entrance upon the spiritual plane is to be "born anew of water and of the Spirit." "Born of water" means the soul's emergence from the old condition of evil in which it had found its life. "Born of the Spirit" means that soul's entry into a new life with God, making that soul a living member of Christ's Body, bone of His Bone, flesh of His Flesh. Nothing magical about it, nothing arbitrary. Baptism does not complete the process of salvation. It initiates the process of salvation. It gives to a man a new potentiality which otherwise he would not have had. It is initiation into a life which must be developed and fostered and nourished. But that life is a gift of the Spirit, and in it He comes to a man. A little later in life, the Spirit comes through the Laying on of Hands in Confirmation. He gives to that Life which was planted in Baptism a special blessing of additional strengthening. He there seals us with His seal, and sends us forth as Christian soldiers, better armed for the battle of life by reason of the Seven Gifts.
Suppose the old man has been put off in Baptism, and the new'put on in Confirmation, and a person has been touched by the Spirit in those two sacraments. That person is still endowed with the fatal gift of free will. The devil is very busy in the world. He tempts that Christian soldier, and that living member of Christ's Body becomes a dead member because of mortal sin. Is that the end? Can he be baptized again to wash away his sin? Is there no more grace for him? Why, in Christ's Church you can be renewed by the Spirit, not just once or twice, but many times. The' great trouble with some forms of religion is that while they have the machinery for converting a soul, they do not have the machinery for keeping him converted. When a ship is being lashed to pieces on a high running sea, the most valuable service that can be rendered is not to save the ship in the sense of bringing it safely into the haven and anchoring it, but in the sense of making and keeping it seaworthy. Salvation is a continued process. St. Paul says "ananeousthai" (imperfect, not aorist) "keep on being renewed"--again and again, as often as renewal of life is needed. We have been left a Ministry of Reconciliation, which functions through another great sacrament of the Spirit where man's sin and God's mercy meet, and where Christ is forever saying to His penitent children, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." Not once only, but many times, He says that to us. The Holy Spirit not only meets us in the confessional, He sends us there. He brings sinners face to face with their sin. He awakens us to the facts of our situation. If He did not convict of sin, the need of a Saviour could never be felt.
In the Holy Eucharist we are renewed by the Spirit. He it is who hovers over the Offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and by His supernatural power elevates bread and wine into identity with Christ's very Body and Blood, to be the food of our immortal souls. As Christ's child lies on his death bed, racked with pain and tortured with suffering, the member of the Body can still be renewed in a last gentle, loving touch of Holy Church. In the anointing of Holy Unction, the Spirit breathes on us and makes pain sacred and more easy to bear.
In Matrimony, or in Holy Orders, if God calls us into one of those two states, the Spirit meets us and gives special graces for special works. We of the priesthood, who sometimes become so unhappy in our work because we seem to make so little headway in visible results--do we remember that we are but channels through which the Spirit operates as He will? "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and ordained you." We must teach and practice the essential truth of the Church apart from personality. We must rely on the life of the Body whose members we are. The inventor of intellectual formulae doubted their practical value. Aristotle, father of the syllogism, tells us in Nichomachean Ethics that purely intellectual laws and rules can never be infallible guides of conduct in life. Solutions for the problems of the ministry have to be provided by a dear little friend who dwells within. Her name is Phronesis. She is Intuitive Judgment. As a priest grows into his priesthood, she will form and mature him by experience and practice and illumination, and by processes of informal grace which are too elusive, recondite and elastic to be imprisoned by words and formulae.
In the loneliness of a priest's position, Phronesis will be his constant companion. The boy who stood on the burning deck is the most glorious figure in recorded history. Everyone else has skedaddled. But there he stands alone. And the whole world watches to see what he will do and shouts advice. Sometimes a priest walks into his chancel and feels alone and watched. Sometimes he has a feeling of being shouted at! But sometimes, too, in such situations, when all the world seems to shout "You are wrong," Phronesis will whisper "You are right." In one respect she is Greek for horse-sense. In another and truer and deeper respect, hers is the witness of the Spirit.
In every one of these sacraments of Holy Church, the Spirit who is the Life of the Body can impress the members of the Body, because Catholic Sacraments, instead of being substitutes for the realities of God are the realities themselves. And such a radiant realization of God in personal contact with His children is the very heart of the Catholic Religion. It is the glory of that religion that it is a definite" working system with a tangible technique which is applicable to all life. You do not have to be either a doctor in philosophy or an emotionalist to contact the power of the Spirit. Enthusiasm is never any good until it cools off. It is like steam. Steam creates energy only by being confined and directed. An emotionalist loses all the energy out through the whistle. Sacramental grace does not have much regenerative force in our lives until it is confined and directed.
Let me illustrate, with an illustration from modern medical practice, what I have been trying so feebly to describe. Modern medicine has been revolutionized by the principle of antitoxin. What is that principle? In a word, it is the transfer of victory over disease from one organism to another. It means that a body facing defeat and death may be saved by the victorious forces of another body which has triumphed over defeat and death. Christ saves us from the awful gravitation of guilt and weakness to which we are subject, because He Himself has known the pull of that gravitation, felt its agony, and triumphed by suffering its utmost power. On the cross He swung far out on the curve of that fearful experience, and tasted death and defeat for every member of His Body. "He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in Him." And by the antitoxin of His Holy Spirit He can transmit the victorious organism of His own Life to us. He, being lifted up, can draw all men to Him. The greatest force in the world is the downward drag. But beneath the deep infernal is the love eternal. And its upward surge is the most powerful in all the universe. Commit yourself unhesitatingly to that mighty rising tide of sacramental grace.
3. One more suggestion in closing. You cannot believe a doctrine like this unless you make it a risk for life. Plato said, "Take the best of human doctrines, and, embarking on that as on a raft, risk the voyage of life."
The early Christians received Pentecostal Power when they faced a Pentecostal task. The ascended Lord breathed on His Apostles and said "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." But He added "Tarry at Jerusalem until ye be endowed with power from on high." It is one thing to be recognized as the heir of an estate, and another thing to enter into possession. Look at those first century Christians for a moment, and compare them with us. They were engaged in boldly claiming all of life for the Lordship of Jesus. They were doing that in the intellectual realm. They did not believe that truth was dependent on man's experience of it. They were doing it in the moral realm, in the field of human relationships. The whole perplexing matter of sexual ethics was to be brought to the authority of Christ. They claimed economic relations for their Lord. Whatever the communistic experiment at Jerusalem was, it showed that one of the results of the Life of the Spirit in the Body of the Church was that Christians tried to bring a better order into their economic relations one with another. Further, the Church crossed racial relationships. The Holy Apostles were the champions of thinking in world terms with a worldwide point of view instead of a nationalistic point of view.
When Catholic Sacraments were only a few years old, the hearts of those who received them were stirred with the dream of carrying the evangel of Jesus to the uttermost ends of the earth. Turn from that picture to the Anglo-Catholics of the American Church, and ask yourselves just what moral frontiers we are occupying.
Bernard Vaughan, S. J., said that the trouble with all American Catholicism was that it did not ring a bell and lift up a crucifix in the slums. The Oxford Movement as an intellectual force petered out. But when Dolling and Stanton rang bells and lifted up crucifixes in the slums, and Weston did the same in Africa, the Spirit moved most mightily!
Do you remember that tremendous accusation which Benjamin Kidd in his book on Social Evolution levels at the intellectual class of nineteenth century Britain? He says of them that, in the large, they were on the wrong side of every great public issue of the century. A statement like that ought to haunt a contemporary Catholic. It is so very easy to be a dead member of the living Body. It is quite conceivable that we Catholics might hold very successful Congresses, and still be on the wrong side of every great public issue of the century.
Phillip Gibbs has declared that if we continue as we are now going, our material civilization will destroy us. Siegfried, in his America Comes of Age, says of our contemporary national life: "It is a materialistic order, organized to produce things rather than people, and with the output set up as God."
Even Walter Lippmann shows how pathetic it all is when he says of those who have stripped themselves of traditional Christianity: "These are prisoners who have been released. They ought to be very happy, they ought to be serene and composed. They are free to make their own lives. There are no conventions, no tabus, no gods, priests, princes, fathers, or revelations which they must accept. Yet the result is not so good as they thought it would be. The prison door is wide open. They stagger out into trackless space under a blinding sun."
And because we believe that Lippmann speaks truly here, and that he presents the only alternative, we come back to the point from which we started, and bow low before the God who reveals Himself to us in the belief and practice of the Catholic Church.